Category Archives: Grades K-2

Free Friday: Soul Looks Back in Wonder

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Souls Look Back in Wonder, illustrated by Tom Feelings, is a collection of poems by various Black poets (including Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, and Walter Dean Myers) that all have messages of uplifting Black children and encouraging them to embrace their blackness and their culture. I was drawn to the rich, colorful illustrations that convey meaning and emotion to every poem featured in this book; I was also drawn to the powerful words targeted at Black youth who already have very little representation in children’s literature, let alone children’s poetry.

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Tom Feelings art style for this book of poems emphasizes the beauty of Black children. The colors he uses are warm and vibrant and inviting to the reader (the illustrations usually take up the whole page with no gutters), and he uses all shades of brown for his people. The illustrations give meaning to the poems, and can give the reader insight into different interpretations of the words. Feelings uses shape and color to create interesting compositions and illustrations for the poems and brings life to his Black characters, who are often seen doing activities that regular youth do.

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The poems that the illustrator selected to include in this collection of poems speak to the experiences and feelings that young Black children might have, and it shows them that someone understands their identity and what they might be going through. Every poem, explicitly or not, includes messages about self-love of your skin color and your heritage. The poems have been crafted and put together so that the book reads as the hopes and dreams and loves of Black children and it makes poetry relatable and in one’s reach, especially to children who may not have been exposed to poetry as a form of literature before. The poems address advanced struggles of identity and the future that speak to teenagers, but they can definitely be appreciated by younger elementary students as well. The poems are short but powerful, and an excellent introductory piece of poetry in any classroom for Black History Month.

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Souls Look Back in Wonder is a great book to introduce poetry to young readers and the illustrations make the poems interesting and relatable. Especially poignant about this collection is its aim at Black youth to get them to love themselves and their blackness and to embrace where they come from. Diversity is needed in children’s literature, especially in poetry so that it is more accessible to all children, and this book does a nice job of this.

Posted by Ashanti Charles

Trendy Tuesday: If You Give A Mouse A Cookie

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It’s hard not to be cliché on Trendy Tuesday, but I couldn’t resist reviewing this classic picture book. If You Give A Mouse A Cookie is the first book of Laura Numeroff’s If You Give… series and was illustrated by Felicia Bond. The storyline (if by chance you’ve never read it or have forgotten over the years) is circular, where the mouse asks his owner for a cookie, then wants a glass of milk to go with it. Then he wants a mirror to check if he has a milk mustache, and the domino effect continues until he decides he wants another cookie.

The illustrations in this book are vibrant and full of color. They are done in colored pencil. There is also a lot of white space, which makes the illustrations smaller on the page and less distracting. Bond uses interesting perspectives in some of her drawings that exaggerate some parts of the story. You can see in this illustration the bright colors of the grass and the boy’s jeans, and then the depth used to show the sidewalk up to the house.
img_0416Some of the written text will end like a cliffhanger. This is a fun characteristic of the book because it leads the reader or listener to the next page in anticipation. It also makes the book a little more unpredictable, because some continuations of text are just small additions that tack a funny ending to the sentence.img_0417

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This book is very fun to read with children and not difficult to follow. It is definitely still a trendy tale, even if it was released over 30 years ago. I would read this story to any age level and there are so many fun classroom or at home activities that can be created from this book. There is even a board game on the back cover of the Special Edition that I looked at! If that’s not the cutest thing ever, I don’t know what is.

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Post by: Jenna Adamczak

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 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

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