Traditional Thursdays: The Berenstain Bears Go to School by Stan and Jan Berenstain

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For this week’s Traditional Thursday, I thought it might be fun to revisit a childhood favorite: The Berenstain Bears. This series was a staple in my house growing up, and I immediately grew nostalgic upon viewing this book on the shelves of the bookstore.

 

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The Berenstain Bears Go to School chronicles Sister Bear’s entrance into Kindergarten, and the start of Brother Bear’s school year. At first, Sister Bear is quite apprehensive about leaving home and venturing into the classroom. However, Mother Bear takes her to the schoolhouse, where she visits her soon-to-be teacher, Miss Honeybear, and her fear begins to dissipate. She comes to recognize that the school classroom is just her size, and is much less scary than she thought. Come morning, however, she begins to worry again once the big, yellow school bus pulls up. There, she makes friends with a few equally-nervous kindergarteners. At school, she has a marvelous time painting pictures, building cities out of blocks, and looking at books. Once she gets home, she can’t wait to share all she has learned with her parents. Both Sister Bear and Brother Bear come to realize that school can be comfortable and fun.

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The book’s illustrations echo the traditional Berenstain Bear style: vibrant illustrations, sharp images, and the classic bear caricature. The text is not especially well incorporated into the images, but is clear and easy to read. The book does a good job of varying full spread and smaller images, and the bears’ detailed facial expressions work to enhance the storyline.

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Although the book’s content is not particularly profound or innovative, I think it would be a good book to use with young kids, especially those who are apprehensive about leaving home or attending school for the first time. The story feels comfortable and wholesome, and could jumpstart in children a love for the Berenstain Bears series. The Berenstain Bears Go to School teaches young children that although school may seem scary at first, it is made just for them and can be a very fun and non-intimidating environment. This book would be helpful to use to help children learn about change, transitions, and how to cope with feeling nervous about new situations.

 

Posted by: Natalie Gustin

Marvelous New Picture Books Monday: Shy by Deborah Freedman

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The cover illustration of Shy by Deborah Freedman immediately caught my eye. The use of watercolor that was beautifully blended, and the gradient of warm to cool colors as you make your way up from the bottom of the page were masterfully done. The animals truly felt like they were a part of the page and not just stuck on top after making the background.

This book of friendship begins with a giraffe named Shy who loved to read. His favorite books were about birds, but he had never actually heard a bird sing. One day he finally heard a bird, but was too shy to talk to it. Before he could gain the courage to talk to the bird, it was gone. Shy left home for the first time to find the bird.On his journey, he came across many creatures, and finally a whole chorus of birds! Shy listened for the bird he heard earlier. He heard the bird, but when he finally was prepared to speak to it, it was gone again. Sadly, Sky made his way back home.

Once at home, Shy longingly gazed at the birds in his books. Suddenly, he heard the bird again! Without hesitation this time, Shy sang back to the bird. At last, Shy and Florence the bird became friends and happily read Shy’s books together.

The book began with full pages of warm colors. As it progressed, the pages became more filled with cool colors, like the cover art. This made it feel like a rainbow, which is fitting because the whole story takes place outside in nature. The colors on each page corresponded nicely with what was happening at that point in time (i.e. blues were used when the birds were flying in the sky, reds were used at sunset, etc.) The colors were also blended into the animals, even if the animals weren’t the particular color of the page, which was unique (i.e. an elephant had shades of green since it was on the grass). This technique made the pages fit together perfectly; nothing felt out of place. Finally, the text was also placed in different places on each page (i.e. not always on the bottom of the page), making the book even more interesting to read. 

Post by: Halie Petrich

Harlem by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Christopher Myers

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Harlem1Harlem is a poem written by Walter Dean Myers with illustrations by Christopher Myers. This Caldecott Honor book shares the deep culture and history of Harlem through both its poetry and illustrations. The poem first starts by describing the journey to Harlem, mentioning beginnings in Georgia and Goree Island, where many slaves originated. Harlem is described as this place of promise, and Meyers continues by talking about their music, and its origins in African countries. There is a focus on the blues and its beginnings in Harlem and the impact that it makes on the community. Many iconic Black men of the time are mentioned, from Jack Johnson to W.E.B Du Boise. The poem covers many aspects of the culture in Harlem and shares insight on what it was like to be a Black American in the 1920s.

Harlem4The illustrations are vibrant and unique and help the understanding of the poem while sharing Harlem’s story. The people in the book have different shades of skin tones, and many have the same stern facial expressions, showing diversity and unity. The backgrounds on some pages almost seem patched together, representing how all the different aspects of Harlem come together. Some illustrations take up the full page, while others are framed, drawing the reader in. They also represent parts of Harlem’s culture, like the buildings and streets, a woman braiding a young girl’s hair, collared greens, and more.

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As the conversation of more diverse representation in books continues, I think this book is wonderful view into black culture and its history. I think this book would be great for older children learning about Harlem to help broaden their understanding.

Posted by Neena Kapoor

 

 

 

Traditional Thursdays: I Love My Hair!

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I Love My Hair, written by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley and illustrated by E.B. Lewis is a beautiful book about embracing one’s natural hair and beauty and is especially poignant for young Black girls who may need reassurance that their hair is magnificent in a society that does not always show this. The story inspires confidence in young girls through the beautiful illustrations, the connection of hair to nature and natural beauty, and the relatable content.

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The writing style of the book is perfect because it is from the POV of a young black girl getting her hair done and her Mama is telling her how she should celebrate her hair because she can change it any way she wants to and it is a part of their heritage. Mama continues to instill confidence in the girl, Keyana, as she explains the significance of certain hairstyle to her identity. The story, with Mama combing Keyana’s hair as she sits in her lap while they talk together, is one that many young Black girls would be able to connect to as they think about their own mother’s combing their hair. This book and the way it tells the story is truly a mirror for young Black girls and it is also a lens for young children of other ethnicities to see what other hair types look like and that they are beautiful like their hair (which may be more overtly celebrated in society). The writing in this story is meant to instill pride at a young age in Black girls about their natural beauty.

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The beautiful watercolor illustrations make it so Keyana’s hair is almost a character of its own, becoming the rows of seeds, the globe around her head, etc. The illustrations showcase the beautiful brown skin of the characters and again emphasizes the fact that this book is the perfect mirror for Black girls. The illustrations showcase the expressions of the characters, but also the pure joy and power of them. Most of the illustrations span across both pages so that the reader is really brought into the bright illustrations and can take every detail in, with the text integrated well. The illustrations also do a great job conveying the meaning of the text for younger readers.

I Love My Hair! is a beauty self-empowerment for young Black girls that instills confidence and pride in them about their hair and heritage. Young children will enjoy the story from Keyana’s POV and the colorful watercolor illustrations. This book is very special to me because my second grade teacher gave it to me and my sister as a present and it was the first time I had seen a little girl who looked like me as the star of a book. I related to the way her mother combed her hair like my mother did and it made me appreciate my hair more.

Posted by Ashanti Charles

Who Counts? By Amy-Jill Levine and Sandy Eisenberg Sasso

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Prodigal: adjective; spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant

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The title of this book threw me off-who counts? Everyone matters! I started reading this book and the first story was about a man and his sheep. He realizes one day that he is missing one of his 100 sheep, so he goes out looking for her. He ends up finding her, bringing her back home, and having a celebration. Someone asks the farmer, why celebrate? It was only one sheep-you have 99 other sheep. He claims that his flock was incomplete without her.

I then realized that this was starting to sound somewhat like a story I’ve heard before. I kept reading.

The same thing happens with the next story, where a woman is counting her 10 coins (or drachmas, a Grecian silver coin) and one day loses one. She searches for it and ends up finding it and also having a celebration. The woman has the same rationale for celebrating the return of her lost coin. I now knew this book was definitely about three parables from the gospel of Luke.

The third and final story was an adaptation of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It’s a well-known parable: a man has two sons, and he has split his money in half, one half for each son. The younger son runs off with his share and soon returns home with no money and lost hope. The father welcomes him home with open arms, love, and an extravagant celebration. The older son stays back and works on the father’s farm and stays with his father for years, but is forgotten about when the brother comes home. The father feels awful that his older son was forgotten and tells him that everything he has is also his. (For the full story, feel free to pull up Luke 15: 11-31, located in the New Testament of the Bible).

Parables serve as simple ways to get us thinking about important topics. Usually, parables are found in the bible. This book serves as a beautiful interpretation of three famous parables outside of a biblical context. There is a biblical interpretation of these parables, but a different approach could be that this parable teaches us that every one of us counts and everyone should feel counted. Not once is God mentioned in this book (excluding the author’s note), therefore it can be viewed both ways.

Even though this story is out of biblical context, it’s hard to untie this story from its origin in the gospel. I would probably steer clear of ever using this story in a school context, specifically in a public school (Christian private school? Maybe). There is no getting around the fact that this is a parable and can be interpreted in ways that do not adhere to all religions. This is a book that I would personally buy for my own children or for families of children I know would appreciate this story. It is a story from the bible with pictures and adapted dialogue, which kids enjoy and understand. There are also different representations of skin color in each story, which supports the increasing importance of multiracial representation in children’s literature. This book is an elegant adaptation of these three parables and I would love to have this on the shelves of my (future) house.

Bonus content! A song by one of my favorite bands loosely related to Parable of the Prodigal Son: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XLG5KNNal74

Post by: Jenna Adamczak

Marvelous New Picture Book Monday: A Perfect Day by Lane Smith

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“It was a perfect day for Dog.”–From Lane Smith’s A Perfect Day

 

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Picture a perfect day in your mind. Would it be basking in the warm sunlight, frolicking in the cool water, lounging among beautiful daffodils, or having a fresh meal? All of these things are wonderfully perfect and real for the small animals–Cat, Dog, Squirrel, and Chikadee–until Bear comes.

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“It WAS a perfect day for Squirrel.”–From Lane Smith’s A Perfect Day

 

With the humongous bear appearing on the spread, the readers read  “It WAS a perfect day for Squirrel,” and the enlarged and emboldened “was” emphasizes Squirrel’s perfect day now very much comes to an end as Bear barges in and takes away the corncob. And to make the matter worse, the squirrel is not the only hapless small creature as all the other animals watch the larger animal take away their happiness and make it his own…

 

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In the end, it’s Bear who has the most perfect day (napping on the flower bed, munching on the corncob, cooling himself with the pool water) while others can only watch him from the window.

Through brilliant mixed-media illustrations, Lane Smith accomplished a humorous tale that introduces to young readers the concept of point of view. The rich and textures (such as broad paint brush strokes) makes the animal characters come to life, and the fun play with scale adds to the discussion of perspective-taking and the definition of “perfect”. Sending a similar message as They All Saw A Cat about seeing the world through our own perception, A Perfect Day is a perfectly hilarious picture book about making mischief and what “perfect” means to different people (and animals) that will definitely fascinate young readers.

 

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Cover: A Perfect Day

 

 

Posted by Shiyu Wang

Free Friday: The Oak Inside the Acorn

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The Oak Inside the Acorn, written by Max Lucado and illustrated by George Angelini, tells the touching coming-of-age story of an acorn as it falls from its mother’s branches and grows into a great, strong oak. The acorn’s journey is an adventure story that captivates readers. The acorn is eventually planted in a farmer’s backyard, where it is able to grow into a big Oak. The farmer’s daughter grows up alongside the Oak tree; there are many parallels in their introspective coming-of-age stories. Namely, they both highlight the importance of being true to yourself and being the individual you were meant to be. I think this book is appropriate starting in mid-to-upper elementary grades. I don’t think any of the content is inappropriate for younger grades, but the themes are a bit more complex. I think that parents will really enjoy this story, all though some might find parts a bit cheesy.

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To be honest, the reason that I originally bought The Oak Inside the Acorn was because of the illustrations. They are beautiful oil paintings full of Earthy-tones. The lack of precise detail on the human characters’ faces help support the plant characters’ personification and personalities. The illustrations help communicate the growth and changes that occur over the course of the book. Not only are there clear indications of growth and change – like the acorn growing into a large oak tree – but also more subtle, detailed indications like the puppy growing into a dog.

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While The Oak Inside the Acorn has Christian elements, I think the message is beneficial for children from all faith backgrounds or lack thereof. If read in public schools, teachers may choose to read “the oak I was meant to be” instead of “the oak God made me to be.” This book beautifully explores individuality, strength, independence, purpose, and fear of change and growing up.

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