Monthly Archives: October 2017

Pattan’s Pumpkin: A Traditional Flood Story from Southern India

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Pattan’s Pumpkin: A Traditional Flood Story from Southern India

Chitra Soundar and Frané Lessac have adapted a traditional Irula story to make it more accessible: turning the traditional churraka into a pumpkin and highlighting the story’s universal themes.

The story does, not, however, abandon its cultural roots. It is authentic in its language, retaining the Indian names Pattan and Kanni and placing the tale at the base not of any old mountain range but of the Sahyadri Mountains. Pattan and Kanni are illustrated with the characteristic dark skin of the Irula people and are dressed in traditional garb. Soundar also does not shy away from describing the details of Pattan and Kanni’s way of life as they grow pepper, rice, nutmeg, and bananas; ride elephants; and nurture animals in the foothills of South India’s mountains. As any culturally diverse book should, Pattan’s Pumpkin presents its characters positively: clever, resourceful, grateful for what they have, kind, and willing to share. These characteristics not only help children understand cultures beyond their own as positive but also model values for the children themselves!

Lessac’s pictures are as bright as the spirit of Pattan himself. The colors – oranges, yellows, reds, greens – pop off the page and bring the story to life. The use of full-page spreads accentuates the size of the pumpkin, sure to make any child shriek with shock and delight, and the landscapes are rich and vivid in their scope.

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Lessac’s spread toward the end of the story is lush green and deep black, dotted with every color in between. A picture does not do these colors justice!

Pattan’s Pumpkin comes together to tell not only an entertaining, engaging story but one that is valuable in any lesson on geography, history, culture, or even religion.

-Addison

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The People Shall Continue/ El Pueblo Seguirá

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The People Shall Continue is a story that tells the history and plights of the indigenous people of America. It was written by Simon J. Ortiz who is a part of the Acoma Pueblo Tribe, and illustrated by Sharol Graves. Originally published in 1977, for its 40th anniversary they republished this special edition in both English and Spanish.

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Told from a third-person perspective, the book begins with how the world came to be. Many years ago, everything was created, and the People were also born. Some say that the People came from many different places, and they went to live in the North, South, East, and West. They had all different jobs, from fishermen to artisans. They were healers and leaders, and they all agreed to take care of the Earth which is the source of all life.            Screen Shot 2017-10-30 at 1.28.39 PM.png

The People, which is how the indigenous people refer to themselves, would visit each other’s lands, and when arguments took place their leaders would remind them that they had to respect one another. Life was hard for them, and when famines or droughts would take place they reminded themselves that they could not take anything for granted and in order to continue, they had to struggle hard for life.            Screen Shot 2017-10-30 at 1.29.30 PM.png

One day something strange started to happen. Men came on the oceans to the Western Coasts. They were strange red-haired men, and they did not stay long. The People then began to hear fearful stories of these strange Spanish men who caused destruction amongst the People. More and more white people came and made treaties with the People to stop their armed fight. The People agreed to live on reservations which had poor land and not much to hunt.          Screen Shot 2017-10-30 at 1.28.31 PM.png

Soon more Americans came and wanted to take the land that the People lived on and change the way that the People lived. They took the children from their families and sent them to schools that were far away. They moved the people into cities across the US, and all the while the People remembered who they were.          Screen Shot 2017-10-30 at 1.29.16 PM

The People looked around them and saw people of all different races and ethnicities being kept down by American power. They realized that they had to share their history with these people as well. They shared their struggles and that they shall continue.

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This book is colorful and weaves the intricate story of the plight of indigenous people in a way that is easily accessible to children without sugar-coating the struggles that they faced.

Jamie Williams

Reach for the Moon, Little Lion

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Reach for the Moon, Little Lion by Hildegard Müller is a story about a little lion who learns to have strength and resilience despite hurtful ridicule that he experiences. The book, first published in German and later translated to English, begins with a little lion, who so much smaller than all the other lions, gets ridiculed by a leopard, hippopotamus and crocodile.

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The three cruel animals ask the little lion whether he is a lion or a mouse and tell him that a lion is supposed to be so big that he can touch the moon with a paw. That night, the little lion sits on a hill, looking at the moon, imagining what it would be like to touch it, but conceding that it would be impossible.

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A raven observes the little lion in his sadness and offers the lion help. The next day, the raven tells all the animals about something important that is about to happen. All the animals flock to the hill, where they watch as the little lion reaches out his paw and touches the moon

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The book ends with the leopard, the hippopotamus, and the crocodile silent, and the little lion confident as he walks away from his former ridiculers smiling.

This book is colorful and bright. The illustrations make good use of the space in the book and the book’s long and rectangular shape contribute to the sense of separation between the little lion and the leopard, hippopotamus, and crocodile as they are often located on opposite sides of the page. Furthermore, through the illustrations, Müller effectively conveys the animals’ emotions.

Reach for the Moon, Little Lion is a story about strength and bravery. It teaches children important lessons of resilience and kindness and includes characters to which children can relate. The little lion reminds children of times that they felt small, the leopard, hippopotamus, and crocodile of times they were the ridiculers, and the raven of times they offered kindness and support to someone in need. Through all these characters, Müller teaches lessons of demonstrating resilience, the impact that bullying has on others, and the power of reaching out in kindness.

Angela Ye

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe

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Radiant Child won both the 2017 Caldecott Medal and the 2017 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for Javaka Steptoe’s ingenious illustrations. He painted the images on reclaimed wood, photographing his masterpieces to accompany the text of the book. The book recounts the life of Jean-Michel Basquiat, a young boy from Brooklyn who became a successful street artist, signing his work under the name SAMO©. Basquiat was born to a Haitian father and a Puerto Rican-American mother. His mother always supported him in his art, even bringing him a copy of Gray’s Anatomy with which to practice drawing human forms, after he was hospitalized from a car accident. Matilde, Jean-Michel’s mother, is separated from her son due to mental health issues, but he visits her throughout the book. Jean-Michel is relentless in his search to create meaningful art, eventually finding success in creating street art. The art was “still not neat or clean and definitely not inside the lines, but somehow still beautiful.” The book investigates the crown motif in Basquiat’s art, since he considered himself and others as kings. The book ends on a positive note, with Jean-Michel “making it” as an artist.

I think this is a valuable book for a teacher of any grade level or subject to have in the classroom library. With young children, a standard read-aloud will teach them about an often-forgotten American artist, while introducing them to the genre of biographies. Older children can learn more about the struggles of Basquiat’s life, including his drug addiction, through the author’s note at the end of the book, as well as through supplemental resources. Art teachers can further investigate the motifs in Basquiat’s art like crowns, eyes, and cars. Art lessons could also center around Steptoe’s unique illustration style. Secondary social studies teachers can explore the racially-related reasons why Basquiat is generally remembered as a drug addict who caught a lucky break, rather than a genius young artist who was swept up in the times. This book explores so many themes on a differentiated level. Older learners could study mental health issues in a deeper way, including how Basquiat’s difficult relationship with his mother may have influenced his art. In general, this book teaches a great view of what art is. Steptoe writes about art as being present everywhere, not just specific styles in museums. Street art is seen by many as disrespectful vandalism, but this book directly challenges that idea. The biography’s message that hard work is key to success is applicable to any student. Overall, this is one of my new favorite books, and I will be buying a copy for my classroom.

Maddie Geller

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Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library

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Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Eric Velasquez, tells the story of Arturo Schomburg, a black man living in the Harlem Renaissance. Schomburg collected books, music, art, and other works from Africa and people of African descent to bring to light these often forgotten historical documents and figures. The book follows Arturo’s life from a young black boy in Puerto Rico, curious about the contributions his ancestors made to history, through his journey to New York, and his years of researching and collecting the artifacts of “Africa’s sons and daughters.” When his collection became too big for him to keep, he sold it to the New York Public Library, where it soon became the “cornerstone of the Division of Negro History, Literature and Prints.” Arturo Schomburg left a legacy that lives on today; his work has acted as a beacon for scholars all over the world. Through the use of poetry with titles reflecting both the different chapters of Schomburg’s life and the many black historical figures whose work he collected, as well as amazingly realistic illustrations, Schomburg beautifully captures the essence of a man who was always busy working to make sure that his people had their rightful place in history. Written for an older elementary school audience, the book also extends the prime picture book age to include these older children.

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Schomburg gives readers short biographies of many black historical figures, some of whom are well-known today for their contributions to the history of our country. However, while many of these men and women have become household names, their full stories often go untold. The book attempts to bring light to some of the lesser-known aspects of their lives.

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In addition to giving readers more details about many already well-known black historical figures, Schomburg also features many “whitewashed” historical figures: those who were descended from slaves or of African descent but whose ties to Africa are left out of popular history.

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The book ends by returning to focus on the life and legacy of Schomburg himself. As written in the final poem of the book, “Epitaph: 1938”: “There was no field of human endeavor / that he did not till with his determined hand… / or that he did not water with a growing sense / of African heritage and awareness.”

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This book is sorely needed in the world of children’s literature, because it features not only a wide range of black historical figures and those with African heritage, but also the man who made sure that these men and women had their rightful place in history. This book should be read in all schools to ensure that the youth of today get to know this incredible man, and that they can feel the pride of seeing themselves represented in history.

Maya Creamer

Dragons Love Tacos 2: The Sequel

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Author Adam Rubin and illustrator Daniel Salmieri recently teamed up again to release the sequel to their first book Dragons Love Tacos. The lighthearted tale of Dragons Love Tacos 2 follows a young boy and his trusty sidekick, his dog, on a mission to solve a crisis plaguing his dragon friends: the world has run out of tacos. In an attempt to restore the world’s taco supply, the pair decides to jump in a time machine and return to the taco party (from the first book) where they will gather a handful of tacos to bring back and plant taco trees. The adventure includes hiccups with the time machine and mishaps with spicy salsa, adding layers of humor to this already comical story. Children are sure to love this goofy tale and it’s happy ending where humans and animals (and even a robot and alien) from all time periods and walks of life partake in a great taco celebration.

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The book is filled with colorful colored pencil illustrations that follow the storyline but are done in a style that is quirky and somewhat unrealistic. This aesthetic matches the playful and imaginative nature of the text and mirrors images that might come to mind when children imagine such a silly string of events.

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At its core, this book is fun. It’s not a particularly challenging read and the plot is enjoyable and creative. In this way, it accomplishes one of the most important functions of children’s literature: entertainment. It is a book that could entice even the most reluctant readers and allows all children to attach feelings of pleasure and excitement to reading.

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Anna Schellhorn

If You Take a Mouse to the Movies

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     The 1985 classic If You Give A Mouse A Cookie stole the hearts of readers the world over with its cheerful illustrations and simple and memorable circle story. If You Take a Mouse to the Movies, the fifth book in the “If You Give” series, is also a circle story. This means that its plot creates a cycle where the first line is the same as the final line, implying that the tale will begin again with a loop of the same actions. In this story, the circular line is again the title phrase. It follows the same young boy buying movie theater popcorn for the same tiny mouse, where they find a popcorn string kit and eventually perform all sorts of holiday activities. These include building snowmen, singing carols, and decorating a Christmas tree.
New Doc 2017-10-20_8     While the simple story line helps children understand that a book’s plot is fluid and connected, the illustrations are an equal factor in helping the book shine. Drawn in the same crisp, thinly outlined cartoon style of the classic original, but with more deep blues and greens and hints of red, this is clearly a wintry tale. There are still wide expanses of white instead of detailed backgrounds, as there were in the original, which draw the reader’s attention to the two main characters. It is interesting that the mouse, much smaller than the boy, has more detail in his representation, with intricately shaded ears, a detailed mouth, and the teeniest pink nose. His companion has only a few lines representing his entire face, which often leads to a profile shot of a nose a single dot for an eye. In this way, the mouse is almost more personified than the little boy, making him the focus of the story.

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     Part of the magic of the original book lies in seeing the experiences of everyday life from the perspective of the mouse. Witnessing the unique way he must interact with his environment: tiny jelly-bean sized snowballs, for instance, or singing into the boombox microphone that is almost his height, are amusing and warm. New Doc 2017-10-20_3new-doc-2017-10-20_4.jpg     When reading this book to a preschooler this week, we both stopped in awe of one particular page. The little boy shared a sweet little smile as he said, “That mouse sure looks comfy!” The warm light cascading on the pristine blanket that envelops the little mouse makes the scene look heavenly.

New Doc 2017-10-20_5     There are an abundance of small details in addition the the gorgeous whole illustrations that are just as eye-catching and enthralling. The mouse’s hat with ears, the glitter on the young boy’s nose after the whirlwind ornament-making, and the minuscule snowballs stuck to the boy’s back after the snowball fort fight are a perfect opportunity to ask children to make inferences about purpose and cause-and-effect relationships.

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   This book offers a twist on a classic, and successfully fulfills this promise by providing the same comforting patterns with an added holiday glow.