Saturday, February 28, 2009

Book Review: A Visitor for Bear by Bonny Becker

Book: A Visitor for Bear
Author: Bonny Becker
Illustrator: Kady MacDonald Denton
Published: 2008

Bear prefers to be alone. He has one plate, one cup, and one spoon, and that's the way he likes it. So he's less than welcoming when a mouse invites himself over for tea. But no matter how may times Bear ejects this importunate rodent, he keeps returning. In a battle of wills, who will come out the victor? I think you know.

For some reason, this feels like a very British book to me. Possibly it's the tea. Maybe it's the language--the mouse likes "a bit of tea" and Bear wails, "Begone!" How often do you get to shriek "Begone!" when reading a picture book? Good on you, Becker, for being fearless with the vocabulary.

Kids will get a kick out of poring over the watercolor illustrations as well. Bear and the mouse are both drawn with such expression that even without the text you know everything about them.

This book got a lot of love in the kidlitosphere, and it deserves every ounce.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

We're Going on a Bear Hunt in London

Google Reader spit this out: the Michael Rosen/Helen Oxenbury classic We're Going on a Bear Hunt is being adapted for the West End stage. The run is scheduled for July and August.

According to the article, the director's got some kid-friendly-sounding theater credits to her name, which makes me hopeful. Any Brits out there planning to be in London this summer?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Laurel Snyder and Kosher Pigs

Laurel Snyder published a great article in Nextbook called Where the Wild Things Aren't, about the state of Jewish characters and themes in picture books. If you're interested, it's pretty sad.
Most books for young Jewish readers are instructional. They have titles like, Purim Goodies or It’s Israel’s Birthday! and they’re intended to educate kids about specific customs, traditions, events, and places.

Which is fine, if you’re looking for instruction (though most kids aren’t, if you ask me).
I've talked on Confessions of a Bibliovore about my own love for Catholic-themed books, Although it's a different religion, it suffers from the same invisibility. In fact, when it comes to religion, the default setting at all age levels seems to be something I wouldn't call agnostic or atheistic, but merely, "none of the reader's business." What does religion have to do with everyday life?

For many, many kids, a lot. It's for this reason that mention of any religious themes or traditions in a book tends to make my ears perk up.

Laurel makes a good point that picture books especially have a hard time navigating the line between didacticism and invisibility. She's working on changing that, or at least nudging it, with the publication of Baxter the Kosher Pig. Laurel, that's so on my list.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Book Review: How to Heal a Broken Wing by Bob Graham

Book: How to Heal a Broken Wing
Author: Bob Graham
Illustrator: Bob Graham
Published: 2008

Nobody sees the bird fall, except for Will. He picks it up and his mother takes it home with them. His parents help him set and wrap the wing, but there is no miracle drug that will heal it. Only time.

It's hard to summarize this story because it's so simple and yet there's so much going on. It's like trying to talk about haiku. This is a story not only about compassion and empathy, but also about taking action for the benefit of another living creature. Will doesn't just get sad about an injured bird--he stops in his tracks and insists on taking it home to do what he can for it.

In our discussions on this book, I said that this might have even worked better as a wordless book. It's not that the text is lacking in any way, but simply that the pictures tell 95% of the story. They're so expressive and detailed. Where the text sticks to the simple ("Nobody saw the bird fall") the illustrations expand on this. You see the bird hit a skyscraper and plummet from hundreds of feet in the air to a sidewalk filled with rushing, busy people in muted tones. The first creature, other than the bird, to be shown in full color is Will, carefully climbing the subway stairs and holding onto his mother's hand. There's a full-page spread of him picking up the injured bird that's nothing short of beautiful.

While How to Heal a Broken Wing wasn't my immediate favorite of the Cybils books, it grew on me. Pick up this book if you want a story about the little things that one person can do for another living being.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Eric Carle Shows Us How He Does It

I can't embed it, unfortunately, but follow this link to see a video featuring Eric Carle discussing how he got the idea for The Very Hungry Caterpillar (40 this year!) and showing how he does his painted-tissue-paper-collage illustrations. It's beauteous.

Thanks to 100 Scope Notes for showing the way.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Read-Aloud news continues

Jen seems to have gotten something started with this Read-Aloud campaign of hers. Stop by her blog for a roundup of reactions, ideas, and links.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Book Review: The Black Book of Colors by Menena Cottin

Book: The Black Book of Colors
Author: Menena Cottin
Illustrator: Rosana Faria
Translator: Elisa Amado

How do you describe color to somebody who will never see it? Every word that comes to mind seems to be related to sight. But how about:
Yellow tastes like mustard, but is as soft as a baby chick's feathers.

In simple, nature-based similies, Menena Cottin translates colors into a sightless world, and illustrator Rosana Faria matches it with embossed, black-on-black pictures that can be felt with the fingertips. Also included is the text in Braille and a Braille alphabet in the back of the book, giving kids their first hint of what it's like to read if you're blind.

After reading this book, I went around to most of the staff at my library, insisting that they read it too. Most of the reactions were, "Wow." The rest were, "Wooowwwwwwwww." Whether blind or sighted, this book will make you think about the world in a different way.

Monday, February 9, 2009

You Will Clap Your Hands With Joy

. . . over this video, starring Jarrett Krosoczka and featuring cameos by a number of other children's writers and illustrators. It starts off with an author's life right out of fantasy and gets better from there. My favorite part is Jane Yolen's advice, delivered with the perfect, "Gawd, how many times do I have to SAY THIS?" facial expression. Although Tomie dePaola is pretty freakin' hilarious too.

BOOK BY BOOK: the making of a monkey man from Jarrett Krosoczka on Vimeo.

Apparently Jarrett (what, you think I'm going to try to spell that last name again?!) put it together for a SCBWI presentation. Author, illustrator, and now movie star? If I were a children's author, I would loathe the man.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

President Obama's Choice of Readalouds

Most of you have probably heard about the President and First Lady's surprise visit to a D.C. area school. And what did they read to the kids?

Jerry Pinkney's The Moon Over Star.

Love it. Kudos to the Chief for picking a newer and high-quality book to share with the kids. Jen, this is who you need for the Read to the Children campaign.

(However, I do not envy that principal. Sure it was an honor, but you wanna bet the poor woman worked until midnight the night before getting everything arranged?)

Friday, February 6, 2009

More Online Books at Big Universe

I happened across this website in my Google Alerts. It has a huge number of picture books, scanned and up to read. You do have to have a membership to read whole books, but you can preview them for free.

My favorite is that there are a number of different skill levels represented. Picture books, easy readers, and even some graphic nonfiction.

Not quite as fab as holding the book in your hands, but a great resource all the same.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

To All Those Who Think Books Don't Matter

. . . which is absolutely none of us, I know, but whatever.

An author/firefighter shared a story of two kids who knew exactly what to do during a fire--because her book, called Sparkles the Fire Dog and a recent author visit had taught them how. I love it. What got me was, these were two different kids, two different events. You did somethin' right there, Dayna.

Thanks to Cheryl Rainfield for the warm fuzzies of the day.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Nostalgia on the Funnies Page

One of my favorite comic strips is Zits, because it so accurately captures the teen years for kids and parents both. This Sunday, the strip had a picture-book connection. Click through to read.

All together now . . . awwww.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Readaloud Campaign - I'm in!

Cybils Literacy Evangelist Jen Robinson is thinking aloud (or on-screen, I guess) about a campaign to encourage parents reading aloud. Do you even have to ask how I feel about this?

We could make a day of it--Read to Your Kids Day. How much would literacy rates in this country be improved if we could reach the parents and convince them that, as their children's first teacher, they can lay the groundwork for literacy from birth on?


Drop by Jen's page to read her (much more coherent) thoughts on the subject.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Baby Bop

Being someone who loves music, one of my favorite factoids to tell parents is that singing or playing vocal music to their children actually promotes early literacy skills. Because notes move on the syllable rather than the whole word, kids who hear a lot of vocal music aren't surprised by the whole syllable concept because they already know words have smaller parts. If you want to get technical about it, this is called phonemic awareness.

Now here's a study that shows even three-day-old babies have a sense of music and rhythm. They're not yet sure why, but the study's co-author put forward this theory:
Following a beat is a vital part of cultural activities, from following the rhythm of a conversation to dancing or playing music with another person, Honing says. It's possible that babies are born with a musical sense because it helps communication.
Not news to those of us who've ever caught a baby's attention with a simple rendition of "Frere Jacques," but it's nice to be backed up scientifically.

Plus, they enjoy it, and so do you. What better reason?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Reading Roundup January 2009

By the Numbers
Picture Books: 21
Early Readers: 0 (oops. I need suggestions, guys)

Illustration: TIE Negro Speaks of Rivers, The, illustrated by E.B. Lewis AND My Colors, My World/Mis colores, mi mundo by Maya Christina Gonzalez
Overall: Ghosts in the House! by Kazuno Kohara

Because I Want to Awards
Most Fun to Examine Closely: Woolbur by Leslie Helakoski
Most Fun for Artist Parents: Lily Brown's Paintings by Angela Johnson
Most Universal: Wave by Suzy Lee

Special note: Since about 7 of the picture books I read this month were for Cybils, I can't really say anything about them one way or the other. So Standouts and the BIWT Awards are from the rest of them. There will be reviews of the Cybils books as soon as we announce the winners. I know! Reviews! On a blog! What will I think of next?