Monthly Archives: March 2019

Marvelous New Picture Book Monday: You are Light


You are Light is set to officially be published on March 26th 2019 by Candlewick Studio. The book is written and illustrated by New York Times best-selling author Aaron Becker. Becker might be best known for his trilogy series Journey with the books Journey, Quest, and Return. The three books in this series are beautifully illustrated with stunning details on the page. Being that all three books in the series are wordless picture books Becker really conveys a compelling story through the detailed art in his illustrations.  In this video you can see how the illustration spreads came to life by Becker’s hand. The books give off a kind of dream-like quality that I also see present in his newest book You are the Light.



Similar to the creation of the books in the Journey series Becker painstakingly hand created the mock-up for the book You are Light. He did this by using an x-acto blade one singular cut at a time. After creating the physical mock Becker had to work closely with the production staff at Candlewick in order to make the book publishable on a mass quantity scale. When creating die cuts for all the book’s parts there was concerns with durability, cost per book, and safety regulations for sharp edges. After much work the production for You are the Light was ready for mass production.


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In the end Becker decided to use a frosted acetate material for the translucent circle panels in the book. When held up to the light the reader is delighted with bright colors across the spectrum being filled with light. Although the board book is a simple poem it can be interpreted in many different ways and it a good read for readers of all ages. Becker says that this book is meant to highlight the relationships between light and life, but the whatever others glean from the book is up to their interpretation. Below are two links that showcase the book and are worth looking at if you cannot get your hands on a physical copy of the book.

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Free Friday: Heads and Tails


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For this Free Friday, I am highlighting a children’s picture book written and illustrated John Canty called Heads and Tails. Rather than being a story with a plot and characters, this picture book is more of an informative picture book in the way the author presents the information. On the second page of each spread, the author gives 3 descriptions of a particular animal, characterizing the animal in ways that most young children would also describe the animal and be able to know what animal is being talked about. On this page of the description is one half of the illustration of the animal, usually the back half of the body. Each description page ends with the sentence starter I am a… and as you flip the page, the animal being described is revealed!

The author includes a wide variety of animals from pets that children might encounter in everyday life such as a cat to more unique animals that some young children might not have heard of such as a rhinoceros. The animals in this book exposes children to animals they may have never heard of before as well as also giving them more descriptions for animals they might already be familiar with such as a rabbit.

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The style of the book makes for a great read-a-loud option for teachers and students because of the way that guessing the animal being talked about is integrated into the writing of the book. Students can have a lot of fun reading along to this book as they guess the animal and also learn more about the animal through the descriptions the author chose to include.

This book could also be a great tool used in an introductory science lesson where the teacher is teaching about animals or environments.

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The illustrations in this book pop out with their color and attention to detail, especially against the white background of the pages. As you turn the page, the illustrations become more realistic and detailed.

-Sarah Ockenhouse

Traditional Thursday: The Story of Ferdinand



On this Traditional Thursday, I wanted to spotlight a book from my childhood that I recently rediscovered: The Story of Ferdinand written by Munro Leaf and Illustrated by Robert Lawson. I was recently perusing the Peabody College Library at Vanderbilt University for picture books to read with children. I noticed that the library had set up a display in the youth room, featuring timeless pieces of children’s literature like Frog and Toad and Millions of Cats. I smiled as I looked through the titles that I had adored so much as a young child. When I saw the classic red cover of “Ferdinand the Bull,” the name I gave to this book as a child, I was transported back to times spent reading in my house with my parents. I remembered how my parents had gifted me a small red bull stuffed animal for my birthday because I loved this book so much! Still, it had been many years since I had opened this book, and I was excited to experience it again as an adult.


The Story of Ferdinand was first published in 1936. The book tells the story of a young bull named Ferdinand, who isn’t very much like the other bulls in the pasture. While the young bulls fight and charge and compete with one another, Ferdinand likes to go to his favorite spot on the hill, where he sits in the shade and smells the flowers. On the day when men come to the pasture to pick the fighting bull who will go to the bull fights in Madrid, the other young bulls are beside themselves. They fight and run to show the men that they are the strongest, and should be picked. Ferdinand is unconcerned; he’d much prefer to stay in his pasture and smell the flowers. But, fate has other plans for Ferdinand, and he gets chosen to go the fights! In Madrid, when the crowd sees how peaceful Ferdinand is, they send him right back to his favorite plot of shade, which makes for a splendidly happy ending.


The Story of Ferdinand is more than just a timeless classic; it is a valuable and potent piece of fiction that should be used with children today. In the last few years, creative and talented artists and writers have been publishing some of the best picture books that the world of children’s literature has ever seen. Authors like Jacqueline Woodson and Yuyi Morales are publishing books that deal with important and relevant themes and present gorgeous artwork to accompany imaginative and powerful stories. Since there are so many powerful and important contemporary books, it would be easy to assume that some of the old classics are only valuable for the nostalgia they provoke in adult readers. Leaf’s book about Ferdinand the Bull, however, is a stand-alone powerful piece of literature. One needs not appreciate the classic nature of the story to see the value in the book as a whole. In my opinion, the most powerful part of this book is the collection of themes it portrays.


Ferdinand’s story contains themes about conceptualizing peace, appreciating solitude and worldly beauty, and the joy of doing nothing! Ferdinand’s peaceful nature is inspiring to readers. While the other bulls charge and fight, Ferdinand smiles as he smells the flowers and avoids the conflict. What I love about this aspect of the story is that neither the narrator nor Ferdinand pass any judgement on the other bulls. Their interest in physically engaging with each other is not worse than Ferdinand’s interest in being peaceful and calm, it is just different. When reading this book with a child, a caregiver might ask the child about times when they like to play and use their bodies like the young bulls (recess, sports, etc.), and times when they like to practice calmness like Ferdinand (reading, meditating, making art). Much like the bulls, children often feel pressure to excel socially. Emphasis is placed on having a wide network of friends and spending free times with those friends. The simplifying assumption here is that children who are “loners” must experience a lower quality of life experience. Ferdinand shows a much-needed positive example of how it can be nice to spend time by oneself. Ferdinand’s mother is kind and non-judgmental, which is shown when the author writes: “His mother saw that he was not lonesome, and because she was an understanding mother, even though she was a cow, she let him just sit there and be happy. This is a wonderful example for children who are inundated with messaging that they should spend all their time with their peers, because the reality is that it is perfectly okay to enjoy spending time with yourself and practice self-care. Finally, Ferdinand shows us that it is okay to “do nothing”! I work with kids and they love to sing a song about how loving to do nothing. When they sing this song, they laugh at its silliness but later reflect that it reminds them how sitting and thinking, or taking a stroll, or playing with a blade of grass can feel really good sometimes. In a fast-paced society that values constant productivity, it is nice to have Ferdinand’s example that taking a break and doing, well… nothing can be an important way to spend time.

Finally, if we take a look at the illustrations in this book, we can see how the illustrator Robert Lawson uses delicate and intricate simple line drawings to tell the story of Ferdinand. The art in this book is beautiful and not complex. There is no color and no mixture of mediums, which may be a shortcoming in terms of attracting younger readers and pre-readers, who are often interested in aesthetics more than plot. The illustration style, however, does convey the characters and their emotions extremely well, and a slight hint of cartoon-style lends humor and talking points to the book. I really love how Ferdinand’s favorite tree, which is a cork tree, grows actual corks on it. I don’t remember this detail from when I was young, but I now find it humorous and helpful for children’s development of unfamiliar concepts. The line work is very delicate, and the landscapes produced with minimal shading and no color are striking nevertheless. It is hard to think about the art in this book within the context of other, much busier, illustration styles. The Story of Ferdinand, however, contains a beautifully illustrated style that is perfectly suited for conveying the serenity and simplicity with which Ferdinand moves through his life.

-Hannah Salaverry

Winner Wednesday: La Princesa and the Pea


For Winner Wednesday, the book the I chose was called La Princesa and the Pea, written by Susan Middleton Elya and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal. This book won the Pura Belpré Award in 2018 for its beautiful, Peruvian-inspired illustrations. This book is a play on The Princess and the Pea, a commonly told fairy tale where the prince wants to marry a girl, so his mother places a pea under a bunch of her mattresses to see if she can feel it that night. Only if she can feel it under all of those mattresses is she fit to marry the prince. This book, La Princesa and the Pea, tells a similar story, but from a Peruvian lens (and with a twist at the end!). Therefore, this book is filled with Spanish vocabulary and Peruvian-inspired illustrations, making for a wonderful, culturally diverse rendition of this classic that can appeal and relate to more audiences than the original The Princess and the Pea.

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The story told in this book is very enjoyable! It is very similar to the classic story with one twist towards the end. While I will not give away the ending to you all, this small change in the storyline added to the uniqueness of this rendition, which was exciting to see. In addition though, I think one of the most interesting parts of this book is the Spanish vocabulary scattered throughout the text. Many of the important words, such as príncipe (prince), princesa (princess), guisante (pea), castillo (castle), etc. are in Spanish, which allows it to connect to and reach a wider audience than a book written just in English would. I think this book is especially interesting because it has a glossary of all the words that are written in Spanish at the front, so those who do not speak as much Spanish can still read and understand the book, while learning some Spanish at the same time. This book also includes a lot of good English vocabulary, so readers can practice developing that as well. The fact that this book spans both languages makes a well-known story applicable to so many more readers and also helps to develop language and vocabulary knowledge for two different languages. Finally, I think the rhyming that this book uses adds a natural flow to the book and teaches kids new vocabulary that might not have been used in the book if it did not need to rhyme. Therefore, all of these textual features really add to the amount that the children can learn from a book like this!

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In addition, the illustrations in this book are amazingly detailed. They are hand-drawn and colored and use a mix bright colors for the characters and softer colors for the textiles and the background as well. The illustrations are so intricate and well-designed and they really shine in this book. As Juana Martinez-Neal writes in “A Note from the Illustrator” at the end of the book, textile techniques from two different areas of Peru are what she based all of her illustrations off of for the characters’ clothing and the textiles in the background as well. She even went to go visit these two places in Peru herself to experience them first-hand. Therefore, Martinez-Neal really worked hard to understand the culture of the places she was trying to convey through her illustrations, which adds further authenticity and cultural awareness to the book.


I think this book relates really well with our current times. With the current push to represent more cultures in our books, we can use texts like these to teach readers about what different places and cultures are like, creating more well-rounded learners and thinkers. With a storyline that many children already know too, a book like this can help children focus on appreciating the differences in how the characters are portrayed, how the languages switch, and how the illustrations are designed, rather than just focusing on learning the story. Therefore, I think this was a masterful choice by Elya and Martinez-Neal to use a book that is already familiar to children in order to highlight and teach them about some cultural elements of Peru. Overall, I loved this book and the intentional choices that it made to show the reader another side of The Princess and the Pea. I think this book could be shared with and enjoyed by a lot of different readers and could teach children different ideas than are found in most picture books too!


-Katie Sopp


Trendy Tuesday: Introducing Death and Dying to children


Often times, adults are caught deciding whether or not to introduce young children to the topic of death and loss. The book Tim’s Goodbye by Steven Salerno explores themes of death, sadness, and how to say goodbye. This book narrates the story of a young girl, Margot, whose pet turtle Tim dies, and how her close friends help her to grieve his death and allow him to pass on from the earth. Margot has four friends that help her obtain all the materials necessary to provide her pet turtle a service: a French Horn for music, a box to serve as a coffin, balloons to carry Tim into the sky and sun, and flowers to send with him in his box.

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This children’s book does a great job of illustrating how someone feels after the death of someone close to you, the importance of community and support systems during the stages of grief, and hints at a life after death while maintaining a general position on afterlife. The aspect of time in this book is well written into the story line, as phrases such as “a long time” help the reader understand that the process of losing someone and grieving takes a while and does not happen overnight. The writing style of the book does a well job at creating a neutral tone where the reader receives hints of sadness throughout, but is not scared away by strong language or visuals.

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Throughout the book, the same color palette is used with overall yellow hues and hints of blue and white. The images are not distracting at all, and do not take away from the content of the book. The beginning third of the book only uses yellow hues, and it isn’t until Margot’s friend Vincent comes with the blue balloons that the color is introduced to the book. And little by little, more blue is introduced into the illustrations, especially when Roger and Vincent, two of Margot’s friends, bring a blue box to put Tim into. When Tim is released into the sky, a beautiful blue spread follows where the main color is now blue with hints of yellow showing Tim in a new place.

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Overall, this book is great for young readers as the text is not too complicated to read. This book should not scare adults from reading it to the children because of the gentleness it carries while developing the plot and development of characters in the story. A great read, and an even better book to engage with the topic of loss and death!

Maria Aguilera

Marvelous New Picture Book Mondays: Smile: How Young Charlie Chaplin Taught the World to Laugh (and Cry)


Smile: How Young Charlie Chaplin Taught the World to Laugh (and Cry) is a new picture book published in 2019 by Gary Golio and illustrated by Ed Young that tells the story of Charlie Chaplin’s childhood, his struggles, and how he came to fame. The book spans the realms of both an informational text and a whimsical story quite beautifully and includes abstract, colorful illustrations and applicable themes to the reader’s life as well. The storyline starts from Chaplin’s early childhood and shows how his life completely changed when his mom fell ill and could no longer perform. The family did not have much money, and Charlie, his mother, and his brother Sydney were in a rough patch in life. However, over time, Charlie learned that what made him happy was making other people happy and finding the connection between “Laughter and Tears” and “Funny and Sad.” These realizations ultimately led Chaplin to become the character that many now remember. Looking at the book as a whole, I think it explains Chaplin’s story very well, but in a way that is engaging and exciting for readers, rather than just a factual biography. I think that Gary Golio and Ed Young deserve praise for creating the informative, but very engaging, imaginative text that they did!


Cover of Smile: How Young Charlie Chaplin Taught the World to Laugh (and Cry) under the book jacket.

In terms of illustrations, Young only adds to this engaging and exciting mood that the story already gives its readers. The book jacket, cover, end pages, and the story itself are all created using what looks like paper scraps with pen added to some pages, which is a unique illustrative strategy that I found very interesting to look at as I read! The book jacket includes a pieced-together rendition of Charlie’s face on a muted tan background. However, as is alluded to with the colors used in the title on the book jacket, when you take off the jacket and look at the cover and end pages, the vibrant colors really shine and relate well to Charlie Chaplin’s personality that the reader will soon see in the book. Therefore, the text on the book jacket, the cover, and the end pages foreshadow what is to come in this book, which I think is a masterful choice made by Young.

To contrast with this colorful trend, the first few pages of the book, where Charlie’s struggles are made known to the reader, are much darker in color and are boxed in by a thick white border (as can be seen in the picture below); however, later on as Charlie comes into his own more, the illustrations renew their vibrant tone once again and fill the spreads to show how he has overcome the struggles in his childhood and pursued his passions and what gives him joy. Finally, another thing that I noticed about the illustrations was that in the bottom right corner of almost every page, there was a silhouette of Chaplin growing larger and larger as the book progressed. I presume that this is meant to imply Chaplin both growing up and growing into his own in terms of who he is and who his characters are throughout the book, which provides another way for the reader to track Chaplin’s growth and progress throughout the book.


An example of an illustration from the beginning of the book that uses darker colors to match the darker tone of the text.

This book also provides readers with a multitude of lessons that move it far past just a biographical story as well. In this book, Chaplin teaches readers about perseverance through tough times and how to find the good in not-so-good situations. For example, when his mother was too sick to perform, he still found ways to enjoy himself and make himself and other people smile, which is an important lesson to keep in mind for everyone reading as well. Everyone goes through tough times in their lives, so to have learned lessons like these early on is important in finding a way out of them later. In addition, as is mentioned in Afterword, the book also shows readers the courage and bravery it takes to put yourself out there like Chaplin did, but how much it paid off for him in the end by making people happy. Therefore, while this book teaches a lot about Charlie Chaplin’s life biographically, it also teaches many lessons that are applicable to the readers’ lives as well. Looking closer at the meaning behind the text can provide readers with a multitude of lessons that are not explicitly stated in the text but allow the reader to learn much more.


The colorful illustrations towards the end of the book when Charlie Chaplin comes into his own and enjoys what he does.

I think a biographical story like this one is really interesting for children and other readers because it can teach them about a person whom they may have heard about or seen before, but do not know much about. In addition to this knowledge about Chaplin himself though, the book also teaches readers about lessons that can be applicable to their own lives, which is just as important as the biographical knowledge that the text gives to them. Overall, this book keeps readers engaged with its whimsical storyline while still teaching them many new ideas about Chaplin and the lessons that he gives us. The book even taught me, as an adult, more about Charlie Chaplin! I do think this book would be best used with older readers due to its length and the topic that it covers, but I think this book is very thoughtfully created and can be used to teach a variety of audiences more about this historical figure’s life and his lessons in a fun and enjoyable way!


One of the pages towards the end when Chaplin becomes the man and the character that we know him for today.

-Katie Sopp


Free Fridays: The Lost Book


For this Free Friday, I thought it would be interesting to look at a newly published meta-book. Published this year, The Lost Book by Margarita Surnaite offers a unique read with an important takeaway.SurnaiteCover

The story follows Henry, a rabbit, who despite being surrounded by rabbit books, does not enjoy reading. One day he finds a book unlike any he’s seen before: The Lost Book. This book is not about rabbits and soon Henry embarks on a quest to find out where the book is from. On his journey, he makes a new friend and inadvertently discovers the joy of reading.

The illustrations are often divided into many panels within a single page. While the style is possibly less preferable to full-bleed spreads, the images are still very detailed and contain plenty of information. The smaller panels allow the illustrator to show movement and interaction among the characters with great success. SurnaiteIllustrations

Perhaps my favorite feature of the book is its meta-characteristics. Underneath the paper cover, the book is a replica of the Lost Book within the story. The greatest reveal comes on the final page when the human character is shown with the Lost Book and one of the pages from the physical book is in the fictional version.

Beyond its meta qualities, Henry’s story is likely relatable for many children; some people find books to be boring. However,  The Lost Book provides the opportunity for this misconception to be addressed and hopefully its quirky reality excites kids into finding the joys in reading.

-Rita McLaughlin

Trendy Tuesday: Jacqueline Woodson’s The Day You Begin


The front cover of The Day You Begin

For this Trendy Tuesday, I chose to focus on esteemed children’s literature author Jacqueline Woodson’s 2018 picture book called The Day You Begin. This piece of literature is illustrated by Rafael López, the same artist who illustrates such recent, socially relevant, and diverse books as the bilingual Maybe Something Beautiful. These two well-known and celebrated contributors focus on themes of diversity, personal identity, difference, and acceptance in their new book. The cover for The Day You Begin is shown above. The artwork shows one of the protagonists, who journeys through the book’s pages to find acceptance despite the ways in which she is different from her peers.


Jacqueline Woodson is no stranger to writing diversity and issues faced by minorities into her books. Most of her works, like the picture book Pecan Pie Baby and the young adult novel Brown Girl Dreaming center the experiences of Black people in America. These books display culturally and socially mediated experiences and provide either a mirror of representation or a window through which the reader can view the world. It is no surprise, then, that Woodson’s recent work also touches on themes of diversity, this time across multiple contexts. Unlike some of Woodson’s other works, The Day You Begin addresses diversity and acceptance with more nuance and flexibility of context. The very first page begins with text that reads: “There will be times when you walk into a room, and no one there is quite like you.” This open-ended and relatable feeling will allow young children from all different backgrounds to explore and understand a time when they have felt different, which lends a universally relatable narrative to the story.


Illustrator Rafael López uses imaginative imagery to give the reader a better look at the emotions and thoughts of the characters

One of the great strengths of The Day You Begin is that it addresses cultural and racial diversity outright, while maintaining that feelings of isolation and otherness are common human experiences. There are four main characters whose stories are told in this book, and each has a unique experience. Angelina feels isolated because she is dark-skinned, and her curly hair stands out amongst the straight-haired heads of her classmates. While they all talk about their fancy vacations, she is embarrassed to share that she stayed home all summer and looked after her younger sister. Rigoberto and his family immigrated from Venezuela, and he feels alone when the other children laugh at the way that he speaks. Two more minor and nameless characters also feel isolated: a young girl is embarrassed at how people react to the traditional Asian meals she brings for lunch, and a young fair-skinned boy sadly spends recess alone, since his classmates think that he is no good at sports and they don’t invite him to play. I love the way that the artist portrays these scenes. He uses color and tone to match the mood of each spread, and the imaginative elements like the leaves, trees, and birds that Rigoberto sees in his head when he pictures his homeland allow us to better understand the emotions and thoughts of our protagonists. Elements of collage and subtle watercolor backgrounds create the vibrant scenery these characters inhabit.


Isolation and lack of acceptance are common experiences across all different identities, and I appreciate how Woodson emphasizes this reality by showing the experiences of a diverse set of characters. It is important that she chose to represent the narratives of children of color, children from low-income families, children who are immigrants, children from culturally diverse backgrounds, and children who are bullied and excluded. As a result of Woodson’s nuanced approach and attention to displaying diversity, The Day You Begin is a wonderful and beautifully illustrated book to use with all children, who will find within its pages characters who represent both mirrors and windows, as well as an important message to think about and practice acceptance in their communities.


The last full spread of the book touches on the key takeaway for readers, which is the importance of celebrating the ways in which we are unique while forming relationships surrounding the experiences that we share.

-Hannah Salaverry

Marvelous New Picture Book Monday: Mary Wears What She Wants


We are in an age of children’s books that portray messages of acceptance of people from all backgrounds. When I initially saw Mary Wears What She Wants by Keith Negley, I expected the story to be about a gender fluid child but I was very wrong.


This book follows Mary Walker, one of the first women in history to be known to have worn pants. The book was published this year and discussion of it is fitting given the recent celebration of International Women’s Day. While the story may not be entirely historically accurate, it provides an important window for children to the ways in which the world has changed. It could also be a great conversation starter about the stark gender inequality that exists in other parts of the world and the ways in which not all societies have the privileges that America does. Negley includes a mini-biography of Mary Walker at the end of the book that describes her accomplishments beyond choosing to wear pants that could, likewise, spark interesting discussion with children.

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Beyond the written aspect, the book has lovely illustrations that are unlike those in many children’s books. There is a good mix of simple spreads and more complex ones.


The book could stand to represent a greater variety of racial diversity, but this may be reflective of the time period in which the story is set. I appreciate the focus on the colors pink and blue, which are traditionally gendered colors and Mary’s yellow clothing to signify her break from normative behavior. I enjoyed the mix of drawn media and the collage element with the cut-out shapes that comprised some of the characters’ clothing.

Overall, I believe the book is well done and would be a worthwhile addition to any classroom library.

-Rita McLaughlin