Friday, April 12, 2013

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende (Children's Literature)

Ende, Michael. The Neverending Story. Illustrated by Roswitha Quadflieg. Translated by Ralph Manheim. Penguin Books, 1979. (396 pages)
It was quite an experience reading this book. There were times when the reading of it came easy, other times when it was slow-going. There was an irritating section of the book where I never finished a chapter without falling asleep. Then I had to sort out which things I read and which things I created myself during my dreams. But also, my optimistic side (which almost always trumps my critical side) found things to love and use all throughout the meta-narrative. For example, I thought about how a language arts teacher could use untold endings as creative writing prompts for his or her students.
The first half of the book was easy and enjoyable to read. That's the part of the book that is just like the 80s movie. Once Bastian entered Fantastica, I became less interested and even annoyed at points. I did not like how disjointed the action was, I didn't like all the loose ends dangling out there with the tired cliché “that’s another story for another time”, I did not like Bastian being skinny and power-hungry. I was getting downright grumpy about the book (this was the time when I kept falling asleep while reading). However, I really loved the last few chapters in which Bastian searches, grows, works, and loves. This short section is very deep and I wish I had more time to think about it. The city of old emperors, the sea of mist, the house of change, the mine of pictures, and the water of life were all wonderful pictures of what journeys we all go through in life. It was good to think about a question like: What sorts of things need to happen to us in order to make us content with life as it is? Perhaps we need to see the emptiness of where our own blind ambition may lead us, perhaps we need to experience a time of loneliness so that we desire relationships, perhaps we need to conform to a crowd for a while so that we desire individuality, perhaps we need to be children again for a time so that we desire self-giving, perhaps we need to work hard for a time and learn the value of work, perhaps we need to mine deeper, perhaps we need pictures in our minds of people we want to love.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Children's Literature: Number the Stars, Lois Lowry

 Lowry, Lois. Number the Stars. Sandpiper; Reissue Edition, 2011. (156 pages)
In this work of historical fiction, Lois Lowry tells the poignant story of a family in occupied Denmark who endanger themselves to help their Jewish friends escape from the Nazis. The heroine is a ten-year old girl named Annemarie who is willing to be brave like the brave adults she observes in her life.
Lowry includes an epilogue explaining to her readers which parts of her story were written purely from her imagination and which parts were based on true events. She goes into detail about documents she read, a picture she saw, and research concerning the fateful handkerchief which Annemarie delivers in the story. This section would be fabulous for children to read and a great way for educators to show young readers what an author of historical fiction does to create these sorts of books. I was very struck by Lowry’s description of the photo she found of the boy who was a very young resistance fighter.
The story itself was easy to read although it covered serious subject matter. I like the discussions on bravery and looking out for human rights, as the real life people which this story celebrates are people with such an important lesson to teach all of us.

Gene Stratton-Porter, A Girl of the Limberlost

Stratton-Porter, Gene. A Girl of the Limberlost. Illustrated by David Hendrickson. Triangle Books, 1909.
Gene Statton-Porter was a woman who lived in the woods and loved moths, birds, and trees. I read a bit about her biography since I read this book for my inquiry project. It turns out that she was a non-fiction writer who wrote fiction books to pay the bills and make her publishers happy. I think it’s interesting that she is so well known for her fictional books, yet her true passion was ecology and non-fiction writing. Her personal passion is very evident in her writing as a reader learns as much about moths from a story like this as they would reading a non-fiction moth book – maybe even more since moths are a central part of the plot in this story.
The story is about a country girl, Elnora Comstock, who decides to go to school. Her mother is very harsh, cold, neglectful, and unloving. Elnora struggles as she goes to school and is teased for her poor clothes and she almost has to quit when she finds out that people outside of town have to pay tuition and book costs in order to attend school. However, she finds a woman (the Bird Lady) who will pay money for moth specimens and she becomes self-sufficient as she puts herself through school collecting natural items to sell. In the climax of the book Elnora’s mother, who has never helped her with anything, destroys a rare moth specimen that Elnora needed to complete a set which would sell for $300. At this, Elnora finally confronts her mother and the relationship is broken and then restored as her mother realizes what a fool she has been to treat her daughter so poorly. There is also a romance in the book, Elnora falls in love with a naturalist she meets in the woods on one of her nature walks.
            A Girl of the Limberlost is a very old-fashioned story, written in 1909. I think the style is very modernistic and may not appeal to a current-day audience, but for others it will remain a timeless classic. Re-reading this story for the first time as an adult was a wonderfully nostalgic experience for me, and I was glad to find that I still really enjoyed it. It reminds me of other book series such as the Corfu Trilogy by Gerald Durrell and the All Creatures Great and Small series by James Herriot. They are books which a nature lover would love, but others might find boring.

Children's Literature - David Petersen Mouse Guard Fall 1152

Petersen, David. Mouse Guard; Fall 1152. Villard, 2008. (192 pages)
Peterson succeeds in setting up an interesting world complete with maps, commerce, towns, trade, and conflict. This book seems to be part of a series, and reading the whole series would probably shed more light on this particular book.
The mouse guard has made a discovery in the woods: there is treachery which threatens the home of the guard and its matriarch, Gwendolyn. Many characters, both wizened and young, band together to stave off the attacking army of Midnight - a rogue mouse guard. Along the way, larger creatures pose a danger to the mice, including crabs and a snake. However, the right side has a victory in the end.
Petersen’s illustrations are brilliant. The value of the drawings is fairly dark, as is his subject matter. Like many graphic novel writers, I think the drawings may outshine the story. But, this story may have been more compelling if read in its entire context (which I have not had the opportunity to do). I thought that this may be a book for older children since some of the script writing may be difficult for a young one to navigate. But, the tale is not too much for a young reader – it brings to mind series which my children have read and loved such as Brian Jacques’ Redwall series and Erin Hunter’s Warriors series. I think that readers would be able to get into this and read all the books; the makings of an addictive series are present.

Children's Literature - more picture books

1.      Carle, Eric. The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Philomel; BRDBK Edition, 1994. (13 pages)
A hungry caterpillar eats more and more before transforming into a butterfly. This book is vivid and fun, the holes where the caterpillar “ate” things and the pages of different sizes would be interesting on a physical level to young children.
2.       Brown, Margaret Wise. Over the Moon; The Runaway Bunny, Goodnight Moon, and My World. Illustrations by Clement Hurd. HarperCollins Publications, 1942, 1947, 1949.  (102 pages)
This collection of three books in one includes classic favorites featuring a sweet young bunny as the main character. All three stories feature themes of home comfort as the bunny is shown what a good home has. He sees what a mother will do for a son, he sees the comfortable elements of a bedroom at night, and he sees what elements of house and yard make up a happy home. The stories are simple and teach a simple vocabulary of objects that young children would be able to observe in their own homes.
3.      Lakin, Patricia. Snow Day. Illustrations by Scott Nash. Scholastic, Inc., 2004. (30 pages)
Sam, Pam, Will, and Jill are four young crocodiles who get to go sledding on a snow day when school is cancelled. This story celebrates friendship and an unexpected break from the daily grind of responsibilities. It’s a bit repetitive and preachy as it makes a point to recommend safety helmets and safety goggles for those who want to sled, so it was not a favorite for me. It seems to be geared toward toddlers, but toddlers may not appreciate a snow day from school the way older kids would – so in my opinion, it’s a bit mismatched.
4.      Galdone, Paul. The Little Red Hen. Clarion Books, 1973. (37 pages)
A hardworking hen goes through the rigors of farm life to prepare some bread without the help of her lazy animal friends. In the end, she’s the only one who enjoys the spoils of her work. This tale is repetitive in a fun way, it teaches the sort of lesson that even the very young can understand. As Sir Walter Scott puts it, “He that climbs the tall tree has won right to the fruit.”
5.      Rey, H. A. Curious George Takes a Job. Houghton Mifflin, 1947. (47 pages)
A curious monkey escapes from the zoo and tries his hand at different vocations with disastrous results until he finally decides to become a movie star. I love the illustration of George painting a jungle scene in a woman’s apartment when he was supposed to be washing the windows. I thought that the most controversial page was the page in which George gets into the ether at the hospital and goes on a little drug trip! Some parents might not like that particular page.
6.      Berenstain, Stan and Jan. The Berenstain Bears and the Trouble with Commercials. HarperCollins Publishing, 2007. (30 pages)
This tale teaches young ones to think critically about what they see on TV and not buy into ideas which may be exaggerated. The Berenstains do a good job of illustrating that children and adults alike may fall prey to commercialism and naiveté. These authors know how to portray believable and flawed adult characters. They also include a short poem in the beginning of some of their books which describe the moral of the story, this reminds me some of how Aesop would leave a moral at the end of some of his fables.
7.      Hoban, Russell. Best Friends for Frances. Illustrated by Lillian Hoban. Scholastic Book Services, 1969. (31 pages)
Frances excludes her little sister Gloria at first, but when she is excluded by boys in her neighborhood she decides to make a best friends club with Gloria and in the end the boys join it too. Hoban does a great job of broaching the dramas of childhood friendship, including sibling friendship and friendships between boys and girls. The scenarios seem very accurate and relatable. One thing that might bother some readers is the fact that Frances engages in name-calling and calls her friend Albert fat several times.
8.      Glaser, Higashi. Hello Kitty. Hello World! Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 1976. (33 pages)
This children’s book doesn’t really have a story for me to summarize, but rather has a two-page spread for each major geographic area with many cultural relics and facts illustrated so that the reader may appreciate world culture. It’s a book that little girls who are into Hello Kitty would appreciate, although I don’t know that boys would care for it. One of the coolest features is that it gives translations of the greeting “hello” in many languages and offers a translation guide in the back where children can teach themselves a few vocabulary words and phrases in many languages.
9.      Sidman, Joyce. Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors. Illustrated by Beckie Prange. Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2010. (40 pages)
Why is it that some species outlive all their contemporaries, barely changing for millions of years? This book of poetry explores and celebrates some of nature’s most “fit” species. In the poem, “The Lichens We” Sidman describes lichen as having “a slow but steady growing pace; resemblance to both mud and lace” and also offers concrete information about lichen (for example that lichen is in the kingdom fungi and has remained relatively unchanged for 400 million years).
10.  Sidman, Joyce. Song of the Water Boatman and Other Pond Poems. Illustrated by Beckie Prange. Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2005. (32 pages)
A pond is full of life and wonder, as this gorgeously illustrated poetry book highlights. In the poem “Spring Splashdown”, the words “leaping, leaping” take the form of a baby wood duck leaping down from a hole in a tree after hatching. Then on the following page after the poem, there is a short text describing the fun facts about the birds in the poem. I love how the author is able to blend literature and science in this book.
11.  Jenkins, Steve. What Do You Do When Something Wants to Eat You? Sandpiper, 2001. (32 pages)
Each page of this vivid book shows a predator species and a prey species; each page highlights a defense mechanism in the prey and teaches readers how animals adapt to survive. Jenkins uses an illustration technique that looks like cut paper scrap collage; I think it’s really effective. The colors are bold and the contrast is very strong. The illustrations are large – a full bleed with words printed right on the picture.
12.  Lauber, Patricia. You’re Aboard Spaceship Earth. Illustrated by Holly Keller. HarperCollins, 1996. (32 pages)
This book describes planet Earth as a giant spaceship, communicating in a way children will understand that earth is a closed system. Readers realize that the resources we use are recycled versions of the things that the dinosaurs used millions of years ago, and we will need recycled versions of what we have now sometime in the future. While it may feel a bit preachy, it is an important lesson and it’s communicated in a unique way children will really comprehend.
13.  Mansbach, Adam. Go the F**k to Sleep. Illustrated by Ricardo Cortes. Akashic Books, 2011. (32 pages)
Mansbach has an interesting and edgy concept for a picture book, I can’t see many parents of toddlers going for this although maybe parents of pre-verbal babies could read it in a sweet tone of voice and laugh to themselves. The summary is simple: this book is a rhyming sing-song plea filled with cuss words. I think this is more for a parent’s entertainment than a child’s. I loved the illustrations which were very cool, and I could envision some really trendy parents having some fun with this book, but I don’t think young children would care for it.
14.  Gaiman, Neil. Instructions. Illustrated by Charles Vess. HarperCollins, 2010. (40 pages)
I really loved this book in which Gaiman gives instructions for how to travel in a fantasy story. This book was one of the most unique and engaging picture books I’ve read all semester, I’m sure I’ll remember it. I think that, like many modern fantasy books, this book has a timeless quality. I could see toddlers enjoying it and older children finding deep messages within the instructions. A young one would think it’s cool to hear that all dragons have a soft spot, an older child may be able to think about the metaphor – how there are weak spots in the big problems in our lives – ways in which those problems are vulnerable to defeat.
15.  Chin, Jason. Coral Reefs. Roaring Brook, 2011.
A girl gets enveloped in a book about the sea before bringing her friends into the ocean world she has discovered. The text of this book was somewhat dry, but the illustrations brought another wordless story to the pages. It’s cool that her ocean journey began in a library and that the story ended with her showing her friends the portal to the new world she found. This communicates a real love of books, and how books have the power to transport us.
16.  Sidman, Joyce. Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night. Illustrated by Rick Allen.
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2010.
This book follows the same format as Sidman’s other books (reviewed previously) although she has chosen a different illustrator for this book. The theme of this book is night, and the poems reflect about animals that prefer to move around through dark woods when most of us are sleeping. There is an author’s note in which Sidman talks about how the woods at night can be creepy to most humans, “But” she writes, “there are all sorts of creatures that prefer the night. Why? And how?  This book is my exploration of those questions.”
17.  Postma, Lidia. The Stolen Mirror. McGraw-Hill, 1976.
A boy who will soon be an older brother finds himself in a world of magical creatures and despondent people who have lost their mirror (the thing they look to in order to know who they are). He embarks on a quest to face the dragon and recover the mirror, and after he meets with success he decides that he will teach his younger sibling (regardless of its gender) to fight dragons too. It was especially interesting to me that the dragon said that there was only one mirror and that the boy’s despondent friends let the dragon have it, this could hold deep meaning. Overall, I loved it – beautiful and scary illustrations, thought provoking ideas about depression and identity, and an overall story that “has it all”.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. (Children's Literature Novel)

Paterson, Katherine. Bridge to Terabithia. Illustrated by Donna Diamond. Scholastic Inc., 1977. (128 pages) 
This book is a tear-jerker, and very memorable for anyone who read it as a child. Paterson does a great job developing the characters in this realistic fiction based in a rural community close to a wild woods where the two main characters run off and imagine up an entire world for themselves - Terabithia. I will just admit right now that when I read the last page I totally cried even though I have read it before and seen the movie. It's not the sadly surprising events of the story that made me tear up, but the relationship between one of the main characters and his younger sister - and how it evolves after serious hardships (I won't spoil the book for those who haven't read it).

Peter and Wendy by J.M. Berrie (Children's Literature Novel)

 Berrie, J. M. Peter and Wendy. Charlie Scribner’s Sons. 1911. Illustrated by F. D. Bedford. (267 pages, and 122 pages for the online version)
     This classic tale is a story about Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up and never wanted to grow up. He brings Wendy and her two younger brothers to Neverland, an island full of fairies, pirates, animals, and more. Neverland is a dreamland – a place for adventure, but the lost boys on this island still long for the structure and nurturing that a mother can give. Wendy is commissioned for the task, and does well until the day when she and her brothers return home with the lost boys in tow. Only Peter Pan refuses to stay and grow up, although he visits an aging Wendy and her descendants.
     Peter and Wendy is a story with some vocabulary and content that may offend modern sensibilities. The portrayal and name of “redskins” seems a bit unflattering, and at one point the fairies are described as “some unsteady fairies had to climb over him on their way home from an orgy” (p. 104) Some modern readers may even be put off by the strict gender role assignment that the author engages in throughout the book. However, none of these things bother me personally. If there is value in the story, one can see past the controversial sections and even use them to foster healthy discussion. “Children have the strangest adventures without being troubled by them.” (p.14).

The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda by Tom Angelberger (Children's Literature Novel)

Angelberger, Tom. The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda. Abrams. 2010. (150 pages)
An eccentric boy named Dwight folds an origami Yoda finger puppet, which he uses to dispense wisdom to his fellow 6th graders. Tommy, the main narrator of the book, creates a case file to investigate what impact this figure has made. Students offer testimonials and opinions in this unique and engaging book.
There was a lot to absorb in this book. There are many narrators, many doodle illustrations, many styles of writing (from a sample text message to transcribed words from a tape recorder and more), and even many different fonts! It’s interesting that I read this on the same day that we read Make Way for Ducklings in class, because both books may represent opposite sides of a spectrum: styles which people dub “modern” or “old-fashioned”. This book seemed very modern to me – the speed, stimulation, and information from many sources almost mimicked a smart phone internet browser.
When I was finished with the book, I gave it to my 6th grade son to read. He read it in one sitting! I asked him what he thought about it, and he said he loved it. When I asked why, he said, “I liked the comments at the end. Also it’s quirky. And original. And I liked the little pictures on the sides.” I believe that most kids would feel this way, and I think it would be a great book to use as a language arts teacher. It’s interesting to see the interplay between the abstract thinking of Tommy and the concrete, or “black-and-white” thinking of his friend Harvey. I think that this could be a great source of classroom discussion in a 5th or 6th grade classroom.

Sahara Special by Esme Raji Codell. (Children's Literature novel)

Codell, Esme Raji. Sahara Special. Scholastic, Inc., 2004. (175 pages)
This book is narrated by the title character, Sahara. Kids at her school call her “Sahara Special” because she spent time in the special education program. Her story is one of overcoming stigma and educational struggles with the help of a very unconventional teacher.
The style and language in this book are very urban and modern. The school described could be any public school. While readers are never given a clinical description of what Sahara’s special needs are (I kind of like that it was left unexplained), they can clearly see what other children think about her as a student who is pulled out from regular classes to get individualized attention. Readers can also see what it feels like to be a student like Sahara with a big file in the office and adults arguing about what to do with you.
Sahara is won over to literature by reading Aesop’s fables, poetry, and Ramona books by Beverly Cleary. She decides that she will become a writer. Literature and education are both colossal themes in this book. One reading it would understand the message very clearly = give children in special education a chance to fall in love with literature and it will improve their lives.
Overall, it was nice, but not earth-shattering. It was somewhat predictable and didactic, which can create boredom in a book’s readership. It reminded me of the section in the C.S. Lewis' On Stories where Lewis talks about how overly-didactic books can be condescending. 

The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson (Children's Literature Novel)

 Paterson, Katherine. The Great Gilly Hopkins. Harper & Row, Publishers. 1978. 1978. (148 pages)
This book chronicles the life of Galadriel (Gilly for short) who has been through several foster homes before ending up in the home of Maime Trotter. At first Gilly is very angry and judgmental toward Maime, her foster brother W.E., her new neighbor Mr. Randolph, and her new teacher Miss Harris. But as her schemes result in unexpected changes, she is surprised to learn how much she grew to love all those people she was pushing away.
The language in this book was somewhat gritty and even racist at times – which is why it was on the banned book list. However, while some of those things may be jarring at first it’s pretty clear that this is the portrait of someone who is hurting. I think there is an opportunity for educators to use Gilly as a universal example to illustrate what it means to be disappointed, self-protective, and someone in pain who lashes out at others. Life is disappointing sometimes. However, this book also illustrates the positive side of life as we see that caring for others makes life better.
The characters in this book are very round and complex. The main character, Gilly, experiences a lot of character change. We see many facets in her true-to-life personality. For anyone who has known a hurting child, this characterization hits home realistically. The themes of disappointment, self-protection, and belonging are all universal to the human experience and would provide great educational value. On a side note, I love that she references Tolkein several times! All in all, I really enjoyed the book and the reminder that hatefulness can mean hurt, and that this is a feature which can change as a result of kindness.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin (Children's Literature Novel)

Lin, Grace. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; Reprint edition, 2011. (304 pages)
In this mythical fantasy, Chinese folktales come to life as young Minli leaves her poverty-stricken village to find a better fortune from the Old Man of the Moon. Minli’s father loves to tell stories about the evil Magistrate Tiger and the powerful Old Man of the Moon who ties people to their destinies with pieces of red string. Minli, tired of her mother’s careworn face and constant sighs, leaves her home to find out how to change her family’s destiny.
This story has all the elements of an epic journey: Minli has help from interesting friends including a flightless dragon, she has moments of self-doubt and moments of resolve, she faces danger in the form of a giant green tiger spirit, and she has to make sacrifices and learn lessons. Many elements of Chinese culture are also included in the story: dragons, paintings, tea, gifts, goldfish, gardens, silk, porcelain, and ancient folktales. There are porquoi tales explaining how the moon came to exist and how “Fruitless Mountain” lost its greenery. There are magical tales about how to become a dragon. There are moral tales teaching that one should not be jealous or forceful. Each time a folktale is relayed in the novel, it is indented and bordered by illustrations of the classic Chinese coins. In the end, Minli and her mother discover what true fortune is and how they already had it the whole time.
Lexi and I read this together, and I have to say that I think I loved it as much as she did. Every night I was like, "Come on, Lexi! Let's go read!" That has to be a sign of a successful children's novel.

Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (Children's Literature Novel)

Grahame, Kenneth. The Wind in the Willows. Illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard. Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1908. (259 pages)
This classic tale of friendship was a pleasure to read. I actually laughed out loud a few times at some of Toad’s exploits. The characterization was amazingly well done; each of the main characters mirrored aspects of people we meet every day. There are sweet and stodgy Mole, poetic hospitable Rat, grim powerful Badger, and outrageous Toad. The concepts of home and friendship were drawn out beautifully.
Wind in the Willows is classed as a children’s modern fantasy, but it seems to me much more of a book adults would appreciate. While there is some action (jailbreak and chase, fight with weasels, car crashes) it is slow moving as Grahame gives sprawling descriptions of setting and nostalgic explanations of home and nature. Adults will appreciate these passages as they are very well done, but I could imagine some children finding them boring.
I realized after starting this book that I had never read the actual novel before. I had certainly read shorter versions of it targeted to younger readers, and saw the Disney short animated film. But there were minor characters and descriptive sections in Grahame’s novel that are excluded in subsequent versions. One of the most poignant excluded sections, in my opinion, is the section from which the book derives its name. Rat explains and interprets the song he hears in the air as the wind blows through the willows:
“Lest the awe should dwell
And turn your frolic to fret
You shall look on my power at the helping hour
But then you shall forget!
Lest limbs be reddened and rent
I spring the trap that is set
As I loose the snare you may glimpse me there
For surely you shall forget!
Helper and healer, I cheer
Small waifs in the woodland wet
Strays I find in it, wound I bind in it
Bidding them all forget!” (p. 141 italics only)

Children's Literature - Picture Books

Here are a few descriptions of some of the picture books I've read this semester in my children's literature class. For anyone who is looking for a new picture book to pick up for a special little one in your life.

1.      Meng, Cece. I Will Not Read This Book. Clarion Books, 2011. Illustrated by Joy Ang. (32 pages)
This book is about a boy who will do anything to avoid reading, from menial tasks to hanging upside-down from his toe as dangerous things surround him. This book was a page turner and beautifully illustrated, I liked how the illustrator used different points of view (such as looking up at the boy from underwater through a swarm of circling sharks).
2.      Cannon, Janell Verdi. Harcourt Brace & Co., 1997. (56 pages)
This book is about a young python named Verdi who tries his best not to grow up. When he is injured and has to slow down for a time, he ends up as an adult but discovers that he can be an adult who is still fun. I think this book is gorgeous: one of the prettiest picture books I’ve seen. The story is wonderful, there is an information section at the back about snakes, and the paintings which are featured on the cover and pages are stunning.
3.      Long, Ethan. Chamelia. Little, Brown, and Co., 2011. (40 pages)
Chameleons are known for blending in, but the hero in this book likes to stand out. In the end she learns how to work well with a group while retaining her unique personality and style. This is a great book to read with a creative, unconventional, stylish little girl. The illustrations are bright and colorful, patterned after Alexander Henry fabrics.
4.      Brown, Margaret Wise. The Sleepy Book. Western Publishing Co., Inc., 1948. Illustrated by Garth Williams. (48 pages)
All the different animals need their sleep in this book, whether it’s a rabbit that has swallowed a bumblebee, a hibernating bear, or a child tucked into bed listening to this book. Margaret Wise Brown uses story, poem, song, and a chant to lull the reader to sleep in this vintage book. A great variety of literary styles and classic illustrations make this book a nostalgic favorite.
5.      Joyce, William. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. Simon & Schuster Children’s Books, 2012. (56 pages)
Books are alive in this story about a man who struggles to write a book until he goes to live with some books for a period of years. I think children would really like this book because they tend to ascribe feelings and thoughts to inanimate objects, and the personification of the books would be really fun for them. It’s a book that communicates a love of reading.
6.      Scarry, Richard. Richard Scarry’s Busiest Fire Fighters Ever! Western Publishing Co., Inc., 1993. (23 pages)
The firefighters do a lot of things to help the people of the town; but they make a few funny mistakes. However, in the end they cook a barbeque for everyone and show the difference between safe and unsafe fires. This book is a lot of fun – I think especially young boys would be attracted to all of the pictures of vehicles. It also is a nice teaching tool for talking about what firefighters do and fire safety.
7.      Rosenthal, Eileen. I Must Have Bobo! Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2011. Illustrated by Marc Rosenthal. (34 pages)
A young boy loves his sock monkey, Bobo, but his cat Earl keeps stealing it! In the end all three lie down together for a nap. This book uses a really minimalist aesthetic; the pages are all cream-colored with only a small simple drawing on most pages. I found that to be really memorable, it sort of made me think of Winnie-the-Pooh. Also, the font is in all-caps which I like.
8.      Harper, Charlie. ABCs. Ammo Books, LLC, 2008. (20 pages)
This book is a simple ABC board book with gorgeous animal illustrations for each letter of the alphabet by the iconic Charlie Harper. I used to have his Big Golden Book of Biology when I was a girl, but now it’s impossible to get unless you want to spend hundreds of dollars for a collector’s edition (How I wish I could read that book again for this assignment!). However, small children’s books like this one allow a new generation to see his beautiful geometric nature paintings.
9.      Berenstain, Stan & Jan. The Berenstain Bears’ Nature Guide. Random House, 1975. (64 pages)
The Bear family goes on a long nature walk and they learn facts about animals, plants, and the earth itself. This book is humorous and informative. The illustrations are very memorable; this was a favorite of mine as a child and even after decades I could remember the cave illustration and some of the other pages. It’s an interesting mix of fiction and non-fiction.
10.  Sendak, Maurice. Where the Wild Things Are. Harper Collins Publishers, 1963. (40 pages)
A wild boy in a wolf suit is sent to bed without supper when surprisingly his room transforms into a forest and a sea and an island full of monstrous “wild things”. Luckily, when he returns he finds that his supper is waiting for him and it’s still hot. This book has several pages together with illustration only and no words, what a great time for a child to imagine the story or even speak aloud what he or she thinks is happening.
11.  Mendoza, George. Need a House? Call Ms. Mouse! Grosset & Dunlap, 1981. Illustrated by Doris Susan Smith. (34 pages)
Henrietta Mouse is a home designer with unconventional ideas about how to make the perfect house for her forest animal friends. This book invites children to imagine what a perfect home is and think about the needs of others creatively. We learned in class that hope and imagination are important aspects of children’s literature, and this book helps to open the mind.
12.  Yolen, Jane. Owl Moon. Scholastic, Inc., 1987. Illustrated by John Schoenherr. (30 pages)
A father and daughter go for a late night winter walk through the quiet woods searching for an owl. This story is told in first-person from the perspective of the daughter who is never named. It is a very introspective and quiet sort of story, which ends in the almost frozen silent joy when you find what you’re looking for. It’s a simple but pretty universal emotion when you know that you’ve made a memory, and I think children can really sense that feeling of “special”.
13.  Minarik, Else Holmelund. Little Bear. Harper & Row, Publishers, 1957. Illustrated by Maurice Sendak. (63 pages)
Little Bear has adventures with his animal friends and his Mother Bear is always around to help him with food, warm clothes, and bedtime stories. This book is so heartwarming; it seems to me to be a true celebration of what we appreciate in mothers. And also what mothers appreciate about their little bears.
14.  McCloskey, Robert. Make Way for Ducklings. Viking Press, 1941. (76 pages)
A family of mallards walks through the streets of Boston to make it back to the park pond where they want to live. Policemen and pedestrians are helpful to the mother duck and her ducklings. I liked this book because it was a wholesome story about people appreciating and protecting nature. The drawings were very biologically accurate and realistic, albeit simple and colorless.
15.  Freeman, Don. Corduroy. Viking Press, 1968. (30 pages)
Corduroy is a toy bear in a department store with a lost button, but a girl falls in love with him anyway. She buys him and gives him a home, friendship, and a mending. The bright red cover of this book is very attractive and memorable. I think anyone would empathize with the characters in this story, as we all long for companionship in spite of our imperfections and we all give companionship to others who are imperfect as well.
16.  Evans, Shane W. Underground: Finding the Light to Freedom. Roaring Brook, 2011. (32 pages)
A group of runaway slaves make it through a dark and scary journey to find a new a bright life. The most striking thing about this book is how picture value was used, most of the book being drawn in deep dark blue shadow with the ending showing yellow light. The pictures and even the picture value really helped to tell the story and symbolize what this journey must have meant to the participants.
17.  Cronin, Doreen. Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type. Illustrated by Betsy Lewin. Atheneum, 2000. (32 pages)
The cows have a typewriter and are leaving typed demands to a very frustrated farmer. In the end, the supposed neutral message-man, the duck, steals the typewriter and the fun starts all over again as the ducks begin typing. This book was light-hearted and funny – I loved the page in which the duck was carrying the terms of truce. The repeated refrain, “Click, clack, moo” would make this very fun for a toddler who would enjoy speaking a repeated refrain along with the reader.
18.  Graham, Bob. Let’s Get a Pup! Said Kate. Candlewick, 2003. (32 pages)
A modern family decides to adopt a puppy from the pound, but an older dog makes an impression on them and they all agree to go adopt the older dog as well. The characters in this book seem very likable and spontaneous (not to mention compassionate to the older dog). I did not really care for this style of illustration – the lines and shapes seem a bit sloppy and round which for me makes everything run together (no sharp contrast, maybe) – but I did like the closing picture which was all blue except for the highlighted bed with Kate and both dogs.
19.  Slobodkina, Esphyr. Caps for Sale: A Tale of a Peddler, Some Monkeys and Their Monkey Business. HarperCollins, 1940. (40 pages)
A cap peddler naps under a tree only to wake and find that all of his caps have been stolen by monkeys! This book is so fun to read to little ones; the colors are bright, the illustrations are very crisp with clean contrast, the lines of text repeat in patterns, and there are simple concepts in the text where the reader can help to teach the young listener about counting and colors in an entertaining way. My favorite part is producing the sound that the monkeys make (“Tsz! Tsz! Tsz!”) and yelling, “You monkeys, you!” (I still yell this at my old kids when they are being naughty – haha.)
20.  Bunting, Eve. Smoky Night. Illustrated by David Diaz. Sandpiper, 1999. (36 pages)
A family survives a night of rioting and fire, as they simultaneously grow to appreciate neighbors in their community they may have misjudged beforehand. This book tackles some themes which are fairly deep: racial tension, riots, and life-threatening fires. It is done in such a way that is sensitive to the young audience of readers, while maintaining realism. I like the use of the cats as symbols for the racial tension and reconciliation the characters go through.
21.   Eastman, P.D. Are you my Mother? Beginner Books: A Division of Random House Inc., 1960. (63 pages)
A bird hatches while his mother is away and sets out on an adventure to find her, asking many creatures and objects the question: Are you my mother? There is great humor in this as the little bird falls out of the nest and makes so many mistakes. It’s heartwarming too when the reader sees him reunited with his mother in the end having discovered what a mother is after seeing so many things that a mother is not.

22.  Hyman, Trina Schart. Little Red Riding Hood. Holiday House, 1983. (26 pages)
Little Red Riding Hood ignores her mother’s advice and ends up with a dangerous friend in the woods on the way to her grandmother’s house. In this traditional folktale, we learn how it can be to “drift off the path”. Whenever I hear this story, I always think of this poem I have memorized (but I don’t know the author of it! Or where/when I read it!) which states the moral of the story as:
“Now, little girls this seems to say; watch your friends along the way,
Never trust a stranger friend; you do not know how it may end,
Keep in mind this simple truth: sweetest tongue hides sharpest tooth.”
23.  Young, Ed. Lon Po Po: A Red Riding Hood Story from China. Paperstar, 1989. (32 pages)
Three sisters must match wits with a crafty wolf (disguised as their grandmother) after they let it into their house. This variant of Little Red Riding Hood featured scary and dark images of the wolf inside the house, and dreamier non-crisp lines of the wolf below the tree. My favorite thing of all, though, was the wise and self-effacing dedication in the beginning of the book to wolves for lending their good names as tangible symbols for our own darkness.
24.  Aardema, Verna. Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears. Illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon. Dial, 1975. (32 pages)
An African porquoi folktale, this book gives a funny explanation for why mosquitoes buzz close to people’s ears. This book is cumulative and builds up to an entertaining conclusion as many animals make mistakes along the way like a cascade of dominoes. My favorite illustration was the lizard with sticks in his ears because his grumpy face was so expressive and the sticks were such a comical concept.
25.  Waber, Bernard. A Firefly Named Torchy. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1970. (39 pages)
Torchy is a firefly with a light that is too bright for the forest. His fellow fireflies discourage him from using his light and he’s upset until he goes to the city and learns that there are many types of light in the world. Waber uses a lot of abstract color block on black background – the color block style makes me think of Eric Carle.
26.  Gonzalez, Maya Christina. My Colors, My World, Mis Colores, Mi Mundo. Children’s Book Press, 2007. (24 pages)
A little girl starts this bilingual book by describing how the desert makes everything the same color, but then as she begins to look for beauty she finds beautiful desert colors in things like sunsets, flowers, and more. The plot structure and characterization are pretty simple, but the colors and language are very rhythmic for reading to a young one.
27.  Say, Allen. Grandfather’s Journey. Houghton Mifflin, 1993. (32 pages)
The illustrations in this story were some of the most attractive I’ve seen all semester and it has some universal themes which speak to what home means to people who have travelled. The thing I remember most from the reading, aside from the drawings, is the statement that whenever we are in one place we are homesick for the other. Also there was something about how being a parent makes you crave old things, I really resonated with that idea.
28.  Stevenson, Robert Louis. My Shadow. Adapted and illustrated by Monique Felix. Creative Editions, 2002. (32 pages)
A mouse observes and plays with its shadow, it notices that shadows don’t grow and move in the same way mice do. There was a beautiful page of yellow buttercups and no words. The poem was something a child would enjoy; it is relatable and made more fun with the fresh illustrations Felix adds.
29.  Dr. Seuss. Hop on Pop. TM & co, 1963. (64 pages)
This book does not follow a story line per se, but each page or two has rhyming fun for kids who are beginning to read simple words on their own. It’s really fun to see the silly things that the characters do like sitting on a cactus, chasing a bear out of a tent, and of course hopping on their pop. This book seems almost more like poetry than a story with all the rhyming and word play, Dr. Seuss just has a very unique style.
30.  Wolkstein, Diane. Little Mouse’s Painting. Illustrated by Maryjane Begin. Morrow Junior Books, 1992. (26 pages)
Mouse paints a landscape, but her three friends all think that the painting is of them. Mouse explains that she knows it’s just a landscape since she’s the one who painted it – but that night she begins to see her friends in the painting after all. The theme of this book is one of interpreting works of creativity, and even though that may be an abstract concept I think that children are really into doing this. They are better at interpretation than some adults give them credit for.
31.  Wadsworth, Olive A. Over in the Meadow. Illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats. Scholastic, 1971. (20 pages)
This classic counting rhyme was originally written by Wadsworth, but a number of illustrators have brought the rhyme to life with differing styles of picturebook art. I love Ezra Jack Keats’ version, which I remember from my own childhood, she uses bold collage artwork in a way which makes every animal type look unique and appealing. Out of curiosity, I looked on Amazon to see the other variations of this rhyme by other illustrators and I have to say that Keats’ version and the version illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky are the most charming to me.
32.  Klassen, Jon. This is Not My Hat. Candlewick, 2012. (40 pages)
A small fish steals a hat from a much larger fish, but as he swims away he convinces himself that it will be just fine. This caper is pure naughty fun, as the onlooker can see that the small fish is in deeper trouble than he realizes. I can imagine kids reading this and getting really excitable as they yell out warnings to the small fish or laugh as they delight in knowing that the statements small fish makes are not true.
33.  Wilkin, Eloise. Prayers for Children. Golden Inspirational, Little Gldn Tre Edition, 1999. (24 pages)
Eloise Wilkin illustrates the pages where she has quoted simple rhyming prayers which children can repeat. The illustrations are old-fashioned, sweet, and detail-oriented. I think a spiritual family would really enjoy reading these poetic prayers with their children, but it would likely be frowned upon for school reading because of its theistic content. However, I have to say I really enjoyed reading it.