Posts tagged ‘Picture Books’

The Hawk of the Castle

Hawk of the CastleTitle: The Hawk of the Castle: A Story of Medieval Falconry
Author: Danna Smith
Illustrator: Bagram Ibatoulline
ISBN: 9780763679927
Pages: 40 pages
Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press, c2017.

This is our hawk: a sight to behold,
a master of flight, graceful and bold.
My father trains this bird of prey
who lives with us at the castle. (8)

*Note: I have no idea what this rhyming scheme is called. The whole story is written as a set of quatrains, each consisting of a couplet, a non-rhyming line, and then the fourth line always ends with the word “castle”. If any of my readers can find a word for a poem written in this AABC manner, please let me know. It’s driving a friend and I crazy!

First, I DESPERATELY NEED to talk about these pictures. Because seriously! They are amazing. It’s not often I gush over illustrations in this way (I think the last time was in 2015 with The Gentleman Bat) but they are awe inspiring. You can see the individual feathers in the wings and tail, the texture in the leather glove, and the lead work assembling the windows. As the story progresses so does the shadows and sunlight, starting with early morning, transitioning to full sun in the afternoon, and proceeding to a dusky, candle lit evening. Simply stunning.

My one quibble is that occasionally the featured hawk is portrayed large and grand, and other times it is sized for the panoramic pictures, which means it’s too small for children to immediately notice. In sharing this with a crowd at an event, there was a little confusion of which bird was which on pages 24-25, as we see grouse flushed out of the brush by a dog, and the hawk on the opposite page riding high and waiting for it’s opportunity to strike. When we see the hawk’s successful catch, the eye is drawn to the falconer and his daughter (the narrator) and not the hawk in the foreground, who almost blends in with the grasses. I do appreciate that the artist withholds the bloody details that such a catch would cause, and instead only shows enough for readers to see that he caught his prey.

The writing is lyrical, although as noted above I can’t identify if this exact rhyming scheme has a name. It has a “This is the House That Jack Built” quality to it, as the last word of each quatrain is “castle” and they all start with a referential “This is” or “These are”. The rhyming couplets that begin each quatrain give it a cadence that is easily read. The book is appreciatively leveled. You can read the more plot based rhymes to a group of young children (as I did) or you can share a more in-depth study of the practice of falconry with an older child or adult through the well placed paragraphs that share the pages. An author’s note, bibliography, and index are also geared for older audiences and is much appreciated.

Overall, this often overlooked aspect of medieval culture is well detailed, both in art and authorship and begs a thorough read. Contact your local wildlife refuge or conservancy and see if they’d be willing to pair with you for a special guest reading featuring one of these birds.

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

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Caldecott Awards 2018

WINNER

Wolf in the SnowTitle: Wolf in the Snow
See previous post (Man was I wrong about this one’s chances!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HONOR BOOKS

Big Cat Little CatTitle: Big Cat, Little Cat
Author/Illustrator: Elisha Cooper
ISBN: 9781626723719
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Roaring Brook Press, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership, c2017.

Endearing, minimalist black and white illustrations portray the circle of life and passage of time through a feline friendship. A newcomer is shown the ropes by the older, established resident cat. Eventually, the original cat “got older and one day he had to go… and he didn’t come back.” Roles are karmically reversed the day a new younger cat arrives, with the previous newcomer now taking the lead. A book that might help explain the death of a pet or sharing experiences with any new addition, whether at school or in the family. Short sentences place the emphasis on the ideas and pictures, and it ends with a sweet dedication to presumably all the cats the author ever had.

Crown an Ode to the Fresh CutTitle: Crown, an Ode to the Fresh Cut
Author: Derrick Barnes
Illustrator: Gordon C. James
ISBN: 9781572842243
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Bolden Books, an imprint of Agate Publishing, c2017.
Awards: John Newbery Honor (2018), Coretta Scott King Author Honor (2018), Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor (2018)

An author’s note explains that he “wanted to capture that moment when black and brown boys all over America visit “the shop” and hop out of the chair filled with a higher self-esteem, with self-pride, with confidence, and an overall elevated view of who they are.” That feeling I don’t think is limited to just the black and brown boys, but to anyone who needs some pampering, a boost of self-worth, or simply needs to be seen by others. Every picture exudes confidence, with the primary focus being on the people’s faces, upturned on almost every page. Regardless of if they are anchored in the barber shop setting or surrounded by swirling bright-colored backgrounds, they are striking a pose and a personality that pops from the pages.

The writing also sizzles, with descriptive, adjective laden verse that reads as if you’re having a conversation with someone. “He looks like he owns a few acres of land on Saturn. Maybe there’s a river named after him on Mars. He looks that important.” It’s an awe-laden but still matter-of-fact narration of a boy who has lost his idealized view of adults and still looks up to becoming a man one day who also has the air about him that he feels from others.

I had this idea that most hair books are geared towards girls (hair styling, dos and don’ts, etc.) but as I look at my local library’s offerings, I might be mistaken in that impression. While hair styling seems to be gender based, there are books featuring bad hair days and hair cuts with both genders represented almost equally.  The illustrations for this title are unabashedly African American, portraying everything from “butterscotch complexion” to darker skin tones, from do-rags to dreadlocks, fades to faux-hawks. I feel like those reviewers who point out how few white people were in the Black Panther movie. I’m pointing this out only to speak upon the realism of the portrayal, as most hair places are very segregated but is still a place where we can find (again to quote from the author’s note) “hardworking black men from all walks of life […] discussing politics, women, sports, our community, and our future.” It’s a slice of life without the social issues, and should be included in hair themed and African American history month story times.

A Different PondTitle: A Different Pond
Author: Bao Phi
Illustrator: Thi Bui
ISBN: 9781623708030
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Capstone Young Readers, a Capstone Press imprint, c2017.

Author Bao Phi combines two infrequently portrayed topics, fishing and immigration, in this quiet slice of life story. There is no tension, no conflict, no real problem to solve unless you count the fact that the boy and his dad (all characters remain unnamed) are attempting to catch fish, an effort that ultimately proves successful. There are subtle references to the state of the narrator’s family, for instance the fact that they have to catch fish even though his parents have jobs because “Everything in American costs a lot of money.” However, the universal themes and feelings are also there, and identifiable with most readers, including the contentment of spending time with a loved one, the pride in accomplishing a task, the mystery of a parent’s past, and a desire to be of service, have a role, and contribute to a group, in this case the family.

The backgrounds of the illustrations had the look of water colors, but the crisp lines and uniform coloring of the characters had a digital feel, so I went looking for information about her technique. I found an interview with Let’s Talk Picture Books where Thi Bui elaborates on her process. I highly recommend taking a look at her photos of the work in progress. The finished product conveys the calm of the early morning trip and the quiet connection and contentment that the characters feel for one another. She states in the interview that she wanted the focus on the boy, and visually she succeeds, centering him in almost every spread and dressing him in a red shirt that frequently peeks out beneath his jacket, a subtle nod to his inability to blend in with this new life. Use for Father’s Day, multicultural, or fishing themed story times with slightly older audiences, as some passages may be too wordy for the preschool crowd.

Grand CanyonTitle: Grand Canyon
Author/Illustrator: Jason Chin
ISBN: 9781596439504
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: A Neal Porter Book, published by Roaring Brook Press, a division of Hotzbrinck Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership, c2017.
Awards: Robert Sibert Honor (2018), Caldecott Honor (2018)

“Rivers carve canyons. When they cut down into the ear, canyons grow deeper. As weathering and erosion break apart their walls, canyons grow wider. Over time, rivers wash all of the eroded material away. These processes have been at work for millions of year, relentlessly excavating the mighty gorge known as Grand Canyon.”

Sandwiched between equally informative opening (featuring a map of the area and some general facts) and closing (elaborating on its history, ecology and geology, along with a cross section and bibliography) spreads, Chin’s book is full of elaborate illustrations and factual tidbits. In an outline reminiscent of Jan Brett, species of plants and animals are identified in the mattes surrounding pictures of a child and adult traveling through all the levels of the canyon. These characters are never identified by name, and the narration uses “you”, inviting readers to travel along and assume a role in the journey, stylistically similar to the Choose Your Own Adventure series. Alternating between these more informational spreads are full page flashbacks where you glimpse what the canyon could have looked like as the character travels through the timeline of formation. If that’s not enough, there are little cutouts incorporated that you sometimes don’t notice until you turn the page. The climatic finish of the “narration” is a four page wide fold-out panoramic view of the canyon, inspiring the awe that can be found and felt when visiting the real deal. Having visited a small portion of the Canyon last year, I was blown away when I first looked at it. This is the closest you are going to get if searching for a travel guide for children, with science seamlessly incorporated into the mix.

Baby Monkey, Private Eye

Baby Monkey Private Eye.jpgTitle: Baby Monkey, Private Eye
Authors: Brian Selznick and David Serlin
Illustrator: Brian Selznick
ISBN: 9781338180619
Pages: 191 pages
Publisher/Date: Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., c2018.

Baby Monkey someone has stolen my […]!
Baby Monkey can help!
Baby Monkey looks for clues.
Baby Monkey writes notes.
Baby Monkey eats a snack.
Baby Monkey puts on his pants.
Now Baby Monkey is ready!
Baby Monkey solves the case! […]
Hooray for Baby Monkey!

Each of the first three chapters of this extended easy reader follow the same format as outlined above. The only clue that readers receive as to the identity of the thief are the footprints that Baby Monkey discovers and follows. Just as you think you’ve figured out the routine, the repetitive nature of the chapters diverges, as in the fourth chapter Baby Monkey is tired and hilariously needs some prodding to solve that case. The fifth chapter divulges even further, making readers second guess the entire premise of the story by the last scene, where observant readers will see the inspiration for all those criminals.

I’m unclear what aspects debut author Serlin (Selznick’s partner) and Selznick contributed to the story. Selznick’s pencil illustrations however are instantly recognizable and as detailed as to be expected, with Baby Monkey’s office accessories changing with every case and the book he is reading lending a hint to the upcoming theft. The snack in each chapter changes and is contained in a clearly labeled ziplock bag, instantly recognizable to children as something they might have packed for their snack. Monkey’s struggle to get into his pants is the visual gags that appeal to children, but I do wish one of this resulting misadventures had yielded both legs in one pant leg. Missed opportunity Selznick, in my opinion. Quite often found with his tongue sticking out of his mouth in concentration, Baby Monkey is adorable in every way possible, with ears sticking out of his head that are almost as big as his eyes (Mickey Mouse comparisons are inevitable) and cowlick/Mohawk fur on his head that reminds me of a troll doll. The over-sized magnifying glass that he carries around clinches it. It might be a big world, and Baby Monkey might be little, but he’s found his place in it.

I echo Betsy Bird‘s sentiments and exasperation about where the heck we’re supposed to put this cross over, combo format. I strongly believe it is best suited for easy or early reader collections, or better yet simple chapter books if your library has that category. The repetitive narration, simple word use, and large bold font is meant for those beginning or struggling readers, and advanced readers typically looking in the fiction area are well above this level. They still might find enjoyment, but it’s not really meant for them. It’s meant for reading aloud and sharing with families of small children, especially those of mixed ages. A coworker with three little ones ranging in ages from I think 3-7 years old said her whole brood of boys enjoyed it. That is where Selznick has hit the sweet spot, geared for a whole new and younger fan base then his previous works.

The Secret Project

Secret Project.jpgTitle: The Secret Project
Author: Jonah Winter
Illustrator: Jeanette Winter
ISBN: 9781481469135
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c2017.

Night and day, the greatest scientists in the world conduct experiments and research in the laboratory. They are working on something they call the “Gadget.” What they are trying to invent is so secret, they cannot even call it by its real name. (unpaged)

Jonah Winter and Jeanette Winter attempt an ambitious undertaking in trying to condense the creation of the atom bomb to a level that the picture book crowd can understand. This is definitely not an easy subject to place into context, but they try. They compare the busy, secretive work to the outside world, where life continues, where “artists are painting beautiful paintings” and there are “peaceful desert mountains and mesas, cacti, coyotes, prairie dogs”. The basics of the science are there, that the scientists are “trying to figure out how to take the tiniest particle in the world, the atom, and cut it in half, making it even tinier” before other scientists are able to do the same thing. Atom is not further described, and a passing mention of metals plutonium and uranium are described as things “that can be turned into something with enormous power” with no elaboration. The scientists are portrayed as single shaded shadows, emphasizing their anonymity during that time frame.

I have a hard time determining who to recommend this to or what audience this would best serve, as it will likely raise questions that will have to be answered by an adult. The book is dedicated “for the peacemakers”, which makes me think it was created for parents who are intentionally broaching the topic with their children, maybe because of a new awareness brought about by today’s politics or media. The author’s note elaborates on the creation and aftermath of the first nuclear test. I feel it was probably a conscious decision to refrain from using the word “bomb” or “explosion” instead referring to it as invention or “Gadget”. The wordless spreads at the end are used to convey the powerful nature of what they’ve created, with a four page ever expanding angry red mushroom cloud culminating in a double page spread of finite black.

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

Accident

Accident.jpgTitle: Accident!
Author/Illustrator: Andrea Tsurumi
ISBN: 9780544944800
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, c2017.

“Oh No!” Lola cried. “I’ve ruined everything!”
“I’ll hide in the library! They have books and bathrooms.”
“And I’ll stay there till I’m a grownup.”
So Lola ran away from her mess and right into everyone else’s.

From red punch spilled on a white sofa, to a broken swing, a snipped hose line and a collapsed cake, the assorted animals in this town would give Alexander a run for his money in the horrible terrible day category. The illustrations remind me of Richard Scarry’s world or Family Circus cartoons, with lots of action and tiny vignettes completely filling the page. If you’re using this as a story time selection, I would recommend making it available for kids and parents to peruse or pointing out some of the more specific actions. The surprised puffer fish is an ingenious choice, seemingly maneuvering around like the excitable fish in Seuss’s Cat in the Hat, bounding through the streets on either back fin or propelling himself with his side fins and his expressions are not to be missed as he bounces down the stairs head(?) first. Vocabulary building opportunity exists as Lola and others call the incidents catastrophe, disaster, mayhem, calamity, and fiasco. After a red bird whose been following the action since the beginning sets Lola right in that they were all accidents that they can make better, the rest of the anxious animals pitch in to correct the problems. Some we saw causes and solutions (a narwhal who popped a sloth’s balloon is shown with the sloth who now has a pinwheel) while others are more open ended (two flamingos replacing a door certainly has a story behind it). Lola’s return shows that everyone can have an accident, and it’s how you react that is important. A humorous, much needed lesson in owning up and helping out.

Plume

Plume.jpgTitle: Plume
Author/Illustrator: Isabelle Simler
ISBN: 9780802854926
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., c2017.

Is this a catalog? Is this a story? It’s difficult to categorize what amounts to beautiful digitally rendered images of over a dozen different birds and one cat. The double page spreads showcase the entire bird on the right, and then focus on the variety of feathers that make up each bird. As the pages turn, the number of feathers increase. In each picture, a piece of cat is visible, sometimes just a tip of ear or tail or paw is visible and other times interacting more fully with the bird, with both bird and cat being observed by it’s counterpart. All the feathers are wispy and imperfect in shape and symmetry, appearing to be falling from the sky and waiting to be picked up and stroked by an inquisitive collector. The birds also have textures that convey the textures and arrangement of the feathers if they were still on the animal. The end papers feature feathers not just from the featured fowl, but also from additional species of birds and, in a sly nod, fur from the cat. I do think the artist missed an opportunity to showcase all of the feathers together on the final page, but it’s a tiny quibble. Pair this with Lois Ehlert’s Feathers for Lunch or Aviary Wonders Inc Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual by Kate Samworth for a feather focused story time.

The Wolf the Duck and the Mouse

Each month for a previous job, I wrote a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ve expanded that idea to the blog in a feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

Wolf the Duck and the Mouse.jpgTitle: The Wolf The Duck and the Mouse
Author: Mac Barnett
Illustrator: Jon Klassen
ISBN: 9780763677541
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press, c2017.

Jon Klassen’s signature style of mixed-media illustrations carry the story of a mouse and a duck who have been swallowed whole by a wolf. Life on the inside isn’t as bad as it may seem because as the duck reveals to the mouse: “When I was outside, I was afraid every day wolves would swallow me up. In here, that’s no worry.” Their unconventional life (after-life?) in the wolf’s stomach is threatened by a hunter, who is intent on killing the wolf. The ending (I haven’t seen it spoiled yet, so I won’t be the first to ruin the surprise) provides a fable like rationale behind the wolf’s howling habits. The humor comes from the details and the deadpan, inexpressive portrayals of all the characters, with faces that almost never change. More mind-bending humor that we’ve come to expect from this prolific pair.

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