Monthly Archives: September 2018

Free Friday: The Heart and the Bottle

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In 2009, The Heart and the Bottle, written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers, was published. We have been gifted several of his books the past few years and my daughters consistently choose them to be read to them. It is for that reason that, when I was searching for a story to start to introduce the concept of death to them, that I noticed this book. I figured an author/ illustrator that they’re familiar with could be a good start. My father passed away a few years before my children were born and I’ve struggled with how to explain the topic to them in an age appropriate way. So, per usual, I have turned to books. The Heart and the Bottle comes up in most google searches related to children’s picture books on death. I’ll preface my review by saying this story successfully made me cry the good tears but I have yet to read it to my girls- I am waiting until they start asking more questions.

At the start of the story you see and young girl and an older male figure going on a walk together, reading and discussing aspects of the world together, laying under the stars together, out in the ocean together, and flying a kite and exploring on the beach together. It is obvious they are close as he helps her make sense of the wonders of the world around them.

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One day, she goes to the chair he normally sits in to bring him a picture she had drawn and he is not there. She starts to feel sad about him not being there and decides to “…put her heart in a safe place. Just for the time being.” She takes her heart and puts it inside of a bottle. She says that it seems to fix things for her “…at first.”

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The story continues, showing her doing similar things to what she and the man did before, but she starts to forget about all of the wonderful things she noticed before. “She was no longer filled with all the curiosities of the world and didn’t take much notice of anything…” She moves into adulthood without much feeling, with her heart around her neck in the bottle (bottling her emotions). One day she comes across a young girl on the beach who is full of awe and asks her a question. The older girl doesn’t know how to answer her, without her heart, and that inspires her to try to get it back from the bottle. Unfortunately, nothing she does works and she doesn’t know how to retrieve it. The bottle would not break to release her heart no matter how hard she tries. It occurs to her to ask the young girl for help, and without any effort at all, the young girl reaches in and pulls it out for her.

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They put the heart back into the older girl and she goes to sit in the seat the male figure had sat in before. The end of the book shows her sitting in the chair with an open book, her mind full of wonder and imagination and again- “…the chair wasn’t so empty anymore. But the bottle was.” Without saying the words, this is a children’s story about love, grief, and moving forward.

I appreciate how the concept of missing someone can be transferred to any person who is absent from the child’s life for a period of time. It could be a grandparent that lives far away, it could be a friend who moves away, or it could be someone close to the child who dies. The story addresses very heavy emotions that can be hard for a child to experience, let alone try to explain. It doesn’t discount feeling sad or wanting to protect your heart, it is expected that will happen. It just shows that it’s OK to feel happy and in awe of the world, to form new relationships and move forward.

The illustrations master a balance of muted backdrops of nature with pops of color in the flowers in the first page spread, followed by intricate thought bubbles portraying the solar system, ocean, animals, plants, and the edge of the world, to a combination of the two in the third page spread. The facial expressions are simple, with an upwards line to indicate a smile to no line at all representing the sadness and lack of explanation or understanding of the feeling. The heart is portrayed both in the well-known love heart shape as well as the anatomically correct version. This is especially noted in the back inside cover of the book where an anatomically correct heart is drawn and labeled with proper titles of parts. The thought bubbles in the story are of importance to note as well- they ask questions that young children would find interesting, for example, although not explicitly stated, the young girl who helps bring curiosity back to the older girl whose heart is still in the bottle, has a thought bubble above her head appearing to question how elephants can swim. The story has a deep message but it isn’t without a fun sense of curiosity allowing for a mix of both hard and light topics. If something feels a little heavy or uncertain for a child, they can be brought back into the book with a smile.

For the child who may need help making sense of the harder parts of life, I highly recommend reading Heart and the Bottle with them.

Andrea Runnells

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Free Friday: One of a Kind, Like Me

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The book One of a Kind, Like Me tells the true story of author Laurin Mayeno’s son Danny. In the book, Danny wants to dress up as a princess for the school’s parade. The text follows his journey in finding and designing his costume, wearing it to school, and experiencing his classmates’ reactions. The text is very unique in that it is written in both Spanish and English, translated by Teresa Mlawer. This works to promote inclusivity both in form and content, in making a story that is so clearly about acceptance available to people who speak different languages. The book also provides essential representation to Spanish-speaking families and communities as the text in Danny’s classroom is in Spanish and his mom uses Spanish words in conversation in both translations.

The book’s simplistic and beautiful watercolor illustrations with soft lines evoke nostalgia and themes of childhood, but also allow the reader to focus largely on the text. Robert Liu-Trujillo’s illustrations greatly supplement and support the story.

This book is incredibly valuable because it explores defying gendered expectations from the perspective of a child. Danny never questions whether or not he should dress as a princess. Instead, he works with steadfast determination to find all the pieces that he needs for his costume. The text builds suspense when Danny cannot find a purple outfit that matches the drawing he made for his family at the beginning of the book. He demonstrates clear creativity – turning a shower curtain into a beautiful skirt.

The book then follows Danny to school, where he excitedly waits to put on his costume. When he does, he is met with confusion: a child in his class says, “‘I’ve never seen a boy princess before.’”  Danny responds with wisdom, reflecting on their costumes: “‘Well, I’ve never seen a walking pineapple or a talking butterfly.’” He lands on the conclusion, “‘I guess we’re all one-of-a-kind!’” and is met with smiles from all of the children.

The book provides a model for families, teachers and communities in supporting a child’s self-expression. Danny’s family is extremely supportive – helping him find and make his costume. His teacher tells Danny that his costume is fantastic, and helps him get dressed. The children in his classroom, while initially confused, end the story smiling and dancing with Danny. The story depicts the acceptance of Danny and the joy that he finds in his unhindered ability to dress however he would like.

The book would be a great way to introduce the idea of self-expression and individuality to a classroom. It would also provoke an interesting conversation to promote more understanding among children, highlighting the concept that everyone is truly “one of a kind.” I really enjoyed One of a Kind, Like Me. It supplements an area often lacking in children’s literature and provides essential representation to Latinx families.

The ending page of the book is beautifully written – Mayeno writes about her experiences supporting Danny’s desire to wear the costume and the importance of embracing and supporting gender diversity in children. Her website www.oneofakindlikeme.com has a learning guide and resources for parents, educators and community members.

– Olivia Horne

Traditional Thursday: Just a Dream

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Published in 1990, Chris van Allsburg’s Just a Dream is a traditional classic that has gained significant value in recent years. When it was originally written, it was a warning call of what could transpire in the world around us. Now, van Allsburg’s tale is becoming a haunting reality. Traffic, smog, and garbage actually threaten the natural world, and the innocent days of playing in green backyards under a bright blue sky are under attack. A revisit to Just a Dream provides an extremely valuable teaching opportunity in looking back at the predictions made then in comparison to the circumstances that surround the environment today.

The book follows a young boy named Walter through a night of wild dreams. Initially, Walter is unconcerned about the state of the environment. He is complacent and uninterested when it comes to littering and recycling, and openly mocks peers that show compassion to the natural world. Through pop culture and media, Walter has a very clean vision of what the future looks like. He imagines the future to be technologically advanced, with the usual personal flying vehicles and robots that do everything for us. But the harsh reality of what the future we are hurtling towards might look like is much different. Walter is taken to a series of scenes of the future in his bed that night, but this future is not at all what he expected. It is bleak, overrun by trash, coated in smog, commercialized to the extreme, overexploited, crowded, and suffering. Walter is taken aback by what he sees, and quickly realizes how valuable the environment is.

Chris van Allsburg writes simply and wonderfully in Just a Dream, making this book accessible and appropriate for a wide range of age groups. The format of the book alternates between full, two-paged illustrations and blank all text pages, allowing readers to focus on the images and the text separately. The text is usually delayed as well, with the image coming first, followed by the text describing the image on the next page. This allows for several unique and valuable learning experiences to transpire. First, children can use illustrations to form their own mental image of the action taking place. They can absorb every detail of van Allsburg masterfully created images without having to focus on text or have their personal interpretations and findings taken away from them. Secondly, van Allsburg’s writing style allows snapshots to become dynamic action. The beginning scene is shown, and then by following a still image with a paragraph, the characters come to life, move on from that point in time and engage with one another. This is a very important transitionary skill for readers moving away from picture dominant books and into more textually dominated books. The starting illustration is given, but the subsequent action is played out in the reader’s head. And lastly, this writing style flows well and flows with consistent rhythm, keeping young readers easily engaged and invested in the story.

van Allsburg is no stranger to illustrations, already a two time Caldecott winner at the time this book was written, and his pictures in Just a Dream are as good as any. He specifically has color play a very large role in his depictions, with nearly all of the future being drawn with a monochrome palette. The colors are muted and shaded to give off very sickly feelings, lots of harsh rust browns, and sickly green yellows. This not only sets the tone of the future as polluted and bleak, but also helps distinguish dream from reality. The real world is depicted more colorfully than the dreams, helping to contextualize the images. However, even reality has subtle color scheme changes, with the pre-dream colors being ever so slightly more muted, and the contrast being less exaggerated making the images seem dim and dull. After Walter’s dream the images are vibrant and hopeful, concluding with an alternative future, where society made the necessary changes and the world is healthy and beautiful again. This difference in depictions of the future help solidify the point that van Allsburg is making in an unspoken way that well-drawn images tend to do. The difference in realities also subtly conveys that the current situation in 1990 is already progressing towards a bleak future. The images are also extremely lifelike and real. They convey the possibility of becoming reality, and this flows simply from Chris van Allsburg being very good at illustrating.

Chris van Allsburg has put together a fantastic book to teach about the importance of environment conservation and how our future is directly impacted by the way humanity treats the world. He makes the condition of the environment a personal issue, showing how individual lives will be affected by the attitude that we hold when approaching nature today. He correctly predicts that the future will hold many of the problems that society currently faces today, problems that are direct results of the apathetic attitude held by Walter and by a majority of people across the globe. Through an entertaining and educational writing style, van Allsburg engages his audience and develops reading skills. He is able to drive his point home without being preachy and overbearing. These techniques matched up with thoughtfully designed illustrations cement this book as a traditional classic. What van Allsburg hopes to accomplish with this narrative is simply a small shift in attitude. A minor adjustment in outlook. But that small adjustment, if made by many, could completely change the future. Now looking back, we can ask if we made that adjustment. And if we didn’t, is there still time?

 

Nelson Eiselstein

Winner’s Wednesday: Charlie & Mouse

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For this week’s Winner Wednesday I selected the Geisel 2018 Medal Winner, Charlie & Mouse. This wonderful picture book, written by Lauren Snyder, illustrated by Emily Hughes, and published by Chronicle books, is a short chapter/picture book that depicts a day in the life of two young brothers, Charlie and Mouse. The chapters are Lumps, The Party, Rocks, and Bedtime Banana, which are all events that occur in a typical day for the brothers in the book.IMG_0707

The boys start off in bed referring to each other as “lumps” joking about how you can’t speak when you are sleeping and saying the same to their parents. The next chapter is the party, the brothers plan a party in the park where they invite all of their friends in the neighborhood. The third chapter, Rocks, Charlie and Mouse walk around their neighborhood trying to sell rocks to make money, during which they make a few dollars collecting rocks instead of selling them. In the end of the chapter they end up spending their money on a snack. The final chapter, Bedtime Banana, the boys want a “bedtime banana” and convince their mom to give them one before bed. The book ends how it started, with Charlie and Mouse returning to their “lump” state in bed.

I found this book to be perfect for an elementary aged child who is at a lower reading level but is capable of reading more than the typical picture book and is ready for a very short chapter book (with pictures). The words in the book are very easy and catchy to read and engage all young readers. In addition, the adventure aspect of the book gives   cIMG_0706hildren something to follow and want to read more of. I think this book would be a great part of a series full of Charlie & Mouse’s adventures. The adventures of Charlie & Mouse are those any young elementary aged brothers would dream about doing together, and the author does a great job keeping the text simple enough that younger children could fully follow the story.

The illustrations in this book are also another great addition. Although the written content is easy enough to follow the illustrations provide added detail. For example, the illustrations show the brothers sharing a bed, something young siblings beg thIMG_0708eir parents to let them do. The illustrations also show how well the brothers get along and how they are always side by side; although this is pretty clear in the text, the illustrations further illustrate this.

I think Charlie & Mouse is a great read for elementary aged students and also a book they can read without parent or teacher intervention. I saw a lot of similarities in this book and the Disney series Phineas and Ferb, both depict the daily adventures of two brothers and attract a similar audience through different forms of media. Overall, this book is short and funny and I could see it being an all time favorite bedtime book for young readers.

 

Macie Wasserberger

Trendy Tuesday: Caroline’s Comets A True Story

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For Trendy Tuesday, I chose the book Caroline’s Comets A True Story written and illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully. As someone who genuinely loves astronomy and owns a telescope, picking up a children’s book about comets was a rather easy decision. This book is a biography of the German astronomer, Caroline Herschel, who discovered numerous comets during the 1780s. Through her scientific research and scientific discoveries, Herschel is one of the first women to make a true and important impact on science.

Herschel’s story starts off in 1750, where she was born in Hanover, Germany. With siblings and a father who were all royal musicians, Caroline learned more practical skills like knitting because she was a girl. She spent most of her childhood and young adult life as the family maid. Her older brother, William invited her to England after he left to conduct a chorus and give piano lessons. Living in a new country with broken English, Caroline aided her brother by becoming a housekeeper, a popular soprano, and even his assistant inventor of the telescope. William had questions about the solar system that he needed answered, and with the help of Caroline, they were able to build a 5-feet long telescope with a six inched mirror that magnified 6,000 times. On March 13, 1781, William discovered Uranus. His discovery made him famous, which led to him becoming acquainted with King George III. King George appointed William to be his astronomer, and under William’s wing, Caroline trained to become an assistantastronomer. Caroline discovered 14 nebulae, star clusters, two galaxies, and her most famous comet, “the Lady’s Comet.” With her new recognition and fame, she refused to be William’s paid assistant because she wanted a salary from King George like William. Caroline Herschel became the first professional woman scientist who discovered comets.

From reading Caroline’s story, one could tell that she had a very lonely childhood. As the only daughter in her family, her parents had no high expectations for her especially after her face scarred and her growth stunted due to typhus and smallpox. She was meant to just be a housemaid, a hopeless girl with no bright future. Caroline, like most of us, started with no sense of direction and the feeling of hopelessness. She worked at home until she was twenty-two years old. She never got the support from her parents. She felt like nothing good would happen in her life. However, she makes a brave choice to step out and cross borders in order to better her life. The year 1772, when Caroline chose to leave her home for a newer beginning, was just a fresh start to the life that Caroline will create for herself. Caroline proves to us that we can take control of our own lives, change the course of things, and find a passion that defines our lives. She proves that wandering without any navigation does not mean you are going to be lost forever.

I admire how she wanted nothing short of the finest career, and she was willing to speak up about what she wanted in a time when women were not viewed equally. During a time when women had no true occupation, Caroline became a symbol for who women can be and what they are capable of achieving if they are willing to go at something with all their heart. She knew what she wanted and how much she worked to get to where she was. This led her to stand alone as a woman, scientist, and a true astronomer without being under someone’s wing for the very first time. Her courage to passionately pursue more discoveries in science paved the groundwork for future discoveries of comets. Through her catalogue of the sky, succeeding astronomers were able to use her work as a resource. She was admired and consulted by scientists for her work for the rest of her life.

The reason I chose this book to be a Trendy Tuesday book is because there is a huge movement in children’s books that now focuses on female protagonists. Women are now becoming the driving force for our children’s stories not just men. Caroline Herschel’s true story brings to light of her childhood, her discoveries, and the impact she made in astronomy. Her story can resonate with so many young girls teaching them that they can achieve and gain distinction through one’s passions and discoveries. Young girls can be taught that women can make a difference even in a field where women never genuinely gained recognition. We can come from terrible childhoods and sad upbringings, but like Caroline, we can find an eagerness to follow our dreams and make a difference in any field we choose.

Chelsea Yang

Marvelous New Picture Book Monday: How to Be a Lion

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This weekend I stumbled across Ed Vere’s How to be a Lion and was instantly obsessed. In this vibrant and simple picture book, Vere tells the story of Leonard the soft spoken and thoughtful lion as he attempts to exist in a world that expects lions to be fierce and aggressive. When Leonard is ridiculed for befriending a duck named Marianne instead of “chomping” her, he must decide whether or not to conform to societal expectations. In the end, Leonard stays true to himself and stands up to his lion peers using gentle poetic lines. If you are looking for a way to teach the young boys in your life that masculinity can mean many things, How to Be a Lion is a great place to start.

As of late, I have spent a lot of time considering how young children come to understand expectations of gender in our society. It is by a very young age that our children can identify what is societally masculine from that which is societally feminine. However, I bet you could find very few parents who would say they consciously taught their children these things. One of the most detrimental messages around gender that we teach our children is that being masculine means being emotionless, loud, and violent. Society teaches our boys to “man up” and shake off their emotional distress. Society teaches them to worship destructive and stoic super heroes, to find joy in violent shooting games, and to swear off any books or movies that could possible be perceived as feminine. Society teaches boys that to fit in, they must subscribe to this one idea of what it means to be a man. Lion_4.jpg

These ideas of hyper-masculinity affect everyone in our society, no matter their gender identity. I believe that in order to overcome the deep rooted hyper-masculinity that rules our culture and end the many issues it contributes to, from violence against women and LGBTQ individuals to high rates of depression and suicide among men, we must actively consider what types of messages we want to send our young children about gender expectations. I also believe that when used right, literature is a powerful tool in doing this. This book is a wonderful conversation opener between parent and young child.

Lion_7.jpgf0ec2725-ef8a-4d5c-9e3c-f47c9c24ddc0Vere present the complicated and abstract idea of toxic masculinity in a format that is accessible and understandable to a child by using animals to represent the masculinity and femininity. By presenting a lion, which children know to be a powerful and dominating predator, as emotional and gentle, Vere is utilizing the preexisting knowledge of children to present them with a new concept: maybe people don’t have to act the way society expects them to. However, for this story to be truly powerful, a discussion with an adult must follow the reading of this story in order to help the child make this connection. Depending on the age of the child, topics that could be discussed include gender identity, peer pressure, peaceful activism, individuality, what it means to be a friend, or kindness in general. fullpage.do.jpeg

I want to end this post with a disclaimer: this book alone will not be strong enough to combat the constant messages children receive from society about gender. Helping a child develop an identity against these societal messages must be an ongoing effort. Part of this means surrounding children with a variety of books and media with a variety of representations of masculinity and femininity which go beyond lions and ducks. This means books and movies which depict characters of a diversity of races and ethnicities, sexual orientations, and abilities, among other things. We must remember as we teach our children about gender that identity is multi-facetet and intersectional. It is a complex issue on which we are all constantly being subconsciously influenced. While Vere’s book is a great starting place, don’t let it be the end.

~Becca Archambault

Marvelous New Picture Book Monday: The Word Collector

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As I perused the “Stories for Families to Share” table at Barnes and Noble, the new Peter H. Reynolds book The Word Collector, released in January of 2018, immediately jumped out at me because I had just been introduced to Reynolds’ wildly popular picture book The Dot. The Dot, a book about a girl who finds tremendous creative inspiration from a simple pencil mark, is so beloved by readers that September 15th has been named International Dot Day. With The Dot being such a hit, I just had to see if Reynolds could rival his previous success with The Word Collector.

Immediately upon opening this book, the aspiring teacher in me lit up. Every page of this concisely-worded story is covered with vocabulary words. All I could think about was how many exciting and sophisticated vocabulary words young readers would be exposed to in reading this story. The breadths of young readers’ vocabularies will expand significantly after a single read! Furthermore, Reynolds introduces vocabulary for discussing words and offers suggestions on where children can find interesting language in their everyday lives.

 

The sophistication of the vocabulary words does not, however, come at the cost of readability. The storyline is simple and easy to follow. The Word Collector is about a young boy named Jerome who collects words and eventually uses his word collection to write poems and songs to share with the world. Reynolds ingeniously incorporates the rich vocabulary words as part of the illustrations so that they are enticing for children to explore but not necessary to the plot. Thus, children are free to decide how many of the exciting words they want to read.

 

Another notable element of The Word Collector is the diversity of its characters. The main character, Jerome, is a brown-skinned boy with a purple mohawk. Children of many races and ethnicities are represented, including a girl wearing a hijab and a young African boy wearing a kufi. As a result, young readers are not only exposed to a rich variety of races, but also, they can relate with a character that looks like them.

 

Reynolds does more than just depict diversity in the illustrations of The Word Collector; he celebrates difference by capturing powerful interactions between children of different races. Jerome can be seen telling the African boy “I understand,” thus imparting a powerful message to young readers about the importance of respecting, listening to, and engaging in conversation with those who are not same as them. Furthermore, he shows readers how just a few words can have a huge impact.

 

 

I cannot wait to read The Word Collector to a classroom of kindergarten students. The Word Collector does more than just impart a message about the immense power of words to young readers. It entices children to explore vocabulary, and it even offers suggestions on where students can look to encounter exciting words. Once again, Reynolds hits it out of the park with this beautifully-illustrated, poignantly-worded, and universally-important piece of children’s literature. Teachers, parents, run to the nearest bookstore to get your hands on a copy of The Word Collector! You and your little ones alike will learn from and thoroughly enjoy every last page.

The under-the-jacket cover design.

 

-Casey Crosson