A Song About Myself

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This 2017 book is a poem by English poet John Keats and is illustrated by Chris Raschka. Keats wrote this poem in a letter to his young sister while he was away on a visit to Scotland. It tells of a young, carefree boy that packs up his belongings and goes on an adventure from England to Scotland.

The poem has lighthearted rhymes and is illustrated by bright, colorful watercolors. The mischievous character goes and enjoys his favorite things, like writing poetry and fishing with his hands. After his adventurous experience, the young boy realizes that even in a different location, many things are the same. The poem says,

“Was as red- that lead

Was as weighty,

That fourscore

Was as eighty,

That a door

Was as wooden

As in England-”

I liked the playfulness of the poem and think it would be a enjoyable book to read to a group of children. It would also be useful for getting children interested in poetry.

 

 

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Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee!

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Andrea J. Loney and Keith Mallett’s New Voices Award Winner Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee! is one that, according to author Loney herself, “celebrate[s] the humanity of all children.” In this case, the child celebrated is James VanDerZee, an African-American boy born in 1886 to the former butler and maid of President Ulysses S. Grant. James himself, however, has a different future in mind: He wants to be an artist. James craves a way to “share the beauty he [sees] in his heart,” but his drawings of people never turn out quite right…so he ends up entering and winning a contest for his very own camera. Here, James does something quite mature: he neither gives up on a dream nor remains desperately grasping at an impossibility, instead adapting his plan as he sees and learns new things. Such a nuanced message is not often found in children’s books, and I wonder whether its poignancy stems from the fact that the story of James VanDerZee is a true one.

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James craves a way to “share the beauty he [sees] in his heart.”

This authenticity is evident in Mallett’s artistry as well. Illustrations in a book that centers on the life of an artist have high expectations to meet – but these delightful images deliver. The pictures of James with his camera are almost reverent, a beautiful glow from the device lighting James’ body and face so that he melts like butter against the soft, dark backdrop of the page.

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But the book is not all beauty and light. Loney does not shy away from reality, acknowledging in no uncertain terms the racism that James faces. I admire her willingness to speak of “segregation,” of the way that 19th century “customers would not want their portraits taken by a black man” – and also the way that Loney is able to illustrate resilience of black people in the face of these obstacles. James’ foray into the Harlem Renaissance comes alongside vivid depictions that are as jubilant as the “cultural celebration” itself.

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The book ends with a historical exploration: real photographs, as well as information about James that was not found in the book. It is always my hope that this type of story, told compellingly, will engage children not only in literacy and reading but in history and activism as well; the notes at the end of Take A Picture of Me, James VanDerZee! are ideal to pique a child’s interest in research after being drawn into James’ life through the narrative. 

-Addison Armstrong

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall: REVIEW

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Jabari Jumps is written and illustrated by Gaia Cornwall. The book is about a young African American boy, Jabari, who has just passed his swimming lessons and is ready to tackle the next big hurdle: the diving board. He comes to his dad confidently that he will jump off of the diving board today.

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When Jabari, his baby sister, and his dad arrive at the pool, however, he is taken aback. He tries to sum up his courage to jump off the board. While standing in line, he also lets his peers go in front of him as thinks about how he will make his grand jump off of the board. After beginning to climb the ladder, he remembers he forgot to do his stretches and goes back down to do them. At the end of the day, Jabari is unable to jump off the board. His dad, very supportingly, assures him that he can do it tomorrow. IMG_5748

His dad continues by saying that Jabari should take a deep breath and take the challenge as a surprise rather than feeling scared. This intrigues Jabari as he loves surprises. Without another thought, Jabari begins his journey up the ladder, across the board and stands on the edge overlooking the pool. The illustrations especially during this point of the book really help the reader feel what Jabari is feeling and the anxious feeling right before you jump off a diving board is instilled in the reader. The picture below does a great job at showing perspective, and as a reader, I start feeling a little scared as well. The illustrations are vital in building suspense even though you aren’t actually experience Jabari’s jump. IMG_5749

Eventually Jabari overcomes his fear and immediately falls in love with the jump and goes back to do it again. Overall, I think this book does a really good job about telling children that it’s okay to be scared and that overcoming fears isn’t too hard after all. I particularly enjoyed the style of writing accompanied with the illustrations. It kept the reader on their toes on the pages that only had one or two sentences and an illustration that gave a really good perspective of what was happening. I also really appreciated that the main characters of the story were African American. It shows that the diversity in children’s picture books is increasing. I would definitely read this book to kids!

Corduroy

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Corduroy is a timeless book about a little bear who wants to be taken home. It was written and illustrated by Don Freeman and was published in 1968.

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Corduroy is a little bear that waited day and night for someone to take him home. He felt unwanted because no one seemed to want him. Until…

new doc 2017-09-26 12.34.32_2One day a little girl told her mother that she wanted to take Corduroy home. The mother said they already spent too much and that Corduroy didn’t even look new. He was missing a button.

new doc 2017-09-26 12.34.32_3Corduroy never noticed that he was missing a button. He decided to go look for it, because he wanted to be taken home.new doc 2017-09-26 12.34.32_4

Corduroy climbed down from his shelf. He looked for his button, and found himself on an escalator to the top floor. new doc 2017-09-26 12.34.32_5

Corduroy had never seen this floor. He thought he might be in a palace. He searched everywhere for his button. He even assumed that the button on a mattress was his. He toppled over trying to remove the button from the mattress and the watchman found him. He was placed back onto his shelf. new doc 2017-09-26 12.34.32_7

The next morning Lisa came back for Corduroy. She used her savings to buy him. Lisa was so excited to have Corduroy that she carried him home in her arms. new doc 2017-09-26 12.34.32_8

When the pair got home Lisa sewed a button on Corduroy. She exclaimed that she wasn’t doing it to make him better: she loved him for who he was. new doc 2017-09-26 12.34.32_9

In the end, Corduroy didn’t just gain a home, he gained a friend.

This book has been around for many years and has remained a favorite. Corduroy is a feel good story about friendship. It teaches that love and friendship should have no boundaries. Lisa wanted Corduroy so bad that she found an alternative way to buy him. She even made him a bed and gave him a button. Lisa’s love for Corduroy is unconditional. The book also contains timeless pictures. The watercolors are soft yet contain vivid contrast. Freeman included a lot of texture in the pictures, especially on the toys.

I like Corduroy because it is a great teaching book for children. There is a lot of rich and rare vocabulary that you can introduce a child to. It can also facilitate great discussions about friendship. I also love that the book’s main character is  little black girl. Even the people in the background of the illustrations are racially diverse. I’m sure Corduroy will be enjoyed by kids, as well and teachers and parents for years to come!

Aliya Meadows

The Happy Day

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the happy day_1.jpgThe Happy Day, by Ruth Krauss and illustrated by Marc Simont, is a Caldecott Honor recipient from 1950. It is a simple story about animals in a forest during the wintertime, slowly coming out of their hibernations, waking up to springtime.

the happy day_4.jpgAt the beginning of the story, the field mice, bears, little snails, squirrels and groundhogs are sleeping in their various locations. They then open their eyes and begin to sniff the world around them. They run, laugh, and dance together. The animals become excited to see a single flower sprouting up from the ground. This flower seems to symbolize the beginning of spring.

the happy day_3.jpgThis book has high frequency words, and not many of them. The repetitive sentences provide a predictive genre of text that a child can pick up on fairly quickly, and perhaps even begin to read along with. While to some people, the sentences may seem short and choppy at times, it seems like a deliberate decision based off of the idea that a child will enjoy this simple story.

the happy day_5.jpgThe illustrations in this book are simple yet intriguing. The entire book is in shades of black and white, except for the single yellow flower on the last page. Even though the animals are all painted in tones of black and gray, they contain details so minute sometimes they can be overlooked. The multitude of snails sniffing in the tree, for example, are bunched together and yet finely detailed.

the happy day_6.jpgThe eyes of the field mice appear to be curious and explorative. Also important to note is the use of light in the illustrations. In the beginning pages, when all of the animals are sleeping, they are drawn with darker shades, and when they begin to awaken, they brighten up and become more vivid. Additionally, there is a stark contrast between the grayscale trees, bushes and animals and the bright white snow. This provides juxtaposition and variety even within the seemingly boring color scheme of the book. The bright yellow flower on the last page represents spring and happiness, and matches the yellow cover of the book. All in all, this simple yet masterfully illustrated book is sure to delight any young reader.

By Emma Cohen

 

 

Horton Hears a Who!

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Horton Hears A Who by Dr. Seuss is a classical picture book that many children have read and will continue to read. It follows the typical Dr. Seussian format, with his particular cartoons, limited color palate, and vivid word choice and rhyme scheme. Despite being published many years ago, the book still expresses a topical message: “a person’s a person, no matter how small.”

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The story begins for Horton like any other day in the Jungle of Nool, when out of nowhere he hears a small noise and sees a tiny speck float by. He soon realizes there may be people living on that speck and puts it on a clover for safe keeping.

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Soon, however, a mean kangaroo comes by and she doesn’t believe there is anyone living on the speck. She makes fun of Horton for caring about seemingly nothing, before spreading the news to other animals in the jungle who make fun of Horton, too.

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Eventually the animals move from merely teasing to real action, and the Wickersham brothers steal the clover and give it Vlad Vladikoff the eagle to get rid of. At this point Horton has learned that there are actual people living on the clover – the Whos down in Whoville – and so even when the clover with the speck gets dropped in a field of millions of clovers, he searches for hours for it.

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Even after he finally finds the clover, the animals of the jungle still don’t believe that the Whos exist, so they tie Horton up and plan to destroy the clover. Horton tells all the Whos to make as much noise as possible in the hopes they will be heard.

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Nothing seems to work until finally one little boy yells out “yopp!” and breaks through. The animals realize they were wrong all along, and everyone agrees to help protect the Whos.

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While on the surface this book may seem like a simple, albeit very entertaining, story, in reality, it imparts many important lessons about belief, perseverance, and loyalty. Horton promises the Whos he will protect them because “a person’s a person, no matter how small.” The other animals discredit the speck on the clover and scoff because they don’t believe there are real people living there. They devote their energy to further discrediting Horton because he attempts to protect them. Eventually, after incredible effort and commitment by Horton and the Whos, the animals finally see the error of their ways and there is a happy ending.

I always appreciated the book for these reasons, but its relevance is important still today. Many people in our society today struggle to make their voices heard and be considered real people with equal rights within their community and country. Only with the help of committed people working together will we be able to have a fully inclusive society like the one present at the end of the story. Horton Hears a Who in many ways mirrors the process our society must go through in order to have true acceptance, and this message is important for young children to hear at an early age, even if the parallels are not quite as clear for them then. Because compassion and faith will always be “trendy,” no matter the context.

Alex Wolfe

Marvelous New Picture Books: School’s First Day of School

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School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex, illustrated by Christian Robinson, is exactly what it sounds like: the story of the first day of school, from the perspective of the school himself. In the story, Frederick Douglass Elementary is nervous for the first day of school, when he will be filled with children. Janitor assures him he’ll like them, but the school isn’t so sure. Although at first the school really doesn’t like the children, by the end of the day he learns lots of new things and decides that maybe they aren’t so bad. He starts to love being a school, and can’t wait for the kids to return the next day.

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The story begins with the construction of the school, Frederick Douglass Elementary. The school likes his name, and he likes when Janitor comes to clean him up. But he’s nervous to be filled with children.

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When the children arrive, the school feels overwhelmed. They climb all over his playground, open all his doors and lockers, and some even say mean things about him. The school feels awful about himself, because the children don’t like him; one little girl doesn’t even want to come in his front doors.

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The school listens to one of his kindergarten classes and learns all their names as they start the day. But just as they start to settle in, his fire alarm goes off. At lunch, a kid tells a joke that makes his friend squirt nose milk all over the school’s table. The joke was pretty funny, so the school isn’t really mad.

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For the rest of the day, the school listens in on the kindergarten class, and learns lots of new things. He feels great when the teacher hangs up a little girl’s picture of him on his wall. By the time the children leave, the school can’t wait to tell Janitor all about his day. He even asks Janitor if the kids can come back tomorrow. The school has finally learned to love being what he is; he knows he’s pretty lucky to get to be a school.

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I think this book is incredibly cute, and a great variation on the first day of kindergarten books that many of us read as young children. It would be great book to read to a child who is nervous or expressing doubts about the first day of school; because the main character is the school rather than a kid, it shows that the first day of school can be fun and exciting without making the lesson too obvious. Also, the unusual main character makes the book novel for kids, and makes them relate their own feelings about school to both the feelings of their classmates and the potential feelings of the school itself. Who knows, maybe their elementary school is thinking and feeling the same things as the school in the book!

This book has a good mix of words that kids will know and new words. This gives the parent/teacher an opportunity to discuss the unfamiliar words with kids, and really engage them in the reading of the book. This book could also be used as a way to introduce some of the school-related words that children may need to know before they start school for the first time, such as lockers, water fountain, and fire alarm. By introducing these words in the context of a school setting, the book helps children to connect the words and their meanings.

Finally, I love the simplicity of the illustrations in this book. They were made using paint and collage techniques, which gives them a rough, child-like appearance. They almost look as if a child created them. However, although they are simple, the illustrations show the diversity of the students at the school, as well as the variety of activities they engage in throughout the school day. The bright images are engaging and fun to look at, but don’t draw too much focus away from the text of the story. Also, setting the images against a white background really makes them stand out.

I love School’s First Day of School, and I think it would be a great book to read to any child about to enter school for the first time. It truly is a marvelous new picture book!

by Maya Creamer