Category Archives: fiction

Tacky the Penguin

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Tacky the Penguin written by Helen Lester and illustrated by Lynn Munsinger is truly a children’s literature classic. How is being different a good thing? Let Tacky share his story with you…

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Tacky the Penguin is an odd bird, he doesn’t do things like his companions Goodly, Lovely, Angel, Neatly, and Perfect do. Tacky greets his friends with a “hearty slap on the back” and always does “splashy cannonballs” off the iceberg. His companions always march 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4, but Tacky has his own way of marching.

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Because Tacky does things differently, his friends don’t pay much attention to him or include him in their activities like singing. Everything changes when one day the penguins of the iceberg hear the “thump…thump…thump” of Hunters in the distance.

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All of the penguins run and hide in fear, leaving Tacky to face the Hunters by himself. The Hunters say that they’ve come to catch some pretty penguins, so Tacky decides to show the Hunter what kind of penguins live on this iceberg. Tacky marches for the Hunters… 1-2-3, 4-2, 3-6-0, 2 1/2, 0, and they are very confused. He does a big cannonball for the Hunters and gets them all wet. Finally, Tacky starts to sing with his not so lovely singing voice and soon enough his companions join in! They all sing as loudly and as horribly as they can until the Hunters run away as fast as possible because these were not the penguins they came looking for.

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All of the companions hug Tacky and are grateful that he scared the Hunters away and saved them all. The penguins realize that “Tacky was an odd bird but a very nice bird to have around.”

This story is one of my all-time personal favorites because I think it does a fantastic job of showing how being a unique individual is a beautiful thing. It’s a message that can be tricky to teach young children, but Tacky’s story makes it fun and relatable. The illustrations done by Lynn Munsinger in this book are all hand painted watercolor pieces. The images have been praised for their vibrant colors and vivid facial expressions that contribute to an all around classic feel. The text itself conveys a humorous attitude, but Munsinger’s illustrations bring to life the character of Tacky the odd bird and highlight the fun he has while being himself. Attention to details is one of the key elements of this story, from the hairs that stick up on Tacky’s head to the way he slouches when he walks – every aspect of Tacky reflects his daring, unique personality. Overall, a fun family story, Tacky the Penguin teachers its reader the lifelong lesson that even though someone might be different, they can still be a great friend.

 

Josie Mark

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His Royal Highness, King Baby: A Terrible True Story

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His Royal Highness, King Baby by Sally Lloyd-Jones and illustrated by David Roberts is a royal twist on the classic tale of sibling jealousy. The main character, the sister, imagines herself as “the most beautifulest, cleverest, ever-so-kindest Princess with long, flowing wondrous hair,” whose ENTIRE LIFE is ruined by the birth of her baby brother, His Royal Highness, King Baby. The sister complains that the baby takes all of her parents’ time as they celebrate each of his ridiculous milestones. The innocent sister is (in her words) left to completely fend for herself, even though the illustrations don’t quite back up her dramatic viewpoint. The baby is constantly shown as an angelic, pudgy figure surrounded by unicorns and rainbows. The sister glares from the background, her jealousy apparent throughout the text. The illustrations include the Princess’ doodles, which depict her little brother in the way that she sees him – an annoying, smelly monster. For his first birthday, the entire family pours in to celebrate, leaving the Princess alone. She finally plans to dress up as a fairy and break the spell of King Baby. However, just as she enters his palace, he starts crying inconsolably. After everyone else in the family gives up on comforting him, she is able to quiet her brother immediately. They finally bond, and the Princess includes King Baby in all of her royal decrees and adventures. She still sees herself as Princess Big Sister at the conclusion of the book, but she’s definitively okay with having a brother.

My favorite part of this story is that the sister does not have to give up her princess identity in order to accept her brother. Instead, she includes him in her royal escapades. I think this is a good lesson for children that may have trouble adjusting to a new sibling. It shows that they don’t have to change themselves in order to be similar to, or stand out from, the new baby. They will be loved and appreciated regardless. The illustrations in this book highlight several interesting perspectives. The mother is drawn much like a queen, with a fancy dress and curly hair, while the father is typically shown in normal, casual clothing. I think this reflects the mother’s role as Queen of the Household and mother of the royal sister and brother. Additionally, the mismatch between the sister’s drawings/narrative and the illustrations is a fascinating difference to point out to readers. While the sister claims that she is left to make her own breakfast, the illustration shows her being handed a plate of eggs and fruit. Later on in the book, her drawing of the breakfast scenario appears. She is crying, holding a plate with a single egg that she supposedly was forced to make by herself. A cute detail throughout the story is the sister’s pet gerbil, who appears on most pages. This element contrasts the lavish royal lifestyle with the normalcy of having a pet like a gerbil. This mix of moods makes the illustrations more complex and visually appealing. Overall, I would recommend this book to any parent whose child is having trouble adjusting after the birth of a new baby.

Maddie Geller

Rabbi Benjamin’s Buttons

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Rabbi Benjamin’s Buttons is a beautifully illustrated picture book with a unique topic that will bring diversity to any classroom’s library. Written by Alice B. McGinty, the book tells the story of a welcoming Jewish Rabbi who loves for his congregation to be happy.

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At the beginning of the story, the congregation gives Rabbi Benjamin a beautiful holiday vest that has four silver buttons. He is so excited to wear his new vest to all of the special holiday celebrations. The Rabbi eats the food that has been specially prepared, and he is excited to see the smiles on peoples’ faces as they watch him enjoy the food they have made. As the year goes on and more Jewish holidays come and go, Benjamin’s stomach begins to grow because of all the delicious food, and his vest gets tighter and tighter. One night, while he is celebrating Sukkot, one of the silver buttons pops off his vest! He is so worried that his congregation will notice, so when he goes home he fixes the vest with a pin. He continues to wear his vest to more holiday celebrations. Finally, the vest has had enough and all four of the buttons pop off and fly into the bowls of food on the table.

Screen Shot 2017-09-12 at 7.58.32 AMThe Rabbi is sad, but he has an idea! That summer, he helps a family plant a garden, picks apples, goes on a hike, and his stomach shrinks! He hopes that the vest will fit again, but when he puts it on it is saggy and ruined. The Rabbi worries about what his congregation will think when he shows up without his holiday vest! Thankfully, his doorbell rings and he finds his congregation on his porch. They hand him a box with a new holiday vest, featuring the same four shiny silver buttons.

Screen Shot 2017-09-12 at 7.58.57 AMI was excited to find this book, because it provides the opportunity to teach young students about the traditions of a religion that they may have never heard about. It can also serve as a mirror for Jewish students who might have struggled to find books that represent children like themselves. The end of this book contains short definitions of the Jewish holidays and foods featured in the story, as well as recipes of the food that the Rabbi eats. This provides a unique learning opportunity for students who have not experienced Jewish culture. In addition, the themes of service, joy, and helping others are featured prominently in this book, making it relatable and pertinent for all students to enjoy. Jennifer Black Reinhardt’s illustrations in this book are colorful, fun, and beautifully done. The families she drew in the congregation are diverse, with varying skin colors, hair styles, and ages. The story even says that the Rabbi “welcomed everyone who entered,” and on the first page he stands on the porch with his arms wide open and a smile on his face, portraying a message of acceptance. Screen Shot 2017-09-12 at 7.57.38 AMThis message is especially important for students to understand in the classroom to foster a safe and welcoming learning environment for all. It is critical to expose students to diversity through literature that offers positive representations of various cultures.

Teresa Heckman

 

 

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. 

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Review by Charlotte Jeanne

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

Trendy Tuesdays: Painting Pepette

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Painting Pepette, written by Linda Ravin Lodding and illustrated by Claire Fletcher, sends young readers on a fantasy-like journey through the streets of Paris in the 1920s. Set almost 100 years before its publication in 2016, the book breathes child-like wonder into art history, a topic generally reserved for more sophisticated readers.

Painting Pepette tells the story of a young girl named Josette, who lives in a quaint Parisian home with her family and her best friend, a stuffed rabbit named Pepette. Inspired by the magnificent family portraits framed in her home, Josette takes to the streets of Paris to find an artist willing to paint Pepette’s warm and genuine spirit.

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As the duo travels through Montmarte, they encounter an assortment of artists, each of whom paint Pepette in his own unique style. Adult readers familiar with the great artists of the Golden Age of art may recognize some familiar faces and styles: Dali paints Pepette with an aura of surrealism, while Matisse uses vivid colors to portray the beloved stuffed rabbit.

Josette feels that while each of the artists have painted wonderful works of art, none of them have truly captured Pepette. Empowered by each artist’s personal style, Josette herself paints a perfect portrait of Pepette.

Children will be immediately entranced by Fletcher’s dazzling illustrations, which capture the gentle yet bustling streets of Paris. The detail of the illustrations gives young readers a glimpse into a time and place unlike anything they have ever experienced before.

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Painting Pepette also provides an enchanting view into the often dull world of art history. Though the text does not mention specific artists by name, the book would be a perfect addition to a unit on famous artists, providing insights not just into the art, but into the place where the art was created.

Finally, Painting Pepette sends a positive and inspirational message about art itself. When Josette comments that the paintings do not look much like Pepette, one of the artists proclaims, “But through art we can see the world any way we want.” The appreciation of subjectivity sends an important message to young artists – that art is not about accuracy, but rather, about individual expression.painting4

Post by: Sami Chiang

Winner Wednesdays: The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson

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If you are looking for a great story to read out loud to children, The Gruffalo is the book for you. The Gruffalo was written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler in 1996, and won the Nestlé Smarties Book Prize in 1999. The Smarties book prize was a prestigious UK award given to the “best work of fiction or poetry by a British author for children in three age categories (up to 11).” The prize was awarded annually by Booktrust from 1985-2007. The Gruffalo won the Gold Award in the youngest category, for children ages 0-5. More information about the Smarties Book Prize can be found here.

The Gruffalo is a comical story about a mouse who outsmarts hungry animals with his quick wits. Donaldson writes in flexibly metered verse that (in my experience) keeps children engaged with its lilting rhythm. Scheffler’s illustrations envelop the reader in the lush, earth-toned woods. Set against a realistic woodland background, Scheffler’s animals have clearly defined lines and are more cartoon-like in style. With the exception of the Gruffalo, all of the critters have endearing underbites. As the titular monster of the book, the Gruffalo will make children laugh rather than scream because his appearance is so silly in its eclectic nature.

 

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As readers, we follow mouse through the woods as his journey is relayed by an unnamed narrator. Immediately, the mouse encounters a hungry fox, and invents the creature of the Gruffalo to escape the fox’s lunch invitation (which he sees as an invitation to be the fox’s lunch). Mouse describes the Gruffalo with characteristics that are particulary scary to a fox, and then subtly states that the Gruffalo’s favorite food is “roasted fox.” The fox runs off, and the process happens again with an owl and a snake. Imagine the mouse’s surprise then when he walks straight into a Gruffalo! The beast has every strange characteristics the mouse has dreamed up: “He has knobbly knees and turned-out toes/ And a poisonous wart at the end of his nose.” To keep the Gruffalo from eating him, mouse has to come up with his smartest plan yet. I won’t spoil the ending, but the story ends well for the mouse.

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I would highly recommend this book for children ages 3-7. The book is perfectly suited for reading aloud, especially if the reader gives the animals different voices. Children I have read the book to have made up games based on the book, and a park ranger I met in England takes children on Gruffalo walks through the woods. Needless to say, children love this book, and I bet you will too.

Rebekah Moredock