Category Archives: Ages 3 and up

Free Friday: The Heart and the Bottle

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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

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Marvelous New Picture Book Monday: The Honeybee

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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

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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

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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

 

I Just Want To Say Good Night

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I Just Want To Say Good Night

This colorful and entertaining picture book is a perfect bedtime story for all ages.  I Just Want To Say Goodnight incorporates the universal story of a child procrastinating their bedtime through a multicultural lens.  The bright and vibrant colors of the illustrations capture the setting in the African village beautifully, while demonstrating sentiment and emotion through the characters as well.  In addition, this book is notably a Caldecott Honor winner.

The book begins with the young girl Lala greeting her father and asking about his day.  The illustrations use the coloring of the sky to indicate that the sun is setting and it is almost the end of the day.  When Lala’s father tells her it is time for bed, she explains that she wants to say good night to a few animals in the village.  She says good night to the fish, the cat, the ants, etc.

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My favorite illustration throughout the book is the double page spread where Lala is saying good night to the monkey.  She kindly bends down to the little monkey’s level and offers him a flower.  The illustration is set with a bright pink and purple sky, and the sun close to the horizon.

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The concept of time passing, and night-time approaching, is wonderfully represented through the illustrations.  As the reader delves deeper into the story, the illustrated sky goes from sunset, to dusk, and then night.  Not only does the sky get darker, but the lighting and contrast in the rest of the illustration develops too.  Lala becomes more of a silhouette as the sky darkens, and shadows begin to appear.

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As time goes on, Lala has difficulty finding anything left to say good night too.  She finally says good nigh to a rock before following her Mama into the house.  Once in bed, she grabs her bed time book, in which the illustration and text both allude to the famous, and classic, bed time board book, Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown.

Author and Illustrator, Rachel Isadora is well-known for her wonderful children’s books in which she seamlessly incorporates playful and relatable stories in African settings and backgrounds.  She truly does a remarkable job of creating books with multicultural themes that children of all ages and ethnicities can thoroughly enjoy.  I absolutely loved this book, for its child-like humor and magnificent pictures, and would recommend it to any parent, family member, or caretaker that is looking for a fun and new book to read during bed time.

 

Casey Quinn

Bird, Balloon, Bear

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Bird, Balloon, Bear is a story about finding the courage to make a friend written and illustrated by Il Sung Na.

It starts out with Bird moving to a new forest and meet Bear. Wanting to be his friend Bird pushes through his shyness and musters up the courage to talk to Bear but it’s too late, he already has another friend.

Distraught Bird watches on as Bear and Balloon have lots of fun while they play, dance, and watch the sunset together.

Everything seems to be going well until one day the wind is blowing especially hard and blows Balloon away. Bird leaps into action and flies as hard and fast as he can catch the balloon, but it’s too late.

Bear and Bird look on at what is left of Balloon, and Bear finally introduces himself to Bird, and Bird now has the courage to introduce himself back. After that, they play, dance, and watch the sunset together.

This story is a light-hearted way to help kids address shyness when it comes to making new friends. By watching Bird work through his shyness children can see that it is not hard to talk to and make new friends.

 

Jamie Williams

 

Flora and the Flamingo

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Flora and the Flamingo

Flora and the Flamingo is a beautiful wordless picture book by Molly Idle. Flora and the Flamingo was a Caldecott Honor Book in 2013. Molly Idle illustrates a stunning book in which two unlikely characters learn to become friends and dance as one. The book starts off with a young girl wearing flippers and a graceful flamingo. The young girl copies the flamingo’s ballet, but is quick to look away when the flamingo catches her. The flamingo does a flip and makes the young girl, Flora, flop. As Flora is upset, the flamingo reaches out to her and they begin to dance. They begin by doing the same dance apart, but soon the unlikely friends join together to dance as one. The picture book ends with a splash and a bow!

I think there are so many special features in this picture book. First, I love how the picture book is wordless. It allows the readers to create their own stories. A lot of the book is left up to interpretation. For example, one could read the beginning of the book as the flamingo purposely trying to make Flora fall, or as a dance battle between the two characters. I interpreted it as Flora copying the flamingo’s dancing because she want to be like the flamingo.

I also love Flora’s character. Flora is a little girl that doesn’t fit the typical standards of being pretty. I admire that Molly Idle did not create Flora to be a perfectly skinny ballerina. Flora is a character that kids can look up to. She is realistic. If Flora could learn to dance than so can any other young girl.

The best part of the book is the illustrations and the interactive features. Idle nailed the illustrations in Flora and the Flamingo.  The drawings contain simple, yet very detailed watercolors. The consistency of color thought the book makes it very visually appealing. Even without words, Idle finds a way to give Flora and the flamingo personalities. The interactive flaps in the book are a fun touch for reading with children. They also allow for the book to speak even though there are no words.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book. Molly Idle tells a story with personality and fun without using any words. The illustrations are simple yet stunning, and the soft colors engage the eye. Flora and the Flamingo’s friendship is inspiring, and I cannot wait to share this book with a young person.

 

By Aliya Meadows