Category Archives: Uncategorized

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

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Winner’s Wednesday: They All Saw a Cat

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This Winner’s Wednesday I chose Brenden Wenzel’s They All Saw a Cat, which won a 2017 Newberry honor award. This charming picture book takes readers through the life of a cat while he walks through the world. On this cat’s journey, we see him through the lens of all the different animals he encounters while he roams. Portraying the cat differently through each animal’s point of view, Wenzel opens up thought-provoking discussion about perspectives, perception, and imagination. This is beneficial in introducing to young readers the concept of understanding another’s point of view: that everyone sees things differently. It makes you wonder, what do you really see when you see a cat?

 

 

 

 

 

My favorite contrast in the book is how the dog and the mouse see the cat. As readers well know, dogs and mice have quite opposing feelings towards cats, and the illustrations in this book do a fabulous job emphasizing this difference. The dog sees the cat as a distorted and skinny, with a disproportionately sized bell. The dog watches the cat pass by, as the cat cautiously eyes the dog. This shows how to the dog, the cat is weak and tempting to chase or prey on. In contrast, the mouse sees the cat as a vicious predator, with intimidating claws and fangs. The color in this illustration adds to the scene that is quite frightening to the mouse.

 

 

 

 

There are several unique views of the cat in the rest of the book, including how a bee, a fish, and a bat would see the cat. These images of the cat not only bring interest and imagination into play, but they can also be teaching moments while reading with young children. The bee’s vision of the cat is portrayed as if looking through kaleidoscope glasses, which is how bees are believed to see. The fish sees the cat through the cloudy water of its fishbowl. Cats are notorious for liking (to eat) fish, and this illustration shows the intimidating nature of the cat through the massive eyes looking at the tiny fish. The bat’s view of the cat was another one of my favorites. Since bats cannot see or hear, but rather they use echolocation to detect shapes of things, this illustration is particularly genius. The cat is seen as a compilation of white dots in the dark outdoors, showing the bat’s echolocation skills. This is a great teaching moment to introduce this science topic that can be tricky for young children. All of these things will inevitably be taught to children either at home or in school, but the visuals in this book could be an extremely helpful tool to aid in the lessons.

Wenzel’s illustrations and ideas in this book are a unique and valuable addition to the world of children’s picture books. As the cat walks through the world “with its whiskers, ears, and paws,” readers are absorbed and fascinated with the way we all see differently.

Sarah Megan Erb

Free Fridays: Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan

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I really like the Brothers’ Grimm version of Snow White, but did not like Disney’s film Snow White, so going into this book I was a little skeptical. However, I really enjoyed this modern twist on a classic tale! Matt Phelan sets Snow White in 1920’s-1930’s New York City which is a new retelling setting for me.

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The novel starts out with a crime scene and a detective questioning a little boy about a young woman found in the Macy’s department store window. This seemed out of place from what I know about the tale when starting the book, but upon finishing the book this is actually foreshadowing of what’s to come.

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IMG_2758The tale progresses through chapters, the first portraying Snow, Samantha White, playing in Central Park with her mother in 1918. The scenes tell of Snow’s mother coughing up blood, collapsing in the park, and then cut to Snow and her father holding each other as a medical personal covers up her mother.

The next chapters show Snow’s father reading the newspaper and seeing an ad for “The Queen of the Follies” and them him going to see this Ziegfield queen’s show on Broadway. Watching the queen he seems enamored and the queen knows it. The very next page, the queen is living with her new husband and shipping Snow off to school.IMG_2762

Alone in their house, the reader sees the father checking the stock market through a machine–this machine showcases the queen’s greed as it magically changes to print out instructions to kill her husband and her step-daughter in order to get the father’s wealth.

IMG_2766 She gets one of her stage hands to go after Snow, but instead of killing her he tells her to get out of town because the queen “isn’t like no other woman. She’s powerful. Dangerous”.

Snow escapes, only to find herself being cornered in an alley by two muggers. However, things don’t ned here for Snow as she gets rescued by seven…boys! Seven adorable boys in their own little gang save Snow and take her in, but refuse to tell her their names.

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As the story goes, Snow goes out into the city on her own for lunch, gets an apple the queen injected poison into and falls into a coma. The boys find her, chase the queen to the roof of the building in which she preforms. The queen gets electrocuted when the stage hand turns on the lights for the performance that night and she falls to her death. IMG_2773Flash back to the detective interviewing one of the boys: for some reason, he kisses Snow’s cheek before the medical person covers her up. However, Snow awakens! The story ends with the boys and Snow living in her father’s penthouse and the detective stopping by with flowers.

 

One aspect about this book that I found very interesting was the use of color. Almost all of the images are black and white, except for certain items of importance that are in red–Snow’s cheeks, her mother’s blood, the fake heart the stagehand got from the butcher to throw off the queen, the apple, and Snow’s lips which fade as she eats the apple. The scenes with the queen are the darkest of all, while the scenes with the boys have sepia-like tones, as if their presence is trying to bring color and joy to the tale. fullsizeoutput_dfaOnce the queen is dead, the scenes in the apartment are in full color, depicting the joy and peace that comes when the “evil” is defeated.

Another aspect about this book that I found interesting is how few words there are. I believe it is expected that readers will know the tale of Snow White and be familiar enough with it to fill in the gaps. However, I do not think this retelling is for younger children as many scenes require more “life experience” in order to interpret, for example the stock machine, the fact that the queen poisoned her husband through a drink, what an estate is and why the queen was so furious when her husband’s estate went to Snow, etc. The words that are there are chosen carefully to guide the reader, to make sure they don’t get lost, while leaving them to interpret the rest. The most words come from the boys, which I find hilarious because kids tend to be very talkative.

I truly enjoyed this book and think it would also be enjoyed by children in 3rd-5th grade! I think they will really enjoy the modern setting of the novel and find it fun to interpret the many pictures. The medium of a graphic novel is a fun way to reach a wide variety of kids and engage them in a new tale they may already think they know.

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Written by: Haley Jones

Winner Wednesday: Grand Canyon

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For this week’s Winner Wednesday I decided to review Grand Canyon by Jason Chin, which is a 2018 Caldecott Honor Book, 2018 Robert F. Sibert Honor Book, and winner of the 2018 NCTE Orbis Pictus Award. The Orbis Pictus Award is given to an outstanding nonfiction picture book for children and the Sibert Award is given to the most distinguished informational book published in the U.S. in the previous year. I can certainly see why Grand Canyon has won all these honors and I think it would make a great addition to an elementary classroom library, especially if ecology or geology is a part of your curriculum.

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Chin presents information about the Grand Canyon in a creative way and the illustrations are captivating and detailed. Even the endpages are engaging, detailed, and informational. You can see one of the end pages below, which depicts a map of the Grand Canyon.

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The illustrations depict a girl and her father as they hike about the Grand Canyon. While the text is all informational and does not mention the girl and her father at all, information about each section of the Grand Canyon is presented as the girl and her father reach the area on their hike in the illustrations. I think this is a creative way to incorporate a bit of a storyline into an informational text. Chin uses the boarders creatively to present more information by depicting animals and plants in each of the ecosystems present in the Grand Canyon or including detailed diagrams of the rock formations.

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A neat feature of the book are the small, hidden cutouts, which depict fossils. When you turn a page with a fossil cutout the following page has a full two-page illustration of what the Grand Canyon may have looked like during the time period the fossil was formed. You can see one of the cutouts in the illustration below.

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The book ends with two pages that open up into a beautiful four-page illustration of the Grand Canyon, but I will save that image for you to see for yourself when you read this book, which I highly recommend. Grand Canyon is a wonderful informational text and it would be especially useful for lessons on ecosystems and/or geology.

-Kate Fehrenbach

Trendy Tuesday: The Giving Tree

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For this Trendy Tuesday I chose to review a book that withstands decades of being read to young children. Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree has been a classic picture book ever since its original publishing in 1964. Silverstein had difficulty finding a publisher for this book because it was “too sad” for children or “too simple,” but eventually Harper & Row published his book, making it available to the millions of people to come to read it. The book is about a boy and an apple tree and how their relationship grows over the course of many years. The tree’s character is generous and the boy’s develops into a character who is taking.

 

At the beginning of their relationship, the boy and the tree have a healthy friendship, where the boy would enjoy climbing the tree, swinging from her branches, and eating the apples. The tree was “happy” when giving things to the boy, but eventually the boy starts taking more and more from her. As the years go by, the boy takes advantage of the tree in many different ways, including selling her apples to make money, using her bark to make a house, and making a boat out of her trunk. With each increasingly selfish “taking” of the boy, the tree was still happy. The book has a somber ending when the tree is left only as a stump, signifying that the boy took everything. In this final moment, the tree is no longer happy.

The boy returns to the tree one last time when he is an old man, and the tree apologizes for having no shade, apples, or branches to give to him. The boy says all he wants is a “place to sit and rest” and in this moment, the tree is happy to give him something. This book has become controversial as the years have gone by, being interpreted in many different ways. First of all, it can be viewed as a criticism of sexism, as the female tree is depicted giving everything to a boy who is ungrateful and exploitive. It can also be interpreted as a religious message to children; the tree is portrayed as an ever-generous, loving figure that could be seen as a symbol of God giving to his children. Another view of this book can be seen through the environmental perspective; humans are always taking unapologetically from the environment, and cause nature to suffer at our own hands. Some people even interpret this as satirical, claiming that it is not suitable for children but instead to be appreciated by adults in a sarcastic way.

 

Marvelous New Picture Book Monday: They Say Blue

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I happened to come across this marvelous new picture book in Barnes and Noble and was captivated by the beautiful illustrations and contemplative, yet simplistic nature of the words. They Say Blue is Jillian Tamaki’s first picture book. Tamaki previously won a Caldecott Honor in 2015 for her graphic novel, This One Summer. While I’ve never read her graphic novels, I would definitely like to read and see more of her work after reading this picture book.

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They Say Blue follows a young girl as she contemplates the colors around her and the changing of seasons. The book starts with the girl saying, “They say the sky is blue. Which is true today!” as she continues to contemplate things that are blue, such as the water and a blue whale. Tamaki’s simple words capture the wonder of the child and what she sees and cannot see and knows to be true. The illustrations add to the contemplative nature of the words and  I love how the image below depicts a whale tail as the girl contemplates the color of a whale.

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The girl’s thoughts of color lead her into thoughts of seasons and I especially love the transformative illustration of the girl into a tree in the page spread below.

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While the girl still narrates the story, the seasons are explored from the perspective of a tree and at the end of the book the narrator transitions back into the girl waking up in the morning and looking out the window with her mother. Tamaki’s illustrations capture her words well, especially in the page spread below.

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The whimsical and contemplative nature of the book could lead to wonderful discussions with children about color and seasons and what we can and cannot see. It also asks readers to question what we know to be true. While “They say blue is the color of the sky,” and the book begins with a blue sky. The final page depicts a red, orange, pink, yellow, purple sky, which leaves the reader contemplating.

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-Kate Fehrenbach

Free Fridays: The Rabbit Listened

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I came across this book by chance.  Because it is the Easter season, the number of bunny-themed books on display at the book store had risen dramatically.  I was so glad for this happy coincidence because,  by the time I finished reading this book, I felt like I had been wrapped in a soothing hug.  The Rabbit Listened is not verbose nor does it contain the most brilliant, dazzling colors, but everything about its endearing simplicity works in its favor to create a picture book with a meaningful message.

 

In Cori Doerrfeld’s The Rabbit Listened, a young boy named Taylor decides to build something with his blocks.  He works very hard and is proud of what he is able to accomplish. Then, out of nowhere, a flock of birds collide into his block castle and everything crashes. Taylor is disheartened.  Various animal friends of Taylor come along with a mindset of wanting to problem-solve the situation for him.  The chicken wants him to talk about it; the bear says he should shout it out; the elephant says he should remember it.  It is clear that the animals have a desire to help but, when Taylor doesn’t feel like engaging with their advice, they leave.

 

 

Quietly a rabbit approaches Taylor. The rabbit does not offer Taylor any advice, he simply sits in silence with him.  When Taylor finally does start to talk, therabbit just listens. Taylor goes through a full range of emotions, going through all the things the other animals said he should express.  The rabbit never interrupts, the rabbit is  just there. By the end of the book, Taylor is making plans to build again, something even bigger, and he is excitedly looking forward to it.

 

 

I think this book is great, because it is an unassuming way of talking about the difficulties of dealing with emotions.  I feel like the majority of people might not know how to be a source of comfort for others during difficult times.  I certainly struggle with it. Despite a desire to want to help and ease the pain of others, we just might not have the tool set for doing so.  Schools don’t exactly go about teaching compassion and comfort the way they do math and science.  Parents try their best, but nobody has a perfect answer.  Many of us can easily become like the other animals in the book, trying to suggest what we believe will help, but perhaps not what the person needs at that time.  Sometimes, we just need other people to be there. My favorite line of the book is: “Through it all the rabbit never left.”  It is such a straightforward response to Taylor’s early plea not to be left alone. In conjunction with the illustration, that one sentence shows us the rabbit’s patience and kindness.   

I believe this book would do well with all ages. The effective use of blank space draws your focus to the characters. The short sentences contain such impact, that they imbue a relatively short story with a poignant undertone. The reader can read as much or as little into this book as he/she wants.  It can be about getting back up again, a highlight on expressing emotions, a lesson on comforting someone, or just a story about a kid, some other animals, and a rabbit. I hope there are more books like this out there, simple reminders of compassion and that “sometimes hugs say more than words.”

Raquel Molina