Monthly Archives: January 2018

Winners Wednesday: Freedom in Congo Square


For this Winner Wednesday post, I chose the book Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford and R. Gregory Christie. The book was published in 2016 by Little Bee Books, an imprint of Bonnier Publishing Group. This book was a 2017 Caldecott Honor Book and a 2017 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award Honor Book.

The book shares the story of Congo Square, an open park space in New Orleans where enslaved and free Africans would gather on Sundays for afternoons full of dancing and music that originated from the peoples’ home countries of West and Central West Africa.

It is not hard to determine who this book was honored with not one, but two different illustration medals. The illustrations convey both the beauty and vivacity of the gatherings at Congo Square, as well as the harsh and painful experiences of the slaves on plantations. In a rhythmic, rhyming style, the book walks us through the experience of the slaves on every day of the week. Monday through Saturday all describe the difficult lives of slaves, including the hard work they were forced to do, the constant fear they lived in of their masters, and the despair they felt about their situation.

Yet everyday speaks to Congo Square, indicating that it was the one place of solace and escape. As Sunday arrives and both enslaved and free Africans make their way to Congo Square, the pictures convey a more joyous tone with the people standing tall and dancing, contrasting the earlier images like the one seen above. The sudden freedom and joy that erupts from the pages is overwhelming and exciting.

In Congo Square, enslaved and free Africans were able to come together to recognize and celebrate their heritage with music and dance. It is very clear throughout the book that Sunday afternoon is the only time they are free to do this. Despite having everything taken from them, Congo Square becomes a place that African slaves can reclaim some of what they have lost, even if only temporarily, by embracing traditions from their homes.

What I found most compelling about this book was its honesty. I was initially worried that the picturesque illustrations would glorify or soften the harsh realities of slavery for the young readers. However, the book is very clear about some of the horrors that slaves experienced, such as living in crowded houses, being whipped, and being chased by dogs when trying to escape. By acknowledging these experiences, Weatherford and Christie set the groundwork for many important conversations to have with young readers about the dark but true history of our nation.

Speaking of history lessons, I had never heard of Congo Square before I read this book. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about a small pocket of Louisiana history. Congo Square is not something I had ever encountered in all the textbook readings I have done about slavery in my many history courses, displaying shows the power of picture books like this one. They can expose us to little known, but meaningful stories of history that get lost in the details of textbooks. Slavery is, as it should be, taught as a time of brutal and horrible oppression. But this book provides a story of hope amidst the darkness. A story of how enslaved Africans refused to let everything be taken from them.

-Katy Roach

Trendy Tuesday: The Very Hungry Caterpillar


For my “trendy Tuesday” blog post, I wanted to choose a book that is still popular or trendy many years after its publication so I chose to review The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. This children’s book was first published in 1969 and is still read and loved by children today. The book is about a caterpillar that pops out of an egg one Sunday morning. Readers follow the caterpillar as it eats an increasing amount of food each day throughout the week. The caterpillar eats apples, pears, plums, strawberries and oranges. On Saturday he has a feast with cake, ice cream, pickles, cheese, salami, a lollipop, cherry pie, sausage, cupcakes, and watermelon.

After the feast, he has a stomach ache but eats a leaf on Sunday and feels much better. The now not so hungry caterpillar builds himself a cocoon and after two weeks he nibbles a hole in the cocoon and comes out a butterfly.

I think there are a lot of aspects of the book that contribute to its long-lasting appeal. First, the book has really interesting illustrations. Carle did the illustrations using painted tissue paper that he cut out and glued together. This technique gives the images texture and dimension. There are also holes in the middle of the illustrations of food to indicate that the caterpillar ate the food which I think is appealing for young children.

Additionally, the story has lots of educational qualities which makes it a great book to read in young preschool or elementary school classrooms. The text itself is pretty simple and younger readers can use the illustrations to help them figure out the words they do not know. Teachers or parents can also use the story to help their students or children learn the days of the week because Carle describes what the caterpillar eats each day (“On Monday he ate through one apple, on Tuesday he ate through two pears…”). The story can also be used to learn numbers since there is a lot of counting involved in the story in terms of what how much food the caterpillar eats. Lastly, the most obvious educational value of the book is that Carle depicts the stages. Even though the caterpillars diet is not realistic/accurate, the book still portrays an accurate representation of a butterfly’s life cycle as a caterpillar goes through its transformation into a butterfly. Therefore, The Very Hungry Caterpillar has large academic value.

-Reagan Jernigan

Free Fridays: The Book of Mistakes


The Book of Mistakes written and illustrated by Corrina Luyken is a commentary on how mistakes are not always bad and can lead to bigger and better things. In The Book of Mistakes, Luyken uses her “mistakes” to build a world of creativity.

On the very first page, there is a partially drawn head and face with only one eye. When the reader turns the page, the face now has two eyes, but one is significantly bigger than the other. Luyken then goes on to talk about how “making the other eye even bigger was another mistake,” but then fixes that mistake by giving the girl a funky pair of glasses.

With every “mistake” the author creates the girl and makes her better and better until she is a complete being. 

The author tries to create other things as well. She makes a “frog-cat-cow thing” that she turns into a “very nice rock.” A girl climbing a tree has a leg thats too long, but that only means she was meant to be climbing that tree.

Every “mistake” that the author makes, she turns into something even more relevant to the story. The ink splotches at the top of the page make for beautiful leaves blowing in the wind, an ink drop on the girls head becomes a helmet, and pen streaks across a page become strings for balloons. 

By the end of the story, there is an entire scene of supposed mistakes: a treehouse filled with children and balloons.

The scene gradually gets smaller and smaller until you see that is really all part of the girls imagination and that she is the creator of all of it herself.

I think that this is a very important book for parents and educators to be aware of becasue it is fun and colorful, as well as an important message for children. It is a story about mistakes and creativity and that all mistakes can be turned into something even more amazing than originally intended. The illustrations tie perfectly into the story and even carry the story when words don’t. They are simple yet complex in the meanings they hold. Overall, The Book of Mistakes has probably become one of my new favorite picture books and I reccommend that everyone read it when they get a chance.

-Mollie McMullan

Traditional Thursdays: Horton Hatches the Egg


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One of my favorite authors as a child, and still, one of my favorite Children’s books authors is Dr. Seuss. So, I felt it was fitting to pick a book written by Dr. Seuss for today’s Traditional Thursday, but I decided to discuss a book that was not part of my family’s bookshelf growing up. A book with a reoccurring character in Seuss’s work, Horton the elephant, Horton Hatches the Egg, follows the lovable and caring elephant Horton though his experience of sitting on an egg he promised to keep warm. The story is heartwarming, as Horton teaches readers the importance of keeping one’s words, persistence, hard work, and dedication.

Dr. Seuss’s sing-songy rhymes keep the rhythm of the book flowing and makes it an enjoyable read. Additionally, Seuss’s use of repetition helps to emphasize key parts of the story as well as contribute to the pattern of reading. He uses Horton’s catch phrase “I meant what I said and I said what I meant, an elephant’s faithful, one hundred percent” and even changes the phrase slightly throughout the story to emphasize the plot, such as “with Horton unhappy, one hundred percent,” and “but oh, I am seasick, one hundred per cent!” These changes help the story continue to move along while also giving emphasis to Horton’s emotions throughout the story.

Written in 1940, Horton Hatches the Egg begins with a Mayzie bird who is exhausted and wants a break from sitting on her egg in her nest. She longs for a vacation, and calls on Horton walking by to take care of her egg while she takes a well-deserved break. Horton promises to be faithful to the Mayzie bird’s egg, and begins his unknowingly to him, nearly year-long babysitting job, as Mayzie decides that vacation is just too good to return. Dr. Seuss uses humor to show the loving care of Horton, as Horton figures out how to safely sit on the egg.

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Horton shows resilience as he cares for the egg through storms, a freezing winter, teasing from his peers, and even standing up to hunters to protect the egg. These hunters find amusement from Horton the elephant perched on a tree, and bring Horton, tree, egg and all, across the ocean and sell Horton, the elephant perched on a tree, to a circus.

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After fifty one weeks of remaining faithful to the egg, Mayzie bird flies by the circus and recognizes Horton. All of the sudden, the egg begins to hatch, and despite leaving the egg for nearly a year, Mayzie claims it as her own, refusing to acknowledge the dedication Horton has put into caring for her offspring.


However, to both Horton and Mayzie’s surprise, out of the egg popped out an elephant-bird!

Overall, Seuss uses his illustrations to emphasize the emotion on the pages, with white dominating on the page when Horton is taken away to be sold to the circus, emphasizing his fear and loneliness, and orange being the prominent color when Horton is embarrassed or overwhelmed at the circus. The illustrations are all with the colors black, white, turquoise, and orange. The sketches also show motion really well through use of lines and position of the characters.

One of the most interesting aspects of this book was its rich vocabulary. Teachers and parents alike can utilize the complex words that Dr. Seuss incorporates including immense, fluttered, tenderly, grumbled, lurch, scarcely, and swooped.

Through this fun-loving story, children will easily be enamored with the heroism with which Horton cares for the egg. Seuss’s writing displays the importance of faithfulness to one’s word, dedication, and hard work for those who put in the effort. Furthermore, Dr. Seuss slyly makes a jab at individuals who try to swoop in at the last moment and claim hard work and projects as their own when they did not do much at all. These lessons are important for children of all ages. Particularly, this book could make a fascinating read if it was shared with a group of middle schoolers or high schoolers before they started on a group project, showing that individual’s hard work is visible, and it is easy to see when one tries to claim work as their own that was not really theirs.

Overall, this is just one of Dr. Seuss’s magnificent contributions to the world of children’s literature, and children and adults alike can find enjoyment through reading this story.

Annie Leck

Winners Wednesday: Kitten’s First Full Moon


Kitten’s First Full Moon is a Caldecott Award winning picture book written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes. The book was published by Greenwillow Books, an imprint of Harper Collins, in 2004. Accompanied by gouache and colored pencil illustrations copied in black and white, this book tells the story of a kitten who mistakes the full moon for a bowl of milk, and details the events that transpire because of this misconception.

The first time the kitten tries to take a sip of the moonlight, she slurps up a lighting bug. Her second attempt is not much more successful; she attempts to pounce on the moon and falls down the stairs. Next, she tries to chase the moon, but finds that it never gets closer, no matter how far she runs. The kitten then sees the moon reflected in a pond, and thinks that she has found an even bigger bowl of milk. She leaps into the pond and discovers that the bowl of milk has eluded her once again. She is “wet and sad and tired and hungry.” Poor kitten, indeed! When she returns home after her long search for the bowl of milk in the sky, she finds a bowl of milk waiting for her on her very own porch. She drinks the milk and falls asleep in the moonlight.

Henkes’ writing style makes this book a great option for an interactive read aloud with young children. Even from the summary on the inside of the dust jacket, it is clear that Kitten’s First Full Moon is rich with adjectives and description. This book is also a great introduction to figurative language. The main plot point, the kitten seeing the moon as a bowl of milk, is a metaphor. The language, such as the phrase “Poor Kitten,” repeats itself at times, which would support children’s ability to participate in a read aloud.

The illustrations in this book are simple and well-done. The black and white color scheme fits the nighttime setting and creates a soft glow that mimics the light of the moon. From the end paper composed of repeating miniature moons to the individual illustrations, this book is very aesthetically pleasing. Overall, the content, illustrations, and writing style of Kitten’s First Full Moon make it a great option for any teacher or parent of early elementary aged children.

-Rebecca Baldwin