Nov 19, 2014

A Thanksgiving Picture Book Feast

I'm taking another piggyback-post shortcut here to share a veritable cornucopia
of fun picture books dealing with gratitude and thankfulness. These are not specifically Thanksgiving titles, rather the kinds of books that foster genuine awareness of  and deep gratitude for our blessings, relevant throughout the year. There's nothing syrupy or schmaltzy about them; they are simple and charming stories featuring diverse characters and situations. 

This post by Gi Hallmark on THE CHILDREN'S BOOK REVIEW deserves a careful read, a bookmark, and sharing. I'm grateful for the post, and you'll be grateful to have such a convenient list of titles to suggest not just during this season, but all year long.

I'll just add one personal disclaimer:
as much as I adore Shel Silverstein's work, THE GIVING TREE is on a very short list of picture book titles that I personally do not enjoy or recommend, for a variety of reasons. For insights into the curiously intense debate about the book, read this COMMON SENSE MEDIA post.

It's never a good idea to share a book without reading it yourself first, even more so with picture books. Children "read" themselves into books, seeing every nuance in the illustrations and impact of the overall story. So check these recommendations out and make your choices-- there are plenty to go around for someone you know!

Nov 9, 2014

Surprising Friendships: Incredible Picture Books

I'm popping back into this blog to share the good news I hinted at in recent posts. To start with,  pick up author/illustrator MARLA FRAZEE's latest release, THE FARMER AND THE CLOWN,  a ludicrous but genuinely  touching friendship story.
Here's what I had to say about it at Goodreads:
"This is a wordless story so brilliantly told in line, hue, and design that it borders on perfection, in my opinion. The colorful little clown train that appears at the beginning and end of the story offered me a nostalgic reminder of "The Little Engine That Could", which made me love the book from the opening spreads. The splash of color that the little lost clown brings to the vast dull pages makes a perfect metaphor for the effect his little life has on the long, gray life of The Farmer. The emotions Frazee is able to express with simple dots and lines on faces are unmistakable and nearly bring me to tears. This is a perfect example of the magic of picture books to change lives, including the surprise ending, which life so often drops in our laps."
The Horn Book review should be read in its entirety but is excerpted here:
 "In Frazee’s pencil and gouache illustration the characters are arrestingly transformed: the child now clearly unhappy and the farmer’s softened features registering concern. The next morning, the farmer reveals a playful side as he essentially makes a clown of himself to get a real smile from his young guest. When the circus train returns later that day, the body language of the new friends expresses a powerful clash of emotions: the child’s ebullience brings both his feet off the ground, while the farmer, earthbound, stands stock-still and stoic. The two exchange hugs, wave goodbye, and…how the heck can Frazee break readers’ hearts like this? Never fear: as the farmer walks pensively away, viewers see that he’s being followed by a circus monkey, who gestures to us not to tell — surely a tip of the hat to Rathmann’s classic (and also wordless) Good Night, Gorilla."


Greenwillow Books, 2012
If you've been reading posts here for a few years, or if you're in touch with recent picture books that are guaranteed winners, you already know Z IS FOR MOOSE, with words by Kelly Bingham and illustrations by Paul O. Zelinsky.
If by any chance you don't know this remarkable book and these absolutely original characters (Moose and Zebra), please check out this post I wrote when it released a couple of years ago.

Greenwillow Books, September, 2014
That's how long I've been waiting for these two remarkable and quirky friends to return in their latest adventure, CIRCLE SQUARE MOOSE, created by the same team. Waiting for this to release left me bouncing and squirming as much as MOOSE does, but it was well worth the wait. Be sure to watch the book trailer here, including the credits at the end!

Here's what I had to say about it on Goodreads:
"When Moose first appeared in Z IS FOR MOOSE I had no doubt he'd be back to claim another book for himself. Sure enough, he hoofed and elbowed his way into an early math concept/shapes book, finding ways to "prove" that each figure was rightly a MOOSE figure. Bingham's text, a clever twist on traditional (and often boring) concept books is  interspersed with rhyming passages, offering ideal opportunities to carry the concepts outside the book, which might be a safer lesson. Moose's claims produce disruptions in labels, spaces, text, and "lessons", all accomplished with his irrepressible and irresistible smile. Kids will savor the humor, adore linking various images back to Z IS FOR MOOSE characters, and cheer when friend ZEBRA shows up to take charge and right the various wrongs. Near the end there is a meta-reference to Weisner's THE THREE PIGS just as mayhem ensues. 
The lovely twist of ZEBRA needing MOOSE to save the day was so unexpected and the solution so perfect that we must all hold them to their promise on the final pages: 
Can we do that again? Yes, Zebra, we can do that again."

I'm not alone in my admiration for this latest Moose/Zebra encounter. No less than the venerable HORN BOOK had this to say: 
"Irrepressible Moose (Z Is for Moose, rev. 3/12) is up to his old tricks, trying to force his way into another concept book. This time the subject is shapes, and at first we seem to be reading an old-school shape book (“that sandwich you had for lunch? That is a…square”). The fun begins on the third page, when Moose appears and takes a bite of the sandwich. An offstage narrator addresses Moose directly — “Hey! Don’t eat that!” — in bold-type text. When Moose proves intransigent and ever more disruptive, his old friend Zebra comes to try to save the day. Things grow more and more chaotic until Zebra ends up tangled in the ribbons that illustrate curves; loyal Moose rescues him by turning the sun’s shadow (representing circles) into a hole that takes them clear out of the book. As in the first volume, Zelinsky expertly juxtaposes the expected orderliness of a book with the chaos caused by Moose’s interruption, but this time he steps up the meta elements. The ending is far from pat, but just as true to the characters as that of the first book. On the back endpapers, we see the same exchange that concluded their previous adventure, but the characters have switched places: “Can we do that again?” asks Zebra. “Yes, Zebra. We can do that again.” Adults should be prepared to share this book again and again, as well."
Do yourself and ANY child you know a
favor and share both titles as soon as you can get your 
hoofs hands on it. They can't be beat for sheer entertainment, but they also open discussions about quirky personalities, trusting friendships, and taking life's surprises in stride.


 

Oct 23, 2014

Laughter: Humor Hooks Readers

In the last post I said I'd soon share two very special books that deserve everyone's attention. Well,  these two titles do just that, but they aren't the two stellar title still to come. These, though, need to be returned to library circulation later today, so they bumped their way to the front of the line while the others are ones I purchased and will, I promise, be up next.
Henry Holt and Company, 2014

First up is THIS BOOK JUST ATE MY DOG!, written and illustrated by the UK's Richard Byrne. Humor carries the day in this book, borrowing the approach to breaking the fourth wall by directing readers to participate physically the problem solving. 
I wrote about Herve Tullet as the master of this approach with PRESS HERE and MIX IT UP, here. 
Beyond the slightly wacky story and play on words (the dog ate my book), the concept of a book gutter consuming everything that approaches it from left to right is an interesting way to open a discussion of concepts of book and of correct labels for the technical structures of books. That includes a discussion of the role of endpapers in predicting and enhancing picture book meaning.
While the story itself is fun, even giggle-worthy, I imagine some young children becoming distracted by several glitches in logic/story. I'm not sure what is says about me, but I was distracted by these, too. 
First, the left-to-right pattern and "gutter gobble" is broken late in the story when the narrator/Bella moves right to left to look for the lost elements. Compound that with the question of how she made it to the right spread anyway if the gutter was so all-consuming. Add to that:
How she was able to get a note OUT of the gutter, but couldn't get out herself? 
When the note came out it stayed on the LEFT spread rather than the right.
Finally, the solution was so directly linked to Tullet's interactive creations that anyone familiar with those titles will compare them (a good thing for kids to do) but might find this one a tad unimaginative. 
Until, that is, the surprise effect on the dog is seen in the final pages. 
Youngest will adore this, but don't miss the chance to use it with older readers for those meta-book discussions.

Two Lions Publishing. 2014

Next up is YOU ARE (NOT) SMALL, written by Anna Kang and illustrated by Christopher WeyantWith only 90+ words in total, and the full extent of vocabulary used at fewer than thirty words from the very earliest sight vocabulary lists, this recent release has managed to achieve the Seuss-like magic. It provides families and emerging readers with a "read-it-again" story that is jam-packed with humor, personality, and layers of bonus benefits. A story like this is an authentic way for kids to explore basic math concepts (big-small), language concepts (use of "not" to reverse statements, opposites, compare and contrast, descriptive attributes/adjectives), and social dynamics (debate vs. physical confrontations, communities, similarities and differences, and tendencies to socialize with "likes").
Even more impressive is this book's effective use of humor and image to provide a lovable example of text/image storytelling, circle stories, visual narratives, predictions/confirmations, and other essential book concepts.
I rarely compare any picture book to Seuss because his body of work stands apart from any other in its timeless and universal appeal. I AM (NOT) SMALL is even more impressive in approaching similar status because its writer and illustrator are not the same. In that sense the degree to which the text and concepts and images are essential to the others amazes me. 
This is a book that should be shared with every nonreader or emerging reader, but tit also has a place in classrooms and lives of much older kids. Its a keeper, and when kids wear it out, replace it. PLEASE.


If anyone is keeping score of my promises, the two titles still to come will be posted within the week. Unless I'm swallowed by a book first.
Picture books are as versatile and diverse as the readers who enjoy them. Join me to explore the wacky, wonderful, challenging and changing world of picture books.