Author Archives: neelysnews

About neelysnews

Professor of Children's Literature

Flashlight Night

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Flashlight Night was published in 2017. It was written by Matt Forrest Esenwine and illustrated by Fred Koehler. The book is about young children who have adventures at night with the use of a flashlight. Although they are playing outside in a treehouse, they pretend to be in more exotic places, and in the dark their imaginations can run wild.

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The illustrations are what attracted me to this story. Part of each page is dark where the boy is holding the flashlight, and the rest of the page is illuminated by the beam and shows the fantastical adventure the children are having.

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They explore a jungle, a pirate ship, an ancient Egyptian tomb, and other magical places filled with new things to explore. Every inch of the page is covered with detailed artwork. Each page is mostly dark and neutral colors, and the illustrations and text work well with the dark and mysterious tone. The story beautifully blurs the line between fantasy and reality, and highlights a child’s vivid imagination.

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The writing of the story is in the form of a poem, and rhyming couplets are used. The repetitive rhythm adds to the mythical theme of the story, and immerses the reader in the adventure. Because the story is written as a poem, many of the details that are found in the pictures are not mentioned in the writing itself. The illustrations are essential to the understanding of the story. The writing style, pictures, and tone work together to make the story fun to read and explore.

Teresa Heckman

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La La La

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Described as a story of hope, La La La by Kate DiCamillo is a nearly wordless picture book that captures the emotions of the process of finding a friend. Jaime Kim’s illustrations use bright colors, incredible detail, and soft features to bring this story to life.

L 2This story follows a little girl’s journey as she explores the world in search of companionship. Everywhere she goes she sings out in the hopes of hearing a response from someone, anyone. Beginning with a daytime world the little girl explores and sings out, but hears no response. As she becomes frustrated she gives up until she sees that the world has changed. It is now nighttime and she decides to venture out again into the world in search of a friend.

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L 4Upon her discovery of the moon, she becomes incredibly hopeful that she has found a companion, but when the moon does not respond to any of her singing she decides to try and get closer. Climbing a ladder up into the sky, she calls with all her might to the moon but receives no answer. Truly defeated, she returns to her lonely, bland world. Eventually the little girl falls asleep, only to be awoken by a strong voice singing out. Her world is light up by a beam of light coming from the source of the singing.

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The little girl finds the rising sun beaming down at her. Finally, the girl’s call of “La” is heard by someone and responded to with an enthusiastic “LA! LA!”. Having found each other and successfully bonded to create a true friendship, the story ends with the rising sun and the little girl singing a beautiful song together.

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The author and illustrator notes at the end of the book discuss the creation of this story as simple designs that became a representation of human experiences. DiCamillo says that the message of the book is to remember that “even if we are small and alone and afraid, if we sing, sometimes someone answers back”. Kim’s note about the process of illustrating this story talks about her personal experiences as a little girl and trying to capture the feelings of loneliness, searching for a friend, and the overwhelming relief and love that comes with finally finding someone. This beautiful and delicate story of the search for friendship tells an incredibly relatable tale through mesmerizing illustrations that leave the reader with a powerful feeling of hope.

 

Josie Mark

Super Happy Magic Forest

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Super Happy Magic Forest, written and illustrated by Matty Long, tells the story of five brave heroes from the Super Happy Magic Forest who must go on a quest to recover the Magic Crystals of Life after they are stolen. These crystals are the source of the forest’s happiness, so they must be returned as quickly as possible.

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The heroes’ epic quest to save the Magical Crystals of Life takes them through all sorts of treacherous terrains filled with spooky and dangerous creatures, until they reach the “the very doorstep of evil”: the Goblin Tower. It is there that they believe they will find their crystals.

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However, after discovering that their Magical Crystals of Life are not in fact in the Goblin Tower, they return to the Super Happy Magic Forest, where they find that the true evil force who stole their crystals was there the whole time. They must banish him to the Super Creepy Haunted Forest, where he belongs. Finally, they can celebrate knowing that their forest and its crystals are safe from the forces of evil, and that they will always be happy.

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The story itself is very simple, with only one or two sentences of text on each page. The real fun part of reading this book lies in the illustrations; they are bright and reminiscent of comic books, with silly speech and thought bubbles housing the characters’ dialogue and thoughts. Much of the action of the story is told through these illustrations, and there are tons of small details on each page that make each picture almost like a story in itself.

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Even the end papers are illustrated like a map that shows different locations within the story, mirroring the style of illustration used throughout the book.

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This book is a wonderful take on the classic hero’s quest that removes some of the drama sometimes associated with these types of stories, and replaces it with pure fun. It had me laughing out loud at some of the characters’ thoughts and dialogue, and I found myself lingering on each page, trying to find all the hidden details within the illustrations. I would recommend this book as a fun, silly story to read to kids of all ages; I think that the story is appropriate for younger audiences, while older kids may enjoy finding all the small details within the pictures, almost like a game of “I Spy.” The story is one that celebrates teamwork and fighting the evil in the world, while also reminding readers not to take things too seriously, and to find the fun and humor in all of life’s epic quests and everyday adventures.

– Maya Creamer

 

Z is for Moose

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Z is for Moose is the creative work of author Kelly Bingham and Caldecott-winning illustrator Paul Zelinsky. This unconventional alphabet book brings a unique twist to the classic format with the addition of a fun-loving moose and a serious zebra. The confused moose attempts to insert himself on all the wrong pages while the zebra pushes him along through the alphabet.

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The poor moose is in for quite a surprise when he finally reaches the page with “M” only to find that the zebra has filled his spot with a mouse.

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Sorely disappointed, he makes his way through the rest of the alphabet, crying all the way. Realizing he has made a mistake, the zebra invites the moose to be a part of his own page, making it read,”Z is for Zebra’s friend, Moose.”

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Paul Zelinsky has done it again with colorful and engaging illustrations that make this book memorable and original. Perhaps the best part of this book, however, is its ability to appeal to a wide variety of ages. Because it is an alphabet book, it inherently appeals to toddlers learning their letters, but it also has the power to entertain older children with its humor and surprises. I would recommend this book as a fun family read, where siblings of different ages can all enjoy.

Anna Schellhorn

Big Words For Little Geniuses

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Big Words For Little Geniuses

Big Words For Little Geniuses is a children’s picture book, written by Susan and James Patterson, illustrated by Hsingping Pan, and published this year by Little, Brown and Company.  And yes, the James Patterson who cowrote this children’s book is the same famous adult novel author James Patterson that holds the Guiness World Record for the most #1 New York Times best-sellers.  James wrote this book with his wife, Susan Solie Patterson; this is the first book they have written together.

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This informational children’s book takes young readers on a journey through every letter in the alphabet.  Each page is dedicated to defining, explaining, and illustrating a high-level vocabulary word in a fun and relatable way for children.  It is like a dictionary for kids.  Although, it is notable that the definitions the Pattersons give for each new “big word” are not the kinds of definitions one usually finds in a dictionary.  These definitions explain the meanings of these words in ways that a young mind can easily connect to and comprehend.

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The book is also quite humorous with its explanations and illustrations, creating a more engaging and fun learning experience for the reader.  The pronunciation of each word is also included, so the reader can attempt to read aloud each word if they want to.

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The illustrations are very unique; they are very bright and colorful, and many of the shapes are round and smooth.  There is also a kind of hodge-podge sentiment in the illustrations, as some of the different parts appear to have different textures or to be made from different materials.

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The book even includes a list of more “fun to say” words on the last page, for teachers, caregivers, and children to have the opportunity to explore even more big words.

Overall, I think this is a wonderful book that really attempts to encourage young readers to get excited about reading and learning new words.  It is important to expose children to a variety of vocabulary, and this does a fantastic job of introducing upper-level words in a fun and playful setting.

Thanks James Patterson, for bringing your talent over into the world of children’s literature, and for encouraging young children to become young readers!

Casey Quinn

Greenling

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The inspiration for the text and illustrations in Levi Pinfold’s Greenling was, the book jacket tells us, “a chili plant growing through a crack in the concrete of his back step.” This 2015 book successfully captures those wondrous and innocent abilities of the organic: to both permeate its surroundings and to change hearts. Although the book has a wide lexical and moral scope, there is much for children of all ages to explore.

The book takes on the tone of a fable as it follows an elderly farming couple named Mr. and Mrs. Barleycorn and their moral understandings of nature. Mr. Barleycorn first discovers a curious, opalescent flower bud at the entrance to a water drainage pipe, and upon finding a roly-poly green baby inside, takes it home to his wife.

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Mrs. Barleycorn is most displeased with the child, saying, “It belongs to the wild, then, and back to the land it should go.” She is preoccupied with the impediments to her daily life: when apple trees sprout in her living room, she is concerned with her television; when they invade the car, she worries about going shopping.  The pages of her distrust are some of the most colorful in the book, as the natural color palette of soft greens, beiges, and light rose tints takes on the hues of bright yellow sunflowers and deep purple foxglove.

It is only when the climax of the story occurs, and a new edge of the conflict is unfolded, that Mrs. Barelycorn’s heart begins to change. “The boy is just strange, not bad … we should welcome this Greenling into our house, we’ve been living in his all along!” cries the woman. Once she has this revelation, the Greenling casts a “spell” on the land, causing it to flourish with vegetation.

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The high-level diction and elevated syntax, both here and throughout the book, necessitate inference. When the Greenling casts his spell, for example, he is “suddenly flowering with all the attention,” an unusual combination of biology, embarrassment, and beauty. With the line, “An old magic word, ling since forgotten, casts an old spell for weeks,” young children might be preoccupied with the idea of a spell and magic, losing the main thread of nature in favor of thinking of the Greenling as a witch or wizard. “You’re beginning to buzz like a drone,” presents a rare word that children might associate with electronics, and other words like “cuisine,” and “hurled,” are given few context clues. For these reasons, younger children might enjoy doing a “picture walk” through the book, reveling in its natural color palette and intricate mixed-media illustrations. Indicating facial expressions, changes in scenery, or posing high-level and open-ended questions could help early primary children to understand the content of the book. Older children could then parse through the short, poetic stanzas and their interpretations in more depth.

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The moral of the story could be interpreted as an environmentalist, vegetarian, or even just as kindness. The final page includes reference to the coming spring, implying that the Greenling was the catalyst for the seasons; this explanation of natural phenomena ties together the mythic tones. With the many layers of meaning in the text and images, children of every age can surely find hours of fascination in the artistry of the book. 

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Olivia Rastatter

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Many: The Diversity of Life on Earth by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Emily Sutton is a phenomenal informational picture book about living things on our planet. The story is told from the perspective of a little girl learning about the world around her and strives to explain the differences between species, relationships between species, habitats, and the importance of taking care of our planet to protect our natural diversity. The book is filled with vivid, watercolor pictures accompanied by succinct text and additional facts that draw upon higher-level thinking.

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The endpapers helpfully introduce some of the species that will be discussed in the book and are detailed enough to spend much time on themselves. The wraparound cover features a picture of a hot air balloon, which comes up later in the book as the girl is traveling and exploring. This also previews how many species are on Earth and introduces the fact that species are continuing to be discovered.

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The book teaches about organisms big and small and emphasizes that even though something cannot be seen, it can still be a living thing. This page shows an example of the main text, which is large, and then small italicized text, which includes supplemental facts. These facts involve higher level concepts and therefore might be more helpful when teaching to older students. They also include field specific and academic vocabulary. Things like microbes can seem kind of boring when taught, but the use of bright colors, fun shapes, and an interested character helps to make this subject engaging and cool!

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The page above shows the strategic detail of the illustrations in a sort of spot-the-difference type spread. This page explains that though species may look alike, they might not be the same, and though creatures may appear different, they might actually be the same! This is a difficult concept to explain and grasp, and this page does a beautiful job of illustrating this strange phenomenon.

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This page discusses many crazy creatures, and some of them have their scientific name included. There are some familiar creatures and some creatures that are strange and foreign. The creatures come from all different habitats, and the texts reiterates that new species continue to be discovered.

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This page includes clear, colorful diagrams explaining different aspects of creatures’ livelihoods and habitats. The first pictures are a good introduction to the concept of a food chain, another way this book could be helpful as an introduction or as a supplement within the classroom.

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Finally, this book covers the devastating topics of overfishing, deforestation, and overall anthropogenic abuse of our planet and all of its living things. This topic is not often addressed very early in school, but this book allows for the conversation to begin by showing readers the realities of human impact on the world. A follow up discussion could include ways to protect species and our planet.

Overall, this book is chock full of interesting and necessary information about the world around us. It can be easily used as a helpful teaching tool in science, but it’s many illustrations make it fun to read recreationally as well. It is sometimes difficult to get children interested in science topics like this book covers, and this book employs successful methods of detailed, bright illustrations, concise text, and separated additional facts to engage readers.

Rachel Platt