Monday, November 22, 2010

Why I read young children's illustrated books...

Yesterday I wrote about books for older children and young adults. Today, hooray, it's those illustrated books. I declare most of them were created for the child-at-heart adult. None can demonstrate better than Pete the Cat!

Pete the Cat: I Love My White ShoesHow shall I describe our Pete? Fun, fun, fun! Frankly, I want to be just like Pete: unflappable, flexible, and adaptable. Make lemonade out of lemons. Go with the flow. One reviewer indicated the lesson is terrible: Accept your fate. Oh, I disagree. Pete saw no fate--just circumstances to turn into the next pleasant venture on his road of life. Pete? At the beginning he has new white shoes which he loves. In each adventure he steps into colorful piles, each time turning his shoes into a new color. Does he whine? Does he complain? "Goodness no!" He just sings a new song about blue shoes, red shoes, brown shoes. Oh, yes, there IS magic in this story, Virginia!! In my school library PK-4 practically demanded Pete the Cat for three weeks in a row. Never mind my new choice--they wanted Pete!! So Pete it was--for three straight weeks.

WidgetHere's another lovable book: Widget, the story of one dog and five cats. The dog comes through the kitty door one night during a story and discovers bowls of food, beds enough, and a kindly old woman who loves them all. Widget must act like a cat to be accepted into the kitty domain. He does, but when their Woman trips, falls, and becomes unconscious, kitty meows and wails and caterwauls simply do not "get" the neighbors. So Widget barks and barks. Kitties join in. Woman is saved, Widget is a hero, and becomes a dog once again.  A totally fabulous book.

Hondo and FabianHere's another dog and cat book: Hondo and Fabian, one of my secret favorites of all time! Just as the illustrations are soft pointillism, so the the story. Hondo gets to go to the beach and play with his dog friend. Fabian has to stay home and gets played with by the "baby," (a just-walking toddler). She finally escapes and hides to await Hondo's return. When he does, all is right with the world once again. The sequel is Fabian Escapes, which I also adore! Fabian escapes the house to explore but has to hide all day under the house to escape attack by neighboring dogs!

Rapunzel (Picture Puffin Books)With the ads on television for Disney's new movie, Tangled, I got out a Caldecott winner of one version of Rapunzel by Paul O. Zelinsky to read to the little ones. Even though beautifully illustrated with Renaissance details, the story of Rapunzel and the witch frightens young children, along with Hansel and Gretal, especially the version by Paul Galdone. Do you know what rapunzel is? Greens! The mother-to-be craves rapunzel she sees day in and day out from her bedroom window. There's a price: the owner of the garden (a witch) gets her baby at birth, then hides her away.

Olivia Saves the Circus Olivia Saves the Circus is a pure delight! There is a fine line for parents in allowing their child creative freedom and limiting their right to cross the line (so to speak). Olivia's creator walks that line. In this book Olivia is a one-man, er, one-pig circus performer. She is the circus (her imagination) and in her presentation to the class.
"Olivia," says the teacher. "What?" responds Olivia. "Is that true," asks the teacher? "Mostly true," Olivia calmly replies.

StellalunaAnd another is Stellaluna, a wonder of illustrations by Janell Cannon. Ms Cannon can take the simplest creature and bring it to life in the most joyous ways! Stellaluna, the fruit bat, is lost in flight one night and lands in a nest of baby birds. She must adapt her ways to theirs to stay, but discovers her true fruit bat calling one night. Illustrations range from poignant to humorous to joyous. It's a must-have book for the 4-8 group!
 Two other whimsical books by Cannon are Verdi (the story of a python) and Pinduli (the story of a hyena). Yes, count on Ms Cannon to make the these into lovable creatures.

TuesdayOne any list of fabulous illustrated books are those by David Wiesner, particularly Tuesday and The Three Pigs. Wiesner's viewpoint is always out of the box and past the lines. In the pig story the pigs climb in and out of the book to share their story with readers, all the while bringing in characters from other books. It ends with no deaths, not even the wolf's.The Three Pigs

Humphrey's First Christmas
I'll close with a Christmas story, that of Humphrey. The reader is unaware that this camel belongs to one of the Wise Men of the Christmas story until the end. All along the trip Humphrey is most disagreeble (as camels tend to be), until he meets the baby. Then he, too, wants to share.This illustrated book is a surprise favorite of the holiday season.

There are more reasons for reading illustrated books for children, but these stand on their own as spokespersons.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Why I read children's and young adults novels

Say the term "children's books." What comes to mind? Perhaps Alice in Wonderland? Or the stories about Peter Rabbit or illustrated books about that naughty but clever pig Olivia? Children today are so lucky to have all these wonderful books that did not exist in my day (back in the day).

In the children's section of my local branch library these were the books: all the various of fairy tales--Blue Fairy Book, Yellow Fairy Book, the Brothers Grimm, Mother Goose, Hans Christian Andersen's tales, all the Black Stallion novels, the dog books--Lassie, Big Red--Nancy Drew, the Bobsey Twins, and the Hardy Boys mysteries.

By high school I was reading the classics, not realizing these were books I was supposed to hate. Ha! My favorite books were Wuthering Heights and Exodus and Gone With the Wind. "Heathcliff," I yelled across the imaginary moors of my mind, just as Catherine did. I feared what was in the attic in Rochester's mansion in Jane Eyre. "Oh fiddle-dee-dee," I declared with Miss Scarlett when perplexed. And, oh, how I wanted Rose to choose Mac in Rose in Bloom, THE most romantic book I've ever read (at least from the memory of a sixth-grader)

Children today, of course, still have these books, but they have so much more, oh so much more. Lately, I've been reading as many of these books as I can to be an efficient recommending machine as librarian in my school. I want to give readers as many books as I can for variety, theme, appeal to both boys and girls, and so on. Here I go:

Ruby Holler (Joanna Cotler Books)First, the best I've read: Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech. Two children, twins, boy and girl, age 13, are the main characters. They live in an orphanage and go to live with an eccentric, aging, Baby Boomer couple. Here's a link to my Amazon review:

Other books by Ms Creech include  Love That Dog, Hate That Cat, Walk Two Moons.
Books by Robert Cormier: These are NOT heart-warming and are serious and reflective of a terrible human condition. Not for easily disturbed older children and middle school students. Why do I recommend them? Because they do reflect life--unfortunately.
The Rag and Bone ShopThe Rag and Bone Shop is profound. It will haunt the reader long after the last page is turned. A friend and I still disagree concerning the ending. Other Cormier's books I can recommend is We All Fall Down and The Chocolate War. Again, these are not happy books.

Rose in BloomIn my introductory comments I listed Rose in Bloom and want to call attention again to this, my personal favorite book in middle school. I would love to see this group of students begin a renaissance with Louisa May Alcott books. I read and loved them all in the sixth grade! Others: Little Women, Jo's Boys, Little Men, The Eight Cousins (the precursor to Rose in Bloom).

The Face on the Milk CartonAnother favorite writer in middle school in my library is Caroline Cooney with her milk carton series as a purely popular favorite.
 Janie finds her picture on the the milk carton one day during lunch. Shock is hardly the word for her reaction. Why is SHE on that carton? The explanation is beyond the pale. The next three novels take up Janie's search for the truth of her life.
Others in the series include The Voice on the Radio, Whatever Happened to Janie?, and What Janie Found. Read the entire series.
Code Orange (Readers Circle)
 Then find  Code Orange, a young adult medical thriller. The main character finds a medical journal left by his grandfather, opens it, perhaps looking for a topic for is science fair project, finds a packet, opens it and, poof, this powdery substance explodes. Then he fears he has been exposed to smallpox. The novel is a race against time to discover the truth.

Hatchet: 20th Anniversary Edition
I recently discovered Gary Paulsen's Hatchet series and could not put these four books down. Hatchet is the first of these survival novels. Twelve-year-old Brian crashes into a lake in the Canadian wilderness on his way to spend some time with his father. The pilot has a heart attack. The novel tells the story of how Brian survives with only a hatchet. Imagine three months of living on your own in survival mode. After he was found and returned home, Brian found it difficult to live in civilization again. The next three novels detail more trips into the wilderness. Each is as exciting as the next: Brian's Winter, The River, and Brian's Return.

Elephant RunAnother thriller/adventure is Elephant Run by Roland Smith. It is set in Burma (now Myanmar) during World War II. Fourteen-year-old Nick Freestone is sent from bombarded London to his father's teak plantation. A hidden interior of the plantation provides escape from Japanese military who confiscate the plantation for its own headquarters in Burma. A fascinating story of Japanese occupation and elephant handling.

The Great Wide SeaAnother exciting read is The Great Wide Sea, a first novel by M.H. Herlong. Not one word is false in this first-person narration by Ben, a fifteen-year-old who loves sailing with his father and brothers. After the mother dies, the father kind of goes off the deep end, selling the house and all their possessions to buy a sailboat and they go off around the hundreds of islands that make up the Bahamas. One morning the father is gone and the three boys must go into survival mode. What a page-turner!!

Write Before Your EyesThen there's Write Before Your Eyes, with a little wordplay in the title. Twelve-year-old Gracie acquires a strange journal at an estate sale, only to be haunted by "the Cheshire Cat" throughout the novel. He wants the journal back. You see, whatever the writer puts into the journal comes true! What escapades ensue!

Part II later

A favorite souvenir

A favorite souvenir
These are my two girls from Ireland!

Judy's shared items

Books on my very ambitious TBR list (*denotes read)

  • *Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever by Mem Fox
  • The Odd Women by George Gissing
  • The Zen of Fish by Trevor Corson
  • How to Get Your Child to Love Reading by Esme Raji Codell
  • The Cod Tale by Mark Kurlansky
  • In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden
  • *Joan of Arc by Mark Twain
  • Dag Hammarskjold by Elizabeth Rider Montgomery
  • The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet by Rabbi Michael L. Munk
  • Children of Strangers by Lyle Saxon
  • Spiritual Writings by Flannery O'Connor
  • Nightmares and Visions: Flannery O'Connor and the Catholic Grotesque by Gilbert H. Muller
  • The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O'Connor
  • Flannery O'Connor's South by Robert Coles
  • Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor
  • Sylvanus Now by Donna Morrissey
  • *Vincent de Paul by Margaret Ann Hubbard
  • Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
  • A Briefer History of Time by Stephen Hawking
  • The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel
  • Readicide by Kelly Gallagher
  • *Ruined by Paula Morris
  • Say You're Not One of Them by Uwem Akpan
  • Wandering Star by J.M.G. Le Clezio
  • Silence by Shusaku Endo
  • *The Assault by Harry Mulisch
  • Kari's Saga by Robert Jansson
  • *The German Mujahid by Boualem Sansal
  • Western Skies by Joseph Conrad
  • *The Giver by Lois Lowery
  • *Imperium by Ryszard Kapuscinski

School Library Journal - NeverEndingSearch


A semester course in one book about the Soviet Union. Click on image for my review.