Category Archives: Marvelous Picture Books

Marvelous New Picture Books: We Found a Hat

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We Found a Hat

Author: Jon Klassen

Illustrated by: Jon Klassen

When I heard that Jon Klassen had finally written the conclusion to the “Hat,” trilogy, partner to I Want My Hat Back and This is Not My Hat, I jumped at the chance to review it. I was not disappointed. We Found a Hat stays true to Klassen’s trademark dry humor, minimalistic illustration and subtly profound attention to underscoring teachable lessons. I continue to be amazed by Klassen’s ability to convey themes as vast and complex as loss, problem-solving, morality and friendship through devices as simple as animals and headgear.

"We Found a Hat" Cover

We Found a Hat chronicles the journey of two turtles, companions and friends, who stumble upon a hat. They find the hat together, try it on, and confirm that it  suits both of them. However, there is only the one hat, and there are two of them. They conclude that it would not be right for one turtle to get the hat and the other turtle to go without it. So, they abandon the hat and attempt to forget they had ever found it.

This turns out to be easier said than done. They try to distract themselves, watching the sunset together and trying to fall asleep. While one turtle dreams, the other creeps away toward the hat. The turtle appears quite tempted by the now-available hat.

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But then, his friend shares his dream, a dream in which both turtles have hats, and both turtles look very good in them. Compelled by this dream, the turtle returns to his friend and they fall asleep together, both dreaming of a companionship where they wear hats together. 

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The illustrations in We Found a Hat are quite minimalist, in keeping with Klassen’s traditional style, but convey a great deal of emotion and meaning. I especially liked Klassen’s attention to the turtles’ eyes, which shift and peer in a wry and humorous way. In some cases, the turtles eyes give away their true emotions, glancing slyly at the hat or at one another.

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Klassen’s illustrations depict time in an interesting way, beginning with entirely light pages, continuing through a pink evening sunset, and ending with the turtles floating in a dark night sky, both donning identical white hats.

We Found a Hat imparts to readers one of the most basic rules of friendship: if the friendship is true, nothing can disrupt it, not even the most beloved of hats.

 

Post by: Natalie Gustin

 

I Dissent – Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark

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I Dissent – Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark

Written by Debbie Levy

Illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley

I Dissent uses the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the first Jewish woman on the US Supreme Court, to tell a powerful story speaking up for what is right. The book tells Ginsburg’s story, from her humble upbringing to her numerous accomplishments as a judge, celebrating each and every disagreement that shaped her legacy. Ultimately, readers of this book learn that making a difference requires hard work and a willingness to question the status quo.

One part of the writing style that makes I Dissent both compelling and engaging is that it is told through a collection of anecdotes that help the reader to gain a sense of Ginsburg’s character. Some of the stories it tells are small – like when Ginsburg protested by writing with her left hand or was kicked out of the chorus because of her poor singing skills – while others are key events in her life – like when Ginsburg chose to go to law school, even though there were very few girls in her class. These stories help young readers to relate to the future Supreme Court justice, and see that they are never too young to take a stand.2016-12-08-19-59-493

In addition to telling Ginsburg’s story, I Dissent provides an introduction to the workings of the Supreme Court. It explains how Ginsburg became a justice, and her role in writing the opinions during cases. The book also exposes readers to an array of courtroom vocabulary – throughout her story, Ginsburg dissents, objects, resists, disapproves, and disagrees. Further, the book refers to real-life court cases that are meaningful to even the youngest readers, such as racism and discrimination. I Dissent exposes its readers to the significance of the judicial branch – a topic that may seem distant or abstract to children.2016-12-08-19-59-494

The images presented in this book are extremely powerful because of their variety. On one page, Ginsburg is shown as a kind and loving mother, and on the next, a determined justice who is unwilling to conform to societal standards. At the beginning of the book, she is illustrated as a spunky yet ordinary little girl. At the end, she takes on the posture and demeanor of a superhero, complete with word art that mirrors the style of comic books. The diversity of ways in which Ginsburg is presented is important because it shows that none of these identities are mutually exclusive. Ginsburg does not need to sacrifice her family to be successful in her career, and she does not need to be timid to be kind. Through Baddeley’s illustrations, Ginsburg is presented as a real and well-rounded individual to which any child can aspire.2016-12-08-19-59-492

I Dissent would be a perfect book for teachers to bring into their classroom, because it provides a human view of government that will engage students in a way that their textbooks may not. Teachers can also use the text to talk about relevant social issues: I Dissent illuminates issues like racism and sexism, and encourages students to think about what laws and social norms in their own lives they might disapprove of. In this way, I Dissent could accompany a powerful lesson for middle grades students that strengthens their critical and evaluative thinking skills. Finally, the book sends an important message, especially to young girls, that speaking up does not make you stubborn, bossy, or disagreeable. Rather, having the courage to disagree is necessary in making a difference.2016-12-08-19-59-491

Post by Sami Chiang

Free Friday: My Pen

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Free Friday: My Pen

My Pen is an incredibly creative picture book by Christopher Myers, a Coretta Scott King Honor author and Caldecott Honor illustrator. Through the pages, readers glance into the mind of a young boy who finds solace in drawing pictures with his pen. He describes his joy in drawing with an almost poetic flair. The boy’s narration throughout the story makes his adventure more inclusive for the readers, as if they were stepping into his shoes and picking up his pen. It is an excellent tale that promotes children’s imagination in an age where many kids would rather pick up a tablet or cell phone than a book or a pencil; Myers suggests that these “old-fashioned” tools are essential for the complete creative development of a child.

My Pen immediately stands out due to its incredibly detailed illustrations. Myers cleverly drew each picture with pen and ink. One would think that a picture book containing only illustrations drawn with a simple black pen would be boring, but this book is anything but. Myers creates more lifelike scenes with a pen than some artists do with watercolor or oil paint. Each drawing includes so much depth; Myers details every wrinkle and shadow with subtlety and finesse. Just as impressive, each of the protagonist’s drawings look authentic, as if a child actually drew them. The contrast between these drawings and Myers’ actual illustrations is astounding–they couldn’t possibly have been drawn by the same hand, could they? The detail Myers brings to each of his illustrations is what makes them truly outstanding.

Myers’ subtlety in My Pen continues beyond the illustration quality. In my favorite spread, one in which the author draws a collage of children, he includes many children of color. Because the illustrations are black and white, and because it is not mentioned in the text, this is not something that a reader would notice upon first glance, but when I looked closer I saw shading, hair textures, and facial features that indicated that many of these children were black. Myers also included some white and Asian children, but the overlying majority is black. This is a perfect example of a multicultural book that doesn’t rely on its multiculturalism to tell the story; rather, it includes multicultural characters to provide readers of color with representation in literature and show the world that each ethnicity has diversity within itself. When I first read this book, I didn’t even ponder the race of the narrator or the author until I reached this page, but after backtracking and examining the pictures closely, I realized that they both were black as well. It is such an achievement to find a book that authentically represents our diverse population, and this book does that perfectly. I would recommend this for any teacher’s bookshelf and for any reader from kindergarten to fifth grade because the lessons it teaches are ones that anyone learn and appreciate.

By: Lexi Anderson

Winners Wednesdays: Art and Flying

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A book about a boy who tries to understand the hardships of life through art….

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Bird by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Shadra Strickland (2008)

How does this book qualify for Winner Wednesday, you ask?  Well, it won the…

  • Lee & Low New Voices Honor Award
  • Best of 2008, Kirkus Reviews (& starred review)
  • 2009 ALA Notable Children’s Book
  • Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent & Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award (won by Shadra Strickland)
  • Bank Street College Best Children’s Book 2009
  • 2009 Paterson Prize for Books for Young Readers
  • 2011 West Virginia Children’s Choice Book Award

Zetta Elliott tells the difficult story of a boy named Mehkai (nicknamed Bird), who is trying to understand the conflicts occurring between his older brother, Marcus, and his family.  Marcus is a victim of drug addiction; he constantly fights with the family, vandalizes public spaces with graffiti, and hangs out with the wrong crowd.  Even though Marcus couldn’t beat his drug addiction, it is obvious that he still deeply loved and cared for his family, especially for Bird. ‘“Do what I say, not what I do,” he would snarl like a fierce pit bull.  Marcus could be scary sometimes.  But then he’d smile a little so I’d know we were cool.’    

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Bird really loves to draw.  He does it to pass the time and to help him think through all the things happening around him.  Drawing helps him to cope with his brother’s drug addiction and Granddad’s death.  Readers look up to how Bird deals with his family’s problems by using pencil and paper: a positive outlet for his confusion and mix emotions.    b_ze_3

This picture book is beautiful in many ways.  The illustrations are thoughtful and they blend the world of reality with the world of imagination.  It is also written in free verse, which reminds me of a street-style, loose rap.  

This book addresses hard topics: deaths of loved ones and drug addiction.  It may be difficult to use in a classroom; however, depending on where you are teaching, maybe most of the kids in your classroom are dealing with these things in real life.  That said, if Mekhai is a child they can relate to, then this book could be even more valuable to them and is worth bringing into the learning space.

~Posted by: Cynthia Vu  

 

Teddy the Dog: Be Your Own Dog

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Teddy the Dog: Be Your Own Dog definitely falls under the category of Marvelous New Picture books. Published earlier this year (2016), it was written by Keri Claiborne Boyle and illustrated by Jonathan Sneider. This picture book follows Teddy on an adventure after he receives an unexpected package.

Teddy seems to have it all. He loves living in Teddyville by the motto “Be Your Own Dog”. This all gets turned upside down when he receives a package from his Aunt Marge containing none other than a cat! It seems as if Teddy and this cat just cannot get along no matter what they do, and it drives him crazy!

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However, in this charming book about friendship and accepting others despite their differences, Teddy and Penelope eventually begin to get along. Sometimes our differences are the most important part of our friendships. A friendship between two people who are exactly the same would be pretty boring! Boyle does an excellent job of portraying the idea that we are not going to get along with everyone that we meet, but all friendships involve some sort of compromise.

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Teddy is able to recognize that although he and Penelope have different interests, it does not mean that they cannot be friends. He changes his motto to “Be your own dog…even if it means being a cat”. This picture book teaches important ideas of love and acceptance through relatable (and very cute!) characters. These are critical life lessons that can be taken with them wherever they go: school, the park, soccer practice, or anywhere else!

Post by: McKenzie Scott

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

Trendy Tuesdays: Searching for the Spirit of Spring

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Trendy Tuesdays: Searching for the Spirit of Spring

The need for multicultural books and books with female protagonists is rising exponentially as more minority and female children enter the educational system around the world. The book Searching for the Spirit of Spring, written by Mosa Mahlaba, illustrated by Selina Morulane, and designed by Sibusiso Mkhwanazi, is a story of a brave young girl named Nkanyezi who journeys to bring the spirit of spring back to her village in Swaziland. Nkanyezi’s favorite day of the year is the day that her entire village gathers together to celebrate the spring festival. The festival, which is meant to welcome in the spring season and to unite the community is filled with joy, laughter, music, and dance. When Nkanyezi overhears some of the village elders gossiping about how the villagers are not excited for the spring festival this year, she decides that she must act. “The people of Ndlovu have lost their spirit of celebration. How can we have a Spring festival in a village that has forgotten how to celebrate?” With the well wishes of her elders, she adventures off to search for items that can help replenish the spirit of celebration for her village and family. Nkanyezi crosses rivers, climbs mountains, and treks through forests as she journeys across Swaziland in search of this spirit.

 

While on her quest, Nkanyezi encounters people from other villages who offer her special items that will help her find the missing spirit. Through these encounters, she learns about happiness, generosity, and community, and how the three intertwine. Screen Shot 2016-01-31 at 11.03.21 PM.png

One of the most fascinating elements of this book is how it was created. It was written and illustrated in June of 2015 in only twelve hours! The creators of this book are part of an organization called Book Dash (an organization that creates and gifts books to children). In June, Book Dash hosted an event with another organization called African Storybook (an organization that promotes multilingual literacy expansion) in Johannesburg, South Africa. Together, they arranged teams of forty volunteer writers, illustrators, and designers, to create African story books that are then printed and distributed to children in need for free! This book is also unique in that it is posted for free public use and print . The wonderful people in this organization host book dashes every few months, with their ultimate goal being that “every child should own a hundred books by the age of five.”

This is a fabulous book about a courageous, motivated, and strong young girl who goes on an adventure to bring happiness to people that she loves. It’s a great story for children ages three to six, although children older can still benefit from its beautiful portrayal of selflessness and generosity. The illustrations are beautiful and accurately depict the village of Ndlovu (which is a real village in Swaziland).

If you’re interested in more African story books written by South African authors to introduce in your classroom or to read to your children, they are periodically posted here as they are written. Some of my personal favorites are: Londi: The Dreaming Girl (a girl with a huge imagination), Why is Nita Upside Down? (a girl learning to love herself), and Sizwe’s Smile (the tale of a contagious smile).

-Devyn O’Malley