Author Archives: neelysnews

About neelysnews

Professor of Children's Literature

Free Friday- The Most Magnificent Thing


I absolutely loved this book written and illustrated by Ashley Spires. I always enjoy books that have a dog as the child’s best friend because it reminds me of my childhood. That is what initially made me want to read this book, but there were so many other things that I loved about it. I think the title is so perfect for this book. It is vague, simple, and innocent. It shows the imagination and inventiveness of a child. It shows how excited children can get about seemingly simple ideas.

This story follows a little girl in her journey in creating the most magnificent thing. Spoiler alert: It is a scooter for her dog. She struggles in making it and eventually gets very frustrated and wants to quit. This leads a walk with her dog where she is able to calm down and clear her head. She then comes to the realization that “there are parts of the wrong things that are really quite right.” After this, she is able to make the most magnificent thing!

I loved the way the illustrations were done as well. Only the important objects, people, or animals were in color and 3D. The background is not important in the little girls design of the most magnificent thing, so it is just black and white with very little detail. It really enhances the other characters.

Something else that I loved about this book was the subtle humor that Ashley Spires put in to it. Pictured above is a page that says “They set up somewhere out of the way and get to work.” They are clearly in the way of everything, but a child wouldn’t realize that. It is so funny. She is poking fun at the way children think, while also illuminating how inventive and creative they are. The sky is the limit!

Both the little girl and her little dog are so animated and expressive. The way she appears is exactly how you would think a frustrated child would look.

-Caroline Saltmarsh

Winner Wednesday- The Snowy Day


For today’s Winner Wednesday, the book that will be examined is The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. This book was the Caldecott winner in 1963. 

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The Snowy Day is the story of a young boy’s adventures in the snow on a very snowy day. The story follows Peter as he explores his new, snow-covered surroundings and entertains himself in the snow. He puts a snowball in his pocket, and is sad when it is no longer there. Children will definitely enjoy this story, as most young children can relate to this experience in playing and experimenting in a snowy environment. 
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The illustration in the book are truly superb. They are made of painted materials that look as though they are cut up and reglued into different arrangements. They capture the feeling of the world you know being transformed by a huge snowstorm. They also help you see the world from the eyes of a child, as the snow piles truly look like looming mountains. 

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In recent years, this book has faced some backlash. The book has an African American protagonist, but was written by a Caucasian author. Some think that this is an insult to African American authors. However, it was written when very few books with African American characters were published at all. It shows an African American boy experiencing a universal childhood experience that transcends race. This book was very important at the time, as it showed that children who may not look alike can have similar experiences and can find commonalities. It also allowed for African American children to see themselves represented in a book, not as the side character, but as the main character. This book is important in the history and evolution of children’s literature, even if it can be replaced today by a more relevant story. 

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Hannah Rosen

Trendy Tuesday: “The Book of Mistakes” by Corinna Luyken


For this trendy Tuesday, I have chosen to review The Book of Mistakes. While it was published two years ago in 2017, this book is still very trendy and other books have adopted similar themes. This book qualifies as trendy because many of the books we have read over the course of the semester contain similar but unique themes of identity formation, especially the more recently published titles. The Book of Mistakes describes the progression of a drawing that has encountered multiple mistakes. The mistakes are continuously turned into successes and creative new ways to alter the drawing.


Furthermore, there are various pages throughout the book that are wordless. At the beginning of the book, the text is simple. It is used to describe the drawing, including which aspects were mistakes and which were intentional. However, when the illustrations become more complex, the pages become wordless, so that the reader may focus on the developments in the illustrations.

As the book progresses, the illustrations get more and more complex. They are mostly black and white and employ little use of color throughout. Towards the end, the illustrations use a lot of yellow as they begin to get more complex ad extravagant. On some of the spreads, there is so much detail on the pages, readers could spend hours looking at the pages.

Overall, I think this book is excellent. While the illustrations are beautiful and the words simple, it also has a bigger message: that mistakes help to make people who they are.



Marvelous New Picture Book Monday: “Sulwe” by Lupita Nyong’o


This week’s marvelous new picture book comes from Academy Award winning Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o. Sulwe is written by Nyong’o and illustrated by Vashti Harrison. It tells the story of a girl ashamed of her dark complexion until she goes on a nighttime adventure to discover the beauty in her darkness.

Nyong’o uses descriptive language to describe Sulwe’s skin color as “the color of midnight.” She writes that Sulwe did not look like the rest of her family, “not even a little, not even at all.” Her “midnight” darkness is contrasted with her mother’s complexion of “dawn,” her father’s of “dusk” and her sister’s of “high noon.” Nyong’o uses the times of day to extend the imagery of skin complexion.

The book explores a girl’s journey to self-acceptance as she sees her inner beauty. Sulwe is driven to shame over her skin color as her peers exclude her and called her hurtful nicknames like “blackie” and “darky,” while they called her light-skinned sister “ray” and “sunshine”. Driven by this shame, she tries everything from using an eraser on her skin to using makeup to eating bananas to lighten her complexion. After all of these attempts fail, she turns to prayer. Her prayer ends with a rhyme, “if you hear me, my lord, and would like to comply, may I wake up as bright as the sun in the sky” only to find “not a trace of daylight in her midnight skin.” She is consoled by her mother, who tells her to look for her inner beauty. As she goes to bed that night, a shooting star appears in her room and takes her on a journey. She sees the story of night and day as sisters and how people wanted day but not night, calling them names similar to the ones Sulwe and her sister get called: “lovely,” “nice,” and “pretty” for day, and “scary,” “ugly” and “bad” for night. Nyong’o draws this parallel between Sulwe’s experiences and the legend she is told. After realizing that only daylight is exhausting, the people plead to have night back, recognizing her unique beauty as Sulwe claims her own beauty.

This spread shows the descriptions of Sulwe’s family’s skin complexions

Harrison’s full-bleed illustrations complement Nyong’o’s writing and set up a rich contrast between light and dark. We see Sulwe standing on her own against a starry midnight sky in the opening spread. Her attempts to lighten her skin are displayed in panel format. The illustrations grow bolder and brighter as Sulwe goes on her nighttime adventure with a shooting star. The sisters in the legend, night and day, are pictured beautifully, their colors contrasting on each spread, but still mirroring each other as sisters do. In the final spread, we see Sulwe standing alone, this time in a light and bright background.

The most beautiful spread in my opinion, depicting night and day-two sisters in Sulwe’s legend

Nyong’o based the story on similar experiences of being teased for her dark complexion, as she outlines in her author’s note. Though she notes that the fantastical adventure Sulwe goes on is fiction, it symbolizes a journey to self-acceptance that the author did go through. With the obsession with lighter skin as a standard for beauty in African and African American communities, this book is a great way to push back and show children to value inner beauty. Even if this book does not serve as a mirror to a child’s experiences, the theme of self-acceptance is a universal one any reader will connect with.

-Elias Ukule

Free Fridays: Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope


Happy Free Friday! For today’s book, I will be talking about one that my partner and I read during class today and FELL in love with! The book is Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope and is written by Nikki Grimes and illustrated by Bryan Collier. This book actually made me emotional because its prose and evocative language were so powerful in making me remember Obama’s administration.

The picture book began with an African-American mom and her son watching former President Barack Obama on their television, and the son asks who this man is that everyone is cheering at. The mom explains who he is and the child has trouble pronouncing his name while exclaiming that he has so many friends (all the people on the TV are simply supporters at his rally). Then, the mom tells her son the story of Obama, starting from when he was about the same age as the boy.

Throughout the story, we see “Barry” (as Obama was referred to when he was younger) constantly being reminded by his friends and family around him that there is always hope, even if you can’t see it, hear it, or feel it–it will always be there. This is what Barry began to stand by as he grew up. In the story we explore his diverse family background and it eventually brings us to his rise to presidency. We see him grow as a young boy into a man, one who firmly believes that “yes, we can!” and that knows America is in dire need of a leader who can instill again a sense of hope for a better future. For a child that doesn’t know much about former President Barack Obama, this picture book would be a fantastic introduction to him. For a child that already knows about him, this book would also be a great choice to satiate their interests!






The way that this children’s picture book was able to evoke such a deep sense of emotion from myself and my parter was truly astounding. I think it is really challenging for a picture book to be able to do this. I will say that it was mostly the forthright and expressive writing style which evoked emotion for me. In the corner of almost every page was a small snippet of conversations with the mother and son from the beginning of the story. It was really fun to see the boy’s reaction to the story his mother was telling him: in one instance he asked, “He [Obama] didn’t give up, did he?” when his mom told him about the constant late nights and hard work the soon-to-be president was putting into garnering people’s support for him.

The illustrations also wonderfully captured how Obama aged throughout the story. During his young adult years, I really began to see how he transformed into the man we all knew as president. This book is hands-down one of my favorites that I have read in this class. I highly, highly recommend!

Happy reading!


Traditional Thursdays: Katie and the Mona Lisa


Happy Traditional Thursday! Today I thought I’d talk about a book that I absolutely loved as a child, and is still a staple on my bookshelf. Katie and The Mona Lisa, by James Mayhew, was among my favorite books as a kid, and I can remember begging my parents to read it again and again and spending many hours sitting on the floor looking through the beautiful illustrations.

The book begins with Katie and her grandma, who frequently visit museums on their days out. They discuss their favorite paintings, and Katie says hers is the Mona Lisa. When Katie asks Grandma what makes the Mona Lisa smile, Grandma suggests that Katie go find out! So Katie goes and looks at the Mona Lisa herself, and is soon invited to come into the painting. So she does. Delighted at having a visitor, Mona Lisa explains that she is quite lonely and doesn’t feel like smiling anymore, so Katie takes her on an adventure to make her smile again. Through this adventure, Katie and Mona Lisa find themselves in many other famous paintings, and causing more than their fair share of mayhem in the museum!

By far one of my favorite parts of this book is the illustrations. Done in a way that makes them feel like art themselves, I really appreciate the way that James Mayhew is able to breathe a new life into already established subjects of famous art pieces and settings. The illustrations also serve to depict these famous art pieces in a respectful way, which I believe they achieve, while also portraying a very compelling story about a little girl who gets to go into and literally experience the famous art that she sees.

Another thing that I love about this book is its ability to introduce kids to famous art in a way that is still fun and engaging for them. For me, at least, this book and the others in the series were among my first introductions to famous art pieces like the Mona Lisa, and I learned a lot about art and artists through this series. By bringing kids directly into the painting, not only is James Mayhew able to create interest in art, but he is able to explain the painting better and in many cases, explain the artists’ motivation behind the creation of the piece.

I love this book and the ability that it has to engage young children in a topic that they’re not usually interested in, art, and I definitely plan to use it in my future art lessons, along with the other books in the series!

-Katie Chabot

Winners Wednesday: “Drawn Together”


This Winners Wednesday, I am reviewing the winner of the 2019 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature- picture book section- Drawn Together, written by Minh Lê and illustrated by Dan Santat. You may recognize Santat’s name as the author and illustrator of 2015 Caldecott medal winning The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend. Santat returns with stunning illustrations that draw you into the world in the pages. But first, a little about the book.cover

The story follows a Thai-American boy who is sent to visit his grandfather. The differences between the two are starkly obvious in the beginning as the grandfather eats a more traditional meal while the boy eats a hotdog with fries. They struggle to come up with anything to talk during dinner and later cannot agree on what to watch on TV. The boy gets up to dig out a sketchbook from his bag pack and draw a wizard. Then, something magical and unexpected happens as the grandfather joins him in painting an ancient warrior. Together, they construct a world on paper that allows them to connect like they haven’t before.connection

Lê narrates the story through the perspective of the boy. The book has very few words, judiciously chosen to carry the narrative when the illustrations alone would not have. The words work in tandem with the illustrations as sentences are split on different two-page spreads, drawing the reader to turn the page. Lê uses ellipses to build suspense and make the turn of the page irresistible to the reader.amazing!

Santat’s incredible artistic ability is on full display throughout the double-page spreads. He uses multiple comic-like panels on each page to carry the story through its wordless start. In the little conversation that takes place between the boy and his grandfather, the boy asks questions in English while the grandfather’s replies are in Thai script. The speech bubbles in the panels are the only text until the grandfather brings his calligraphy brush and ink to join the boy in making art. After this, Santat’s illustrations explode out of the panels, replaced by colorful full bleed art across each spread. This shift corresponds with the pair coming out of their shells and breaking their communication barrier. The boy’s colorful wizard and the grandfather’s monochrome warrior construct a world that absorbs your attention with intricate details and color combinations. As Lê writes, they “build a new world that even words can’t describe.” Indeed, Santat’s illustrations leave you…speechless

Drawn Together is a beautifully illustrated book that shows the shift in the relationship between a boy and his grandfather. More than that, it is a book about the generational gap that separates the two. It shows that art can be a powerful mode of communication and connection, especially in overcoming a language barrier to bridge the generational bridged-Elias Ukule

Marvelous New Picture Book Monday: Home in the Woods


Home in the Woods, written and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler, was released on October 1st and captures the story of one family’s struggle over the course of a year. The front endpapers of the book reveal more context about the story and function as a map of the woods where the family lives.

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The book is divided by season and begins with a family portrait of six-year-old Marvel, her seven brothers and sisters, and their mom. It is quickly revealed that their father recently died, and Marvel and her family must find a new home. They find a shack in the woods and decide to call it home.

This book does not shy away from expressing difficult emotions. Marvel, the narrator, openly expresses that the shack is cold and empty (like she feels inside) and is honest about the financial hardship they endure. Everyone must do their part, as shown throughout the book.

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The book begins with Summer and progresses through the seasons over the course of one year. While the overall color scheme of the book has a lot of gray/green/teal, the colors used also change with the seasons. Above we see the reds, oranges, and yellows incorporated for the Autumn pages in the book. Winter is very white and snowy, and for Spring Wheeler adds pinks and purples and lots of flowers.

As you read along, the seasons, colors, and the family all change as life in the shack becomes their new normal. Wheeler shows Marvel and her siblings playing in the woods, making jam, and doing chores. She makes use of all the space on some pages, but strategically places some images in empty space to make them stand out. The illustrations have an old-timey feel, which makes sense after reading the author’s note.

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At the end, Marvel reflects on the love and warmth her family has brought into the shack. The shack is now warm, bright, and filled with love (like she feels inside!) and this serves as a perfect parallel to contrast her feelings at the start of the book. On the last page, the author’s note tells the story of the author’s grandmother, Marvel, and the shack she lived in with her mom and seven siblings during the Great Depression.

Wheeler’s ability to tell her grandmother’s story is absolutely beautiful and the accompanying illustrations are pleasing for both children and adults. I hope you all enjoy this book as much as I did, and Happy Monday!

-Kelly Santiago

Trendy Tuesday: A Computer Called Katherine


Inspired by the award-winning hit film Hidden Figures that premiered in early 2017, Suzanne Slade wrote her trendy book A Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the Moon in March 2019 to bring more attention to the black, female mathematician that the world didn’t even know about until recently.










The picture book explores how Katherine developed her love and passion for mathematics and eventually went on to become an esteemed researcher and mathematician at NASA. When Katherine began working at NASA, she was one of only two other women who worked there at the time. It has become trendy recently, (thank god!) for our society to be more approving and encouraging of girls and women to pursue careers and education in STEM fields, as for long in the past being a women in science or math was frowned upon and they weren’t viewed with the same potential and intelligence as men were. It is so important for books like A Computer Called Katherine to be available to young girls and boys, and one that depicts a black women achieving highly in the STEM field nonetheless! The process behind writing this book was no easy feat, according to Slade herself. She said she did mountains of research and interviewed dozens of Katherine’s colleagues and friends in order to most accurately depict her story.

The watercolor-like illustrations make the story flow easily and are very appealing to the reader’s eye. Veronica Miller Jamison’s (illustrator) mixed-media art pairs really well with Slade’s clear and easy-to-follow prose, and her use of blue hues throughout the story make the illustrations stand out. The launch of Apollo 11 is depicted in a series of panel illustrations, which create a dynamic and engaging sequence for children to follow. There is even a timeline in the back of the book where children can get a little history lesson to put Katherine’s story in context.

The author hopes that children reading this story will be inspired to pursue their dreams, no matter what they are, just like Katherine did. This picture book is definitely vital to have in classrooms; there is no child too young to read this or be read this to. If anything, the younger we read books promoting diversity and gender equality in different career paths, the better! Suzanne Slade really took advantage of this trend of women in STEM to create a wonderful story depicting the accomplishments of Katherine Johnson and celebrating and encouraging young children to chase their dreams. Happy reading!

-Niah Charles

Free Friday: The Color Monster


Happy Free Friday, friends! Today we’re taking a look at The Color Monster: A Story About Emotions by Anna Llenas. This book follows the Color Monster as he is initially “all mixed up” and learns about emotions from a girl (who is not named at any point in the story).

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I found a fun surprise upon looking under the jacket at the front cover of the book! While the jacket has four color monsters and the title of the book on it, the front cover has this design. This design matches the endpapers and introduces the reader to the aesthetic of the book. The whole book has this sort of crayon, collage, cut and paste kind of feel. It’s a whole mix of things, like the Color Monster’s mix of emotions.

2019-11-15 14-21The book follows as the girl describes different emotions to the Color Monster, comparing each of them to a different color. The girl explains happiness (yellow), sadness (blue), anger (red), fear (black), and calm (green), and shows each emotion with vibrant illustrations and accurate descriptions. This spread about sadness stood out to me because it showcases the illustrations, which seem almost 3D, and teaches kids that it’s okay to cry.

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In the end, the girl has helped the Color Monster understand his emotions and shows all of the emotions discussed throughout the book on the same page. The Color Monster even discovers a new emotion to understand at the end, which is shown in pink on the last page of the book.

The Color Monster is a great book for social emotional learning and helping kids make sense of their emotions. It’s also super cute with cool illustrations, and reminds me a lot of the movie Inside Out. This book offers educators a way to discuss emotions with kids, and I certainly plan to use it in the future!

Happy Friday!

-Kelly Santiago