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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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Tucked In for the Winter

Sleep Tight Farm

Sleep Tight Farm by Euge­nie Doyle illus by Bec­ca Stadt­lander Chron­i­cle Books ISBN 9781452129013

Every detail in this book is heart­warm­ing. You know that the author and the illus­tra­tor and the book’s pub­lish­ing team put a lot of love and respect into bring­ing this sto­ry to read­ers.

From the moment you see the open­ing end papers, a for­est and pas­ture ablaze with fall col­or, until you dis­cov­er the clos­ing end papers, that same for­est with the snowy skele­tons of those trees, you sense the care with­in.

It’s a sto­ry of a farm fam­i­ly who are very busy tuck­ing their farm in for the win­ter. Unless you live on a farm, you like­ly have no idea there’s so much to do! Har­vest­ing, putting food by, pro­tect­ing the fields, prepar­ing the hoop house, keep­ing the bee­hives safe from mice and wind … from big chores to small, this family’s love for their farm wraps around the read­er like a fluffy quilt.

The book will open eyes for chil­dren who don’t know about farm life, but it also neat­ly tucks the details around us, giv­ing us a sat­is­fy­ing look at a fam­i­ly who raise a vari­ety of veg­eta­bles for them­selves, win­ter mar­kets, and their own farm­stand. You sense the family’s deep lev­el of car­ing for the land, the birds and ani­mals, and the farm that sus­tains them.

Dad cuts back the rasp­ber­ries before wind and snow can crack the canes. … The promise of late summer’s plump fruit lies in roots tucked under­ground. Good night, rasp­ber­ries, rest­ing below.” So fine.

I was drawn to this book by the cov­er and illus­tra­tions. It’s those fine­ly detailed, draw-the-read­er-into-the-world-of-the-book, gen­tly instruct­ing paint­ings that com­plete the spell of Sleep Tight Farm.  Those details include the icy white­ness of the book’s title on the cov­er and the infor­mal friend­li­ness of the body text. The farm kitchen is fas­ci­nat­ing with stacked wood, a col­lec­tion of paint­ed pot­tery, rugs on the floor, and a fire in the pot-bel­lied stove.

Sleep Tight Farm

When “We board up chinks in the chick­en coop and set a timer to give the hens the light they need to lay eggs all win­ter” even the straw that lines the chick­en coop and the feed for those chick­ens are includ­ed in the details. We learn a great deal about the farm by obser­va­tion. How are eggs col­lect­ed from the coop? Mom is pound­ing nails to “board up chinks.” There’s a vari­ety of hens and a beau­ti­ful roost­er. The fam­i­ly is wear­ing boots for their work. There’s a fence around the chick­en yard. A chick­en-strut­ting ramp leads from the coop to the ground. “Good night, chick­ens, snug in your coop.” 

After read­ing this book, I feel calmer about the win­ter to come. And I want to vis­it this farm. Warm thanks to author Euge­nie Doyle (whose fam­i­ly oper­ates The Last Resort Farm in Ver­mont) and illus­tra­tor Bec­ca Stadt­lander and the team at Chron­i­cle Books for cre­at­ing this respect­ful, lov­ing, and infor­ma­tive book. What a joy to read! It’s a keep­er.

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Welcome to Roy’s House

Roy's HouseWhat bet­ter way to famil­iar­ize one’s self with the work of pop cul­ture artist Roy Licht­en­stein than to walk through his house from liv­ing room to snack bar, from bath­room to bed­room, and final­ly into his stu­dio, where we can try our hand at paint­ing?

Susan Gold­man Rubin and her team at Chron­i­cle have cre­at­ed a book illus­trat­ed by Roy Lichtenstein’s paint­ings, Roy’s House, which lets us see up close his style of art, the col­ors he used, and the tech­nique of shad­ing col­or in dots.

printer's loupeIf you look at a news­pa­per or a mag­a­zine or a brochure, and you use a loupe (Mer­ri­am-Web­ster def­i­n­i­tion: a small mag­ni­fi­er used espe­cial­ly by jew­el­ers and watch­mak­ers), you can dis­tin­guish among the dots used to lay the col­or down (the “halftone” tech­nique).

Dur­ing print­ing, when the col­or is laid down, those dots grow in size a bit. That’s called “dot gain” and print­ers expect it, com­pen­sat­ing on the orig­i­nal.

Licht­en­stein exag­ger­at­ed those dots, and the tech­nique of cross-hatch­ing, to make his paint­ings bold, bright, and mem­o­rable. His style is instant­ly rec­og­niz­able. As the back mat­ter states, “His first show shocked crit­ics in 1962.”

Roy's House

The text is min­i­mal (in keep­ing with Lichtenstein’s paint­ings) but the author still man­ages to imbue those words with warmth and humor, spark and spir­it. Mak­ing use of the artist’s dis­tinc­tive, jagged-edged thought bub­bles pro­vides ener­gy.

This is a book for the very young, the bud­ding artist or art col­lec­tor, and yet it’s also a book for those who love art, teach art, and are edu­cat­ing them­selves about the infi­nite styles with­in art. Lichtenstein’s work is icon­ic … and so is this book. (Mer­ri­am-Web­ster def­i­n­i­tion: “wide­ly known and acknowl­edged espe­cial­ly for dis­tinc­tive excel­lence”)

Also take a look at the author’s book Whaam! The Art and Life of Roy Licht­en­stein (Abrams), writ­ten for an old­er child.

For read­ers 12 and up, find a copy of Marc Aronson’s Art Attack: a Brief Cul­tur­al His­to­ry of the Avant-Garde (Clar­i­on Books).

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There’s Nothing to Dooooooooo

by Vic­ki Palmquist

By this point in the sum­mer when I was young, the charm of being out of school had worn off, I’d played every game on my grandma’s shelves, and I’d had a few fights with my friends in the neigh­bor­hood, so I’d retreat­ed to read­ing as many books as I could, con­sum­ing sto­ries like Ms. Pac­man swal­low­ing ener­gy pel­lets.

When your kids claim that there’s noth­ing to do, here are a few sug­ges­tions for books that inspire doing things, think­ing about things, and inves­ti­gat­ing more.

How Come? Every Kid's Science Questions ExplainedAs I was grow­ing up, I believed that I didn’t like sci­ence or math. Turns out it was text­books and work­sheets and tests I didn’t much care for. Give me a para­graph like these two:

One very big num­ber was named by nine-year-old Mil­ton Sirot­ta in 1938.

Milton’s math­e­mati­cian uncle, Edward Kas­ner, asked his nephew what he would call the num­ber one fol­lowed by a hun­dred zeroes. Mil­ton decid­ed it was a googol.”

And the num­ber nam­ing doesn’t stop there. This tid­bit is part of a chap­ter called “What is the last num­ber in the uni­verse”” found in How Come? Every Kid’s Sci­ence Ques­tions Explained (Work­man, 2014), writ­ten by Kathy Wol­lard and illus­trat­ed by Debra Solomon with won­der­ful­ly com­ic and live­ly depic­tions of the con­cepts in the text.

Oth­er chap­ters address must-know top­ics such as “How does a fin­ger on a straw keep liq­uid in?” and “Are ants real­ly stronger than humans?” and “Why do the leaves change col­or in the fall?”

I prob­a­bly don’t need to point out that kids aren’t the only ones who will find this book fas­ci­nat­ing. Read a few chap­ters to your­self at night and you’ll be able to answer those end­less­ly curi­ous chil­dren who pull on your sleeve.

PhotoplayFor the visu­al­ly curi­ous, and I believe that means Every Child, you’ll be inspired by Pho­to­play! Doo­dle. Design. Draw. by M.J. Bron­stein (Chron­i­cle, 2014).

Ms. Bron­stein pro­vides exam­ples and work­space for kids to draw on exist­ing pho­tos (print­ed in the book), telling a sto­ry with those draw­ings or even writ­ing a sto­ry. The book can be used in quite a few dif­fer­ent ways … and then you can take your own pho­tos and print them out for kids to con­tin­ue hav­ing fun and using their imag­i­na­tions.

Who Done It?A book that takes some inves­ti­ga­tion and one that looks like a book for very young chil­dren is actu­al­ly a sophis­ti­cat­ed guess­ing game. The humans and crit­ters line up on Olivi­er Tallec’s game pages in Who Done It? (Chron­i­cle, forth­com­ing in 2015).

A sim­ple ques­tion such as “Who played with that mean cat?” requires look­ing into. Can you spot the most like­ly sus­pect?

For kids who are learn­ing about facial expres­sions, body lan­guage, and tak­ing one’s time to rea­son through a puz­zle, this is an ide­al book that will engen­der good dis­cus­sions or occu­py a few of those “there’s noth­ing to doooooo” hours of sum­mer.

Who Done It?

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Epic felt

Three small board books … encom­pass­ing the first three Star Wars movies and a year-long craft project.

Star Wars Epic Felt

As I read each book, all 12 words, one word and one pho­to on each two-page spread, it slow­ly dawned on me just how inge­nious they are.

In those 12 care­ful­ly cho­sen words and scenes from the movie, Jack and Hol­man Wang, twin broth­ers and admirable artistes, man­age to evoke the entire saga of the first three movies. As a Star Wars-lov­ing par­ent , grand­par­ent (yes, the first fans are old enough to be read­ing to their grand­chil­dren), aunt or uncle, this is a clever way to com­mu­ni­cate across gen­er­a­tions, to bring your wee ones into the uni­verse of the Sky­walk­ers.

Each word in the books gives read­ers an oppor­tu­ni­ty to talk about ideas such as snow, friend, kiss, father … all of the tru­ly big con­cepts in a young person’s life … and how they weave into the Star Wars saga.

If we still had bards, they would be regal­ing us with the epic tales of Tatooine and Alde­baran, the Jedi, and the Force. These books are an unpar­al­leled way to encour­age sto­ry­telling of tales that are sure­ly as famil­iar to mod­ern bards as Beowulf or Gil­gamesh were to audi­ences of old.

Star Wars Epic Felt

For fur­ther aston­ish­ment, each pho­to on the page oppo­site those words is as heart­felt and con­cise in sto­ry­telling as are the words. Made by nee­dle felt­ing, con­sid­er as well the scale mod­el­ing of the char­ac­ters’ sur­round­ings and the excel­lent pho­tog­ra­phy. This is artis­tic skill at its finest.

Jack Wang is an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor teach­ing cre­ative writ­ing at Itha­ca Col­lege. Hol­man Wang left the life of a mid­dle school teacher and cor­po­rate lawyer to focus full­time on cre­at­ing children’s books. The boys grew up in Van­cou­ver, British Colum­bia. Today, they live on oppo­site coasts, Jack in Itha­ca, New York, and Hol­man in Van­cou­ver. Their web­site is a must-vis­it.

In their own words, here’s how the books are made: “The pri­ma­ry tech­nique for mak­ing the fig­ures in Star Wars Epic Yarns is nee­dle felt­ing, which is essen­tial­ly sculpt­ing with wool. This is a painstak­ing process which involves stab­bing loose wool thou­sands of times with a spe­cial­ized barbed nee­dle. This entan­gles the wool fibers, mak­ing the wool firmer and firmer. It took us near­ly a year to cre­ate all the Star Wars fig­ures and space­ships in wool, build all the scale-mod­el sets, and do all the in-stu­dio or on loca­tion pho­tog­ra­phy. We even flew to Cal­i­for­nia and Ari­zona to find real desert to recre­ate the scenes on Tatooine! As life­long Star Wars fans, it was impor­tant to us to get the books just right. Think of Star Wars Epic Yarns as the ulti­mate, year-long craft project! It was def­i­nite­ly a labor of love.”

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed.

Star Wars Epic Yarns: A New Hope
Jack Wang and Hol­man Wang
Chron­i­cle Books, 2015

Be sure to look for their oth­er clas­sic books, Cozy Clas­sics from Sim­ply Read Books, a cou­ple of which are pic­tured here.

Cozy Creations

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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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bk_givingthanks_interior02.jpg

Gifted: Giving Thanks

Giv­ing Thanks: Poems, Prayers, and Praise Songs for Thanks­giv­ing edit­ed and with reflec­tions by Kather­ine Pater­son illus­tra­tions by Pamela Dal­ton Hand­print Books / Chron­i­cle Books, 2013 ISBN: 978−1−4521−1339−5 The sea­son when we focus on giv­ing thanks will quick­ly be here. If you are look­ing for a gift to take to your hosts, to give to […]

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