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13

Jan
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: In a Village by the Sea by Muon Van

On 13, Jan 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

In a villageIn a Village by the Sea written by Muon Van, illustrated by April Chu

From Goodreads: Written in a spare, lyrical style using fresh, evocative imagery, In a Village by the Sea tells the story of longing for the comforts of home. A perfect book for teaching about diverse cultures and lifestyles through rich pictures and words, moving from the wide world to the snugness of home and back out again.

I love these kinds of books for bedtime stories. They are a bit poetic and sing-songy which makes them comforting and lull you to sleep. The story follows the pattern of The House in the Night or the nursery rhyme that is book based on “Key to the Kingdom”. Each verse pulls you in a little closer or out a little further from the starting point. In a Village gives it a bit of a special twist by ending in a different place from the start, but with a nod to the fishing boat out at sea.

I think because of the bedtime story feel and the young audience it may be intended for, it’s not an absolute necessity for school library collections. However, because both the setting and the authors are Vietnamese it’s one every library should consider purchasing. The book makes for a great read aloud and there is a lot to look at and discuss in the illustrations if you give it the time.

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11

Jan
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Red by Jan De Kinder

On 11, Jan 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

RedRed written and illustrated by Jan De Kinder

From Goodreads: In this poignant story, a girl finds it funny when her classmate starts blushing on the school playground. Her friends laugh along with her, but one student takes the teasing too far. Torn between her sympathy for her classmate and her fear of the bully, the girl must make a difficult choice.

I have a long list of picture books I’ve read and need to review and many of them are fading to the point that I am re-checking them out from the library to refresh my memory. However I decided to tackle Red today even though I read (ha!) it yesterday and have to bump it up the list.

The basic premise of the book is that a child on the playground blushes and a little girl, the narrator of the story, points it out. This starts a wave of teasing led primarily by a twit of a kid named Paul. The little girl who originally pointed out the redness (hence the title) realizes her mistake and wants to stand up to Paul, but she’s cowed by him and the fear that she may be alone.

The illustrations are sparse in cream, black, white, gray and red. The use of white space and limited palate really make it feel very modern and clean. Red in particular is used to great effect through out the story and not just on the little boy’s cheeks.

I bought it for our library in part because we are having problems with bullying across the grades (even in Kindergarten!!) and think we need more books the teachers can use in their classrooms when these issues arise. I also bought it because I wanted to read it per a long-forgotten review of it and the public library curiously did not have it.

The one problem I see with the book is that it’s probably a story better suited to use in classrooms. It’s the kind of book adults love, but kids don’t necessarily click with. It won’t be one they ask to read over and over again (for starters the story, despite it’s happy ending, is kind of depressing). I think students will understand the message and will enjoy the story and conversations it will induce, but it’s not quite the type of story that children will be drawn to. And if they are I suspect it will be because the message really resonates with their current situation.

Despite this, I highly recommend this book for school library collections and classroom libraries. We all deal with bullying situations and need to address them and this book is an excellent starting place. It has a Message with a capital m, but it doesn’t feel preachy. I think it especially speaks to the kids who are bystanders and the fear they feel about speaking out. It may give them courage to stop what they see and it definitely gives teachers a place to start the conversation.

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06

Jan
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Yard Sale by Eve Bunting

On 06, Jan 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Yard SaleYard Sale written by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Lauren Castillo

From Goodreads: Almost everything Callie’s family owns is spread out in their front yard—their furniture, their potted flowers, even Callie’s bike. They can’t stay in this house, so they’re moving to an apartment in the city. The new place is “small but nice,” Mom says, and most of their things won’t fit, so today they are having a yard sale. But it’s kind of hard to watch people buy your stuff, even if you understand why it has to happen. With sensitivity and grace, Eve Bunting and Lauren Castillo portray an event at once familiar and difficult, making clear that a home isn’t about what you have, but whom you hold close.

I was kind of meh on this one even though I know a lot of other people liked it. The message in it was great and I think the comment the woman makes to Callie at the yard sale is spot on and I know it shows a reality for a lot of kids during the recession. I just didn’t personally click with the story.

I am always looking for books that help kids understand that things are not nearly as important as our society would have you believe and this one fits the bill. An older woman approaches Callie at the yard sale and asks if she is for sale prompting a huge gush of tears from Callie (unsurprisingly). Her parents quickly shut down the yard sale and help Callie understand both that she is not for sale and what was out on the lawn was just stuff and in the scheme of things really unimportant. Especially when compared to their family.

Callie’s family is moving into a smaller space (an apartment if memory serves me) and they have to sell most of their belongings. Callie is struggling with this idea and spends most of the yard sale wandering around feeling sad about seeing their stuff go. I think this is pitch perfect for a young child watching this turmoil and I also think it was a reality for a lot of kids during the recession and, sadly, probably now too. That makes the book a good one for sharing in communities that were hit by the recession to open conversations and show kids they aren’t alone. It would also be a good one for communities like mine where we can build empathy and awareness that not everyone lives like they do.

Lauren Castillo also illustrated Nana in the City and I believe Nana is the woman who approaches Callie at the yard sale asking if she’s for sale. I have to say this is exactly the kind of insensitive comment my own daughter gets from older people (particularly women) when we go out. Comments that are meant to be funny but do not make sense to the child and make them feel bad or, worse, scared. I suspect this story has probably happened at countless yard sales and been very disturbing for the child while the adult leaves thinking they made a joke and is oblivious to the drama they have started. Nana, in this case, disappears completely from the sale on the very next page after dropping in to make her “joke”.

Despite my own personal feelings about the book I think it should be in all library collections.

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04

Jan
2016

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: The Only Child by Guojing

On 04, Jan 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Only ChildThe Only Child written and illustrated by Guojing

From Goodreads: A little girl—lost and alone—follows a mysterious stag deep into the woods, and, like Alice down the rabbit hole, she finds herself in a strange and wondrous world. But… home and family are very far away. How will she get back there?

I have The Only Child listed as a picture book (and before it came in at the library for me I thought it was), but it’s more graphic novel than picture book. It’s rather long (by picture book standards) and the themes are fairly complex, but the book itself is large and it’s completely wordless. So just a heads up there. I think it will still sell well with graphic novel readers and I think younger readers (first and second grade) will be willing to pick it up and read through it too. There’s a lot for everyone here.

As with many books I was of two minds. Professionally speaking it’s a book that should be in collections. The illustrations are gorgeous. It’s written by and about an author of color so we need to support that.

The story is both beautiful and haunting. I think it really gets at some deep-seated fears of children of getting lost. But it then takes this whimsical turn and ends happily (actually it has a bittersweet ending). This idea and theme will be very relatable for children (and possibly contemplative adults). It’s such a magical story too that fantasy lovers will eat it up, but with just enough realism that your realistic fiction lovers will be willing to pick it up. And if you have animal lovers (who doesn’t?), give it to them too. They will particularly appreciate the artist’s ability to portray the bittersweetness of the ending on the face of the child and in how the panels cut back and forth and zoom in.

My other, personal, mind about the book?  I hated it. The author’s note talks about how the story is based on something that happened to the author when she was a child. She also goes on to talk about how lonely she was as an only child (she was product of China’s one-child policy) and I am so tired of this narrative about the poor, lonely, pathetic only child. It makes me so mad for several reasons. First, it fuels the fire with people who have vocal opinions about my choice to only have one child. Second, both my husband, myself, and many of our friends are only children AND WE WEREN’T LONELY OR WEIRD BECAUSE OF IT. In fact all of us enjoyed being only children and made sibling-like bonds with our friends. Third, and this is something I remember from being a kid and reading books with this underlying narrative, it makes only children feel inadequate. Particularly if you like being an Only.

I know, I know. This is not a criticism of the book. It’s me bringing my own baggage, which I why I say this book needs to be in library collections across the board. I just can’t read it without those undertones. Be aware that your only child patrons may not appreciate it either if they read the author’s note or pick up on the stance toward only children in it.

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25

Sep
2015

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Hello Ocean by Pam Munoz Ryan

On 25, Sep 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Hello OceanHello Ocean written by Pam Munoz Ryan, illustrated by Mark Astrella

From Goodreads: Spend a day at the beach, and take in the ocean through the senses of sight, hearing, feeling, taste, and smell in this lively romp through sand and waves. Glorious illustrations of water, sun, and sky accompany brief, evocative verses, making this a perfect keepsake of a seaside vacation or a striking introduction to the pleasures of a day by the ocean.

Hello Ocean skews a little young since it’s essentially a book about senses. But Ryan doesn’t make it feel like a silly book for little kids, she uses great vocabulary and interesting slant rhymes. Books about senses, at least in my experience, can feel very didactic and very similar to one another. It’s refreshing to see the topic tackled from a nature perspective and a little less heavy-handed with the lesson.

Of course that makes me wonder if this book is better suited to kids who have actually been to the ocean, particularly because it focuses on all the senses instead of just sound and sight, which could be gotten from a video. The book was perfect for a bedtime story in our house this week because we were just at the ocean and it was a nice reminder of our vacation and of the sights, sounds, smells, and feelings my daughter had while running around on the beach.

It would certainly make a nice addition to classrooms studying the ocean, ocean conservation, senses, and poetry. It would also pair well with other beaches although there is specific mention of the salty water.

Reading all of these varied books by Pam Munoz Ryan has been interesting. She’s clearly a talented author, but she manages to handle everything from poetry to picture books to middle grade well. I think any of her books would make great additions to home, classroom and library collections.

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24

Sep
2015

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Mice and Beans by Pam Munoz Ryan

On 24, Sep 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

K350_Sch_M_B_TWP_jkt_9780439183031Mice and Beans written by Pam Munoz Ryan, illustrated by Joe Cepeda

From GoodReads: Recipe for a Festive Story Time: Mix 1 birthday party, 1 delicious Mexican meal, and lots of children, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, cousins, and surprise guests into a fun romp. Add comic illustrations, jaunty rhythms, and playful refrains. Spice with mystery, and stir everything into a book.

Serve aloud to large groups or small. Finally, store leftovers on a shelf in a child’s bedroom, library, or classroom. Enjoy!

Another terrible book description. Mice and Beans does focus around the grandmother making food for a party, but there’s no recipe or real focus on actual cooking. Little Catalina’s birthday is coming up next weekend and her grandmother is preparing for a party in her small house. Remembering her mother’s advice, Rosa Maria knows her small house can hold all the family, but not mice. Each day of the week she preps something new for the party, from food to having Little Catalina’s present assembled in the backyard. Each night she sets a new mousetrap which mysteriously disappears in the night. Rosa Maria, however, forgets to fill the piñata, but when the party rolls around it has candy in it. Where did the help come from and could she have been remembering her mother’s advice incorrectly?

This couldn’t have come at a better time since my daughter just had her birthday. It’s such a sweet story with the mice creeping about the illustrations helping out. There is plenty of gentle humor in the book as well as the doting grandmother. And be sure to keep your eye out for Rosa Maria and Little Catalina’s mouse counterparts. Give this to kids who enjoyed the story in Just a Minute by Yuyi Morales which features another grandmother preparing for a birthday celebration. It’s also a great read aloud.

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21

Sep
2015

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Nonfiction Review: How Do You Raise a Raisin?

On 21, Sep 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

RaisinHow Do You Raise a Raisin? written by Pam Munoz Ryan, illustrated by Craig Brown

From Goodreads: People have been gobbling up yummy, nutritious raisins for centuries. Ancient Greeks and Romans awarded them at sporting events and astronauts have taken raisins into space. Find out how grapes become raisins, who introduced the seedless grape, and the many uses for raisins.

Oddly enough we picked up a copy of this book four years ago at the SunMaid Raisin factory. At the time I had no idea who had written it (I just didn’t pay any attention), but we liked the information and how it was presented.

The book is clearly informational, but Ryan writes little rhyming questions and then answers them. This makes for a more engaging nonfiction book. My own daughter has been willing to read the book for a couple years now despite it being rather long. Everything is very interesting. I had no idea how prevalent raisins are or how naturally they are made. After three weeks of drying in the sun, it only takes 10 minutes to get them into the factory and then into a box. This is a good book for all those people who want kids to know where their food comes from.

I will say, I’m not personally overly fond of the illustrations. Some of them are great, but others feel like they fall a little flat. Some pages don’t have a full illustration, but one or two smaller pictures to illustrate one or two questions and answers. The white space around those doesn’t feel intentional. It feels almost lazy. There is also some funny formatting with where the questions and answer paragraphs are placed on the page that can make it a little difficult to follow the text properly. And I really don’t like the font they used for the title and questions, but that’s totally a personal preference.

The book is probably best suited to classrooms and library collections, unless your family is really into food and how it’s made (or if you love the SunMaid factory like we do!). There’s a lot of science and history here so it’s a book you could use in a number of different units of study, such as food science, nutrition, and farm-to-fork.

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15

Sep
2015

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Kidlit Review: Harlem Hellfighters by J. Patrick Lewis

On 15, Sep 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

HarlemHarlem Hellfighters written by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Gary Kelley

From GoodReads: They went by many names, but the world came to know them best as the Harlem Hellfighters. Two thousand strong, these black Americans from New York picked up brass instruments—under the leadership of famed bandleader and lieutenant James Reese Europe—to take the musical sound of Harlem into the heart of war. From the creators of the 2012Boston Globe–Horn Book Award Honor Book, And the Soldiers Sang, this remarkable narrative nonfiction rendering of WWI — and American — history uses free-verse poetry and captivating art to tell century-old story of hellish combat, racist times, rare courage, and inspired music.

Told with incredible illustrations and spare chunks of text, Harlem Hellfighters is not just a story of WWI, but a story of race relations during that era. The small pieces of the story help pack an emotional punch but also shield young readers from the true horrors of WWI.

The 369th, an all black unit, was assembled and sent to France. The men hoped they would be fighting on the front lines, but that evaded them for a long time because of their race. Instead they found themselves doing grunt work far behind the fighting. Under the direction of James Reese Europe, ninety of the men played a fusion jazz that inspired and excited many soldiers and civilians.

Eventually they were sent to the front where they fought admirably and tenaciously. They earned the German nickname Harlem Hellfighters. Many of the men were killed and wounded, but many earned medals of honor, including Henry Johnson who earned a Croix de Guerre, the first American to do so.

The color palette of the illustrations is wonderful. Dark grays, black, blues, browns and purples give them a cold and gritty atmosphere. The text is lyrical and poetic which also contributes to the atmosphere of the book.

This is definitely a worthwhile picture book. A picture book that shows they aren’t just for preschoolers. The language is complex, beautiful and evocative. Although it’s not packed with facts, it will definitely spark interest in race relation, WWI, and jazz. And would be an excellent book to read together, either as a class or family, to process the events. There’s a lot to think about here.

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08

Sep
2015

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Nonfiction Review: Children of the Midnight Sun by Tricia Brown

On 08, Sep 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Midnight SunChildren of the Midnight Sun: Young Native Voices of Alaska by Tricia Brown, photographs by Ray Corral

A series of profiles of eight native Alaskan children. Profiles feature pictures of the kids in their everyday lives and often in native dress.  

I looked this one up first on Debbie Reese’s AICL blog and she doesn’t appear to have a review. However she mentions another book that recommends it with reservations.

From my own reading of it I thought it was an interesting book. I love that they were little slices of life and it talked a lot about how many of these kids are trying to recapture their cultures that were forcibly taken from them. The essays don’t go into detail about it, but many of them do mention it.

It does use the word Eskimo which I thought was something you weren’t supposed to do, so I found that a little confusing. The pictures are a bit dated as well and I couldn’t help but wonder how different life might be today with Internet access and more technology.

I also wondered how these children, who would now be in their twenties, are passing their cultures on to their children and if they’ve kept up with their desire to keep their cultures alive.

What surprised me most was that while reading it at bedtime to myself, my four year old daughter was captivated by it. She asked what it was about and, not wanting to engage her too much, I said it was a book about children who lived very far up north in Alaska. Instead of putting her off she became very curious and kept asking questions about the children. Where did they live? Did they live in houses that far North? What kind of clothes did they wear? What did they eat? I explained to her that they were native people and that they had a culture and celebrations and languages that were different than ours, but that were like our German culture and celebrations. I finally had to promise to read some of the profiles to her the next day.

I know there may be reservations about the book and how it portrays and handles native culture, but the book piqued my daughter’s interest. Not only can it be exposure to these tribes and children, but it can be a jumping off point for learning more and for discussions about why these children are needing to bring their native cultures back. I suspect this would be a good book to add to a collection that features other strong books about native Alaskan cultures.

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03

Sep
2015

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Trombone Shorty by Troy Andrews

On 03, Sep 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

TromboneTrombone Shorty written by Troy Andrews, illustrated by Bryan Colliers

From GoodReads: Hailing from the Tremé neighborhood in New Orleans, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews got his nickname by wielding a trombone twice as long as he was high. A prodigy, he was leading his own band by age six, and today this Grammy-nominated artist headlines the legendary New Orleans Jazz Fest.
Along with esteemed illustrator Bryan Collier, Andrews has created a lively picture book autobiography about how he followed his dream of becoming a musician, despite the odds, until he reached international stardom.

Troy AndrewsI just love this book. The illustrations are gorgeous with lots of fun details that make them pop off the page (like the cover). The story has rhythm and how can you resist the picture in the Author’s Note of Troy Andrews, who looks to be about three feet tall, with this ridiculously long trombone?

Music definitely infuses the story, from the repeated refrain “Where y’at? Where y’at?” to the great analogies he uses to describe how he made music. Music was always in his home and in his neighborhood.

The message of the next generation carrying on the musical tradition of New Orleans is also very appealing. I think stories that are positive and encourage kids to both keep their roots and forge ahead are very inspiring. They tell children that they have something of value to offer the world and I don’t think that message is given out very often. Plus Andrews has such a can-do attitude about music. It was just in him and he sought out opportunities to make it and enjoy it. He and his friends made their own band and their own instruments and . The fact that he didn’t need much, or any money and things, to get started following his dream is incredibly refreshing and inspiring. Especially with this generation of children that are so heavily marketed to.

A great addition to any biography collection and a great read aloud for kids of all ages.

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