Free Friday: Children of Foreign Lands


The cover of the book

This week was our school spring break, which allowed me to return to my childhood home and explore some of the books I read growing up.  Most of them are pretty standard: the long list of Dr. Seuss, the “Guess How Much I Love You” book (and others just as sappy and sentimental), and lots of other classics.  However, during this week at home, I discovered some special old books.  Like, books from the 1800s! I found one particular book, intended for children, that describes and depicts children from different nations all around the world.  The book, Children of Foreign Lands by Elizabeth F. McCrady, was published in 1937, and features 8 stories of children from Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Mexico.  The stories end with a short poem that captures the spirit of the preceding passage.  There are also some fun illustrations on each page, and they alternate between color and black and white, which reflects some of the other children’s books from the period.


The title page.  Look at the publication date!!

I remember reading this book as a child, and really looking into how I thought some people lived.  Its focus on children allowed me to view what my life could’ve been like, but it tells a rather one-sided, exoticized story of children from around the world.  Words like “foreign”, especially on the front of the book, indicate an othering and distancing of other cultures.  Even when considering the book in its historical context, many of the cultures in this book are described as completely separate from others.  While I understand that the only world that I’ve known has been this globalized, interconnected set of countries and places, I am reluctant to accept the fact that the world was so separate in the 1930s.



An example of the initial spread of a story.  Here you can see the alternation of the color and black and white illustrations, as well as some of the descriptions of the children (“They did not look like our words”).  

It is really difficult for me to say that this book is an example of misrepresentation in today’s world of children’s literature, as I really believe that the author’s intent in writing this piece was to provide a lens for American children in order to see that other cultures exist, and that there are even other children in those cultures.  However, the outdated nature of this book makes me hesitant to use this as anything other than historical.  I would more recommend using this book as a historical example of contextualized ethnocentric exoticism of different culture other than Judeo-Christian, white American.

One last thought: the end pages in the beginning and end of the book both have an illustration of all the children together.  A previous (child?) owner of the book attempted to place all the children in order based on the sequence of the book! I thought this was a neat little piece of history, coinciding with some of our work at whole-story book reading.


Review by Hannah Baughn


If You Give a Pig a Pancake


If You Give a Pig a Pancake by Laura Numeroff and Illustrated by Felicia Bond. Published in 1998 by HarperCollins Publishers

It was personally really interesting reading this book again for the first time in years — it was one that I often asked my mom to read to me, and it has been good to reflect back on why I loved it so much, and what benefits it may give to children today.

The classic book follows the story of a little pig who climbs into a little girl’s window after she offers him a pancake and follows a series of hilarious events that all build on one another. The style of the story goes “if (insert previous silly thing)….then (insert another silly thing), etc.


The illustrations in this book are both realistic and simple, with a bright color palette and plenty of amusing detail (see little big who dressed itself up in the girl’s sweater below). The illustrations serve to characterize the pig as fun-loving and mischievous, as the pig never speaks in the story, which is mostly told from a third person’s point of view (with the voice of the girl). Thus, the illustrations are irreplaceable as they serve as the primary point of characterization, both for the pig and the girl.


The writing style of the book is simple for young readers to understand; the repetition of the same sentence structure provides a good flow for the story, as well as helps create anticipation for each page turn.IMG_6743.JPGIMG_6744.JPG

In terms of mechanics, the two title pages did a good job of setting up the story — the first showing the pig as a little fugitive with a small sack (like the ones people carry when running away from home on a whim) and the second showing the pig peeping into the little girl’s kitchen. There are no special endpage illustrations (at least in the edition of the book that I have), and there is not a great use of gutters in the book as oftentimes art is lost in the gutters — the illustrator didn’t seem to use gutters to divide up characters or events well.

When reflecting on why I enjoyed this book so much as a kid, I think it was the way the pig seemed to ‘live life to the fullest’ that attracted me — the way it flew from one thing to the next and tackled it all with the same gusto. It’s unpredictability made each page turn a suspenseful moment, which was always followed by a squeal of delight when the little pig’s journey continued. I would still recommend this book to elementary-school aged students, if anything it is a good example of the fact that the choices we make lead to very real consequences, and can be given an educational twist by helping children think through why they make certain decisions, and how they can ensure that they make the right ones.
Posted by: Abby

Trendy Tuesday: The Dreamer by Cynthia Rylant


The Dreamer by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Barry Moser was published in 1993 by the Blue Sky Press.

The book is about a “young artist” (at the end of the book revealed as God) who spent most of his days daydreaming, as most young artists do.

One day, he decided he would form the ideas that were in his head, and he started making the stars…

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And this soon spilled over to making the earth, and trees and light..

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And culminated with him creating living animals…

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…and mankind, fashioned after his own image as artists who created more and more artists that populated the earth.

The tone of Rylant’s book was at once mystical and down-to-earth — her personification of God as an artist served to make him more relatable to the audience, and to compare his artist-like traits with children’s. Rylant’s descriptive and lyrical tone was a good reflection of the book’s content and themes of creativity and imagination. The illustrations in the book are simple yet breathtaking, with Moser making good use of the watercolor medium to create a magical world. There’s a diverse color palette being used, with darker and softer colors for landscapes such as the sky and more vibrant, realistic colors on the pages with animals and people. Overall, I would recommend this book as a good read-aloud to elementary aged students and follow it up with an activity that would help them exercise their creativity, reminding them that everyone is an artist 🙂

Posted by : Abby

Winners Wednesday: Trombone Shorty


screen-shot-2017-03-01-at-4-33-49-pmIn honor of Mardi Gras, I wanted to share the book Trombone Shorty by Troy Andrews and illustrated by Bryan Collier. This book won the Coretta Scott King Award in 2016. This award is given to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of children’s books that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values. In Trombone Shorty, Troy Andrews tells the story of how he got his nickname of “Trombone Shorty.” Living in New Orleans, Andrews grew up surrounded by music. He especially admired his brother who played the trumpet. One day, Andrews found a beaten up trombone, but fixed it up and started playing it. It was bigger than he was; hence, “Trombone Shorty.” He eventually had the opportunity to play on stage alongside famous jazz musician, Bo Diddley, at the Jazz Festival, marking the start of his lifelong music career. He would go on to play on the same stage at the Jazz Festival later in his life. No matter how tough life got for him, Andrews could always turn to music. Trombone Shorty is a heartwarming book that encourages children to follow their dreams, as well as never give up, even when times are hard.screen-shot-2017-03-01-at-1-39-08-pm

I especially liked this book because it is a culturally diverse book that honors African Americans, without depicting them as victims of slavery or prejudice–as many books do. It also included words and phrases native to the culture being described (i.e. “Where y’at?”). The illustrations were also not stereotypical, and looked very realistic. Additionally, some pages featured a unique collage style. Some of the print is in different sizes and fonts, really adding emphasis to the important words.screen-shot-2017-03-01-at-4-54-52-pm

Here is a link to one of Andrews’s band’s (Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue) songs:

Free Friday: Soul Looks Back in Wonder


Souls Look Back in Wonder, illustrated by Tom Feelings, is a collection of poems by various Black poets (including Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, and Walter Dean Myers) that all have messages of uplifting Black children and encouraging them to embrace their blackness and their culture. I was drawn to the rich, colorful illustrations that convey meaning and emotion to every poem featured in this book; I was also drawn to the powerful words targeted at Black youth who already have very little representation in children’s literature, let alone children’s poetry.


Tom Feelings art style for this book of poems emphasizes the beauty of Black children. The colors he uses are warm and vibrant and inviting to the reader (the illustrations usually take up the whole page with no gutters), and he uses all shades of brown for his people. The illustrations give meaning to the poems, and can give the reader insight into different interpretations of the words. Feelings uses shape and color to create interesting compositions and illustrations for the poems and brings life to his Black characters, who are often seen doing activities that regular youth do.


The poems that the illustrator selected to include in this collection of poems speak to the experiences and feelings that young Black children might have, and it shows them that someone understands their identity and what they might be going through. Every poem, explicitly or not, includes messages about self-love of your skin color and your heritage. The poems have been crafted and put together so that the book reads as the hopes and dreams and loves of Black children and it makes poetry relatable and in one’s reach, especially to children who may not have been exposed to poetry as a form of literature before. The poems address advanced struggles of identity and the future that speak to teenagers, but they can definitely be appreciated by younger elementary students as well. The poems are short but powerful, and an excellent introductory piece of poetry in any classroom for Black History Month.


Souls Look Back in Wonder is a great book to introduce poetry to young readers and the illustrations make the poems interesting and relatable. Especially poignant about this collection is its aim at Black youth to get them to love themselves and their blackness and to embrace where they come from. Diversity is needed in children’s literature, especially in poetry so that it is more accessible to all children, and this book does a nice job of this.

Posted by Ashanti Charles

Winner’s Wednesday: When Marian Sang

the cover page of When Marian Sang

the cover page of When Marian Sang


When I first saw the cover of When Marian Sang, I was immediately attracted to and intrigued by the faithful and engrossed expression on the singer’s face, her eyes closed and her hands folded in front of her chest, showing a solemn engagement in her singing and inviting the readers to turn the page and see her story with music. Rendered in Sepia-toned acrylic illustrations, When Marian Sang is a beautiful  collaboration between the author Pam Muñoz Ryan and illustrator Brian Selznick about the incredible story of Marian Anderson, one of the greatest singers in America and an inspiring role model of courage in a pre-Civil Rights America when people of color were not allowed to pursue a professional career in concert music. Through concise and genuine language, the inclusion of the actual lyrics from the songs that influenced Marian and thousands of audience, and the intentionally designed illustration that serves as a visual metaphor of the opera stage, the book immerses readers in the powerful voice and extraordinary music talent of Marian Anderson and presents a time of heart-wrenching social injustice in American history in a manner that is accessible to young readers, many of whom perhaps did not experience the same hardships at first hand.

Endpaper shows the opera tstage. The story of Marian Anderson is about to start.

Endpaper shows the opera stage. The story of Marian Anderson is about to start.

Right from the endpaper, the stage is set up (metaphorically, illustratively, and narratively). The stage in the illustration is the Metropolitan Opera House, which was the stage of her debut and also the ending scene of the book. With the page-turn, the curtains rise and the readers, as with the audience in the illustration, now sees a street view on stage and the young Marian sing in a fully-lit window, drawing attention from people onstage and in the audience.img_20170221_210422

Continuing the visual metaphor of the opera, the title page is visually designed as a program, with the author and illustrator named “libretto” and “staging” respectively. The verso presents a brief, poetic description of Marian’s voice as well as her life experience. The show starts now…

The Cover Page

The Title Page

One of the sparks of this book is its inclusion of the actual verses that Marian sang that had profound meaning to or symbolism of particular time periods of her life (sometimes also as a poignant commentary on the social reality that people of color faced).  For example, on the following page, when the text is talking about how Marian travels to sing for racially separated audience and the illustration shows the troubling and exasperating image of a “colored waiting room”, the verses that Marian sings are about the oppression of Israeli in Egypt, mirroring the oppressive reality that African American people were living at that time.



When Marian embarks on a journey to Europe to learn singing, she feels homesick and starts singing on the ship; here, the full-spread page with sorrowful lyrics of a wandering child in the background of the boundless sea is filled with the deep connection and affection that Marian feels for her home and people, enabling readers to share her grief and uncertainty about the future.

Marian is sad to leave her mother and her country.

Marian is sad to leave her mother and her country.

"Sometimes I feel like a motherless child I long ways from home. A long ways from home. Sometimes I feel like I'm almost gone A long ways from home. A long ways from home."

“Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
I long ways from home. A long ways from home.
Sometimes I feel like I’m almost gone
A long ways from home. A long ways from home.”


The use of full-bleed spreads is dazzling, evocative, and integral part of the book. For example, the culminating scene when seventy-thousand people congregate in front of the Lincoln Memorial to hear Marian sing is depicted in a full-bleed spread (in a horizontal, landscape scale) to show the sheer number of people, invoking a sense of awesomeness and anticipation. The last scene, Marian’s debut at Metropolitan Opera, is also depicted in a two-page spread where Marian’s vibrant-colored clothes are in stark contrast to the sepia tone in the rest of the picture, highlighting the real excellence of her musical talent as well as the tremendous courage and perseverance she embodied.


People in front of the Lincoln Memorial, waiting to hear Marian sing

people in front of the Lincoln Memorial, waiting to hear Marian sing

the "final" debut

the “final” debut


Written with simple yet powerful words and illustrated in a way that faithfully captures Marian’s talent, dedication to music, and inspiration as an activist of social justice (in her own way), When Marian Sang is a brilliant, creative work that will fascinate readers of elementary grades. If I were to use this book in my class, in addition to a read-aloud and open discussion about the illustration, character traits, and themes of the book, I would also show my students actual video/audio clips of Marian’s performance to let them experience the magic and power of her voice in a different way, but just as authentic and influential as the picture book.



Posted by Shiyu Wang

Marvelous New Picture Books Monday: The Secret Project


Written by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Jeanette Winter

Published on February 7th, 2017, The Secret Project is a brand new, page-turning picture book about the development of the atomic bomb during World War II in Los Alamos. An all-boys school in a remote area is cleared out and filled in with scientists and workers who have been given a very secret task. The task is so secret they cannot call it by its real name; instead, they call it the Gadget. They work for a long time on the Gadget, and then go out into the middle of nowhere to test the Gadget. The book ends with a countdown and an explosion, then darkness.

This book has a lot of mystery and suspense to it. No real historical terms are used (i.e. The Manhattan Project, atomic bomb, World War II, etc.), which makes the story all the more mysterious. Winter has a creative use of text design for the countdown, where the numbers descend down the page. Teachers can read this slowly and in different tones of voice to create more suspense. The black page at the end really leaves the audience silent and pondering the effect of the explosion.

Anyone can enjoy this book. If younger children do not know the historical context of the novel, they could enjoy it as a fun mystery. Students and teachers who understand the surrounding context can follow along and look deeper into what happened during this important part of World War II.

You can make a lot of cross-curricular connections with this book because it brings up a lot of different topics. The artist Georgia O’Keefe is painting on a canvas in the desert on a page, so you could bring in an art history lesson about the arts during World War II and the 1940s. The book talks about atoms and fission, which allows for science application about nuclear weapons or nuclear physics concepts. And of course, you could bring in history lessons about World War II, the Manhattan Project, and world powers. Overall, this book eloquently addresses topics that might be tricky to bring up in the classroom and puts it in words and pictures that are easy for everyone to imagine and understand.

Posted by: Jenna Adamczak