On my blog:
- A curation of some of the best online reading from last week–the reading life, teaching with tech, book awards season, and more
- Some ideas for getting started with Personal Learning Networks
- A review of the nonfiction picture book biography, My Name Is Gabriela
- A slice of life about how much I hate required reading, even when I’m the one requiring it
I didn’t manage to finish a single book myself, but I did read a lot to my son.
I am fond of unicorns and planned to enjoy Book 4 in Suzanne Selfors’s Imaginary Veterinary series, but the weaknesses of the series are on full display here. Far too much attention is paid to meaningless details giving no space for plot or character development. It feels like it takes 100 pages just to get the kids out of bed, breakfasted, dressed, and across town to the “worm hospital” in the morning (a cover for the veterinary for imaginary creatures). And it really does take over 100 pages to get to anything unicorn. 100+ pages of set-up is just too much for a middle-grade novel that’s only 180 pages total. My kids continue to enjoy this series, but this will probably be the last one that I agree to read aloud.
Last night I asked my son what he’d like for me to read to him. “I really want to read the book about the eyebrow lady,” he said. We’ve read several picture books about Frida Kahlo, and that’s how he knows her: the eyebrow lady. And as you can see from the cover, the famous eyebrows are on full display in Yuyi Morales’s eye-poppingly gorgeous Viva Frida. Morales creates dolls (puppets?) of Frida, Diego, Frida’s dog, and Frida’s monkey, and poses them in various scenes to tell a dreamy story about Frida as an artist. (There are also several paintings–when Frida dreams, the illustrations change to paintings, and then go back to the doll sets when she wakes up). This is not a biography, not an information book. This is a book about artistic inspiration, about what it means to live as an artist. There are very few words on each page, and the book is dual-language Spanish and English. Warm, inspiring, full of joy and love. A very Yuyi Morales book.
Sophie Blackall’s The Baby Tree is an absolute delight. When our main character learns that his parents are going to have another baby, he has only one question: where do babies come from? But it’s time to leave for school, so he doesn’t have a chance to ask his mom and dad. Instead, he asks several people he meets over the course of the day, and they all give him different answers, which inspire some terrific art from Blackall, including the baby tree on the cover. Although the answers are all wrong, they contain a nugget of truth, as the boy realizes when he is finally able to ask his mom and dad and hear the truth. Well, except for Grandpa’s answer. The final picture shows the boy sitting down with his grandpa to explain where babies really come from–since Grandpa is clearly clueless. There is an informational aspect to this book, and it would be an excellent choice to read aloud to a child who is wondering where babies come from. There is a helpful page at the end listing common questions asked by the 4-6 year old set with age-appropriate answers for the parent who needs a little extra guidance.
I did not want to read a picture book about The Golden Rule (overt moral lessons in picture books are a pet peeve of mine), but I did want to see Gabi Swiatowska’s art. And it did not disappoint. I have a hard time even choosing my favorite spread because there is so much to delight. There were moments in the story that I did like, especially the inclusion of versions of the golden rule from different religious traditions. But I did find the story a bit heavy-handed at times. I think my children’s lit students (who tend to like moral lessons in picture books much more than I do) will love this book, so it’s one I will certainly share in that class. And I will say that it got a strong kid seal of approval from my son. It’s pretty rare that he comments on what we read, but at the end of this book, he said, “That’s actually a good story.” So there you go. Magnificent art and “actually a good story.” (Unlike the other books I read to him? I’m not really sure how to take the “actually” in that sentence!)
I may have to quit the Caldecott if Melissa Sweet isn’t acknowledged for the incredible work she does for Jen Bryant’s The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus. This is the case of an illustrator finding the perfect project for her style. Sweet’s distinctive watercolors and mixed-media collage incorporate many elements that are quinessential Roget: lists, words (obviously), an obsession with symmetry and classification. Read more about her process for creating the art in The Right Word at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. (Bryant’s story is excellent too, though it did NOT get the kid seal of approval. My son actually fell asleep while I was reading this book to him. In his defense, he’d had an emotionally and physically draining day, and he was really tired. I don’t think that under normal circumstances it’s the kind of book that puts kids to sleep.)
I finally got my hands on a book that Carrie Gelson has recommended several times on her blog. Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin, is a beautifully written story of a little girl who decides to enter the talent show even though she has only just begun taking violin lessons. She can’t really play yet, and her brothers laugh at her and assure her that she will be “a disaster.” Chieri Uegaki roots Hana’s desire to play the violin in her memories of visiting her grandfather, an accomplished violinist, in Japan. Hana creatively solves the problem of not being able to actually play the violin, and the ending is quite satisfying. Uegaki writes gorgeous sentences: this would make an excellent mentor text.
In K.G. Campbell’s The Mermaid and the Shoe, King Neptune’s daughter, Minnow, thinks she has no particular talents or abilities. As her mean sister Calypso frequently reminds her, she’s useless. The only thing she’s good at is asking questions–and that can get annoying. It’s only after she discovers a red shoe and decides to set off on an adventure to learn more about it that she discovers what she is truly good at. A sweet story with a bit of humor and wonderfully dreamy illustrations.
I hadn’t heard of Brother Hugo and the Bear, written by Katy Beebe and illustrated by S.D. Schindler, until I came across it in the comments of a recent Calling Caldecott post. And Schindler’s art should rightly get some attention. Beebe’s story was inspired by a note from a twelfth-century monk who asked to borrow a book from a different monastery because his copy had been eaten by a bear. In Beebe’s version, our poor monk loses his library book when it’s eaten by a bear. His superior asks him to replace it by making a new copy. Quite a bit of the story is devoted to book-making, which does make this a fine story for the bookish to read. Schindler incorporates many elements of medieval manuscript illumination into his art, and there is an interesting note at the end describing the process and tools in more detail. I don’t see this as Caldecott material, but I am glad that I was able to read it.
I loved the spare, simple writing in Lauren Castillo’s Nana in the City, and of course I loved her illustrations. A celebration of grandmas, cities, being brave, and looking beneath the surface.