Monthly Archives: November 2014

Marvelous New Picture Books: Little Humans (Humans of New York)

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From the creator of the increasingly popular Humans of New York, Brandon Stanton, a photojournalist, has now published Little Humans. For those unfamiliar with the popular Facebook page, Humans of New York is a photo blog (and recently, book) with a collection of street portraits and interviews. Stanton has gained a large following—his photos and interviews are inspirational. Perhaps the reason why it is so popular is because these photos feature everyday people who serve as both mirrors and windows to others. Readers will be relieved to know that they are “not the only one” in whatever season of their life.

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Little Humans is a compilation of children whom Stanton has photographed. These photos are accompanied by some inspirational text written in poetic verse. The main gist is that no matter what your age, you can still do great things. However, those who do great things are not superheroes—they too, need rest, friends, hugs, and love. Each verse has a colored, bolded word that draws attention to all the things that “little people” are capable of. The verses also have fun rhymes and alliteration.

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One of my favorite aspects about this book is the fact that it embraces diversity. As I was browsing this book with my friend, she remarked, “This is the most diverse book I’ve seen.” Literally every race is represented. My only concern is that some of them are almost ironically stereotypical. For example, there is a picture of young, dancing Chinese girls dressed in red coats with yellow buttons, accompanied with the words, “Little humans can put on a show.” Similarly, the page that says “they learn” has a picture of an Asian man wearing Columbia University’s graduation cap and gown. But this was most likely not the author’s intention. There are also pictures of an African American girl demonstrating her flexibility skills and a young child with glasses sledding down a hill. Another thing to note is that while these pictures are individually diverse, every picture that has multiple people in it are people of the same race. This shows that people tend to congregate with others who are similar to themselves. However, it is important to remember that diversity is not just seen in the color of one’s skin. Throughout the book, we see people from different social classes and wearing different styles of dress.

Overall, Little Humans is a wonderful collection of photos with a motivational story behind it that encourages children to be themselves. And if anything goes wrong, all they have to do is stand back up, try again, and ask for help. Soon, people will see that little people can indeed do BIG things.

For more information on Brandon Stanton’s work, visit the Humans of New York website.

By: Michelle She

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Marvelous New Picture Books Monday: Firebird by Misty Copeland

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Misty Copeland has made her mark on the world as an accomplished ballerina, in fact, the first African American soloist in 20 years to work with the American Ballet Theater. On her way to stardom, she faced hardship and pushback. This year, she became the author of Firebird, illustrated by Christopher Myers, meant to inspire other young dancers who may be discouraged in their artistic studies.

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The text is a poetic exchange between a young girl and Misty, the girl expressing frustration in her work and abilities, envying Misty’s roles on stage. Misty replies by explaining all of the har d work, sweat, and tears she had to put in, and that there was so much progress she had to make and can still make to be the best artist she can be. The story is uplifting for any range of young dancers, but especially those who may not have been born with the features and natural abilities that are typical of principal ballerinas.

Myers’ illustrations bring the story to life with movement and color popping from the page. His use of collage to make patterned backgrounds, underneath painted dancers creates contrast and interest that could hold anyone’s attention.

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Whether you have a child in dance, musical theater, art, soccer, lacrosse, or any other activities feeling discouraged, pull out Copeland’s piece of poetry for an uplifting afternoon.

Free Fridays – Balarama: A Royal Elephant

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Caldecott Honor Winners Ted & Betsy Lewin’s book Balarama: A Royal Elephant recounts the authors’ adventures with elephants surrounding the Dasara festival in India.

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Balarama, a young elephant, is about to participate in the royal parade for the first time. Inspired text takes the reader through Balarama’s preparations for the festival, and eventually to the celebration itself. It is a story full of wonderful insights into Indian culture, emphasized further through the glossary/pronunciation guide and fun facts pages about elephants and the Dasara celebration.

The illustrations were undoubtedly the most striking feature of this book. Beautiful, vivid watercolors bring to life the liveliness of Indian culture. The intricate details mimic the delicate designs often used in textiles, paintings, and other aspects of the decoration of the elephants. I thoroughly enjoyed the combination of photograph-like depictions of the elephants and the festival alongside the cartoon-like renditions of the tourists and action scenarios. The combination of such allows a wider age range of readers to find excitement in this book.

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As far as ages are concerned, I think the structure and style of this book could make it enjoyable for younger children in a read-aloud setting and exciting for older readers because of the denser text and advanced Indian vocabulary. There is great knowledge to be gained from the story at hand, and it could be used in many contexts to teach children a new, exciting story about India’s culture.

Reviewed by SaraGrace Lee

Traditional Thursdays: Rumpelstiltskin

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Dictionary.com defines tradition as the handing down of something from generation to generation, especially by word of mouth. Rumpelstiltskin, a story first printed in Germany in the 15th century, is a tale well known by people of all ages across the globe.

The most well known version of Rumpelstiltskin was printed by the Grimm brothers in 1812. In this version, the princess only marries the king as an alternative to death, knowingly promises the hobgoblin her firstborn child and tries to go back on the bargain, and sends her servant to spy on the hobgoblin to learn his name. I personally had never planned on sharing this tale with my students or children for these reasons- specifically, I would not want to support the themes that women have no choice in marriage, that you do not have to uphold unpleasant bargains, and that you can have someone else do your challenging work.

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However, my opinion of the story changed upon reading Martin Powell’s edition of Rumpelstiltskin. In this version, the princess marries the king because he loves her, never knowingly promises away her firstborn child, and uses her cunning to deduce the hobgoblin’s location so that she can discover his name. Furthermore, the overall message is that there are consequences for tricking people and only doing kind things for unreasonably steep prices.

An additional reason I appreciated this book as a fantastic take on a traditional story is that it addresses the fact that, besides Powell’s modifications to the story, there are still questionable actions taken by the main characters. Namely, the princess gets away with lying and the king lies to and manipulates the princess in the name of love. The end of the book includes discussion questions that prompt students to question these facts and discriminate between strong and weak themes. The book was written for middle elementary school children, who are just starting to question these ideas for themselves (i.e., discriminating between right and wrong), so it provides a wonderful basis for discussion.

Beyond content, the main reason we selected this book for our blog post was its captivating illustrations and format. This adaptation of Rumpelstiltskin is in a graphic novel format, which works to engage readers at an active level in a centuries-old story. Illustrator Erik Valdez Y Alanis utilizes high levels of value and richly contrasting colors to heighten the magical quality of the story. Brilliant shades of gold contrast strongly with the bland yellow hay, which draws readers’ attention to the impressiveness of the feat of weaving straw into gold. Alanis additionally uses color to symbolically enhance the story; at the beginning of the story, the princess is murky green like the hobgoblin, which emphasizes the fact that the two are working together to be deceptive. In the second half of the story, the princess is a brilliant shade of red, which both emphasizes her newfound fiery nature and passion for her daughter and heightens the contrast between her and Rumpelstiltskin.

Overall, we found this adaptation of a traditional story to be an engaging and exciting read as well as a great basis for discussion. Definitely recommended!

Happy reading!

Jamie and Lexi

Winners Wednesday: Smoky Night

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Smoky Night, written by Eve Bunting and illustrated by David Diaz, is the 1995 winner of the Caldecott Medal. The book tells the story of a boy, Daniel, and his mother as they experience first-hand the race riots in Los Angeles. Accompanying the childlike perspective of events are beautifully created illustrations, acrylic paintings overlaid on collage backgrounds.

The content and mood of the book is more serious than one would expect from a picture book, as it focuses on a controversial, recent event. Despite the severity of the events in the book, it remains hopeful as the young narrator helps the adults around him recognize the interconnectedness of all people. While the book does not attempt to sugarcoat the violence, by using the perspective of a young child, the emphasis is placed more on the overcoming of the violence rather than the violence itself. Despite probably not having the same experiences as Daniel, children will find him relatable because of his natural responses to events. The somber tone of the writing helps to capture the severity of the events, and the simple language brings the writing to a level appropriate for an elementary school child.

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The expressionistic illustrations in the book further serve to develop the story. While bright colors, such as greens and yellows are used, the use of blues and grays, especially in characters’ faces, helps to show their emotions throughout their horrific experiences. Thick black outlines are used, which make the art seem more modern, almost like a street mural. Each page follows the same format- the text box on the left side and the picture on the right, with a mixed media collage background. The backgrounds help to extend the action of the story by creating a sense of it being real, for example, using dried cereal and pasta on a page about the looting of a grocery store. Such backgrounds help to ground the illustrations in the context of reality and stretch the reader’s imagination in thinking about the story. Together, the story’s words and illustrations come together to offer readers an opportunity to see how another child might live and open a doorway for important conversations about the history of racial violence in our country.

Posted by Rachel Riendeau

Trendy Tuesdays: The Battle for WondLa

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battleforwondlacoverBreaking down gender barriers, questioning man’s treatment of the environment, and creating an understanding of the concept of family: three trendy topics today’s adults love to discuss at length but that are most often glossed over with children. If these issues are brought up with children, they are very likely pared down to the simple statements, “boys and girls are equally special,” “recycle,” and “family comes above all else.” These simplifications leave no room for discussion, which deprives curious children the opportunity to explore their own understandings of these topics. This is especially lamentable because, by age 10, children are especially sensitive to gender differentiation, highly susceptible to peer pressure, equipped with a highly developed sense of right and wrong, more interested in the problems of the world, and more likely exposed to changing family patterns.

In the third and final installment of his WondLa trilogy, The Battle for WandLa, author/illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi provides the grounds for an open-ended discussion of these trendy topics in a format appropriate for children aged 10 and up.

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DiTerlizzi presents readers with a feminine and powerful female protagonist in the traditionally boy-dominated science fiction genre, thus attracting both female and male readers and guiding these young readers to have broader views of gender roles. The crossover of traditional gender roles gives children of both genders the opportunity to see themselves in the story while simultaneously gaining a greater understanding of others’ lives and experiences. In other words, The Battle for WandLa provides both mirrors and windows to readers: it provides boys and girls the opportunity to simultaneously see characters like themselves and learn about characters from whom they differ.

 

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The main premise of this installment of the series is that aliens and humans are viciously battling each other for control of the land. DiTerlizzi challenges his readers who are equipped with a highly developed sense of right and wrong and are more interested in the problems of the world to consider the consequences of acting on the belief that beings can own and control land by providing barren illustrations and subtle character commentary. By subtly presenting readers with questions concerning the environment, DiTerlizzi provides readers with the opportunity to engage in the highest level of critical thinking: evaluation. Readers have the opportunity to evaluate the importance of conservation themselves.

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Though Eva Nine was grown underground, she still interacts with many familial characters readers will relate to: an overprotective mother, an irritating sister, and a friend close enough to be considered family. However, DiTerlizzi avoids creating archetypal characters by giving them multifaceted personalities. For example, though Muthr is portrayed as annoying and overbearing, she (SPOILER) willingly sacrifices herself for her daughter. By presenting his readers with multifaceted characters, DiTerlizzi gives readers the opportunity to relate to and learn from these bizarre but strong family dynamics.

If you’re looking for a way to present any of these trendy topics with your late elementary school audience, I would highly recommend The Battle for WandLa!

Happy reading!

Lexi

 

Marvelous New Picture Books Monday: This Book Just Ate My Dog!

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This wonderful book by author-illustrator Richard Byrne details the series of small disasters that occur when a young girl’s dog suddenly disappears in the middle of the page. When she decides to take her dog on a walk, Bella discovers that her dog has vanished, and right into the gutter of the book. She tries to recruit help, first from her friend Ben, then from the dog rescue, then from the fire station and police. One by one, they too fall into the gutter, leaving Bella holding onto her vanished dog’s leash until she is sucked into the figurative black hole. The day is saved, however, thanks to a note Bella manages to shove back onto the page. With a bit of audience participation, everything that disappeared is shaken back out, even if not in the same order as before.

This book fully takes advantage of its physical structure, creating a surreal world in which each character knows and understands that they are in a book, and each also recognizes the dangerous pitfalls that come with such an existence. While this trick is not new to adult literature, for young children just beginning to read, this kind of acknowledgement of the absurd nature of stories does not often appear. In the case of This Book Just Ate My Dog, it comes in the form of a humorous story with sketch-like illustrations in vivid color and with zany adventures. Indeed, the writing suits the subject well, using font size and color and a final deus ex machina in the form of a reader-directed note to draw the audience into the story.

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Though this story offers little in the way of a moral or academic education aside from a few higher level words, it is still highly entertaining. The protagonist, despite the confusing circumstances she finds herself in when her dog is swallowed whole, manages to keep her head and rescue everyone that fell into the gutter with her. In the final few moments of the book, Bella’s letter to the audience will delight young readers as they rattle the book and help the characters tumble headfirst back into the story. Each scene is essential to the story, communicating motion and a rising sense of panic through a few well-composed facial expressions and increasingly large text. Though the book may feel a tad predictable to older children, they will also be more likely to appreciate the humor of the book, both in its premise and its execution.

For children just beginning to read independently, this book will come as a welcome change from other stories through its self awareness and habit of breaking through the fourth wall. Indeed, though parents may be able to read this book with young children, it is the older readers that will truly enjoy this wacky tale.

Review by: Veronica Kittle-Kamp