Monthly Archives: October 2014

Traditional Thursdays: Stone Soup

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Stone Soup is a classic, old folk tale told and illustrated by Marcia Brown that demonstrates the importance of synergy and generosity for the benefit of the community.  The book tells the story of three weary, traveling soldiers who go into a village hoping they would have some food to spare and a place to rest.  Seeing the soldiers from a distance, the peasants hide their food and give excuses, saying that their harvest has been bad, they need to use the food and beds to care for their sick father, etc.  Being clever soldiers, one of them spoke out and said that since nobody has food, they will make stone soup from three big, smooth stones and water in the middle of the square.  They taste the soup and speculate that it would taste better with salt and pepper, and the curious peasants can’t help but run home to grab some salt and pepper.  Again, they taste it and say it would that a good stone soup should have some carrots, cabbage, beef, potatoes, barley, and even milk, and each time the villagers run off to get their hidden foods.  At last, the soup is ready and smells ever so delicious, and all the villagers including the soldiers celebrate with a soup feast and lots of dancing.  Full to the brim, the soldiers are given the best beds to sleep in and leave the next day, leaving the gift of stone soup with the villagers.

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This book won the Caldecott Honor, and it’s plain to see why.  The illustrations, while simple with only back, white, and orange, give the people great emotion and evoke the same emotions of weariness, sadness, curiosity, excitement, and joy as the story progresses.  The simplicity of the art brings out the character of the village and of the people inside and the appeal in the different patterns and textures of the bright orange.  In conjunction with the plot, children are sure to enjoy the art and story.

stonesoup2 As a child, I read this book, fell in love, and reread it over and over again because I was so amazed and caught up by the charm these three soldiers cast on the villagers.  I knew that this was no magic–they made this soup merely from the ingredients they put into it–but it’s the magic of teamwork and generosity that made the soup taste so exquisitely delicious and their feast so delightful.  When the soldiers leave the next morning, the villagers say, “Many thanks for what you have taught us… We shall never go hungry, now that we know how to make soup from stones.”  Little did they know that they didn’t just learn how to make stone soup–they learned how to make wonderful soup together.

-Angela Wang

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Winners Wednesdays: Freedom Summer

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In Freedom Summer, Deborah Wiles tells the story of two young boys in the summer of 1964, right after the Civil Rights Act is passed.  This book received the Coretta Scott King / John Steptoe new talent award for Jerome Lagarrigue and the Simon Wiesenthal “Once Upon A World Award.”

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The story is told from the perspective of Young Joe who is best friends with John Henry.   Young Joe does everything with John Henry–except swimming in the public swimming pool, visiting the movie theater or buying ice pops at the supermarket.  Instead they help John Henry’s mother–Young John’s family’s maid–with chores around the house and swim in a local creek.  Young Joe accepts that this is the way things are in the segregated South yet doesn’t see John Henry as much different from himself.

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When people in Mississippi organize to enforce the Civil Rights Act and register to vote, the boys don’t realize the magnitude of their mission.  The boys understand, however, how the new laws will effect them and are ecstatic to be able to do new things together–like finally swim in the glistening town pool.  They run to the pool early in the morning to be the first swimmers in the newly desegregated pool.  When they arrive, they watch in horror as tar fills the empty pool and workmen stomp it flat.  Almost defeated, they sit up on the diving board.  When Young Joe tries to comfort his friend, John Henry cries hot, angry tears and insists he wanted to swim.

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Something clicks.  They both have quarters.  They have each other.  The boys walk into the convenience store, arm in arm, to buy ice pops.

The beautiful oil paint illustrations by Jerome Lagarrigue portray the bliss, excitement and disappointment of these two children who decide not to let their society mold them.   The art adds movement to the children’s laughter, pain to the city’s betrayal, and strength in the moment when Young Joe and John Henry realize they can make their own dream come true.

Deborah Wiles is also known for her 1960’s trilogy for upper elementary and middle school students, which includes another work about the Freedom Summer entitled Revolution.

Trendy Tuesday: Sam & Dave Dig a Hole

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Sam & Dave Dig a Hole, written by Mac Barnett (2014) and illustrated by Jon Klassen, is a great read for little boys and girls. The basic plot of the book is embedded in its title: Two boys named Sam and Dave “dig a hole” in search of “‘something spectacular.’” What the boys don’t know is that they keep digging around huge jewels! Sam and Dave continuously decide which direction they should dig, and each time they change directions they miss the jewel by just a few inches. Of course, Sam and Dave don’t know that they are within reach of “‘something spectacular,’” but readers do; kids will love being in on the secret.

Sam & Dave Dig a Hole is an excellent example of a picture book that utilizes the relationship between text and illustrations. In fact, the book cannot be read without the pictures, nor can it be read without the text. Without the illustrations, there would be no knowing that the boys keep missing their “‘something spectacular,’” because the text makes no mention of it. Yet, without the text, we also wouldn’t know what Sam and Dave are looking for when they dig, without which the story would lose its element of irony.

The collaboration between the illustrations and the text are not just collectively vital to understanding the story; they are also each beautifully crafted. The language of Sam & Dave Dig a Hole is sophisticated, and the illustrations are textured and fun. The text is spare but impactful; Sam and Dave’s simple conversations are delightful, and the surrounding text contains language that will provide teachable moments for kids. Kids who read Sam & Dave Dig a Hole will likely want to embark on their own “‘mission[s],’” “underground,” for “‘something spectacular.’” The illustrations are also exemplary. Readers watch as the scenes become progressively darker with dirt, until whole pages are filled in a way that readers feel like they are immersed underground. Additionally, the book’s design exemplifies a wonderful use of space. The illustrations progressively fill the page more and more as Sam and Dave dig deeper and deeper underground.

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole is a delightful story sure to please children and adults alike. All who read will feel in on the secret. While reading, readers can’t help but ask, “Are they ever going to find ‘something spectacular’?” I recommend Sam & Dave Dig a Hole to anyone who wants to know the answer to that question, and for anyone who enjoys a good story.

— Lauren Heyano

Marvelous Mondays: My Love For You Is The Sun

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For this Marvelous Monday new picture book post, I wanted to discuss a book that I just bought at the Southern Festival of Books.  While attending the conference, I was lucky enough to meet the creators of My Love for you is the Sun.  Within minutes of hearing Julie Hedlund and Susan Eaddy describe the book and its publication process, I knew I had to buy it for my own collection.  The illustrations were breathtaking, for one.  I think they are probably the book’s most impressive feature.  Eaddy’s illustrations are molded with clay, slowly built up over time, and ingrained with textural elements.  I cannot help but share this video of her creating one of the illustrations for My Love for you is the Sun because the artistry behind her work blew my mind!

Hedlund had to develop the funds for publishing My Love for you is the Sun on Kickstarter because her publisher was unable to support the book’s initial development.  This process intrigued me because it is indicative of the changing market for children’s books, and specifically, how modern technology like crowd-sourcing is influencing the publication world.  I had never heard of a publishing house using crowd-sourcing as a fundraising process, but it worked wonders for Hedlund.  Since she had more creative control over the book because of her crowd-sourcing platform, she was able to request Eaddy specifically as her illustrator.  She had seen Susan’s previous work and knew that her style was instrumental to making the book successful.  Hedlund had never wanted the book to be an advantageous story; instead, it was meant to be a sweet bedtime story.  She wrote in an effort to render the love she felt for her children comprehensible.  Plot, character development, and thematic discussions were not the focus of her work.  Instead, she used metaphor after metaphor to help every parent express their undying love for their children.

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The result is a picture book that reads almost like a poem, mirroring the natural illustrations that engulfed the text.  My Love for You is the Sun is quite simply a fun read.  It is poetic, beautifully illustrated, and sweet.  Watching the book trailer (below) created with Hedlund’s home videos, my heart melted.  Often, as teachers (or parents), we search for the most educational books, hoping to improve our students’ development.  However, now I realize that not all books need to be educational; sometimes, they can simply be mirrors into a child’d world.  Lighthearted, authentic books, such as My Love for you is the Sun are important.  I would recommend it to anyone, hands down.

-Cassandra Mychajlowycz

Free Friday: Once Upon an Alphabet

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The latest picture book by author-illustrator Oliver Jeffers, Once Upon an Alphabet: Short Stories For All the Letters, offers a new spin on the usual picture book structure. As the title suggests, the story consists of 26 vignettes accompanied by watercolor and ink illustrations.

The short stories are, unsurprisingly, hilarious. They offer absurd new ideas about language and the world, from an astronaut with a fear of heights, to a lightning prone lumberjack, to an octopus and owl detective agency. Combining text and drawn dialogue, the book progresses in a looser order than most, with a large cast of characters and highly varied plot. The language is simple, each story made up of a few sentences with a final punch line just before the end, and as the alphabet continues into the later letters, the story shows previous characters coming back to make appearances in other vignettes. Likewise, the illustrations, which consist of a few lines and large splashes of color, manage to use their simple nature and surreal subjects to catch a reader’s attention and hold it.

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The stories are short and funny, obviously meant for entertainment, but there are moments within the stories that range from ridiculously morbid, to oddly sad, to inspiringly clever. My favorite story is one linking the book’s beginning to its end, in which as astronaut who is deathly afraid of heights attempts to work his way up from three feet off the ground to more than three hundred thousand. By the end of the story, we see him again at Z (for Zeppelin), cruising at four feet off the ground as everyone, including an alien, cheers his progress. It is in moments like this, moments that are both funny and filled with hope, that the book excels, and any child who reads this can detect the importance of the message.

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Children just starting to gain some independence in reading will have a blast reading the chapter-like sections, and the length of the book allows for them to pause at reasonable intervals and even go back to reread their favorite sections. This charming and unique take on the alphabet is sure to appeal to children and adults alike.

Reviewed by: Veronica Kittle-Kamp

Traditional Thursdays: The Valentine Bears

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When I was younger, The Valentine Bears, written by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Jan Brett was one of my favorite books. The book tells the story of Mr. and Mrs. Bear, who wake up from hibernation to celebrate Valentine’s Day together. Mrs. Bear has planned so many surprises for Mr. Bear, but first she has to wake him up!

The book highlights fun Valentine’s day traditions, such as giving poems and candy, but from a bear perspective, for example, giving chocolate-covered ants. While the plot is not the most exciting, it unfolds naturally and is simple enough for a child to easily follow. Sentence structure is also simple, but there is enough variety in the sentences that the story does not feel choppy. The vocabulary throughout the book is sophisticated but still accessible.

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The illustrations in the book are also simple- gray-scale line drawings with highlights of reds and yellows. Their aesthetic appeal lies in how subdued they are, with depth and interest being added through a range of values. Children would find the pictures interesting because of how the bears are portrayed as both human-like and bear-like.

While the book does not stand out at first glance, children will appreciate the sweet story. It would be a perfect addition to a preschool or kindergarten unit about Valentine’s day, but it could also be used to support learning about how bears live, such as how they hibernate or what they eat. Highlighting the importance of showing people we love them, the book has found a beloved place on many children’s shelves.

Reviewed by: Rachel Riendeau

Winners Wednesdays: A Sick Day for Amos McGee

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A Sick Day for Amos Mcgee by Philip C. Stead and illustrated by Erin E. Stead won the Caldecott Award in 2011. The adorable story of an old man and his animal friends at the zoo was able to capture the hearts of many people. But what really made the story stand out were the illustrations.

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A Sick Day for Amos McGee is about an old man who works at the zoo. But, “he always made time to see his friends.” He helps each on of them in some way. For example, he plays chess with the elephant, ran races with the tortoise and let him win, and would read stories to the owl at night. But one morning, Amos was too sick to come into work. The animals at the zoo waited for him all day, but Amos did not come. Later in the day the animals all got on a bus to Amos’s house. They did all the things for Amos that he usually does for them.

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The grey illustrations with colored pencil pops of color make the illustrations unique. The colors really make certain things stand out. Another great thing about the illustrations in this book are that the animals and the old man look realistic. There is a lot of detail in the face of the Amos that makes him look like a cute old man. The facial features are proportionate to a real man.

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I think this book can serve as a book to teach about friendship. Amos McGee was a good friend, so then his friends were good to him. For any age child it is good to hear that every once and a while. Everyone wants to be a friend and have a friend like Amos McGee.