Monthly Archives: March 2016

Traditional Thursdays: A Chair For My Mother

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A Chair For My Mother by Vera B. Williams, first published in 1982, is about a family who works hard to save money to buy a beautiful chair covered in velvet with roses all over it.

The daughter, Rosa, helps her mother out at the Blue Tile Diner after school. Her mother comes home exhausted most days and in need of a place to rest. Her grandmother is old and needs a spot to prop her feet up. Rosa, her mother, and her grandmother all work hard day after day, saving their coins and adding anything extra to a big jar. Once the jar is full, they will shop for a new chair!

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Rosa tells the reader about how, about a year before, her family had lost everything in a fire. They had to start over completely. Thankfully, they were welcomed graciously by their new community. The neighborhood came together to provide spare furniture for their family – extra chairs, a bed, a table, curtains, a rug…everyone was so kind.

Finally, after saving and saving, the jar was full! Rosa, her mother, and her grandmother were finally able to buy their beautiful chair. 

f49299a2a7f65dcb55c3bce8b08874c0This book was written for children 4-8 years old, but it can be enjoyed by both children and adults. This touching story contains some darker themes such as loss and stress, but also emphasizes the importance of community, family, kindness, and love. This book features a more diverse family experience compared to most children’s books; this family is a blue collar family, the mother works at the Blue Tile Diner, and Rosa often helps out with the family chores after school. It is important for children to be introduced to different family experiences and to see families like their own in literature.

This picture book has beautiful illustrations and was awarded a Caldecott Honor award. The illustrations are detailed, colorful, and bright. They are whimsical and appeal to the eyes of a child, but are not messy. The image of the chair covered in velvet with roses all over it is memorable and meaningful. The chair symbolizes a family’s love and the comfort of a home. This story is touching and beautiful, and it can be enjoyed by children ages 4-99! I highly recommend this wonderful story to any family.

-Madi Goeringer

Winner Wednesdays: The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson

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If you are looking for a great story to read out loud to children, The Gruffalo is the book for you. The Gruffalo was written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler in 1996, and won the Nestlé Smarties Book Prize in 1999. The Smarties book prize was a prestigious UK award given to the “best work of fiction or poetry by a British author for children in three age categories (up to 11).” The prize was awarded annually by Booktrust from 1985-2007. The Gruffalo won the Gold Award in the youngest category, for children ages 0-5. More information about the Smarties Book Prize can be found here.

The Gruffalo is a comical story about a mouse who outsmarts hungry animals with his quick wits. Donaldson writes in flexibly metered verse that (in my experience) keeps children engaged with its lilting rhythm. Scheffler’s illustrations envelop the reader in the lush, earth-toned woods. Set against a realistic woodland background, Scheffler’s animals have clearly defined lines and are more cartoon-like in style. With the exception of the Gruffalo, all of the critters have endearing underbites. As the titular monster of the book, the Gruffalo will make children laugh rather than scream because his appearance is so silly in its eclectic nature.

 

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As readers, we follow mouse through the woods as his journey is relayed by an unnamed narrator. Immediately, the mouse encounters a hungry fox, and invents the creature of the Gruffalo to escape the fox’s lunch invitation (which he sees as an invitation to be the fox’s lunch). Mouse describes the Gruffalo with characteristics that are particulary scary to a fox, and then subtly states that the Gruffalo’s favorite food is “roasted fox.” The fox runs off, and the process happens again with an owl and a snake. Imagine the mouse’s surprise then when he walks straight into a Gruffalo! The beast has every strange characteristics the mouse has dreamed up: “He has knobbly knees and turned-out toes/ And a poisonous wart at the end of his nose.” To keep the Gruffalo from eating him, mouse has to come up with his smartest plan yet. I won’t spoil the ending, but the story ends well for the mouse.

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I would highly recommend this book for children ages 3-7. The book is perfectly suited for reading aloud, especially if the reader gives the animals different voices. Children I have read the book to have made up games based on the book, and a park ranger I met in England takes children on Gruffalo walks through the woods. Needless to say, children love this book, and I bet you will too.

Rebekah Moredock

Trendy Tuesdays: Too Many Carrots by Katy Hudson

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Cover page #0Can you have too much of a good thing? Not according to Rabbit. He loves carrots so much that he begins hoarding them, and soon there is no space for him to live in his little burrow. Tortoise sees Rabbit’s plight and offers to share his shell with his homeless friend. Within the fantastical world of children’s literature, this suggestion would have worked well, if only Rabbit hadn’t brought so many carrots 2016-03-29 00-10 1 page #0

with him. The friends take a tumble down a hill, and Tortoise’s shell gets fractured. Now both friends need a place to sleep. Rabbit continues to bring too many carrots to his friends’ homes, and proceeds to break the homes of Bird, Squirrel, and Beaver.

With his helpful friends now without homes and downcast, Rabbit is forced to consider how his selfishness impacts those around him. Realizing that he still has both his home and his carrots, Rabbit finally conquers his selfishness and sees that “carrots weren’t for collecting — they were for sharing!” The friends have a cozy party in the now spacious burrow as they eat carrot pies, juices, and cupcakes.2016-03-29 00-12 page #0

Too Many Carrots is the perfect addition to any child’s easter basket. Hudson’s vivid watercolors and endearing animals will catch children’s eyes and keep them engaged. The brightness of the book’s beginning is contrasted well with the gloomy rain and flood later on, giving young readers a visual depiction of the pain selfishness can cause. As children head out to Easter egg hunts, Too Many Carrots will remind them that kindness and sharing are vital parts of friendship. I would recommend this book to children from 2 to 6, and I know it will be a book I return to often.

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Rebekah Moredock

Marvelous New Picture Book Monday: Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev

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When a boy arrives at Pet Club with his tiny elephant, he is dismayed. All of the usual sorts of pets are allowed, but the sign on the door says “Strictly No Elephants.” Although he is sad when he leaves, he soon meets a new friend—a girl with a pet skunk who was also not welcome at Pet Club. They realize that they can create their own club, where friends and pets of all shapes and sizes are welcome.

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is told in first person, and it is clear how much the boy cares for his little elephant. When the elephant is nervous stepping over the sidewalk cracks, the boy always goes back and helps him over “Because that’s what friends do: lift each other over the cracks.” The refrain of “because that’s what friends do” is repeated throughout the story, teaching a lesson that goes beyond just how to care for an elephant.

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Lisa Mantchev’s writing never talks down to children, and her sentences have a gentle flow that would make this great as a bedtime story. Taeun Yoo’s friendly, rounded illustrations bring the children and pets to life with texture and rich colors. They are also detailed and rewarding for observant readers. As the boy walks along the street with his elephant, other unusual pets—who will later become members of the new club—peer out the windows of the apartments in the background.

-Marianna Sharp

Free Fridays: The Thing About Jellyfish

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The cover is stunning. The book is even more beautiful. The Thing About Jellyfish is Ali Benjamin’s debut Middle Grade novel about a young girl named Suzy who’s best friend Franny dies in a drowning accident. Scientifically minded Suzy believes that there is no way her friend could have drowned- she was such a good swimmer- and has a theory that her friend may have been stung by a venomous jellyfish. Suzy is filled with guilt over the last time she saw Franny and puts all of her energy into research to prove her theory of how Franny died. In this National Book Award finalistBenjamin explores grief, fitting in, guilt, science (as there are many great jellyfish facts!) and the changes that come with growing up.

 

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One of the most unique aspects is Benjamin’s ability to weave science into the every day life  of a middle school girl. The book contains memories Suzy has of her time with Franny, especially from when they began to grow apart in the year prior to Franny’s death. It is also filled with facts about jellyfish, and somehow Benjamin is able to combine these perfectly in a way that will make any child or adult think deeply about relationships and growing up. Here’s an example:

“Having venom doesn’t make a creature bad. Venom is protection. The more fragile the animal, the more venom it needs. So the more venom a creature has, the more we should be able to forgive that animal. They’re the ones who need it most.”

Another thing Benjamin is a master at is getting us into Suzy’s head. Suzy’s voice is honest and thoughtful, and you will definitely need a box of tissues as you read. She questions everything and relies on her family and teacher for guidance. You or a pre-teen you know will not be able to help loving Suzy’s family as she does- her parents are divorced but loving and on good terms, her brother is gay but completely accepted by their family, and her teacher encourages her when she needs it most. They are some of the most honest and lovable characters I have encountered in a Middle Grade novel and readers of all ages and interests will enjoy visiting their world.

“There are so many things to be scared of in this world: blooms of jellies. A sixth extinction. A middle school dance. But maybe we can stop feeling so afraid. Maybe instead of feeling like a mote of dust, we can remember that all creatures on this Earth are made from stardust.”

 

– Rebecca Bendheim

 

Traditional Thursdays: Elmer by David McKee

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Elmer by David McKee, published in 1968, is a timeless tale about a patchwork-colored elephant named Elmer. He is yellow and orange and red and pink and purple and blue and green and black and white. But, all the other elephants were the same grey “elephant color.” Elmer felt different.

Just because Elmer was different didn’t stop him from always making the other elephants laugh with his silly jokes. However, he was unhappy. Elmer wanted to be like all the other elephants! He didn’t want to be different anymore!

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So, Elmer ran away, covered himself in elephant-colored berry juice with berries he found in the forest, then returned to the elephant herd. Finally, he looked just like all the other elephants. The herd was quiet and serious, they were no longer laughing and having fun. They missed Elmer!

Suddenly, it started to rain, and Elmer’s berry juice was washed away! All of the other elephants laughed and laughed at Elmer’s biggest joke yet! And now, every year, there is a day dedicated to celebrating Elmer, and all the other elephants color themselves in beautiful colorful patterns and have a parade!

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Elmer was written for children ages 4-8. It is loved by all children because of its silly story and bright, colorful images. The writing style is simple, but the story contains a deeper message – that we should love and celebrate who we are! We are all unique, and that is something to smile about! Children and adults alike should be proud to show our “true colors” and “patchwork” selves. This wonderful, happy story can be read and enjoyed universally to children of all cultures, races, and backgrounds.

– Madi Goeringer

Winner Wednesday’s Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave

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What does it mean to shine a light in a world full of darkness? What does it mean to bring hope to the world through something as small as making pottery and writing poetry? These are the ideas rooted deep in the children’s book Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave. 

This children’s book is not so much a story as it is a vision into who Dave was as an artist and poet. The reader gets to catch a glimpse of what the dirt, clay, and pots mean to Dave as a sculptor. We get a to witness the details of his process, and it feels like magic. We get to witness Dave etch poetry into his pots and create beauty through the written word.

While the text gives the book its weight and substance, the award winning illustrations bring it to life. Awarded the Caldecott Award and the Coretta Scott King Award in 2011, Bryan Collier’s illustrations for Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave set this book apart. Collier creates exquisite watercolor and collage compositions on 400lb Arches watercolor paper. This background paper that the text lies on is almost as beautiful as his collages. The aesthetic of the torn paper makes one want to reach out and touch the pages. Textures are beautiful, and the minute details take each page to the next level.

The illustrations captivate, and the themes of the book inspire. This book is an excellent way for young students to begin thinking about slavery in America in the mid 1800’s. There are so many questions that could be posed and researched by students. In addition, students can learn about the process of making pottery. They can discuss what makes someone a poet and what makes someone an artist. This intersection of a real man’s bondage and powerful art is filled with hope and should be discussed in schools and homes today.

-Flora Neuhoff