Monthly Archives: November 2015

Marvelous New Picture Books: The Night World


The Night World is written and illustrated by the Caldecott medalist Mordicai Gerstein. The book is about a little boy and his cat exploring the world at night. The book begins with a little boy asleep in his bed. His cat Sylvie comes over to wake him up.Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 8.56.51 PM.png


“It’s too late Sylvie… or is it too early?”


The little boy and his cat begin their adventure into the night. As they pass through the kitchen, everyone else in the house is asleep, including the goldfish. But when they walk outside, there is a whole different world. Everything is made up of gray shadows and all of the animals are awake. The animals await the morning sunrise as they say, “It’s on it’s way!” As morning approaches and the sun begins to rise, the beautiful illustrations turn from shades of gray to bright colors. All of the animals go to sleep as the little boy and Sylvie start their day. The little boy exclaims, “Good morning everyone, it’s going to be a beautiful day.”Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 9.07.58 PM.png

The author’s inspiration for the book is noted on the book jacket. When he was four years old, he woke up in the night and called for his dad to take him to the bathroom. When he looked outside the window, the backyard didn’t look the same. He asked his father, “where’s the backyard?” His father replied, “you’re looking at it”.

Gerstein’s illustrations are made of pen, ink, colored pencils, and acrylics. The illustrations cross a two-page spread and draw the reader in. The cover is mysterious and leaves children wondering what the little boy and his cat are looking at outside the window. The story is relatable for children as children many times wonder what happens outside during the night or love to watch the sun rise in the morning. As a little girl, I remember waking up early when it was still dark and jumping out of bed to watch the sunrise with my dad. This story is meaningful to me because it reminds me of my childhood. This is a must read for children and adults alike.

-Emily Thermos

Free Fridays: Dear Malala, We Stand With You


malala cover

In light of recent events around the world, the nation, and Vanderbilt campus, I would like to share a book that I feel promotes love, understanding, peace, and strength in the context of people from different cultures coming together for a common purpose. Dear Malala, We Stand With You holds a special place in my heart. In 2012, when a then 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot in response to her activism for girls’ rights, I held my breath awaiting news on her status. Her courage, her desire to speak out, and her passion for education throughout her recovery and continuing through the years are just a sample of why she is my personal hero. I loved her autobiography, I Am Malala, and was so impressed by how genuinely compassionate and open-minded this young girl was. What impresses me even more, though, is the number of girls around the world who have supported Malala in her fight for equality for girls and who have taken her words to heart. This is shown beautifully in this children’s book, which features pictures of girls around the world who have decided to stand with Malala in her fight.

malalaThe text of this book is written by Rosemary McCarney, the leader of Plan International Canada, with the help of the Plan International team. Presented as a letter, parts of which are taken from the Dear Malala video campaign made by Plan International, the text takes the perspective of the girls of the world, assuring Malala and the world that they are ready to fight for equality, opportunities, and empowerment for themselves and their global sisters. It is a compelling demonstration of solidarity and understanding. It does refer to some heavier topics, including violence, discrimination, early marriage, and poverty, but not in a way that is inappropriate for children. Rather, by leaving the references as just that and not defining or delving into these topics, McCarney and Plan International allow for teachers, parents, guardians, or other older readers to engage with younger readers, answer their questions, and help them understand parts of the world of which they might not be aware.

First and second page

The pictures in this book are all striking portraits of girls from around the world. Each line or phrase from the letter is paired with a photograph from a different photographer, and the subjects range from a single hand holding a pen to a crowd of children letting go of balloons. The pairings of the text and the photographs is done quite intentionally, using symbolic representations of what the text is saying and specific facial expressions and body language of different girls to convey the message of the text. Most of the photographs incorporate bright, pleasant colors, and the decorative aspects of the cover and informational pages are done in bright orange and hot pink, which work well to show the energy the girls have. It seems as though it could help readers get excited about the work Malala has done and in learning more about other cultures and the issues that girls face.Screenshot 2015-11-19 23.47.56

As if this book wasn’t wonderful enough, it also provides a brief introduction to Malala, essential for readers who are not familiar with who she is. Following the text of the book are selections fro the speech that she gave to the UN on her 16th birthday (fun fact: July 12, 2013 was the first official Malala Day!), and a list of associated organizations and movements that encourage donating to or participating in their causes. Overall, this book does a wonderful job of incorporating multiple dimensions of the huge issues that face girls worldwide, and it manages to do so in a way that appeals to readers of all ages due to its bold and powerful text photography and text. This is such an important book for bringing up world issues and the idea of cultural differences and similarities and issues of gender with children. Children of all ages should be able to see themselves somewhere in this book, as it is so widely encompassing. Young children, not just girls, need to be exposed to the challenges that girls face where they live and elsewhere so that they can learn to appreciate what they have, understand how to advocate for what they don’t, and develop empathy for those who don’t have what they have and use that as fuel for change.



For educators or others interested in discussion questions or activities related to this book, check out the Random House Educator’s Guide for Dear Malala, We Stand With You.

Additionally, be sure to check out the Dear Malala campaign video.

~ Reviewed by Katie Goetz

Traditional Thursdays: Verdi


970061Verdi is a picture book by Janell Cannon, the author of Stellaluna. It tells the story of a young python, Verdi. Verdi is young and small, proud of his yellow skin and black stripes. He isn’t ready to grow up and become boring and lazy like the older green pythons he knows. Instead of laying in the sun like these pythons, he spends his time racing around the jungle, hurling himself through the air, and narrowly avoiding being eaten by a fish.

As he plays around, he realizes he’s starting to turn green. He tries to rub it off, cover himself in mud, and hurl himself toward the sun in hopes of staying yellow. When he injures himself as he comes crashing back down, he is cared for by several of the green snakes. As he heals, he listens to them recount their glory days of adventures, and realizes they aren’t so different from him. Once he’s fully healed, he spends several days contemplating his life, now fully green. Two younger pythons come by and make fun of him, and Verdi goes to race around the jungle with them, finding a balance between a crazy life and a nice one.

This book tells a sweet story of accepting change, and the illustrations are beautifully done. They’re incredibly colorful, done in colored pencil and acrylic, and very realistic. The pictures are on separate pages from the text, and the pages with text are ornamented with a border of vines and black and white illustrations. The pages with illustrations are rich and bright, showing Verdi’s adventures and gradual color change.

This book tells a sweet story with a lesson that’s easily accessible for children, while also sharing some information about green tree pythons (including a page of notes at the end of the book). It’s well worth the read!

-Kate Tarne

Winners Wednesdays: A Ball For Daisy


A Ball For Daisy by Chris Raschka

A Ball For Daisy is a beautifully illustrated wordless picture book. The book is about a little white dog named Daisy who loves her red ball. She sleeps with it, plays with it, and brings it to the park. One day at the park, a bigger brown dog takes the ball from her and accidently pops it. Daisy’s owner throws the ball away and Daisy goes home heartbroken and sad that she no longer has her ball. The next day when Daisy’s owner takes her to the park again, they see the brown dog and the brown dog’s owner. The brown dog’s owner brings Daisy a new blue ball to replace the red ball and Daisy goes home happy.Daisy

This book is relatable for children and brings up many emotions that children experience on a daily basis. Many children have experienced the heartbreak of losing something that they love, which allows children to relate to Daisy. The illustrations of this book are also impeccable. Through ink, watercolor, and gouache, Raschka conveys the emotions of the characters allowing children to understand the story without words. The wordless picture book is also useful in inspiring creativity in children, allowing them to come up with new words to the story each time it is read. I highly recommend A Ball For Daisy.

-Emily Thermos


Trendy Tuesday: The Turnip


The Turnip

Written & Illustrated By Jan Brett


Jan Brett has been a household name in children’s literature for the last several decades. Known for her beautiful, vibrant illustrations of humans and human-like animals, and her preference for rural, winter settings, Brett’s repertoire consists of titles like The Mitten and Gingerbread Baby. Most recently added to the collection, however, is The Turnip, Brett’s own twist on the Russian folktale, which chronicles the various trials and errors of a family attempting to uproot an enormous turnip.

Jan Brett The Turnip.jpg

In her rendition of this European tale, Brett employs a family of badgers to depict the Russian family who discovers a humongous turnip growing in their yard. This enchantingly charming story will have children giggling at the absurdity of the mammoth vegetable and the incredible lengths the badgers and friends go to in order to dislodge it. They’ll also delight in the surprise near the end, seeing as it is always exciting to know a secret the characters themselves are not privy to.

As always, Brett’s distinct illustrations fill the spreads from corner to corner with rich, lively winter scenes. The vivid colors and incredible detail bring her characters to life. Audiences of any age can spend countless minutes taking in the images that fill any one of Brett’s books, and this one is no different. Especially captivating are the ever-present side panels providing readers with a glimpse into pages and scenes that have yet to come.


Both in illustration and narration, The Turnip, like Jan Brett’s previous stories, is simply captivating.

-Haley Ferguson

Marvelous New Picture Books: by mouse and frog




by mouse & frog by Deborah Freedman provides children a fun new look at storytelling. One day Mouse wakes up eager to write a story, but soon his friend Frog joins him. While Mouse takes a calm approach to writing a story, and slowly plans out the events, Frog rushes in to take the story into a whole new direction. Frog is overcome by excitement and rambles out an imaginative story that cannot be contained. His fantastical images spill out, overshadowing Mouse’s original plans.


Frog’s story clearly displays his love of books through the many references he makes to books and stories which have recently been published for children and others which have been enjoyed for much longer. However, there are too many references and his story barely fits on the page. It has no structure or sense to it. This is not okay with Mouse, who does not appreciate how Frog takes over his story for him with no regard to how Mouse wanted it to go.


The character’s emotions and reactions within by mouse and frog are childlike and are therefore very relatable for children reading the book. Frog is so excited by the story Mouse is writing, that he cannot contain his excitement. He loses all regard for Mouse’s emotions in his rush to get his ideas out. However, Mouse is not happy with Frog’s interference. Mouse has his own ideas and beliefs that his way is the best. He wants to be able to create his own work without interference from someone else. In the end, Frog is sadden by Mouse’s anger. Despite his wish for autonomy, Mouse also cares about his friend, so they find a compromise and work together. This is similar to many children’s expression of their own selfish desires and an ultimate realization that working together with their friends may lead them to an even happier ending.


Freedman’s form of illustrations greatly enhance and add on to the telling of the story and the collaboration of the two characters. As Mouse creates the story, images appear in inked lines that clearly display what is happening with very little fun or imagination. When Frog adds his parts, color is added as his imaginings come forth in line drawings as well as disorganized blobs of colors. It is not until the two build their story together in harmony that the lines and colors come together to create fully formed illustrations.


by mouse and frog would be a great book to lead a class or child into a lesson on writing their own stories. It clearly shows how structure and whimsical ideas can come together to beautifully illustrate one’s ideas. Children can be encouraged to work on their own and with friends to create their own stories just like Frog and Mouse. The book clearly displays that it is not only authors who can write stories, but anyone who wants to spell out their ideas. Even outside of an instructional setting, it is a fun book which would surely inspire children to make their own attempts at storytelling.

-Tori Kingman

Free Fridays: Cendrillon


Cendrillon coverCinderella is one of the most popular European folk tales in all of history, and hundreds if not thousands of different versions and retellings have been recorded. Most Western children are familiar with the “classic” Cinderella story told in traditional tales and movies such as Disney’s titular 1950 film. However, there are now many versions of the tale available that vary the culture and setting of the story, creating the perfect opportunity to introduce children to different editions of this favorite folk tale.

Cendrillon, written by Robert D. San Souci and illustrated by Brian Pinkney, is one retelling that stands out in particular. While it was published a while ago in 1998, the timeless nature of the Cinderella story makes this picture book a great addition to any home library. The book can also be used in the classroom to expose young students (ages 4-8) to other culturally diverse portrayals of Cinderella, instead of just the stereotypical blonde Caucasian girl.

The book takes its name from the French variant of “Cinderella,” but the story itself is actually set on the Caribbean Island of Martinique (fun fact: Martinique is an overseas region of France!). In his author’s note, San Souci says that his version of the story is loosely based on the French Creole story “Cendrillon,” which itself follows the basic plot of Perrault’s “Cinderella,” perhaps the best-known version of this folk tale, at least in Western circles.

fairy godmother

The “fairy godmother” actually narrates this story.

However, San Souci adds plenty of his own details about West Indian culture and dress to the story, which deepens both the tale itself as well as readers’ understanding of Caribbean culture. San Souci also updates the tale by telling it from the first person perspective of the “fairy” godmother, who turns out to be a washerwoman with a magic wand that can only be used to help someone she loves. Kids will enjoy finding other differences between Cendrillon and the more well-know Disney-esque tales, including the single stepsister Vitaline instead of the traditional two, and an embroidered slipper instead of a glass heel. San Souci also embeds French Creole words throughout the text and includes a glossary at the end, providing further opportunities for learning experiences.

Brian Pinkey’s illustrations employ scratchboard, luma dyes, gouache, and oil paints to create a unique and colorful look that will be sure to grab kids’ attention. If Brian Pinkney’s name sounds familiar, that’s because he’s the son of the prolific and Caldecott-winning illustrator Jerry Pinkney. Like father, like son: Brian is also a very talented illustrator, and has already secured two Caldecott Honors for himself, as well as numerous other awards. In contrast to some other illustrators that use a more precise technique to create striking scratchboard illustrations (Beth Krommes’ work in A House in the Night comes to mind), Pinkey’s pictures in Cendrillon are full of curving, loose lines that blend naturally with the paint and perfectly capture the hot, lively environment of the Caribbean.


So different from the typical blond-haired blue-eyed Cinderella!

While Cendrillon probably isn’t the definitive Cinderella text to own, this picture book is an excellent addition to any classroom or library that already has the basics and is looking to branch out to more diverse folk tales. This book can be used to introduce young readers to Caribbean culture, as well as to the idea that there are many different versions of every folktale, each of which adds to our understanding of the original story.

-Kara Sherrer