Monthly Archives: March 2017

Free Friday: The Oak Inside the Acorn

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The Oak Inside the Acorn, written by Max Lucado and illustrated by George Angelini, tells the touching coming-of-age story of an acorn as it falls from its mother’s branches and grows into a great, strong oak. The acorn’s journey is an adventure story that captivates readers. The acorn is eventually planted in a farmer’s backyard, where it is able to grow into a big Oak. The farmer’s daughter grows up alongside the Oak tree; there are many parallels in their introspective coming-of-age stories. Namely, they both highlight the importance of being true to yourself and being the individual you were meant to be. I think this book is appropriate starting in mid-to-upper elementary grades. I don’t think any of the content is inappropriate for younger grades, but the themes are a bit more complex. I think that parents will really enjoy this story, all though some might find parts a bit cheesy.

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To be honest, the reason that I originally bought The Oak Inside the Acorn was because of the illustrations. They are beautiful oil paintings full of Earthy-tones. The lack of precise detail on the human characters’ faces help support the plant characters’ personification and personalities. The illustrations help communicate the growth and changes that occur over the course of the book. Not only are there clear indications of growth and change – like the acorn growing into a large oak tree – but also more subtle, detailed indications like the puppy growing into a dog.

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While The Oak Inside the Acorn has Christian elements, I think the message is beneficial for children from all faith backgrounds or lack thereof. If read in public schools, teachers may choose to read “the oak I was meant to be” instead of “the oak God made me to be.” This book beautifully explores individuality, strength, independence, purpose, and fear of change and growing up.

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Cason Close

Traditional Thursday: Jack & the Beanstalk, retold by Jack Cech, illustrated by Robert Mackenzie

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This book follows the storyline of the classic well-known English fairytale Jack and the Beanstalk. There is a young boy named Jack, who lives with his widowed mother and they are very poor. Jack’s mother asks him to sell their cow in town, and Jack ends up selling it for beans he believes are magical, leaving his mother enraged, and their family with no money. When his mother throws out the beans, they awake the next day to find that a giant beanstalk has grown far up into the clouds. Jack climbs this beanstalk to find a sweet lady married to a hungry giant. The lady helps him, but as soon as the giant comes home, Jack is in danger. Jack hides, and after the giant falls asleep, he runs away and steals a goose that lays golden eggs. After the goose flies away, Jack foolishly returns to the giant’s home and convinces the giant’s wife to let him in again. When the giant returns, Jack hides once again, and after he has fallen asleep, Jack leaves, stealing a sack of gold coins. Eventually the sack disappears, and Jack decides to visit the giant one last time. This time, the giant’s wife decides to run away with Jack with a golden harp, but the giant awakes, and chases after them, and they narrowly escape. Jack and the town’s people cut down the beanstalk and they live peacefully with the music of the harp filling their valley.

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The storyline as a whole follows the original Jack and the Beanstalk, but there are some details that differ. In some versions, Jack steals just one golden egg, or steals the sack of golden coins first, but generally, the concepts are the same. The ending of the story also varies between versions, but Jack always defeats the giant. In other versions, Jack and his mother live humbler lives and buy back the original cow they sold. In contrast though, this new story is told in much simpler language and with less gory details. The illustrations are much more vivid and fill up the entire page, intriguing young readers. Many original versions of Jack and the Beanstalk don’t contain many illustrations, but these images are essential to the storyline. The giant illustrated in the book helps elicit fear, without the gory details described in the original story. Overall, the fairytale shares the same lessons and values as the original, while being friendlier to a younger age group.

Posted by Neena Kapoor

‘I’M AUSTRALIAN TOO!’

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I’m Australian, how about you?

 

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the front paper with all kinds of different people

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I’m Australian Too is a new book by the beloved children’s book author Mem Fox and illustrated by Ronojoy Ghosh. With beautiful illustration of families from diverse cultural and national backgrounds as well as various sceneries in Australia, I’m Australian Too celebrates multiculturalism within Australia, appreciates the country’s inclusiveness and hospitality, and invites immigrants who migrate from all over the world to Australia to envision a hopeful future in the new country.

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From fleeing war and oppression, famine, to seeking a better life, people chose to move to Australia for different reasons, but what unites them all is the dream of peace and prosperity in the new land. Mem Fox’s new book sends a heartwarming message about diversity and solidarity in Australia, and also includes the pressing difficulties faced by refugees.

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While the book focuses more on the inclusiveness and celebration of the Australian identity despite different national, cultural, ethnic, religious backgrounds, it does present the immigrants’ home countries or previous experience in a one-sided and negative way, such as being poverty-stricken or war-torn. Therefore, I think it is appropriate to use this book to discuss with young children about the inclusivity of the host country, but the book should also serve as an invitation for children (and adults) to share more in-depth stories of their previous experiences and motherlands to get a richer depiction of their lives as immigrants. Moreover, I’m Australian Too will be a fantastic mentor text for early writers and English Learners, by which they can write their own life stories imitating Mem Fox’s concise structure and humorous rhymes! Creative elementary teachers, are you ready to make a wonderful book “I’m American Too!” with young writers in your classroom? 🙂

 

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What journeys we have traveled, from countries near and far! Together now, we live in peace, beneath the Southern Star.

P.S. You can hear Mem Fox reading this lovely book here, or read about how the book came about here.

Posted by Shiyu Wang

 

 

 

Atlas of Adventures

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Atlas of Adventures is a book written by Rachel Williams and illustrated by Lucy Letherland. I discovered this book while preparing for teaching a geography lesson and fell in love with it’s beauty. First of all, the book is around 20 x 12 which allows plenty of room for full page detailed images. The book contains maps and details about each continent, and several locations within each continent. The book has no story line but rather follows a boy and girl as they go on an adventure of the world. At each location, the book provides an activity to take part in such as “Be showered in Cherry Blossoms” or “Visit the Penguins”, along with a description of each activity and 10-12 fun facts about the event, location, or culture within each location.

Carly Hess

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The Little Match Girl

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When looking for folklore for this past learning experience, I came across this edition of The Little Match Girl with original words by Hans Christian Anderson and illustrated by Kveta Pacovska. The story is about a little girl who is poor and freezing, walking around in the middle of the winter with no shoes on her feet attempting to sell matches. As she sits in the cold she lights each match one by one to keep her warm, with each burst of light she sees beautiful and wonderful images. A goose running off of a New Years Eve dinner table, a beautiful Christmas tree filled with candles, her grandmother standing before. However, when each match extinguished the image was lost. Therefore, when she saw her grandmother she was desperate to stay with her and therefore lit all of her matches. She then describes how her grandmother had come to save her from the cold and sadness and take her to be with God. The next morning the little girl is found dead of cold though only she knows that it was not the cold but her grandmother who had taken her from this world to a much better and brighter one.

I believe the story may not be appropriate for young children but instead would be a picture book that is more likely to be enjoyed by older children and young adults. The images themselves are incredibly individual and interesting. The images consist of bright colors and a geometric design that connected shapes to create images. Each illustration contains a majority of very abstract elements and it takes a few minutes of examining each image to see what is portrayed. Another interesting part about the illustrations is that while some images are on the same page as the text they describe or follows the text immediately, some of the images prelude the text they describe. Therefore, readers get a sneak peek of what is coming next. Additionally, of the 24 pages, only 5 contain text with the other 19 a mix containing images that cross the gutter and create a large landscape image. Much of the story can be understood more deeply through the illustrations themselves. It almost seems as if instead of the illustrations being an addition to the text as most picture books are created, the text seemed to be an the addition to the fully complete story created by the illustrations. I recommend taking a look at The Little Match Girl and seeing what you can make of the abstract illustrations!

Carly Hess

The Butter Man

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This book is titled The Butter Man by Elizabeth and Ali Alalou, illustrated by Julie Klear Essakalli. I discovered this book when preparing to teach a lesson about different aspects of African countries and culture. The book begins with a little girl named Nora in America being told a story by her father (Ali) about his youth in Morocco. The story describes how when he was little his family was very poor and did not have much to eat due to drought. They had a cow and were able to make butter to make their plain hard bread delicious, however, when his father left to make money for his family he took the cow with him and Ali no longer had butter. Ali then waited outside down by the road that ran near his home and waited for the butter man, a man that would travel through town selling his butter. Ali waited day after day in hopeful anticipation, but the butter man never showed. Each day he waited, his serving of bread grew smaller and smaller as he grew hungrier and hungrier. One day when waiting for the butter man, he saw his father in the distance arriving with an abundance of food! The family had a celebration of love and food and as the town was graced with rain and crops, the family had full stomachs once again and were even able to buy another cow who produced butter. The story then reverts to Ali and his daughter Nora in the kitchen eating traditional Moroccan couscous and rejoicing in their ability to share the time together and also never have to worry about hunger.

I love this book for many reasons. The story contained a moral of rewards for patience and the keeping of hope. Additionally, the story offered a window into a culture that many American students are not familiar with. This culture was introduced with descriptions of customs, traditional foods, and images that showed the land and people. Also, the book contained several words in a Moroccan language of the Berber people. I thought this was very interesting because the book did not define these words within the text, rather the reader had to use context clues to determine the meaning of the words or refer to the glossary at the back of the book. All of these descriptions and aspects of the culture would be wonderful ways to spark conversations in classrooms and discuss different ways of life. Additionally, the book revolved around the character Ali who was speaking to his daughter Nora who both now lived in the US. In this way, the book can also be used to discuss immigrants, the infusions of multiple cultures, and the value of stories to share culture and life experiences to those who may not fully understand them.

Carly Hess

Traditional Thursdays: Puff-Puff, Chugga-Chugga

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Puff-Puff, Chugga-Chugga written and illustrated by Christopher Wormell, is an endearing and humorous train story perfect for younger children and pre-schoolers. The story’s beautiful illustrations and animal characters with big personalities keep children engaged in the story and wanting to read more. This story is timeless and a great read for parents and their kids since the book is long enough to sit in both laps and the illustrations span across the binding and onto both pages.

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The writing style of this book uses repetition of phrases like “Puff-Puff, Chugga-Chugga” and “She won’t fit, but she did” that makes it easy for children to keep up with what is going on in the book, follow along, and eventually read along as well. It gives the story structure and we can see the impending problem start to arise. Wormell uses plenty of dialogue to give his animal characters personality, especially in the distinct way they talk, and it makes it especially easy for the reader (if reading out loud) to change voices for each character and bring the story to life. The text of this book appears in the gutters of the page so that no attention is taken away from the beautiful illustrations above. As seen in the example above, Wormell also makes an effective use of typography to express how to read and say the text differently, also keeping the story engaging and exciting.

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The illustrations in this book are detailed colored pencil that bring the story to life. The illustrations span across both pages and leave a very small gutter so that the reader is encouraged to stay and take in everything in the illustration. The three animal characters are detailed and larger than life compared to the conductor and they make for an interesting trio that the art fleshes out. The colors are soft and attractive to children and the illustration do a great job of conveying the meaning of the text, often going beyond the text. The illustrations are what makes this book a classic, with the colors and vibrancy of the fruit and the background city.

Puff-Puff, Chugga-Chugga is a great book to sit down and read with children. They can look at the bright illustrations on the pages and eventually read for themselves the repetitive lines. They will understand the humor present, engage with the characters, and get excited at the climax of the story.

Posted by Ashanti Charles

Free Friday: Children of Foreign Lands

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The cover of the book

This week was our school spring break, which allowed me to return to my childhood home and explore some of the books I read growing up.  Most of them are pretty standard: the long list of Dr. Seuss, the “Guess How Much I Love You” book (and others just as sappy and sentimental), and lots of other classics.  However, during this week at home, I discovered some special old books.  Like, books from the 1800s! I found one particular book, intended for children, that describes and depicts children from different nations all around the world.  The book, Children of Foreign Lands by Elizabeth F. McCrady, was published in 1937, and features 8 stories of children from Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Mexico.  The stories end with a short poem that captures the spirit of the preceding passage.  There are also some fun illustrations on each page, and they alternate between color and black and white, which reflects some of the other children’s books from the period.

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The title page.  Look at the publication date!!

I remember reading this book as a child, and really looking into how I thought some people lived.  Its focus on children allowed me to view what my life could’ve been like, but it tells a rather one-sided, exoticized story of children from around the world.  Words like “foreign”, especially on the front of the book, indicate an othering and distancing of other cultures.  Even when considering the book in its historical context, many of the cultures in this book are described as completely separate from others.  While I understand that the only world that I’ve known has been this globalized, interconnected set of countries and places, I am reluctant to accept the fact that the world was so separate in the 1930s.

 

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An example of the initial spread of a story.  Here you can see the alternation of the color and black and white illustrations, as well as some of the descriptions of the children (“They did not look like our words”).  

It is really difficult for me to say that this book is an example of misrepresentation in today’s world of children’s literature, as I really believe that the author’s intent in writing this piece was to provide a lens for American children in order to see that other cultures exist, and that there are even other children in those cultures.  However, the outdated nature of this book makes me hesitant to use this as anything other than historical.  I would more recommend using this book as a historical example of contextualized ethnocentric exoticism of different culture other than Judeo-Christian, white American.

One last thought: the end pages in the beginning and end of the book both have an illustration of all the children together.  A previous (child?) owner of the book attempted to place all the children in order based on the sequence of the book! I thought this was a neat little piece of history, coinciding with some of our work at whole-story book reading.

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Review by Hannah Baughn