Aug 13, 2016

Linking back to Olympic Picture Book Posts

As the 2016 Summer Olympics play out on multi-media stages, let's not overlook important offerings on the subject in the world of picture books. An important aspect of these competitions every two/four years is that deep histories and traditions are reported and repeated, embedded in the records and the lives of those who set those records. 

HMH Books for Young Readers, 2016

A recent release is NADIA, THE GIRL WHO COULDN'T SIT STILL, written by Karlin Gray and illustrated by Christine Davenier. Click on the author's name above to read an informative Q/A about this book.

In past Olympic years I've recommended other titles, including this post about diver Sammy Lee and runner Wilma Rudolph. Click on the names to learn more about the individuals, and click HERE to read my comments on picture books that share their stories.

The two weeks of the summer Olympics are CERTAINLY NOT the only time to share books like these. Just last spring I wrote a post about the balancing act between fiction and nonfiction in writing picture books or novels that weave verifiable facts throughout compelling and realistic stories. 

In it, HERE, I featured several titles ranging from Pat Zietlow Miller's QUICKEST KID IN CLARKSVILLE to the graphic biography, WILMA RUDOLPH: OLYMPIC TRACK STAR, by Lee Engfer.

Whether you check out my previous posts linked above, explore new titles like NADIA, or search out others involving your sport of choice, tap into the magnetic and irresistible draw of picture books on sports themes all year long, every year. They offer inspiration as well as mentor text for fiction, nonfiction, biography, and figurative language. And sports fan will confirm that no text is more dense with metaphor and simile than sports writing is. When looking for books featuring diverse characters and obstacles overcome, this topic/genre provides a rich resource. With back-to-school just around the corner (or already begun) there's no better time, at home or at school, to make a trip to the library and fill a bag with a selection of winning titles.

If you have others to suggest, please add them to the comments so we can add them to our lists before that library trip!

Aug 4, 2016

What a Beautiful Morning Blog Tour: A Beautiful Book for Any Age

A lovely new picture book, WHAT A BEAUTIFUL MORNING is written by Arthur A. Levine and illustrated by Katie Kath.The stated target age for this new release is 5-8, but it's a perfect example of a book that will burrow into the hearts of people of any and every age. 
Running Press Kids, August 9, 2016

The story is both universal and intimate, emerging first from the charming personalities and relationships among the grandparents and the child, Noah. Within just a few pages the words and images of their exuberant summer routines begin to blur in ways that confuse and worry Noah. 
Both text and illustrations convey a gradual and uncomfortable "fading away" of Grandpa without heavy-handed explanations, labels, or discussions of Alzheimer's or dementia. Neither the text nor illustrations resort to hand-wringing or overwrought expressions, and yet they are heartfelt and recognizable, as in this excerpt:

"Grandma came outside after him (Noah) and kneeled down so she could look in his eyes. She touched Noah's cheek, sighed, and said, "Grandpa knows you. He just gets confused, that's all. So we have to appreciate what he still has, not what he's lost."

Wise words, but the facing spread reveals and validates Noah's authentic emotional response:

"Noah thought that was like trying to feel good about the toys you still had, when your favorite one got left behind at the beach."

In all cases illustrator Kath maintains a subtle touch with color, expression, gesture, and details to suggest and shift moods. I am always in awe of those who can convey potent emotional content with the tiniest shifts of dotted-eyes and tilting brows. Kath's illustrations display her mastery of that skill. 
Noah finds his attempts to deal with his "fading" grandpa to be unsatisfying. Trying to sustain their shared routines on his own causes him to feel his loneliness more intensely. Grandma does her best to fill his days with engaging experiences, but it's Noah's attempt to maintain routines that provides the key to unlocking Grandpa's memories and personality, despite continuing changes. 
Levine's subtlety with text is as impressive as Kath's deft illustrations.  

In the early pages:

"... singing as long as the walk would last."

After finding a way back into each others lives, Grandpa and Noah are able to head out together for a walk:

" And they took off down the road together, planning to go for as long as the song would last."

The end papers open with the full colors of Grandpa's plaid shirt, which fades in and out throughout the story. It is particularly telling that when the gray recedes the plaid is restored but with some original tones missing. The closing endpapers eliminate those fading strands while sustaining joyful colors. Likewise, the title page and early stages include birds singing robustly, transferring to subdued during interior struggles, but resuming their joyful trills on the final pages. 

These are only a few of the ways this book could serve as mentor text for writers, young and old, and for illustrators as well.

The Kirkus review offers a full summary of the story here. 

The book as a whole stands up to multiple rereadings, in no small part because of the upbeat conclusion and constructive resolution.

I  read, write, review, and teach picture books. I attend workshops and conferences, participate in contest panels, and read about picture books. It's easy to imagine that picture books touch my heart and mind on many levels. 

Picture books are the precursors to social media. In very very words and images they offer complete, concise, compelling  content ranging from belly laughs to wry irony to wrenching social commentary to memorable storytelling to potent delivery of factual content. This little blog provides a platform to send my thoughts out into the blogosphere about particular titles, authors, illustrators, and  topics. I launched the site several years ago at a time when a claim about the "death" of picture books was being debated and I had an opinion to share on the subject. I was (and continue to be) eager to explore titles recent and classic and their potential POWER in our lives. 

I use the word OUR intentionally. While the stated audience for picture books is young readers, the best picture books are equally valuable and appealing to all readers.

This one surely is, and should be a part of every home. library, and classroom.

To see if others agree, visit stops on the blog tour for WHAT A BEAUTIFUL MORNING, linked here:
What A Beautiful Morning Blog Tour 
8/3 MomReadIt
8/11 Bildebok
8/13 Randomly Reading

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher but the post expresses my honest opinion. 


Jul 23, 2016

Is DEATH a Taboo Subject? Hard Conversations Continue

In the previous post  I featured two titles that open hard conversations about trauma and racism. If you had time to explore one or both you may have discovered that the right picture books, shared in a trusting environment, can allow even the youngest readers/listeners to explore and find comfort in the midst of stressful events and news. These shared experiences can be invaluable to adults as well, and to every age in between.

But there must be some minimal age at which certain subjects are taboo, right? You know, TABOO. As in:"an inhibition or ban resulting from social custom or emotional aversion"\
If so, certainly DEATH would be that subject, and it would take more than a picture book to open  that conversation, right?
If you find yourself among those who share that view, I hope you'll shelve your opinion just long enough to take a closer look at these amazing picture books.

Enchanted Lion Books, 2016
Start with CRY, HEART, BUT NEVER BREAK, written by Glenn Ringtved and illustrated by Charlotte  Pardi. This Danish import addresses the concept of impending death of a loved one with the blunt and honest directness of Leah, the youngest, as she stares directly into the eyes of Death on the opening pages. 
End papers often provide a clue as to the mood or theme of a picture book, but in this case they puzzled me until I reached the story-in-a-story, told by the Visitor/Death. At that point they made perfect sense, representing the delicate balance between all of life's emotions, even it's extremes. Death is unapologetic and yet reassuring that, as the title indicates, life endures and hearts can bear grief, growing stronger and more living in the process. The patience, grace, and manner of Death in this picture book make it an ideal choice to launch a group study of the narrator in THE BOOK THIEF, by Markus Zusak, with older readers.

Tundra Books, 2015
Next, take a careful look at BUG IN A VACUUM by Melanie WattThis has to be one of the most unexpected picture books anyone will read, and yet it makes perfect sense on many levels. How Watt managed to conceive of this analogy is hard to imagine. She created an extended and complex story with parallel characters, a flat and muted palette, and very mature content yet manages to be totally kid-friendly, appealing, and funny. 
Here's what i said about it earlier this year during the Cybils evaluation:
Bug in a Vacuum by author/illustrator Mélanie Watt is an unusual and valuable picture book. Speech-bubbled, pun-packed reflections tell the titled story when Bug is sucked into a vacuum. Underlying that is a simultaneous story of a dog and his lost toy, told in subtle wordless images. 
Cleverly embedded text throughout the double-page spreads label the stages-of-grief, mirroring Bug's and dog's various attempts at coping with loss. Muted, mixed media illustrations merge these complex narratives seamlessly in a triple-layered story. It has much to offer children of all ages — and I do mean all. 
The witty commentary and humorous illustrations of Bug, rife with wordplay and visual metaphors, propel the story above and beyond the grief and loss references. Instead, readers will engage with bug's dilemma, dog's subtext, and breathe a sigh of relief at satisfying, surprising conclusions. 
This quirky offering by the author of Scaredy Squirrel presents a darker vibe and fills 96 pages, but it shares the ability to generate laughs, provoke thoughtful discussion, inspire meaningful questions, and draw children in for multiple readings. 

Perhaps we (as adults) could all benefit from more time spent reading and discussing picture books among ourselves.I, for one, would vote for that.  Only then, when we've decided we have plumbed the depths and have all the answers should we read them to and with young people, remaining silent, listening to them as they consider and question and prove to us that we have only scratched the surface. 
Then, instead of wondering if some subjects are too intense for the very young, we'd realize that they are only too intense for those who have grown too old to listen.
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.