Category Archives: Ages 6-8

Winner’s Wednesday: When Marian Sang

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the cover page of When Marian Sang

the cover page of When Marian Sang

 

When I first saw the cover of When Marian Sang, I was immediately attracted to and intrigued by the faithful and engrossed expression on the singer’s face, her eyes closed and her hands folded in front of her chest, showing a solemn engagement in her singing and inviting the readers to turn the page and see her story with music. Rendered in Sepia-toned acrylic illustrations, When Marian Sang is a beautiful  collaboration between the author Pam Muñoz Ryan and illustrator Brian Selznick about the incredible story of Marian Anderson, one of the greatest singers in America and an inspiring role model of courage in a pre-Civil Rights America when people of color were not allowed to pursue a professional career in concert music. Through concise and genuine language, the inclusion of the actual lyrics from the songs that influenced Marian and thousands of audience, and the intentionally designed illustration that serves as a visual metaphor of the opera stage, the book immerses readers in the powerful voice and extraordinary music talent of Marian Anderson and presents a time of heart-wrenching social injustice in American history in a manner that is accessible to young readers, many of whom perhaps did not experience the same hardships at first hand.

Endpaper shows the opera tstage. The story of Marian Anderson is about to start.

Endpaper shows the opera stage. The story of Marian Anderson is about to start.

Right from the endpaper, the stage is set up (metaphorically, illustratively, and narratively). The stage in the illustration is the Metropolitan Opera House, which was the stage of her debut and also the ending scene of the book. With the page-turn, the curtains rise and the readers, as with the audience in the illustration, now sees a street view on stage and the young Marian sing in a fully-lit window, drawing attention from people onstage and in the audience.img_20170221_210422

Continuing the visual metaphor of the opera, the title page is visually designed as a program, with the author and illustrator named “libretto” and “staging” respectively. The verso presents a brief, poetic description of Marian’s voice as well as her life experience. The show starts now…

The Cover Page

The Title Page

One of the sparks of this book is its inclusion of the actual verses that Marian sang that had profound meaning to or symbolism of particular time periods of her life (sometimes also as a poignant commentary on the social reality that people of color faced).  For example, on the following page, when the text is talking about how Marian travels to sing for racially separated audience and the illustration shows the troubling and exasperating image of a “colored waiting room”, the verses that Marian sings are about the oppression of Israeli in Egypt, mirroring the oppressive reality that African American people were living at that time.

 

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When Marian embarks on a journey to Europe to learn singing, she feels homesick and starts singing on the ship; here, the full-spread page with sorrowful lyrics of a wandering child in the background of the boundless sea is filled with the deep connection and affection that Marian feels for her home and people, enabling readers to share her grief and uncertainty about the future.

Marian is sad to leave her mother and her country.

Marian is sad to leave her mother and her country.

"Sometimes I feel like a motherless child I long ways from home. A long ways from home. Sometimes I feel like I'm almost gone A long ways from home. A long ways from home."

“Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
I long ways from home. A long ways from home.
Sometimes I feel like I’m almost gone
A long ways from home. A long ways from home.”

 

The use of full-bleed spreads is dazzling, evocative, and integral part of the book. For example, the culminating scene when seventy-thousand people congregate in front of the Lincoln Memorial to hear Marian sing is depicted in a full-bleed spread (in a horizontal, landscape scale) to show the sheer number of people, invoking a sense of awesomeness and anticipation. The last scene, Marian’s debut at Metropolitan Opera, is also depicted in a two-page spread where Marian’s vibrant-colored clothes are in stark contrast to the sepia tone in the rest of the picture, highlighting the real excellence of her musical talent as well as the tremendous courage and perseverance she embodied.

 

People in front of the Lincoln Memorial, waiting to hear Marian sing

people in front of the Lincoln Memorial, waiting to hear Marian sing

the "final" debut

the “final” debut

 

Written with simple yet powerful words and illustrated in a way that faithfully captures Marian’s talent, dedication to music, and inspiration as an activist of social justice (in her own way), When Marian Sang is a brilliant, creative work that will fascinate readers of elementary grades. If I were to use this book in my class, in addition to a read-aloud and open discussion about the illustration, character traits, and themes of the book, I would also show my students actual video/audio clips of Marian’s performance to let them experience the magic and power of her voice in a different way, but just as authentic and influential as the picture book.

 

 

Posted by Shiyu Wang

Trendy Tuesdays: The Cat from Hunger Mountain

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The Cat from Hunger Mountain by Ed Young is a book about the greedy Lord Cat who has everything he could need. From the fanciest meals to the finest silk and gold clothing, Lord Cat’s life revolves around his possessions. He lives in a village that profits from rice paddies, and when a long drought strikes, everyone must move away. Lord Cat is able to stay with all of his riches up in his pagoda while everyone else flees the famine. “What would life be without all of his possessions?”

Eventually, Lord Cat runs out of food and is forced to leave his lavish home. His journey as a beggar teaches him the lesson that his possessions are not what is most important in life. 

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Ed Young grew up in Shanghai, China, and incorporates Chinese characters and patterns into his collages. He has an original style combining photographs, paper, and other textures to create his scenery and characters. On some pages, the collage is a mere suggestion of the figures and scenery. Although some illustrations are very abstract, the meaning is still clear. 

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Some collages are extremely detailed. Lord Cat’s face is composed of many different types of paper and photographs that work together to create one cohesive image. img_7491

 

The Cat from Hunger Mountain tells a unique legend from another culture. While the story communicates clear morals, it is not didactic. While the writing style is sophisticated, it is not too challenging for younger elementary schoolers. I would also recommend this book to teachers exploring fantasy and legends with their classes. The Cat from Hunger Mountain could be both a captivating teaching tool and a wonderful bedtime story. 

The Cat from Hunger Mountain was published by Penguin Random House in 2016. img_7492

Review by Charlotte Jeanne

Free Friday: My Pen

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Free Friday: My Pen

My Pen is an incredibly creative picture book by Christopher Myers, a Coretta Scott King Honor author and Caldecott Honor illustrator. Through the pages, readers glance into the mind of a young boy who finds solace in drawing pictures with his pen. He describes his joy in drawing with an almost poetic flair. The boy’s narration throughout the story makes his adventure more inclusive for the readers, as if they were stepping into his shoes and picking up his pen. It is an excellent tale that promotes children’s imagination in an age where many kids would rather pick up a tablet or cell phone than a book or a pencil; Myers suggests that these “old-fashioned” tools are essential for the complete creative development of a child.

My Pen immediately stands out due to its incredibly detailed illustrations. Myers cleverly drew each picture with pen and ink. One would think that a picture book containing only illustrations drawn with a simple black pen would be boring, but this book is anything but. Myers creates more lifelike scenes with a pen than some artists do with watercolor or oil paint. Each drawing includes so much depth; Myers details every wrinkle and shadow with subtlety and finesse. Just as impressive, each of the protagonist’s drawings look authentic, as if a child actually drew them. The contrast between these drawings and Myers’ actual illustrations is astounding–they couldn’t possibly have been drawn by the same hand, could they? The detail Myers brings to each of his illustrations is what makes them truly outstanding.

Myers’ subtlety in My Pen continues beyond the illustration quality. In my favorite spread, one in which the author draws a collage of children, he includes many children of color. Because the illustrations are black and white, and because it is not mentioned in the text, this is not something that a reader would notice upon first glance, but when I looked closer I saw shading, hair textures, and facial features that indicated that many of these children were black. Myers also included some white and Asian children, but the overlying majority is black. This is a perfect example of a multicultural book that doesn’t rely on its multiculturalism to tell the story; rather, it includes multicultural characters to provide readers of color with representation in literature and show the world that each ethnicity has diversity within itself. When I first read this book, I didn’t even ponder the race of the narrator or the author until I reached this page, but after backtracking and examining the pictures closely, I realized that they both were black as well. It is such an achievement to find a book that authentically represents our diverse population, and this book does that perfectly. I would recommend this for any teacher’s bookshelf and for any reader from kindergarten to fifth grade because the lessons it teaches are ones that anyone learn and appreciate.

By: Lexi Anderson

Winners Wednesdays – Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type

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Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type immediately caught my eye at the used book store last week. I had seen it in countless classrooms and home libraries, but had never gotten a chance to look through it. After flipping through the first few pages, I could easily see how the book has garnered so much popularity – and why it was awarded a Caldecott Honor in 2001.

The giggle-inducing picture book, illustrated by Betsy Lewin and written by Doreen Cronin, is written in a blunt storytelling style that adds to the humorous nature of the book. The premise is simple – the cows at Farmer Brown’s ranch somehow acquire a typewriter, and use it to communicate their demands for electric blankets to the distressed farmer. After a bit of back and forth, the cows and the farmer reach an agreement. Young readers will be delighted by the cows’ antics and the farmer’s ensuing frustration. Even though there is no “main character” among the animals, readers can’t help but root for the group of mischievous cows.cows-2

Click, Clack, Moo also plays with sounds and repetition that engage children in the reading. Almost every page ends with onomatopoeia that highlights the sheer absurdity of typing cows: “Click, clack, moo. Click, clack, moo. Clickety, clack, moo.” This repetition is the perfect invitation for choral reading in a classroom or other group environment!

The book’s illustrations are lighthearted, playful, and overall superb: Lewin uses bold lines and bright colors to invoke a goofy energy. Her use of perspective also draws the reader into the story. In several illustrations, the reader is situated behind the characters or objects in the scene, creating the illusion of peeking into the action. Further, the notes between the animals and farmer are included as part of the illustrations, so that the text and images blend seamlessly together.cows-3

With a witty plot and even funnier illustrations, Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type deserves a spot on every parent, teacher, and child’s bookshelf.

Post by Sami Chiang

Free Fridays: Animal House

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What would your dream home look like if you were a monkey? How about if you were a squirrel? Animal House, written and illustrated by Melissa Bay Mathis, is an imaginative and child-centered picture book that encourages readers to consider the idea of “home” from a variety of new perspectives.

The book begins with a group of children who want to build a tree house. As they begin to brainstorm, they decide to seek help from some animal friends, each of whom have a different opinion on what features would make for a perfect home. The pig’s home, for example, would replace traditional flooring with mud puddles. The finishing touch on the dog’s home would be a vending machine that dispensed bones, shoes, and other chewable goodies.

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Each page in the book is written from a different animal’s perspective, presented through a playful rhyming verse that brings the characters to life. Next to each verse, there is a picture of the speaker, which will help younger children understand the idea of point-of-view.

As fun as this book is to read aloud, however, the highlight of Animal House is the detail in the illustrations. Accompanying every animal’s idea is a full-page spread showing the dream home in all of its glory. The illustrations in this book make read-alouds a truly interactive experience – children will be so engrossed in pointing out the witty details that they won’t want to turn the page!

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After each animal has had a chance to speak, the group gets together and plans a tree house with everyone’s preferences in mind. The book ends with an extra-large pull out illustration of the finished product – a perfect model of how collaboration can ensure that everyone’s needs will be met. Every animal – tall or short, active or lazy – has a place in the tree house.

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Animal House is a fun and crowd-pleasing picture book that children will want to read again and again.

Post by Sami Chiang

Trendy Tuesday: Laugh Along with Baa Baa Smart Sheep

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Author: Charlotte Jeanne

Unique and full of humor, Baa Baa Smart Sheep by Mark and Rowan Sommerset is a great choice for Trendy Tuesday. Even on the dedication page, the mischievous Baa Baa can be seen causing trouble. Baa Baa’s tricks warrant the warning on the front cover.

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Baa Baa Smart Sheep, published by Candlewick Press in 2016, is a book about childhood mischief and silliness. It is perfect for elementary school children who find tricks and potty jokes to be hilarious! The book begins with Little Baa Baa, who is bored. Quirky Turkey comes along and starts asking questions about what Baa Baa insists are “smarty tablets” that make one “more intelligent.” Baa Baa convinces Quirky Turkey that these tablets are for him [Quirky Turkey], and that they will make Quirky Turkey smarter. The dialogue between Quirky Turkey and Baa Baa is enough to make readers giggle.

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The characters are very simple, and include Baa Baa, the trickster, and Quirkey Turkey, his victim. Although the characters are simple, the pages are dynamic and humorous. All of Rowan Sommerset’s illustrations are wonderfully expressive. Baa Baa and Quirky Turkey’s facial expressions convey the characters’ emotions and are easy to read. Additionally, all of Mark Sommerset’s writing is hand-lettered, making the book extremely creative and fun.

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(Above) Quirky Turkey voraciously gobbles up the “smarty tablets,” which supposedly make people smarter and are “only free to turkeys” (the “tablets” are actually poo).

When Quirky Turkey discovers that he has been tricked into eating poo, Baa Baa again becomes a bored little sheep. However, Silly Billy, the goat, comes along, suggesting that Baa Baa’s pranks are not yet over! This book is a quick read and is sure to make children, parents, and teachers laugh aloud. Creative, fun, and full of mischief and humor, Baa Baa Smart Sheep is a great choice for early-elementary-school-aged children.

Smooooooooth Jazz

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new-doc-2_3Take a trip back in time with Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph. Using a collection of original poems, writer Roxanne Orgill tells the stories of jazz musicians like Thelonious Monk, Rex Stewart, and Maxine Sullivan who all gathered one day on  126th Street.

This story started with an idea—all the good ones do—and this idea was a spectacular one in its own right. As told in the book’s introduction, Art Kane, in 1958, decided to take a picture. But not just any picture mind you, but rather a picture containing as many American jazz musicians as possible. Not even owning a camera, Art Kane partnered with Esquire magazine to help make this photograph a good one.

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Armed with the Francis Vallejo’s tantalizing artwork, Orgill tosses us lightly onto those sun-bathed sidewalks, surrounded by laughter, chatter, and smiles. We are no longer viewing the book from 2016, because we are standing next to Rex Stewart as he passes a small cornet to a little boy named Leroy. We are standing next to a group of men wondering where Duke Ellington is at the moment. We are comforting a frantic photographer who is attempting, without prevail, to get everyone’s attention.

This is a great book to remind kids that history isn’t dead. Instead history is in the poetry found between the covers of a book, or in Vallejo’s exquisite illustrations, or in the smooth jazz that they might hear in an elevator, or even in a single photograph.

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Post by: Stephanie Thompson