Monthly Archives: February 2017

Free Friday: Hannah Is My Name


One of the illustrations in Hannah Is My Name, which shows the influence of traditional Asian art styles


I still remember opening the mailbox and getting a big, flat package, just for me. I was in second grade, and my favorite aunt had just sent me my birthday present! I was so excited, that I ripped open the present right there in the driveway. It was a book: Hannah Is My Name by Belle Yang.  It was also autographed and addressed directly to me!!! “That’s cool…” I thought, “Hannah is my name too!”


This is my very own copy of the book, complete with Belle Yang’s own note and drawing, especially for me!!!

This picture book was published in 2004 (my second grade year) and covers the experience of a young girl and her family as they leave their native Taiwan to come to the United States for the hope of a better life. It is the semi-autobiographical account of the author and illustrator, who came to the United States when she was seven years old in 1967.  The illustrations are in a more traditional Chinese style, as Yang studied at the Beijing Institute of Traditional Chinese Painting.  It is a very interesting way to depict some of the famous American skylines, almost as if we are all Hannah, looking at America through the lens of Chinese tradition.

This book chronicles many of the experiences of young immigrant children, from learning a new language, recognizing the stress her parents are under, and worrying about whether or not they will be allowed to stay in the United States.  The story ends with her family receiving “blue cards”, immigration cards allowing them to stay in the United States, different from the green colored cards that they were expecting.


Yang’s illustration, depicting Hannah and the other students watching their teacher’s reaction to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death.

This book touches on some rather intense topics for children, including risks of immigration, deportation, race, and even discusses the death of Martin Luther King, Jr.  As being told through the eyes of a young girl, these topics are made to be more accessible to children.  She tells the story of learning about MLK’s death through her teacher, who said “He wanted all people to be treated fairly…whatever the color of their skin”, after which Hannah remarks, “Mr. King must have been fighting for my family to be treated kindly too.  Papa and Mama say this is why we came to America”.  In today’s political climate, it is important to try to find some works that celebrate diversity and represent minority children and families, which this book seems to accomplish really well.

That being said…

Some older readers claim that this book tends to perpetuate Asian American stereotypes, and only depicts immigrants who are struggling to survive in this new country.  However, this work, as semi-autobiographical, seems to be less stereotypical, and more instructional, giving a glimpse into the life of a Taiwanese girl who moved to the United States in the 1960s.  It, for me, was a very influential window into this other perspective, a look into the lives of someone (with my name!!) to live a very different life than my own.  However, just like Hannah’s final words in the book, this showed me that we are more alike than different.  “Hannah is my name.  And America is our home”.


The final page spread in the book. 


Hug Machine



With a cover like that, I couldn’t help but pick up Scott Campbell’s adorable book Hug Machine.  It is the perfect picture book just in time for Valentine’s Day.  Written and illustrated by Campbell, Hug Machine is about a little boy who has identified himself as the Hug Machine.  He will hug everything and anything.  In fact, the inside of the cover is actually a checklist of everything he wants to hug, including a baby, a snake, a traffic cone, and a whale.  By the end of the book, all of these items are marked off on the same checklist on the inside of the back cover.  new-doc-2017-02-03-12-31-42_1-copy

As you can see, people have mixed reactions to the Hug Machine.  Sometimes they love the hug and other times, it is surprising at best.  In the majority of the book, you are following the Hug Machine around as he zigs and zags to ensure he hugs everything.  The magic of this book comes in the hilarity of its illustrations.  The seriousness of the Hug Machine with the surprise or bewilderment of the hug-ee is a mixture that can’t be outdone.  The following illustration is an answer to the question of what fuels the Hug Machine.  Obviously, it’s pizza.  new-doc-2017-02-03-12-32-17_1new-doc-2017-02-03-12-33-06_1

By the end of the book, the Hug Machine has hugged himself out.  He’s exhausted and doesn’t think he can hug anything else.  But when he gets home, his mother wraps him in her arms, and he stays “open for business.”  I would recommend Hug Machine for younger ages, but can honestly say that as an adult, I fell in love with the Hug Machine too.

Post by Campbell Slatton


Marvelous New Picture Books: River Rose and the Magical Lullaby


River Rose and the Magical Lullaby

Author: Kelly Clarkson

Illustrated by: Laura Hughes

I am a big Kelly Clarkson fan, and when I found out that the grammy winner had written a picture book, I knew that I had to read it. River Rose and the Magical Lullaby is a whimsical story of friendship and adventure authored by Clarkson and illustrated by Laura Hughes. One of my favorite elements of this book is its accompanied lullaby, which Clarkson wrote and readers can listen to and sing along with.


The story follows young protagonist River Rose, named for and inspired by Clarkson’s own daughter, as she goes on a fanciful adventure through the zoo at night. River Rose loves singing, dancing, skipping, hopping and playing pretend. She is accompanied by her pet dog and best friend, Joplin (a nod to singer Janis Joplin) on her journey. River Rose and Joplin make many friends at the zoo including polar bears, penguins and even a hippopotamus! With each animal, they engage in imaginative and eccentric play, slip-sliding, riding and splashing to their heart’s delight. As the night winds down, River Rose and Joplin conclude that though they enjoyed their adventure, home is their favorite place to be.


I found the book’s illustrations fitting and delightful. The bright colors and playful sketches of River Rose and her animal friends perfectly echo the story’s whimsical and playful themes. My personal favorite illustration depicts River Rose’s zoo party. Each animal is shown in some form of musical expression, singing, dancing and playing instruments with content grins.



The book’s content is amusing, silly and lively. Each line contains whimsical rhymes that lend a sing-song quality to the story, perfect for a book with a lullaby accompaniment.


River Rose and the Magical Lullaby is an engaging tale that would incite reverie and whimsy in all readers, whether they be 4 or 40. I would recommend this book to all young readers, especially those with big imaginations and carefree attitudes.

Posted by Natalie Gustin

Traditional Thursday: Hey, Al


Hey Al is a picture book written by Arthur Yorinks and illustrated by Richard Egielski. It was the winner of the 1987 Caldecott Medal.

The story talks about a city janitor named Al. He lives in a single room on West Side. Al’s best friend and also his favorite companion is his dog, Eddie. They did everything together, and they were not always satisfied by their life. Al and Eddie had to work whole days but they were still struggling all the time. One day, a huge bird visited Al through the window of his bathroom. The bird said he could offer Al a place where there were no worries and no cares. The next day Al and Eddie got packed and waited at the bathroom. The large bird appeared and took them to an island in the sky. Al and Eddie were welcomed warmly by all the birds on the island. The birds brought them food and flowers and sang for them. Al and Eddie really enjoyed their time on the island. However, one morning, Al and Eddie woke up and found themselves turning into birds. They were scared and said they would rather mop the floor than turning into a bird. Al and Eddie flew into the sky with their bird wings and headed back to their home. On their way, the feathers on their wings fell off. Eddie fell into the sea and disappeared. Al made it home alone and he was heartbroken. But fortunately, Eddie was a talented swimmer and he found his way back to the West Side. At the end, two friends reunited and lived happily ever after.


I personally like this book a lot. The story has a lot of fantasy elements and a moral lesson. The pictures displayed in this book are very creative and impressive. One of my favorite part is how Egielski developed the illustration as the story goes on. The illustrations start out with very dull colors, as Egielski wanted to show readers how old and dusty Al’s room was. Besides, the space of Al’s room is always limited in a small box and only occupies one page. On the other hand, when Al and Eddie were on the island, the illustrations are much more colorful and take up both sides of the pages. When Al and Eddie got back to home, the illustrations were again in plain colors and in a boxed container.


In addition, the illustrations are also highly detailed and very realistic. For example, we call tell easily from the cracked wall and the broken bed that Al is definitely not leading a easy life. Besides, when Al and Eddie were in their room, they are portrayed in a two-dimension manner. However, when the bird took them into the sky, the illustration then emphasizes a three dimensional perspective. Furthermore, there are also many details used to describe the characters in the book. For instances, Al is always wearing his janitor hat. Eddie’s facial expressions and movements are different on every page. And each bird has its own characteristics and colors.  Overall, the illustrations are certainly memorable and compliment the story as it is told.


About the story itself, I think it teaches children a lesson that “you should appreciate what you already have”. At the end of the story, Al was trying to paint the walls with colors so the room would look less dull. It indicates Al and Eddie’s effort to make their life more delightful. The story ends with the line: “Paradise lost is sometimes Heaven found”.  It contains a positive moral meaning and I think the book can create an interesting discussion about personal values in classroom or between parents and kids.

I would recommend this book to parents and children and everyone else who is interested in fantasy stories or beautiful illustrations.

Posted by Tianchun Xia




Gary, written and illustrated by Leila Rudge, is the story of a young pigeon living in the city.  He resides in a loft with several other racing pigeons, eating what they eat and doing what they do.  But there is one big difference between Gary and the other pigeons.  Gary can’t fly!  While the other pigeons go on adventures around the city, Gary scrapbooks all of their adventures, collecting mementos from their travels and guarding them safely in his book.  The beginning and end pages of the book are covered in these souvenirs, as seen below.  screen-shot-2017-01-31-at-4-17-48-pm

One day, Gary accidentally falls into the racing basket with his scrapbook and is dropped in the middle of the city.  As the other pigeons race back to the loft, soaring through the air, Gary wonders if he will ever find his way home.  He opens his scrapbook for comfort and realizes he has all the clues to finding his way home.  Even though he’s never really been in the city, he has pieces from each place in his book.


Eventually, Gary navigates his way through the big city, using metro cards and maps and steps off of the bus in front of the loft.  At the end of the book, the racing pigeons learn a thing or two from Gary and take his lead, traveling through the city by bus!


The story of Gary the pigeon is a sweet take on finding your way home.  The illustrations are mostly drawn in a colorful fashion, however Rudge also mixes in some elements of a real city, like newspaper clippings or real maps, to make the pictures incredibly interesting to look at.  Each page presents new colors or urban scenes that can be matched to different pages in Gary’s scrapbook.  Leila Rudge whisks her readers away on a new adventure through the story of an atypical protagonist that will be fun for any who read it.

Post by Campbell Slatton