Posts from the ‘Picture Book’ Category

H.O.R.S.E. A Great Game of Basketball and Imagination

H.O.R.S.E.Title: H.O.R.S.E.: A Game of Basketball and Imagination
Author/Illustrator: Christopher Myers
Narrators: Dion Graham and Christopher Myers
Music: Mario Rodriguez
ISBN: 9781606842188 (w/ CD)
Pages: unpaged
Publisher: Live Oak Media, c2014 (audio) Egmont USA, c2012 (hardcover)
Awards: Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award Honor Book (2013), Odyssey Award for Excellence in Audiobook Production Winner (2015),

One day at the basketball court…
Hey, want to play a game of horse?

With those few words, a game that’s as much imagination as it is trash talking and skill, two boys start a game of H.O.R.S.E. The objective is to make a basket using a basketball in the most creative way you can that will prevent your opponent from making the same shot. With flights of fancy involving hands, feet, tongues, skyscrapers and space shuttles, the big question is, who’s the winner?

Although it’s questionable that a single shot is thrown, that’s not the point. The point is this book is pure smack talk. The most quotable line exchange: “Didn’t know I could go left, did you?” “You’re probably a specialist in left … left back, left behind, left out.” The sound effects — such as bouncing balls, scraping chalk on a blackboard, or traversing the stars — are well-connected with the dialogue, and a sound track gives an upbeat, city vibe to the whole production. I’m so glad that there are two narrators, leading an authenticity to the listening experience that starts from the title and continues through the author’s note read by the author. The two narrators even argue over what the page turn signal is going to be! The illustrations keep the focus on the game and the boys, with minimal background details interfering. The dialogue is printed in two different colors, making it easy to distinguish between the speakers. It reminds me of Andy Griffiths “My Dad Is Better Than Your Dad” short story from Guys Write for Guys Read, the original Guys Reads book edited by Jon Scieszka, and you could probably pair the two for a smack talk themed read-aloud session.

Swing Sisters

Swing SistersTitle: Swing Sisters: The Story of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm
Author: Karen Deans
Illustrator: Joe Cepeda
Pages: unpaged
ISBN: 9780823419708
Publisher/Date: Holiday House, c2015.

Dr. Jones loved music and wanted the children to love it too. In 1939 he started a school band that was just for girls, and he called it the Sweethearts.

Started as an fundraiser for a African American orphanage founded in 1909, the Sweethearts soon became something more. They played in the beginning for schools and church groups. When the musicians aged out of the orphanage, they stayed together, playing all over the country, including at the Howard Theater in Washington to an audience of 35,000 people and overseas in Europe for the troops during World War II. For years they quietly broke Jim Crow laws, allowing any women who could jump, jive, and swing on an instrument to join their band. This caused problems with some folks, forcing some of their members to sneak out of their bus and head to the train station via taxi rather than getting caught by the police in the company of African Americans. Eventually, the group disbanded as the women pursued other goals and interests, like other jobs or families.

It’s interesting to learn about an African American orphanage during the 1900s that taught literacy skills to children many saw as underprivileged, when so many African American children weren’t taught how to read or write. With sparse writing that conveys just enough information for younger readers which the book is geared toward, it’s a welcome addition that websites, books, and documentaries are available for those who would like to learn more, including a NPR broadcast and a Smithsonian feature from a few years ago. While just a blip in music, women’s, and African American histories, these trail blazers have not been forgotten, even if — as one interview remarks — few recordings of their work are still around.

The illustrations are multicolored and textured, and the oil and acrylic paintings lend a texture, similar to cracked paint, that encourage a lingering look and give it an old time feel. The crowd scenes are equally impressive as many of the people have distinguishing characteristics and skin tones, and the period clothing is quite colorful. The closing scenes of a silhouetted band playing in front of a sunset orange and yellow hued background, paired with an older women passing along a trumpet to a younger girl, reflect the closing sentiments of the book. “Those Sweethearts didn’t know it at the time, but they helped open doors for women of all backgrounds.” (unpaged)

nonfiction mondayThis review is posted in honor of Nonfiction Monday. Take a look at what everyone else is reading in nonfiction this week.

Draw What You See

Draw What You SeeTitle: Draw What You See: The Life and Art of Benny Andrews
Author: Kathleen Benson
Illustrator: Illustrated with paintings by Benny Andrews
ISBN: 9780544104877
Pages: 32 pages
Publisher/Date: Clarion Books, c2015.

Benny started to draw when he was three years old. Once he started, he never stopped. (6)

This picture book biography summarizes the life of Benny Andrews, an African-American artist born in the 1930s and living long enough to teach children displaced by Hurricane Katrina how to express their emotions through art. While I enjoyed the use of his actual works to illustrate, rather than having an illustrator mimic his style, I was somewhat disappointed that the majority of the pieces selected were from his later years. For someone who has lived and painted as long as he had, I expected a broader selection, although I found myself enjoying his later pieces (done in the last decade of his life) more than the very few earlier works that were included. A detailed time line pairs years with the information in the narrative, but they highlight works that are not included in the book. Back mater also identifies each of the images, and cites sources and resources, although most of them are not easily accessible as they are movies and exhibition catalogs. The narrative portrays racism in easy to understand vignettes, including walking to school, missing school due to work, and being unrepresented in museum exhibits. It’s important to enlighten children that there are other, more modern artists, rather than always falling on the classics (Van Gogh and Picasso). For that reason alone this book should be included in the collection, but it will have to be publicized as Benny Andrews is not someone most kids will search out and you may find yourself withdrawing it due to low use in just a few years.

nonfiction mondayThis review is posted in honor of Nonfiction Monday. Take a look at what everyone else is reading in nonfiction this week.

Blizzard

BlizzardTitle: Blizzard
Author/Illustrator: John Rocco
ISBN: 9781423178651
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Disney Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group, c2014.

On Monday, February 6, 1978, New England experienced one of the biggest snowstorms in its history. It snowed for two days, and by the time it stopped, parts of Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut were buried under forty inches of snow. That’s four times the height of this book! The wind was blowing fifty miles an hour and created snowdrifts up to fifteen feet high. Where I grew up in Rhode Island, it took over a week for snowplows to get to our street.
This book is based on my experience as a ten-year-old boy in that blizzard and how I got to the store, over a mile from my house, with tennis rackets tied to my feet.

Beautiful illustrations detail the storm in all it’s glory, white space assuming the role of the heaps and drifts of snow. The intrepid young boy in the story shows his ingenuity when, after being snowbound for a week, he straps tennis rackets to his shoes and makes the journey to the store for necessary supplies. Along the way, he picks up orders from the neighbors. Slices of family life show the ups and downs of being snowbound, from playing in the snow to curling up next to the fire. The passage of time is subtly conveyed in the pictures, which read like a graphic novel, at one point bringing to mind the Family Circus cartoons. Based on a true story, this is the perfect book to snuggle up with during these record-breaking winter storms.

It Will Get There — Eventually

I don’t normally do this, but I just recently read two nonfiction picture books that struck me as similar, not because of the format or the topic but because of the actions taken in each story.

Henry and the CannonsTitle: Henry and the Cannons: An Extraordinary True Story of the American Revolution
Author/Illustrator: Don Brown
ISBN: 9781596432666
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Roaring Press Books, c2013.
Publication Date: January 22, 2013

Stourbridge LionTitle: The Stourbridge Lion: America’s First Locomotive
Author: Karl Zimmermann
Illustrator: Steven Walker
ISBN: 9781590788592
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Boyd Mills Press, c2012.
Publication Date: March 1, 2012

On the surface, these tales have nothing alike. One tells the story of Henry Knox, who convinced George Washington during the American Revolution that he could transport the desperately needed cannons from Fort Ticonderoga in New York to Boston Massachusetts. As the book relates; “300 miles of lakes and rivers, hills and glades, and mountain forests separated Boston from Fort Ticonderoga. Dragging cannons the whole, hard way in winter was impossible.” But Henry did it, rescuing them from ships that were snagged on rocks and at one point sunk, dragging them through mud, lifting them out from the frigid waters when the ice they were traveling on broke, until all 59 were safely delivered.

In contrast, delivering a steam locomotive from England to Pennsylvania seems easy. Horatio Allen traveled to England, purchased several engines, and sailed back to New York City to await their arrival by several different boats. The tracks however were ill-equipped to handle the engine, which weighed almost twice what the gravity powered locomotives held, and ended up sitting idle for most of its time until it took up a new residence in a museum.

The stories I’ll admit have very little in common. Henry and the Cannons is a well told, little-known portion of history during the American Revolution. The pictures are somewhat muted in tone, but they convey the hazards of the journey in a style that is oddly engaging although not incredibly detailed in a way that one might expect. I find myself comparing them to a cartoon that I known I have seen. Schoolhouse Rock comes to mind, but that’s not right. The faces are almost indistinguishable from one another, and yet readers see the ice and snow forming on the row-boat as waves lap and one unlucky sailor bails. We see footprints left behind as the men struggled through the knee-deep mud. When the cannon is fired for show, everyone watching in the background is prepared for the impending sound as they cover their ears with their hands.

The Stourbridge Lion has an uneven hand when it comes to details. While readers see the popped nails from the wooden tracks and I LOVE the fact that there is not one or two but THREE maps to provide context for readers, we really don’t get a sense of how historic this first steam locomotive might have been. Readers are privy to the test run, but not to the actual work, if any, that the locomotive accomplishes. I got the impression that unlike the cannons, which definitely had an impact on the outcome of the war, it seems the importation of the locomotive was ill-conceived and almost pointless, since the tracks, infrastructure, and operators had to adapt before it could serve a productive use.

What links the two of them however is the journey. They actually both used the Hudson River, with 50 years separating the two journeys, which proves the importance of the Hudson River and begs the question of who else and what else has traveled on it over the years. But I kept thinking about how cumbersome, awkward, and difficult it would be to transport each of these shipments in their respective time frames. Both were moved before cars were popular and readily available. Instead, horses and ships were used to haul the two loads. The sheer man power it must have taken to get the cannons over the hills and through the snow is mind-boggling, and the comparison of the ships used to transport the cannons to the ship used to transport the locomotive would be interesting. Reading these two books side-by-side allowed me to make comparisons that I don’t think I would have considered. While I felt the presentation and subject matter of Henry’s Cannons was handled better and made a more interesting read, The Stourbridge Lion brings to light an interesting event where early adapters of a new invention were way before their time.

Have you made an interesting connection between two books recently? What books would you pair together?

Geisel Awards 2015

WINNER

You Are Not SmallTitle: You Are (Not) Small
Author: Anna Kang
Illustrator: Christopher Weyant
ISBN: 9781477847725
Pages: unpaged
Publication/Date: Two Lions, c2014.

Sometimes a book comes along that is so simple, so universal, and so utterly charming that you look at wondering “Why didn’t I ever write this?” Two fuzzy creatures (they look like bears to me) meet and “argue” over whether or not they are small or big. That’s it. That is the entire book, with some newcomers towards the end of the book proving that it’s all a matter of perspective. Bright colors, lots of white space, simple language, and minimalist drawings all place the focus squarely on the building debate. The back cover predicts a sequel, and if it becomes a series I can predict lots of fans. No complaints here.

HONORS

Mr. Putter and Tabby Turn the PageTitle: Mr. Putter & Tabby Turn the Page
Author: Cynthia Rylant
Illustrator: Arthur Howard
ISBN: 9780152060633
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, c2014.

This wasn’t my favorite of the titles on the list, but I read so few easy readers on a regular basis that maybe I’m loosing a grasp of what makes a good one. It’s a slight story where Mr. Putter and Tabby are joined by Mrs. Teaberry and Zeke in a “Read Aloud to Your Pets” program at their library. Mr. Putter and Mrs. Teaberry display good habits, such as pre-reading the books before the event, reading with “gusto”, and showing the pictures. It was a nice touch that Zeke provides the sound effects for the story Mrs. Teaberry chooses to read. Tabby seems like a nice cat, and this is a nice story. Not especially memorable in my opinion, but fans of the series will enjoy.

Waiting is Not EasyTitle: Waiting Is Not Easy!
Author/Illustrator: Mo Willems
ISBN: 9781423199571
Pages: 57 pages
Publisher/Date: Hyperion Books for Children, an imprint of Disney Book Group, c2014.

I joked with a coworker that the Geisel Awards should be renamed the Willems Award. Out of 22 books, seven (including this one) have been recognized in some way by the Geisel committee time after time after time. While the interactions between Elephant and Piggie are sounding a little repetitive to me, Willems throws a curve ball to readers with the final two pages of graphics. Subtle shading and color change show the passage of time, as Gerald is forced to wait for Piggie’s surprise, which Piggie has no difficulty waiting for since he knows what it is and when it will arrive. I was struck by what could be a discrepancy in Gerald’s coloring in one of the double page spreads. I believe it was page 40-41 or 42-43, but I don’t have the book in front of me and if I’m the only one who questions it then maybe it’s just my copy of the book. Willems has not lost his ability with self-explanatory expressions, and the dialogue is just begging to be read aloud.

Adventures of Beekle

WINNER of the 2015 Caldecott Award

Adventures of Beekle
Title: The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend
Author/Illustrator: Dan Santat
ISBN: 9780316199988
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc., c2014
Awards: Caldecott Winner (2015)

An imaginary friend is born in a far off land, and waits to be claimed by a child. But he is not patient, and finally sets sail to find his friend. Santat’s imagery is thematic, with dark blues and grays covering the landscape of the real world upon his arrival, contrasting sharply with the hyper and frenetic colors of the land of imaginary things. The variety of the creatures’ appearances are inventive, ranging from the traditional rainbow dragon to a panda that looks like it was made through over-sized origami.

I like the concept of this Caldecott Award Winning book, but the story forces me to pause. Beekle, as the imaginary friend is later named, encounters a girl named Alice who’s drawn him before she meets him. In fact, her drawings mimic the layouts of the entire book. So is Alice writing the story that readers have in their hand? Beekle imagines his friend in the real world before being selected, and that friend looks remarkably like the boy who greets Alice. Does that mean Beekle was supposed to be the boy’s imaginary friend, even though it appears he already has a lizard looking one already? Or could we flip the whole book on its head and have the humans be the “real” imaginary creatures? The last page shows Alice and several human friends on a whale ship surrounded by imaginary creatures and described with the words “And together they did the unimaginable.” Did they take humans to the world of imaginary creatures? Not my favorite Caldecott winning title.

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