Category Archives: Ages 3 and up

Free Fridays: “The Quilt”

Standard

For this week’s “Free Friday” blog post, I just had to pick The Quilt written and illustrated by Ann Jonas in 1984. I stumbled across this book at the library the other day and was instantly drawn into its cover art, ultimately deeming this book a true classic. IMG_7630

The book’s quilted endpapers are the same fabric as the inside of the little girl’s own quilt—the book itself literally and figuratively cloaks the reader with the story, bringing them inside the girl’s world. The title page shows a sewing machine, which can bring up a discussion for readers about how the quilt itself was made.

img_7631.jpeg

The book’s language is very simple and straightforward—it starts with, “I have a new quilt.” The book is from the little girl’s perspective—she explains how her parents made the quilt for her, and introduces her stuffed animal Sally, inviting the reader inside her world. The story uses dramatic irony– at one point, the little girl can’t find the cloth used to make Sally, but Sally herself can as she’s right next to it, adding a playful element for the reader.

The simple and relatable language makes space for the illustrations to truly shine. Sparse, white backgrounds enable the quilt, the little girl, and her stuffed animal Sally to take the spotlight. Once the little girl brings the reader to her bed, through her bedroom window, we can see it getting darker and darker, as the room itself gets darker–can you find that fabric in the illustration below?

IMG_7632

 

Then, throughout the night, the little girl imaginatively envisions her quilt as a magical little town with many different areas to explore. The story’s turning point occurs as the little girl can’t find Sally, who fell (or hopped?!) off the bed!

IMG_7633

As she looks for Sally, the background becomes black and the little girl travels, in her imagination to many different places, all evoked with a variety of bright, contrasting colors. The little girl explores a circus, a neighborhood, a lake with boats and ducks, a forest, and more. 

img_7634.jpeg

In the morning, as the sun is rising, the little girl sees Sally at the edge of a cliff (her bed!) and ends up on the ground with her: “Good morning, Sally.”

img_7635.jpeg

img_7636.jpeg

I absolutely love how we never learn the name of the child herself. This is a very realistic depiction of children as they don’t often go up to people and say “my name is ____,” unless they were scripted to do so. Children just start talking about their lives, through the lens of imagination, which is exactly what happens in this story.

Additionally, It is very important to represent the experiences of people of all colors in children’s literature—the little girl in this book is a person of color, which is another one of its qualities that drew me in. Although written by a white woman, the author doesn’t center the story around the little girl’s race as many white authors do in children’s books, seen in either their story or illustrations. Ultimately, this book is a great storytime treat for children of all ages—I even read this to a fourteen-year-old who absolutely loved it! Definitely pick this book up at the library if you see it, you won’t regret it!

–Emma Waldman

Advertisements

Traditional Thursdays: Off to School, Baby Duck!

Standard

Hannah Rosen

Today’s traditional Thursday features a book that is nearing its twentieth anniversary. The children’s picture book Off to School, Baby Duck, which was written by Amy Hest and illustrated by Jill Barton, describes a child’s natural fear of going to school for the first time.

The book cover, illustrating Baby Duck happily going to school.

 

Even though this book is not new, the message that it sends is timeless and extremely relevant today. This book depicts a situation that almost all children going to preschool or kindergarten experience. In the book, Baby Duck is reluctant to leave her house in the morning. She is dragging her feet on the way to school. She does not want to leave her little sister or her parents.

In this illustration, Baby Duck’s reluctance in clear. The image captures the expression of a nervous child.

An interesting aspect of this book is that it is her grandpa, not her parents, who helps her to become comfortable with the idea of going to school. He is the one who tells her that it will all be alright. He listens to her fears and then goes up to the teacher to help Baby discover that she should not be worried. This communicates the importance of grandparents in the life of children. It depicts how grandparents can have a role and relationship with the child that the parents often cannot assume. The grandparent has a greater depth of knowledge and experiences to draw from, and, as someone who usually does not spend as much time as the parents with the child, can spot when something is wrong with a different perspective. Grandparents are sometimes less threatening and more comforting than parents. Many books today forget about the importance of having a strong relationship with grandparents, and I was happy to see it shine through this story.

 

Some aspects of this story are a little dated. For example, the names of the characters are not the most empowering. The protagonist, Baby Duck, goes by “Baby”. Children who are going into kindergarten do not want to think of themselves as babies, and therefore should not be called babies. Baby’s little sister is named “Hot Stuff” which is a strange name and also not really appropriate as the name of a baby sister. Also, all of the ducks at the school look generally the same. There could have been a little more diversity amongst the ducks.  Otherwise, the book has held up well for this time period.

The illustrations in the book are bright and appealing for children and adults alike. The illustrations of Baby Duck really capture the emotion of being nervous for school. Baby Duck really does look like a young child in the way that she positions herself and shows her emotion through her face and body language. The book is pleasant all around: in its illustrations, its story, and its message of bravery and new beginnings.

This final page shows Baby Duck’s new excitement for school and all of the new experiences she will encounter inside.

Trendy Tuesdays: Tidy by Kate Gravett

Standard

IMG_20190214_135149

“I did not have an intended theme, I just wanted to write the book about the badger.” says Emily Gravett, author of the post-modern fable “Tidy”. In it, Pete the Badger becomes increasingly distressed with how untidy the forest is and vows to clean it up. In his quest to sanitize nature, Pete bags up all the leaves in trash bags, digs up all the trees, and ends up destroying the forest, leaving it all concreted over and neutered. The anachronistic dust pans, mops, toothbrushes, and brooms throughout the pages offer a silly warning against imposing industrial cleanliness standards on our natural world.

The beauty of “Tidy” is that it’s didactic without being imposing. It doesn’t seek to shame it’s reader and it doesn’t force a reading as anything other than a fun, silly story about a badger. But it is, at heart, an environmental tale. We face huge repercussions when we misuse and neglect our environment, and while Gravett does caution that “if he succeeded is anyone’s guess”, it’s really a sobering thought that in real life we can’t just put trees back into their stumps. Gravett is making huge claims, but she’s not forcing them on anyone. Kids as young as 3 could enjoy the silliness of this book, but it can provoke thoughtful discussion at any age.

IMG_20190214_135249

It should also be noted that the illustrations are absolutely delightful, but we’d expect nothing less from a multiple-time Kate Greenaway Medal winner/nominee. I’d cheerfully recommend anything Ms. Gravett produces.

All in all, Tidy manages to be extremely fun and extremely thoughtful, and if you haven’t read it, I suggest you tidy up your bookshelf and make space for it, because it’s a keeper. Cheers!

-Josiah Pehrson

Free Friday: The Heart and the Bottle

Standard

IMG_3139

In 2009, The Heart and the Bottle, written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers, was published. We have been gifted several of his books the past few years and my daughters consistently choose them to be read to them. It is for that reason that, when I was searching for a story to start to introduce the concept of death to them, that I noticed this book. I figured an author/ illustrator that they’re familiar with could be a good start. My father passed away a few years before my children were born and I’ve struggled with how to explain the topic to them in an age appropriate way. So, per usual, I have turned to books. The Heart and the Bottle comes up in most google searches related to children’s picture books on death. I’ll preface my review by saying this story successfully made me cry the good tears but I have yet to read it to my girls- I am waiting until they start asking more questions.

At the start of the story you see and young girl and an older male figure going on a walk together, reading and discussing aspects of the world together, laying under the stars together, out in the ocean together, and flying a kite and exploring on the beach together. It is obvious they are close as he helps her make sense of the wonders of the world around them.

IMG_3142-1

One day, she goes to the chair he normally sits in to bring him a picture she had drawn and he is not there. She starts to feel sad about him not being there and decides to “…put her heart in a safe place. Just for the time being.” She takes her heart and puts it inside of a bottle. She says that it seems to fix things for her “…at first.”

IMG_3143-1

The story continues, showing her doing similar things to what she and the man did before, but she starts to forget about all of the wonderful things she noticed before. “She was no longer filled with all the curiosities of the world and didn’t take much notice of anything…” She moves into adulthood without much feeling, with her heart around her neck in the bottle (bottling her emotions). One day she comes across a young girl on the beach who is full of awe and asks her a question. The older girl doesn’t know how to answer her, without her heart, and that inspires her to try to get it back from the bottle. Unfortunately, nothing she does works and she doesn’t know how to retrieve it. The bottle would not break to release her heart no matter how hard she tries. It occurs to her to ask the young girl for help, and without any effort at all, the young girl reaches in and pulls it out for her.

IMG_3146

They put the heart back into the older girl and she goes to sit in the seat the male figure had sat in before. The end of the book shows her sitting in the chair with an open book, her mind full of wonder and imagination and again- “…the chair wasn’t so empty anymore. But the bottle was.” Without saying the words, this is a children’s story about love, grief, and moving forward.

I appreciate how the concept of missing someone can be transferred to any person who is absent from the child’s life for a period of time. It could be a grandparent that lives far away, it could be a friend who moves away, or it could be someone close to the child who dies. The story addresses very heavy emotions that can be hard for a child to experience, let alone try to explain. It doesn’t discount feeling sad or wanting to protect your heart, it is expected that will happen. It just shows that it’s OK to feel happy and in awe of the world, to form new relationships and move forward.

The illustrations master a balance of muted backdrops of nature with pops of color in the flowers in the first page spread, followed by intricate thought bubbles portraying the solar system, ocean, animals, plants, and the edge of the world, to a combination of the two in the third page spread. The facial expressions are simple, with an upwards line to indicate a smile to no line at all representing the sadness and lack of explanation or understanding of the feeling. The heart is portrayed both in the well-known love heart shape as well as the anatomically correct version. This is especially noted in the back inside cover of the book where an anatomically correct heart is drawn and labeled with proper titles of parts. The thought bubbles in the story are of importance to note as well- they ask questions that young children would find interesting, for example, although not explicitly stated, the young girl who helps bring curiosity back to the older girl whose heart is still in the bottle, has a thought bubble above her head appearing to question how elephants can swim. The story has a deep message but it isn’t without a fun sense of curiosity allowing for a mix of both hard and light topics. If something feels a little heavy or uncertain for a child, they can be brought back into the book with a smile.

For the child who may need help making sense of the harder parts of life, I highly recommend reading Heart and the Bottle with them.

Andrea Runnells

Marvelous New Picture Book Monday: The Honeybee

Standard

The Honeybee, written by Kirsten Hall and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, is a newer children’s picture book that became available May 8, 2018. It tells the story of a hive of honeybees and their yearlong journey from Spring to Spring. The illustrations stood out to me immediately- very pretty yellows and oranges with pops of pink in the flowers and black on the honeybees in the cover art. I am also drawn to anything flying considering birds and flying insects have been of particular interest to my 2-year-old and 4-year-old daughters this Spring and Summer. Why bees do what they do can feel mysterious and often the unknown can be scary for children. This story provides incredible imagery and descriptions of a bee’s life through the fun and information-packed lens a child can grasp.

The inside cover is playful with black and yellow stripes and the cute snippet, “BZZZ… What’s that? So you hear it? You’re near it. It’s closer, it’s coming, it’s buzzing, it’s humming…” with the whizzing bee trail around it. Reading that alone is exciting for the child, the “bzzz” sounds are unique to a bee and are fun to say and read together. It is very foretelling of the fun and exploratory story of the bee and its quest for pollen (as well as what happens after). The tone is fun and the sounds and rhyme of the story give it kind of whirling rhythm that is very fitting to bees movement. The story is accurate as a description of nature- it tells of the bee’s quest for nectar, it’s gathering of pollen, its zooming around, the return to the hive, the dance to show other bees where they found their pollen, the process of changing the chemical makeup to make its honey, how it’s stored, and how they stay in with what they’ve packed away for the Winter all huddled together with their queen. It’s an adventure into the life of bees with the bees themselves and both the writing and the illustrations create the perfect scene.

The illustrations are the right balance of bold yellow and black honeybees and subtle flowers with incredible contrast. The mix is just beautiful- pages of lovely flowers and a whizzing trail immediately followed by a double page spread of a happy, smiling bee.

 

There are pages of soft watercolor flowers and grey background details on a white background followed by a series of pages inside the hive with black background and thin white hexagonal hive patterns. The bees are given facial features that appear friendly and soft and not at all scary. This is great insight to bees as gatherers in nature and not just mean insects with stingers. The flowers contain pops of iridescent orange that emphasize the ultraviolet pattern bees see so they know where to get pollen. The illustrations of nature and the hive and flowers and the bees are slightly whimsical but still based in reality allowing for simple connections to be made between the story and the world around us.

Additionally, within the last few pages of the book, there is a great letter from the author encouraging kids to care about the future of bees and their effect on the environment. I highly recommend the book for children who are interested in nature and the world around them, as well as anyone interested in bees and beautiful books.

By Andrea Runnells

Where the Wild Things are

Standard

For Traditional Thursday, I chose the book, Where the Wild Things Are, written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak. It is one of the most loved and acclaimed children’s books of all time making it the winner of the 1964 Caldecott Medal for the Most Distinguished Picture Book of The Year. It has been on many teacher’s and children’s bookshelves all over the country, but what is so remarkable and timeless about this story? I wanted to delve deeper into the messages that Sendak is relaying to his young readers and how it still impacts us today.

This book is about a young boy named Max who loves wearing his wolf suit and making mischief. Through his rather naughty behavior, he is sent to his room without eating anything, but his imagination transforms his room into a forest where he could sail off to meet other wild things. While meeting Wild things, he was able to befriend and rule over these creatures becoming the “King of all wild things.” Together, Max and his friends were able to create all the ruckus and noise they wanted. However, he missed home and the smell of good food, so Max said his goodbyes to his dear friends. That night, he sails back into his own room and is happy to see hot supper waiting for him.

 

Through Max, Sendak was able to show all children and adults that imagination is a gift that we all have. If we are open to seeing the world beyond what is here, we can craft a world where we become the main characters of our own crazy stories. We can sail far, far away to foreign lands. We can befriend the wildest friends. We can become kings. Children are more open to expressing their imagination than adults. But does imagination ever leave us? It never left us when we were children, and it never will. It is a part of who we are. As a little boy, Max shows all of us not to be afraid of creating your personalized world. Everyone can live out their dreams no matter how wild they are, and we can be the individuals we’ve always wanted to be without being afraid.

Max shows us that we can silence our fears and be the masters of our stories. When Max stands up to the wild things that were roaring their terrible roars and gnashing their terrible teeth, Max says “BE STILL!” He becomes the superhero. As adults, we constantly live in fear without acting on anything. Instead of learning how to conquer our fears, we often sit and just think about it. If this little boy can courageously look at fear in the eyes and magically make them obey him, how different would our lives be if we did the same? Being brave is a choice, and Max is the perfect example of someone who makes the brave choice in order to lead and make friends.

One last thing, that I took away from this children’s book is the comfort of home. Max became very lonely even with his all wild friends and wanted to be with someone he loved. He chooses to sail back home despite everything he could be in his own world. I strongly believe that this teaches all of us that the feeling of wanting to be home never leaves us. My mother would read this teary-eyed if she knew that I missed her warm meals. If I told her that I missed the smell and coziness of being home. No matter how old we get even as college students, we all ache where we came from. Max shows us that there is the little child in all of us that knows that wherever our imagination and our life takes us, we can always come home, to the place where everything started. The place where we know hot meals await us.

This story teaches us many lessons from having an imagination, being brave, and knowing where we belong. Sendak is able to captivate his audience with his beautiful and creative illustrations while being able to teach valuable lessons that are still applicable to our lives today.

-Chelsea Yang

Super Happy Magic Forest

Standard

new doc 2017-11-28 17.14.00_2

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.

new doc 2017-11-28 17.14.00_4

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.

new doc 2017-11-28 17.14.00_5

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.

new doc 2017-11-28 17.14.00_7

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.

new doc 2017-11-28 17.14.00_3

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.

new doc 2017-11-28 17.14.00_1

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