By Elizabeth Wroten
On 02, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Benny Andrews loved to draw. He drew his nine brothers and sisters, and his parents. He drew the red earth of the fields where they all worked, the hot sun that beat down, and the rows and rows of crops. As Benny hauled buckets of water, he made pictures in his head. And he dreamed of a better life—something beyond the segregation, the backbreaking labor, and the limited opportunities of his world. Benny’s dreams took him far from the rural Georgia of his childhood. He became one of the most important African American painters of the twentieth century, and he opened doors for other artists of color. His story will inspire budding young artists to work hard and follow their dreams.
This is exactly what a picture book biography should be for younger audiences. It uses the artist’s art as more than just a bit of decoration and the text is short, to the point, and very understandable.
One of my favorite parts of the book is that it uses Andrews actual art to illustrate it. Obviously you can’t do that with every picture book biography, but in this case Andrews drew the world he saw around him and in a way that is accessible to children. It makes the book feel very much like an intimate glimpse into his life.
To me one of the really appealing aspects of his art is the lighting he uses. It looks very bright, almost harsh. This has the effect of making the colors pop, which I think children will find very appealing. I’ve said this at other times and I understand that great art is not actually easy to create, however there is a child-like look to Andrews art and I think kids like to see art that they think they could recreate or that looks like their art. His pictures also have an element of collage to them and that makes them feel a little more three dimensional instead of flat paintings.
The text itself isn’t long. There is a short paragraph on each two-page spread with a piece of Andrew’s art. This does mean that you don’t get an exhaustive look at Andrew’s life, but for younger readers (second and third grade) it’s perfect. Not enough text to turn them off and not too little to feel too young. You get enough information that you have a sense of who Andrews was and what he accomplished and, if you find him interesting enough, a desire to learn more. Sometimes I think picture book biographies try to present too much information for the format and it ends up feeling taxing to read. Almost a bait and switch- you think you’re getting a shorter picture book and you end up slogging through something much longer and more involved. It’s a turn off for kids. Draw What You See balances text and pictures very well and then includes a note at the end, a timeline, and some resources. Kids can decide if they want to seek out more at the end.
I think this would be a great book for any library with a biography collection. It’s completely appropriate for younger and older audiences, too. It should draw in those kids just coming to picture book biographies, but it could very easily pique older reader’s interest in the artist. Again, another that is on my first list of purchases for next year. We need more diversity in that collection and here is a book that is both interesting and high quality.
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 01, Jun 2016 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: Jim Aylesworth’s satisfying retelling and Barbara McClintock’s heartwarming pictures celebrate how Grandfather cleverly recycles his beloved coat through four generations.
This is the standard Joseph had a little overcoat story, but it’s done in such a touching way following the family through the generations that if feels very fresh. It might be one of those books that appeals a bit more to adults for the sentimentality of the story and pictures, but the fresh spin and details still make it a book for children.
I love the illustrations in the book, probably even more than the actual text. McClintock repeats layouts throughout the book that visually connect the family and the story through the generations and connect them to their eras. And while repetitive layouts and repetitive text could feel boring and stagnant, it doesn’t. It pulls it all together and takes what might be kind of a long story for younger kids and turns it into something very engaging yet predictable. McClintok also included lots of fun little details to notice: the fashion and house decoration through the ages, even the border on the front cover with spools and buttons. It just pulls the story together and makes it a fun book to pore over. Plus some of the pictures spark conversation, like the Ellis Island in the background of that cover picture.
I’m still partial to Sims Taback’s version of the story, but this one is great too and we can’t have too many books with Jewish families in our library at the moment. It’s on my list for purchases next year (since we’re done for this year). A lot of the illustrations feature small snippets of Jewish life (a menorah on the table and the wedding scene, for example) which the text does not mention, but still connects the story with its origins and gives Jewish kids a place to point to and say, “Hey, that looks like our table!”
By Elizabeth Wroten
On 24, May 2016 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
I recently came across this project called The 100 Day Project. It encourages you to do one thing for 100 days, with an emphasis on making or doing something. The project technically started back in April, but I just don’t have time to do this kind of thing every day during the school year and I feel like I had my plate full this spring. So instead I decided to start late and use it to guide some (most) of my summer reading. I have a couple larger projects planned this summer, like revamping my curriculum for the library and also, with the generous help of my best friend, who is also one of the second grade teachers, weeding our Native American content in the library.
The plan is to read one diverse book a day and review it. This will give me a lot of good practice reviewing and force me to seek out a lot more diverse books. Many will be picture books (my line up is on Goodreads if you want a sense of where I’m starting out and going) because they are faster to read and a lot of these books I’m looking at with an eye toward adding them to our library collection and I do a lot of the development in the picture book section. I am really trying to hit more than racial diversity, although we need plenty more of that in our collection, so if you have any suggestions please feel free to share them.
One final note, the project asks you to document your project on Instagram. As much as I dislike taking daily pictures and as much as I dislike having one more social media account to manage I’m going to try and do this. I will be adding my Instagram account in the sidebar, but as of writing this I haven’t done it. I think I can set it up to only see the hashtag for this project (fingers crossed). If not you’ll be seeing my other 100 day project which is 100 days of simple science play with my daughter. I suppose the Instagram will serve the purpose of documenting the reading even if I don’t get around to writing reviews each and every day.