Monthly Archives: October 2018

Winner Wednesday: Black Dog

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I chose Levi Pinfold’s Black Dog for this Winner’s Wednesday. This Kate Greenaway winner is about a black dog that visits the Hope family one morning. First seen outside “the size of a tiger,” the dog grows with each turn of the page, eventually becoming the size of the home. This terrifies everyone inside. One by one, every member of the Hope family wakes up, sees the dog outside, and hides from it. Finally, the youngest child, nicknamed Small, sees the family cowering in fear and decides to handle the situation herself. Small determinedly braves the cold and leads the dog on an adventure through the forest.

Small sings, “You can’t follow where I go, unless you shrink, or don’t you know?” as the dog follows her. Mysteriously, the dog begins to grow smaller as it follows her through the woods, over a frozen pond, down the slide at the playground. After their adventure, Small leads the now normal-sized dog into the house, showing her family that he is not scary after all.

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The text itself is playful and whimsical, reading like a fable or storybook. The mystery of the plot is supported by the fable-style of writing. The typography supports this connection in genres, with the first letter on each page written in a larger, bolded font. Pinfold writes Small’s taunts to the dogs in a rhyming pattern, giving the book its playful tone.

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The book won the Kate Greenaway Award in 2013 for good reason. Its illustrations are incredibly creative, lifelike and detailed. Pinfold’s illustrations support the whimsical feeling of the text, with light pastel colors and soft shading. Pinfold is able to capture the chaos of the Hope household, with drawings created by the children throughout the home (and even on cabinets) and toys scattered on the floor and in the bathtub. Intricate details from the wallpaper to the family’s patterned pajamas work to give readers a feel for the Hope family and support the quirkiness of the book as a whole.

The illustrations are greatly supportive, also, in the creativity of their layout. On the beginning pages describing the family, Pinfold draws sepia-toned boxes filled with images that support and summarize the action in the text. On the following page, Pinfold draws a full color image of the individual person reacting to the dog’s size. This creates a sharp contrast when Small Hope is introduced, as the panels on this page depict her putting on her winter clothes with determination.

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As the text continues and Small ventures out to confront the dog, Pinfold begins using two pages to highlight the dog’s changing size. This gives the readers a better sense of the comparison between Small and the dog, and further immerses readers into the text. Pinfold continues to use the sepia-toned boxes as the story unfolds, supporting the older feel of the book, despite its 2012 publication date.

IMG_3344 3The quality of the book was heavily supported by its beautiful illustrations and whimsical text. Pinfold emphasizes the importance of bravery in the face of fear in the character of Small Hope. Through his illustrations and text, Pinfold reminds readers that all they need to shrink their fears is a little bit of hope and a whole lot of bravery.

– Olivia Horne

Winner Wednesday: Ella’s Big Chance: A Jazz-Age Cinderella by Shirley Hughes

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img_3598.jpgElla’s Big Chance: A Jazz-Age Cinderella – a retelling of the well-known Cinderella fairy tale set in the 1920s era – is written and illustrated by Shirley Hughes.  A Kate Greenaway Medal winner, this picture book features beautiful illustrations and a unique twist on a happily-ever-after ending.

Ella is the only child of a dress shop owner named Mr. Cinders.  Because Mrs. Cinders has already passed away, Ella and her father together run the shop and make fabulous garments with the help of Buttons, a humble doorman with a selfless, humorous personality.  Their quiet lives are jostled when Mr. Cinders marries Madame Renée and gains two stepdaughters.  The stepmother puts all extra shop responsibilities on Ella while the stepdaughters do no work and constantly make fun of Ella’s appearance, calling her “pudge” and commenting on her red hair.  Mr. Cinders stands by cowardly, helplessly unable to stand up to these injustices.

The story goes on in typical Cinderella fashion: an invitation arrives for a duke’s party, and Ella is told she must stay home.  While Buttons is there to comfort her, a fairy godmother appears and grants her a shiny limo, a doorman, and an elegant silver dress and cap with glass slippers.  At the ball, the duke is taken by her beauty and lively personality, but at midnight she leaves in a hurry, leaving behind one glass slipper.  The duke comes to Ella’s house and finds that the shoe fits her, but Ella turns down his marriage proposal; instead, she confesses her love for Buttons.  The story ends with Buttons and Ella riding off on his bicycle that for a night was transformed into the glamorous limo, symbolizing their abandonment of riches for what they truly value: their genuine love for one another.

I whole-heartedly enjoyed this twist on the classic tale.  The writing style was reminiscent of fairy tales and folklore with its use of grand language and familiar terms, including “the last stroke of midnight.” At first I assumed Hughes’s version would simply place the Cinderella story in a new historical setting; however, I was pleasantly surprised by the alternative ending.  I thought Ella’s choice to pursue a life with Buttons demonstrated women’s shifting autonomy, especially in romantic relationships, compared to the time of early versions of “Cinderella.”  I also thought this ending taught the valuable lesson of placing real connections above shallow relationships. It’s an important detail Ella did not need to enter the haughty upper-class that once scorned her to find true happiness; her fairy tale ending came in her making her own decisions and choosing a partner that loved the authentic her.

As an award winner for its illustrations, the captivating images gracing each IMG_3603page certainly caught my eye.  Each picture does a tremendous job of portraying movement, light, shadows, and emotion.  One of my favorite images depicts Ella and Buttons dancing in the dress shop at night; the contrast between the moonlight streaming through a window and the shadows the waltzing figures cast on the floor is breathtaking.

Hughes uses a combination of black lines and sketching with blending of colors to create an overall appealing effect that is bold yet natural.  The images have an ease to them, even when the characters are standing still.  For instance, when Ella is first shown in her new gown, lines and colors used in her dress create a sense of elegant softness and glittering reflection.  The combination of colors around her support this appearance, adding a continuous, blended background that doesn’t simply cut off the picture sharply from the white page.

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I also appreciated the pages’ format from the initial look; all text enclosed was in aIMG_3613 black outline with the first letter of the text in an elegant font, resembling the look of classic fairy tale books.  Additionally, a small black and white drawing in the corner of each black box provided the reader with additional visual support of the plot and added an engaging reoccurring detail.  For example, when Ella leaves for the ball and Buttons is left all alone, the black and white sketch of Buttons walking away reminds the reader of this important detail not part of the classic Cinderella story.

Overall, I thought this retelling of a classic fairy tale was an engaging and beautiful yet modern version of Cinderella!  The historical setting of this magical book provides educators an opportunity to feed children’s interest in the past and their hunger for fantasy.

Madeline Schmitt

 

 

 

Trendy Tuesday: Dragons Love Tacos 2: The Sequel

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Attention lovers of Dragons Love Tacos, I have great news. Dynamic author/illustrator duo Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri have done it again with Dragons Love Tacos 2: The Sequel. For those of you who have somehow made it to this point without reading the original Dragons Love Tacos, allow me to catch you up. Dragons Love Tacos is about a group of dragons who, yes, love tacos. But, they hate spicy salsa. Disaster strikes when they have a taco party and the dragons accidentally consume salsa with little green peppers in it. I have got two words for you: Fire. Everywhere.

 

In this much-anticipated sequel, the dragons and their human companion go on a mission back in time after the world runs out of tacos. Familiar events unfold, including a repeat of the infamous party in which the dragons consumed the spicy salsa with their tacos. Salmieri reintroduces familiar scenes of fire erupting from the dragons. After a few more miscalculations with the time machine, including a trip to a time where dragons love diapers and when tacos love dragons, the dragons finally return to the point in history during which dragons love tacos.

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The dragons feverishly grab all of the tacos in sight to bring them back to the present day. Of course, every taco is consumed on the journey back with the exception of one. This taco is used to plant a taco tree, and everyone celebrates the return of tacos.

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If you loved Dragons Love Tacos, you are going to adore the sequel. Rubin has brilliantly outdone himself. His writing style is hysterical for all ages. The tone is casual. He captures the thought processes and feelings of the characters on their mission. Rubin imbues an incredible amount of personality in his prose. At times, he shouts in all capital letters. He conveys the devastation of the lack of tacos my repeatedly placing emphasis on the fact that there are no tacos. “None. Nada. Nil.” Not only is his language fun, but it is rich!

Dragons Love Tacos 2: The Sequel is made especially phenomenal by Salmieri’s illustrations. The imaginative colored-pencil drawings perfectly match the fun, casual tone of the writing. Salmieri reintroduces scenes from the previous book, ensuring that readers make the connection to their old favorite story. His illustrations offer support of the rich text in a variety of ways: At times, he uses the full, double-page spreads to communicate size or large-scale events. At other times, he brilliantly captures the expressions of the highly animated characters.

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The illustrations themselves are hilarious. Upon closer inspection of almost any one of them, you are bound to notice a fun, subtle element. The details really make this book spectacular. Just look at the end pages. I want them made into wallpaper! Even the inside flap gives a fun preview of what’s to come.

Readers, regardless of if you have had the great fortune of reading Dragons Love Tacos or not, Dragons Love Tacos 2: The Sequel is a must-read. I mean, who doesn’t love dragons, and who doesn’t love tacos? But them together, and we have a true masterpiece. This book is fun, endlessly engaging, and does incredible justice for the Dragons Love Tacos series. I look forward to a third story in this saga.

Casey Crosson

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Marvelous New Picture Book Monday: Happy Halloween!

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With Halloween right around the corner, I could not think of a more fitting book to choose than Happy Halloween! This book was written and illustrated by Pintachan, and is perfect for this spooky season. It does not follow the typical layout of a children’s story in that there is not a storyline that the book follows. However, this does not take away from the enjoyment that comes from reading it. 

This is a completely interactive story, with the main focus being to look at how the center faces transition and change with every page turn. With this story, the illustrations are what make up the storyline, with the text only being their to narrate the face changes. However, the font of the text is large, making it easy for little children to see and understand that the words are working with the pictures in some way and that their only focus should not be just on the illustrations. This makes it an excellent book for children who are just learning print concepts and how exactly text and pictures work together.  This is a book that should primarily be read to younger children, who are learning what exactly the purpose of a book is and how it works. With this story, they learn how turning the pages leads to new content and how the action that happens on the previous page affects what happens on the next page.

The stroyline follows the pattern of a spider scaring four different characters: a ghost, a witch, a pumpkin, and a skeleton. Each time the spider scares one of the characters, its face transitions into something else. Through reading the text and looking at the pictures, children can start to understand how the action of the main character, the spider, in turn impacts the other four characters. For example, when the spider yells “Boo!” at the witch, she turns into a cat. This introduces the concept of action, reaction that many books follow.

As children pick up on this pattern, they anticipate the page turn and reach for the book to do it themselves. The thickness of the pages make it easier for young children to turn, which gives them the opportunity to feel as though they are helping the adult read the book in some way. They are also more inclined to want to turn the pages as they realize that turning the pages results in a new face. Thus, this is an excellent story for adults to read to children at a young age as it keeps them interested with interactivity and colorful pictures. Overall, this is a story that I would highly recommend for adults to have both in the classroom and at home.

-Lucy Brumfield

Free Friday: Gonna Roll the Bones

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Being completely unconstrained in book choice this Friday, I took to the shelves to really indulge myself and make the most of the opportunity to review any book of my choosing. I perused several sections, glancing first through my favorite authors (Chris van Allsburg and David Wiesner) but didn’t see any of their familiar works that particularly caught my eye. I rifled through a collection of new books, but again, wasn’t grabbed by any. Disgruntled and still hungry for an unfound treasure, I prepared to sit on my options and come back later in the afternoon, when the display section in the middle of the library grasped ahold of my sweeping glance. Halloween themed books! And the first one I picked up was illustrated by Wiesner! My delight was tangible and I giddily snatched up my find and hurried to comfy seat. I had managed to stumble upon a book that I had never heard of and is honestly quite eerie, but since Halloween is right around the corner and it’s Friday, why not? This is Gonna Roll the Bones by Fritz Leiber, adapted for children by Sarah L. Thomson, and illustrated by David Wiesner.

Gonna Roll the Bones (2004) is adapted from a short story of the same title written by Leiber in 1967. It was originally published in the book Dangerous Visions which was a collection of science fiction and thriller stories. However, the story came to the attention of David Wiesner while he was in college at the Rhode Island School of Art and Design. Wiesner says that, “<He> was captivated by the story, and was excited by the imagery, which was so rich with detail and atmosphere” (Author’s Note, Gonna Roll the Bones, 2004). Wiesner, already interested in wordless story telling even then, decided to use this story for his last senior project. This would be the first of many fantastic wordless stories that Wiesner would create. Upon revisiting it in 2004, he refined his original sketches and asked Sarah L. Thomson to put words to it, thus creating a new book out of an old story.

The story itself is spooky to say the least, but begins innocently enough as the main character Joe Slattermill becomes fed up with his rickety house and bored of the company of his mother and wife. Joe finds comfort in the Boneyard, a new gambling hall in town. Joe takes to playing craps, but the game is not one of chance, for Joe has mastered the art of “rolling the bones” and can will certain dice combinations upon each toss. He uses his skill to slowly win a sizable pot, though a cloaked figure with his hat pulled low catches Joe’s eye. Joe allows himself to lose a roll in order for the dice to be passed around the table to the mysterious man. The “Big Gambler” as Joe refers to him also has a method of manipulating the dice, though noticeably cheating. He wins incredulous amounts and takes all the money at the table. Eventually, it is only Joe left and he goes all in up against the cloaked foe. Joe calls him out on his cheating and the Big Gambler turns the dice over to Joe. Joe intentionally mis-rolls the dice so that they go straight at the man’s shadowed face… and through his eyes, rattling around in his empty skull! Joe is playing against Death. But, undeterred he continues his game, betting his life and soul for everything in the world. And he makes a mistake and looses. A sprawling bar fight ensues, but Joe manages to escape to the streets. He heads straight for home, though he takes the long way… around the world.

The writing for this book is well adapted, especially if one were to revisit the original text. The language and content are brought to an appropriate level and maturity for upper elementary and middle school readers, though Thomson avoids making the mistake of being condescending and writing down to her audience. The text is thick, unlike many of Wiesner’s books, with entire pages being devoted to the written story. However, Wiesner’s illustrations do not resist the text heavy structure, but settle into bigger picture depictions, reminiscent of Chris van Allsburg’s style. Wiesner’s drawings are all done with pencil on vellum, giving the book an eerie, almost black and white feel. This is crucial, for it not only works brilliantly with the mood of the story to set a mysterious and slightly menacing tone, but it also distances the reader from the tale. The lack of color and the scratchy lines places the story as purely fictional, making it easier for children to read. This helps take the fear out of the narrative, opening the door for metaphor and symbolism to be more readily interpreted. Wiesner and Thomson combine to make a gripping story, fraught with lessons and metaphors perfect for older readers.

This story was adapted from a dark short story intended for mature audiences. But Wiesner took this dark story and recreated it, making it accessible to children, providing an exhilarating mystery and valuable life lessons to children. Not only is the story perfect for older readers in vocabulary, but the illustrations create a solemn tone that gives a thrillingly spooky effect to the harrowing tale. But this book is more than a chilling narrative, it symbolic of the writing process in general. It starts with rough sketches in a college notebook, and decades later manifests into a complete tale, folklore incarnate. Gonna Roll the Bones brings Wiesner full circle in an artistic journey. This book is perfect to add a little bit of fun around Halloween, tell a cautionary tale about the risks of gambling, and provide a sense of intimacy between fans of David Wiesner and some of the illustrator’s earliest works.

– Nelson Eiselstein

Traditional Thursdays: The Tale of Peter Rabbit

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For this week’s Traditional Thursday, I have chosen The Tale of Peter Rabbit written and illustrated by Beatrix Potter.

Since 1902 when the book was first published, multiple generations and houses have grown up with Peter Rabbit and his thrilling adventures. Numerous movies, TV shows, and merchandise have been created based on Peter Rabbit, and are continuing to be produced until today.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit introduces an anthropomorphized rabbit family with 3 kids and their sibling, Peter Rabbit. Despite the mother’s warning, the curious and mischievous Peter goes on to explore Mr. McGregor’s garden, only to get chased by the gardener. When Peter comes home having lost his shoes and his jacket, his mother kindly greets him with a warm chamomile tea.

The text is full of descriptive yet succinct sentences, and the straightforward nature of these sentences propel the story forward, keeping the story suspenseful. The illustrations depict Peter and his family in a realistic way with thin, fine lines and also in an intricate way using soft watercolor. Potter’s usage of muted color palette further creates a warm, cozy ambience.

This book is mostly remembered as a sweet, heart-warming story for many children, and the magical world and adventures of Peter Rabbit remain with many children’s hearts as they grow up to be adults. However, despite these comforting and safe emotions the book evokes, the book does contain content that can be deemed as inappropriate and upsetting for certain children and adults. For instance, the children are told that Peter’s Father was “put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor”, and Peter is absolutely frightened by Mr. McGregor who chases him with a rake.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit is a delightful, imaginative book that delivers a clear message through timeless illustrations and meaningful text. However, one might need to consider choosing The Tale of Peter Rabbit with more caution and sensitivity, depending on the audience of the book.

 

-Elle Kim

Traditional Thursdays: Goodnight Moon

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Immediately, this notorious cover page brought back memories of the countless occasions that I took this book to my mother and asked “Will you read me a bedtime story?” This was undoubtedly my favorite bedtime book as a child and I imagine the same is true for many others. However, I have to admit that reading it from an adult’s viewpoint generated a different experience- one filled with wonder and mystery. Not in the childlike sense, but rather more in the sense of “What was going on in Margaret Brown’s mind?”

                This book has sold over 48 million copies worldwide and is nowadays considered a classic picture book for children. However, many might be surprised to learn that this book was not an immediate hit in the market. In fact, it took many years to rise in popularity, as it was published in 1947 and was not even admitted into the New York Public Library’s collection until twenty years later. The librarian responsible for this choice stated that she did not approve of the book’s ‘here and now’ take on a bedtime routine, which opposed the traditional route of fantasy and fairytales.

                However, the ‘here and now’ approach of the book adheres with the book’s apparent purpose of putting children to sleep. The main character, the bunny, wishes everything in sight “Goodnight”, starting with figures within picture frames, moving outward to items in the room, and then moving outward to items outside, saying “Goodnight stars” and “Goodnight air”. This progression mimics the one of a child’s thoughts as they drift away into sleep and it finishes with perhaps a child’s last thought before they slip away: “Goodnight noises everywhere”.

                Furthermore, the steady rhythm of the text is also present to help lull little ones to sleep, as the pacing even slows when the bunny begins wishing everything “Goodnight”.  However, the order in which the bunny wishes items “goodnight” caught me off guard, as I was expecting a symmetrical parting in the same order that the items were introduced. However, Brown utilizes her artistic license in that she dodges this order and doesn’t even include the same collection of items in the goodnight section. Also her choice of items to include in the room seems odd: a bowl of mush next to a comb and a brush, a young mouse, and who actually is the quiet old lady in the corner whispering ‘hush’? As strange as these seem, perhaps the most mysterious decision that she made was the unillustrated page that says “Goodnight nobody.” While no one may know the true meaning behind this page and her other unpredictable choices, one does have to admit that they will make rereads more interesting and enjoyable (and, let’s face it, rereads are going to happen).

                As an adult reader, another rather puzzling aspect of the book was its illustrations. While I’m sure the buzzing array of bright reds, greens, and yellow are interesting to a child’s eye, to an adult it’s less than aesthetically pleasing and almost dizzying. Additionally, such vivid colors and patterns are less expected than soft, peaceful pastels in a book that is intended to calm children to sleep. Nonetheless, the illustrations serve their purpose and do so well. They offer great detail that supports the items listed in the text almost to the point that it resembles an “I Spy” game where children look for hidden objects in the pictures. They also demonstrate time progressing by the colors in the full spread pages growing dimmer and dimmer, signifying that it’s getting closer to bedtime.

                This classic is printed in board books, paperbacks, and hardbacks, which is understandable as this book could be read to children in a wide span of ages. As it happened with me when I was a young child, I could see this book quickly becoming a bedtime tradition. I could also see parents continuing to read this book to their children long after it was developmentally appropriate, because of the sentimental value it grows to hold over time. At any age, this book is sure to help children ease into sleep (with crossed fingers) and keep their parents awake wondering about Brown’s enigmatic choices that seem so unexplainable, but yet have come together seamlessly to create a timeless classic.

 

Sydney Hill