The Children's Book Compass

Archive for the ‘Picture Books’ Category

Mouse & Lion by Rand Burkert.  Illustrated by Nancy Ekholm Burkert.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Scholastic.  Ages 3-10.  Picture book.

This is a beautifully crafted, elegant retelling of the Aesop fable about the powerful lion who is saved by the lowly mouse.  The setting is Africa in an area bordering Botswana and Namibia.   The detailed illustrations feature the African grass mouse and a splendid lion.  Most scenes show close-ups of the animals, some from the mouse’s perspective – a huge paw holding the mouse’s tail or the lion’s gigantic mouth wide opened, displaying his fearsome teeth.  The illustrator shows every hair and whisker on each animal.  One two page spread shows the baobab tree resplendent in front of a setting sun.  Light infuses the pages as the illustrator uses the white background effectively.   The choice of paper, design of the book, and gorgeous illustrations combine with the well paced, character enhancing text.  Team this with Jerry Pinkney’s wordless version, Lion and the Mouse to discuss how illustrators and authors make choices about the stories they produce.

Five Little Monkeys Reading in Bed by Eileen Christelow.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Clarion Books.  Ages 2-6.  Picture book.

The five little monkeys from Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed are back!  This time Mama reads them bedtime stories but when it’s time for “Lights out! Sweet dreams!” the monkeys keep reading.  The books are so good, they laugh, cheer, scream and cry.  Each time Mama comes back to tell them,  “Lights out! Sweet dreams!  No more reading in bed!”  But each time the monkeys find another book they just can’t resist.  Finally, they are sleepy and say, “Just wait till tomorrow, and then we’ll read more!”  The front endpapers add to the fun, showing each monkey reading in a different spot – on the toilet, outside, swinging, in a comfy chair or while eating.    The expressive monkeys and their loving and patient mom are softly colored.  A great read aloud to celebrate the joys of reading.

Tales for Very Picky Eaters by Josh Schneider.  (2011).  47 pages.  Clarion Books.  Ages 5-9.  Beginning Reader.

Josh Schneider has created a fun and inventive story about kids who are picky eaters.  James is the  picky eater and when he objects to foods like broccoli, he is clear about how he feels about it – “It’s disgusting.”  When James asks, “What else is there?”  his father tells him about alternatives – dirt “mixed by specially trained earthworms…,”  Or, “fine gum carefully chewed one thousand times by special children with very clean teeth, …”  Or, a “…very sweaty sock, soaked in sweat sweated by the world’s fastest and tastiest runner who was fed nothing but apples and cinnamon for three months before running a marathon in this very sock.”  …”  Each of the five chapters features father’s hilarious suggestions of alternatives to the foods James doesn’t like.  Finally, James discovers that if he tries the foods he objects to, he just might like them.  The sprightly illustrations add to the fun and enjoyment of this book.  Winner of The Geisel (Dr. Seuss) Award given for the most distinguished American beginning reader.

Levi Strauss Gets a Bright Idea by Tony Johnston.  Illustrated by Stacy Innerst.  (2011)  Pages not numbered.  Harcourt.  Ages 6-12.  Picture book.

The subtitle for this rollicking story is “A Fairly Fabricated Story of a Pair of Pants.”   That is exactly what Johnston achieves.  She has created a tall tale of how Levi Strauss made blue jeans famous.  She writes in her author’s note, “The story of Levi Strauss and the invention of blue jeans is mostly legend with threads of truth, which my version stretches to near popping.”  Johnson uses colorful language that adds flavor to her tale– “Levi Strauss rushed away.  The miners barreled right behind, rattling and racketing and rolling.”  Innerst painted his animated illustrations on old Levi’s. which gives texture to each picture.  Read this one aloud and then lead your listeners to divine the true facts about Levi Strauss as you read the author’s note.

Lala Salama: A Tanzanian Lullaby by Patricia MacLachlan.  Illus. by Elizabeth Zunon.  (2011).  Unpaged.  Candlewick Press.  Ages 1-6.

In Swahili the words, Lala salama, means sleep peacefully.  Reading this lyrical, sweet book will ensure sweet dreams for any child.  An African mother works through the day keeping her baby close on her back, her lap or in her arms.  As the day unfolds the mother croons to her child with words that describes the day i.e.  “LONG AGO, this morning,/ the sun rose/ above the hill/above our house,/ spilling light over the hills of the Congo/and the lake with the beautiful name,/ Tanganyika,/ like a song. Lala salama, little one.”  The day comes full cycle with the mother singing the baby to sleep, “Close your eyes,/my/dear/child.  Lala salama.”  The luscious oil paintings in rich and soothing colors show all the day’s activities in detail with  the landscape in beautiful vistas.

Read aloud these two books about Chinese New Year to celebrate the Year of the Dragon.  This year’s celebration will be on January 23, 2012.

A New Year’s Reunion by Yu Li-Qiong.  Illus. by Zhu Cheng-Liang.  (2011).  ).  Pages not numbered.  Candlewick Press.  Ages 5-8.  Picture Book.

For young Maomao Chinese New Year is particularly special because it means her Papa will be home.  He builds houses “in faraway places,” and only come home once a year.  Together the family celebrates with new clothes for little Maomao and Mama, a haircut for Papa, making and eating sticky rice balls, finding a good luck coin in the sticky rice balls, visiting friends, making repairs on the house, listening to fire crackers, and watching the dragon dance.  The colorful, detailed illustrations expand the story.  The backgrounds show contemporary streets in China and the festive decorations for the New Year’s celebrations.  The use of red and patterns in the character’s clothing sparks the illustrations.  Some illustrations are splashed across two pages with no text to show larger scenes like the dragon dancers animating the vivid dragon.  The illustrator has a special talent for showing the characters’ emotions.  This book was first published in China and received an award for the best Chinese Children’s Picture book.  The illustrations were also recognized by the New York Times as one of the Best Illustrated Books of 2011.

Crouching Tiger by Ying Chang Compestine.  Illus. by Yan Nascimbene.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Candlewick Press.  Ages 5-8.  Picture Book.

When his Grandpa visits from China, Vinson is fascinated as he watches him practice tai chi.  Grandpa knows English but he wants to speak in Chinese to his grandson and uses his grandson’s Chinese name, Ming Da.  The boy learns tai chi from Grandpa but is disappointed because he is just learning poses and not the kung fu moves he hoped for.  A small drawing under the text illustrates and names each pose.  The story ends with the Chinese New Year parade when Ming Da gets to participate in leading the lion dancers.  Grandpa compliments his grandson and tells him that he has potential to learn the martial arts beginning with tai chi if he is willing to make a serious commitment and work hard for many years.  An Author’s Note at the end explains more about the two major schools of martial arts and the Chinese New Year holiday.  Large size illustrations using ink and watercolors are opposite each page of text.  This book would be excellent for reading aloud in the classroom because the children can easily see the pictures.

Cuddle up with your children and make Christmas memories by reading aloud these books. The first four tell about Christmas in past times.

The Money We’ll Save by Brock Cole.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  FSG.  Grades K-4.  Picture book.

Cole’s droll, expressive illustrations coupled with his subtle, humorous text make this a book that requires multiple reading to keep savoring the fun of the story.  The setting is a ninetieth century New York City tenement.  The family with four children is stuffed into the three small rooms.  Ma asks Pa to go to the market to purchase two eggs and a half of pound of flour so she can make pancakes for supper.  She instructs him, “Now just buy two eggs and a half pound of flour,  Remember, Christmas is not far off, and we must save every penny.”  Pa also brings home a turkey poult to fatten for Christmas dinner.  Pa tells the family, “It will fatten up into a fine bird, and we can have it for Christmas dinner.  Think of the money we’ll save!”  The children name the turkey Alfred and feed him table scraps.  Alfred quickly out grows out his box by the stove, steals the families’ food and makes messes everywhere.  Pa’s wacky ideas to solve the problem escalate as Alfred grows.  When Alfred is hung from the clothes line with a pulley that runs out over the privies the neighbors protest with umbrellas covering their head to protect them from Alfred’s massive white droppings littering their clothes, their hair and even a dog.  The children object that it would be like eating a friend when Pa is ready to take the bird to the butcher.  The family comes up with a clever solution to save Alfred and restore peace to their home.  They eat oatmeal on Christmas day because all their pennies have been spent.  Pa remarks sadly, that “…it isn’t much of a holiday feast…”  “Ah, but think of the money we saved,” said Ma …”   Allow children plenty of time to relish the fun details in the illustrations.  Some made me laugh out loud.

The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve.  Illus. by Ellen Beier.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Holiday House.  Grades K-4.  Picture book.

This quiet memoir is about sacrificing, giving and caring.  Virginia and her brother grow up on the Sioux reservation where their father is the Episcopal priest of the village.  Virginia longs for a new coat to replace the threadbare, outgrown one she has and to keep her warm in the frigid South Dakota weather.  She hopes for one from the boxes sent by church congregations in New England.  When the boxes arrive there is a coat that Virginia hopes for, but another girl takes it.  A happy ending provides Virginia with a beautiful, new coat and her brother with cowboy boots.  Small details in the illustrations enrich the story:  in school the children write with pens and inkwells; a Christmas pageant in the church guildhall features children as the wise men in feathered headdresses and full regalia; Santa’s pack is filled with dolls, balls and toy cars.   This unusual story captures the spirit of Christmas.

The Carpenter’s Gift:  A Christmas Tale About the Rockerfeller Center Tree by David Rubel.  Illus. by Jim LaMarche.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Random House.  Grades 1-4.  Picture book.

This book that takes place in the Depression of 1931 tells a hopeful story that will resonate with children of today.  Henry’s parents are out of work and his family is barely surviving in a shack with no money for coal for the stove or warm blankets for the beds.  Henry’s dad borrows a truck on Christmas Eve and father and son cut spruce trees to sell in New York City that is an hour from their small home.  They find a good spot to sell their trees close to the construction site for Rockefeller Center.  When they have sold most of the trees they give the tallest and best to the construction workers.  Henry helps decorate the tree and makes a star out of newspaper.  As he hangs the star he wishes for a new home for his family.  He takes home and plants a pinecone from one of the trees.  On Christmas morning, the family is thrilled to find the construction workers who have brought extra wood from the construction site to build a home for the family.  Henry gets to help.  Many years later, when Henry returns to his parent’s home and finds that the pine cone has grown into a gorgeous, tall spruce.  He donates it to the Rockefeller Center for their Christmas display.  The gift of a new home continues when the season is over because the wood from the tree is used to build a home for a family in need.  Notes at the end explains about the history of the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center and how Habitat for Humanity builds home for families like Henry’s that lack adequate shelter.  LaMarche’s lush, expressive paintings glow and show the compassion to the story.

Franklin and Winston: A Christmas That Changed the World by Douglas Wood.  Illus. by Barry Moser.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Candlewick Press.  Grades 4-8.  Nonfiction.

In December of 1941, Winston Churchill, prime minister of Great Britain, came through a terrible Atlantic storm on a battleship to meet at the White House with President Roosevelt.  Churchill had already led his country in two years of war against Nazi Germany.  “… he and the president would plan how they might save the world.”  Wood describes the important meetings of the two leaders and their aides as well as the events of the Christmas holidays.  At the end of the book the two leaders had forged a relationship that would sustain them over the terrible years of the war.  The book ends with “The two friends did trust each other, through every hardship and difficulty, victory and defeat, over the next years of World War II.  Millions of others trusted them as well, all around the world.  It was a world they helped to save with their courage and their friendship, on that important Christmas of 1941.”  Wood shows the human side of the two leaders.  Churchill insisted on two hot baths a day.  “One day Franklin barged into Winston’s room just as he was getting out of the tub.  “Think nothing of it,” said Winston.  “The prime minister of Great Britain has nothing to conceal from the president of the United States!”  Moser’s painting shows Churchill a cigar clutched in his mouth with a towel draped over his lower body.  The choices of paper, typeface, design elements, and paintings combine to make this a beautifully crafted book.  A note at the end explains that the paintings “were based, in part, on historical photographs, which were freely cropped, modified, and merged into totally new images …”  This excellent book will introduce young readers to a vital part of our history.

A Christmas Tree for Pyn by Olivier Dunrea.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Philomel.  Grades K-4.  Picture book.

I have read this book aloud several times to appreciative audiences.  Pyn and her father, Oother, live alone on a mountain.  “Oother loved his daughter very much.  But he was a bearlike mountain man who did not soften for anyone.  Not even Pyn.”  Pym is industrious in taking care of their home and providing meals while Oother works in the woods.  Pyn ask for a Christmas tree to help them celebrate Christmas.  Taciturn Oother doesn’t seem interested.  Pyn takes matters into her own hands and decides to surprise Oother with a perfect tree she cuts down herself.  Finding the perfect tree turns out to be hard work as Pyn struggles through the deep snow.   When she becomes buried in the snow Oother finds her and together they discover the perfect tree.  Pyn decorates the tree with a collection of things she has found in the woods and saved.  Oother surprises her with a precious ornament for the top of the tree he made for her mother and saved.  Dunrea’s quiet illustrations in gouache and pencil shows daughter and father in profile and thus captures the contrast in their sizes and natures.  This story is about how steadfast love and the beauty of Christmas can soften a heart.

 

 


Pointing the Direction to New Books for Children and Teens

Marilyn Carpenter, PhD.

Contact Marilyn

e-mail: MarilynCaz@aol.com
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