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Free Fridays: “What a Beautiful Morning”


Today’s “Free Friday” on Neely’s News showcases “What a Beautiful Morning,” written by Arthur A. Levine and illustrated by Katie Kath. Throughout his book, Arthur A. Levine takes you through a young child’s journey as he watches his grandfather begin to lose his memory. This heartfelt story really hits home for those of us who have dealt with watching a love one lose their memory and those of us who have had to help a child cope with this type of situation.

This image is the front cover of “What a Beautiful Morning,” illustrated by Katie Kath.

The illustrations in this book were one of the first features of the book that caught my eye. This book is dealing with a hard topic for young children to understand: the topic of memory loss. Therefore, I found the light colors and beautiful brush strokes to be a very appropriate way to lighten up a book about this subject. However, the illustrator had a very good use of intentional colors. Throughout the book, when the grandfather is having a moment of memory loss or is getting confused, the illustrator shows this in the images by using gray and bland colors instead of the more vibrant colors used initially. The use of color throughout the illustrations serves as a great tool for young children when reading the book. The colors convey different feelings and emotions, feelings of confusion perhaps, that occur throughout the book.

In this image, the grandfather is forgetting what to do during breakfast time.









As for the writing style, the author approaches this topic by having the story be told from the perspective of a narrator. While reading the book, you get to watch the story of the grandfather’s memory loss unfold before your eyes. Because we don’t have access to any of the inner thoughts of the characters, we as the readers have to use the pictures and context to get inside the character’s minds.

The young boy, Noah, plays an important role in the story. He is the key character, in my opinion, that really allows you children to use this book as a window or a mirror. I feel that this is a great book to read to children to help introduce them to these types of issues. Additionally, this book could be used to help children who may be struggling with a loved one losing their memory. In the story, Noah’s grandmother is a strong character who begins to take on the role that the grandfather once played. The grandmother still encourages Noah to be with his grandfather and interact with him in different ways than he is used to.

Noah, the young boy, is singing and dancing, but also becoming tired because it is a lot of singing for one person to do!

As the book progresses, Noah, with the help of his grandmother, is able to help his grandfather remember things and is able to interact with his grandfather through music. Singing songs is something this family does a lot and the songs help the grandfather remember what to do. This is something that I have personally experienced with my own grandmother who has lost her memory. There is some power to music that helps her to remember things and feel calm. Not only does the role of music act as a potential coping mechanism but it also is a great way for teachers to bring music and the arts into the classroom.

Overall, this book has come to hold a special place in my heart. Even for those of us who have not directly experienced memory loss, this book will tug at your heart but also help children to remember to make the best of everything no matter how hard.

-Amanda Epp


Winner Wednesday: Du Iz Tak?


Du Iz Tak?, illustrated and written by Carson Ellis is a 2017 Caldecott Medal Honor Book and won The E.B. White Read Aloud Award for the category picture books in 2017. I had never heard of this book before, but while perusing the Internet and the shelves of the library, I stumbled upon it and immediately, my interest was sparked. The book tells the story of the life cycle of a plant through the experience of insects that occupy the same habitat. The twist is that it is told entirely in a made-up bug language, so it’s up to readers to piece together what is happening in the story, since the words are unlikely to be of a lot of help. The dialogue isn’t just nonsense and gibberish, it was actually created very intentionally by the author, so that each made-up word actually corresponds to an actual word in the English language. The book has even been translated into other languages and it follows the same pattern in those languages as the book in English does; there’s even one written in Chinese characters!

Since the writing appears unreadable, there is a heavy reliance of the reader on the illustrations. And they don’t disappoint. The background is white on almost every page and every page is set in the same place, with just the plant growing and the insects moving around it. This demonstrates how the plant is changing and growing as the book progresses and makes it clear to the audience what is going on in the story in the absence of concrete words describing it. I also really liked the way the illustrations were done, with great attention paid to the fine details, for example the clothes the insects were wearing or the inside of the log (which doubled as an insect’s home).

This book has potential to be a great learning tool for English language learners in the class or for other students that may be struggling with reading. Not only does the book not rely very heavily on words, which would make it appealing for struggling readers since they could focus on the pictures to tell the story instead of the words, but it could also be used to promote phonological awareness in students. Since these are made up words and students are not going to be familiar with them, they will really have to focus on the letter sound correspondences and in what order the letters are strung together in order to ensure that they are pronouncing the word the best they can using their phonological skills.




Overall, I think that this book could serve a variety of different purposes in the classroom and is a cute and quirky way to show children that reading is not necessarily all about the words on the page and to allow students to have an opportunity to explore books that at first glance may not quite make sense to them.

-Emma Garcia


Trendy Tuesdays: Ibtihaj Muhammad’s “The Proudest Blue”


So, what makes this book Trendy? For one, The Proudest Blue is brand new- the hard cover published just a week ago. More generally, this book follows in the recent trend in children’s literature of including more diverse characters as the central subjects of the story. Ibtihaj Muhammad, one of the authors, is a medalist for the USA with the 2016 Olympics fencing team who also happens to wear a hijab. With almost a week now passed since the annual commemoration of 9/11, many of the discussions I have heard as an educator have been about how we can inform children about what happened that is sensitive to the trauma of the tragedy. An aspect of the repercussions of that day that was not discussed was how it affected American Muslims and invited waves of hate and discrimination that they had to endure. I believe it is important to highlight this, especially with the current political climate of othering.

The book has full wrap around jacket art

Now, to the book. The story follows two sisters, Faizah and Asiya, on their first day of school. But it isn’t just any first day. It is Asiya’s first hijab day, with her wearing it to school for the first time. Faizah is in awe of how beautiful the hijab is and looks forward to her own first hijab day. She gets questions about her sister’s new hijab in class and must find the courage to proudly explain what it is. It isn’t long before a boy at the school makes fun of Asiya’s hijab, calling it a “tablecloth” on her head. Interestingly, this is the same word Ibtihaj remembers a bully using when making fun of her hijab.

Spread showing silhouettes of boys making fun of Asiya’s hijab in the verso page

The text, cowritten with S. K. Ali, captures the pride Faizah has in her sister’s hijab and her own identity. She calls her sister a “princess” wearing the hijab. There are several double page spreads where Faizah describes Asiya’s blue hijab using similes that compare it with the sky and the ocean. The illustrations accompanying these spreads is beautifully done by Hatem Aly, as the hijab flows across the gutter into the other page, taking center stage. In fact, many of the illustrations are full bleed spreads that show the connection between the two sisters and the connection the hijab has to their identity. Even the jacket features full wraparound art that shows Asiya’s hijab bleed into the ocean and sky. The endpapers show the sisters with their parents and offer a bookend to the story for those observant enough to notice.

A spread in the book showing the blue hijab flow from page to page

There are several good chapter books for children that touch on the topic of islamophobia. Jewell Parker Rhodes’ Towers Falling displays its effects on Sabeen and what 9/11 has changed for her life. Katherine Applegate’s Wishtree shows the unwelcoming nature of Samar’s neighbors. But there are not any picture books that I have encountered that address this issue. The Proudest Blue addresses the issue of islamophobia subtly, displaying it as a form of bullying. However, it is a book about more. It is a book about sisters who stick by each other; about children who are proud of who they are, even in the face of ridicule. Importantly, Ibtihaj makes the point in her author’s note that children of color who are not Muslims or hijabis can also relate to the experience of being “othered.”

-Elias Ukule

Marvelous New Picture Books- When Sadness Is at Your Door


Today, I am highlighting the children’s book When Sadness Is at Your Door. This book is different than many other children book I have seen and read. It is not flashy, or bright and colorful like other children books I was looking at, but I thought it had the potential to be very important and beneficial to young children, and it did not disappoint. In a child’s mind, there are two states of being, happy or sad, and there is an obvious positive connotation behind happiness and a negative connotation behind sadness. This book works to combat the negative connotation behind sadness.


This book is simple and short, but I think the impacts of it could be huge in a child’s mind. For children, as well as adults, sadness can be hard to handle and get a grip on. By personifying sadness and giving it a face, sadness suddenly becomes something less scary and more approachable. Children need to be taught that it is okay to be sad, and it is okay to not feel totally ourselves everyday. They need to be assured that their feelings are normal and validated. Children need to know that “welcoming sadness” and “giving it a name” is the first step to feeling good again. Sadness is not something to be ashamed of.


Overall, I am so impressed by this short little picture book. The illustrations and words are so simple, yet have so much meaning. The little boy and “Sadness” are the only ones who have any detail at all, but they are still very simple. “Sadness” is represented by a light blue blob with human features. The way that the little boy and “Sadness” begin to do activities together that the little boy likes to do shows how to function with sadness in order to one day wake up without it.

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This book could be so useful for a child experiencing a hard time, such as parents divorce or a death of a grandparent. I think reading this book alongside a parent of another loved one would be a great opportunity to address issues and move forward from them. While this book seems a little melancholy, with the right use and supervision, I believe this book could be very comforting.

-Caroline Saltmarsh


Free Friday- Bark in the Park!



In all honesty, I chose Bark in the Park! because I have a minor obsession with dogs, so when I saw that this book was full of “Poems for Dog Lovers” it seemed absolutely perfect for me. Every type of dog has a cute and silly 2-4 line rhyme that goes along with it that is sure to make dog lovers giggle with delight.


When I opened the book, I absolutely loved the end pages. They are so different and unique. They basically show a catalogue of all the dogs that you are about to see in the book. As a little girl, I can only imagine how entranced I would be with these pages looking at all the different breeds of dogs and choosing my favorite kind. I also enjoyed the wide variety of dogs that were used. No breeds were discriminated against, and as a pit-bull owner I love to see that!






While the poems are cute and fun, the illustrations in this book are what I really enjoyed. They appear to be done with a mixture of paints and colored pencil. The faces of the dogs are so expressive and fit with the words perfectly! Through the illustrations, the dogs seem to have human emotions and the humans seem to absolutely adore their animals.


Overall, I really appreciated all the short, goofy poems and the colorful, vibrant illustrations. I think animals, especially dogs, can teach us all a lot about kindness and love. This idea is shown through the illustrations. For this reason, I think Bark in the Park! would be beneficial to have in a classroom for a book that children could flip through individually or with friends.

-Caroline Saltmarsh

Free Friday: Dream Flights on Arctic Nights



For my Neely’s News post, I am highlighting the book Dream Flights on Arctic Nights written by Brooke Hartman and illustrated by Evon Zerbetz. This beautifully illustrated book is written in a rhyming cannon and highlights many of the different natural elements of the Alaskan landscape. Both the author and illustrator of this text are native to Alaska and have drawn on their experiences in the beautiful state to influence their craft. Author, Brook Hartman, is an Alaskan mother and wife living in Chugiak in a home at the base of the mountain. Illustrator, Evon Zebetz, is a resident of an Alaskan island community called Ketchikan. Evon is known for her linocut constructions and public art displays that are installed in public buildings throughout Alaska.

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The vivid imagery such as on the page spread below depict various animals that are native to Alaska including wolves, ptarmigan, and porcupines. The vibrant colors used in the illustrations are contrasted by the dark black night background.


The text also highlights a famous natural phenomenon in Alaska, the Northern Lights. While not named explicitly in the text, this page spread shows the colorful streaks across the black night sky as the young protagonist cheerful enjoys his surroundings.


Dream Flights on Arctic Nights is a wonderful new book to add to any library collection. The book offers gorgeous illustrations paired with a whimsical rhyming cannon. This book takes us away from the traditional rhyming go-tos of Dr. Seuss and can serve as a diverse text to bring in to that classroom that is reflective of native Alaska both in the content of the book as well as the author and illustrator themselves.

Winner Wednesday: A Ball for Daisy


I recently read A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka, and even brought it in for one of my practicum experiences at the children’s hospital, which was very interesting to see the reactions of the children.

I found it interesting that another wordless picture book could have such a profound impact on me. I was very suspicious of wordless picture books before taking this class, but since reading more this semester, I have grown more of a fondness for them. In my experience of reading them, as well as reading them to children, I think it allows for a lot more creativity on the reader’s side, as they can develop their own story without an explanation on every page. Raschka himself said that he felt as though if he added words it would take away from the illustrations because it would simply just be a description of exactly what had been drawn out, which he deemed unnecessary. I certainly believe that there are a lot of books that fit into this realm, and could certainly be wordless had the author chosen to do so. 

This is likely why this book distinguished with the Caldecott Award in 2012, as it is a very detailed book that conveys Daisy’s emotions without using any words. I really enjoyed the vibrancy and brightness of the pictures, which adds a youthful undertone and makes it more attractive for younger ages. It certainly attracts individuals who are dog or animal lovers and is incredibly relatable to me, and I’m sure many other dog owners.


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With all of the books that I have been reading, I have actually become more partial to wordless picture books, as I feel they can say more than those with words. The story was so well told with the images that there were no words necessary. As well, similar to the other wordless picture books, the lack of text opens the story up for some interpretation, which I have grown very fond of, as it allows children to use their imagination and creativity and create, to some degree, a story of their own.


The book is very heartwarming following Daisy’s sadness for her lost ball, but when she gets a new ball, the reader is able to truly feel Daisy’s happiness. Raschka is able to create illustrations that clearly distinguish Daisy’s emotions–be it sadness, nervousness, or happiness–which is an incredibly difficult thing to master, especially with an animal.



-Julia Ham