Lillian lives a contented life with Aunt, deep in the forest, on a farm with chickens, cats, a cow, and the Apple Tree Man, and where Lillian has always hoped to see fairies. Her life is unexceptional–though full of delight–until a day when she is bitten by a snake in the forest. Almost dead, she is saved by the forest cats, who change her into a kitten! Lillian has always wanted to see magic, but she would rather not be a cat, especially since there’s no way for her to tell Aunt what has happened. Lillian embarks on an unbelieveable adventure, involving talking foxes, a possum witch, Lillian’s old friends the Creek boys and their frightening Aunt Nancy, spiders, bear people, and even the Father of Cats.
The story is a compelling one, but the reason the book reaches towards exceptionality is in the marriage of the text and the magical illustrations (by Charles Vess). A hundred years ago, even novels for adults could be heavily illustrated, but over the years, we’ve begun to think of pictures in books as first, ‘just for kids’, and later ‘just for babies’. This book appears to be part of a vanguard of heavily-illustrated novels proving that we can have a thought-provoking, in-depth, novel-length story with illustrations on nearly every page. Unlike those in the works of the more famous Brian Selznik, the illustrations here do not move the story along on their own, but they illuminate it perfectly, bringing characters further to life, and adding a tingle of the unearthly to all the magical elements. Highly recommended for those who like real-world-rooted fantasy, folk-tales, and animal stories.
Posted by: Sarah
This month, Sarah shares Dance by Lorrie Mack, a great introduction to whatever kind of dance you might be interested in!
Although it might not feel like it, spring is here. One of my favorite springtime stories to share is Fran’s Flower. In this story, a little girl finds a plant and decides she wants to make it grow. Unfortunately, she decides it needs food and feeds it a piece of cheeseburger, some spaghetti, ice cream and even a chocolate chip cookie. Of course, this doesn’t help the plant grow and fed up with the flower she throws it out the door. Once outside, the flower gets all the things it needs, and it grows! The colorful illustrations add to the fun. Before you start planting, share this one along with The Carrot Seed by Krauss.
Posted by: Liz
Peace, by artist Wendy Anderson Halperin is a visual and poetic meditation on the subject of peace. The book is dedicated to our senses, and that dedication sets the tone for the book – peace is real, and it can be sensed with our whole bodies and expressed with our words, actions, and thoughts. There is a very short text which can be read aloud, along with quotes from famous peacemakers spread throughout, and panels of illustrations depicting scenes of peace.
Halperin chooses quotes from people like Mother Teresa, Albert Einstein, Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, and Anne Frank. I like that many of the quotes focused on the small ways we can work toward peace: “When people talk, listen completely” (Ernest Hemingway); and “Friendship is the only cure for hatred, the only guarantee of peace” (Buddha). The many illustrations, too, while wide in scope (they depict children and nature around the world), also depict small scenes of peace. Some of the images contrast to illustrate the concept. For example, one scene shows a grandmother washing dishes while her granddaughter lounges on the couch. A few pages later, we see the same grandmother washing the dishes with her granddaughter at her side helping her. Another scene depicts an elderly man boarding a bus as everyone continues to read their paper. Later on in the book, we see that a child has risen from his seat and offered it to the man. We also see children reading in tree houses, planting vegetables, sharing meals with their families, and quietly observing a heron.
The book is one to read and look at over and over again. It may spark discussions about kindness, friendship, stewardship of the earth, and about standing against all those things that destroy peace – like anger, apathy, ignorance, and jealousy. I can see this making a soothing bedtime book for all ages, and while it would be difficult to read the book aloud to a classroom (too many small details), it would make a good book for small groups to read and discuss in the classroom.
Posted by: Parry
When you find a best friend, you want to hold on to him! And anyway, life is sooo… much better with a friend – you can play together and swim together, swimming over and under and all around. Such is the life of two happy friends, Nugget a minnow, and Fang a shark, until Nugget goes off to school. Then, everything is different for Fang and Nugget. At school, Nugget learns lots of new things about the world and his place in it, including the unsettling fact that sharks EAT minnows!!! Nugget cannot believe this and tries to convince his schoolmates that his friend Fang could never hurt anyone.
Eventually though, Nugget does start to believe the rumors and reluctantly lets go of his friendship with Fang. Of course Fang is lost without his best friend and tries everything he can think of to win his friend back. Sadly though, nothing works, until a giant net captures Nugget and the other little fish, and Fang must come to their rescue. In the end, everyone lets go of their old ideas about their shark friend, and the ELEVEN friends live happily ever after, swimming over and under and all around. This book would make a good read-aloud, and there are some wonderful lessons to be learned as well. The illustrations are very colorful and appealing. Really fun!
Posted by: Mary
Mixed up alphabet books are not hard to find in the picture book section, and for good reason. They offer children who have mastered linear alphabet stories but are still learning to decode letters and learn letter sounds a unique way to do that. When done well, mixed up alphabet books are delightful for older preschoolers and their caregivers and offer lots of zany, educational fun.
A is for Musk Ox is one such mixed up alphabet book. Told as a dialogue between a musk ox who is tired of only being featured on one page of the alphabet book and his zebra friend who would really prefer the alphabet remain orderly. The musk ox, who we learn on the “J” page is named Joseph starts by eating the apple on the “A” page and replacing it with himself because musk oxen are”awesome” after all. The musk ox barges his way through the alphabet with corrective tape covering babies, clowns and more so that he is prominently featured on each page while the zebra tries in vain to stop him. The collage style illustrations are bold and full of whimsy and offer so much detail that children will love looking through this book over and over again. As an added bonus, the musk ox’s self-centered mission allows readers to learn all about the animal. This would be an excellent choice for children in later preschool all the way through older elementary school.
Posted by: Kelly
Sam and Morgan are best friends. Strike that – Sam and Morgan used to be best friends. Now Morgan has declared that he will be kicking Sam’s butt in exactly 33 minutes. How did these life-long friends come to this place? That’s exactly what Sam is trying to figure out in Todd Hasak-Lowy’s 33 Minutes. Told mostly through flashbacks from Sam’s point of view, Hasak-Lowy uses sharp wit to take a bit of the edge off the very real heartache that comes with growing up and growing apart, without sugar-coating the reality of this all-too-familiar situation.
Sam is incredibly bright, but not so popular. Morgan has become quite popular in junior high, but he’s never been the best student. As Morgan’s new friends begin taking up more of his time, Sam can’t help but feel left out and a bit jealous. Over the course of a few months, tensions build between the two best friends, and when everything comes to a head Sam is certain it must be Morgan’s fault. A little reflection over the course of the ever dwindling 33 minutes, however, sheds some light on the reality of Sam and Morgan’s situation, and Sam realizes that maybe he is not completely blameless himself.
In Sam Todd Hasak-Lowy has created a very real and very witty character. Sam’s clever observations will have readers laughing out loud but the humor does not take away from the painful reality of Sam’s situation. It is exactly this mixture of humor and reality that make this book an excellent choice for a book discussion group (particularly for boys) or for a 5th or 6th grade classroom read-aloud.
Posted by: Staci