Tag Archives: family

Family Poems for Every Day of the Week

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A bilingual celebration of family, Family Poems for Every Day of the Week (Poemas Familiaries para cada día de la semana) is a collection of poems that reflect the multicultural life experiences of many Latino children today. The poems were written by Francisco X. Alarcón and are based on his childhood experiences and his family. Maya Christina Gonzalez beautifully illustrates these poems with vibrant colors and swirling patterns that immediately captivate the reader.

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There are multiple poems for each day of the week that describe the feelings and events of that particular day. From a sleepy and grumpy Monday, to a trip to el mercado (the market) on Wednesday, followed by a day of non-stop play on Saturday… the week is always full. Each day is linked to a planet as a nod to the historical roots and rich worldwide heritage of the concept of the week while also highlighting the similarities between Spanish and English.

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This collection of poems describes each day of the week as a member of a family (much like that of the author), where every one is a unique individual but fits together perfectly to create one amazing whole.

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This book was published posthumously as Alarcón passed away in 2016. However, the legacy he left behind as a celebrated poet whose words have impacted the lives of many children will continue to live on through his many works. Maya Christina Gonzalez used the illustration of this story as a way to honor Alarcón and all of the work they had created together.

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Inspired by Mexico’s indigenous crafts, the patterns and images of this book were designed to bring history into the present and enhance the way we see the world. The circle imagery throughout the book is Gonzalez’s way of celebrating and continuing the life of Alarcón by pulling his work back into his family. The themes of timelessness and the cyclical nature of the world drive this story and allow it to share a special message with the reader: each day will come and each day will go, but regardless of what happens every day is to be celebrated, appreciated, and loved.

 

Josie Mark

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Last Stop on Market Street

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I cannot say enough good things about Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson’s 2015 Last Stop on Market Street. I stumbled upon it quite by accident, tugging on its bright orange spine in the hopes that the book would be less dusty and worn than the others I’d found in the library…and I was not disappointed.

The book itself – the text and the images – are beautifully done. In fact, Last Stop on Market Street won both the Newbery Medal and a Caldecott Honor in 2016. De la Peña’s writing is nuanced: simple and straightforward, easy for a child to understand – but also embedded with imagery and poeticism. The descriptions are as vivid for the scenery as they are for the characters: just as “Nana laughed her deep laugh,” the bus “sighed and sagged.” On the very second page, our young protagonist CJ steps out of church into “outside air [that] smelled like freedom, but […] also like rain”; toward the end, his grandmother tells him that “when you’re surrounded by dirt, […] you’re a better witness for what’s beautiful.”

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“‘Sometimes when you’re surrounded by dirt […] you’re a better witness for what’s beautiful.'”

Nana is referring to the beauty of the sky – but she could easily be talking about Robinson’s pictures. They are colorful and detailed, done in strokes that give the book’s childish narrator a stake in the visual aspect of the story as well as the narration – Robinson colors the world as a child sees it. The images give off a mixed media feel: newspaper on one page, the birds on the page shown above as if they have been cut from paper. And the figures themselves, of course, are vibrant, colorful representations of all of humanity: in wheelchairs, on foot, with headscarves, with no hair at all, tattooed, light-skinned, dark-skinned, elderly, middle-aged, bespectacled.

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The book is not one, however, that is simply beautiful. It is an emissary of so many beautiful messages: on being grateful, being positive, finding beauty everywhere, helping others, and, above all, perspective. Each character is unique; though the narrator and Nana use Standard American English, CJ has a clear dialect (see image below) that is not looked down upon by the narrator or criticized. His skin color, too, is darker than the average children’s book protagonist’s – but the book is about more than diversity.

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Throughout the book, CJ whines about his responsibilities, about not having a car…but at the end, CJ is gently reminded – as is the reader – to shift his perspective and realize that we are all luckier than we think. Last Stop on Market Street is a reminder to be grateful, compassionate, and respectful, and is a touching story that crosses cultures and class without coming off as as preachy or, on the other end, pitying. Instead, it recognizes not the deficits of different groups of people but the strengths; it celebrates humanity and the goodness de la Peña sees in us all.

 

 

-Addison Armstrong

Winner Wednesday: Blackout

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Blackout by John Rocco tells the story of a family during a power outage in New York City. The book won the Caldecott Honor in 2012, and from the beautiful scene on the cover alone, it’s clear why.

The front cover of Blackout, by John Rocco.

The front cover of Blackout, by John Rocco.

The book begins with a boy, wanting to spend time with his family who is all much too busy to spend time with him. Then, all of a sudden, the lights go out. Not just in the apartment, but the whole city. The family gathers in the kitchen, making shadow puppets and spending time together. As the house begins to feel too warm, they venture to the roof. Here, many other families are gathered as well, and there’s a beautiful star scene shown. They look around, and realize there are many people down on the street as well. So they head down, down, down to the street and join the party going on there, enjoying games and music and ice cream with their neighbors. The lights come back on soon, and the boy laments that things are back to normal, but then says they don’t always like things being normal. He turns the lights off and the family gathers in the kitchen to play a board game and spend time together as a family.

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The illustrations are an incredible asset to this book. Rocco uses a combination of panels, one page spreads, and two page spreads to tell the story. Many of the smaller panels (such as the page shown above) are effective because of the way they show several different things happening all at once. The larger spreads show incredibly detail and artistry that makes the book beautiful.

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The other interesting aspect is the way Rocco uses color and light throughout the book. It begins in color, but then once the lights go out, he uses black and white illustrations, with the only color shown being the source of light: the yellow of the flashlight, or the yellow of the stars. He also places the text in places where the light source illuminates the text:

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The book turns back to color illustrations as the family heads down to the street to join the party going on there, and remains in color the rest of the story.

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This book tells a great story about the importance of family time- getting away from the other things that distract us and spending time with those closest to us. The illustrations are wonderfully done, and compliment the story well.

-Kate Tarne

Marvelous New Picture Book Mondays: Once A Shepherd

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Marvelous New Picture Book Mondays: Once A Shepherd

Once A Shepherd by Glenda Millard is a story of how war can can change the entire trajectory of a person’s life.  It is spell-binding and abrupt, but still an appropriate and humanizing introduction to the tragedies of war.

 

The story begins with blissful newly weds who tend sheep and spin wool.  Tom and Cherry live a peaceful life in a hilly countryside.  The characters’ affection–and, later, pain–in the story is tangible through the beautiful watercolor-based illustrations by Phil Lesnie.

 

 

 

 

 

Suddenly, World War I breaks out and skews their story.  Cherry stitches her husband’s uniform and prays.  The couple bids a heartrending goodbye as the audience discovers this soldier is leaving his future family–his wife and the baby she is carrying.  The words of the story make it clear how strong their bond is.  Tom leaves for war with dread and shock etched on his face.  Tom belongs in a pasture, not in a trench.  In an act of heroism, Tom dies while saving the life of an enemy soldier.

Remorseful, the wounded and grateful solider visits Cherry, offering her her late husband’s coat and closure.

The grieving wife crowns her child with forget-me-nots as her sweetheart once did her.  Wounds heal; peace returns.  This book offers more than just a war story like CNN or FOX broadcast.  It offers a story of healing and courage to children who might not get this side of the story otherwise.  Millard does a fantastic job of imbuing children with a perspective that not only countries fight wars, but people fight wars.  And people can heal from wars.