Category Archives: Marvelous Picture Books

Marvelous New Picture Book Monday: Home in the Woods

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Home in the Woods, written and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler, was released on October 1st and captures the story of one family’s struggle over the course of a year. The front endpapers of the book reveal more context about the story and function as a map of the woods where the family lives.

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The book is divided by season and begins with a family portrait of six-year-old Marvel, her seven brothers and sisters, and their mom. It is quickly revealed that their father recently died, and Marvel and her family must find a new home. They find a shack in the woods and decide to call it home.

This book does not shy away from expressing difficult emotions. Marvel, the narrator, openly expresses that the shack is cold and empty (like she feels inside) and is honest about the financial hardship they endure. Everyone must do their part, as shown throughout the book.

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The book begins with Summer and progresses through the seasons over the course of one year. While the overall color scheme of the book has a lot of gray/green/teal, the colors used also change with the seasons. Above we see the reds, oranges, and yellows incorporated for the Autumn pages in the book. Winter is very white and snowy, and for Spring Wheeler adds pinks and purples and lots of flowers.

As you read along, the seasons, colors, and the family all change as life in the shack becomes their new normal. Wheeler shows Marvel and her siblings playing in the woods, making jam, and doing chores. She makes use of all the space on some pages, but strategically places some images in empty space to make them stand out. The illustrations have an old-timey feel, which makes sense after reading the author’s note.

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At the end, Marvel reflects on the love and warmth her family has brought into the shack. The shack is now warm, bright, and filled with love (like she feels inside!) and this serves as a perfect parallel to contrast her feelings at the start of the book. On the last page, the author’s note tells the story of the author’s grandmother, Marvel, and the shack she lived in with her mom and seven siblings during the Great Depression.

Wheeler’s ability to tell her grandmother’s story is absolutely beautiful and the accompanying illustrations are pleasing for both children and adults. I hope you all enjoy this book as much as I did, and Happy Monday!

-Kelly Santiago

Marvelous New Picture Book Mondays: “Hair Love” by Matthew A. Cherry

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This week’s Marvelous New Picture Book is Hair Love written by Matthew A. Cherry and illustrated by Vashti Harrison. It was published in May 2019. Hair Love is such a special and important book to have for Black families and in the classroom, as it highlights the beautiful relationship of a Black father and daughter and it also shares a very empowering message of self-love.

The story begins with Zuri telling us how special her “kinky” and “coily” hair makes her feel, and how each different hairstyle allows her to express a different part of her personality and feel like an entirely unique person (a princess or a superhero, etc.). On a special day, the welcoming home of Zuri’s mother, Zuri wants to whip up an extra-special hairstyle to impress her mom with, and she gets her dad’s help in the process. Dad experiments with several creative styles, none of which Zuri approves, until they break out the iPad and hair products, put on a YouTube hair tutorial, and create a beautiful hairstyle that Zuri loves.

Harrison’s illustrations in Hair Love are so, so beautiful. I feel like I am watching an animated film when I read the book. The characters are full of life and energy, and the borderless illustrations draw the reader into the story, inviting us to partake in Zuri’s adventure with her hair. The full-bleed spreads are seamless, vibrant with color and the beautiful blackness of the characters’ skin.

In a society that doesn’t appreciate or love Black hair, and that constantly punishes young Black children in schools for unique and versatile hairstyles that compliment their kinky hair, this book is the perfect way for parents and teachers to help Black children develop a love for their hair even when society as a whole says otherwise. Furthermore, this story embraces a beautiful Black family and portrays the father in such a warm, and positive way that we don’t typically see in children’s picture books (or a Black father presence at all, for the most part). This book will encourage young Black children to embrace their natural kinky hair and help them see that they are not alone in the sometimes frustrating process of getting that perfect hairstyle–while it takes a lot of trial and error, you should never stop loving your hair! This is such an important message that Black children need to be getting both at home and school.

 

 

 

 

 

Enjoy reading this one!

-Niah Charles

Marvelous New Picture Books: The Good Egg

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Marvelous New Picture Books: The Good Egg

Recently, while browsing the children’s section at Barnes and Nobel, I stumbled across a book with the most adorable cover. Of course, I could not help but pick it up and read it on the spot. Within the first few pages, I knew that I would definitely be buying this book for my future classroom collection.

Jory John and Pete Oswald really outdid themselves with this one. The dynamic duo, who also wrote the very popular book, The Bad Seed, captivate audiences once again with their humorous and heartwarming work. In this book, readers follow the story of the Good Egg. He is always good, very good. The Good Egg spends most of his days helping those around him, making sure that everyone is being good, and doing his part to clean up the messes that everyone leaves behind. Good Egg wishes that others would be as good as he is, but unfortunately, we don’t always get what we want. Eventually, Good Egg decides that he has had enough. He is quite literally cracking under the pressure of trying to keep everyone else good all the time.

Good Egg goes on a journey to heal himself and reflect on what really matters in life. Eventually, Good Egg returns to the rest of the dozen with a new outlook on life. And of course, he is welcomed back with open arms.

 

I would absolutely recommend this book to teachers and anyone that has a position to read to children. Not only are the illustrations some of the cutest I have ever seen, but there are a lot of lessons to be learned from this book. Even I, at 21 years old, was reminded of some of the more important things in life. Adults can use this book to teach children about balance and self-care. It can also be used to remind kids that not everyone is perfect all the time. It’s okay to enjoy the fun things in life.

If you’re interested in hearing more about the book, I’ve attached a link here!

The Good Egg Book Trailer

Marvelous New Picture Book Monday: Mary Wears What She Wants

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We are in an age of children’s books that portray messages of acceptance of people from all backgrounds. When I initially saw Mary Wears What She Wants by Keith Negley, I expected the story to be about a gender fluid child but I was very wrong.

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This book follows Mary Walker, one of the first women in history to be known to have worn pants. The book was published this year and discussion of it is fitting given the recent celebration of International Women’s Day. While the story may not be entirely historically accurate, it provides an important window for children to the ways in which the world has changed. It could also be a great conversation starter about the stark gender inequality that exists in other parts of the world and the ways in which not all societies have the privileges that America does. Negley includes a mini-biography of Mary Walker at the end of the book that describes her accomplishments beyond choosing to wear pants that could, likewise, spark interesting discussion with children.

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Beyond the written aspect, the book has lovely illustrations that are unlike those in many children’s books. There is a good mix of simple spreads and more complex ones.

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The book could stand to represent a greater variety of racial diversity, but this may be reflective of the time period in which the story is set. I appreciate the focus on the colors pink and blue, which are traditionally gendered colors and Mary’s yellow clothing to signify her break from normative behavior. I enjoyed the mix of drawn media and the collage element with the cut-out shapes that comprised some of the characters’ clothing.

Overall, I believe the book is well done and would be a worthwhile addition to any classroom library.

-Rita McLaughlin

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

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: 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