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Traditional Thursday: Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans

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Ludwig Bemelmans’ first picture book in a beloved series, Madeline has been a classic since it was first published in 1939.  Set in twentieth century Paris, the book tells the story of “twelve little girls in two straight lines” the smallest and spunkiest of which is named Madeline.  Despite the girls’ routines, perfect behavior, and feminine dress under the care of the loving Miss Clavel, Madeline still finds room to let her personality shine through in a positive, inspirational manner.

The rhyming carried throughout the book is incredibly engaging, especially when read aloud.  The use of rhyme gives the language a rhythm that is timeless and enjoyable regardless of age.  The opening lines of the book – “In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines … the smallest one was Madeline” – are perhaps so memorable due to the creative use of rhyme.

The illustrations in this book are truly captivating.  As a child, I remember loving both the yellow and black images and the splendidly colorful and detailed pictures.  One of my favorite aspects of this book’s illustrations, however, is Madeline’s bright red hair.  It stands out in colored images, emphasizing her spunk and deviation from the crowd.  Perhaps one of my favorite images is Madeline saying “Pooh-pooh” to the tiger at the zoo while her friends cower around Miss Clavel.  Bemelmans also takes his readers on a tour of famous Parisian landmarks through his illustrations.  He even includes a list identifying which pages he features which iconic locations, like the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame.

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One expects this story to be a simple tale of a little girl who is fiery enough to stand up to rodents, winter’s cold, and a ferocious, but mid-way through the narrative, our young heroine’s appendix bursts.  This event was one of the greatest plot twists of my childhood literary experience, to say the least.  I love that Bemelmans was not afraid to address hospitalization – something terrifying regardless of age – amongst discussing small childhood phobias.  He frames the hospital in an uplifting manner that makes it seem safe and interesting to a child.  For example, he describes the pretend rabbit on the ceiling and beautiful nature seen from the window.

What’s perhaps even more inspiring is Madeline’s response to her sudden surgery.  The little girls she lives with enter her hospital room with “solemn” faces, but they are met with something very different.  Post-operation, Madeline is always shown with a confident, content smile on her face.  She shows off her scar on her stomach to eleven attentive little girls.  Her bravery is so encouraging that in the story’s thrilling resolution, all eleven begin crying – they want their appendixes out too!  This ending is not only unexpectedly humorous; it demonstrates how

Reading Madeline was a constant source of joy in my childhood as I admired the character for her unapologetic confidence.  Madeline, despite her size or the obstacles life throws her way, is a leader.  She shows children that it is okay to stand out from a crowd for good – for one’s individualism, personality, and fearlessness.

By Madeline Schmitt

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Winner’s Wednesday: My Kite Is Stuck! And Other Stories

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For Winner’s Wednesday, I chose the 2018 Geisel Honor Award winning book, My Kite Is Stuck! And Other Stories, written and illustrated by Salina Yoon. This book is a sequel to her previous book, Duck, Duck, Porcupine!, which first introduces the three lovely characters, Big Duck, Little Duck, and Porcupine to the readers. 

My Kite Is Stuck! And Other Stories consists of three short stories: 

In the first story, “My Kite Is Stuck!”, Big Duck’s kite gets stuck in the tree, and her friend Porcupine and her little brother Little Duck try to help Big Duck get her kite back. After many failed attempts, Little Duck comes to the rescue by bringing a ladder. 

In the second short story, “A New Friend”, Porcupine finds a new bee friend. Big Duck gets jealous and struggles to accept Porcupine’s new friendship, but soon finds herself a new ladybug friend. Little Duck meets a spider, but isn’t so sure if he and spider are friends. 

In the third short story, “Best Lemonade Stand”, Big Duck and Porcupine spend time making and decorating their own lemonade stand, only to realize that they forgot the most important part: the lemonade itself! Little Duck once again saves the day by making and delivering the lemonade to the customers. 

My Kite Is Stuck! And Other Stories has bold, yet simple illustrations and text, with black outlines and vivid colors. The characters’ faces are expressive, and the illustrations have soft, crayon-like textures to them. The text is comprised of simple sentences with sight words and high-frequency words, which naturally expose a rich array of words to children who are reading this book. The book also contains words, such as “tap! tap!”, “brush! brush!”, “squeeze! squeeze!”, as part of the illustration that indicate the actions of characters. These words serve as appropriate supplements to reading comprehension. 

In addition to the appealing illustrations, the book is full of humor, and relays important messages about the different aspects and dynamics of friendship. The book demonstrates the characters’ willingness to help each other, the importance of cooperation in solving problems, the different emotions, such as jealousy and discontent, that young readers might experience in their own lives, and how friends complement each others’ mistakes and shortcomings. 

Overall, this book is a fabulous book for caregivers to read with children who cannot read yet, beginner readers who might have just started reading, and even adults who might want to momentarily relive their childhood memories of friendship. 

-Elle Kim

Trendy Tuesday: We Are Shining

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For Trendy Tuesday, I chose the book We Are Shining written by Gwendolyn Brooks and illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist. This piece of children’s literature uses simple words and images to convey its message: celebrating all of our differences and similarities among people all around the world. Gwendolyn Brooks is a poet and this story is actually a poem. It was published in May of 2017 and is targeted at a kindergarten through second grade audience; however, I think that students of all elementary school ages could really benefit and learn valuable lessons from reading this story.

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Brooks spreads the message that everyone deserves to have hope and excitement for a bright future to children around the world. Because the words are fairly simple and broad, the illustrator’s pictures help show the reader the beauty of differences in people. Several different cultures and groups of people are represented in the story in various ways. For example, some pages have pictures of  diverse groups of children with huge smiles on their faces, while others illustrate particular cultures and customs. These pictures carry significant meaning in the story due to the highly simplistic, yet powerful language.

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The story begins by saying “Life is for me and is shining!” The illustration really brings these words to life with the beautiful colors and a confident, gentle girl and bird. The author further describes what a shining life is by describing the joy it should bring you. This joy may feel like “stars and sun and bells and singing.” Brooks describes how these feelings should be universal worldwide and in order to promote such happiness and joy we need to appreciate our differences. The way that the author positively accentuates the differences in people from around the world is truly beautiful. Brooks points out the similarities that exist among cultures, like the existence of a mother and father, which helps to shed light on our differences as well. There are so many kinds of people in this world and everyone deserves to celebrate life and be as happy as they can possibly be, which is a point that is effectively driven home in this wonderful piece of children’s literature.
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Emily Green

Free Friday: Dear Girl

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Dear Girl is a picture book written for girls, reminding them of their incredible strength and resilience, while also speaking to the importance of being yourself and loving and caring for yourself. This book is written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and her daughter Paris Rosenthal. After Mrs. Rosenthal passed away last year due to ovarian cancer, Paris began finishing and continuing all of her mother’s projects, which is how Dear Girl became published. Her incredibly courageous and positive mother imparted countless lessons and pieces of knowledge on her daughter that Paris shares with girls everywhere through the book Dear Girl.

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Every page starts the same way: “Dear Girl,…” This introduction is followed by encouraging messages such as “Keep that arm raised! You have smart things to say!” The book talks about working hard and trying your best in school, being yourself (whether that means pink sparkles or playing in the mud), and how to talk to yourself. It tells young girls to be proud of every piece of themselves and to thank yourself for everything that you have done, will do, and can do. Beyond the content of the story, the writing style furthers the impact that this book has on its reader. There are rhyming sentences, bolded phrases, and relatable dialogue that keep the story moving and engaging.

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The illustrations in this story are also lovely. All of the pages have a white background with a simple, yet meaningful depiction of the words. The illustrator, Holly Hatam, uses a variety of materials to illustrate the story, keeping the readers engaged and on their toes. She includes collages, prints, drawings, and watercolors. Many of the illustrations have thought bubbles and pages full of color and happiness. Growing up can be hard, especially when you are worried about things that prevent you from being you, which is something that a lot of young people might struggle with today. This book encourages girls to be themselves in a bubbly and encouraging manner. The simplicity of the words does not limit the power that they hold!
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This story is definitely written for young girls to read or to be read to. I think that reading this story to a group of girls in the classroom could be a very powerful experience for everyone involved. Discussing these experiences and feelings is important because most girls, and people in general, may think these feelings are exclusive to themselves when, in reality, numerous people can relate and are going feeling emotions.

 

Emily Green

Winners Wednesday

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For Winner’s Wednesday, I chose the book Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut. This exciting and high energy children’s book was published in October of 2017 and has already raked in a collection of some of the highest book awards, including being named a Newberry Honor Book, a Caldecott Honor Book, a Coretta Scott King Author and Illustrator Honor Book, and it was named book of the year in 2017 by numerous newspapers and magazines.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The author, Derrick Barnes, brings to life the incredible confidence and excitement a young African American boy feels after getting his hair cut at the barbershop. As a young boy, the author got to enjoy this burst of confidence every Thursday when he would go to the barbershop. Barnes saw this stage of his life to be the starting point of when he began caring about how he presented himself to the world, and his personal experience and interactions with those around him helped Barnes to become the man that he is today. The reader is taken through all of the feelings in each of the stages throughout the barbershop adventure. Starting with just arriving, the young boy in the story is full of confidence and excitement about what his new haircut is going to bring. He acknowledges the people around him and how important each and every one of them could be, though he has no knowledge of any part of their backgrounds. Even after the young boy has payed for his haircut, the “Magnificent. Flawless. Like Royalty.” feelings continue to follow him, and all other customers, out the door. 

The illustrations in the book are incredible and they truly bring the story to life. Every single page is full of color and they really enhance the meaning of the words in the story. The illustrations appear to be done with oil pastels of some sort, which gives each depiction its own energy and excitement. The author’s words are clear and straight forward, but they also are incredibly engaging and exciting to read! Overall, I think that this is a fabulous book that is “a celebration of self-esteem.” It would probably be understood the best when reading it to both girls and boys in upper elementary school. 

 

 

 

-Emily Green

Trendy Tuesday: She Persisted

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Today, for Trendy Tuesday, I chose a book called She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World, written by Chelsea Clinton and illustrated by Alexandra Boiger. This picture book has one spread dedicated to each of 13 American women who persisted, despite challenges, and had significant impacts in American history and the world. These women include Harriet Tubman, Helen Keller, Nellie Bly, and Ruby Bridges, among others. They come from a variety of racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, and contributed in a range of fields. I love the emphasis on social justice, politics, and STEM.

This book is a joy to read, including historically accurate information presented to children in a way that they will understand and learn from. It is not written “down” to children, and includes complex language that parents and teachers can support children in reading. Though each woman’s story is quite different, they are all tied together by the common phrase, “she persisted,” which is included somewhere on every page.

The powerful illustrations of a defining moment in each woman’s life or career stretch across each spread, and the right-hand side of every page includes a moving quote from that woman’s lifetime of persistence. These women did not face obstacles solely due to their gender, and this book can, and should, be read to both girls and boys.

-Nora Yanai

Free Friday: Forever or a Day

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I happened to come across this new book, Forever or a Day by Sarah Jacoby, on a display table at Barnes and Noble. The colorful illustration on the cover and the contemplative title caught my attention and I was happy to find the inside of the book to be filled with beautiful illustrations and beautifully written words as well.

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Jacoby’s words are quite poetic and make you contemplate the nature of time. Can you see it? Can you touch it? Is it far away? The illustrations follow a family throughout a day as they take a trip from the city to the country to visit grandparents and return home at night, but the text does not mention the family at all it just contemplates time. Jacoby’s illustrations are detailed and I love the little hidden connections such as the Times newspaper truck at the beginning of the story.

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Jacoby’s use of color in the illustrations is captivating. Although the main family is light-skinned, a diverse set of people are depicted as the family travels.

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The book makes you contemplate the meaning of time and what time is and leaves you with the message that spending time with the people you care about is most important. I could see this book prompting a great discussion with children about abstract concepts, in this case time, and think it would make a great addition to a classroom library. I would highly recommend you take a look at this beautiful book.

-Kate Fehrenbach