Today for Winner’s Wednesday I wanted to highlight this 2007 Caldecott Medal Winner due to its amazing artistry! Flotsam is a wordless, children’s picture book that tells the story of a boy who finds a camera that washes ashore at the beach.
Upon discovering the camera, the boy goes to get the film developed where he then uncovers a vast collection of curious undersea pictures taken on the camera’s journey. There are robotic fish, octopi sitting in a living room, turtles with cities growing out of their backs, starfish islands, mermaids, and aliens!
Among the astonishing “wildlife” photos, is a picture of a girl holing a picture of another boy, who’s holding another picture of a boy, and so on until the 70th zoom where you find a boy posing at the beach for this lost camera. The story’s main character then poses for his photo holding the many previous finders of the camera and sends the camera out into the sea for its next journey where a girl will later find it on her shore.
This is an amazing “read” to include into your library for its remarkable, imaginative illustrations that tell a story all on their own. It allows children to follow along and create words in their mind to accompany the pictures of the lost camera as you “flip” through it’s adventures at sea.
Leif and the Fall by Allison Sweet Grant and Adam Grant, illustrated by Merrilee Liddiard
This marvelous new picture book is a very timely story for our socially and emotionally charged world. This book provides an excellent entrée into social emotional learning surrounding worry, anxiety, bravery, and friendship. Leif and the Fall follows its main character’s, Leif, thoughts of worry and stress surrounding the big event that happens every autumn: the falling leaves.
Everyone experiences worry at some point in their life, so having conversations with your children, or your students, is immensely important. Talking through the strategies for calming your thoughts and quieting your fears gives kids the tools they need to be in charge of their own emotions- instead of letting their emotions take charge of them. Throughout this book, Leif comes up with lots of inventive ways to avoid his fears of falling. Strategizing can be a great way to move through anxiety, but just as this story shows– it’s not always the best way. Sometimes, you need friends to help you get along.
This marvelous new picture book shows how Leif really relies on his friend Laurel to help get him through a rough time plagued with worry- which highlights the importance of friendship and reaching out when you feel overwhelmed. Of all the important and wonderful lessons this book portrays, this one is currently the most important. We are living through a pandemic, where we are all supposed to be staying at home as much as possible. Human touch isn’t allowed, and a lot of the activities that we, as humans use to connect with one another are full of worry because of the spreading pandemic. This book does a fantastic job of showing just how helpful, supportive, and necessary good friends are. (Which is honestly a message a lot of adults need too!)
The pictures throughout this book are playful and frankly, adorable. They really add a lot of emotion to the text and the book would not be nearly as affective without them. Another appreciable aspect of this book is the creativity that Leif comes up with in an attempt to solve his problem. His persistence is admirable and although worry is the main topic, and driving force, for his actions, his persistence shouldn’t be overlooked. This is very often something that is hard to teach young children, or even adults. After all, not getting it right the first time can be really frustrating for anyone. The opportunity for readers to see persistence in action is indispensable and although this book could simply be read, it really is a wonderful tool for talking about many important emotional topics.
To close out the week on folklore, I am including a review of a Liberian folktale Two Ways to Count to Ten as retold by Ruby Dee and illustrated by Susan Meddaugh. The author has many lessons to teach in this story about King Leopard and his decision to pick a successor who will rule after him and who shall marry his daughter. Among these lessons are reminders that there can be more than one way to approach a problem and that everyone should be given a fair chance.
To prove these points, the King invites the entire kingdom to a three-day feast and at the end sets up a spear throwing contest to see who will be wise enough to pass his test. Whoever can throw the spear toward the sky and send it high enough so that he can count to ten before it comes down again will win. Several animals try and fail. Finally, the antelope tries. He is made fun of for being seen as weak and puny, but he wins the contest by counting to ten by twos. The lesson is convincing because the assumption is that the king intended the contestants to count by ones and that he wanted his successor to have great physical strength.
The book serves as a clever and original way to introduce children to skip counting. I am unfamiliar with other tales that share a similar focus. Ruby Dee was an American actress, playwright, screenwriter, activist, poet and journalist, also known for her civic work with husband Ossie Davis. Susan Meddaugh is an award-winning illustrator and creator of children’s books.
Judge this book by its ability to captivate the interest of children.
Released in April 2020, Avocado Asks by Momoko Abe tells the tale of a grocery store avocado trying to find out who he is. Abe is a Japanese illustrator currently living in the UK, and this is her debut book as an author.
After a customer in the store asks her mom about the avocado being placed with the vegetables, the avocado begins to question where he is supposed to fit in. He decides to venture around the store to ask the other foods where he belongs.
At each location, however, he is rejected. He doesn’t seem to belong to any of the food groups! He feels disheartened until he runs into a tomato. The tomato shares his story and tells the avocado to believe in himself and to not worry about what the other foods say about him.
A story about self-discovery and confidence, Abe reminds the reader that there are not defined groups that everyone fits into. Just like the foods are all a little bit different and unique, so are we. This is also a story about having confidence in yourself. Coming to know who you are as a person can be difficult at any age. The tomato reminds us to stay true to ourselves and to not care about what other people label us as.
This book would be a fantaistic opportunity to teach young children about friendship, about self-esteem, and about having confidence in who you are. This could be applied to a lesson about diversity, as the avocado and the tomato learn that it doesn’t matter what you look like or what group people put you in—what matters is being confident in who you are and standing up for the beliefs you have in yourself. If I were to use this book in my own classroom, I may introduce the story by bringing different types of food into the classroom and asking the students to place the foods into different groups. When they would inevitably start having difficulty classifying some foods such as the tomato and avocado, I would introduce this story. This approach would engage the students with the text as they await answers for their sorting. Afterwards, I would have a discussion about the themes of this story in relation to their food groups, emphasizing how confidence and knowing who you are is more important than anything others may say about you.
Revel in the autumnal spirit with Lucy Ruth Cummin’s Stumpkin. The 2018 story follows a stemless pumpkin, or Stumpkin, as it watches its fellow pumpkin friends (with stems) find their Halloween homes and become jack-o-lanterns.
Cummin’s words are quirky and almost poetic, following the emotions of the pumpkin as the shelves get thinner and thinner, and more of its friends get carved into their final holiday form. The illustrations position the pumpkins as the centerpiece of the page, their bright orange hues stand out among the monochromatic outlines beyond them. The images resemble a collage, with elements of urban life bustling about in the Halloween hustle.
Though the dialogue seems silly at times, the book explores feelings of loneliness and rejection as Stumpkin’s anguish grows over every other pumpkin getting picked. Many can resonate with his self-doubt and empathize with his struggle for a home. Yet, the book provides a lesson of confidence amid struggle: Stumpkin continues to console himself and the author points out how his uniqueness could be his strength.
Stumpkin proves to be a quirky Halloween read suitable for young readers and older readers alike. As you read, you can answer: will Stumpkin ever find a home? Whether the book is read as a supplement for the season or as a lesson in acceptance, the brightness of Stumpkin shines like a freshly-carved jack-o-lantern beaming from a household window.
Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson focus on a young Black boy and his grandmother in addressing inner-city poverty. The boy, CJ, questions his Nana about why they don’t have a car and why their neighborhood (including the soup kitchen where they eat) is always so dirty. Rather than elaborating on their financial situation, Nana provides CJ with an alternative perspective that promotes positivity. For example, rather than explaining that the poorest neighborhoods are often the dirtiest, Nana explains that “when you’re surrounded by dirt…you’re a better witness for what’s beautiful.” Robinson’s illustrations instill warmth and comfort that upholds the refreshingly positive lens from which Nana views the world.
Poverty aside, CJ’s sense of wonder contributes to the gentle tone de la Peña employs. He wonders why it rains and what makes blind people unable to see, reminding readers of a time during childhood when the world was only a series of questions that needed answering.
Not surprisingly, “Last Stop on Market Street” earned three awards, including the 2016 Newbery Medal, the Caldecott Award, and the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor. It is an uplifting story that provides a powerful mirror for children of low socioeconomic status. Moreover, it exposes middle- and upper-class children to this sensitive issue that likely applies to at least some of their peers. Therefore, teachers should strongly consider adding this title to their classroom libraries. Its length makes it ideal for a read aloud, its topics are conducive to rich discussion, and its narrative writing style validates its status as a strong mentor text for creative writing workshops.
—David A. Banker
de la Peña, M. (2015). Last stop on Market Street (C. Robinson, Illus.). Penguin.
Tameka Fryer Brown blends the mischief and cuteness of a toddler in a fresh new way with 2020’s Brown Baby Lullaby. The book portrays the day of a baby and their parents, delving into their adventures. Fryer Brown weaves in Spanish and English seamlessly, revealing the nature of a multilingual household, where coos float in and out of the two languages as the parent’s guide baby through multiple parts of the day.
AG Ford’s illustrations bring brightness to the sweet words: pages are bathed in sunny yellow and golden hues. The images radiate the love of the parents, even as baby slings food at dinner or gets cranky at the end of a long day.
Throughout the whole text, Fryer Brown highlights the life of young parents going through life with a new addition. Some things are stressful, some things are funny, yet every moment is cherished. Underneath all of this, readers are reminded of the power of radical love for a young baby, especially a young person of color. The parents work hard to make their child feel loved, special, and safe. This book would be suitable for any young child and is the perfect bedtime story to add to your library.
Song of the River is a new book written by Joy Cowley, illustrated by Kimber Andrews and published in 2020.Joy Cowley is a much-celebrated New Zealand children’s author who has won a series of awards and honors. The language of this book Song of the River is poetic and children-friendly. The illustration of the landscape is beautiful. The illustrator Kimberly Andrews is a trained biologist and geologist who grew up in the Canadian Rockies.
This book tells a simple story: a mountain boy Cam wishes to go the sea. One spring morning, a trickle of water sang in the voice of snow to Cam, “Come with me, Come with me. I will take you to the sea.”Cam followed the voice. The trickle of water joined other trickles and became a creek. The creek went down the mountain and became a stream. Stream joined the river, and the river became wider and flowed through towns and cities. Cam went all along, and eventually arrived the beach.
“The sea sang him a song about a salty wind and crying birds and deep, secreat places where whales give birth to their young, and wharves with cranes and ships with cargoes and big brass engines and green and gold frogs and leaping trout and a watergall and — yes — in a faint whisper, it sang of snow.”
It would be a classic story of teaching children the source of water if it ends here. But Cam went back to the mountain and asked the trickle of water “why didn’t you tell me you were the beginning of the sea?”
Indeed, why? Joy gave the answer in the beginning of the book “people who say you only live once are not readers. As often as you open a book, you come to new places and live new lives.” I want to add to it. When you close a book, go see the new places, verify the words with your eyes, and live the new lives of your own version.
A Big Moon Cake for Little Star is written and illustrated by Grace Lin, a Newbery Honor author. Grace Lin got the inspiration for this book from the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, her favorite Asian holiday, probably the most important holiday for the Chinese community except for the Lunar New Year. The Chinese ancestors discovered that on August 15th of the lunar calendar, the moon appears the biggest, roundest, and brightest in a year. On the day of the Mid-Autumn Festival, the family will gather together, enjoy mooncakes, and read poetries about the moon. In the old days without telecommunication, knowing the loved ones also appreciated the moon at the same time from far was comforting.
Under the “jacket” of A Big Moon Cake for Little Star, there is the Little Star with her mooncake “coincidentally” presenting the moon phase. Readers can also find the stars, moon, and galaxy illustration in details (the clock on the wall, the blank in the light yellow color just like the moon)
It all started with Little Star and her mama baking a mooncake.
Mama asked Little Star not to touch the big mooncake until she tells her to. Little Star said yes.
But Little Star woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t resist the temptation of the delicious mooncake. So she went to take a tiny nibble thinking mama wouldn’t find out. (Does this remind you of sneaking to the cookie jar in the middle of the night when you were young?)
Night after night, Little Star finished the big mooncake and left only a trail of twinling crumbs! When mama asked Little Star if she ate it all, Little Star said, “yes mama. Now let’s go make another one!”