Category Archives: fiction

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

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

Marvelous New Picture Book Monday: Little Elliot, Big Family

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IMG_8035Little Elliot, Big Family will leave you with that cozy, happy feeling you get when you watch a classic feel-good movie, except this marvelous little book is even better because you can pore over each exquisite scene as long as you’d like. Released just a few months ago in 2015, Little Elliot, Big Family combines calm, carefully structured language with gorgeously detailed illustrations to help children explore themes such as isolation, belonging, and the diverse nature of families.

Author and illustrator Mark Curato introduces us to Elliot, a stuffed elephant, and his friend Mouse. When Mouse leaves for a family reunion, which consists of “15 brothers, 19 sisters, 25 aunts, 27 uncles, and 147 cousins” (3), Elliot spends the day alone. He encounters a multitude of diverse, cheerful families, and becomes increasingly lonely. Utilizing words sparingly and carefully, Curato quietly guides the reader through the story, creating a sense of distance from the world as Elliot walks through the bustling city. The gorgeous illustrations further this feeling of isolation, portraying Elliot as a tiny figure in cold, vast landscapes. The reader feels like an outsider looking into Elliot’s mind, just as Elliot feels like an outsider looking into a world that he is not really a part of.

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Eventually, Elliot decides to see a movie at the theater, but the film, which depicts a happy family of elephants, only increases his sadness and loneliness. However, while walking home in the bitter snow, Elliot encounters a surprise that helps him find everything he has been longing for.

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Here, the illustrations become cheerful and vibrant, full of lively activity, warm colors, and glowing lights. The cold grays and blues of the earlier images evolve into soft browns, greens, and reds, and Curato portrays light so masterfully you can almost feel its warmth, creating a sense of coziness and belonging that both children and adults will find uplifting.

As if this beautifully portrayed journey from isolation to belonging was not enough, the book carries its message even further. By depicting a diverse array of families, Curato not only suggests that a loving family can ease the pain of isolation, but also that this family does not have to take any particular form. Curato includes illustrations of families of multiple racial and ethnic backgrounds, and all are portrayed as equally happy and loving, creating an overwhelmingly positive view of diverse families.

 

Furthermore, by placing Elliot in a nontraditional family context, Curato extends the message that a family does not have to be traditional or even biological, as long as its members love and accept one another.

Ultimately, this book explores complex, sensitive issues such as isolation, acceptance, and the diverse nature of families in a way that is accessible to children. The carefully crafted language interacts beautifully with the rich, intricately detailed illustrations, creating powerful emotions that range from intense loneliness to joyful belonging. Children who feel isolated from the world, children who feel as though they do not have a family, and even children who are members of nontraditional families will find strength in this comforting story. It is easy to lose yourself in the lush illustrations and quiet language, with each rereading revealing subtle details that were missed before. Elliot’s journey to discover the meaning and value of family is one worth taking.

 

Bonus: If this review did not convince you to read this book, perhaps this heartwarming book trailer will!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9TBhcN4YQvI

-Sarah Beck

Free Friday: Frederick

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Looking for a classic book that’s still relevant today? Leo Lionni’s Frederick will not disappoint! A 1968 Caldecott Honor recipient, Frederick combines beautifully simple artwork with poetic language to deliver a powerful message that still resonates with today’s children and adults.

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The story begins by introducing a group of five mice who are busy preparing for the fast-approaching winter. While four of the mice work tirelessly hauling wheat, corn, nuts, and straw to their home, Frederick seems to sit lazily apart from the others.

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When asked “why don’t you work?” Frederick patiently explains that he is indeed working. Rather than gathering physical supplies for the winter, Frederick reveals that he is collecting more abstract things such as sun rays, colors, and words. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the other mice are not impressed by such statements, and continue to build their store of food.(null)

The winter begins nicely as the mice retreat to their shelter in a pile of stones. Everyone is cheerful and food is plentiful. Yet, as the days drag on and supplies deplete, the mice become bitter and unhappy. However, they remember the things Frederick collected and ask him to produce his supplies. Drawing on his store of simple, natural beauty, Frederick fills the cold, dreary shelter with light from warm sun rays, colors from flowering fields, and even elegant poetry. The other mice are in awe of Frederick’s abilities, and find themselves finally appreciating artistry and valuing simple beauty.IMG_8015

Although this story is simple, complex themes arise and are strengthened by both the words and illustrations. For example, Lionni develops the sophisticated message that art and nature’s beauty are crucial for survival by creating a believable need for both. Because children will understand the hardships faced by the mice as they isolate themselves in a bleak stony shelter, the simple plot makes it easy for children to grasp the more complicated message that artistry and simple, everyday beauty have as much importance as other basic human needs. Furthermore, since the plot is centered around mice in a field rather than people in a specific city, the characters and events take on a timeless quality and could reasonably take place almost anywhere in any time period. Thus, the story and its theme are well-developed, believable, and relatable to today’s children.

Children and adults alike will also adore Lionni’s artwork on every page. These marvelous illustrations help develop the theme of artistry and simple beauty. By layering vibrant colors and detailed textures on top of simple, almost abstract shapes, Lionni essentially proves the validity of the story’s message. Although the shapes themselves are very basic and placed on a white background, a closer look reveals that the colors and textures integrated into these shapes are quite intricate, creating images that are both soft and vibrant, simple and complex at the same time. Thus, Lionni’s masterful artwork not only provides a visual representation of the words in the story, but also proves and extends the idea that much value lies in creativity and simple beauty.

Ultimately, many children (and adults) may find themselves relating closely to Frederick. Artistic children who spend their time quietly taking in the simple magnificence of the world (and especially children who are nagged or looked down upon for doing so) will find hope in this little mouse. They will see that their artistic contributions and appreciation for everyday beauty are just as essential for human life as those pursuits typically deemed more important. Thus, Frederick helps children answer a question that persists to this day: what is art, and why is it important? In an age where math, science, and other such subjects are increasingly favored over art, and where nature’s beauty is constantly threatened by human activity, this beautiful book and its message about the importance of art and simple beauty in times of darkness remain relevant and applicable to today’s children. Plus, aren’t those mice just positively adorable?

-Sarah Beck

Traditional Thursdays: Sideways Stories from Wayside School

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I have always loved Louis Sachar’s zany book – ever since it first crossed my school desk circa the fourth grade. Seeing the play interpretation at our local children’s theatre in a later field trip was a delight, and reading it years later to my dormmates as a college kid was like revisiting one of my funniest old friends.

What makes this story so timeless? Sachar’s ’78 classic is a crazy kooky and sidewayscoverfun read that brings in the ridiculous and unbelievable and makes it perfectly normal.

A teacher who thinks her students are so cute they must be monkeys?

Ice cream that tastes like your personality, but you can’t taste it?

Dead rats sneaking into school?

A boy who just can’t stop kicking things?

Just a normal day in a school that was accidentally built 30 stories high (without a 19th)!

Sideways Stories is a chapter book that collects 30 stories, each one starring a different member of the Wayside School community. Each chapter is about four pages long, and has a different tone, determined by the character.sidewayspaul

Some are driven by narration, some by action, some by descriptions – something for every type of reader. Paul, for example, engages in intense debate with Leslie’s pigtails over whether or not he should pull them. Sharie, on the other hand, is asleep her entire chapter.

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What I most like about this story is its snappy wit. The children all have their youthful good-natured (and sometimes self-serving) naïveté, but so do the adults. And everyone states the obvious…except the obvious just happens to also be hopelessly silly. I would highly recommend this as a read aloud or a silent chuckle-aloud!

 

By: Julia McCorvey