Author Archives: neelysnews

About neelysnews

Professor of Children's Literature

Marvelous New Picture Books: Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights

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As the voting season is almost upon us, the state of the country is being talked about more than before. As a powerful woman, I feel it is crucial to inform our children about how to be an advocate and not a bystander. For this new picture book Monday I chose Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights by Rob Sanders and illustrated by Jared Andrew Schorr for this exact reason. The book is progressive and not subtle about it.

The book is written as a to-do list for change and advocacy. Schorr uses strong and biting imperatives that sting the reader. For example, the first page reads “Assemble. Take action. Create allies.”  This type of language leaves the audience empowered. It is essential to teach children from a young age that they too can make a difference and how to do so.

Some illustrations reference specific movements as well. The is a poster that says “LOVE IS LOVE.” This aligns with the goes with the fight for LGTBQI inclusivity and rights. There is another page where a football player is taking a knee on the television. This hints at the demonstration done by several athletes, such as Colin Kaepernick, who have taken a knee during the national anthem to show solidarity against racism.

The contrast between white and black are played heavily in this book. One page has a white background with “pray” in black in the center of the right page. It is small and in an almost pretty font. In contrast, “STRIKE” is a few pages later. The background is black and the letters are white in all capitals and bolded. It is a full bleed spread compared to the acuity of pray. This comparison is done on purpose. The size of each word elicits is significance. Prayers can only do so much, but striking is direct action.

This book has received a lot of backlash for being too progressive and as garbage that will “poison child’s mind[s]”  (Amazon reviewer). Despite these one-star reviews, however, I think this book is what the world needs right now. It teaches kids how to peacefully get their voices heard. No voice is too small.

Enjoy!

Sarah Hirsh

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Free Friday: Spoon by Amy Rosenthal

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Are you a fork person? Or do you prefer a knife? Me? I am a big spoon gal. It became a convert after reading the ridiculously cute book Spoon by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. The book is about a little spoon who is envious of the other utensils and their abilities to do things that he cannot. Knife can spread, fork can do everything, and chopsticks are exotic. But what can Spoon do? The story is about self-acceptance and appreciation. The story is full of puns so no matter the age, everyone can revel in the cuteness of Spoon.

The mother is listening to Spoon’s complaints. Rather than saying “no” or “not true,” Spoon’s mom offers a listening ear. The ability for her to acknowledge Spoon’s feeling is a key lesson for parents to take away. One should hear what their kids are saying rather than shutting them down immediately.

 

 

There is also a lot of repetition. Spoons says that knife, fork, and chopsticks are all so lucky. That same language is used when the fork, knife, and chopsticks all say that Spoon is so lucky. This highlights jealousy and that it always seems better to be/do something else. “The grass is always greener on the other side” is a perfect saying to parallel how Spoon is feeling.

This is the only full bleed spread in the entire story. Since it goes from edge to edge, the feeling of comfort and family is felt and embraced. It makes the audience fell a sense of love and self worth.

This book is one of my new favorites. So if your not already a spoon person, you will be after reading.

Enjoy!

Sarah Hirsh

Traditional Thursday- The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

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Today’s Traditional Thursday on Neely’s News is featuring The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats! This classic book is one of Keats’ most famous publications out of his over twenty children’s books. Keats is renowned in the field of children’s literature for setting new standards on diversity and inclusion. It is incredible that in 1962 he understood the crucial need for diverse characters in books. I have not read this book since I was a child, but was immediately encompassed in the cheerful and amusing nature of the story as soon as I opened the first page!

The main character in this book is a young African American boy named Peter who goes on an adventure outside after a snowstorm. The reader gets to follow him through his trek around his neighborhood, playing around with the footprints he leaves in the snow and watches as he discovers what happens when you smack a snow-covered tree! Many of the activities he did in the snow were exactly what I did as a child, such as making snow-covered angels and sledding down hills. The book does such an incredible job of taking simple activities and making them incredibly appealing and relatable to readers.

I could guess that many people could see the cover of The Snowy Day and instantly remember reading the book as a child.

I believe a reason for this is the iconic and vibrant illustrations, personally one of my favorite features of the book! Peter is dressed in a bright red snowsuit and the plain backgrounds contribute to poignant foregrounds with snowy mounds, footsteps left in the snow, and a much-needed bubble bath after a long day of playing in the snow. The collage-like construction of the images allows the reader to focus on the important details on each page. Every page has illustrations that stretch from corner to corner, showing the expansiveness of the world Peter is exploring and inviting the reader to step into this winter wonderland with Peter as their guide.

On top of incredible illustrations, Keats makes sure to include rich vocabulary to excite children with. There are heaping mountains of snow and tracks left behind by Peter dragging his feet. The reader can even imagine what it would be like to be there with Peter as they read about the  “crunch, crunch, crunch” of his feet sinking into the snow!

The Snowy Day is an iconic, progressive book that is every child’s picture-perfect winter day!

-Abigail Suzman

Winner’s Wednesday: “You are (Not) Small”

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Husband and wife team Anna Yang and New Yorker cartoonist Christopher Weyant bring to the table the 2015 Theodore Geisel Award winner, You are (Not) Small.  A great picture book to introduce children (and entertain adults) to the size of the world around them, You are (Not) Small follows a conversation between two fuzzy bears who cannot agree who is small and who is big. 

The two bears argue about each other’s size until a couple of new friends (one even bigger and one even smaller) comes along and shows the bears that they can both be big and small at the same time!

A wonderful short, simple, and colorfully illustrated book for young children, You are (Not) Small is a fantastic way to introduce kids to the concept of perspective, and resolving simple arguments.  The story is told quietly but effectively, with just a few words per page and a major emphasis on the illustrations.

Naturally, the theme of two bears arguing about their size presents the book filled with humor and a few classic punchlines.  Though younger readers might need help understanding the significance of perspective in the book, the cartoon-ink style, use of watercolors with oversized format, large typeface, and effective use of white space easily draws in the attention of kids K- Gr. 2.  

 Overall, a wonderfully cuddly read that deserves a spot on this Winner’s Wednesday!!

-Alexandra Traini

 

Trendy Tuesday: Worm Loves Worm

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For this week’s “Trendy Tuesday,” the 2016 book Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Austrian and illustrated by Mike Curato came to mind. Worm and Worm, two worms in love, prepare for their wedding and realize that gender stereotypes don’t apply to them or their relationship, teaching children the power of love–and that gender is just a construct.

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The white backgrounds utilized in the illustrations highlight the simple, colorful drawings for the reader. Additionally, all of the bug friends are very emotive, which effectively conveys their feelings to the audience. The book both begins and ends with the title phrase “Worm loves Worm,” bookending the preparations for their wedding with their deep affection for each other. Highlighting the love between the two worms makes it clear for readers that their love is far stronger than others’ expectations for how they are “supposed” to act.

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Worm and Worm are never differentiated from each other in the text, an intentional decision made by the author to evoke how they really are the same. With scaffolding, this book can be used to bring up conversations with children about how, just like Worm and Worm, any human can love any other human, regardless of who they are and who society tells them to be. The love between Worm and Worm is the only thing that matters for them, and as a result, neither cares to be the bride or groom, so each decides to be both!

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Due to their unorthodox decisions, Worm and Worm are met with skepticism by their insect friends: “‘Wait!’ says Cricket. ‘That isn’t how it’s always been done.’ ‘Then we’ll just change how it’s done,’ says Worm. ‘Yes,’ says Worm.” In the end, Worm’s love for Worm triumphs over tradition, actively changing the course of history. This form of love-based resistance has the power to teach children that they really can change the world, by using positivity. Again, the book’s final line bridges the reader back to its title, teaching the reader that love is more important than society’s expectations.

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Worm Loves Worm is an absolute treasure.

-Emma Waldman

Marvelous New Picture Book Monday: The Sad Little Fact

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New York Times bestselling author, Jonah Winter and the #1 New York Times bestselling illustrator, Pete Oswald, team up to bring us a cute, silly read-aloud picture book that centers around the importance of honesty and telling the truth: The Sad Little Fact. Published in May of 2019, the story describes how once upon a time there was a little fact who couldn’t lie, yet whom “The Authorities” question and eventually bury to replace with lies that better serve their purposes. The little fact finds himself buried with other facts and all hope seems lost. But oh it is not! “The fact finders” dig out the fact and all of his new fact friends to allow them to walk free again. Some people ignored the facts and preferred to believe the lies posing as facts while others, with open minds, knew that they could not ignore the facts. This short story shows how dark and ominous the world can be when the truth is both literally (in the book) and metaphorically (in real life) buried and how we must do all in our power to bring the true facts to light.

The illustrations are charming and colorful with a clear contrast between the facts and those who want to learn more about the truth versus the lies and those who seek to bury the truth. The drawings are quirky and cute and there are lots of different shapes and colors included to portray what is happening in the story. For example, when the facts are taken away and replaced with lies, the color scheme of the illustration becomes dark and gloomy, with lots of blacks and greys replacing the once cheery and bright whites and blues. At the end once the facts are brought back into society, the original color scheme returns, with brightness and light being brought back into the illustrations.

This story teaches an important lesson about not hiding the truth (or you could say, the facts) and being honest and open. While sometimes it may be easier to replace the truth with a convenient untruth, as close to the truth as that untruth may be, in the end honesty is always the best policy. This book could be a great way to start an open discussion with children about telling the truth and about what things can happen if they try to hide the truth and cover it up with lies.

Overall, I think that the lesson that this story can teach and the conversation it can start coupled with the brilliant and bright illustrations make it a great book for children to read. That being said, there is always the fear that the story could potentially stand to oversimplify a complex topic which occasionally happens in children’s books dealing with tough subjects, so it will be in the hands of the adult to ensure that the child is getting everything they can out of reading this story.

-Emma Garcia

Free Friday: Good Night, Gorilla

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This Free Friday, I’ll be talking about one of my childhood favorites! Good Night, Gorilla, written and illustrated by Peggy Rathmann, is the story of a precocious little gorilla who steals the keys off of the zookeeper and frees all his animal friends. The story begins on the cover, which features the gorilla and the zookeeper. The gorilla has a finger to his mouth as if hushing the audience to make sure they do not give him away. He sneaks across the first set of endpapers toward the banana dangling from the top of the title page. The first two-page spread shows the ape nicking the zookeeper’s keys. He lets himself (and a mouse friend) out of his cage. The story, and the gorilla with keys in hand, follow the zookeeper making his nightly round.

As he says goodnight to the zoo animals, the gorilla frees each one. The final words of the book mirror the first, “Good night, gorilla,” this time with the gorilla tucked up in bed. The story ends on the second set of endpapers, the gorilla and the mouse are cartwheeling away; the gorilla finally has the banana.

The only text throughout the book is an iteration of “good night.” The illustrations throughout this book do the storytelling. They are in bright colors and are well illuminated, despite the story taking place after dark. The book is oriented in a landscape formation which is perfect to accommodate the train of animals following the zookeeper. The illustrations are all wrapped in a white border which gives the impression of watching a – mostly – silent picture.

Keen observers will notice each key the gorilla uses is color-coded to the animal’s cage. (Fun fact: gorillas are actually color blind, which makes this fellow very special). Also, the pink balloon slowly floats away. It is in almost every illustration, slowly getting closer and closer to the moon. On the final page, it can be spotted through the window next to the nightstand with a family picture of the zookeeper and his wife… and the gorilla.

This picture book was published in 1994 and features the opinions of zoos at the time and therefore does not depict what zoos are like today. Fewer cages and more wide-open spaces. However, this can be a good conversation starter about conservation and the way we should treat animals. Overall, this is a delightful book with wonderful illustrations that has been enjoyed for many years and will be for many more. I remember reading Good Night, Gorilla over and over again as a child and I hope that anyone who reads it now finds the same joy in it that I did for years.

~ Grace Billman