Category Archives: fiction

Winners Wednesday: The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles (Erin E. Stead)

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Rather than discuss one of this year’s award winners, I thought it’d be interesting to highlight to literary work of a previous Caldecott winning illustrator whom I admire. Erin E. Stead has a unique illustrative style that is delicate and whimsical, detailed yet simple, and filled with lovely muted colors. Her work in The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas is no exception.

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The story tells the tale of a man whose job is to deliver all the letters sent to sea in glass bottles. The reader uncovers his love of the job and the inherent loneliness of a man with no name who never receives letters of his own. That is until he comes upon a letter with no labelled recipient. The remaining story follows the Uncorker’s quest to find the letter’s intended destination.

The book contains almost entirely full-bleed spreads, but in an unexpected way. The drawn elements often take up only a small portion of the page. Meanwhile, the background color(s) is/are blended seamlessly across wide expanses giving the illusion of larger illustrations.

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Stead also creatively condenses her artwork to indicate changing perspective. This occurs when the reader is exposed to examples of the Uncorker’s working conditions through mesmerizing depictions of varying natural environments. While not an imperative aspect of the illustrations, it is a creative touch that could be a great point of conversation with children.

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I was drawn (pun intended) to this book because of the name of its illustrator and I was not disappointed. Ultimately, the Uncorker reveals a well written, feel-good story about friendship in unexpected places while pleasuring the eye with the gorgeous, muted drawings for which Erin E. Stead is known and praised.

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-Rita McLaughlin

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Free Friday: Heartbeat

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Although this picture book would perhaps fit best under Marvelous New Picture Books, after reading it I could not resist the urge to have it exposed to more people as soon as possible. Heartbeat, a beautiful book published this year that was written and illustrated by Evan Tuck, only took one read to become an instant favorite.

Right away, the colorful cover is an incentive to read and enjoy the book. I definitely recommend (if you are a parent or teacher reading this book) to go ahead and read the author’s note before you read the book, because there will be a lot more details you can notice and be able to pick out in the book.

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When the cover is peeled back, it reveals a different image that later on, would be represented in the story. I personally appreciated the fact that the aesthetic of both covers matched, though they weren’t necessarily meant to be seen together.

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The visual beauty of this book continues with pitch black end pages that melt into the beginning of the story. Perhaps one of the most beautiful pages earlier on was that of the mother and daughter whale’s synergy as they sung together. However, as we approach the climax of the story, the beautiful red and blue hues are disrupted by a sharp jab of white.

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I believe Turk managed to execute this scene beautifully, as the novelty and foreignness of the human spear is very clear, and the typography of the heartbeats induce a panicked feeling of anxiety. Somehow, Turk is so expressive that over the next seven pages, even with nothing but the words “beat” and “heartbeat”, a reader is able to track the path of the baby whale who has now been left all alone.

Turk made the conscious choice to change the baby whale to a white color, and slowly begin to move it through human elements while relating the photos to uses that humans had found for whales (such as candles or as part of weapons).

It was clear both here and in the illustration of the only colorful human (a little girl) that Turk made the distinct choice to use different styles for the whales’ versus humans’ world.

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The way that Turk finally reincorporates color is extremely expressive as it models how one little girl’s voice can reach out and make a difference for the daughter whale who has been wandering almost aimlessly with nothing but a white emptiness till she is “full” again.

This book was sparse on words but was so expressive in terms of illustrations that I would even say it would be a book to look out for for possibly winning the Caldecott Award. The book is able to express the horrors of whale-hunting, of how whales have helped humans in so many ways, and how times have and are changing with new waves of people like the purple girl at the end who want to keep them safe.

I believe that this is an excellent book to read, especially when talking to children in relation to the animal kingdom. I believe the book shows how humans have acted in the past and how things have changed, and can open up the topic of how certain animals have been approached in the past in comparison to the present. This could work for an ocean unit or even a general unit on humans versus the wild.

Overall, the book was a powerful story that celebrated the change in humans’ attitudes towards whale-hunting and their impact on wildlife. I hope that children will read this with an appreciation of the beautiful art but also of the beautiful message: we have come so far, and we will only continue to further enhance our future as we better learn ways to protect and appreciate our dwindling wildlife.

-Hannah Park

Emily Gravett’s The Rabbit Problem

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Emily Gravett’s The Rabbit Problem

Emily Gravett’s playful representation of the Fibonacci sequence in her children’s book The Rabbit Problem, is known for its unique use of media and style to illustrate the story.   This book is a deserving winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal, for its creativity of the ilustrations that become the backbone of the entire story.  Emily Gravett truly makes the most of every single page of this book.  Even the cover page, title page, and copy right pages are illustrated, with great detail, to contribute to the story and keep the story world alive.

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Even on the first end page, before the story even begins, there Emily Gravett includes this double page spread illustration that wonderfully functions as a prologue to the book.  The subject of the story is introduced on the chalkboard, while a drawing on the chalkboard comes to life.  The coming-to-life rabbit drawing appears to be looking at the calendar on the wall, which is where the story begins…

The basis of the story is a twelve month calendar that includes illustrations of the “rabbit world” on the top page, and a monthly calendar including relevant, engaging, and interactive bits of information that are added on the bottom page.  In order to read the book, and to enter the rabbits’ world told through the media of a calendar, the reader is required to turn the book on its side; the left page becomes the top page, and the right the bottom.

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As you can see in this page that depicts the calendar page for the month of May, the calendar theme becomes the foundation of the story as a whole.  It keeps the story moving at a consistent and comprehensive pace.  The top page is an illustration of “The Hungry Rabbit Problem” where the rabbits appear to be tearing apart the edges of the page in their search for food.  On the top page, there are hand written notes, an interactive ration book, and an order form-which acts as foreshadowing for the months and problems to follow.
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I have included a close up picture of the open-able pages of the ration book on this page, to demonstrate the incredible creativity and attention to detail that goes into every single page of this book.  The unimaginable time and effort that was clearly put into the illustrations and visual aspects of this book are what really stood out to me.  As a child, I would have loved the interactivity and the playfulness of the book, but as an a adult, I feel that I am able to fully appreciate the hard work and thought that was exerted to create this book.

Each month poses a new problem for the growing rabbit population to overcome.  Not only does the rabbit population grow according to the number of rabbits depicted in the illustrations, but also in the tiny population sign in the background of every illustration that increases in number, according to the Fibonacci sequence.  The problems for the rabbits evolve each month, as they often relate to eachother in a cause and effect type of relationship.  For example, the rabbit problem for the month of September is “too many carrots, causing the problem for the following month of October to be the “overweight rabbit” problem.

Depending on the age and developmental cognition of the child, this book can be used to demonstrate and teach various different lessons, concepts, and discussions.  For a younger audience, the concept of a calendar, of different seasons and times of year, and of basic cause and effect relationships can be taught using this book.  For upper elementary and middle aged students, this book can be used to demonstrate variety in book style, importance of detail, more complex and overarching themes of cause and effect, population growth, and the mathematical Fibonacci sequence.

I would recommend this book, more specifically to elementary school teachers, but also to anyone that wants to read a really cool childrens book!  I really enjoyed taking my time to look through each page, discovering the little details in the illustrations and extras that add to the visual representation quality of the story.  I had such a refreshingly exciting and engaging experience reading this book, and I believe that any child, adult, or caregiver will too.

Casey Quinn

Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix

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by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and June Jo Lee, illustrated by Man One

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Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix is a kid-friendly biography of Roy Choi, a famous food truck chef who was born in Seoul, South Korea. The book recounts how Roy and his family moved to Los Angeles when he was two years old and how his experience as an immigrant influenced his upbringing. His mom made traditional Korean food like kimchi, and bibimbap; her food was so good that Roy’s family opened up their very own restaurant. Roy loved having Dumpling Time at the restaurant, where the whole family would sit down together and fold the dumplings to be cooked later that day. The book discusses how Roy’s parents closed their restaurant and had a more successful life in the jewelry business. Even with this prosperity, Roy felt like more of an outcast without the cultural anchor of the restaurant in his life. He eventually found his place in culinary school and started working in fancy restaurants. After a while, a friend encouraged him to open a Korean taco truck. Roy wanted to “remix the tastes” that were so important to him, combining traditional Korean flavors with dishes that everyone would love. He opened Kogi BBQ Truck, and at first people scoffed at the idea. Eventually, the food truck became very successful, and Roy loved seeing how his food brought diverse people together. Kogi expanded to a whole fleet of food trucks, and Roy even opened a restaurant called Locol in an underserved neighborhood. The book ends with Roy showing other people how to make their own food and cook with sohn-maash, or love.

Man One created the illustrations for this book in an incredibly unique way. He spray-painted canvases to create the backgrounds, then digitally uploaded them. He added in pencil drawings of people and all the landscape details, resulting in vibrant and alluring pictures throughout the book. Even the endpapers show images of ramen noodles, a small detail that really ties into the heart of the biography. I love how the authors included explanations of Korean words and foods that I wouldn’t have otherwise known. This allows them to tell the story in an authentic way, not dumbing it down or “Americanizing” it, while still allowing the reader access to all of the important concepts. I also appreciate that the authors didn’t glorify Roy Choi’s experience. They include parts about how isolated and different he felt, and how he lost his job at a fancy restaurant before opening his food truck. They also mention the doubt, based in racism, that people had of Roy’s idea. The inclusion of “Korean guys can’t do tacos” in the dialogue of the book underscores how stereotypes influence every aspect of our culture, including our thoughts about food. Roy Choi is an honorable person in my eyes; he became very successful and purposefully chose to continue serving people instead of making his food exclusive to the wealthy. He could have easily chosen to open a restaurant with a months-long waiting list, but he decided to make his food accessible to everyone. Roy serves as a great role model for children for a variety of reasons. He overcame the challenges of being different than most people in LA, chose a challenging and unconventional path to follow his passion, and gives back to the community when he is able. Overall, this is a sweet biography of a man who didn’t take no for an answer and persevered until he reached his goal.

Maddie Geller

Pattan’s Pumpkin: A Traditional Flood Story from Southern India

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Pattan’s Pumpkin: A Traditional Flood Story from Southern India

Chitra Soundar and Frané Lessac have adapted a traditional Irula story to make it more accessible: turning the traditional churraka into a pumpkin and highlighting the story’s universal themes.

The story does, not, however, abandon its cultural roots. It is authentic in its language, retaining the Indian names Pattan and Kanni and placing the tale at the base not of any old mountain range but of the Sahyadri Mountains. Pattan and Kanni are illustrated with the characteristic dark skin of the Irula people and are dressed in traditional garb. Soundar also does not shy away from describing the details of Pattan and Kanni’s way of life as they grow pepper, rice, nutmeg, and bananas; ride elephants; and nurture animals in the foothills of South India’s mountains. As any culturally diverse book should, Pattan’s Pumpkin presents its characters positively: clever, resourceful, grateful for what they have, kind, and willing to share. These characteristics not only help children understand cultures beyond their own as positive but also model values for the children themselves!

Lessac’s pictures are as bright as the spirit of Pattan himself. The colors – oranges, yellows, reds, greens – pop off the page and bring the story to life. The use of full-page spreads accentuates the size of the pumpkin, sure to make any child shriek with shock and delight, and the landscapes are rich and vivid in their scope.

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Lessac’s spread toward the end of the story is lush green and deep black, dotted with every color in between. A picture does not do these colors justice!

Pattan’s Pumpkin comes together to tell not only an entertaining, engaging story but one that is valuable in any lesson on geography, history, culture, or even religion.

-Addison

If You Take a Mouse to the Movies

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     The 1985 classic If You Give A Mouse A Cookie stole the hearts of readers the world over with its cheerful illustrations and simple and memorable circle story. If You Take a Mouse to the Movies, the fifth book in the “If You Give” series, is also a circle story. This means that its plot creates a cycle where the first line is the same as the final line, implying that the tale will begin again with a loop of the same actions. In this story, the circular line is again the title phrase. It follows the same young boy buying movie theater popcorn for the same tiny mouse, where they find a popcorn string kit and eventually perform all sorts of holiday activities. These include building snowmen, singing carols, and decorating a Christmas tree.
New Doc 2017-10-20_8     While the simple story line helps children understand that a book’s plot is fluid and connected, the illustrations are an equal factor in helping the book shine. Drawn in the same crisp, thinly outlined cartoon style of the classic original, but with more deep blues and greens and hints of red, this is clearly a wintry tale. There are still wide expanses of white instead of detailed backgrounds, as there were in the original, which draw the reader’s attention to the two main characters. It is interesting that the mouse, much smaller than the boy, has more detail in his representation, with intricately shaded ears, a detailed mouth, and the teeniest pink nose. His companion has only a few lines representing his entire face, which often leads to a profile shot of a nose a single dot for an eye. In this way, the mouse is almost more personified than the little boy, making him the focus of the story.

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     Part of the magic of the original book lies in seeing the experiences of everyday life from the perspective of the mouse. Witnessing the unique way he must interact with his environment: tiny jelly-bean sized snowballs, for instance, or singing into the boombox microphone that is almost his height, are amusing and warm. New Doc 2017-10-20_3new-doc-2017-10-20_4.jpg     When reading this book to a preschooler this week, we both stopped in awe of one particular page. The little boy shared a sweet little smile as he said, “That mouse sure looks comfy!” The warm light cascading on the pristine blanket that envelops the little mouse makes the scene look heavenly.

New Doc 2017-10-20_5     There are an abundance of small details in addition the the gorgeous whole illustrations that are just as eye-catching and enthralling. The mouse’s hat with ears, the glitter on the young boy’s nose after the whirlwind ornament-making, and the minuscule snowballs stuck to the boy’s back after the snowball fort fight are a perfect opportunity to ask children to make inferences about purpose and cause-and-effect relationships.

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   This book offers a twist on a classic, and successfully fulfills this promise by providing the same comforting patterns with an added holiday glow.

 

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