Category Archives: Grades K-2

Traditional Thursday – Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel

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Frog And Toad Are Friends coverLooking at this classic book’s cover can almost transport me back to my elementary school library. Frog and Toad Are Friends is the first book of four beloved books written by Arnold Lobel that detailed the adventures of two very good friends, Frog and Toad. I had not read these books, again, since I was a child, but as I was reading this one for this review, I found it just as amusing as I always had. Lobel is able to write stories that are clever and funny, while also being a heartfelt representation of friendship and love.  

One of my favorite moments is when Frog and Toad decide to go swimming. Toad does not want to come out of the water because he thinks he looks funny in his bathing suit. Unfortunately, others keep arriving because they heard Toad looks funny in his bathing suit. Eventually, he has to come out and all the other animals laugh at him including Frog. Admittedly, this is not very nice of everyone. If I were reading this with children, I would want to have a discussion about this kind of behavior. But on the next page, Toad asks Frog what he is laughing about. Frog tells him, “I am laughing at you, Toad, because you do look funny in your bathing suit.” And Toad just responds, “Of course I do.” I think this highlights a very realistic part of friendship, where you can laugh at each other in silly situations out of good nature. It shows that Frog and Toad really are close friends. And if you look at the image, he does look quite funny in his bathing suit. 

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The structure of these books is also interesting because it resembles a chapter book where the text is the primary feature. The pictures just seem to be inserted in the story. Despite this, the pictures are incredibly important to the story, as you could see in the story about the bathing suit. His illustrations convey Frog and Toad’s emotions and their bond really well. 

Lobel also uses different techniques for the pictures, which can be seen on this page. 

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Some images have a very clear border like this picture on the left, and others seem to blend into the page. It has this effect of making the reader feel like an outsider looking in sometimes and other times feel immersed in the story. This seems to convey that, as readers, we are outsiders looking at Frog and Toad’s friendship and the bond they share, which is only between the two of them. But we can also share in some of the emotions they feel because we can relate that to our own friendships. 

The book ends on a very positive note of friendship and leaves a very warm feeling that captures the essence of these books. Frog and Toad are just two friends, sitting there, feeling happy together.  

Frog and Toad pages 62-63

Karima Raharjo

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Trendy Tuesdays: Tidy by Kate Gravett

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“I did not have an intended theme, I just wanted to write the book about the badger.” says Emily Gravett, author of the post-modern fable “Tidy”. In it, Pete the Badger becomes increasingly distressed with how untidy the forest is and vows to clean it up. In his quest to sanitize nature, Pete bags up all the leaves in trash bags, digs up all the trees, and ends up destroying the forest, leaving it all concreted over and neutered. The anachronistic dust pans, mops, toothbrushes, and brooms throughout the pages offer a silly warning against imposing industrial cleanliness standards on our natural world.

The beauty of “Tidy” is that it’s didactic without being imposing. It doesn’t seek to shame it’s reader and it doesn’t force a reading as anything other than a fun, silly story about a badger. But it is, at heart, an environmental tale. We face huge repercussions when we misuse and neglect our environment, and while Gravett does caution that “if he succeeded is anyone’s guess”, it’s really a sobering thought that in real life we can’t just put trees back into their stumps. Gravett is making huge claims, but she’s not forcing them on anyone. Kids as young as 3 could enjoy the silliness of this book, but it can provoke thoughtful discussion at any age.

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It should also be noted that the illustrations are absolutely delightful, but we’d expect nothing less from a multiple-time Kate Greenaway Medal winner/nominee. I’d cheerfully recommend anything Ms. Gravett produces.

All in all, Tidy manages to be extremely fun and extremely thoughtful, and if you haven’t read it, I suggest you tidy up your bookshelf and make space for it, because it’s a keeper. Cheers!

-Josiah Pehrson

Marvelous New Picture Book Mondays: Islandborn

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“Islandborn” documents the struggles and successes of 6-year-old Dominican immigrant Lola. Her teacher asks the members of her class to draw pictures of where they live, but Lola has no living memory of The Island where she grew up. Instead she has to reconstruct the experiences of her elders living in the community.

 

 

She learns about the hot sun and the coarse sand, about coconut juice and mangos, and about the music that permeates The Island’s culture. She listens to these stories and creates more and more intricately detailed drawings as she reaches back into the recesses of her subconscious and engages with her cultural heritage. The drawings are rich and vibrant, reflecting a shared past that seeks discussion.

 

 

Lola’s relatives are afraid to explain the darkness and fear that gripped the island and forced them to leave, but eventually Mr. Mir explains Rafael Trujillo’s dictatorship using the metaphor of a Monster that terrorized the community. Only by banding together were they able to see restoration. Lola has to try to understand things in 6-year-old terms, but in many ways these metaphors of the Island and the Monster are much more powerful than the gritty, objective details of their history.

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Sometimes loss and trauma can crush a person to pieces, making them freeze up and leaving memory cold and empty like a blank page of paper. Lola, as a second-generation immigrant doesn’t even have the luxury of memory to lose.  But through her family bonds, her vivid imagination makes up for the lost years on the Island and offer hope of rejuvenation and restoration.

All in all, Junot Díaz has crafted a gripping, engaging tale that is accessible and thought-provoking for audiences of any age. I would highly recommend this story and will definitely be reading this to my children someday.

-Josiah Pehrson

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

Free Friday: The Heart and the Bottle

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In 2009, The Heart and the Bottle, written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers, was published. We have been gifted several of his books the past few years and my daughters consistently choose them to be read to them. It is for that reason that, when I was searching for a story to start to introduce the concept of death to them, that I noticed this book. I figured an author/ illustrator that they’re familiar with could be a good start. My father passed away a few years before my children were born and I’ve struggled with how to explain the topic to them in an age appropriate way. So, per usual, I have turned to books. The Heart and the Bottle comes up in most google searches related to children’s picture books on death. I’ll preface my review by saying this story successfully made me cry the good tears but I have yet to read it to my girls- I am waiting until they start asking more questions.

At the start of the story you see and young girl and an older male figure going on a walk together, reading and discussing aspects of the world together, laying under the stars together, out in the ocean together, and flying a kite and exploring on the beach together. It is obvious they are close as he helps her make sense of the wonders of the world around them.

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One day, she goes to the chair he normally sits in to bring him a picture she had drawn and he is not there. She starts to feel sad about him not being there and decides to “…put her heart in a safe place. Just for the time being.” She takes her heart and puts it inside of a bottle. She says that it seems to fix things for her “…at first.”

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The story continues, showing her doing similar things to what she and the man did before, but she starts to forget about all of the wonderful things she noticed before. “She was no longer filled with all the curiosities of the world and didn’t take much notice of anything…” She moves into adulthood without much feeling, with her heart around her neck in the bottle (bottling her emotions). One day she comes across a young girl on the beach who is full of awe and asks her a question. The older girl doesn’t know how to answer her, without her heart, and that inspires her to try to get it back from the bottle. Unfortunately, nothing she does works and she doesn’t know how to retrieve it. The bottle would not break to release her heart no matter how hard she tries. It occurs to her to ask the young girl for help, and without any effort at all, the young girl reaches in and pulls it out for her.

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They put the heart back into the older girl and she goes to sit in the seat the male figure had sat in before. The end of the book shows her sitting in the chair with an open book, her mind full of wonder and imagination and again- “…the chair wasn’t so empty anymore. But the bottle was.” Without saying the words, this is a children’s story about love, grief, and moving forward.

I appreciate how the concept of missing someone can be transferred to any person who is absent from the child’s life for a period of time. It could be a grandparent that lives far away, it could be a friend who moves away, or it could be someone close to the child who dies. The story addresses very heavy emotions that can be hard for a child to experience, let alone try to explain. It doesn’t discount feeling sad or wanting to protect your heart, it is expected that will happen. It just shows that it’s OK to feel happy and in awe of the world, to form new relationships and move forward.

The illustrations master a balance of muted backdrops of nature with pops of color in the flowers in the first page spread, followed by intricate thought bubbles portraying the solar system, ocean, animals, plants, and the edge of the world, to a combination of the two in the third page spread. The facial expressions are simple, with an upwards line to indicate a smile to no line at all representing the sadness and lack of explanation or understanding of the feeling. The heart is portrayed both in the well-known love heart shape as well as the anatomically correct version. This is especially noted in the back inside cover of the book where an anatomically correct heart is drawn and labeled with proper titles of parts. The thought bubbles in the story are of importance to note as well- they ask questions that young children would find interesting, for example, although not explicitly stated, the young girl who helps bring curiosity back to the older girl whose heart is still in the bottle, has a thought bubble above her head appearing to question how elephants can swim. The story has a deep message but it isn’t without a fun sense of curiosity allowing for a mix of both hard and light topics. If something feels a little heavy or uncertain for a child, they can be brought back into the book with a smile.

For the child who may need help making sense of the harder parts of life, I highly recommend reading Heart and the Bottle with them.

Andrea Runnells

Marvelous New Picture Book Monday: The Honeybee

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The Honeybee, written by Kirsten Hall and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, is a newer children’s picture book that became available May 8, 2018. It tells the story of a hive of honeybees and their yearlong journey from Spring to Spring. The illustrations stood out to me immediately- very pretty yellows and oranges with pops of pink in the flowers and black on the honeybees in the cover art. I am also drawn to anything flying considering birds and flying insects have been of particular interest to my 2-year-old and 4-year-old daughters this Spring and Summer. Why bees do what they do can feel mysterious and often the unknown can be scary for children. This story provides incredible imagery and descriptions of a bee’s life through the fun and information-packed lens a child can grasp.

The inside cover is playful with black and yellow stripes and the cute snippet, “BZZZ… What’s that? So you hear it? You’re near it. It’s closer, it’s coming, it’s buzzing, it’s humming…” with the whizzing bee trail around it. Reading that alone is exciting for the child, the “bzzz” sounds are unique to a bee and are fun to say and read together. It is very foretelling of the fun and exploratory story of the bee and its quest for pollen (as well as what happens after). The tone is fun and the sounds and rhyme of the story give it kind of whirling rhythm that is very fitting to bees movement. The story is accurate as a description of nature- it tells of the bee’s quest for nectar, it’s gathering of pollen, its zooming around, the return to the hive, the dance to show other bees where they found their pollen, the process of changing the chemical makeup to make its honey, how it’s stored, and how they stay in with what they’ve packed away for the Winter all huddled together with their queen. It’s an adventure into the life of bees with the bees themselves and both the writing and the illustrations create the perfect scene.

The illustrations are the right balance of bold yellow and black honeybees and subtle flowers with incredible contrast. The mix is just beautiful- pages of lovely flowers and a whizzing trail immediately followed by a double page spread of a happy, smiling bee.

 

There are pages of soft watercolor flowers and grey background details on a white background followed by a series of pages inside the hive with black background and thin white hexagonal hive patterns. The bees are given facial features that appear friendly and soft and not at all scary. This is great insight to bees as gatherers in nature and not just mean insects with stingers. The flowers contain pops of iridescent orange that emphasize the ultraviolet pattern bees see so they know where to get pollen. The illustrations of nature and the hive and flowers and the bees are slightly whimsical but still based in reality allowing for simple connections to be made between the story and the world around us.

Additionally, within the last few pages of the book, there is a great letter from the author encouraging kids to care about the future of bees and their effect on the environment. I highly recommend the book for children who are interested in nature and the world around them, as well as anyone interested in bees and beautiful books.

By Andrea Runnells

Super Happy Magic Forest

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Super Happy Magic Forest, written and illustrated by Matty Long, tells the story of five brave heroes from the Super Happy Magic Forest who must go on a quest to recover the Magic Crystals of Life after they are stolen. These crystals are the source of the forest’s happiness, so they must be returned as quickly as possible.

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The heroes’ epic quest to save the Magical Crystals of Life takes them through all sorts of treacherous terrains filled with spooky and dangerous creatures, until they reach the “the very doorstep of evil”: the Goblin Tower. It is there that they believe they will find their crystals.

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However, after discovering that their Magical Crystals of Life are not in fact in the Goblin Tower, they return to the Super Happy Magic Forest, where they find that the true evil force who stole their crystals was there the whole time. They must banish him to the Super Creepy Haunted Forest, where he belongs. Finally, they can celebrate knowing that their forest and its crystals are safe from the forces of evil, and that they will always be happy.

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The story itself is very simple, with only one or two sentences of text on each page. The real fun part of reading this book lies in the illustrations; they are bright and reminiscent of comic books, with silly speech and thought bubbles housing the characters’ dialogue and thoughts. Much of the action of the story is told through these illustrations, and there are tons of small details on each page that make each picture almost like a story in itself.

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Even the end papers are illustrated like a map that shows different locations within the story, mirroring the style of illustration used throughout the book.

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This book is a wonderful take on the classic hero’s quest that removes some of the drama sometimes associated with these types of stories, and replaces it with pure fun. It had me laughing out loud at some of the characters’ thoughts and dialogue, and I found myself lingering on each page, trying to find all the hidden details within the illustrations. I would recommend this book as a fun, silly story to read to kids of all ages; I think that the story is appropriate for younger audiences, while older kids may enjoy finding all the small details within the pictures, almost like a game of “I Spy.” The story is one that celebrates teamwork and fighting the evil in the world, while also reminding readers not to take things too seriously, and to find the fun and humor in all of life’s epic quests and everyday adventures.

– Maya Creamer