Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Title: Beautiful Blackbird
Author: Ashley Bryan
Illustrator: Ashley Bryan
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
Publication Date: December 2002
The illustrations in this fascinating "why" book explaining how birds were colored with black are mesmerizing. The author/illustrator, who used scissors to create the beautiful collages, creates images that assist with the telling of this rhythmic Zambian tale. Children will surely want to chant along with the rebus of the book "Black is beautiful, uh-huh." Blackbird, unlike other children's literature characters such as the Rainbow Fish, willingly shares as much of his black coloration with other birds as possible, however his focus remains on the beauty within each bird. This book's focus on one's inner beauty makes it a unique tale and a tale that stands out among folk literature. The ending is a bit abrupt and my leave younger readers wondering, but the overall effect of the book makes it a must read. Appropriate and engaging for readers of all ages, Blackbird reminds everyone that one cannot judge a bird by his feathers.
Title: The Golden Mare, the Firebird, and the Magic Ring
Author: Ruth Sanderson
Illustrator: Ruth Sanderson
Publisher: Little Brown & Co
Publication Date: April 2001
A young man, Alexi, wishes to serve as a huntsman for a tsar of Russia. Upon entering the woods, Alexei encounters a golden mare whose life he spares. In return for sparing the animal's life, Alexei is offered the opportunity to gain his goal. The tsar wishes to keep the mare for himself, but the horse only allows Alexei to be her rider and so the tsar settles for Alexei's service to him as a huntsman. Because jealousy clouds his emotions the tsar sends Alexei on formidable tasks including capturing the Firebird and procuring Yelena the Fair, a beautiful young maiden. Despite these Herculean type tasks, Alexei succeeds with the assistance of the golden mare, and eventually tricks the tsar and becomes tsar himself.
The oil illustrations in this story are gorgeous. They assist in telling the tale which is appropriate for older elementary aged children and middle schoolers. Rich in color and detail, the illustrations truly bring a sense of wealth and age to the book.
The story of a Russian folk tale, similar to the northern European tale of Puss in Boots, offers an enchanting story in which a commoner achieves greatness with the assistance of a magical helpmate animal. The golden mare serves as Puss in Boots and Alexei is the miller's youngest son. Following the instructions of the mare, Alexei achieves reknown and struggles with his feelings regarding his insincerity toward Yelena the Fair.
This book is a bit too complicated and the story too intricate to interest younger readers/listeners. Older children will be enchanted by the rich color, double page spread illustrations and the story's intracacies, but younger children may lose interest. The text is longer and the story would certainly be appropriately broken into segments for a wonderful bedtime story reading.
This is another of Sanderson's attempts and The Crystal Mountain was critically acclaimed as a success.
Title: Horse Hooves and Chicken Feet: Mexican Folktales
Author: Neil Philip (selected by)
Illustrator: Jacqueline Mair
Publisher: Clarion Books
Publication Date: September 2003
This colorful Aesop award winning book contains folktales from the Mexican and Mexican American cultures. Filled with vibrant colors and authentic illustrations, the book offers insight into the religious and daily lives of the individuals who passed this one through oral tradition. Tales such as The Two Marias are reminiscent of the classic fairy tale Cinderella while The Story of the Sun and the Moon combines elements from Puss in Boots and Jack and the Beanstalk. Other tales seem to be more locally flavored such as Pedro the Trickster, a story of man who cheats Death itself. Religious icons and themes are prevalent in this collection with appearances by Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, God, the devil, and Death personified, however this is keeping with the strong Catholic ties that lie within the Hispanic culture and should be viewed in that manner. Stories like The Mule Drivers Who Lost Their Feet surely will make children laugh will glee at the lack of common sense that adults sometimes display. The end notes assist in locating original sources for the tales and the end papers, respendent with chilis, give the book its truly southwestern feel.
Saturday, February 9, 2008
Title: Dim Sum For Everyone!
Author: Grace Lin
Illustrator: Grace Lin
Publisher: Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: January 2003
In this charming story, a young girl and her family go to a local restaurant to sample the dim sum. Dim sum literally translated to English means "little heart" or a "touches the heart" but in this playful romp through the various dishes, it means tasty meal for a little girl and her family. Each member of the family has a different favorite dish and the reader is introduced to each character and his or her palate, culminating in the family feast to be shared by all. The illustrations and simple text make this book a wonderful read aloud. Lin's use of color as well as her nod to her native culture interest even the youngest of readers. The end of the book carries notes regarding the history of dim sum and traditions within Asian eating, but the endpapers are truly a masterpiece. Each set of endpapers includes illustrations and labels for the various dim sum dishes. And like most Chinese meals, this book once read will leave you satisfied but wanting to read it again in another hour!
Title: But Excuse Me That Is My Book
Author: Lauren Child
Illustrator: Lauren Child
Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: January 2006
Brother and sister, Charlie and Lola of the Disney Playhouse series of the same name, are heading to the library to check out books. Lola has decided that her favorite book Beetles, Bugs, and Butterflies is the only text that she can check out. However Lola discovers her book missing from the shelves when she arrives at the library. Charlie attempts to introduce Lola to books of various types, styles, and topics until he determines what she wants in a book. Lola spies another patron with Beetles, Bugs, and Butterflies and promptly wants to give up on Cheetahs and Chimpanzees - the alternate book that Charlie has recommended based on Lola's descriptions. Lola learns that there can be more than one favorite book.
My children, ages 4, 6, and 8, all enjoy the Charlie and Lola series featured on Playhouse Disney. Charlie, the older brother, frequently tries to assist Lola in various situations. In this book, Charlie is trying to help Lola to find another book to read since her text has been checked out by another patron. As is common with many young readers, Lola has repeatedly requisitioned the same text and she doesn't wish to change to another.
While I like the collage style of the illustrations and I appreciate the overall message (that there are many good books in the library to be found on a variety of topics) I really don't care for the premature adult position in which Charlie has been placed. Charlie, although Lola's older brother, is forced to help Lola circumnavigate the options until he determines what her specific requirements in a book are: lots of pictures, a story, no big words, and animals to make her laugh. I think that it's wonderful that the older brother is helping Lola, but the fact that he is acting as a surrogate father (in this story the father takes them to the library but makes no appearance in any of the illustrations) for Lola is distasteful to me.
Further, I think for younger readers, the type face and the collage in the text is confusing and is certainly grammatically incorrect. I wouldn't want to use this book to demonstrate the proper grammatical presentation for book titles, which are not italicized but appear more as cutout letters from newsprint or magazines.
Overall the theme of the book is strong - check out the options available to patrons at the library as one might find other topics that he or she likes, but the underlying concepts left a bad taste in my mouth.
Title: I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato
Author: Lauren Child
Illustrator: Lauren Child
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: September 2003
Brother and sister, Charlie and Lola of the Disney Playhouse series of the same name, return in another book. This time Charlie is trying to convince picky eater, aka Lola, to try foods that she would normally reject. At the beginning of this text Lola lists quite a long set of dislikes and won't eats in order to reject the meal being set before her. However in his mature and charming manner, Charlie convinces Lola that the various food items are merely alien foodstuffs and Lola gobbles them up rather than allow such delicacies to go untouched.
As I have said before in the But Excuse Me That Is My Book review, while I find these books to be appealing to the children for whom they are written, ages three to eight approximately, this book even more so than But Excuse Me puts Charlie in the role of the absentee parent. In fact the text states, "Sometimes Mom and Dad ask me to give Lola her dinner." (p. 1) I'm not entirely certain how old Charlie is, but I don't ask my eight-year-old son to convince my four-year-old son to eat his veggies.
That having been said, this text certainly is creative in its nomenclature of the various foodstuffs that Lola would normally reject. The carrots are not carrots but instead are "twiglets from Jupiter." (p. 10) The green peas are "green drops from Greenland" (p. 12) which are "so incredibly rare" (p.14) as Charlie offers to remove Lola's serving and consume it himself. I particularly enjoy when Lola turns the tables on Charlie and requests the dreaded tomatoes, which are not tomatoes but instead "moonsquirters." (p. 28)
Certainly every parent of a picky or fussy eater could use this book as a resource for encouraging varied and healthy eating.
Title: Move Over, Rover!
Author: Karen Beaumont
Illustrator: Jane Dyer
Publisher: Harcourt, Inc.
Publication Date: September 2006
Rover the dog is quietly napping in his doghouse when a rainstorm threatens his peaceful existence. Joined by a cat, a raccoon, a squirrel, a bluejay, a snake, a mouse, and one other unwelcome guest, Rover waits out the storm. All of the critters scatter to the four winds when they discover a skunk in their midst, but the storm ends and finds Rover back at home safely ensconsced in his doghouse.
First, the illustrations are fantastic! Colorful, vivid and highly entertaining, these watercolors and liquid acrylics enchanted the reader. Hiding the skunk in the initial frames makes a "search and find" activity in the second, third, and fourth read throughs a must for young readers!
Second, this is a wonderful book to act out in reader's theater or to assign parts during a read aloud. The easy rebus makes chanting various parts simple even for the preemergent reader and the youngest of children laugh at the doghouse's capacity crowd. Additionally, creating a storyboard, overhead, or flannel board story for this book would be very simple and would add to the listener's participation activity as young readers place the various animals into the doghouse.
Finally, simple text, easy typeface and font, limited sentences per page, and predictable story make this an ideal early reading book. Even struggling readers will chime in and read chorally or echo previously read portions and this book being an ideal text for developing specific rhyming lessons or listening for beginning sounds lessons.