On the blog:
- A curation of some of my favorite online reading from last week
- A slice and a celebration about taking a break
- A post about creating a practice of powerful freewriting in your classroom
- A review of Mr Ferris and His Wheel
- A Top Ten list of favorites from the last three years
How I loved Andrea Davis Pinkney’s The Red Pencil, a verse novel about Amira, a young girl in Sudan who becomes a victim of the Sudanese Civil War. Amira, her family, her home, her beloved sheep, came to life for me through Pinkney’s powerful and affecting verse. Amira’s mother plans for her daughter to grow up to be a good wife, mother, and housekeeper, but Amira has larger ambitions. She sees the world as an artist. She longs to get an education, to follow her best friend to school to learn to read and write. Her father and Old Anwar, a family friend, support her dreams, but her mother cannot be convinced. Amira’s possibilities in life are already narrow, but then war comes to her village, and her family is displaced to a refugee camp, where the possibilities narrow even further for Amira. But then hope comes in the form of a relief worker who dispenses pencils and paper tablets and in the form of Old Anwar, who secretly begins teaching Amira to read and write.
Julie Paschkis’s P. Zonka Lays an Egg was my favorite picture book of the week. I have a fondness for chickens, and it’s clear that Paschkis knows a flock up close and personally. The flock dynamics in this story are quite hilarious. The story is simple: P. Zonka is too busy counting the petals on daisies and admiring the blades of grass to bother about laying eggs. The other hens peer pressure her to get busy laying those eggs, and when she finally does, it contains all the beauty and wonder she sees in the world around her.
I am still trying to decide what to think of Alessandro Sanna’s The River, a wordless illustrated book about four seasons on the Po River in Italy. The book is divided into sections by season, and each section has something of a narrative arc to it, but the stories were very difficult for me to follow or understand. The real draw here is Sanna’s paintings, which are incredible. I first learned of this book at Brain Pickings, which has a thoughtful post featuring many images.
Don Brown’s America Is Under Attack is a longer picture book (more like a chapter book) telling the story of 9/11. Although Brown’s focus is on a chronological narration of events, he humanizes the story by following the events through the eyes and experiences of a few individuals, including rescue workers and people who worked in the Towers. Both prose and illustrations are thoughtful and clear. This is a very complex story made comprehensible for upper elementary readers.
Clever and sweet new title from Ame Dyckman about a bunny family that adopts a wolf baby and the sibling rivalry that ensues. Big Sister is convinced the wolf baby is going to eat them all up, but in the end, it’s the Wolf who needs to be rescued.
Before After is very long for a picture book (176 pages!) and while it’s appropriate for the age range listed on Amazon (4-8 years), that’s probably not the right audience for these lovely wordless before and after images. Many are tongue-in-cheek: one of my favorites, for instance, shows a sheep grazing in a lovely mountain landscape on one page and a ball of yarn on the other. Many are poignant and sweet. The book’s compact size is appealing but also makes it difficult to open the pages wide enough at the center of the book to appreciate the full images.
I couldn’t find a good book cover image online for Carson Ellis’s Home, and I didn’t snap my own photo in the bookstore, so this image will have to do. It’s really the images that are everything in this picture book exploration of what home looks like and what home means. Some of the homes Ellis paints are real and some are wonderfully whimsical, like my favorite, the Norse god’s house (an image I snagged online and am using in total disregard of copyright):
Oliver Jeffers’s The Incredible Book Eating Boy has just the right balance of quirk and heart. The main character loves to eat books and eats them indiscriminately until he develops some digestive issues. A doctor suggests he might try reading the books instead of eating them, which turns out to be a much better choice.
If You Plant a Seed is Kadir Nelson’s new book, and though I’m a huge Kadir Nelson fan, I did struggle a bit with this one. The rabbit has the same creepy glassy eyes as Baby Bear, for one. And the message is really heavy-handed: plant seeds of selfishness and bad stuff happens; plant seeds of kindness and good stuff happens. I loved Albie’s First Word, which tells a story inspired by Albert Einstein’s childhood. Einstein was a late talker, and Tourville imagines the lengths his parents might have gone to in their quest to understand the delay and hurry things along. His parents shower Albie with amazing experiences, which clearly engage him fully, but he still says nothing. At the very end of the story, the reader is treated to his first word, and it’s certainly worth waiting for. A lovely story about imagination, wonder, curiosity, and discovery.