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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | Picture Books

Marion Dane Bauer

Marion Dane Bauer and her books are respected and loved by children, parents, educators, librarians, editors, and writers. She began her career as a novelist, turning to picture books later in her career. Celebrating the release of her newest picture book, the charming Winter Dance, we were curious about how she writes these short books so we asked! And this long-time teacher of other writers provided heartfelt answers.

Marion Dane Bauer

Marion Dane Bauer (photo credit: Katherine Warde)

If You Were Born a KittenWhen you sit down to write a picture book, what has inspired you?

Sometimes I begin with an idea I want to share.  If You Were Born a Kitten, for instance, comes out of my very impassioned belief that the miracle of birth is hidden from most young children in our society—from most of us, really.  I wanted to celebrate birth in a way that would show it both as miracle and as part of our solid, everyday reality. 

Sometimes the concept comes from something I read or something someone says to me. Winter Dance came from an editor’s saying, “What about celebrating the first snow?” 

But the actual picture book begins, always, with language.  I can’t even begin to flesh out my idea until the opening line is singing in my head.

The Longest NightDo you know the ending of your picture book before you begin to write?

I always know the end of a novel before I begin to write, and if a picture book is a story, I know the end of that, too. So when I began writing The Longest Night, I knew before I put down the first word that the little chickadee would bring back the sun. When I write concept books, though, like How Do I Love You?, I have to find my ending in the playing out of the language.

Do you write with a specific child in mind?

I write always for a child, and in the case of picture books for the adult who will be sharing the book, but I have no particular child in my heart … except maybe the small child I was so many years ago.

Do you envision the illustrations while you are writing?

I envision space for the illustrations, which is a very different thing. I don’t think what the illustrations will depict, specifically, and I certainly don’t think about what they will look like. That’s the artist’s territory. But I make sure I have created an active changing world for the illustrator to take hold of.

How much do you consider the level of the reader’s vocabulary when you write a picture book?

Honestly? Not at all. Because picture books are usually read to a child rather than by the child, I never consider vocabulary. Sometimes a totally new word is, in itself, a kind of enchantment for a child. Think of Peter Rabbit for whom lettuce had a “soporific” effect! No, I’ve never used the word soporific or anything like it, but isn’t it a wonderfully resonant word? 

I should add, though, that there is one basic rule I use with all of my writing.  I believe the best word in any piece of writing for any audience is always the simplest one.  Sometimes, though, that best word might just happen to be soporific.

Winter DanceDo you ever begin a picture book feeling at a loss for how to write it?

Yes, and when I do I always stop, set it aside, give it time. When it begins to sing to me—if it begins to sing to me—then there will be no more loss.

Winter Dance, my newest picture book, actually began with an editor’s committing to a picture book I had written about spring.  For a complicated series of reasons the text the editor contracted had to be altered substantially, and during that process, my drafts got farther and farther away from anything the editor wanted.  I mentioned earlier, it was the editor who finally came up with the idea that I write about the first snow instead.  Great idea, but first I had to find my fox, and I had to discover that foxes mate in winter so he would have a reason to rejoice over snow.  And then, of course, I had to find the song to carry him through.

What is the word length you aim for in a picture book?

A maximum of 450 words.  Even that can be too long for some books. 

You were best known for your novels for middle grade and teen readers. What influenced you to try a different book form for a different reader?

The truth is I always wanted to write picture books. In the beginning, I simply didn’t know how to write them, even though I had read them endlessly to my own children and to various foster children in my home. Picture books are a bit technical to learn, and I had no one to teach me. In fact, I started out trying to write picture books and discovered I didn’t know what I was doing. So I moved on and found it easier, not knowing what I was doing, to muddle through a novel. 

The other piece, though, was that my first editor, at a time when we  writers were owned by our first editors, said to me when I showed him what I thought was a picture-book manuscript, “Marion, you are not a picture book writer.” Now, he could legitimately have said, “Marion, that’s not a picture book.” Because it wasn’t. But even when the publishing world opened up and I did learn and began publishing successful picture books with other houses, he refused to alter his vision of me as only a novelist. So I have him to thank for my career getting established in novels. Picture books are so much fun, if he had been open to younger work from me, I probably would have been off playing with picture books much sooner.

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Thank you, Marion, for sharing your thoughts about picture books in such an instructive way. We’re always happy to learn from you.

Learn more about Marion Dane Bauer.

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Pinkerton & Friends

I had a “Why in the world….?” moment the other day. It was unexpected and a little strange and it was this: When I imagine picture books that I am writing and/or thinking about writing, I imagine very specific illustrations. From a very specific illustrator. Even though I admire the work of many illustrators. (I admire this one, too, of course.) But always, always, in my first imagining, I “picture” the illustrations by Steven Kellogg.

I love Mr. Kellogg’s work. But I love the work of a lot of illustrators and would aspire and hope for many (very different) illustrators to make art to help tell my stories. I can switch my imagination to other illustrators if I think about it, but without thinking about it…it’s Steven Kellogg’s art. When this realization came to me I pulled some of his books off the shelves in my office with the question: Why is Kellogg my default, the first one whose work I imagine?

All I can think is that the years 1999-2002 were what I think of as The Pinkerton Years. You might think it strange that I can pinpoint the years, but I know we were less involved with Pinkerton (and by that I mean not reading Pinkerton stories on a daily basis) by the time Darling Daughter came along late in 2002. Prior to that, we could hardly leave the house without a Pinkerton story with us.

These were also the first of the allergy/asthma years—#1 Son was critically ill too much of the time, and with his doctors we were struggling to figure out what was causing such severe reactions. The only clear allergens were pets, and he came to understand first that he could not be around puppies or kitties, or anything else furry and cuddly and fun. A terrible sentence, of course, when you are three and wheezy.

So we read a lot of books about pets, and before we read Ribsy and Because of Winn-Dixie we read Pinkerton stories. A lot of Pinkerton stories. #1 Son adored Pinkerton. Pinkerton, a Great Dane, is possibly the most hilarious dog to ever be featured in a book—he is huge and ungainly and always getting himself in a fix. His expressions, his “knees and elbows,” his giant floppiness, and his curiosity and giant heart make him quite a character.

Very quickly we learned to spot Kellogg illustrations from across the library/bookstore, and pretty much wherever there are Kellogg pictures, there are animals. Not just great danes, but boa constrictors, mice, cats, pigs, ducks in a row, horses, spaniels….. And wherever there are animals, there’s a fair amount of chaos—at least in a Kellogg book. (Articles and interviews suggest he has lived the fun and chaos in a home we could not have entered and lived to breathe—lots of pets!)

The detail in Kellogg’s illustrations is tremendous, the hilarity aptly conveyed, and the sweetness and rollercoaster high emotions of kids and Great Danes alike comes alive on the page. I could read stacks of the books in one sitting to my wheezing boy. We used them to get through nebulizer treatments, and to “push fluids,” and to encourage rest for a kid all amped up on steroids. They were magical and we poured over the illustrations long after the reading of the story was done. The medicine could go down without much fuss as long as Pinkerton was along.

Those were exhausting, worried years, and all I can think is that I somehow absorbed Steven Kellogg’s art in my sleep-deprived anxious state…and it’s now in my bones. Thank you, Mr. Kellogg, for your stories, your art, and your presence in our family’s life. You are the default in my imagination and I’m grateful.

 

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Superheroes and Bad Days

Even Superheroes Have Bad DaysI don’t know about you, but I’ve been wishing for an honest-to-goodness superhero to save the day.

If adults are feeling that way, kids, who pick up all of our emotions, are wishing for the same thing. Batman and Wonder Woman led the list of most popular Halloween costumes in 2016. The proliferation of superhero movies is hard to ignore. But there are very few books about superheroes that are appropriate for the 3-7 year age range.

With rhyming text and a cartoon illustration style that has a sophisticated palette and delicious details, Even Superheroes Have Bad Days is a book everyone can use right NOW. For kids of that certain age, Shelly Becker and Eda Kaban have teamed up to give us a rowdy, exuberant book filled with images of superheroes in action.

We first learn what they could do when they’re having a bad day: kicking, punching, pounding, shrieking. They could be quite destructive with their superpowers.

“But upset heroes have all sorts of choices …
Instead of destruction and loud, livid voices
They burn angry steam off with speed-of-light hiking
Or super-Xtreme outer space mountain biking. “

They clean up other people’s messes, they protect people from harm.

Even Superheroes Have Bad Days

There’s no denying that superheroes could use their powers to wreak havoc, make mayhem, but:

“Instead they dig down to their super-best part,
The strong super-powers contained in their heart!”

There are lots of images to look at while you read together, including eight superheroes created just for this book. Beastie, Zing, Thrash, Laserman Magnifique, Screecher, Typhoon, and Icky are good writing prompts, especially for difficult days.

Every single one of us has those crabby days, down days, exasperated days. How are we supposed to act? We can look to these superheroes for inspiration to be our best selves.

Captain America and Avengers star Chris Evans chose to read this book on the CBeebies ‘Bedtime Story’ on the BCC!

Fun and emotions and resiliency and good reading all in one package! It’s a message book but one that will resonate with many kids. Recommended for school libraries, public libraries, and exuberant bookshelves everywhere.

Even Superheroes Have Bad Days
written by Shelly Becker
illustrated by Eda Kaban
Sterling Children’s Books, 2016

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The Funny and the Heart

Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Jackie: Recently Phyllis and I read a heart-breaking column in The New York Times, written by author Amy Krouse Rosenthal, who wrote many children’s books, and a couple of books for adults.

The column, written as a love-note to her husband from a dying wife, was heartfelt, sad, and funny all at the same time. We both wished we had known Amy Krouse Rosenthal. But it was too late. We looked at a few of her books and found the funny and the heart that characterized that column.

As a way of paying tribute, we want to share just a few of her books with you. And I should add that we both want to do this but Phyllis is out tramping around after Minnesota wildflowers for a book project so I am on my own this month. I will miss my big-hearted friend in writing a column about another writer with heart, but will do my best.

Yes Day!Humor and heart characterize all the Amy Krouse Rosenthal books I have read. A favorite of my grandchildren is Yes Day! Once a year the exuberant child in this book wakes up to a day in which his parents answer all his questions with, “Yes.”

“Can I please have pizza for breakfast?” Turn the page and he is about to enjoy what we know to be, because it’s steaming with flavor, delicious sausage pizza.

“Can I use your hair gel?” Turn the page and the family is posing for a portrait with our hero standing in front with superbly spiked hair.

“Can I clean my room tomorrow?” Yes. Or pick all the cereals?  And we see in the grocery cart Puffed Sugar Cereal, Marshmallow Fluff cereal (“with bits of actual cereal”), Hot Fudge Sundae Flakes (“1 whole oat per serving”).  There are no bad wishes. Mario can come for dinner. Our hero can stay up really late. And on the last two pages we see the Yes Day celebrant lying on the ground,  under the stars with his Dad. “Does this day have to end? We know the answer. But his last words are “See you again next year!”

This picture book is so satisfying. Our granddaughter Ella is seven and enjoys the Harry Potter books, Beverly Cleary books, as well as many graphic novels. But she loved this book, too. And sat through repeated readings, laughing at all the jokes.

ChopsticksElla also loved Chopsticks. This story of the friendship of two chopsticks is loaded with visual and verbal puns. “They go everywhere together. They do everything together.” Until one of them snapped. “Chopstick was quickly whisked away,” carried by a kitchen whisk. “The others all waited quietly. /No one stirred,/ not even Spoon.”

When Chopstick returns from his surgery, he tells his friend to go off, have adventures on his own. One of his hilarious adventures is conducting an orchestra of kitchen implements. The turkey baster plays French horn, a fork plays an oven thermometer that looks like a bassoon. Who could not love this page?

Who could not love this book which ends with the chopsticks playing “Chopsticks” on the piano?

Exclamation PointAmy Krouse Rosenthal had a light touch with serious subjects, too. Exclamation Mark is the story of a punctuation mark that does not fit in. Hilarious already, right?  The text and illustrations appear on what looks like the wide-lined school paper of the early grades. The book begins “He stood out from the very beginning—on the next page we see a row of circle-drawn periods with little faces and one period with a long line above it—the Exclamation Mark. “He tried everything to be more like them./But he just wasn’t like everyone else. [Line of periods.] Period.”  After a while he meets a question mark. Of course it only speaks in questions. “Who are you? What grade are you in? What’s your favorite color? Do you like frogs?” And on and on—until Exclamation Mark says, STOP!” The Question Mark loves it and asks him to do it again. “Hi!” And again, “Howdy!”  And more. “It was like he broke free from a life sentence.” With all its puns and silly phrases, this is at its core a story of finding one’s place in the world. And that is always satisfying

SpI was familiar with only two of Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s books, Spoon, the story of a spoon who is unhappy with its role in life, envies the other implements. He says of Chopsticks, “Everyone thinks they’re really cool and exotic! No one thinks I’m cool or exotic.” Eventually Spoon realizes a spoon’s work can be cool—and fun. Such a great idea to tell this tale from the point of view of a spoon. We all need to be reminded and reminded that we all have a place in the world. And how light-hearted to let a spoon character do the reminding. And there’s the advantage of giving kids permission to talk to their spoons.  How many kids now have conversations with their spoons when they eat their morning cereal and have Amy Krouse Rosenthal to thank?

from Spoon by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustration copyright Scott Magoon

Duck! Rabbit!The second book in my AKR mental library was Duck! Rabbit!, It’s a story told totally in dialogue about two friends who see a creature that could be a rabbit with long ears or a duck with a beak. ”Are you kidding me?/It’s totally a duck./It’s for sure a rabbit./See there’s his bill./What are you talking about?/Those are ears, silly.” It’s a clever turn on two characters who can look at the same picture/event/person and come to completely different conclusions.  Finally one says, “You know, maybe you were right./Maybe it was a rabbit.” And the other says, “Thing is, now I’m actually thinking it was a duck.” After this coming together, the story ends with them seeing an anteater/brachiosaurus. And we take off again.

If I were a teacher I’d keep a stash of Amy Krouse Rosenthal books in my bag for those times when kids are antsy, or standing in line to get into the auditorium, or just need a good laugh or a good pun. I’m definitely going to keep a stash for my grandkids. I wish I had said, “Thanks,” when she was still living. The best I can do is pass these books along to readers of all ages who need a smile or actually would like to start the day talking to their spoons—or their chopsticks.

Phyllis:  Thank you, Jackie, for this month’s column.  Like these books and their author, you, too, have an amazing heart and a sense of joy and delight.  Now, back to my book deadline….

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Chef Roy Choi’s Story

Chef Roy ChoiEvery time I re-read this book, it makes me happier. I’ve grown quite fond of the books being published by Readers to Eaters and I eagerly anticipate each new book.

Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix is another food artisan biography from Jacqueline Briggs Martin, this time co-written with June Jo Lee. Jackie writes the flavorful essence of the artist in an irresistible recipe of words. June Jo is a food ethnographer, “studying how America eats,” and the co-founder of Readers to Eaters. As a kid-at-heart, I want a biography written about her next. Studying food?

But this book is about a boy born in South Korea who travels to America at age two with his family and attends school in California. His mother is a talented cook, specializing in kimchee, a Korean food staple. Her cooking is so good that she and her husband open a restaurant. And Roy is fascinated by what happens there.

He becomes a chef. The authors relate his journey in a way that every kid will understand. Eventually, Chef Roy Choi launches the Kogi BBQ Taco Truck with a mixture of Korean and Mexican food. He prepares ingredients by hand, with love, to share with his community. Healthy fast food is a rare thing in his neighborhood and Kogi is a hit.

One of the main ingredients for this LA-connected book is street art turned into book art by Man One. Don’t miss the authors’ and illustrator’s notes in this book. They will have your students wanting to know more about these talented book creators. The art in this book (I’m paraphrasing from his Note) started with spray-painting the backgrounds on large canvases, photographing them, and then working with them digitally, adding pencil and Sharpie to create truly unique picture book art. He includes many scenes from his community—you can sense the love imbuing these pages. His palette, the textures … they’re yummy.

This is a book filled with so much respect for readers, eaters, and kids with aspirations … it’s completely satisfying.

Don’t miss this for your inspirational school and classroom library!

Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix
written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and June Jo Lee
illustrated by Man One
Readers to Eaters, 2017.

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Read Out Loud for Easter

As you prepare to celebrate Easter, we encourage you to include books in your celebration. A tradition of reading out loud before Easter dinner, after Easter dinner, as you awaken on Easter morning … perhaps each day during Holy Week? Here are a few gems we believe you and your family will treasure. Happy Easter!

At Jerusalem's Gate  

At Jerusalem’s Gate: Poems of Easter
written by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by David Frampton
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2005

There are twenty-two free-form poems in this book, each from the point of view of a witness to the events of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Each poem could be read by a different family member or the poems could be read separately throughout the Easter weekend. The woodcut illustrations will engender conversations about the style, technique, and details.

The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes

 

The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes
written by Du Bose Heyward, illustrated by Marjorie Flack
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1939

Little Cottontail Mother is raising 21 children, but it’s her dream to become the Easter Bunny. As she assigns her children chores and teaches them life’s lessons, she gains confidence to audition for the job of one of the five Easter Bunnies who deliver eggs and baskets on Easter Sunday. It’s a sweet story still, nearly 80 years after it was first published. The brightly colored illustrations are memory-making for new generations of readers.

The Easter Story  

The Easter Story
written and illustrated by Brian Wildsmith
Alfred A. Knopf, 1994

The events of Holy Week, the Last Supper, the crucifixion, and the Resurrection, are recounted through the eyes of the little donkey that carried Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. With Wildsmith’s distinctive illustrations, this book has been published in many editions and many languages. A good read-aloud book to add to your Easter bookshelf.

Egg  

Egg
written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes
Greenwillow Books, 2017

Four eggs, each a different color, hatch (one doesn’t) and the chicks set off—and return for the unhatched egg. When the egg hatches, there’s a surprise! When the book ends, there’s another surprise! This is a book about friendship and growing up, just right for reading out loud and for emerging readers to read on their own. With simple lines and appealing colors, the illustrations are irresistible.

The Golden Egg Book  

The Golden Egg Book
written by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Leonard Weisgard
Golden Books, 1947

A true classic among Easter books, a small bunny finds a blue egg. He can hear something moving around inside so he conjectures what it might be. As the bunny tries to open the egg, he wears out and falls asleep. Only then does the young duckling emerge from the egg. With richly colored illustrations from the masterful Leonard Weisgard, this is a treasured book for many children and families.

Simon of Cyrene and the Legend of the Easter Egg  

Simon of Cyrene and the Legend of the Easter Egg
written by Terri DeGezelle, illustrated by Gabhor Utomo
Pauline Books & Media, 2017

Based on a few lines about the legend of Simon of Cyrene that the author found while researching, this book brings to life the experience of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as told through the perspective of Simon. He takes eggs to Jerusalem to sell for Passover when he becomes caught up in the procession following Jesus as he carries his cross to Calvary. As Jesus stumbles and falls, a Roman soldier forces Simon to bear the cross instead. Told with a lively narrative and brightly colored, satisfying illustrations, this is a good story to choose for read-alouds, opening up an opportunity to discuss the many aspects of the Easter story.

Story of Easter  

Story of Easter
written by Aileen Fisher, illustrated by Stefano Vitale
HarperCollins, 1997

With an informative text and glorious illustrations, this book explains both how and why people all over the world celebrate Easter. It tells the biblical story of Jesus’ Resurrection and then describes how people honor this day and the origins of these traditions. Hands-on activities help draw children into the spirit of this joyous celebration of rebirth.

Story of the Easter Bunny  

Story of the Easter Bunny
written by Katherine Tegen, illustrated by Sally Anne Lambert HarperCollins, 2005

Most people know about the Easter Bunny, but how did the Easter Bunny get his job and how does he accomplish the distribution of so many colorful eggs each Easter? It all began in a small cottage with an old couple who dye the eggs and weave the baskets. One Easter, they sleep in and it’s their pet white rabbit’s decision to deliver the eggs and chocolate, thereby starting a tradition. Told in a matter-of-fact style with appealing, detailed illustrations, this is a good addition to your Easter tradition.

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March Shorts

Oooo! Here in Minnesota, shorts in March mean chills. These books will give you chills–in a good way!

Cat Goes Fiddle-I-FeeCat Goes Fiddle-I-Fee
Adapted and illustrated by Paul Galdone
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1985
(reissued in April 2017)

I recognized the title immediately as I song I know well, sung as “I Had a Rooster” by Pete Seeger on Birds, Beasts, Bugs & Little Fishes in 1968. Turns out, I remember the rhyme more than the words. Galdone wrote a different adaptation of this folk tale, one that is irresistible for reading out loud. In fact, even if you’re sitting alone in a room by yourself, you’re going to want to read this out loud. The words and the rhyme scheme are fun. Kids at storytime and kids in a classroom and kids sitting on your lap will want to sing along … and quite possibly dance. In this new edition, Galdone’s illustrations are friendly. Find the snail. Who shares the page with the dog? There are many animals to examine and they don’t always make the expected sounds: “Hen goes chimmy-chuck, chimmy-chuck.” As the tale builds cumulatively, it’s a good exercise in memory and repetition, and just plain fun. Turns out it’s a different story than Seeger’s so both of them could be used. 

Hoot & Honk Just Can't SleepHoot & Honk Just Can’t Sleep
written and illustrated by Leslie Helakoski
Sterling Children’s Books, 2017

Two eggs, one from an owl’s nest and one from a goose’s nest, tumble to the ground during a wind storm. When the mamas take home the wrong eggs, the hatchlings are confused. The owlet doesn’t like the food the other goslings like and the gosling doesn’t want what the owlets are hungry for. And their sleep patterns are quite different. A wonderful way to open up the discussion about different birds with young listeners, this is a gorgeous book with a happy-go-lucky spirit. Illustrated by Helakoski with pastels on sanded paper, the color is sumptuous, the views have depth, and everyone’s going to want to touch the bird’s feathers. And who can resist the main characters’ names? Hoot. Honk. Hoot and Honk. 

Charlotte the Scientist is SquishedCharlotte the Scientist is Squished
written by Camille Andros
illustrated by Brianne Farley
Clarion Books, 2017

I squealed after I read this book. This is exactly the book I would have read and re-read when I was a kid. The fly papers are diagrams of the inside of a rocket, labeled carefully so there’s much to ponder. Charlotte is a bunny rabbit with a problem. She is a serious scientist with no room to conduct her work. She has a large family, as some bunnies do, and they’re always underfoot. So Charlotte employs the Scientific Method to solve her problem. She creates a hypothesis and tried her experiment and draws a conclusion. And all of this is done with a great amount of humor supplied by the author and the illustrator, a seamless story. That carrot-shaped rocket is delightful and so is the bunny in the fishbowl. At the end of the book, there’s a feature “In the lab with Charlotte,” that uses Charlotte’s experiments for a discussion of the scientific method. Highly recommended.

Anywhere FarmAnywhere Farm
written by Phyllis Root
illustrated by G. Brian Karas
Candlewick Press, 2017

Where can you farm? Anywhere! Together, Root and Karas present convincing arguments for growing your own food wherever and however you can. “For an anywhere farm, here’s all that you need: soil and sunshine, some water, a seed.”With soft vignettes that look closely at ways and means to plant seeds, “Kale in a pail, corn in a horn,” to circular depictions of neighbors tending their small-scale farms, to two-page spreads that show an urban community involved in gardening, the blend of poetry and illustrations make this book an appealing invitation to try your hand at farming … anywhere. Readers will have fun detecting all the places growing plants can be supported. As kids and adults of all ages and abilities work together, the lush end to this book is a satisfying one. Excuse me, won’t you? I’m off to germinate my seeds!

Peggy
written and illustrated by Anna Walker
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017 paperback

I pronounce this a Picture-Book-of-the-Absurd, delightfully so. “Peggy lived in a small house on a quiet street.” Her chicken coop in the backyard of a suburban house has a trampoline outside. “Every day, rain or shine, Peggy ate breakfast, played in her yard, and watched the pigeons.” In a series of nine “slides” (do you remember slides?) on each page, we observe Peggy doing just these things … with joy and When Peggy is blown off her trampoline by a strong wind into the unfamiliar environment of downtown, does she panic? No. She takes the opportunity to explore. In vignettes, Peggy eats spaghetti, she rides an escalator, and she shops for bargains. The soft, muted watercolor palette of the book is punctuated by Peggy’s black feathers, making her easy to follow as she ultimately decides she’d rather be at home. But how will she get there? Clues planted earlier in the story give her ideas and ultimately she finds her way back to her chicken coop with new-found friends. This is an ideal book for sharing one-on-one, examining the humor on every page as the intrepid Peggy shares her story.

RoundRound
written by Joyce Sidman
illustrated by Taeeun Yoo
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017

Do any of us spend enough time noticing the natural world around us? Do we look at the shape of things? Do we wonder enough about why they are in the shapes they are? What about all of the round things in the world? The moon. water, lily pads, rocks … so many specific things to notice, observe, and appreciate. Joyce Sidman’s poem leads the listener into this exploration: “I love to watch round things move. They are so good at it!” Yoo’s illustrations find things to show us that are not in the text … words and illustrations blending together into a book that is more than its parts. Colorful and charming, the book’s design gets everything right. Even the author’s bios on the back jacket flap are presented in round shapes! Two pages in back ask “Why are so many things in nature round?” Short paragraphs from the author will broaden your vision, leading to discussions and noticing more each time you walk outside.

If You Were the MoonIf You Were the Moon
written by Laura Purdie Salas
illustrated by Jaime Kim
Millbrook Press, 2017

From the glossy cover to the moon’s expressive face to the bracketed, you-didn’t-know-that facts, everything about this book is appealing. Salas has a way of looking at something as familiar as the moon while encouraging us to think about it in fresh ways, poetically observant, waking-you-up ways. The moon as a ballerina? Of course, and for very good reason. In brackets, the facts: “The moon spins on its invisible axis, making a full turn every twenty-seven days.” Kim illustrates this spread with a contented, ballet-dancing moon that can’t help but make the reader smile. “Weave a spell over wonderers.”? The bracket inspires us with “Claire de Lune” and “The Moon is Distant from the Sea.” The illustration shows the Baule people of the Ivory Coast in festival masks. All of this is set in the vibrant colors of a moonlit night. It’s an inspiring book presented with the right balance for kids who love a poetic presentation as well as factual information.

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Our Hearts Will Hold Us Up

Jackie: It seems perfectly appropriate that the Manager of Holiday Placement  has placed Valentine’s Day, a day to celebrate love and affection, right in the middle of cold, dark February. I want that celebration to spread out for the whole month (why not the whole year?) the way the smell of baking bread fills an entire house, not just the kitchen. Why can’t all of February be Heart Month? We are choosing books this month with that goal in mind. We want to celebrate heart, love, ties of affection. And we have chosen a new book, a couple of medium new books and an old book to help us.

More, More, More Said the BabyA while back we did an entire column on Vera B. Williams. But I am still missing her. I need her political activism and her huge heart in my neighborhood. I turned to More, More, More Said the Baby. (Greenwillow, 1990). 

This book is a huge celebration of the love between daddies and kids:

Just look at you
With your perfect belly button
Right in the middle
Right in the middle
Right in the middle
Of your fat little belly.
Then Little Guy’s daddy
Brings that baby
Right up close
And gives that little guy’s belly
A kiss right I the middle
Of the belly button.

Between grandmas and kids:

Then Little Pumpkin’s grandma
Brings that baby right up close
And tastes each
Of Little Pumpkin’s toes.

And mamas and kids:

Just look at you
With your two closed eyes
Then Little Bird’s Mama…
Gives that little bird a kiss
Right on each of her little eyes.

I never tire of reading about these children, diverse children, who are so loved and so valued. This book will be fresh as long as we laugh and kiss babies with belly buttons and ten little toes.

Phyllis:; I miss Vera B. Williams, too, and I love seeing her spirit still alive in her books and also in the hearts of people everywhere who care about people everywhere. Her language in More More More is so delicious–along with the repetition we have lively verbs of interaction between grown-ups and beloved children (swing, scoot, catch that baby up).  Little Guy, Little Pumpkin, and Little Bird have names that could be any child’s. I love, too, the exuberant art and hand lettered multi-colored text. Everything about this book celebrates taking joy in our children.

My Heart Will Not Sit DownJackie: In My Heart Will Not Sit Down, (Alfred Knopf, 2012) empathy and caring for others travel around the world. Rockliff creates a school child Kedi, who hears from her teacher about the hungry children in New York City and cannot stop thinking about them. She asks her mother for a coin to send them. Her mother says they have no coins to spare. “Kedi knew Mama was right. Still, her heart would not sit down.” She asks an uncle, a sweeping mother with a baby on her back, a grandmother pounding cassava, laughing girls who carried pots of river water, old men playing a game of stones, even the headman. No one has coins… Until the next morning when her mama gives her one coin. She takes the coin to school, thinking that one coin can do little good for the hungry children. Then the villagers show up—each bearing a coin. “We have heard about the hunger in our teacher’s village,” said the headman. “Our hearts would not sit down until we helped.” 

Phyllis:  This is one of those books that called to me from the shelf in a bookstore and captivated my heart once I opened it. Kedi’s heart stands up for the hungry children in New York, America, as she calls it. When the villagers bring their coins, which the author notes would be a small fortune to the village even though $3.77 would not go far in America even in the Depression, her mama asks, “Now will your heart sit down in peace?” Kedi answers, “Yes, Mama, Yes!”  The author notes, too, that in Cameroon, where the event occurred on which the story is based, people shared with anyone in need, even strangers, because, as they said, “You may meet him [a stranger] again, and in his own place.” This story reminds me that the actions of one small person can touch many hearts and feed hungry children.

The Heart and the BottleJackie: Hearts can spur us to action. Hearts can break. And the last two books are gentle stories of the heartache of loss. Oliver Jeffers writes of a “little girl…whose head was filled with all the curiosities of the world.” Jeffers shows us this little girl talking with her grandpa who sits in a chair, lying under the stars with her grandpa. He accompanies her on all her explores. And then one day the chair is empty. She decides to put her heart in a bottle to keep it safe. After that she wasn’t curious. She grows up and the bottled heart is heavy around her neck.  When she wishes to retrieve her heart she can’t—until she meets another little girl.

This is a story about dealing with sadness—we want to protect our hearts but we lose so much when we wall them up.

Phyllis:  Oliver Jeffers both wrote and illustrated The Heart and the Bottle, and the illustrations help carry the events and the emotions of the story.  When the girl who has bottled her heart decides as a grown-up to take her heart out again, the art shows her trying to shake the heart out, grip it with pliers, break the bottle with a hammer, and finally, abandoning her work bench covered with a drill, a cross cut saw, a wooden mallet, screwdriver, and other assorted tools including a vacuum cleaner leaning again the bench, she climbs a ladder to the top of an enormously tall brick wall and drops the bottle which still doesn’t break but just “bounced and rolled…right down to the sea” where a little girl easily frees the heart from the bottle and returns it.  The book ends, “The heart was put back where it came from.  And the chair wasn’t empty anymore. But the bottle was.” Here, too, the art reflects that the woman’s  world is once again filled with wonder.  We need our hearts within us.

Cry, Heart, But Never BreakJackie: Cry, Heart, But Never Break comes to us from Denmark. It was written by Glenn Ringtved, illustrated by Charlotte Pardi and translated by Robert Moulthrop (Enchanted Lion Books, 2016).  This book also deals with loss. Four children live with their grandmother—“A kindly woman, she had cared for them for many years.” Then Death knocks at the door. The children decide to forestall Death’s mission with coffee. They will keep him drinking coffee all night so he cannot take their grandmother, thus giving her another day of life. Eventually he has had enough. And one of the children asks why grandmother has to die. And then comes: “Some people say Death’s heart is as dead and black as a piece of coal, but that is not true. Beneath his inky cloak, Death’s heart is as red as the most beautiful sunset and beats with a great love of life.” He tells them a story of Sorrow and Grief meeting and falling in love with Delight and Joy. “What would life be worth if there were no death? Who would enjoy the sun if it never rained? Who would yearn for day if there were no night?”

When Death goes to the Grandmother’s room, he says to the children, “Cry, Heart, but never break. Let your tears of grief and sadness begin a new life.” Charlotte Pardi’s illustrations are perfect for this book, simple and tender. We see what appears to be quickly-sketched furniture in the night kitchen—we know this is a story. And yet we connect with the emotions on the children’s faces.

Cry, Heart, But Never Break

Cry, Heart, But Never Break. Illustration © Charlotte Pardi.

Phyllis: I love that the children ply Death with coffee, which Death loves, strong and black, and that it’s the youngest child who looks right at Death and eventually puts her hand over his. But even coffee can’t stop Death; when he goes  upstairs the children hear the window open and Death say, “Fly, soul, fly away.” Their hearts grieve and cry but do not break. Some (but not all) of the best books about Death come, interestingly, from other countries. But this book is not only about Death it is about the necessity of a life with both sorrow and grief and also joy and delight. This is a book that makes me cry and hope for all our hearts that they never completely break.

Jackie: We started with connection—the connections of babies and families, and we have come round to loss of connection, when what remains is love. Our hearts will hold us up.

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The Books in the Night

Phyllis: Night means many things: the terrifying darkness behind the garage where I had to carry the garbage after supper as a child, the dark night of the soul that depression brings, the hours between sunset and sunrise that grow longer and longer as our earth turns into winter. But night holds comfort as well as fear, and this month we want to look at books about the gifts that night and darkness can bring.

In the Night KitchenWho hasn’t heard of Mickey who “heard a racket in the night and shouted ‘Quiet down there!’ and fell through the dark out of his clothes past the moon and his mama and papa sleeping tight and into the light of the night kitchen?” (Maurice Sendak moves through more action in his marvelous first sentences than almost any other author we can think of.)  The Night Kitchen is Sendak’s imagined answer to what might have happened after he had to go to bed as a child, and his comic-book art pays tribute to the comics that influenced his work. This book has encountered both public and private censorship, including librarians painting diapers or clothes on Mickey to cover his nudity, but children love the adventure he discovers in the night kitchen.

Jackie: Sendak’s editor, the legendary Ursula Nordstrom, was eloquent in defending her books from such censorship. She once wrote to a teacher who had burned a copy of In the Night Kitchen, “I think young children will always react with delight to such a book as In the Night Kitchen, and that they will react creatively and wholesomely. It is only adults who ever feel threatened by Sendak’s work.” (Dear Genius, p.302)

Where Does the Brown Bear Go?Phyllis: Sendak imagines a rollicking adventure making cake for breakfast, while Nikki Weiss, right from the title, asks, Where Does the Brown Bear Go? Lovely in its simplicity and strong at its heart, this series of rhyming questions, one to a spread, wonders where animals go when night falls:

When the lights go down on the city street
Where does the white cat go, honey?
Where does the white cat go?
When evening settles
On the jungle heat,
Where does the monkey go, honey?
Where does the monkey go?

After every two questions, the same answer comes: 

They are on their way.
They are on their way home.

This would be a sweet catalog of animals headed home at night, but the book resonates more deeply when it asks: 

When the junkyard is lit
By the light of the moon
Where does the junkyard dog go, honey?
 Where does the junkyard dog go? 

Knowing that even the junkyard dog is on his way home moves me almost to tears. 

Jackie: Same here. And it urges me to imagine what is home for the junkyard dog and to put myself in that home for just a bit.

Phyllis: The last page shows a boy snuggled in bed surrounded by his stuffed animals (who resemble the animals of the preceding pages), and the book’s last line reassures us that everyone is home. It’s what we wish for every one of us, that a home awaits us at night where we are safe and cherished.

Night on Neighborhood StreetEloise Greenfield’s Night on Neighborhood Street uses a variety of poetic forms to tell the stories of the children and grown-ups who live on Neighborhood Street as night falls and bedtime arrives. Juma stretches out his bedtime with a willing daddy, a new baby cries and is rocked lovingly to sleep, a family gathers for “fambly time” on the floor, Tonya’s mother plays her horn for Tonya’s friends at an overnight, the church congregation sings songs of praise, and Karen lets her sister be the mama when their mama has to work at night.  But the darker side of life appears as well:  a lonesome boy waiting for his friend to come home looks at the moon “with a sad, sad eye/poking out his mouth/getting ready to cry.” A drug dealer comes around, but the children “see behind his easy smile” and head inside. A “brother who tries to pick a fight” is shut down when everyone else nods and smiles and lets him know they’re not interested in fighting. The book ends with Tonya’s mama blowing lullaby sounds on her horn into the silence of the street. And the children “hear and smile…and they are at peace with the night.” 

Jackie: I love how the families watch out for each other in this book. There is such a strong sense that children are cared for. Tonya’s Mama is a good example of this:

When Tonya’s friends come to spend the night
Her mama’s more than just polite
She says she’s glad they came to call
Tells them that she loves them all
Listens to what they can do
Tells them what she’s good at, too.
Plays her horn and lets them sing
(Do they make that music swing!)…

We aren’t sure why Tonya’s friends are there. Perhaps there was trouble, perhaps it’s just a visit. But we are sure that Tonya’s mother is strong and will love and take care of  these children. Neighborhood Street is a neighborhood indeed, where all are made stronger by watching out for each other.

The House in the NightPhyllis: Susan Marie Swanson’s The House in the Night, inspired by a nursery rhyme from The Oxford Nursery Rhyme Book, is also deceptively simple in its text. The story is told in short declarative sentences, one sentence each to a double page spread of Beth Krommes’ Caldecott-winning scratchboard illustrations illuminated with bright yellow stars, lamplight, moon, and other objects. “Here is the key to the house,” the book begins.  In the house a light burns, a book rests on a bed, a bird flies with a song about starry dark, moon, sun, all of which circles back (in shorter phrases, a beautiful use of syntax) to the house in the night where art shows a parent lovingly tucking in the child who has read the book in “the house full of light.” Utterly beautiful and satisfying.

Jackie: There is so much to notice in this book. First the travel and the wonderful verbs:  In the house burns a light/In the light rests a bed./On that bed waits a book./In that book flies a bird./In that bird breathes a song….” We go all the way to the moon and the sun—and return. And for the journey back Susan Marie Swanson uses no verbs. We zoom from one place to the next. It really feels like space travel.

Sun in the moon,
moon in the dark,
dark in the song,
song in the bird,
bird in the book,
book on the bed,
bed in the light,
light in the house,…

You are right, Phyllis. This is such a satisfying trip back to the cozy bedroom of the house in the night.

Sweetest KuluPhyllis:  Not all nights are dark. The summer sun never really sets in the arctic, although someone who lives there told me how the quality of light changes under the midnight sun. (Someday I hope to see for myself.) In the Arctic Summer of Sweetest Kulu by Celina Kalluk nature comes to give its gifts to little Kulu on the day he is born. The sun gives him “blankets and ribbons of warm light,” wind tells how weather forms, snow buntings bring seeds of flowers and Arctic cotton, “reminding you to always believe in yourself.” Arctic Char, Fox, Narwahl and Beluga, Muskrat, Polar Bear, and the Land itself all offer gifts  both tangible and intangible. This is a child welcomed and cherished by all.  A final piece of art shows Kulu nestled with a polar bear cub in a circle of grass and flowers.  Exquisitely beautiful and loving, this is a book as full of light and joy as the endless Arctic summer days. 

Jackie: I am so impressed with the language of this book. Many phrases caught my ear. Here are a couple of examples: “Melodies of wind arrived,” “Fox, so thoughtful and swift,/came to tell you to get out of bed as soon as you wake,/and to help anyone who may need your help along your way…”

This bedtime lullaby resonates with older readers, too.  We are daily reminded in our own lives of Muskox’s gift. “Muskox shared heritage and empowerment with you,/magnificent Kulu,/showing you how to protect what you believe in.”

These nighttime books, whether in the kitchen, on Neighborhood Street, in the cozy house in the night, or in the Arctic urge us to quiet, to being in a quiet world, where we have space and time to appreciate what is around us in the physical world as well as what is in our hearts and how they are strengthened by affection and care.

Phyllis: This is the season for quiet, after the blooming and buzzing of summer. As days shorten and the nights stretch out toward solstice, choose a book or several to read aloud, an act as comforting as a cup of warm cocoa and a fire in the fireplace.

Here are a few more night stories:

Can’t Sleep by Chris Raschka

Good Night Sleep Tight by Mem Fox

Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathman

Night Flight by Joanne Ryder

Night Noises by Mem Fox

Ten Nine Eight by Molly Bang

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Orbiting Kindergarten

Planet Kindergarten: 100 Days in OrbitThat lively, quirky-thinking duo from Planet Kindergarten have teamed up once again for Planet Kindergarten: 100 Days in Orbit. Many schools use the 100-day marker to reflect on how far they’ve come since the first day of kindergarten. Social graces, etiquette, mindfulness, assignments, singing, pledges … they’re all included in this new book.

But the extra-fun twist is that our hero recounts the entire story as a trip into space aboard a starship filled with aliens and a thoughtful commander. 

A classmate who becomes sick doing “anti-gravity exercises” is kindly accompanied to the Nurse’s Office by our hero. Shane Prigmore, the illustrator, reminds us of the exciting scene from Star Wars, the first movie, in which Luke Skywalker zeros in on the Deathstar, with a hallful of doors, slightly askew, and the red-doored office at the end. Adults and older siblings will get the reference and continue looking for more. 

Waiting for show-and-tell, our hero says “Then, like the Apollo astronauts, we wait to be called up. It takes forever before my turn.” Mayhem ensues when there’s a tricky maneuver … but these children aliens are quick to lend a hand, because that’s what they’ve learned in Planet Kindergarten!

Planet Kindergarten: 100 Days in Orbit

The illustrations are bold and funny and cued-up with plenty to notice and appreciate. The story is clever but that never gets in the way. It’s a very good story to read out loud, savor as a child-and-adult reading book, or use in the classroom to inspire space-themed play and imagination. Count me in as a moon circling this planet!

Planet Kindergarten: 100 Days in Orbit
written by Sue Ganz-Schmitt
illustrated by Shane Prigmore
Chronicle Books, 2016

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Thanksgiving is a Good Time for a Book

Thanksgiving is fast approaching, As food is being prepared and family gathers, as food is being digested and some people are napping, as sports and shopping beckon, perhaps it’s a good time to take out a stack of Thanksgiving books to read aloud as a family. Here are 11 books that reflect the Thanksgiving holiday with many different stories, ranging in age from very young to teens … with books adults will enjoy as well. Happy Thanksgiving!

1621: a New Look at Thanksgiving  

1621: a New Look at Thanksgiving 
written by Catherine O’Neill Grace
National Geographic Children’s Books, 2004

“Countering the prevailing, traditional story of the first Thanksgiving, with its black-hatted, silver-buckled Pilgrims; blanket-clad, be-feathered Indians; cranberry sauce; pumpkin pie; and turkey, this lushly illustrated photo-essay presents a more measured, balanced, and historically accurate version of the three-day harvest celebration in 1621.”

 

Balloons Over Broadway:
the True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade

written and illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011

“Everyone’s a New Yorker on Thanksgiving Day, when young and old rise early to see what giant new balloons will fill the skies for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Who first invented these “upside-down puppets”? Meet Tony Sarg, puppeteer extraordinaire! In brilliant collage illustrations, Melissa Sweet tells the story of the puppeteer Tony Sarg, capturing his genius, his dedication, his zest for play, and his long-lasting gift to America—the inspired helium balloons that would become the trademark of Macy’s Parade.”

Boy in the Black Suit  

Boy in the Black Suit
written by Jason Reynolds
Atheneum, 2016

A book for older children and adults, Matt’s mother has just died and his father isn’t doing well. Matt’s on his own so he gets a job at a funeral home, where he’s surprised by how moving he finds the stories behind these funerals. When he meets one young woman whose beloved grandmother just died, he goes on his first “date” with her … at the homeless shelter where she and her grandmother have always served Thanksgiving dinner. This is an uplifting story of friendship, caring, and healing.

Cranberry Thanksgiving  

Cranberry Thanksgiving
written by Wende Devlin
illustrated by Harry Devlin
Purple House Press, 2012

“First published in 1971, this beloved favorite shares the story of Grandmother inviting a guest for Thanksgiving dinner and allowing Maggie to do the same. “Ask someone poor or lonely,” she always said. Thanksgiving was Grandmother’s favorite day of the year. The cooking was done and her famous cranberry bread was cooling on a wooden board. But she wasn’t happy to find out Maggie had invited the unsavory Mr. Whiskers to dinner. Would her secret cranberry bread recipe be safe with him in the house?”

Give Thanks to the Lord  

Give Thanks to the Lord
written by Karma Wilson
illustrated by Amy June Bates
Zonderkidz, 2013

“Celebrate the season in this heartwarming story that references Psalm 92 in tender rhyme from award-winning author Karma Wilson. Told from the point of view of one young member of an extended family, Give Thanks to the Lord celebrates joy of all kinds, from the arrival of distant relatives to a cozy house already filled with merriment, to apple cider and the delicious smells of roasting turkey and baking pie.  And just when your mouth is watering, sit down and join a thankful child in prayer, praising God for ‘food and fun and family, all the wonderful things I see.'”

Giving Thanks  

Giving Thanks:
Poems, Prayers, and Praise Songs of Thanksgiving 

written by Katherine Paterson
illustrated by Pamela Dalton
Chronicle Books, 2013

“Katherine Paterson’s meditations on what it means to be truly grateful and Pamela Dalton’s exquisite cut-paper illustrations are paired with a collection of over 50 graces, poems, and praise songs from a wide range of cultures, religions, and voices. The unique collaboration between these two extraordinary artists flowers in this important and stunningly beautiful reflection on the act of giving thanks.”

Gracias, the Thanksgiving Turkey  

Gracias, the Thanksgiving Turkey
written by Joy Cowley
illustrated by Joe Cepeda
HarperCollins, reissued in 2006

Miguel’s trucker father is on the road and Miguel is worried about him making it home in time for Thanksgiving. But then Papa sends a big wooden crate with the message, “Fatten this turkey for Thanksgiving. I’ll be home to share it with you.” Miguel names the turkey Gracias and takes him for walks in New York City. Adventures follows. Miguel wants desperately to save Gracias from the Thanksgiving table. Fun and high-spirited tale.

How Many Days to America?  

How Many Days to America? a Thanksgiving Story
written by Eve Bunting
illustrated by Beth Peck
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1990

When soldiers come to their home in the middle of the night, father and mother decide they must flee their country for their family’s safety. This is the tale of that journey and their landing in America on the Thanksgiving holiday, where the family is thankful for freedom and safety.

Squanto's Journey  

Squanto’s Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving 
written by Joseph Bruchac
illustrated by Greg Shed
Silver Whistle, 2000

“In 1620 an English ship called the Mayflower landed on the shores inhabited by the Pokanoket people, and it was Squanto who welcomed the newcomers and taught them how to survive in the rugged land they called Plymouth. He showed them how to plant corn, beans, and squash, and how to hunt and fish. And when a good harvest was gathered in the fall, the two peoples feasted together in the spirit of peace and brotherhood.”

Thankful  

Thankful
written by Eileen Spinelli
illustrated by Archie Preston
Zonderkidz, 2016

A book that conveys “the importance of being thankful for everyday blessings. Like the gardener thankful for every green sprout, and the fireman, for putting the fire out, readers are encouraged to be thankful for the many blessings they find in their lives.”

Thanks a Million  

Thanks a Million
written by Nikki Grimes
illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera
Greenwillow Books, 2006

A very appropriate book for your Thanksgiving celebration, there are sixteen poems that range in form from a haiku to a rebus to a riddle, Nikki Grimes reminds us how wonderful it is to feel thankful, and how powerful a simple “thank you” can be. This book can be used throughout the year as well. In classrooms, this is a good mentor text for creating poems of thanks and gratitude.

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William Steig and Transmogrification

bk_sylvester_200pxJackie: After Phyllis and I read Amos and Boris for our last month’s article on boats we both wondered why we hadn’t looked at the work of William Steig. He so often executes that very satisfying combination of humor and heart. Steig’s language is funny but his stories regularly involve worrisome separation and then return to a loving family.

William Steig was born to immigrant Jewish parents from Eastern Europe in 1907. His father was a painter and decorator and his mother was a seamstress. When the Depression came, Steig supported the family by selling cartoons to The New Yorker magazine. At age sixty he began to write children’s books and wrote more than two dozen before his death in 2003 at age 95.

Roger Angell, writing in The New Yorker, quoted a New York school teacher [his wife] speaking about Steig’s children’s books: “They’re touching but not sentimental, and they bring young children ideas they’ve not experienced before.”

Solomon the Rusty NailThey’re touching and they are funny—sometimes they are downright silly. In Solomon The Rusty Nail (1985), Solomon the rabbit figures out that if he scratches his nose and wiggles his toes at exactly the same time he becomes a rusty nail. Not to worry, this is not Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, not yet at least. Solomon also figures out that if he says to himself, “I’m no nail, I’m a rabbit,” he will quickly become a rabbit again.

Phyllis: I thought I knew most of Steig’s work but I didn’t know this book, and I love it, not least for Steig’s wonderfully playful language. When Solomon discovers his ability to transform, his first thought is to show his family what a “prize pazoozle of a rabbit” he is but decides instead to keep his “secret secret.” When Solomon transforms into a rusty nail behind a tree to fool a cat who has captured him, the cat is “discombobulated “and searches for Solomon “clockwise, counter clockwise, and otherwise.”

But for all their delicious language, Steig’s stories have high stakes: when Solomon refuses to turn back into a rabbit so the cat and his wife can eat him, the irate cat pounds him into the wall of their cabin where Solomon, unable to transform back into his true self, wonders, “Do nails die?”

Doctor De SotoJackie: Steig’s Doctor DeSoto, (1982) the mouse dentist has always been a favorite of mine. It is the perfect combination of humor and sensitivity, even compassion. Even though he has sworn not to treat foxes and wolves, Doctor Desoto agrees to treat the suffering fox. And the fox repays this kindness by wondering if it would be “shabby” to eat Dr. and Mrs. DeSoto. [Is “shabby” not the perfect, hilarious word here?] We root for Doctor DeSoto who says he always finishes what he starts and we love his remarkable preparation that allows him to fix the fox’s tooth and save the lives of him and his wife.

Perhaps everyone knows Sylvester and the Magic Pebble (1969), Steig’s Caldecott winner. Sylvester’s unfortunate wish turns him into a rock. His parents grieve. He sits and drowses as a rock until a remarkable series of circumstances results in his return to his old donkey form. So satisfying.

Steig loved this theme of transformation and clearly wasn’t done with it after Sylvester. He gave us the above-mentioned Solomon the Rusty Nail, The Toy Brother (1996), Gorky Rises (1980), all of which involve some sort of magical preparation or incantation and some sort of “stuckness.”

Amazing BonePhyllis: Steig is a master at making us believe these seemingly inexplicable vicissitudes. In The Amazing Bone Pearl the pig finds a bone that can talk in any language and imitate any sound—a trumpet’s call to arms, the wind blowing, the rain pattering down, snoring, sneezing. When Pearl asks the bone how it can sneeze, it replies, “I don’t know. I didn’t make the world.” When a hungry fox captures Pearl and the bone pleads for him to let her go, the fox replies, “I can’t help being the way I am. I didn’t make the world.”

Toy BrotherJackie: The Toy Brother (1996) is a wonderful turnaround book about two siblings who live with their parents—Magnus Bede, a famous alchemist, and his “happy-go-lucky wife” Eutilda. The older son, Yorick, “considers little Charles a first-rate pain in the pants.” Yorick is his father’s apprentice and hopes to turn donkey dung into gold. When the parents go off for a wedding Yorick sneaks into his father’s lab. Things don’t work out as he hoped and Yorick next appears the size of a mole. Charles enjoys his role as big brother and is actually kind to Yorick, builds him a house, feeds him crumbs of cheese, tries to amuse him by costuming himself and the family animals. But the two cannot get Yorick back to his original size, and neither can Magnus. Until Yorick remembers one very important detail.

Once again, Steig’s language is such a joy. When they realize what is needed, Magnus says, “Ginger! That’s a fish from another pond. Is it any wonder there was no transmogrification?” What child is not going to love that? I almost feel transmogrified reading it.

Gorky RisesGorky the frog makes a potion, too, in a kitchen lab, with “a little of this and a little of that: a spoon each of chicken soup, tea, and vinegar, a sprinkle of coffee grounds, one shake of talcum powder, two shakes of paprika, a dash of cinnamon, a splash of witch hazel, and finally a bit of his father’s clear cognac and a lot of attar of roses (!!).”… “This obviously was the magic formula he had long been seeking.”

He doesn’t know what it will do but soon realizes that it enables him to rise in the sky and float. He startles the groundlings, including a fox who looks like he just dropped by before his gig in Doctor DeSoto. Gorky endures a storm and longs for home…and eventually figures out how to get there.

Amos & BorisPhyllis: In Amos and Boris, I was startled by the fortuitous appearance of two elephants who help Amos the mouse roll Boris the whale back into the sea when he is beached by a storm. I didn’t realize that more elephants wander through Steig’s stories—Elephant Rock where Gorky eventually lands really is a transformed elephant, restored to his real self by the last drops of Gorky’s formula.

Brave IreneStorms are also recurring characters in Steig’s books. Irene encounters a storm in Brave Irene, an inimitable one that yodels a warning: “Go home….GO HO-WO-WOME,” as she attempts to deliver a dress her mother has made for the duchess. When the wind carries off the dress, Irene presses on in the worsening storm to tell the duchess what happened to her beautiful gown. Irene twists her ankle, she gets lost, night falls, she shivers from the cold, and just when she finally spots the castle below she is swallowed by a snowdrift up to her hat. In despair, she wonders if she should give up and freeze to death, since she is already buried. But the memory of her mother “who always smelled like fresh-baked bread” gives her the energy to fight free of the snowdrift, find a way to the castle (where the wind has plastered the gown to a tree) and eventually arrive home, driven by the doctor who tells her mother “what a brave and loving person Irene was. Which, of course, Mrs. Bobbin knew. Better than the duchess.”

Back cover of Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, illustration copyright William Steig

Back cover of Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, illustration copyright William Steig

Jackie: These characters are all surprised by circumstance. Storms fly in. The potions do not work exactly as planned. Dealing with these circumstances is not always easy. And so it is with the lives of children. Things do not go along as planned. They hear: “We are moving. You’ll be going to a new school.” “Your father and I are separating.” “We’re having a new baby. You’ll need to share your room.” It’s hard to get back to the old life. That is true in Steig’s stories. Sylvester’s parents grieve when they lose him. Gorky’s parents search for him all night and are tremendously relieved to see him.

All of his characters are returned to the loving arms of family, changed perhaps by their adventures, but not alone. I would love to do a session with students in which we read these books and then wrote our own story of transmogrification. What a freeing experience to change into something/someone else, to float, to talk to a bone—that talked back.

Phyllis: What a terrific idea. I want to read all of his books aloud, savoring his deliriously delectable language in book after book after book. Steig is a prize pazoozle of a writer as well as an artist.

Jackie: Though he was not writing tracts for children Steig was well aware of the power of story. He said in his Caldecott Acceptance Speech:

Art, including juvenile literature, has the power to make any spot on earth the living center of the universe, and unlike science, which often gives us the illusion of understanding things we really do not understand, it helps us to know life in a way that still keeps before us the mystery of things. It enhances the sense of wonder. And wonder is respect for life. Art also stimulates the adventurousness and the playfulness that keep us moving in a lively way and that lead us to useful discovery.

Books for children are something I take seriously. I am hopeful that more and more the work I do for children, as well as the work I do for adults, will approach the condition of art. I believe that what this award and this ceremony represent is our mutual striving in the same direction, and I feel encouraged by the faith you have expressed in me in honoring my book with the Caldecott Medal. (Caldecott Acceptance Speech, June, 1970).

His stories remind us that the “mystery of things … stimulate[s] adventurousness and playfulness” in both theme and language. In Steig’s books we can share the fun of sound, the joy of adventure, and the sweetness of return.

Phyllis: And they remind us, too, that in the inexplicable events of the universe, our families love us, search for us when we are lost, and welcome us home again with immeasurable delight.

See also: The Collection of William Steig at the University of Pennsylvania.

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Coming Home to Safe Harbor

Lake Superior

Phyllis: This summer I had the opportunity to sail for a week in Lake Superior, so we are turning our thoughts to books about the sea (including the great inland sea that borders Minnesota, so vast it makes its own weather).  If we can’t go sailing right now, we can at least read about it in a fleet of good picture books.

Jackie:  And I am a self-confessed water gazer. I’m not a boater of any kind but I can’t get enough of being next to water, watching and listening.

The Mousehole Cat

Phyllis: I cannot tell you how much I love The Mousehole Cat by Antonia Barber with luminous art by Nicola Bayley.  As many times as I’ve read it, the story still gives me shivers and makes me want to cry. Mousehole (pronounced Mowzel by the Cornish people who live there) is a small town where the people go out every day through the narrow breakwater opening into the ocean to fish for their living. Old Tom and his cat Mowzer fish as well, for Mowzer in particular is partial to a plate of fresh fish. 

One day a terrible winter storm blows in. “’The Great Storm-Cat is stirring,’ thinks Mowzer,” and although the Great Storm–Cat flings the sea against the breakwater and claws at the harbor gap, the boats are safe “as mice in their own mousehole,” but the people are hungry because no one can go out into the ocean to fish.

Finally, on Christmas Eve, Old Tom decides he should go out to try to fish, for he cannot stand to see the children starving at Christmas. Mowzer goes with him, “for he was only a man, she thought, and men were like mice in the paws of the Great Storm-Cat.”

The Mousehole Cat

illustration copyright Nicola Bayley

And it is Mowzer’s singing that distracts the Great Storm-Cat long enough for the boat to escape the harbor and play out the nets in the ocean. All day Mowzer sings to the Great Storm-Cat, but she knows he will strike when they run for the harbor and safety.  As she thinks of the food they might make with the catch they have hauled in, Mowzer begins to purr, a sound the Great Storm-Cat has not heard since he was a Storm-Kitten. They purr together, the seas calm, and Old Tom and Mowzer come into the harbor on the “smallest, tamest Storm-Kitten of a wind” where the whole town is waiting with lit candles to guide them home.  (Even writing this gives me shivers of delight.) 

Every year since then the village of Mousehole is lit with a thousand lights at Christmas time, “a message of hope and a safe haven to all those who pass in peril of the sea.”

Jackie: The lit candles that guide them home after the adventure is such a wonderful touch. Don’t we all want to be guided home after a great struggle? The plot is so satisfying as well. It’s the small cat that saves them because she begins to purr.  As I was thinking about Mowzer’s purr I realized how calming a cat’s purr is.  I think we all become more relaxed if we have a purring cat on our lap. Same for the Great Storm Cat.

This is a lovely illustrated short story that I think would charm middle graders, as well as primary graders.

Amos and BorisPhyllis:  Another favorite is William Steig’s Amos and Boris, the story of a mouse who builds a boat, christens it the Rodent, provisions it with a delightful list of items, and sets sail on the ocean. Amos is less lucky than Old Tom and Mowzer; one night, gazing at the vast and starry sky while lying on his boat, he rolls overboard, and the Rodent in full sail bowls along without him. Amos manages to stay afloat through the night, leading to one of my favorite comforting lines in all of picture books: “Morning came, as it always does.” And with morning comes Boris the whale, just as Amos’s strength is failing. Boris gives Amos a ride home by whaleback, and on the weeklong journey they become “the closest possible friends.”

Jackie: I just love that!

Phyllis:  When they near shore, Amos thanks Boris and offers his help if Boris ever needs it, which amuses Boris. He can’t imagine how a little mouse could ever help him.

Amos and Boris by William Steig

illustration copyright William Steig

Years pass. Hurricane Yetta flings Boris ashore right by Amos’s house. Boris will die unless he gets back in the water, and Amos runs off to get help: two elephants who roll the whale back into the ocean while Amos stands on one of their heads, yelling instructions that no one can hear. Soon Boris is afloat again, whale tears rolling down his cheeks. Knowing they might never meet again, the friends say a tearful good-bye, knowing, too, that they will always remember each other.

In another writer’s hands, I might make some comment about the convenient “elephants ex machina” that Amos finds, but I accept it completely here, because Steig makes me believe. And cry, again.

Jackie: There is so much to love in this story. First, the list of items: cheese, biscuits, acorns, honey, wheat germ [Steig must have included wheat germ because he liked the sound. Wheat germ?] fresh water, a compass, a sextant, a telescope, a saw, a hammer and nails and some wood, … a needle and thread for the mending of torn sails and various other necessities such as bandages and iodine, a yo-yo and playing cards.” I just love the notion of a mouse on a boat practicing his yo-yo tricks. And I think readers will be called to ask themselves what they might find essential for a sea journey.

And I’m admiring of the nuanced way Steig moves the plot along. Amos doesn’t roll off the boat because he falls asleep, or because a high wind blows him off. He falls off because he is “overwhelmed by the beauty and mystery of everything.” His own capacity for awe is what causes the problem.

You have talked about the wonderful back and forth of helping between Amos and Boris. I want to mention, too, Boris’s wonderful voice. When the mouse meets the whale, he says. “’I’m a mouse, which is a mammal, the highest form of life. I live on land.’

‘Holy clam and cuttlefish!’ said the whale. I’m a mammal myself, though I live in the sea. Call me Boris,’ he added.” [A little nod to “Call me Ishmael?”]

Sometimes good luck happens. When the worst looks inevitable, fate intervenes. And sometimes fate gives us life-saving elephants. They are such a relief. And so outlandish. It’s as if Steig is saying, “I’m the author. I can do this.”

Little Tim and the Brave Sea CaptainPhyllis:  Edward Ardizzone wrote and illustrated a series of eleven books about Little Tim, who goes to sea, beginning with Little Tim and The Brave Sea Captain and ending with Tim’s Last Voyage. We loved these books when my children were growing up, and we still do. Visit this site so you can hear a sample of Little Tim and The Brave Sea Captain read aloud and see Ardizzone’s wonderful art. 

Jackie:  I love the language of this book: “’Sometimes Tim would astonish his parents by saying, ’That’s a Cunarder’ or ‘Look at that barquentine on the port bow.’” [I want to say that again and again.] When his parents say he is much too young to go to sea, Tim is “so sad that he resolved, at the first opportunity, to run away to sea.”

Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain

illustration copyright Edward Ardizzone

But best of all, I had the sense throughout this story that the storyteller was going to give me a wonderful yarn and that, with or without elephants, Little Tim was going to get through this adventure safely.

Keep the Lights Burning, AbbiePhyllis:  Keep the Lights Burning, Abbie by Peter and Connie Roop is a book for those who pass in peril of the sea. Based on the true story of 16-year old Abbie Burgess, whose father was the lighthouse keeper on Matinicus Rock off the coast of Maine, the book tells how Abbie’s father heads out one morning to get much needed supplies from Matinicus Island and is storm-bound there for weeks before he can return. Abbie takes care of her three younger sisters and her ailing mother and “keeps the lights burning” so that ships can pass safely by. She lights the lamps, scrapes ice off the windows so the lights can be seen, trims wicks, cleans lamps, fills them with oil, and saves her chickens when waves threaten to wash them away, all until her father can safely sail back to the lighthouse. A wonderful strong character for girls and boys to know about.

Jackie:  There is something so alluring about lighthouses and islands. I wonder how many kids have fantasies of living in a lighthouse on an island. I sure did. I really enjoyed the matter-of-fact tone of this story. As Abbie is first lighting the lamps a match blows out, but the next one doesn’t, nor the next and she goes on to light them all, night after night for a month. No drama, just a telling of what she did. No drama but touching emotion at the end when we learn that her father was watching for those lights every night as evidence that his family was still there. That detail almost made me tear up.

In a Village by the SeaPhyllis:  We could sail on through sea story after sea story. A more recent book, In a Village by the Sea by Muon Van is a elegantly simple and lovely story that begins, “In a fishing village by the sea there is a small house.” Each page moves closer in, from the house to the kitchen to the fire to a pot of soup to a woman watching the soup to a sleepy child to a dusty hole in the floor where a cricket is humming and painting a picture of a fisherman in his storm-tossed boat hoping for the storm to end so that he can return to his village by the sea where in a small house, his family waits for him to come home. April Chu’s beautiful art concludes the book with the cricket painting a picture of that fisherman and his boat sailing home into a calm harbor.

Jackie:  This book is so artful and so satisfying in the way we circle in on the story and then circle back out. And I agree about April Chu’s illustrations. They are wonderfully expressive. I almost expect the dog to talk.

In a Village by the Sea

illustration copyright April Chu

Thanks for choosing these books, Phyllis. I’m sitting at my desk on a quiet, cloudy day but feel as if I have been on adventures. My head is stretched, and I look at my house and yard with new appreciation. The sea, or stories about the sea, take us out of our lives, our kitchens, toss us around a bit, and with hope and help—and occasional elephants—bring us back home, where, as Little Tim might say, we are ever so glad for warmth and chocolate.

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Windows, Mirrors, Sliding Glass Doors, and Maps

“There seems little chance of developing the humility so urgently needed for world cooperation, instead of world conflict, as long as our children are brought up on gentle doses of racism through their books.” —Nancy Larrick

“When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are distorted, negative or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part.” —Rudine Sims Bishop

“Perhaps this exclusivity, in which children of color are at best background characters, and more often than not absent, is in fact part of the imaginative aspect of these books. But what it means is that when kids today face the realities of our world, our global economies, our integrations and overlappings, they all do so without a proper map. They are navigating the streets and avenues of their lives with an inadequate, outdated chart, and we wonder why they feel lost.” —Christopher Myers

Three profound quotes, all contemplating the troubling reality of the predominantly white world of children’s literature. These quotes appeared in three separate articles that were written decades apart in 1965, 1990 and 2014, respectively. It has been more than 50 years since Nancy Larrick penned “The All White World of Children’s Books.” And then, 25 years later, Rudine Sims Bishop addressed the same travesty in her article “Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Glass Doors.” Skip ahead another two dozen years and we hear from Christopher Myers when he discusses “The Apartheid of Children’s Literature.” It is a sad reality that so little progress has been made over so many years.

bk_courageeousconversationsYet, I am compelled to feel optimistic. I have sincere hopes and dreams that bigger change is possible. One reason for this positivity comes from the investment and effort my new school district has made towards racial equity and promoting the equity journeys of every district employee. The two-day “Beyond Diversity” workshop I recently attended, based on the work of Glenn Singleton and his book Courageous Conversations About Race, was one of the most powerful “back to school” professional development sessions I have ever experienced. Simply put, race matters, and so do our discussions, beliefs, feelings, thoughts, and actions related to race. 

Emmanuel's DreamSo how do I grapple with the current reality, my role as a white woman working in classrooms with a mixture of precious brown, black, and white faces, eager to share a side of children’s literature that honors each and every one of them? We are in our second week of school, establishing classroom communities, discussing our hopes and dreams. I pull out a treasured book, one that packs a powerful message about the importance of not letting disabilities become inabilities. A true story that delivers an uplifting message of bravery, respect, determination and love. As I read the first few pages of Emmanuel’s Dream by Laurie Ann Thompson, the little guy right in front of me asks the question, “Hey, how come everyone in that book looks like me?.” I dream of a day when this experience, the sharing of a picture book filled with children and adults of color, does not prompt a child, any child, to feel this is an unusual occurrence, but rather one that is commonplace and expected.  

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Apples, Well-Being, and Family

Bring Me Some Apples and I'll Make You a PieBring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie: A Story about Edna Lewis is a memorable book about growing food throughout the seasons and living off the land in Virginia. Wild strawberry, purslane, dandelions, sassafras, honey. As spring rides the breeze into summer, this extended family tends to their larder, taking full advantage of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables growing around them. Summer subdues itself into fall. Time to bring in the corn and beans, take a last harvest of pecans before winter sets in.

This way of life may be unfamiliar to a large percentage of children, but even though the book is set in the 1920s, everything about the story feels contemporary. Perhaps it is a way of life that withstands time.

Food is the focus because this is a glimpse of the early life of Edna Lewis, renowned chef and Southern cookbook author. As the author and watercolor illustrator Robbin Gourley writes, “But her most significant contribution was to make people aware of the importance of preserving traditional methods of growing and preparing food and of bringing ingredients directly from the field to the table.” With our current resurgence of interest in a farm-to-table lifestyle, this book is a good way to talk about food and nutrition with your children.

Bring Me Some Apples and I'll Bake You a Pie

Quite a few traditional sayings are included in the book:

“Raccoon up the pecan tree.
Possum on the ground.
Raccoon shake the pecans down.
Possum pass ‘em round.”

Your mouth will water so much while you’re reading this book that you’ll be glad there are five recipes in the back of the book, from Strawberry Shortcake to Pecan Drops.

The watercolor illustrations throughout are charming and informative, warm and loving. The color palette of clear, bright tones adds to the feeling of health and well-being.

It’s a worthwhile addition to your home, school, or public library.

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Calvin Can’t Fly

Calvin-250When I was doing storytime weekly, a book about a bookworm starling was in my regular rotation. Yes, you read that right—a Bookworm Starling. That’s exactly what Calvin (the starling) is—a bookworm. And that is his shame—his cousins call him “nerdie birdie,” “geeky beaky,” and “bookworm.” Unusual (gently derogatory) labels for a starling. Not that it deters Calvin—he mostly shrugs and turns the page.

Calvin is the only starling in his very large family who does not seem to care much about flying. (Refresh your memory on how starlings move about with this astounding video of starling murmurations.) He’s into books. In a big way. While his cousins learn to fly and chase beetles, bugs, and ants, Calvin sits and learns to read letters, words, and sentences. He dreams of adventure stories, information, and poetry. His cousins dream of insect eating and garbage picking. And although they call him by the above names, they mostly ignore him, so enraptured with flying are they.

And Calvin is just as enraptured with stories and learning. Pirates and volcanoes, dinos and planets, science and history—Calvin reads it all. He reads the entire summer, learning and absorbing everything his little starling brain can.

When the seasons begin to turn, the urgency for Calvin to learn to fly becomes apparent. And yet, he manages not to learn. This creates quite an issue, because the wind has grown cold and it is time to head south….

The entire starling family takes off, minus Calvin. They don’t get far before they turn around and come back for Calvin. He is carried in the most hilarious way, which more than excuses the unkind words previously used about his reading habits.

And as it turns out, Calvin’s reading saves them—Calvin is the unexpected hero! “Make haste!” he says, leading the entire starling family to safety. Kids love this! They love that his book-knowledge of something as obscure as hurricane safety came in handy. They all but cheer—actually, once a set of twins did cheer when I read how Calvin saved them all. And kids are further delighted when Calvin flaps his wings in happiness, jumping and hopping and dancing…and flies! At last!

When I looked up the author, Jennifer Berne, I found out there’s another Calvin book! I don’t know how I missed it. Ms. Berne and the illustrator, Keith Bendis, have told an empowering story, (without being preachy!) about the wonders and necessity of reading. Can’t wait to read Calvin’s next adventures. I’m off to find a group of kids to read to….

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Cook-A-Doodle-Do!

Cook+A+Doodle+Do-260-pixI’ve got dessert on my mind—berry shortcake, to be precise. I’ve already done the strawberry shortcake during strawberry season. My raspberry bushes are producing at a rate that might call for shortcake in the near future, however. And whenever I make shortcake—or even think of it—I think of Cook-a-doodle-doo by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel (who are sisters, I believe).

This book was An Extreme Favorite at our house through two kids—one who was already on the older end of picture books when it came out. Why the popularity? Quite simply: It’s hilarious. And sweet (no pun intended). But mostly hilarious.

Big Brown Rooster is in need of a change—no more chicken feed! No more pecking about! He remembers that his very famous great-grandmother, The Little Red Hen, penned a cookbook: The Joy of Cooking Alone by L.R. Hen. Once he finds it, he realizes his great granny cooked far more than loaves of bread. And he is hungry for the strawberry shortcake featured in the middle of the book.

Like his Great-Granny before him, Big Brown Rooster is surrounded by unhelpful friends. Dog, Cat, and Goose each take their potshots at Big Brown Rooster, but he is undeterred. He ties on his apron, ready to cook all alone, only to find three new friends: Turtle, Iguana, and Pot-bellied Pig.

“Do you three know anything about cooking?” Rooster asked.

“I can read recipes!” said Turtle.

“I can get stuff!” said Iguana.

“I can taste!” said Pig. “I am expert at tasting.”

And so the team members don hats—an apron tied around Big Brown Rooster’s head, a towel around Pig’s head, an oven mitt for Iguana, and a small pot worn baseball cap-like for turtle. The illustrations are sweet and hysterical at the same time. The mix-ups and misunderstandings are on the level of the Three Stooges crossed with Amelia Bedelia. But detailed sidebars guide a home/kid cook through the correct steps. What the friends lack in experience and skill, they make up for in exuberance and excitement—so, very much like baking with children, actually.

It’s astounding when you see what they go through, but they create a beautiful (if slightly leaning) tower of strawberry shortcake. It’s only when they try to move it to the table to enjoy together that things…slip away from them. Pot-bellied Pig takes his turn—he’s the expert taster, and positively unflummoxed by shortcake being smeared across the floor. In split second—not even a page turn—the strawberry shortcake is gone.

It is then that the previously amiable friends start to lose it. Names are called and threats are intimated (plump juicy roast pig, iguana pie, turtle soup etc.)

But wise Rooster takes command. “It doesn’t matter,” he says. “The first shortcake was just for practice.”

And so they make another. The three friends—Iguana, Pig, and Turtle—volunteer to help again, and it’s quick work the second time around. The last spread features a party of friends—including the nay-saying Dog, Cat and Goose!—enjoying strawberry shortcake. The last page features Great-Granny’s recipe for Magnificent Strawberry Shortcake.

I think I’ll make some tonight!

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Bink and Gollie

Early this morning I read Bink and Gollie books to my nieces. We were killing timeBink&Golliebook-180pix while their parents picked up the rental car for their Great American Summer Roadtrip. To say that the level of excitement was palpable is an understatement—it was a wave that nearly knocked me down when they opened their door. They talked—both of them—nonstop for an hour while we sipped our breakfast smoothies.

Mom and Dad were not back when we sucked down the final drops of smoothie, which was concerning, so anxious were they to get on the road already. I said, “Well, what can we do…that we can put down if your Mom and Dad come back in two minutes…and pick back up after your trip?”

“Books!” said one.

“YEAH—WE CAN READ BOOKS!” said the other.

“On the deck!”

“In the sunshine!”

“Let’s do it!”

And so we took Bink and Gollie with us to the sunny deck. No matter how excited these sweet girls get—and let me tell you, they were excited this morning!—they calm down instantly with a book. Their breathing changes by page two. And so we snuggled up and read, breathing deeply in the early morning sunshine.

I’d forgotten how much of the story is told in the pictures in Bink and Gollie books—and how many words are in the pictures. Labels and instructions, signs and notes, jokes and fun. Because both girls are learning to read, this works really well. I read the story itself and they read the pictures. The pictures are often filled with big words. (So is the story itself—it’s something I appreciate about Kate DiCamillo’s and Alison McGhee’s writing. They do not simplify vocabulary.) Some things we have to sound out together, but the real fun is getting the inflection right. Reading it in our Gollie voice, or like a 1940’s radio advertisement, or like a carnival barker.

Bink and Gollie are opposites in many ways—Gollie is tall and skinny, pragmaticBink&Gollie-180-pix and formal in her speech. She says things like I long for speed. And Greetings. And I beg you not to do that…. My nieces find this amusing. They are also tall and skinny, pragmatic (sometimes, anyway), and hilariously formal in their speech at times.

Bink is short and has hair sticking up all over her head. She loves bright socks and pancakes and peanut butter. No one would call my nieces short. (“We don’t have that problem,” one of them said this morning as we read about Bink ordering a Stretch-o-matic to make herself taller.) But their hair is sometimes Bink-like. And they delight in the simple things of life—including, but not limited to, socks, celebratory pancakes, and peanut butter. They also have Bink’s energy—they yammer, they jump, they zip, they climb and glide.

In short, they love both Bink and Gollie. They are Bink and Gollie—they can relate, as it were. Bink and Gollie have adventures, a sweet friendship, and they rollerskate everywhere—these details light up my sweet girls. They enjoy decoding the words in the pictures and getting the joke. They are envious of the treehouse in which Bink and Gollie live. They’d like to visit Eccles’ Empire of Enchantment—and maybe hit a Bargain Bonanza. (Maybe the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota will satisfy them.)

Bink and Gollie got us almost to Mom and Dad’s return. We did have to take a little field trip to my house (just around the corner) because their cousin was baking scones, but then Mom and Dad were home, the rented Jeep was loaded in record time, and off they went!

I wonder if they’re levitating with excitement in their car seats, chattering away like Bink or saying I long for the mountains…. like Gollie. They invited me to sneak in their car and go with them. Maybe I should’ve taken them up on it.

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Bookstorm™: Jazz Day

Bookmap for Jazz Day

 

Jazz DayThis month we’re featuring Jazz Day, a book that’s all about jazz and a photograph that recorded a moment in time, people at the top of their musical careers and people who were just getting started. Author Roxane Orgill is familiar with the jazz culture; she’s written several books about the music and the people. Illustrator Francis Vallejo took elements of photography, graphic design, acrylic, and pastels to illustrate his first book. This powerful team has received no fewer than six starred reviews for the picture book biography they’ve created together.

In Jazz Day, each story is told with a poem, among them free verse, a pantoum, and a list poem. There are poems about the photographer, the musicians, the young neighborhood boys who showed up for the photograph out of curiosity, the jazz life, and the process of taking the photo, Harlem 1958, which is famous for capturing a large number of musicians in their time, their clothing, their community, but without their instruments (except for one guy, Rex Stewart, but it earned him a poem).

In each Bookstorm™, we offer a bibliography of books that have close ties to the the featured book. You’ll find books, websites, and videos for a variety of tastes and interests. This month, we’re focusing on books about jazz, music, singers, and photography. 

Downloadables

 

 

You’ll find more information about Roxane Orgill on her website. The illustrator’s website will show you more of Francis Vallejo’s portfolio.

BOOKSTORM TOPICS

Jazz Musicians in Picture Books. Here you’ll find excellent picture books about jazz musicians including Trombone Shorty, John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Mary Louise Williams, Melba Liston, Duke Ellington, and Benny Goodman. Many of these books help us understand how the childhood of these renowned musicians launched them into their careers.

Jazz Singers. Ella Fitzgerald? Scat. Josephine Baker? Showmanship. Civil rights. The Sweethearts of Rhythm? Swing musicians who rose to prominence during the war. Exceptional books about exceptional singers.

Jazz for Older Readers. From Roxane Orgill’s own book, Dream Lucky, one of the best books about jazz musicians, to highly respected books like Jazz 101, and The History of Jazz, and Marsalis on Music, there’s a lot of information here to get you talking proficiently about, and teaching, jazz.

Photography. Art Kane wasn’t a photographer but he took one of the most famous photographs, Harlem 1958. But there are children’s books about famous photographers such as Gordon Parks and Snowflake Bentley. You’ll find more suggestions in the Bookstorm.

The Music. Your students who are already interested in rap or jazz rap or hip-hop or pop music, will be fascinated to listen to the different genres of jazz music that came before … and we’ve included URLs where you can find excellent examples. Or perhaps you’re a jazz aficionado and you have your own music to share.

Websites. There are helpful websites such as the Jazz Education Network and Smithsonian Jazz that will help you put together a multimedia set of lesson plans for exploring jazz, our most American form of music.

Let us know how you are making use of this Bookstorm™. Share your ideas and any other books you’d add to this Bookstorm™.

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Bookstorm™: Miss Colfax’s Light

Bookmap Miss Colfax's Light

 

Miss Colfax's LightWe are pleased to feature Miss Colfax’s Light as our June book selection, in which author Aimée Bissonette and illustrator Eileen Ryan Ewen tell the fascinating story of a woman who served as the Michigan City Lighthouse keeper from 1861 to 1904. Captains and navigators on Lake Michigan relied on her lighthouse to keep them from foundering on the rocks or crashing onto the shore in rough weather.

Every day heroes. That’s how author Aimée Bissonette refers to the people in history who intrigue her. She traveled to research her chosen subject, Harriet Colfax, talking with people in Indiana who could proudly provide information. Miss Colfax faithfully kept a log, so Aimée was able to read about Harriet’s work and her daily life in Harriet’s own words. Illustrator Eileen Ryan Ewen painted a wealth of accurate, time-appropriate details into the pages of the book, helping readers visually understand the time in which Miss Colfax lived. We think you’ll be inspired by Miss Colfax’s story as much as we are.

In each Bookstorm™, we offer a bibliography of books that have close ties to the the featured book. You’ll find books, articles, and videos for a variety of tastes and interests. This month, we’re focusing on books about American lighthouses, lighthouse keepers, and biographies of female heroes. 

Downloadables

 

 

You’ll find more information about Aimée Bissonette on her website. The illustrator’s website will show you more of Eileen Ryan Ewen’s portfolio.

BOOKSTORM TOPICS

About Lighthouses. For background information as you prepare to excite students, library patrons, or your family members about American lighthouses, these books will help you locate these beacons of safety, learn more about their operation, and understand the science and math that are an inherent part of the workings of lighthouses around the country.

Brave and Extraordinary Women. From picture book biographies to short-article anthologies, you’ll find a variety of inspiring stories from oceanographer Sylvia Earle to educational activist Malala Yousafzai.

How Lighthouses Work. From the Fresnel lens to the Chance Brothers engineering to the improvements in fuel, increases in the range of light, and Edison’s invention of the lightbulb, you’ll find books to inform your presentations and discussions about Miss Colfax’s Light.

Lighthouse Books. There are a number of good books to pair with our featured Bookstorm. Compare the true story of Miss Colfax with that of Abbie Burgess, who took her lighthouse keeper father’s place during an ice storm, or the Maine Flying Santa program, or the Little Red Lighthouse near the George Washington Bridge in New York City, among many others.

Protecting Our Waterways. In addition to our lighthouse keepers, the U.S. Coast Guard is on duty protecting water travelers and shipping vessels during all types of weather and in hazardous situations. These books will extend readers’ understanding of the work done by highly skilled patrols.

Water. Before and after reading Miss Colfax’s Light, it’s a good time to have a discussion about the importance of water in our lives. From our Great Lakes, to our coastal waters, to the rivers and lakes throughout our country, to the water that falls from the sky, to the water that is pumped up from underground aquifers, water and water conservation are essential to our everyday lives. 

Whether you choose to focus on every day heroes, water, science, Great Lakes commerce, or inspiration women, there are many directions you can go and many subjects you can support with Miss Colfax’s Light.

Let us know how you are making use of this Bookstorm™. Share your ideas and any other books you’d add to this Bookstorm™.

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Gardening and Farming Delights

 

Jackie: At last—we made it to spring and all the usual accoutrements have shown up—lilacs, violets, the smell of apple blossoms, and thoughts of sprouting seeds and growing vegetables.  How could we not look at picture books about gardens and farming this month?

Miss Jaster's GardenI have to confess, Phyllis, I did not know of Miss Jaster’s Garden, written and illustrated by N. M. Bodecker and published in 1972. I’m so glad to meet Miss Jaster and Hedgie the hedgehog whom she treats with a bowl of milk each night. “But hedgehogs being the shape they are, and Miss Jaster being a little nearsighted, as often as not she put the saucer where the hedgehog’s head wasn’t. And Hedgie—so as not to cause distress—“politely dipped his tail in the milk and pretended to drink.” 

That’s not the only problem caused by Miss Jaster’s poor vision. When she is scattering flower seeds in her garden she does not see Hedgie and plants seeds on him too.  “…after a while he began feeling restless.” Hedgie is sprouting. Hedgie blooms! And feels like dancing. “Tomorrow I’ll be as quiet as an earthworm,” thought Hedgie, “but not today. Today is the greatest day of my life. There’ll never be another like it!” When Miss Jaster sees flowers dancing in the yard, she yells, “STOP THIEF!”  and poor Hedgie, frightened and chagrined, runs off. Eventually the Chief Constable, with a capable bit of sleuthing, finds Hedgie and brings him back—“a weary, worried, bedraggled little animal, down on his luck.” Miss Jaster feels bad at having given the hedgehog (“flowerhog”) such a scare. And they take breakfast together every morning—“And there was nothing but peace and sunshine and a touch of Sweet William.”

I love the tone of this book—Hedgie is up for the adventure of being a walking flower garden. The constable is thoughtful, “Did you by chance, happen to notice how many legs these flowers had when they made their getaway? In round numbers?” In round numbers! And I love the characters—the hedgehog who’s so thoughtful he pretends to drink with his tail so as not to upset Miss Jaster. And kind Miss Jaster who doesn’t mind sharing her garden with a hedgehog and is actually pleased when she realized that she also shared flower seeds with him.

This story has a lot of text. But the humor is so wonderful and the characters just the right degree of eccentric, I think it would be enjoyed  by the five to ninety crowd. What do you think?

Miss Jaster's Garden

Phyllis: I didn’t know this book, either, but I also love it. The double-page spread map at the beginning of the book is a little story all in itself, as good maps often are. From Hedgie’s corner to the birdbath (“For ancient inscription, see page 17”) to Miss J’s wicker chair and Sunrise Hill (“Elevation 9’”) Bodecker has created a whole world in art as well as text.

As someone who has become nearer and nearer sighted my whole life, I completely understand how Miss Jaster might make such a mistake. And who wouldn’t want a walking flower garden? Who wouldn’t want to be a flower garden? I love how the ending brings mutual satisfaction to Miss Jaster and to Hedgie, who have always been solicitous of each other—each morning they share “a leisurely breakfast … and a walk along the beach, followed by a small but persistent butterfly.”

Certainly the text is much longer than many more recent picture books, but what wonderful details! When Miss Jaster goes out to plant she does so in “a purple morning-dress and sturdy shoes” with a “large straw hat, trimmed with cornflowers on her head,” pulling “a small four-wheeled wagon full of garden tools and flower seeds.” Like a garden in full bloom, the story is lush with language.

I love, too, how Hedgie, as he discovers he’s sprouting, wonders which he will be:  “’Flower bed or vegetable garden? Vegetable garden or flower bed?’” until one day, “’I’m in bloom!’ cried Hedgie.”

Grandpa's Too Good GardenJackie:  I call James Stevenson the writer with the humor cure. He makes me laugh. And Grandpa’s Too Good Garden  is one of his curing-est. Mary Ann and Louie are disappointed with their gardening. Louis says, “We dig and rake and plant and water and weed—and nothing ever comes up. Our garden is no good.” Grandpa remains calm and tells them he once had a garden that was “a little too good.” There are some wonderful cartoon-y frames of Grandpa and Wainey in the garden (both as kids with little mustaches) but the story really begins when Father throws his Miracle Grow hair tonic out the window. It spills into the garden and gets rained in. Before Wainey even wakes up a vine snatches him up and almost out the window. The garden was taller than the house. Giant caterpillars came to eat the giant plants. The plants continued to grow and Grandpa got “snagged on a weather vane above our roof.” Grandpa is in trouble…only to be rescued by Wainey on a giant butterfly. This happy ending is accompanied by Wainey showing up to offer Grandpa and the kids some ice cream. I love the exaggeration, the total silliness of it.

Phyllis: Gardeners need patience, but not all of us wait quietly. When the seeds don’t grow quickly  enough, Wainey and Grandpa encourage them. “’Hello, beans? Tomatoes? Are you down there? Give us a sign!’ ‘Hello, carrumps?” The fortuitous hair tonic reminds me of old radio science fiction shows. “You threw the growth formula out back?” the scientist asks his assistant just before the now-giant earthworms come banging on the door. There’s a satisfying circularity to Grandpa’s garden story when one of the giant butterflies that metamorphed from the giant caterpillars rescues both brothers. Wonderful wackiness!

Farmer DuckJackie: Farmer Duck by Martin Waddell (illustrated by Helen Oxenbury) is set on a farm and Farmer Duck does farm work so we are including it. It’s all about friends. And friends are important to gardeners. Who else would take our extra zucchini? or help us pull weeds? or share plants with us?

This is such an exuberant telling. Was there ever a lazier farmer than the human farmer who stays in bed all day, yelling to the duck, “How goes the work?” Farmer Duck always responds the same way, “Quack.” This goes on day after day. While the lazy farmer eats bon bons, the duck saws wood, spades the garden, washes dishes, irons clothes. The other animals can’t stand to see their friend work so hard. One night they meet in the barn and make a plan. “’Moo!’ said the cow./’Baa!’ said the sheep./ ‘Cluck!’ said the hens. And that was the plan.” 

When they carry out their plan the lazy farmer runs away and never returns. “…mooing and baaing and clucking and quacking, they all set to work on their farm.” We just can’t help but think hay will be sweeter, corn will be taller, and there may be dancing in the barn.

Farmer Duck

Phyllis: I adore this book, text and art. The duck looks wearier and wearier, and who wouldn’t want to be comforted by such caring hens and the other animals as well?  And I love how the animals that the duck tended to at the beginning of the story, including carrying a sheep from the hill, all pitch in to help at the end as “mooing and baaing and clucking and quacking, they all set to work on their farm.” Animals, unite! The fruits of the labor belong to the laborers!

When the Root Children Wake UpJackie:  I would be remiss not to mention your namesake book, Phyllis—When The Root Children Wake Up, retold by Audrey Wood and illustrated by Ned Bittinger. It’s a story of seasons. A robin comes to the window of Mother’s Earth’s underground “home” and calls, “Root Children! Root Children …Wake up! It’s time for the masquerade.” The children awaken the bugs and paint them and head out for the masquerade. But it’s not too long before “Cousin Summer slips his knapsack on his back and quickly strides over the hills and far away.” Time for Uncle Fall. And soon it will be time for another winter’s nap. 

There’s a lot about this story that I like—the circle of seasons, painting the bugs. I’m a little put off by the very realistic drawings of children as the “Root Children.” I’m not sure why. Maybe because they seem too real to be sleeping underground all winter. Makes me feel  claustrophobic. Maybe I’m just grumpy. I’d love to know what others think.

When the Root Children Wake UpPhyllis: It’s true that what caught my eye about When the Root Children Wake Up was my name in the title, but I also love the story and art in the version I have, a reprint of the 1906 Sybelle Olffers book  first published in Germany and republished in English in 1988 by Green Tiger Press. The charmingly old-fashioned original illustrations remind me of books I loved as a child and include a joyous spread of the root children emerging above ground carrying flowers and grasses “into the lovely world.” Interesting how art can change the perception of a story!

Lola Plants a GardenA garden book for the very young is Lola Plants a Garden by Anna McQuinn, illustrated by Rosaline Beardshaw. The straightforward story tells how Lola loves the poem “Mary Mary Quite Contrary” and  wants to plant a garden of her own. She and Mommy read books about gardens, make a list of Lola’s favorite flowers, buy seeds, and plant them. While she waits for them to grow, Lola makes their own book about flowers, strings beads and shells and bells, and makes a little Mary Mary doll. Lola’s patience and work are rewarded as the flowers grow big and “Open toward the sun.” Daddy helps her hang her bells, her friends come to her garden to eat Mommy’s peas and strawberries, and Lola makes up a story for them about Mary Mary. The book concludes, “What kind of garden will Lola plant next?” Simply told and satisfying, the book makes me want to run out and buy more packets of flower seeds, then invite friends to come visit in the garden and encourage them to grow.

Lola Plants a Garden

Jackie: Friends and gardens and the cycle of seasons. We are all rooted on this earth. And that’s good to remember. Let’s go plant some beans.

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Spring, Where Are You?

The Boy Who Didn't Believe in SpringPhyllis: Each year, as soon as the snow melts, I’m eager to go search for native wildflowers. Two of the earliest flowers bloom in two different protected places a car ride away. And every year, I go too early—either the ephemeral snow trilliums aren’t even up yet or the pasque flowers are still such tiny, tight, furry brown buds that they’re hard to spot in the dried grass on the hillside where they grow. When I do finally find snow trilliums and pasque flowers in bloom, I know spring really has arrived.

A little boy named King Shabazz also goes looking for spring in Lucille Clifton’s The Boy Who Didn’t Believe in Spring, illustrated by Brinton Turkle. His search takes him down city streets rather than up windy hillsides, but the impetus is the same.

When King Shabazz’s teacher talks about spring, he whispers, “No such thing.” When his mother talks about spring, he demands, “Where is it at?”

One day after his teacher has talked about blue birds and his Mama had talked about crops coming up, King Shabazz has had enough.

“Look here, man,” he tells his friend Tony Polito, “I’m going to get me some of this spring.” They set off through their urban neighborhood, searching for spring. They look around the corner, by the school and playground, by the Church of the Solid Rock, past a restaurant and apartment buildings until they come to a vacant lot walled in by tall buildings with an abandoned car sitting in the middle.

 When the boys go to investigate a sound coming from the car, Tony Polito trips on a patch of little yellow pointy flowers. “Man, the crops are coming up!” King Shabazz shouts. The sound turns out to be birds who fly out of the car, where the boys discover a nest with four light blue eggs.

 “Man, it’s spring!” says King Shabazz.

As do picture books by Vera B. Williams, Ezra Jack Keats, and Matt de la Peña, Clifton’s book celebrates the city where so many of us live and where spring arrives, as well, even if you don’t yet believe in it.

Lucille CliftonJackie: I loved this book so much that I had to do a little research on Lucille Clifton, who wrote more than twenty books for children. You mentioned celebration, Phyllis. Here’s what New Yorker magazine writer Elizabeth Alexander said of Clifton after her death in 2010:

Clifton invites the reader to celebrate survival: a poet’s survival against the struggles and sorrows of disease, poverty, and attempts at erasure of those who are poor, who are women, who are vulnerable, who challenge conquistador narratives. There is luminous joy in these poems, as they speak against silence and hatred.

There is luminous joy in this book—joy in the characters who are best friends and wait at the stoplight, which they have never gone past before, to see what the other will do; joy in the discovery of a bird’s nest on the front seat of a beat-up car. This is a story of survival, too. The boys do cross the street, even though Junior Williams has said he will beat them up if he sees them. They will survive. They have courage, each other, and appreciation for spring.

and then it's springPhyllis: Julie Fogliano’s book and then it’s spring is another story of waiting, this time in a more rural setting, told in second person in one long extended sentence whose syntax captures the feeling of waiting and waiting and waiting.

“First you have brown,
all around you have brown,

the book begins, and proceeds to seeds, a wish for rain, rain, a “hopeful, very possible sort of brown” but still brown. As time passes (and the single sentence continues) the child gardener worries that the birds might have eaten the seeds or bears tromped on them, until finally the brown

“still brown,
has a greenish hum
that you can only hear
if you put your ear to the ground
and close your eyes…”
until finally, on a sunny day,
“…now you have green,
all around you have green.”

Jackie: I love Julie Fogliano’s language: “…a hopeful, very possible sort of brown.” And the brown with the greenish hum just makes me smile. I know this is a blog about writing but I have to mention Erin Stead’s illustrations. Her possible-birds-eating-seeds painting is full of jokes—there’s a bird wearing a bib, a bird flat on its back, birds billing (as in billing and cooing) a bird trilling. It would be worth giving up a few seeds to see these lively birds in one’s yard.

Phyllis: And the sign to keep bears away (which the bear is using to scratch under his arm) made me laugh out loud: “Please do not stomp here. There are seeds and they are trying.”

Iridescence of birdsThe Iridescence of Birds, A Book about Henri Matisse by Patricia MacLachlan also uses the syntax of an elongated sentence to heighten a sense of yearning and show how Matisse’s love of color and light might have bloomed from his childhood “in a dreary town in northern France where the skies were gray and the days were cold” and his mother brightened their home with painted plates and flowers and red rugs on the dirt floor, and his father raised pigeons “with colors that changed with the light as they moved.” The single long interrogative sentence is answered by another, shorter question:

“Would it be a surprise that you became
A fine painter who painted
Light
And
Movement
And the iridescence of birds?”

Jackie: This book does for me what all good picture books do, it makes me want to know more about Henri Matisse—and his remarkable mother. She knew that a red rug trumps a dirt floor any day—and she must have had a lode of artistic ability herself. And this book makes me want to try to write a story in one sentence.

Waiting-for-Spring StoriesPhyllis: Waiting-for-Spring Stories by Bethany Robert was a baby gift to my first daughter, and it continues to enchant. Papa Rabbit, “like Grandpa Rabbit before him and Great-Grandpa Rabbit before that,” helps to pass the time with his little rabbits until Spring arrives by telling stories, seven in all. And true to a child’s sensibility of the world, wind talks, a star yearns to sing, the little rabbit’s too big feet complain about the ways he tries to shrink them, a worm reassures a rabbit, and, in my favorite, “The Garden,” vegetables rebel against a farmer who plans to eat them for supper.

“’Get him, boys,’ called the onion.” And they do. The onion makes him cry, potato trips him, the carrot whacks him on the head, and they escape by rolling out the door.

“After that, the farmer rabbit always ate pancakes for his dinner.”

Jackie: Those vegetables could be in a horror picture book, for sure. But maybe they are too funny for a horror picture book.

Phyllis: The book and the storytelling end with sunlight pouring in the window and the snow beginning to melt from the windowpanes.

“Spring is here at last!”

Jackie: These stories remind me of Arnold Lobel’s work in their sure portrayal of characters I care about in just a few words. And I so love the talking grass and the talking feet and the feisty onion, carrot, and potato. I don’t know why but I found myself wanting to hear something from the little rabbits between the stories, something about the waiting or the upcoming spring. But that’s another book. These stories are cozy and charming and just right to read while we wait.

pasque flowers trilliumPhyllis: Last week I saw pasque flowers and snow trilliums. This week I found green leaves growing in my garden. This year’s time of yearning is over. It’s time to go outside and glory in springtime, here at last.

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Bookstorm™: A River of Words

 

Bookmap for A River of Words

A River of WordsAuthor Jen Bryant and illustrator Melissa Sweet have teamed up on a number of picture book biographies about creative artists. We’ve chosen to feature their very first collaboration during this month in which poetry takes the spotlight. By telling us the true story about poet William Carlos Williams’ childhood and growing up, with his clear poetry surrounding the pages, they awaken interest in young people who may think this no-longer-living, ancient (he was born in 1883 and died in 1963) poet is not within reach. They’ll be surprised by how his poetry will touch them. And he made a career for himself as a poet while he was being a country doctor! What an interesting fellow.

We trust you will find this month’s Bookstorm useful for teaching poetry, teaching writing, units on nature, talking about nonfiction and biography … and enjoying the quieter moments when reading poetry is one of life’s pleasures.

For more information and discussion guides, visit Jen Bryant’ website.

You can learn more about Melissa Sweet, the illustrator

Downloadables

 

 

BOOKSTORM TOPICS

Picture Book Biographies of Poets. From Shakespeare to Woody Guthrie, from Dave the Potter to Pablo Neruda, you’ll find top-notch biographies of poets with whom kids find connection. Several of these are excellent mentor texts as well.

Biographies of Poets for Older Readers. If you’d like to use A River of Words with older grades, we’ve included a few biographies that pair well. For instance, you’ll find Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People (Monica Brown and Julie Paschkis) on the picture book side and Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Dreamer, also about the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, for the more comfortable readers.

Revolving Around William Carlos Williams. We’ve recommended a biography written for adults, a collection of Mr. Williams’ poems for children, and a book that was inspired by his poem, “This is Just to Say.”

Kids and Nature. Nature-deficit disorder is on many educators’ minds. William Carlos Williams had a significant connection to nature. He wrote about it often. We’ve included books with terrific ideas for enthusing children about going outdoors, both unplugged and plugged-in.

Collage and Mixed-Media Illustrations. Do the types of illustration confuse you? We’ll have an interview with Melissa Sweet this month that we hope will make you feel more comfortable discussing the art in A River of Words. We’ve suggested a few books that also use a mixed media style.

Let us know how you are making use of this Bookstorm™. Share your ideas and any other books you’d add to this Bookstorm™.

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Celebrating Ezra Jack Keats

The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack KeatsJackie: This is the time of year when I read the Travel Section of the Sunday paper. I just want to go away from gritty snow, brown yards and come back to Spring. Well, there are no tickets on the shelf this year so Phyllis and I are taking a trip to the city created by Ezra Jack Keats. And why not? This month, this year marks his one-hundredth birthday.

As our travel guide we’re taking The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats (Yale University Press, 2011), written by Claudia Nahsen to coincide with The Snowy Day’s 50th anniversary and the showing of many of his works at the Jewish Museum, New York

Last Stop on Market StreetI’ve been thinking of Keats since I read Last Stop on Market Street, this year’s Newbery Award winner, written by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson. Robinson’s wonderful depictions of the urban landscape and the text’s suggestion that beauty is all around us, reminded me of Keats’s city scenes. Often they are set in his childhood home in Depression Era Brooklyn but enhanced with Keats’s brilliant collages, sketches, and jazzy palette.

A bit about his life, which I learned from Nahsen’s beautiful book: Jacob Ezra Katz was born in New York, on March 11, 1916. He was the youngest of three children born to immigrant parents in a “loveless marriage.” He grew up in a family marked by strife and unhappiness. He felt invisible as a child and believed “’life was measured by anguish.’” (Nahsen,p. 5). Art saved him. And in his art he gave life and validity to the streets he remembered from his childhood and to the kids, often invisible to society, who live on those streets.

The Snowy DayPhyllis: And up until publication of A Snowy Day, the first full-color picture book to feature an African American protagonist, those kids were virtually invisible in picture books as well. I especially love how Keats makes us see the city and the children and grown-ups who live in it with fresh eyes—his art includes graffiti, trashcans, and the struggles and celebrations of childhood. Nahsen quotes Keats: “Everything in life is waiting to be seen!” While some people criticized Keats, a white writer, for writing about black characters in The Snowy Day, the poet Langston Hughes wished he had “grandchildren to give it [the book] to.” Keats felt the criticisms deeply but continued to tell and illustrate the stories in his world “waiting to be seen.”

LouieJackie: Keats wrote and illustrated twenty-two books in his career. The ones I know are just as fresh, just as in tune with the lives of children as they were when he wrote them. We all know Peter of A Snowy Day, Peter’s Chair, A Letter to Amy. But Keats’s Louie is not quite as familiar. Louie is a quiet, kid who hardly ever speaks. But when he sees the puppet Gussie (Keats’s mother’s name) at Susie and Roberto’s puppet show, he stands up and yells “Hello!, Hello! Hello!” Susie and Roberto decide to have Gussie ask Louie to sit down so they can get on with the show. After the show they bring Gussie out so Louie can hold the puppet. Then the boy goes home, eventually sleeps and dreams he is falling and kids are laughing at him. When he wakes up, his mother tells him someone slipped a note under the door—“Go outside and follow the long green string.” At the end of the green string is—Gussie! There is so much to love about this story—a sensitive portrayal of a child who is somehow different, gets laughed at, yelled at by some kids; two kids, Susie and Roberto, who treat Louie with great kindness; and a hopeful ending.

Nahsen says: “…neglected characters, who had hitherto been living in the margins of picture books or had simply been absent from children’s literature take pride of place in Keats’s oeuvre.” She quotes from his unpublished autobiography: “When I did my first book about a black kid I wanted black kids and white kids to know that he’s there.” So it is with Louie. Keats reminds readers that the quiet kids, the kids who march to a different drum, the kids who live behind the broken doors, or on broken-down buses and can only have a cricket for a pet (Maggie and the Pirate) are there.

Maggie and the PiratePhyllis: Just as Keats portrays the real lives of kids who live in buses or city apartments without “even any steps in front of the door to sit on,” he doesn’t shy away from the small and large griefs and troubles of childhood. In Maggie and the Pirate, Maggie’s pet cricket, taken by a boy who admires the cricket’s cage, accidentally drowns in a river. Maggie and her friends hold a cricket funeral, and when the “pirate,” a boy who didn’t mean for the cricket to die but wanted the cage “real bad,” brings Maggie the cage with a new cricket, the children

                “all sat down together.
                Nobody said anything.
                They listened to the new cricket singing.
                Crickets all around joined in.”

Tragedies and consolation in the death of a cricket—a world seen through children’s eyes.

The Trip, Louie's Search, Regards to the Man in the Moon

Jackie: Keats came back to Louie with three other books and used this character to help him present some of the other problems of childhood—The Trip (1978), Louie’s Search (1980), and Regards to the Man in the Moon (1981).

The Trip tells us that Louie and his Mom move to a new neighborhood. Louie’s Search takes place after Louie has moved to a new neighborhood. “’What kind of neighborhood is this?’ thought Louie. “Nobody notices a kid around here.” He puts on a paper sack hat and paints his nose red and goes out for a walk. Eventually he picks up an object which has fallen off a junk wagon and so encounters the scary junkman Barney. Barney is huge and thinks Louie has stolen this object. “’Come back, you little crook,’ Barney bellowed.” They go to Louie’s house where Barney tells his Mom, “Your son’s a crook!’”

What Louie had found was a music box. When he holds it the box makes music. When he drops it, it stops. Barney decides to give the music box to Louie and stays for tea with Louie and his mom. It’s the beginning of a wonderful relationship that ends with a wedding and Louie finding the Dad he hoped for.

The Trip, Jennie's Hat, Dreams

Phyllis: Another thread throughout Keats’ work is the power of imagination. Louie in The Trip imagines a plane flying him to his old neighborhood. Jennie in Jennie’s Hat imagines a beautiful hat instead of the plain one her aunt has sent, and the birds, who she feeds daily, swoop down and decorate her hat with leaves, pictures, flowers (paper and real), colored eggs, a paper fan, and a pink valentine. In Dreams, Roberto imagines (or does it really happen?) that when a paper mouse he has made tumbles from his windowsill, its shadow “grew bigger—and bigger—and BIGGER” until it scared off the dog terrorizing his friend’s kitten on the sidewalk below.

Ezra Jack Keats: Artist and Picture-book MakerWe haven’t really even talked about his art and his brilliant use of collage and color. Just as Keats’s books celebrate the power of the imagination, Anita Silvey says that Keats took “absolute joy in the creative process.” We can share that joy in his books in stories and art that recognize that everyone needs to be seen, everyone has a place, and everyone, joyously, matters.

Jackie: Brian Alderson in Ezra Jack Keats: Artist and Picture-Book Maker writes that in The Snowy Day Keats “came home to his proper place: a colorist celebrating the hidden lives of the city kids.” I would add that that can be said for most of his works. And we are the richer for it.

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Skinny Dip with Michael Hall

Red: a Crayon's StoryWhat is your proudest career moment?

Several months before the publication of my book, Red: A Crayon’s Story, The Wall Street Journal published an editorial bemoaning the “gender industrial complex,” “cultural warriors,” and books—including mine—“that seek to engage the sympathies of young readers … and nudge the needle of culture.” I had written something good enough to provoke the wrath of the WJS editorial page. It was a proud moment, indeed.

In what Olympic sport would you like to win a gold medal?

The first thing that comes to my mind is baseball. But there are problems.

First of all, baseball isn’t an Olympic sport. (It became an official Olympic sport in 1992, but was ousted after the 2008 summer Olympics.) Nevertheless, since we’re talking about fantasy—and since I have a rich fantasy life—this is relatively easy to overcome. Let’s face it, if I can imagine the balding, pot-bellied, sixty-something me gracefully climbing the wall in left field to rob a batter of an extra-base hit (to the thundering approval of the crowd), I can certainly imagine that baseball has been reinstituted as an Olympic sport just in time for the summer of 2016.

Michael Hall sports fantasyBut there’s a more difficult problem: Having spent much of my life imagining myself as a star left fielder for the Minnesota Twins, my status as an amateur is clearly in doubt. If it came down to it, I wouldn’t sacrifice my imaginary Twins baseball star status in order to imagine winning an Olympic gold medal for the United States Olympic team.

So I’m going with table tennis.

What is your favorite line from a book?

“In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.”

What keeps you up at night?

These pesky creatures called should’ves. I don’t know how they get into the house, but at night, they crawl into my bed and whisper in my ear.

“You should have done this, Michael.”

“And frankly, you should have done that as well, Michael.”

This makes sleeping difficult.

It’s well known that should’ves tire easily. If you ignore them, they’ll fall asleep. So I thought I could just wait them out. But it’s less well known that they snore loudly. So, even while sleeping, they keep me awake.

One night, after the should’ves fell asleep—and were snoring horribly—I picked them up, put them in a shoe box, and took them out the back door. I went back to bed and was dozing off, when I was visited by five angry shouldn’t’ves.

“Michael, you should not have done that!”

Which of your books would make a good movie and who would be the star?

It's an Orange AardvarkThe book with the most crisply drawn characters is probably It’s An Orange Aardvark, a book about five carpenter ants who awake to a noise outside their dark nest in a tree stump. One ant tries to get clues as to what it is by drilling holes in the stump. As each new hole reveals a different color, a second ant, who is convinced that it’s a hungry aardvark, twists the information to fit his preconceived belief, even as his version of the truth becomes more and more absurd.

For me, this was always a book about scientific method. The hole-drilling ant is a wide-eyed, dedicated, idealistic scientist. I think someone like Toby Maguire would be perfect for the role. (There is no love interest here. It’s a picture book after all. But I’m sure a talented screenwriter could fix that.)

The second ant, the one who’s convinced an aardvark awaits, is sort of a cross between Dick Cheney and Cliff Clavin from Cheers. I could suggest someone like Willem Defoe, but I don’t want to play up the sinister part too much (it’s a picture book, after all), so I’ll go with John Ratzenberger from the Cheers cast. 

 

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That Lovely Ornament, the Moon

by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and Phyllis Root

Jackie: We’ve passed the Solstice but we still have more night than day. We can watch the moon with our breakfast and with our dinner. We thought we’d celebrate this season of the moon by sharing some stories featuring that lovely ornament.

Phyllis: And Christmas Eve we saw an almost full moon casting shadows on the snow before the clouds blew in. Moonlight really is magical.

Papa Please Get the Moon For MeJackie: There’s lovely magic in Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me by Eric Carle. This book has been a favorite of mine since my days as a preschool teacher. It never fails to please the sit-on-the-rug crowd. What’s not to love? There’s Eric Carle’s wonderful moon, and a father so dedicated that he finds a “very long ladder” and takes it to “a very high mountain.” Then he climbs to the moon and waits until it’s just the right size. He brings it back and gives it to his daughter. She hugs it, jumps and dances with it—until it disappears.

The combination of fantasy and real-moon, family affection and joy is just timeless. This thirty year old story could have been written yesterday.

Kitten's First Full MoonPhyllis: In Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes, Kitten, too, yearns for the moon, mistaking it for a bowl of milk. “And she wanted it.” Closing her eyes and licking toward the moon only gives her a bug on her tongue, jumping at the moon ends in a tumble, and chasing the moon ends with Kitten up a tree and the moon no closer. After each attempt, the text reminds us of Kitten’s yearning: “Still, there was the little bowl of milk, just waiting.” When Kitten sees the moon’s reflection in the pond and leaps for it, she ends up tired, sad, and wet. Poor kitten! She returns home… to find a big bowl of milk on the porch, just waiting for her to lap it up.

Thirteen Moons on Turtle's BackJackie: Kittens and children and all of us are fascinated by the moon. Thirteen Moons on Turtle’s Back: a Native American Year of Moons (Penguin, 1992) by Joseph Bruchac and Jonathan London is a collection of thirteen poems about the seasons of the moon from “each of the thirteen Native American tribal nations in different regions of the continent [chosen] to give a wider sense of the many things Native American people have been taught to notice in this beautiful world around us.” The noticing is one thing I love about this book. Reading these poems makes me want to walk in the woods and see something in a new way.

Moon of Popping TreesIt feels as if we are in the season of the “Moon of Popping Trees.”

Outside the lodge
the night air is bitter cold.
Now the Frost giant walks
with his club in his hand.
When he strikes the trunks
of the cottonwood trees
we hear them crack
beneath the blow.
The people hide inside
when they hear that sound….

And that is much better than saying, “it’s cold.”

Phyllis: In “Baby Bear Moon” we learn how a small child lost in the snow was saved by sleeping all through the winter with a mother bear and her cubs. The poem concludes:

“when we walk by on our snowshoes
we will not bother a bear
or her babies. Instead
we think how those small bears
are like our children.
We let them dream together.”

Who wouldn’t want to sleep the winter away sharing dreams with bears?

Jackie: I love the poetry of this book—

“…Earth Elder
made the first tree,
a great oak with twelve branches
arching over the land.
Then, sitting down beneath it,
the sun shining bright,
Earth Elder thought
of food for the people,
and acorns began to form.”

Perhaps the best is that Bruchac and London encourage us to see more than trees and grass, to imagine a landscape, a thrumming with history, community, and the spirits of sharing.

MoonlightJackie: Moonlight by Helen V. Griffith (Greenwillow, 2012) is also a poetic text—and spare:

Rabbit hides in shadow
under cloudy skies
waiting for the moonlight
blinking sleepy eyes.

But he goes into his burrow and doesn’t see “Moonlight slides like butter/skims through outer space/skids past stars and comets/leaves a butter trace.”

What a wonderful image! “Moonlight slides like butter.” Who can look at moonlight the same again?

Phyllis: I love the spare language of this book, and I love Laura Dronzek’s luminous art as well, where moonlight really does butter every tree and slips into Rabbit’s dreams, awaking him to dance in the moonlight. So few words, but so well chosen—verbs such as skims and skids and skips and skitters. A wonderful pairing of words and art that makes me want to dance in the moonlight, too.

Owl MoonJane Yolen’s Owl Moon, which won a Caldecott for its evocative wintry art, is a story of an owl, patience, hope, and love. On a snowy night the narrator sets out to go on a long-awaited outing owling with Pa. She knows, because Pa says, that when you go owling you have to be quiet, you have to make your own heat, and you have to have hope. Their hope is finally rewarded when they spot an owl and stare into the owl’s eyes as it stare back before it flies away. The last image shows the small narrator being carried toward the lights of home by her pa. The book concludes:

When you go owling
you don’t need words
or warm
or anything but hope.
That’s what Pa says.
The kind of hope
that flies
on silent wings
under a shining
Owl Moon.

Jackie: “When you go owling/you don’t need words/or warm/ or anything but hope.” The shining moon, a light in the night, a lamp of hope that we turn into a friend in the sky. These books make me grateful for long nights.

Phyllis: And for moonlight and dreams and dancing.

 

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John Burningham

John BurninghamYou probably know John Burningham best for Mr. Gumpy’s Outing but illustrators, book creators, are so much more than what we see between the covers of their books. Their lives are often illustrated. They record things on paper visually. They put what they’ve observed into drawers and portfolios and notebooks so they have that once-seen image to call upon for their work.

In this eponymously titled book, John Burningham (Candlewick Press), both Maurice Sendak and Brian Alderson write forewords for the book, particularly about the early 1960s which saw the publication of Borka (Burningham) and Where the Wild Things Are (Sendak). Those books “were the direct result of those fast and furiously freshly designed picture book days. Down with the simpering 19th century goody-goody books that deprived children of their animal nature, wild imagination, and lust for living.” (Sendak)

The majority of the book is Burningham’s remembrances of childhood, living in a caravan with his family during World War II, his early jobs, attending the Central School of Arts, and each of his books. This Literary Madeleine is replete with sketches, drawings, and finished work, photos, inspiration, and observances.

John Burningham Books

Here are some highlights:

“There is a misconception that picture books for children should be packed with colour and decoration on every page. This is rather like saying a successful piece of music should be crammed full of loud noise. It’s the juxtaposition and build-up of sound that makes music interesting.” (pg 127) 

 “When I look at some of my childhood drawings, I realize I have reproduced them again years later. The plumbing picture I drew as a child is very similar to the picture in Time to Get Out of the Bath, Shirley.” (pg 130)

John Burningham

He offers comments on many of his books, insightful, producing much flipping back and forth to look at other drawings, to examine how Burningham has done this elsewhere, to absorb his scope and style. For Oi! Get Off Our Train (called Hey, Get Off Our Train in the US … oi!) he explains that the West Japan Railway Company hired him to make a book about the Yoshitsune, Japan’s first steam locomotive, for Expo 90, a world’s fair held in Osaka in 1990. The painting below is from this book …

Oi Get Off Our Train!

It’s very revealing about this author/illustrator that he writes, “Oi! Get Off Our Train was first published in Japan in 1989. It is an environmental tale, now dedicated to Chico Mendes, who did so much trying to protect the rainforests. He was murdered for his work. Oi! Get Off Our Train is about endangered species, but more than that it’s about the social hierarchy of young children and the need to ease themselves into a group.” (pg 167)

Harvey SlumfenbergerHarvey Slumfenburger’s Christmas Present relates the story of a young boy who is quite poor. The only present he will get for Christmas is the one that Father Christmas will bring him. “Father Christmas was very tired. The reindeer were asleep and one of them was not very well. But Father Christmas knew he had to get the present to Harvey Slumfenburger.” (pg 179)

It is a book to be read carefully, savored, and cherished. Pull it down from your shelf every few months and you’ll quickly be pulled into his artwork once again. You’ll find yourself filled with effervescence, the type that carries you on to do great things.

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“Don’t get took! Read a book!”

by Vicki Palmquist

bk_bookitchI go crazy when I hear that Vaunda Michaux Nelson has another book coming out. I’m a fan. For my own reading life, No Crystal Stair: a documentary novel of the life and work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem bookseller, is one of my top ten books in the last ten years. I found every aspect of that book satisfying. I learned a great deal. Ms. Nelson’s writing style is well suited to narrative nonfiction: she makes it exciting. 

So, when I heard that a picture book form of No Crystal Stair was on the horizon, my expectations were high. It would be illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, whose work I have loved ever since his Stars in the Darkness (written by Barbara M. Joosse) found me sobbing. But how would they compress all of the great true stories in No Crystal Stair into a picture book?

They’ve done it. Even the title appeals to younger readers: The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore (Carolrhoda, 2015).

The book is narrated by Michaux’s son, Lewis H. Michaux, Jr., who is justly proud of his father. It opens with Muhammad Ali’s visit to the store. Jump right in!

With the longer text in No Crystal Stair, Nelson builds a depth of understanding for Michaux’s commitment to books. In The Book Itch, she knows this is not needed for young readers. We learn the parts that will interest this crowd. Michaux started with five books, selling his reading materials out of a pushcart. He couldn’t get financing from a bank because the banker said “Black people don’t read.” Michaux believed otherwise. His store became a place to find, and read, books by and about black people.

Lewis Michaux was a good friend to Malcolm X. They were both political and believed “Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.” Nelson includes the heartbreaking scene that recounts Michaux’s reaction to the assassination of Malcolm X. His son had never seen his father cry before that day.

bk_bookitch_illus

This book keeps history alive and vital by connecting us to The National Memorial African Bookstore, a place which was, in Michaux’s words, “The House of Common Sense and Proper Propaganda.” Christie’s illustrations are at once a record and a ribbon reaching from the past, showing us how people felt. We often forget about this in our look back … and it’s essential to remember that important historical figures were just like us, thinking, acting, laughing, hurting.

Ms. Nelson’s place in my list of Best Nonfiction Authors is firm. This is a book that belongs in every library, classroom, and on family bookshelves. Books bring us freedom.

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Picture Books and Dementia

by Jenny Barlow

We could reach her through nursery rhymes.

She regularly sat in the living room, wrapped in a blanket in her wheelchair. To people who don’t understand, she would seem withered, vacant, even loose in the joints, and maybe very shabby. But we stroked her palsied hands and gently called her name. On occasion, she’d open her eyes.

“Hickory dickory,” we’d start.

Often fast, like an auctioneer, she’d respond, “DOCK! The mouse ran up the clock, the sheep’s in the meadow the cow’s in the corn, hickory dickory dock!”

Ok, so she wasn’t perfect…but she deserved points for keeping within the nursery rhyme genre. Dementia visits people differently, but commonly the memories it spares are ones from childhood. Someone, likely this woman’s mother, 90 some years ago, before WWI, before women’s suffrage, before radio, took the time to sit with this now-wrinkled woman as a then-chubby-faced baby and sing her nursery rhymes.

Nearly a century later, we were blessed to enjoy the echoes of that love between parent and child.

Barlow_Rosie

Jenny in costume for an activity at work where she used the children’s book Rosie the Riveter by Penny Colman, and had a discussion about WWII,

We must not limit ourselves. People of all ages and situations love picture books for different reasons. Kunio Yanagida’s picture book was cited in The Journal of Intergenerational Relationships to express why this is true:

There is a Japanese saying that one should read a picture book at three different times through one’s life: at first, in childhood; second, during the period of rearing children, and third, in later life. Older people are thought to be particularly impressed and feel sympathy when reading picture books because of their rich life experiences.1

Viral videos show how people momentarily awaken hibernating personalities by hearing just the right song. They use the scaffolding of the music to sing words they can’t say on their own in a sentence, yet their expressions suggest they very much know the context. The same can be true with reading.

It is now universally accepted that music should be used daily to empower the lives of those with dementia. It is time for reading, independently or in a group, to become revered in a parallel light. Reflecting back on how the woman remembered nursery rhymes, the leap in logic with children’s stories becoming senior’s stories isn’t so outlandish.

The modern day world of children’s literature is vast, with classics like Peter Pan or The Velveteen Rabbit to sophisticated non-fiction about historical moments this older generation created. Well-written stories stay with us, change us into better human beings, and make our own hearts wiser. C.S. Lewis once said, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”

The words on the page, the illustrations woven with the storyline, the length, the page turns, the weight of the book itself: all of these aspects support an intergenerational market. Precocious picture books work especially well as seniors, even those with advanced dementia, usually retain much of their vocabulary.  

The form and format of picture books are also effective for engaging these readers. Although we see older folks sitting with their cup of black coffee and morning paper, the font size of newsprint can be hard to decipher, the busyness of the ads mixed with blocks of different articles can be confusing, and, due to attention difficulties caused by disease and stress, the length of news stories, let alone novels, can be overwhelming. The design and length of picture books, on the other hand, welcomes these same readers.

The Alzheimer’s Association reports there are currently over five million people in the United States with this type of dementia, and that number may triple in the next 35 years.2 The percentage of the U.S. population made of children ages 12 and younger will dip in that same time period.3 The business of writing picture books and placing them with the perfect reader can, and should, grow up.  

There is a blue ocean of under-served and underestimated people, broken-in-body children-at-heart, who need us. Picture books can help families express love to those they thought they had lost. We already have the power, we just need the reframing mindset. It’s simple, really; we can even reach them through nursery rhymes.

Long live “children’s” literature.

Note from the Bookologist: Jenny suggests these picture books to begin with:

Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say

The Name Quilt by Phyllis Root, illus. by Margot Apple

The Road to Oz: Twists, Turns, Bumps, and Triumphs in the Life of L.Frank Baum by Kathleen Krull, illus. Kevin Hawkes

A Nation’s Hope: the Story of Boxing Legend Joe Lewis by Matt De La Pena, illus. Kadir Nelson

Up North at the Cabin by Marsha Wilson Chall, illus. Steve Johnson

Sources:

1. http://pages.stern.nyu.edu/~kbrabazo/Eval-repository/Repository-Articles/reprints%20japan%20program.pdf

2. http://www.alz.org/facts/overview.asp

3. http://www.childtrends.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/53_appendix1.pdf

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We Didn’t Always Know the Way

by Vicki Palmquist

How to Read a StoryA step-by-step, slightly tongue-in-cheek but mostly sincere, guide to reading a book, How to Read a Story by Kate Messner, illustrated by Mark Siegel (Chronicle Books), will have you and your young readers feeling all warm and cozy and smart.

With advice in Step 2 to Find a Reading Buddy, we are cautioned “And make sure you both like the book.” That makes perfect sense. Reading buddies, as drawn in a colorful palette by illustrator and cartoonist Mark Siegel, can be older, younger, “or maybe not a person at all.” Perhaps a blue dog will wish to read with you.

In Step 6, the suggestion is to read the dialogue by saying it “in a voice to match who’s talking.” The ink-and-watercolor illustrations take up the narrative, giving us irresistible words with which to practice, a lion, a mouse who says “I am the most POWERFUL in all the land!” and a robot who merely says “Beep.” It’s excellent practice for interpreting pictures and putting meaning into the words.

We’re invited to try our minds at prediction in Step 8, as our reader and his reading buddy, the blue dog, contemplate what will happen next.

It’s a book that will make you smile, a good match between well-chosen words and playful illustrations, yet it’s a useful book for home and school and story hour. How can children learn the way to read out loud? How to Read a Story will have them trying before you know it.

 

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The Magic Valentine's Potato

Big Bob and The Magic Valentine’s Day Potato

Several years ago, a mysterious package arrived at our house on Valentine’s Day: a plain brown box addressed to our entire family with a return address “TMVDP.” The package weighed almost nothing. It weighed almost nothing because the box contained four lunchbox serving-size bags of potato chips. Nothing else. Or at least I thought there […]

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Three Wise Women

Three Wise Women

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany. More than just an end to the season of Christmas, Epiphany is a Christian celebration all its own commemorating the revelation of God the Son in the humanity of Jesus Christ. There are various traditions observed around the world, but the story of the magi who came from […]

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Hannukah Bear

Hanukkah Bear

We celebrate Christmas at our house, but we live in a community in which many celebrate Hanukkah. As we light our Advent candles and string our Christmas lights, our Jewish friends and neighbors light the candles on their Hanukkah menorah and fry delicious potato latkes. Dear friends invite us to join them for one of […]

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Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree

Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree

Oh, wasn’t it grand to have a tree— Exactly like Mr. Willowby? My firstborn received Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree (by Robert Barry) from his best friend for Christmas 2001. I know this because their names are scrawled inside the front cover with the date. I probably could’ve narrowed it down to the right year, though. […]

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Quiltmaker's Gift

The Quest for the Perfect Thanksgiving Book

Each November I begin the search anew. I know what I’m looking for, and I really don’t think it’s too much to ask of a picture book: It must delve into the themes of generosity, abundance, gratitude. It should be beautiful. Compelling in its beauty, in fact. Ideally, I’d like it to celebrate our better […]

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Too Many Pumpkins

Too Many Pumpkins

I have a thing for pumpkins—their orangeness, their roundness…. I’m not sure what it is, exactly. They’re sort of a harbinger of autumn, my favorite season, so maybe that’s it. Really, I just find them satisfying somehow. Given my love of the orange autumnal globes, it’s a little odd, perhaps, that my favorite pumpkin book is […]

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Old Bear

Old Bear

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about our family’s obsession—I mean love—of Christopher Robin’s Silly Old Bear. Our family also has a deep and abiding love for Old Bear by Jane Hissey and I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you about it. We’ve found that too many people do not know about […]

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Just Like A Baby

I’m missing a dear friend who died very suddenly this past spring. Liz was old enough to be my mother and my kids’ grandmother. She loved to give gifts and had an almost magical way of doing so. Her taste in books for kids was exquisite and she always found the most perfect, most unique […]

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On Flower Girls

A year ago this weekend, I had the honor of officiating at the wedding of dear friends. They’d planned a grand celebration—organ and trumpet, dramatic readings, fantabulous attendants, family and friends, and not one but two flower girls. In my experience, flower girls and ring bearers increase the “chance element” in a wedding ceremony. I’m […]

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Kuplink, Kaplank, Kuplunk!

We missed strawberry picking, and therefore jam making, this year. We were in the mountains, a dandy excuse to be sure, but now we’re in a bit of a pickle (no canning pun intended). We have a strong homemade jam habit at our house, and last year’s bounty is dwindling. We’re trying to figure out […]

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We Need Longer Picture Books, Too!

I’ve just read yet another article about the new length of picture books. Some say publishers won’t even consider publishing a picture book over five hundred words anymore. Others say they should be under three hundred words. Why? Inevitably, the shorter attention spans of children are cited somewhere in the reasoning. Rubbish, I say! As […]

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Gravity

Gravity

What is gravity? I have a notion (after many years of school) that it keeps my feet touching the ground. When I jump into the air, I am defying gravity. What is Gravity? A book. Written and illustrated by Jason Chin, who previously gifted us with Redwoods and Coral Island and Galapagos. He has a […]

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I Am Cow, Hear Me MOO!

I Am Cow, Hear Me MOO!

There has been a lot written about the bravery of cows (no, there hasn’t). Some of it has startled us with the sheer audacity of amazing feats of derring-do of which cows are capable (News at 10!). Young children everywhere are pinning up cow posters on their bedroom walls, hoping to one day be as […]

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All Different Now

All Different Now

Do you know how sometimes your hands hover over a book, wanting to open it, sensing that this will be an important book, and you hesitate, wanting to prolong your interaction? I did that, turning All Different Now this way and that, then examining the title page, the jacket flaps … and finally allowing myself […]

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Planet Kindergarten

Planet Kindergarten

Books about getting ready for kindergarten and the first day in that Strange New Land are plentiful, but I can’t recall one that has drawn me into the experience as fully as Planet Kindergarten does. Every aspect of this book, from word choice to story to the detailed and clever drawings, puts this book at […]

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The Scraps Book

The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life

Sometimes I want to walk right into the pages of a book, know everything the author knows, share their lifetime of experiences, and be able to emulate their creativity. Scraps: Notes from a Colorful Life makes me feel that way. I’ve even enjoyed the feeling and texture of the paper because I want in! For […]

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Fevered Reading

Let me be very clear. I do not ever want my kids to be sick. We’ve had run-o-the-mill childhood sickness and we’ve had serious sickness—I don’t like either kind. I would wish only good health, happiness, sunshine, and lollipops for my children and the children of the world. And we are fortunate and grateful to […]

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Touching the Reading Spot

About a year ago, I found myself at weekly appointments with a speech therapist who specializes in functional breathing difficulties. I was dealing with some breathing and voice issues and my allergy and asthma doctor thought I might benefit from “relearning to breathe.” The process was fascinating—we worked on posture, word lists, tongue placement, swallowing, […]

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The Privilege & Responsibility of Reading in Bed

The indomitable Gertrude Mueller Nelson gave our family the ritual of Birthday Privileges & Responsibilities. Each birthday our kids receive a scroll of paper festooned with ribbons. Inside, in the fanciest (and hardest to read) script our printer can manage, we have ceremonial language awarding the birthday child his/her next year’s Privilege & Responsibility. We started […]

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The Miss Rumphius Challenge

Henry was a regular. He was in afternoon kindergarten and he and his nanny had the mornings free to come to the storytime I did at the indie bookstores near his home. He was older than most of the other kids—a very wise and erudite six years. His eyes were black and luminous, his curls […]

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