If You Want to See a Whale: A quiet story in a perfect package.

WhaleCover

If You Want to See a Whale

Picture Book

Ages 2-7

By Julie Fogliano

Illustrated by Erin E. Stead

32 pages

Roaring Brook

2013

Book Trailer

 

 

If You Want to See a Whale is a flawlessly designed book. The diminutive trim size, approximately 9×7, begs to be held; the enticingly serene cover prompts readers to curl up and escape into its pages. Peeling away the deliciously smooth coated matte cover reveals a rich blue cloth with a humpback whale in relief. Complementing the deep blue background, the book’s title is stamped on the spine in a lavish copper foil which perfectly matches the endpapers. The interior paper has substantial weight and its milky white canvas spotlights the art.

 

Absent of punctuation and in a font reminiscent of a typewriter the exclusively lower-case text is judiciously set apart from the art, accentuating the story’s quiet, contemplative feel. This is not a story to be rushed through. This is a story about waiting, about being quiet, about being still. Readers, like the book’s main character, are rewarded for these virtues.

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Fogliano’s compact, lyrical prose is reminiscent of Ruth Krauss and Karla Kuskin but her style is decidedly her own. Her stories are thoughtful, poetic and sublimely profound. Like Fogliano and Stead’s other collaboration, And Then it’s Spring, If You Want to See a Whale offers tranquility—a welcome and necessary port in a sea of noise.

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Stead’s art— composed of whisper thin lines, fervently detailed and ever so delicate—invites the reader to study each spread. Color, at once saturated and transparent, is used sparingly. Stead’s incredibly involved process of creating the art can be viewed here.

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A young ginger haired boy and his loyal basset hound are determined to see a whale, but seeing a whale is no simple task. It requires an ocean, and a window for watching, and a chair for sitting, and patience, for it may take a very long time. A whale watcher cannot get too comfortable, for fear of falling asleep. A whale watcher cannot allow himself to be distracted by passing ships, or puffy clouds. A whale watcher must simply watch, and wait. And as with all important things in life, focus and determination pay off in the end.

 

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The Big Adventure of a Little Line by Serge Bloch

The Big Adventure of a Little LineIMG_1184

Picture Book

Ages 5 and up

By Serge Bloch

88 pages

Thames & Hudson

2016

 

 

 

 

 

Occasionally I’ll pick up a book from an author or illustrator I’m not familiar with and, after some research, will be stunned to discover that the person has published multiple books and is a sensation in another area of the world. French-born author and artist Serge Bloch is an example of one of these discoveries.

His animated SamSam series, based on his SamSam comic, is hugely popular in Europe. His series Max et Lili, (published in France since 1992) has sold millions of copies. He compiled and illustrated a book of Steve Martin’s tweets and he regularly draws editorial illustrations for publications including the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, as well as Time and New York Magazine.

So, Serge Bloch’s extraordinary illustrations have finally etched their way into my consciousness, although I must have seen his work among the pages of some magazine or newspaper and filed it away in my brain because, as soon as I picked up The Big Adventure of a Little Line, the art was familiar. And probably not just because Bloch was clearly influenced by Tomi Ungerer, R.O. Blechman, Shel Silverstein, Quentin Blake and Charles Addams. Like these other masters of the line, Bloch is able to convey a considerable amount with minimal details. It is a true gift and I find this style immensely appealing.

I’ve had the great pleasure of knowing many artists as a result of my career in children’s books. The relationship between an artist and his art is complex and rife with struggles, but the artist’s art is essential to the artist’s well being. Creative compulsion can be exhilarating, comforting, and freeing. It can also be confusing, frightening, and debilitating. The combination of Bloch’s minimalist visual style and to-the-point story of living with and nurturing a creative drive lays bare the complicated relationship between an artist and his art starting at the most fundamental level.

Art as a profession is often the subject of parental fears. It can be incredibly difficult to develop and maintain an artistic career. But whether an artistic person decides to pursue a career in the arts is frequently irrelevant to the level of personal importance the art has in that person’s life. That creative impulse should be nurtured, loved, respected and supported. Should the person end up  in a job or career that is more financially practical, artistic expression  may prove to be an important outlet in maintaining a balanced life as well as the key to mental wellness. I highly recommend The Big Adventure of a Little Line for any person realizing an artistic inclination.

The book opens with a wistful looking boy out for a walk when he spots a small reddish-orange line lying by the side of the road. Intrigued, the boy takes the line home and rests it on a shelf alongside other cherished objects. The line sits mostly forgotten until the boy takes it down and lays it on an open page in his notebook. Thus begins the life of an artist.

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Like many lifelong relationships, this one  starts simply, though not necessarily easily, and develops over time into something integral. The boy and the line need to learn about each other, and find a way to co-exist. We follow the newly formed pair through airy, uncluttered spreads of discovery and understanding, interspersed with chaotic images of frustration and struggle.

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The line helps the boy grow into a man and becomes his complement. Traveling the world, delighting children, opening exhibits, stirring emotions and fraternizing with other artists, the creative relationship proves magical.

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The artist grows old, and eventually he and the line agree that it is time to use a bit of their magic to inspire others. As the book comes to a close, the contented elder artist snips off a small bit of his line and deposits it on a stretch of road. It is quickly spotted by a grinning girl who immediately tucks it into her pocket, an apt metaphor.

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An inherently beautiful effect of art is to bring about thoughts, feeling and emotions that one might not otherwise have had. Art does not simply exist as an expression of the artist, it also moves, inspires and stimulates. I like to imagine that many little pieces of the artist’s line were discovered, collected and carried by others throughout the career of the man and his craft, whether he meant to inspire or not.

 

 

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When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons

When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for all Seasons

When Green Becomes Tomatoes

Poetry Collection

Ages 2 and up

By Julie Fogliano

Pictures by Julie Morstad

56 pages

Roaring Brook Press

2016

 

 

 

 

Every April, elementary school teachers and librarians scramble for books to celebrate National Poetry Month and booksellers are hard-pressed to produce anything new and worthy. The standard favorites and repetitive collections are highlighted and praised for 30 days then poetry gets shoved back in the closet for eleven months. But poetry—often glossed over, taken for granted or dismissed as frivolous—is an essential medium. It often seems to get the same treatment as jazz: it is deemed important but does anyone really understand it, or care?

Generally, the very first words read to an infant are those of Mother Goose: simple rhymes whose rhythms are meant to soothe an audience instinctively soothed by a mother’s heartbeat. Rhyming poetry is, in a real way, meant to speak the language of the heart. But poetry doesn’t always rhyme or follow any convention; it sometimes seems purposely vague, and it is generally accompanied by lengthy explanation, and so, appreciating poetry takes a certain kind of awareness. A recent article in The Atlantic focuses on the importance of teaching poetry. And it is important; supremely important. These two paragraphs sum it up perfectly:

Yet poetry enables teachers to teach their students how to write, read, and understand any text. Poetry can give students a healthy outlet for surging emotions. Reading original poetry aloud in class can foster trust and empathy in the classroom community, while also emphasizing speaking and listening skills that are often neglected in high school literature classes.

Students who don’t like writing essays may like poetry, with its dearth of fixed rules and its kinship with rap. For these students, poetry can become a gateway to other forms of writing. It can help teach skills that come in handy with other kinds of writing—like precise, economical diction, for example. When Carl Sandburg writes, “The fog comes/on little cat feet,” in just six words, he endows a natural phenomenon with character, a pace, and a spirit. All forms of writing benefits from the powerful and concise phrases found in poems.

However, despite being such a necessary form for understanding both language and the human spirit, well-crafted poetry collections are few and far between. When Green Becomes Tomatoes, a truly exceptional poetry book, is a rare gift and will no doubt be a timeless classic for generations to come.

Poetry is characterized by an economy of words and Fogliano is adept at economical writing. Poetic in their simplicity her picture books, And Then it’s Spring and If You Want to See a Whale, demonstrate this austerity as well. Her refined prose is imbued with a childlike perspective that speaks to its readers on an elemental level. Reading her carefully chosen words, it’s clear that none are wasted. Fogliano writes with a beautiful simplicity that can make people believe writing for children is easy, but I assure you it is not; achieving this kind of elegant perfection requires an immense amount of skill.

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Beginning and ending with a poem for the first day of spring (March 20th), the 47 poems in When Green Becomes Tomatoes are named for the dates they honor. Fogliano’s masterful compositions encapsulate the very essence of each season and every one of these captivating, playful poems immerses its reader in a moment.

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Her style, distinctly her own and one I expect many will try (and fail) to replicate, can rightly be compared to such icons as Ruth Krauss and e e cummings.

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Some of these poems could easily stand alone as their own books.

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Morstad’s art is perfection: never excessive, always inviting. Her illustrations, luxurious at times and modest at others, harmonize with the text. Adjusting her palette to the season, choosing warm or cool colors as needed, she captures the spirit of the ever-changing flora and fauna. With a style that is reminiscent of Alain Grée and Ezra Jack Keats, she depicts a diverse group of children to accompany readers on their journey through the seasons. At a time when the lack diversity in children’s books is being spotlighted, her multi-cultural cast is an oasis in a desert.

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I’m an avid lover of the changing of the seasons; it’s such an invigorating time. I love seeing the first heralds of spring, feeling the first hint of summer heat, smelling the first breeze of autumn and experiencing the unadulterated joy of the first snow. Superbly capturing all the inherent delight that these harbingers induce, Fogliano and Morstad have created the perfect companion to all the glorious wonders of the seasons.

A marvel as welcome as spring’s first blush of color after a long, drab winter: When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons is a thing you knew you needed but didn’t fully comprehend how much until you finally had it.

 

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A TurtleAndRobot Book List: 15 Picture Books featuring Birds

It is not uncommon for a child to latch onto a specific subject and then focus intensely on that one thing for a time. When such obsessions begin, the book purchaser’s job suddenly becomes easier and imbued with a new sense of fun—any book containing that subject will be an instant winner. But once the obvious choices pertaining to that topic have been exhausted, choosing books can become a painful, and fruitless, process. Buyer beware- that T.V. tie-in title that pertains to your child’s interest may be tempting but I assure you there are always higher quality choices still undiscovered.

I compiled this list of fiction picture books for people with a bird-loving child in their lives. Angelo by David Macaulay, a phenomenal and underappreciated book, is about a pigeon that brightens the life of an elderly stone worker. Bob Staake’s Bluebird spotlights an attentive bird that befriends a boy who is being bullied by his classmates. Whether the cobalt-hued hero of Bluebird is an actual bluebird or just a bird that is blue isn’t made clear, but that won’t matter to those who choose this remarkable wordless picture book. The remaining titles feature generalized, i.e. not necessarily naturalistic birds of a recognizable breed, as their main characters.

 

Inch by InchInchByInch

Ages 3-7

By Leo Lionni

32 pages

Knopf

1960

1961 Caldecott Honor Book

 

Time FliesTimeFlies

Ages 3-7

By Eric Rohman

32 pages

Crown Publishers

1994

1995 Caldecott Honor Book

 

A Home for BirdHomeforBird

Ages 3-7

By Phil C. Stead

32 pages

Roaring Brook Press

2012

 

See TurtleAndRobot’s full review here.

 

Hello, My Name is RubyRuby

Ages 3-7

By Philip C. Stead

36 pages

Roaring Brook Press

2013

 

Flap Your WingsFlapYourWings

Ages 3-8

By P.D. Eastman

48 pages

Random House

1969

(Also by P.D. Eastman, Are You My Mother? and The Best Nest)

 

The BirdwatchersTheBirdwatchers

Ages 3-8

By Simon James

32 pages

Candlewick

2002

Out of print

 

Little Red BirdLittleRedBird

Ages 3-8

By Nick Bruel

32 pages

Roaring Brook Press

2008

 

Poppy and EllaPoppy&Ella

Ages 3-9

By Jef Kaminsky

48 pages

Disney-Hyperion

2000

Out of print

 

Franny B. Kranny, There’s a Bird in Your HairFrannyBKranny

Ages 3-9

Written by Harriet Lerner and Susan Goldhor

Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

40 pages

HarperCollins

2001

Out of print

 

13 Words13Words

Ages 4-7

Written by Lemony Snickett

Illustrated by Maira Kalman

40 pages

HarperCollins

2010

 

See TurtleAndRobot’s full review here.

 

Bluebird

Ages 4-8

By Bob Staake

40 pages

Schwartz & Wade

2013

 

A Funny Little Bird

Ages 4-8

By Jennifer Yerkes

48 pages

Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

2013

 

Feathers for LunchFeathersForLunch

Ages 4-9

By Lois Ehlert

36 pages

HMH Books for Young Readers

1996

 

AngeloAngelo

Ages 4-9

By David Macaulay

48 pages

HMH Books for Young Readers

2006

 

The Life of BirdsLifeofBirds

Ages 5 and up

By Quentin Blake

80 pages

Doubleday UK

2005

Out of print

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Turtle And Robot’s Book List for National Poetry Month

Book Lists are a brand new feature on Turtle and Robot. For my inaugural post I decided to focus on poetry, since April is National Poetry Month and, as far as “National Commemorative” months go, it gets a fair amount of attention. Libraries will likely be highlighting poets and poetry; educators all over the country will be writing curricula about and including poetry.

Shel Silverstein, Dr. Seuss, A. A. Milne, Lewis Carroll, Rudyard Kipling, and Jack Prelutsky are all synonymous with children’s poetry. And there’s a good reason for that, they’re all wonderful (and I consider at least two of them to be geniuses). But the list I’ve compiled—fifty books about, containing or pertaining to poetry—was made to provide some alternatives to that ubiquitous bunch.

 

Poetry Collections

 

I’ll Be You and You Be MeIllBeYou

Ages 4 and up

By Ruth Krauss

Illustrated by Maurice Sendak

40 pages

HarperCollins

2001 (reprint)

 

This utterly delightful book should be a staple in any child’s library.

 

Once I Ate a PieOnceIAteaPie

Ages 4 and up

By Patricia MacLachlan

Illustrated by Emily MacLachlan Charest

40 pages

HarperCollins

2010

 

BookSpeak!: Poems About Booksbookspeak

Ages 4 and up

By Laura Purdie Salas 

Illustrated by Josee Bisaillon

32 pages

Clarion Books

2011

 

Dirty BeastsDirtyBeasts

Ages 4 and up

By Roald Dahl

Illustrated by Quentin Blake

32 pages

Puffin

2002 (reprint)

 

Revolting RhymesRevolting Rhymes

Ages 5 and up

By Roald Dahl

Illustrated by Quentin Blake

32 pages

Puffin

2009 (reprint)

 

Moon, Have You Met My MotherMoon

Ages 5 and up

By Karla Kuskin

Illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier

336 pages

HarperCollins

2003

 

Bananas in My EarsBananas-001

Ages 5 and up

By Michael Rosen

Illustrated by Quentin Blake

96 pages

Candlewick

2012

 

I Saw Esaui-saw-esau-001

Ages 5 and up

By Peter and Iona Opie

Illustrated by Maurice Sendak

160 pages

Candlewick

1992

 

Ogden Nash’s Zoo Zoo-001

Ages 5 and up

By Ogden Nash

Illustrated by Etienne Delessert

84 pages

Stewart, Tabori and Chang

1987

 

Classic Poetry: An Illustrated CollectionClassicPoetry-001

Ages 8 and up

Edited by Michael Rosen

Illustrated by Paul Howard

160 pages

Candlewick

2009 (reprint edition)

 

Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices JoyfulNoise

Ages 8 and up

By Paul Fleischman 

Illustrated by Eric Beddows

44 pages

HarperCollins

2004

 

Poetry for Young People: Maya AngelouMayaAngelou

Ages 8 and up

Edited by Dr. Edwin Graves Wilson Ph.D.

Illustrated by Jerome Lagarrigue

48 pages

Sterling Children’s Books

2013

 

This is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and ForgivenessThisisJustToSay-001

Ages 8 and up

By Joyce Sidman

Illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski

48 pages

HMH

2014

 

Poetry for Young People: Langston HughesLangstonHughes

Ages 8 and up

Edited by David Roessel and Arnold Rampersad

Illustrated by Benny Andrews

48 pages

Sterling Children’s Books

2013

 

God Got a DogGodGotaDog-001

Ages 10 and up

By Cynthia Rylant

Illustrated by Marla Frazee

48 pages

Beach Lane Books

2013

 

I absolutely love this book.

 

Telling a Story through a Poem, or This Whole Book is a Poem

 

Hurry, Hurry Mary DearHurryHurry

Ages 4 and up

By N.M. Bodecker

Illustrated by Erik Blegvad

32 pages

Margaret K. McElderry Books

1998

 

Squeak, Rumble, Whomp! Whomp! Whomp!SqueekRumbleWhomp

Ages 4 and up

By Wynton Marsalis 

Illustrated by Paul Rogers

40 pages

Candlewick

2012

 

I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery TailI SawaPeacock

Ages 7 and up

Illustrated by Ramsingh Urveti

56 pages

Tara Books

2012

 

The JumbliesTheJumblies-001

Ages 8 and up

By Edward Lear

Illustrated by Edward Gorey

48 pages

Pomegranate

2010 (reprint)

Edward Lear may still be a popular choice but it’s important to me that readers know about this Edward Gorey illustrated edition.

 

My Brother’s BookMyBrothersBook-001

Ages 10 and up

By Maurice Sendak

32 pages

HarperCollins

2013

 

This book—the last Sendak completed before his death in 2012— is an homage to his brother, whom he credits for his love of drawing.

 

Poetry with an Urban Flair

 

The Neighborhood Mother Gooseall content created for Nina Crews children's books no other usage allowed without permission.

Ages 4 and up

By Nina Crews

64 pages

Greenwillow

2003

 

Lively illustrations are incorporated into photographs of children in city settings.

 

Meet Danitra BrownMeetDanitraBrown

Ages 5 and up

By Nikki Grimes 

Illustrated by Floyd Cooper

32 pages

HarperCollins

1997

 

Harlem0-590-54340-7

Ages 6 and up

By Walter Dean Myers

Illustrated by Christopher Myers

32 pages

Scholastic Press

1997

Caldecott Honor Book

 

Hip Hop Speaks to ChildrenHipHopSpeaks

Ages 7 and up

By Nikki Giovanni

Illustrated by Michele Noiset, Jeremy Tugeau, Kristen Balouch, Damian Ward, Alicia Vergel de Dios

80 pages

Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

2008

 

Here in Harlem: Poems in Many VoicesHereInHarlem-001

Ages 12 and up

By Walter Dean Myers

88 pages

Holiday House

2004

 

Other Poetic Forms

 

If It Rains Pancakes: Haiku and Lantern PoemsIfitRainsPancakes.jog-001

Ages 5 and up

by Brian P. Cleary 

Illustrated by Andy Rowland

32 pages

Millbrook

2014

 

Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible VerseMirrorMirror-001

Ages 6 and up

By Marilyn Singer

Illustrated by Josee Masse

32 pages

Dutton

2010

 

A Poke in the I: A Collection of Concrete PoemsAPokeintheEye

Ages 6 and up

Edited by Paul B. Janeczko

Illustrated by Chris Raschka

48 pages

Candlewick

2005

 

A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic FormsAKickintheHead-001

Ages 8 and up

Compiled by Paul B. Janeczko 

Illustrated by Chris Raschka

64 pages

Candlewick

2009

 

Lemonade: and Other Poems Squeezed from a Single WordLemonade

Ages 8 and up

By Bob Raczka 

Illustrated by Nancy Doniger

48 pages

Square Fish

2013 (reprint)

 

Picture Books about Poets

 

EmilyEmily

Ages 4 and up

By Michael Bedard

Illustrated by Barbara Cooney

40 pages

Dragonfly

2002 (reprint)

 

The same artist who graced the world with Miss Rumphius gorgeously illustrates this fictionalized account of a young girl meeting Emily Dickinson.

 

A Visit to William Blake’s Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced TravelersWilliamBlakesInn

Ages 5 and up

By Nancy Willard

Illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen

48 pages

HMH

1982

 

Walt Whitman: Words for America WaltWhitmanWordsforAmerica

Ages 7 and up

By Barbara Kerley 

Illustrated by Brian Selznick

56 pages

Scholastic

2004

 

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos WilliamsRiverofWords

Ages 7 and up

By Jen Bryant 

Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

32 pages

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

2008

 

The DreamerTheDreamer

Ages 10 and up

By Pam Muñoz Ryan

Illustrated by Peter Sís

400 pages

Scholastic

2012

 

Tools for Writing Poetry

 

Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book EverBestWordBook

Ages 3 and up

By Richard Scarry

70 pages

Golden Books

1999 (reprint)

 

A First ThesaurusFirstThesaurus-001

 

Ages 6 and up

By Harriet Wittels

128 pages

Golden Books

2001

 

Merriam-Webster’s Rhyming DictionaryRhymingDictionary

Ages 6 and up

224 pages

Federal Street Press

2011

 

 Words, Wit, and Wonder: Writing Your Own PoemWordsWitWonder

Ages 6 and up

By Nancy Loewen 

Illustrated by Christopher Lyles

32 pages

Picture Window Books

2009

 

Pizza, Pigs, and Poetry: How to Write a PoemPigsPizzaandPoetry

Ages 8 and up

By Jack Prelutsky

2008 pages

Greenwillow

2008

 

Though this book is by Jack Prelutsky (whom I said would not be included) is not a book of poetry but instead a very helpful guide to writing poetry.

 

Books about Words

 

13 Words13Words

Ages 4 and up

By Lemony Snicket 

Illustrated by Maira Kalman

40 pages

HarperCollins

2010

This was one of my favorite picture books of 2010. See Turtle And Robot’s review here.

 

Max’s Words MaxsWords

Ages 4 and up

By Kate Banks 

Illustrated by Boris Kulikov

32 pages

FSG

2006

 

Sparkle and Spin: A Book About WordsSparkleandSpin

Ages 4 and up

By Ann Rand and Paul Rand

40 pages

Chronicle

2006

Not the same author of The Fountainhead fame, she spells it Ayn.

 

The Boy Who Loved WordsBoyWhoLovedWords

Ages 4 and up

By Roni Schotter 

Illustrated by Giselle Potter

40 pages

Schwartz and Wade

2006

 

I Scream! Ice Cream!: A Book of WordlesIScreamIceScream

Ages 4 and up

By Amy Krouse Rosenthal 

Illustrated by Serge Bloch

40 pages

Chronicle

2013

 

Books That Include Poetry in their Stories

 

Frederick Frederick

Ages 3 and up

By Leo Lionni

32 pages

Dragonfly Books

1973

 

This is another book that should be a staple in every child’s library.

 

The Van Gogh CaféVan Gogh Cafe by Cynthia Rylant

Ages 6 and up

By Cynthia Rylant

64 pages

HMH

2006 (reprint)

 

In Chapter 3, “Lightening Strikes,” the cafe (whose only connection to Van Gogh is in the name) is struck by lightning and the food starts cooking itself. And it does so perfectly. Marc, the owner, doesn’t immediately notice because he has been spending every moment of his day writing poems; poems which, it’s soon realized, are accurately predicting the future.

See Turtle And Robot’s full review here.

 

Sam Samurai SamSamurai

The Time Warp Trio Series, Book #10

Ages 7 and up

By Jon Scieszka 

Illustrated by Adam McCauley

96 pages

Puffin

2004

 

Each book opens with a brief synopsis of the basis of the Time Warp Trio (three boys that, usually unwittingly, travel through time) so readers need not know other books in the series.

 

The Bat-PoetBatPoet

Ages 8 and up

By Randall Jarrell 

Illustrated by Maurice Sendak

48 pages

HarperCollins

1996

 

The HobbitTheHobbit

Ages 8 and up

By J.R.R. Tolkien

300 pages

HMH

2012 (reprint)

 

 

 

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The Horn Book: Design Matters, by Jon Scieszka

For some time I had been working on a post about the importance of design in books, an element that is often overlooked but plays a decidedly essential role in the creation of a good book. Skillful design can make an otherwise deficient book seem superior; a poorly designed book, that is in all other respects a worthy book, may be quickly overlooked. But a masterfully designed book that contains a captivating story and engaging illustrations is a work of art. Ironically, exceptional design may go unnoticed, as all the reader remembers is having experienced a wonderful book.

Then I read the below article by Jon Scieszka from the March/April 1998 issue of The Horn Book in which he perfectly articulates why book design matters, with a much more funny and entertaining approach. 

Scieszka was the first National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature and is the creator of Guys Read, a web-based literacy program for boys. He has written many books for children including The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, Cowboy and Octopus and Robot Zot.

The supremely talented Lane Smith illustrates many of Scieszka’s books. Smith, an author as well as an illustrator, has written many books, including It’s a Book, Grandpa Green and John, Paul, George and Ben.

The consummate designer Molly Leach, who is also Smith’s wife, designs all of his books. (Check out this great video of the two of them discussing the book making process.) Leach makes every book she puts her name to spring to life.

Together, Scieszka, Smith and Leach have created some of the most ground breaking and memorably funny best-selling picutre books of the last twenty-five years.

Read the article.

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Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo: A flawless work of fiction.

Because of Winn DixieBecause of Winn Dixie

Middle Reader

Ages 7 to 12

By Kate DiCamillo

182 pages

Candlewick

2000

2001 Newbury Honor Book

 

 

Kate DiCamillo is an exceedingly gifted storyteller and a truly talented writer. She uses her mastery to create distinctively memorable books with vivid, natural characters that come to feel like friends. She’s penned picture books, novels and books for middle readers. DiCamillo received a 2001 Newbury Honor for Because of Winn Dixie, her first book. Additionally, she won the 2004 Newbury Medal for The Tale of Despereaux and the 2014 Newbury Medal for Flora and Ulysses. She was also chosen to be the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature for the 2014-2015 term.

The first time I read Because of Winn Dixie it was in one sitting. I have since read it at least three more times and each time I’ve felt that gratifying wave of exhilaration that comes from reading an incredibly special book. There’s a magical quality imbued in her words and a comfort to her stories. It’s difficult to put into words (truly, I’ve been trying for days to capture this properly) how DiCamillo weaves a story that so quickly and seamlessly pulls readers in.

Because of Winn Dixie is told from the perspective of 10-year-old India Opal Buloni. Her smart, sweet, eager, vulnerable and bold voice feels absolutely authentic and never simplified or insufficient. Readers will identify with her worries, cheer for her efforts, and delight in her accomplishments. While it’s clear that a ten year old is telling the story—the writing is simple and direct—her thoughts, feelings and observations are familiar and universal. She’s just trying make all the pieces in her world fit together as comfortably as possible.

Opal, as she’s called, has recently moved to Naomi, Florida with her father, “the preacher.” She’s having trouble adjusting; she had to leave her school and her friends and she’s been thinking a lot about her mother, who left when she was just three. But things begin to change for the better when Opal meets an extraordinary stray dog.

Anyone who has ever loved a dog can’t help but fall in love with Winn Dixie: an energetic mutt who becomes a friend to all, who smiles when he’s happy and sometimes smiles so big it causes him to sneeze. This exceptional dog captivates all who encounter him—characters in the story as well as readers of the book.

Opal first encounters the dirty, lanky stray in a Winn Dixie Supermarket—he is wreaking havoc in the produce section and causing the manager to have a conniption. The large, homely dog seems to be having the time of his life running through the store. He rounds a corner and skids to a stop in front Opal. Then, while looking right at her, he smiles wide, showing all his teeth, and wags his tail like crazy. When the frazzled manager mentions calling the dog pound, Opal suddenly claims the troublemaker as her own, and names him Winn Dixie. (Incidentally, Winn Dixie is my second favorite supermarket name, after Piggly Wiggly.)

The immediate bond between Opal and Winn Dixie is palpable. Opal’s urgency and desire to keep this dog is plain and she knows she must proceed with caution in convincing the preacher.

The preacher loves his daughter but he uses his work to keep from facing the reality of his life: that his wife is never coming back and that raising his daughter alone means also including her in his life.

Opal explains to the preacher that she’d encountered a “Less Fortunate” in need of a home. When he learns that the “Less Fortunate” is a stray dog, he tells Opal that she doesn’t need a dog but Opal counters that this dog needs her. The preacher’s resolve is no match for Winn Dixie’s broad smile and happy sneezes. The stray found a home and Opal found a friend and, more importantly, an ally.

With her mama gone, her friends in another city and her father always “preaching or thinking about preaching or getting ready to preach,” Opal yearned for someone who would just listen to her, and Winn Dixie was able to fill that void. Not only was he a great listener, he also seemed to consider what Opal was saying before “responding.” Right away Opal starts talking to Winn Dixie about everything, and talking to him gives her confidence.

Because of her talks with Winn Dixie, Opal finds the courage to ask the preacher about her absent mother. “I’ve been talking to Winn Dixie and he agreed with me that, since I’m ten years old, you should tell me ten things about my mama. Just ten things, that’s all.”

The preacher supplies Opal with ten facts about her mother—some kind, some unpleasant, but all true. And with that exchange Opal makes a tiny crack in the preacher’s protective shell, a crack that eventually becomes an entrance into a whole new relationship with her father.

Because of Winn Dixie, Opal begins to explore her new town and the people who inhabit it. She starts at the pet store. There she meets Otis, the man who runs the shop. Winn Dixie is starting to look like a proper well-loved dog and he needs a collar and a leash but Opal has no money. She quickly strikes a deal with Otis: she’ll sweep and clean the store every day to work off the cost of the items.

Ms. Franny, the librarian, suffers quite a fright when she mistakes Winn Dixie for a bear. Years before, she’d had a bear walk right into the library and steal a book from her and she’s been afraid of a recurrence ever since. Opal invites Winn Dixie inside to put Ms. Franny at ease. When Winn Dixie smiles wide at Ms. Franny and rests his head in her lap, the three are fast friends.

When Winn Dixie runs into the overgrown, tangled yard of “the witch,” Opal has no choice but to follow. There in the yard she finds Gloria Dump feeding peanut-butter sandwiches to an ecstatic Winn Dixie. “You can always trust a dog that likes peanut-butter.” The elderly, mostly blind woman becomes Opal’s newest friend.

One day, while at the pet store, Opal discovers that Otis had been in prison. Her immediate reaction is to be frightened, but Otis isn’t scary. He’s kindhearted and he takes excellent care of the animals. Early in the morning, before the store opens, he takes all the animals out of their cages and plays his guitar for them. The animals sit transfixed, like stone statues, under the spell of Otis’ alluring music. Opal can’t reconcile the seeming contradiction of an ex-con who is a good and kind person.

While having lunch with Gloria, she poses the question; “Do you think I should be afraid of him?. . . For doing bad things? For being in jail?” Gloria Dump says not a word and leads Opal to the very back of her yard. There stands a giant tree with countless empty bottles tied to and hanging from nearly every branch. Gloria—the nicest person Opal knows—explains that the bottles represent all the bad things she’s ever done and that mistakes are a part of being human.

Each new friend Opal makes shares stories of love, loss, adventure and sadness; these enchanting gems nestled amongst Opal’s frank narrative come together in a beautiful tapestry. With each new friend Opal learns something new about the people around her, about herself and about the world. She learns that every person faces struggles and one may never know what sadness and pain another person is harboring. And she learns that good friends boost each other up and help guide your way; they make the hard times in life a little bit easier and the good times in life even better.

Because of Winn Dixie is a remarkable book, one that I never wanted to end and one I know I will read again and again. Gift it to all the children you know, read it for yourself even if you do not have children, or read it aloud to your whole family.

 

View the book.

IndieBound / Powell’s / Amazon

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