Winners Wednesday: The Red Book

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Winners Wednesday: The Red Book

The Red Book 1Barbara Lehman’s book, published by Houghton Mifflin Company takes the reader on a magical journey without saying a single word. This wordless picture book follows a young girl in a city who finds a red book in a snow bank. When the girl opens the book, she sees a young boy on an island. The adventure begins as the girl appears to travel into the book to meet the boy. Lehman leaves the readers wondering what happens next as the story ends with a boy on a bike finding a similar red book. Don’t worry… she published a sequel so you can find out what kind of adventures the read book will take him on!

The Red Book 2The thing that amazes me most about The Red Book is the way it pushes the bounds on the definition of “the story.” Each page adds to the story that unfolds using only images. Though the details, such as what city the girl lives in and exactly how the magic of the book works, are left to the reader to decide, there is a clear story to follow and add your own twist and experiences to. I read the story from beginning to end before reading the note the author left the reader on the book jacket. The story that I read was the exact story she describes at the beginning. I did not have to read that to know what the story was about. Lehman was able to convey the full message of her story in images and then provide a brief synopsis that matched it perfectly. IMG_1143

Even without words, or the minute details that words may add to the story, I found a strong theme throughout the story. In a few short pages, and with beautifully crafted and intentional illustrations, Lehman shares with her readers how magical books are. To me, this book is about the worlds that we put ourselves into when we open a book. The worlds that we get to “see” and “experience” from the comfort of our own homes or classrooms. The friends we make with the characters and the suspense of what will happen to them, and to us once we’ve read the last page. Though these messages may not be evident to small children who will experience this book in a very different way, it opens the door to have rich discussions with children – discussions about what it means to read a story and how magical books really are.

To tie it all together, Lehman titles this story The Red Book and makes the cover solid red to match the book in the story. Will you be the next person to find adventure in the red book?

-Anna Lee McLean

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Frederick

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Frederick by Leo Lionni was first published in 1967. It is a picture book about a mouse and his fellow mice as they prepare for winter. The story starts on an old stone wall, where a family of mice lives.

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It is on that wall that the mice begin to gather food and supplies for winter. They “gather corn and nuts and wheat and straw.” Every family member works day and night to prepare for winter… everyone but Frederick.

When asked why he does not help out, Frederick lists all the things he actually is gathering.

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In addition to gathering sun rays, Frederick gathers colors, “for winter is gray”, and words, “for the winter days are long and many, and we’ll run out of things to say.”

Finally, winter comes and the five little mice retreat to their hideout in the stones. In their place in the stone wall, they eat their food, tell their stories and are a warm happy family. Over time, they start to run out of food, they become cold and have nothing left to say. This is when the mice remember Frederick’s supplies of “sun rays and colors and words.”

Frederick shares the sun rays he collected.

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Frederick shares his colors.

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And finally, Frederick shares his words.

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In the end, Frederick gives the other mice the supplies they never thought to gather. They judged him and were frustrated at his lack of help while getting ready for winter, but realize that he really saved them from the cold winter.

This is an important book for children, parents, and educators to be aware of because it talks about both the importance of the physical things in life (food and warm places), as well as hope and the importance of positivity in hard times. Frederick brings the mice warmth when they are without food and warmth, colors when all they can see is gray, and words when there is nothing left to say.

-Mollie McMullan

Marvelous New Picture Book Monday: The Bad Seed

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For today’s Marvelous New Picture Book Monday, I have selected The Bad Seed. This picture book was written by Jory John and illustrated by Pete Oswald. In the story, we meet a sunflower seed who is a bad seed…a baaaaaaaad seed.

 

He doesn’t wash his hands, he doesn’t listen, he ALWAYS cuts the line. But why is he so bad? You’ll have to read it, but I’ll give you a hint, it involves a sunflower seed bag and a giant human.

But this bad seed has decided something. He is tired of being bad and wants to be good. Can he do it? Yes, but you can’t just become a good seed overnight!

While initially this book just appears to be a humorous story about a bad seed, the book is full of potential educational value. For example, it fosters discussion about the phrase “A bad seed.” Idioms are commonplace in the English language but are tricky concepts to teach to emergent readers and writers. This book can be used as an introduction to idioms and could even be used in a writing activity. Students could write a literal story about what they would do if they were a bad seed, following the writing style of the book. Then students could write an explanatory text describing the idiom.

Furthermore, this book targets children’s social and emotional development. When the seed decides to be good, he tells us that it is not always easy:

“And even though I still feel bad, sometimes, I also feel kind of good. It’s sort of a mix. All I can do is keep trying. And keep thinking, maybe I’m not such a bad seed after all.”

This book contains several lessons. First, that bad things happen but we can choose not to let those things define us. Second, just because we sometimes do not feel like good seeds, does not mean that we are a bad seed all the time. We can still be good seeds. When these themes are discussed with students, it can help them learn about how everyone has bad days and how they have the power to choose how they act.

And all of these deep concepts are in a story that is silly and enjoyable to children due to its voice, engaging illustrations, and the crazy actions of the bad seed. A picture book can’t get much more marvelous than that!

Enjoy!

-Katy Roach

Wolf in the Snow

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Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell

Of all the picture books I have read this semester Wolf in the Snow has been my favorite. One of the things I love most about this book are the illustrations and how captivating, vivid, stunning and emotional they are. The main characters are a child and a baby wolf who are lost in the snow. While reading this book, although they are very few words and no full sentences, the heartache of being lost and separated from one’s family and loved ones is so apparent in the eyes and body language of the characters. Even without words the plot and progression of the story is apparent. I am glad Cordell did not add sentences or too many words to this book, as the images are so striking they can stand by themselves and the lack of words gives the reader the freedom to create their own narrative.

While thinking about this book I could imagine an incredible writing exercise analyzing even just one of Cordell’s pages by writing a caption, speech bubbles, or simply describing the scene and practicing making one’s words come alive like the image. Especially regarding the relationship between the child and the baby wolf, and then the interaction of adult wolf, the relationship between these creatures would be incredible for students to analyze.

Below is my favorite image from the book because there is so much incredible emotion behind the eyes of both the child and the wolf. I love the illustrations of the wolves throughout the entire book with their fur so textured with a variety of colors, and I love the way Cordell uses the snow to add to each image without hiding or taking away from the primary images.

 

Another ~secret~ anyone reading this book should know is what is beneath the cover jacket. The wrap around image is beautiful displaying a variety of scenes of either the child or the wolf. I love the similarities between the panels because it draws attention to the parallels between the characters even though one would think they lead very different lives.

Katrin Fischer

Winners Wednesday: Freedom in Congo Square

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For this Winner Wednesday post, I chose the book Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford and R. Gregory Christie. The book was published in 2016 by Little Bee Books, an imprint of Bonnier Publishing Group. This book was a 2017 Caldecott Honor Book and a 2017 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award Honor Book.

The book shares the story of Congo Square, an open park space in New Orleans where enslaved and free Africans would gather on Sundays for afternoons full of dancing and music that originated from the peoples’ home countries of West and Central West Africa.

It is not hard to determine who this book was honored with not one, but two different illustration medals. The illustrations convey both the beauty and vivacity of the gatherings at Congo Square, as well as the harsh and painful experiences of the slaves on plantations. In a rhythmic, rhyming style, the book walks us through the experience of the slaves on every day of the week. Monday through Saturday all describe the difficult lives of slaves, including the hard work they were forced to do, the constant fear they lived in of their masters, and the despair they felt about their situation.

Yet everyday speaks to Congo Square, indicating that it was the one place of solace and escape. As Sunday arrives and both enslaved and free Africans make their way to Congo Square, the pictures convey a more joyous tone with the people standing tall and dancing, contrasting the earlier images like the one seen above. The sudden freedom and joy that erupts from the pages is overwhelming and exciting.

In Congo Square, enslaved and free Africans were able to come together to recognize and celebrate their heritage with music and dance. It is very clear throughout the book that Sunday afternoon is the only time they are free to do this. Despite having everything taken from them, Congo Square becomes a place that African slaves can reclaim some of what they have lost, even if only temporarily, by embracing traditions from their homes.

What I found most compelling about this book was its honesty. I was initially worried that the picturesque illustrations would glorify or soften the harsh realities of slavery for the young readers. However, the book is very clear about some of the horrors that slaves experienced, such as living in crowded houses, being whipped, and being chased by dogs when trying to escape. By acknowledging these experiences, Weatherford and Christie set the groundwork for many important conversations to have with young readers about the dark but true history of our nation.

Speaking of history lessons, I had never heard of Congo Square before I read this book. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about a small pocket of Louisiana history. Congo Square is not something I had ever encountered in all the textbook readings I have done about slavery in my many history courses, displaying shows the power of picture books like this one. They can expose us to little known, but meaningful stories of history that get lost in the details of textbooks. Slavery is, as it should be, taught as a time of brutal and horrible oppression. But this book provides a story of hope amidst the darkness. A story of how enslaved Africans refused to let everything be taken from them.

-Katy Roach

Trendy Tuesday: The Very Hungry Caterpillar

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For my “trendy Tuesday” blog post, I wanted to choose a book that is still popular or trendy many years after its publication so I chose to review The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. This children’s book was first published in 1969 and is still read and loved by children today. The book is about a caterpillar that pops out of an egg one Sunday morning. Readers follow the caterpillar as it eats an increasing amount of food each day throughout the week. The caterpillar eats apples, pears, plums, strawberries and oranges. On Saturday he has a feast with cake, ice cream, pickles, cheese, salami, a lollipop, cherry pie, sausage, cupcakes, and watermelon.

After the feast, he has a stomach ache but eats a leaf on Sunday and feels much better. The now not so hungry caterpillar builds himself a cocoon and after two weeks he nibbles a hole in the cocoon and comes out a butterfly.

I think there are a lot of aspects of the book that contribute to its long-lasting appeal. First, the book has really interesting illustrations. Carle did the illustrations using painted tissue paper that he cut out and glued together. This technique gives the images texture and dimension. There are also holes in the middle of the illustrations of food to indicate that the caterpillar ate the food which I think is appealing for young children.

Additionally, the story has lots of educational qualities which makes it a great book to read in young preschool or elementary school classrooms. The text itself is pretty simple and younger readers can use the illustrations to help them figure out the words they do not know. Teachers or parents can also use the story to help their students or children learn the days of the week because Carle describes what the caterpillar eats each day (“On Monday he ate through one apple, on Tuesday he ate through two pears…”). The story can also be used to learn numbers since there is a lot of counting involved in the story in terms of what how much food the caterpillar eats. Lastly, the most obvious educational value of the book is that Carle depicts the stages. Even though the caterpillars diet is not realistic/accurate, the book still portrays an accurate representation of a butterfly’s life cycle as a caterpillar goes through its transformation into a butterfly. Therefore, The Very Hungry Caterpillar has large academic value.

-Reagan Jernigan

Free Fridays: The Book of Mistakes

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The Book of Mistakes written and illustrated by Corrina Luyken is a commentary on how mistakes are not always bad and can lead to bigger and better things. In The Book of Mistakes, Luyken uses her “mistakes” to build a world of creativity.

On the very first page, there is a partially drawn head and face with only one eye. When the reader turns the page, the face now has two eyes, but one is significantly bigger than the other. Luyken then goes on to talk about how “making the other eye even bigger was another mistake,” but then fixes that mistake by giving the girl a funky pair of glasses.

With every “mistake” the author creates the girl and makes her better and better until she is a complete being. 

The author tries to create other things as well. She makes a “frog-cat-cow thing” that she turns into a “very nice rock.” A girl climbing a tree has a leg thats too long, but that only means she was meant to be climbing that tree.

Every “mistake” that the author makes, she turns into something even more relevant to the story. The ink splotches at the top of the page make for beautiful leaves blowing in the wind, an ink drop on the girls head becomes a helmet, and pen streaks across a page become strings for balloons. 

By the end of the story, there is an entire scene of supposed mistakes: a treehouse filled with children and balloons.

The scene gradually gets smaller and smaller until you see that is really all part of the girls imagination and that she is the creator of all of it herself.

I think that this is a very important book for parents and educators to be aware of becasue it is fun and colorful, as well as an important message for children. It is a story about mistakes and creativity and that all mistakes can be turned into something even more amazing than originally intended. The illustrations tie perfectly into the story and even carry the story when words don’t. They are simple yet complex in the meanings they hold. Overall, The Book of Mistakes has probably become one of my new favorite picture books and I reccommend that everyone read it when they get a chance.

-Mollie McMullan