Author Archives: neelysnews

About neelysnews

Professor of Children's Literature

“Big and Bad” – but mostly bad

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This Traditional Thursday, I got the exciting opportunity to read a Three Little Pigs adaptation called “Big and Bad”. This well-loved tale had me eager to see a fresh take on it. Instead, what we get is a fairly bland retelling with somewhat terrifying illustrations.

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As someone who had nightmares over “Where the Wild Things Are” as a child, I can assure you those EYES would not have sat well with me. Also note the rather bland font. Later, some character names are emphasized with color, but it doesn’t seem to serve any kind of meaningful purpose with regards to the text.

In terms of narrative, we have a straightforward retelling of the traditional fable, with the exception that the houses are built as a trap for Big Bad devised by the various woodland creatures. Eventually when he gets scared up out at the chimney, he becomes a comet in the night sky. My biggest gripe with the narrative is that, being so blase, I never reached a point where I felt engaged with the mythos of a Just-So Story, so the only significant adaptation felt tacked on.

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The issue with this book, aside from the borderline surreal illustrations, is not that it’s that bad, it just really doesn’t offer much worth reading.  A story needs a reason, it needs to want to be given life, and frankly I found myself only bored or annoyed as I worked through the text. And with something so well-worn as The Three Little Pigs, there are already so many fun and thoughtful adaptations, I don’t know why you would choose this one. A few that I love include “The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs” by Jon Sciezka and Lane Smith as well as “The Three Pigs” by David Wiesner.

If you’re going to read a classic fable, I definitely recommend the two pictured above instead!

-Josiah Pehrson

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Winner Wednesday: Last Stop on Market Street

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For Winner Wednesday, I chose the 2016 Newbery Medal winner, Last Stop on Market Street. This book has also been praised as a Caldecott Honor Book and a Coretta Scott King Honor Book for its illustrations. Last Stop on Market Street is a colorful story filled with strong, but subtle messages about appreciating the beauty in life, even in places that may not seem as beautiful at first, such as a bus or the part of town with “crumbling sidewalks and broken-down doors, graffiti-tagged windows and boarded-up stores.”

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This book starts off with a boy and his nana waiting for the bus in the rain after church. The boy, CJ, asks many questions throughout the book, such as “How come we gotta wait for the bus in all this wet?” and “Nana, how come we don’t got a car?” His nana always responds to these hidden complaints with answers that give CJ a new way to look at the world. Despite his grumbles and his desires to conform to what everyone else is doing, Nana is able to start to modify his thinking to see the beauty in the small things, such as bus riding, guitar playing, joke telling, and greeting people, on their way to the last stop on Market Street. They ride the bus experiencing these new ways of thinking about the world until they reach their destination.

 

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The overall message of this book is very inspiring. Looking at each situation through a positive lens can cause one to lead a very different life than if one conforms to what everyone else is doing, such as riding in cars or just listening to music in headphones. Without the experiences of riding the bus or listening to live music from a guitar (see picture 2), CJ’s eyes would not have been opened to these new ideas. The other brilliant part of this book is that the message, while quite pervasive, is subtle in the text. Nana provides a new way to look at everything, which is surprising to readers, but not until the end does the reader realize the extent of the message.

I think the colors in this book also add to the message. Even in the gray rain or in the more worn down part of the neighborhood that Nana and CJ get off the bus at, there are still bright colors throughout the pages (see the rainbow in picture 3), showing that even in times or places that are not usually seen as very beautiful, there is still beauty to be seen. I really loved this book and found it to be both enjoyable and motivating to the reader. I would recommend this book for reading in many settings and with many audiences!

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-Katie Sopp

Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes

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Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes was published in November of 2018 and has received praise for being a “fresh take on a fairy tale” (Forbes). The book was listed on the New York Times best seller list and was featured in Oprah Magazine’s Holiday Gift Guide this past holiday season. The book centers around young Juno Valentine whose favorite shoes do not light up or have wheels. Juno’s shoes are frankly the “tiniest bit boring.”  On a search to find her “every day is an adventure shoe,” Juno stumbles into what the reader can interpret as a dream sequence or Juno’s imagination as she tries on the shoes of several famous women from history.

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One of my favorite parts of this book is that it does not shy away from the use of color or the use of unique words. So many times, in texts for young children vocabulary is simplified. This is not the case with Eva Chen’s book as she eagerly includes descriptive words such as cornucopia. The illustrations on this spread, and many others, is breath taking and gives an ethereal feeling that reminds me of fairy tales that I grew up on.

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In the midst of Juno’s search to find her shoes, Juno comes across the shoes of several famous and influential women from history, past and present. In the story Juno tries on the shoes of famous artist, Frida Kahlo. The illustrations on this page reflect Frida’s famous appearance as well as mimic the aura of her artwork as the page includes lush green leaves, vibrant flowers, and lots of animal life.

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At the end of the text Juno finds her own shoes and draws elements from each of the famous women’s shoes in order to make her shoes truly unique and hers. I really enjoyed that this book suggests that Juno looks to notable women from history as her role models for her shoe fashion, but also presumably in her life. At the back of the book there is a “glossary” of famous women’s shoes. I loved this feature of the text as it provides an excellent talking point to learn more about each of the famous women featured in the text.

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-Emily

Winners Wednesday: The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles (Erin E. Stead)

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Rather than discuss one of this year’s award winners, I thought it’d be interesting to highlight to literary work of a previous Caldecott winning illustrator whom I admire. Erin E. Stead has a unique illustrative style that is delicate and whimsical, detailed yet simple, and filled with lovely muted colors. Her work in The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas is no exception.

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The story tells the tale of a man whose job is to deliver all the letters sent to sea in glass bottles. The reader uncovers his love of the job and the inherent loneliness of a man with no name who never receives letters of his own. That is until he comes upon a letter with no labelled recipient. The remaining story follows the Uncorker’s quest to find the letter’s intended destination.

The book contains almost entirely full-bleed spreads, but in an unexpected way. The drawn elements often take up only a small portion of the page. Meanwhile, the background color(s) is/are blended seamlessly across wide expanses giving the illusion of larger illustrations.

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Stead also creatively condenses her artwork to indicate changing perspective. This occurs when the reader is exposed to examples of the Uncorker’s working conditions through mesmerizing depictions of varying natural environments. While not an imperative aspect of the illustrations, it is a creative touch that could be a great point of conversation with children.

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I was drawn (pun intended) to this book because of the name of its illustrator and I was not disappointed. Ultimately, the Uncorker reveals a well written, feel-good story about friendship in unexpected places while pleasuring the eye with the gorgeous, muted drawings for which Erin E. Stead is known and praised.

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-Rita McLaughlin

Marvelous New Picture Book Mondays: Islandborn

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“Islandborn” documents the struggles and successes of 6-year-old Dominican immigrant Lola. Her teacher asks the members of her class to draw pictures of where they live, but Lola has no living memory of The Island where she grew up. Instead she has to reconstruct the experiences of her elders living in the community.

 

 

She learns about the hot sun and the coarse sand, about coconut juice and mangos, and about the music that permeates The Island’s culture. She listens to these stories and creates more and more intricately detailed drawings as she reaches back into the recesses of her subconscious and engages with her cultural heritage. The drawings are rich and vibrant, reflecting a shared past that seeks discussion.

 

 

Lola’s relatives are afraid to explain the darkness and fear that gripped the island and forced them to leave, but eventually Mr. Mir explains Rafael Trujillo’s dictatorship using the metaphor of a Monster that terrorized the community. Only by banding together were they able to see restoration. Lola has to try to understand things in 6-year-old terms, but in many ways these metaphors of the Island and the Monster are much more powerful than the gritty, objective details of their history.

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Sometimes loss and trauma can crush a person to pieces, making them freeze up and leaving memory cold and empty like a blank page of paper. Lola, as a second-generation immigrant doesn’t even have the luxury of memory to lose.  But through her family bonds, her vivid imagination makes up for the lost years on the Island and offer hope of rejuvenation and restoration.

All in all, Junot Díaz has crafted a gripping, engaging tale that is accessible and thought-provoking for audiences of any age. I would highly recommend this story and will definitely be reading this to my children someday.

-Josiah Pehrson

Traditional Thursday: Goldilocks and Just One Bear

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Traditional fairy tales get passed down from generation to generation and for the most part each generations tales are extremely similar. This traditional Thursday I chose a “twisted” fairy tale that features a brand new spin on a not so new tale. Goldilocks and Just One Bear gives those of us familiar with the original story of Goldilocks a sense of closure. For younger readers they get a fun tale that tells us just how confusing the big city can be for a lone bear. Full of beautiful illustrations and an extremely informative view on the young bear’s perspective, Leigh Hodgkinson creates an experience for readers and their parents that will cause major flashback stories. GLD2

Marvelous New Picture Book Mondays: Elizabeth Warren : Nevertheless, She Persisted

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Given the disparaging quality of the news, it is good to have positive literature around for kids. This book tells the story of someone who came from less than optimal circumstance and ended up as one of the country’s most influential leaders. This someone is Elizabeth Warren. The book tells us about her childhood and how she learned the value of hard work in order to support others and those you care about. She took these lessons and used them to earn a spot as one of America’s leading voices against bigotry and close-mindedness. This book is a great pick up for parents looking to give kids a figure to look up to in regards to striving for success and achieving it fair and square.

 

Posted by Jacob