Winners Wednesday: A Different Pond

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Winners Wednesday: A Different Pond

Bao Phi’s first children’s book was released in August 2017. This simple story was illustrated by Thi Bui and was a 2018 Caldecott Honor Book. For this story, Phi drew fromA Different Pond 2 his own childhood memories of fishing with his father on a lake in Minnesota. Phi’s family escaped Vietnam when he was still a child. Once he had a daughter of his own, her realized there was a gap in children’s literature, especially in the representation of Asian-American characters. He decided to write a children’s book that mirrored his own childhood.

 

The story starts with a young boy being woken by his father in the morning early in the A Differnt Pond 1morning. The father took his son fishing, but not just fishing for fun. They were fishing for food. During this time the boy’s father shares pieces of his memories from life in Vietnam. After the boy’s parents both go to work on a Saturday, they come home and cook dinner. This meal includes the fish the boy and his father had caught that morning. the family is all together and full of joy. That night when the boy goes to sleep, he dreams of the kind of pond his father fished in back at Vietnam and what it looked like.

 

The illustrations utilize several different formats to help guide the story. There are multiple images on each page. Some are full page spreads with smaller images on theA Different Pond 3 sides or in the corners. Other pages are framed images that together take up the whole page. By placing multiple images on each page, there is an illustration to match almost each part of the text. Not only are there numerous images on each page, but the text is divided up on each page. The location of the text matched the image or part of image the text described. Different text structures were also utilized to help keep the readers engaged in the text and the images. These images are all very intentionally created to help foreshadow and share more about the characters than the text alone share. The images are all clear and mirror the simplicity of the story while taking it to the next level. The illustrator seems to capture the meaning of the story and the familial relationships the author is conveying. Overall, I highly suggest this book for a sweet and simple story and well composed illustrations.

-Anna Lee McLean

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Trendy Tuesdays – My Name is Sangoel

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new doc 2018-03-26 11.38.08_1“People who are forced to leave their homes and seek protection in a new country are called refugees. There are more than 300 million refugees in the world today. Most of them are women and children.” Meet Sangoel. When you read his name, how did you pronounce it?

My Name is Sangoel, written by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed and illustrated by Catherine Stock, is about a young boy named Sangoel and his transition from a refugee camp to a home in the US with his mother and sister. When he leaves the Refugee camp the Wise One tells him that he “will always be a Dinka” and that he “will always be Sangoel”. Sangoel and his family then travel in the “sky boat” to get to America and when they get to the American airport they immediately find it overwhelming. They find the person housing them and they move into their new home.

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When Sangoel starts school his teachers and the other people in the school have trouble pronouncing his name and so pronounce it incorrectly every time. Sangoel remembers the Wise One and is polite and corrects them under his breath.

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Eventually Sangoel is signed up for a soccer team and gets a new shirt with his team name on it, “Dynamo”. He shows his sister his new shirt with the word spelled out and a soccer ball on it too. Then he gets an idea.

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When Sangoel shoes up the next day at school he is wear a white shirt and on this front he has drawn on the shirt: My Name is “Sun” + “Goal”. Soon the other children join in and write their names out using pictures to help with the pronunciation.

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Sangoel’s perseverance and creativity in helping others to pronounce his name demonstrates how in his culture names are important. They don’t just represent his identity but that of his family as well. Sangoel’s mother offers to give him an American name but Sangoel stays determined because his name is who he is.

What I found especially interesting about this book is the fact that I too made my own assumptions about how his name is pronounced and so I learned along with the children and teachers in Sangoel’s class, how to pronounce his name. This is a book that would be a good book to wake people up to our natural prejudices that go down to how we assume a name is pronounced. Our names are part of our identities so we should treat them with the same high level of respect that we treat the students in our classrooms.

One image that particularly stood out to me was this full-page spread that shows the American airport upon arrival. I felt immediately overwhelmed while looking at the large bright signs and I can image the amount of noise and people there. That image really spoke to me because that is often the first first-hand experience people have of the US and it is more overwhelming then welcoming.

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Sangoel’s story is reflective of one of many stories of the many refugees who come to the US everyday. In children’s literature, a trend as of late has been to reflect the perspectives of the various people in the US to give children a window into the lives of others and to give children who might not otherwise see themselves reflected in literature, a mirror.

 

Read My Name is Sangoel to expose our biases both to your children and yourself and to serve as a conversation starter about the refugee experience and how we can improve our role in that experience.

-Samantha Kapner

Free Friday: The Word Collector

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Jerome collected words. He collected words for all sorts of reasons in Peter H. Reynolds story, The Word Collector. The Word Collector is the perfect piece to bring  attention to language, both in how extraordinary it really is but also how impactful it can be when used with others.

From the beginning, words are highlighted as the center of this story. Words upon words spread across the cover beneath the jacket, both familiar and unfamiliar, representing the collection Jerome creates. As one continues through the story, the reader follows along as Jerome uncovers more and more words. Short words, two syllable words, and multi-syllable words. Jerome meticulously categorizes his words, but it isn’t until his words become jumbled after a fall that he begins to learn the importance of words and endless array of combinations that can be made from them.

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With this realization in mind, he leaves behind his days of categorizing words and starts to make poetic combinations, placing words together that seemingly should never be placed together. This is what language is, an endless possibility. But this is just one aspect of Jerome’s realizations. He also sees how they can be used with others. Although he can collect words and have a never ending supply, there are those few word combinations that carry more meaning than a thousand others.

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Once Jerome sees the importance of words, he decides to share it with the world. One day he takes his collection and releases each one to the world. Now it was others’ turn to collect their own words and find their own meaning through language. 

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The illustrations throughout the story are simple yet effective for creating cohesiveness throughout the story. They provide a simple companion to the message. 

This would be a wonderful book to for children inside and outside the classroom. With cohesive and inviting pictures to match, The Word Collector is an impressive story. Not only does this book introduce children to new vocabulary that they can add to their repertoire like Jerome does but it also serves to make readers more away of language as its own entity. Children and adults often get lost in the words, forgetting that they aren’t just random strings of letters and sounds but tools that are used to make and convey meaning to share experiences with others. They can be written or spoken but whatever the method words are important. Language and our development of it is an incredible feat and it’s important to make children aware of what it is capable of and what they are capable of doing with it. 

In the words of Peter H. Reynolds “Reach for your own words, tell the world who you are and how you will make it better”

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Winners Wednesday: Big Cat Little Cat

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Big Cat Little Cat, written and illustrated by Elisha Cooper, teaches a lesson of life and moving on through the heartwarming, yet heartbreaking story of two cats. Published in 2017, it received a Caldecott Honor Award for its bold black and white illustrations.

 

What drew me into this book was the simplicity of the illustrations, the contrasting of black and white, and the simple yet powerful storyline. The illustrations throughout the book stick to this black and white theme and simple in nature, making the images all the more powerful. Cooper’s use of blank space allows the readers eyes to focus solely on the cats, and permit the images to stand out and speak for themselves. The writing style of this book is also extremely effective, using simple sentences that carry immense emotion. The story begins with the white cat’s life before the black cat enters it, portraying the cat doing things alone.

 

 

The second cat enters the story as a tiny, almost helpless looking kitten. The contrast on this first page is effective in showing the differences between the two cats, one small one big, one white one black. It also shows the dramatic face to face interaction when they first meet. Then, the story continues with the bigger cat teaching the small cat how to go about every day things. This page creates emotions in the readers as the two cats are beginning to bond and play, and their friendship and blooming. It shows the clumsiness of the black kitten in contrast with the wisdom and steadiness of the white cat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The story continues through the days, months, and years going by as these cats spend all their time together. As the years pass, the black cat eventually grows larger than the older cat, and soon after that, the older cat has to leave and doesn’t come back. This moment is narrated simply with the phrase “and that was hard,” understating the pain but effectively packing an emotional punch. The black cat is then greeted by a new tiny kitten, and he is forced with making the transition from Small Cat to Big Cat, from being the mentee to the mentor. The message this book sends is an important one for children to hear, as it deals with love, loss, and moving on. These topics can be difficult for young children to understand, and this story gives a simplistic, emotional image of what it looks like. The power of the book is really in it’s simplicity; it uses everything it needs and I wouldn’t add a thing.

 

Trendy Tuesday: Little Red

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This Trendy Tuesday, I will be reviewing Little Red by Bethan Woollvin. Little Red is an updated version of the classic fairytale Little Red Riding Hood. This adventurous retelling was originally published in Great Britain in 2016 and, within the same year, made its way to the United States.

Along with the familiar story, the striking illustrations really drew me into this book. From just the cover art, it is easy to see that this version of Little Red is more mischievous than the classic character. When the reader removes the dust jacket, she is met with an equally bold illustration of the antagonist, the dreaded wolf. The aesthetic experience of this book continues with the end pages. They are created with the same combination of gouache and digital media as the rest of the illustrations, and have a “Where’s Waldo” style that would draw any curious child closer to the book.

The plot line of Little Red is similar to the classic tale in many ways. Little Red is sent by her mother to take some cake to her sick grandmother and sets off through the forest. Before long, she encounters a wolf, but she is, surprisingly, unafraid. Little Red and the wolf part ways, and the wolf eats Little Red’s Grandma and then lies in wait for Little Red. Instead of the naïve depictions of Little Red in other versions of Little Red Riding Hood, this little girl is observant and resourceful. When she notices the door of her grandmother’s house is already open, she peeks through the window and sees the wolf in her grandmother’s bed. Instead of quaking in fear, she forms a plan. She plays into the wolf’s scheme until he tries to eat her and she pulls out an ax. This Little Red does not need a passing woodsman to save her! Little Red frees her grandmother and walks back through the woods wearing the wolf’s fur, which, albeit morbid, is an empowered twist on a character who is usually a damsel in distress.

From the illustrations to the plot, from the end pages to the front cover, this book is certainly a step up from the versions of Little Red Riding Hood that I grew up with. Little Red is cunning and brave and a great protagonist, especially for young female readers. While the fractured retelling of classic fairytales is certainly a trend in children’s literature, I believe that powerful female protagonists are here to stay.

Rebecca Baldwin

Marvelous New Picture Book Monday: Hooray for Birds

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This Monday I have chosen Hooray for Books written and illustrated by Lucy Cousins.

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This bright and colorful book invites the reader to imagine themselves as a bird for a day. The author then takes the reader on an adventure through the book as each page gives a bird’s eye view into the life of many kinds of birds.

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The story includes roosters, woodpeckers, swans, parrots, starlings, flamingos, chickens, penguins, ostriches, peacocks, and many more. With each bird is a different characteristic that the writing encourages the reader to imitate.

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The text is simple and perfectly ties into every page and illustration. It even emulates the characteristics of some birds.

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The adventure through a day as a bird ends with the birds going to sleep for the night. The last thing the book encourages the reader to do is “cuddle up close with mama in your nest.”

As all the birds go to sleep, the owl wakes up, which brings me to my favorite part (or parts) of the book: the end pages. The first end page shows each and every bird pictured in the book, wide awake. The only outlier is the owl who is asleep. On the last end page, every bird is curled up, asleep, and smiling… all except the owl.

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This book is an exciting and engaging book for children to read or be read to. It encourages imagination and exposes them to a book about animals who are actually animals. Many books that include animals are written as if the animals are humans, and I appreciate that this book uses the natural characteristics of the birds to tell the story.

~Mollie McMullan

Free Friday: The Curious Garden

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A story of how the efforts of one person could help to change the world. The Curious Garden by Peter Brown follows the dream of one boy to transform an old railway into a beautiful garden.

The illustrations work cohesively with the text to represent the transformation that occurs at the hands of Liam. In the beginning, the illustrations consist of drab, dreary coloring with browns, greys, and beiges with Liam a small insignificant figure found in the bottom corner. Furthermore, the front endpaper is dominated by gray, consisting of rocks and only an insubstantial little corner of greenery. However, the power of one person grows throughout the story along with the color.

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After finding some wildflowers on a forgotten railway, Liam becomes determined to take care of the flowers and begins gardening the area. Soon the garden grows and the colors of the illustrations follow. With blooming flowers and grass spreading across the railway, the illustrations include pops of red, green, and blue, transforming the dreary town into a beautiful spectacle.

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The following spring, after a winter of studying gardening, Liam returns to his garden, helping the plants awaken from their winter sleep and soon the garden refuses to be confined to the railway, spreading its roots all across the town. Plants pop up around town and along with the new gardens comes more people to help preserve the area. By the back endpaper, those first notes of gray are long gone and that little speck of greenery has taken over the entire page. What started with one person became a community effort to bring nature back to a city. The evolution of the illustrations throughout the story really epitomizes the impact what one person can make in the long-run.

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At the end of the story, the author writes a note informing the reader how a garden really did begin to form on an old Manhattan railway, giving way to wildflowers and trees. This just shows that something as small as a few flowers could lead to something much bigger. This would be a perfect book to include in classroom curriculum to promote the importance of nature and to inspire students to take action, no matter how small their idea may be. Nature is integral to our lives and this story serves to embrace that notion with the readers and makes them think about what they could start themselves. What change could they make in the world?

-Maddi Bernards