"The best children's stories are wisdom dipped in art and words." -Peter Reynolds

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant's Tale

Published in 2013, Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant's Tale was written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh. It is a 2014 Author Honor book of the Pura Belpre award. Tonatiuh himself was born in Mexico City and grew up in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. This book beautifully represents the Mexican culture.

The story is about a family of rabbits who live in Mexico. Papa Rabbit and a few other animals left two years ago to go north for work to support their families. After the father is gone for quite a long time and misses his coming home party, Panco Rabbit decides to go searching for his father and brings his favorite meal: mole, rice and beans, warm tortillas, and fresh aguamiel. However on his journey he runs into Senor Coyote who says he will show Pancho the short cut if he gives him some of his mole. Desperate to see his father, Pancho agrees and leaves with the coyote. On their journey, Pancho and the Coyote endure many dangerous situations such as riding on top of a train, swimming across the river, and crawling through tunnels guarded by snakes. To get past each challenge, the coyote requests more and more of Pancho's meal for his father which he sadly gives up in desperation. By the time they finally reach "El Norte," Senor Coyote asks Pancho for more of his food but Pancho says he has taken it all and there is none left. "In that case, I will roast you in the fire and eat you!" Pancho (and the reader) are terrified but just when we thought all was lost, Papa Rabbit bursts through the door, scares off Coyote and saves Pancho! The boys return home to Mexico and the family agrees that next time they all will travel together.

There is a great deal of Spanish vocabulary in this book which really adds to the Hispanic theme.The definition of each word in English can be found conveniently in the Glossary in the back of the book. The author's note is absolutely fascinating. Tonatiuh goes into extensive detail about the symbolism and background information for the book. He also discusses his personal history growing up in Mexico and goes into detail about illegal immigration in the United States. He explains a number of fascinating points:

"In Spanish the word coyote has two meanings. It is the name of an animal, but it is also slang for a person who smuggles people between the U.S. and Mexican border."

"When they [his friends] returned to Mexico they told stories about eating snake when they ran out of food while crossing the desert, or of waiting for days in a shanty house in a border town for the coyote to show up."

"Furthermore, there are an estimated 1.5 million undocumented children in the U.S. and according to a 2011 Pew Hispanic Center report, in 2008 there were 5.5 million children of illegal immigrants in U.S. schools. I think that a lot of those children will relate to Pancho Rabbit." 

Isn't this the point of diverse children's literature? To have all children represented in books they can read? Reading this Author's Note adds a whole new level of understanding to the text. I don't think the text would be as meaningful and beautiful without hearing his story. The illustrations are equally heart warming. The background colors are duller with a lot of browns, oranges, and shades of the desert. The characters are in brighter colors of blues, greens, reds, and oranges. The earthy toned background with the contrast of bright characters is stunning. Tonatiuh explained on the Glossary page that he first hand drew the pictures and then collaged them digitally. They definitely represent the Mexican culture beautifully and perfectly fit with the story. Portraying the characters as cute animals is more child friendly for such a serious topic as illegal immigration. I know that my second graders will love this book and appreciate the background history. I cannot wait to share it with them!


Matilda written by Roald Dahl and narrated by Kate Winslet was a 2014 Odyssey Honor book for the best audio book. It is 4 hours and 30 minutes long on 4 CD-roms. It was released in 2013 by Penguin Audio. I have never listened to an audio book before and I was afraid that I would not be a fan but I was pleasantly surprised! This rendition of Matilda is incredible.

Matilda is about a gifted five year old girl who lives with her nasty, crook parents who do not appreciate her and her extraordinary talents. She begins school where she is quickly identified as an exceptionally bright child by her sweet, young teacher Miss Honey. The head mistress of the school is the abusive, cruel woman Miss Trunchbull who makes every day absolutely miserable for Matilda, Miss Honey (her niece), and the students of the school. Matilda soon discovers she has magic powers and can make the evil Miss Trunchbull  and her parents pay for their unkindness. In the end, Miss Honey is able to adopt Matilda while Matilda's parents skip town as thieves and Miss Trunchbull disappears.

I have read the book Matilda and seen the movie before so while listening to this audio book I already knew what was going to happen in the story. However, listening to the story as an audio book was a completely new experience for me. The story really came alive! Oh, how I missed being read aloud to. Kate Winslet gives a groundbreaking performance narrating this text. She is able to portray every character int he story absolutely flawlessly. Her English accent is impeccable and made me see Matilda in a completely new light. I highly recommend this audio book for children and adults alike. I am a new huge fan of audio books and I am on my way to the library now to check out some more! Harry Potter audio book, anyone?

My Father's Arms Are a Boat

My Father’s Arms Are a Boat was written by Stein Erik Lunde and illustrated by Oyvind Torseter. It was originally written in Norwegian and was translated into English by Kari Dickson. It was originally published in 2008 but the English translated version was published in 2012. This book is a 2014 Batchelder Honor Book for the best children’s book not originally written in English and published in a different country.  

My Father’s Arms Are a Boat is the sad story of a boy and his father who explore the winter wilderness one lonely night. The mother of the family has passed away and now it is just the father and son. The story begins with the father sitting in the living room watching the fire while the boy goes to bed. The picture is from outside the house and we see a piece of bread sitting on a rock. Then we are introduced to the boy’s bedroom which is lifeless, dark, and cold. The bedroom illustration is from the boy’s perspective and all the furniture is very spread out and distant from him. We can assume the boy feels very alone now. “I can’t sleep. It’s quieter now than it’s ever been.” We get the feeling that something is wrong and the boy feels more alone than ever. On the following page, we see the father sitting and his body language makes him look defeated and depressed. The perspective is still from the boy’s point of view and the house looks orderly. The boy climbs into his father’s arms to feel safe. On the next page we see the father cradling the boy, and now we see the house is actually a bit dirty with many dishes in the sink. The boy has not noticed that the house is starting to suffer and the father is losing control. The father says that tomorrow they will go cut down a spruce tree together. The boy asks his father, “What about the red birds?” Then father asks, “What about them?” “Are they asleep?” the boy asks. “They’re asleep,” the father replies. The reader then begins to ask themselves, what is it with this boy and red birds?

Next, the boy starts asking if the fox is asleep like the red birds and the father says no, that the fox is out hunting. The boy is worried that the fox will eat the birds’ breakfast but the father maintains a positive outlook and says that we can put out more bread if that happens and that the fox doesn't even like bread. Then we are introduced to a brightly colored, orange fox that is sneakily walking through the snow. The story is from the boy’s point of view and he talks about how the red birds fly through the air and pick up pieces of bread with their beaks. But what the boy says next completely changes our view of this story. “Granny says the red birds are dead people.” Perhaps the boy is so attached to the red birds because he thinks it is his mother that has passed away.

“'Is Mommy asleep? I ask.'
‘Mommy’s asleep,’ says Daddy.
‘She’ll never wake up again?’ I ask.
‘No, not where she is now. Should we go out and look at the stars?'’

On this page, we see the father holding the son and looking outside like they are ready to venture out. The boy sees the fox eyeing the red birds’ bread like he is going to take it. I think the boy felt threatened and sad at this point in the story after realizing his mother would not wake up again. The guys head outside and the boy explains how his father’s arms are like a boat. He feels safe and comforted in his father’s arms. But we see the fox again and he is lurking through the woods—maybe to steal the red birds’ bread? The father and son each make a wish on the same shooting star and the boy (and reader) wonders if they wished for the same thing. On this page, we see the fox sitting alone, all curled up in the snow. When they head back inside, the curl up on the couch together and the father assures his son that everything will be all right. From this unbiased view, we can see how unorganized and messy the house has become since the mother has died. But it seems that the boys have become stronger. Then, on the last page, we are outside and see three red birds eating from the piece of bread on the rock. So, in the end the red birds were able to eat their bread just like the boy hoped. It is symbolic that there are three birds like the three people in their family. There is also a little bit of pink on the trees to the left now which symbolizes the coming of Spring and of course, hope for the future.

The illustrations are incredible! Torseter made the illustrations out of cut paper. It gives the book a movie-like quality and a spooky, melancholy theme. The pages of the book are rough with no glossiness at all. I almost can feel all the different pieces of paper that Torseter used to make the pictures. This rough texture throws the reader right into the story instead of distancing us with glossiness. The color scheme is very muted, monochromatic. We see mostly a lot of white and black with browns, dark blue, and the orange of the fox.

I have to be honest for a second. There is a great amount of symbolism in this book and I had a difficult time understanding it all. I think I tried to be too literal with the story. The red birds symbolize dead people which means the boy believes his mother is also a red bird. The fox must then symbolize danger? Loneliness? Any threat in his life? I still can’t quite put my finger on it. But all in all, this is a sad story about losing someone you love and holding on to the loved ones you still have. Yes, it is a sad story, but it is absolutely beautiful and hopeful. I highly recommend this book for children to help them understand and cope with death and loss.

Monday, February 17, 2014


Cinderella was translated and illustrated by Marcia Brown but originally written by the French Charles Perrault. First published in 1955, Perrault’s enchanting French story line combined with Brown’s magical illustrations makes for a classic Cinderella fairy tale.
          The story line is very old-fashioned but with a few unique differences. Cinderella assists the Godmother in gathering the pumpkin and animals for her outfit and carriage. She also goes to the ball two nights instead of one and leaves her slipper behind on the second night. The rest of the story is very traditional which I found comforting. Brown’s translation of Perrault’s writing is fantastic. It is evident that this story was not first written in English and that it was written many years ago. This old, extremely detailed language gives the book a classic feel that goes hand-in-hand perfectly with this Cinderella story. However, it definitely lacks diversity. But I feel like that is a common pattern within fairy tales.
                Brown’s illustrations are full bleed and throw us right into the story. They are like nothing I've seen before. The amount of white left in the pictures is very unique and makes the illustrations blend in very well with the text on each page. The colors used are mostly a pastel blue, pink, yellow, and green. Her illustrations look as if they were drawn with a black marker first and then painted later which gives them a very real, almost non-fiction appeal. As beautiful as the illustrations are, they are not colorful enough for my taste, though they fit very well with this text.  
               I would like to have my students study this text with Walt Disney’s Cinderella retold by Cynthia Rylant. We will compare/contrast the story elements, illustrations, and author styles. I would also like to have them compare/contrast this book with the very culturally diverse Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal. All three versions of the classic Cinderella fairy tale are so incredibly different. I think this text would be best suited for grades 3-5 because of the elaborate vocabulary and descriptive language. Although is it beautifully written, most of my second graders would have a difficult time reading it independently.

Walt Disney's Cinderella

“This is a story about darkness and light, about sorrow and joy, about something lost and something found. This is a story about Love.”

          Walt Disney’s Cinderella retold by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Mary Blair is truly a masterpiece! Rylant’s beautiful way with words combined with Blair’s heart-warming illustrations makes this a truly classic Cinderella story. Blair was the original artist for Walt Disney’s Cinderella movie. How could we go wrong with this incredible pair?! It is very true to the Disney movie. I have fallen in love with this book and I plan on buying my own copy to read to my children some day!

Let me begin by saying the current price for a new version of this book on is $72.84 and I would pay that price to own a copy of this book myself. That is how perfect this book is! The story follows the very classic plot of Cinderella but infused with Rylant’s beautiful, simple words. Her writing in this book is poetic and will tug at your heart’s strings. I tried to choose a favorite part in the story and failed. So, here is one of my many favorites:

“How does a young man find his maiden? His heart leads him. He finds her in a room. He asks her to dance. And when he touches her, he knows.”

I cried! I literally cried when I read this page! How BEAUTIFUL! Rylant sure knew what she was doing when she decided to retell this story. Additionally, I really enjoyed the simplicity of the text pages. They are different pastel colors of purple, pink, green, blue, and yellow and switch off being on different sides of each page. On the pages where there is not much text, there is a simple symbol or two. The entire book is full bleed and we are thrown right in the midst of the story. This is very appropriate for the intricacy of the illustrations and warm, poetic theme of the text. 

Blair's illustrations are magical. They are her own original illustrations that she painted for inspiration for Disney's film. The color scheme is actually surprisingly darker and highlighted with pastels. There are not many bright colors in this book but I think the darkness makes the story seem more dream-like. The end papers are a soft, pastel pink with a repeated royalty-inspired symbol. There are also what looks like pockets repeated on the pages. The front matter of the book is extremely elegant and feminine with shades of pink, blue, green, and white. This is definitely a princess book! However I do not care for the cover. It seems very anticlimactic for such an incredible book. The back cover is much more my style and what I would have liked to see on the front! It matches the style of the title page which turns out is courtesy of Disney themselves. 

Every time the word “Love” is in the book it has a capital L. I believe Rylant did this in order to give love an entity of its own. Love is such an integral part of life and it was the most important thing to Cinderella. The word “Love” is repeated many times in the beginning of the text to emphasize just how central it was to Cinderella’s life. And honestly, isn't that how fairy tales should be?

Let me get personal for a second. I grew up watching Disney movies as did many children of the 90’s. We were taught from these movies that a love like Cinderella’s is real and waiting for each one of us. I have read the arguments about how Disney sets unrealistic expectations about love for children and that perhaps that is the reason for the increase in divorce rate. But is it really so wrong for children to dream about having a happy ever after love life? Don’t Disney movies and others like them fill children with hope for their future? That they someday will grow up and find their prince/princess? If you do not have passion for life and love, what do you have? 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Glass Slipper Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella

                Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella was published in 2007. It was written by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Julie Paschkis. Fleischman tells the traditional Cinderella story with elements and variations from all over the world. It is beautifully illustrated and the way Fleischman intertwines so many different versions of Cinderella into one is truly brilliant.

The story begins with a little girl sitting on her mother’s lap while reading a book. The cover of the book looks suspiciously similar to Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal’s cover. We can assume that the mother is reading this same Cinderella story to her daughter. This Cinderella story follows the usual progression where Cinderella’s father marries a new woman with two daughters. The woman begins to treat Cinderella badly and makes her do all of the house work. She does not allow her much food to eat and she has no bed to sleep in. The part I found most different from any other version of Cinderella that I have heard before was when the animals and fairy gave her food to eat so she could be healthy. This of course made the stepmother even angrier and she gave Cinderella more chores and work to do. Then one day the stepmother and stepsisters leave to see the Great King in hopes of being his next queen. Cinderella desperately wanted to go also but was stuck at home doing the chores she was left to do. Then, a witch (not a fairy godmother) arrived to cast a spell on the cleaning supplies to clean themselves. As Cinderella tried to find something to wear, the animals and trees around her provided her with a beautiful kimono. My favorite line in the book was when Cinderella received her shoes:

“And on the girl’s feet appeared a pair of glass slippers… diamond anklets… sandals of gold.”

It perfectly encompasses the diversity of this story and the world. Next Cinderella gets her coach thanks to her now Aunty, and arrives at palace. She shocks everyone with her beauty and mysteriousness and the (now Prince) must dance with her at once. While they are dancing Cinderella remembers she needs to leave and when the Prince tries to grab her, her instead takes off her shoe. The ending is similar to most Cinderella stories where he goes searching for the woman who owned the shoe. On the Laos page, when he arrives at the stepmother’s house, the stepmother wraps up Cinderella in a mat and hides her. The shoe doesn’t fit any of the girls and just when he is about to leave a rooster tells him that the beauty is hidden down below. Alas, the shoe fits and they live happily ever after. The story comes full circle with the same mother and little girl in the beginning. On the last page, the mother and daughter are closing the Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal book with smiles on their faces.

                Talk about a multicultural book! The countries represented in this book are Mexico, West Indies, Ireland, France, Germany, Poland, Russia, Iraq, Zimbabwe, Iran, India, China, Laos, Indonesia, Korea, Japan, and the Appalachia region of the United States. Each section of the page where text from that country is presented, the images and colors also reflect that country’s culture. I love that on the end papers there is a folk-art looking world map that labels all the places in the world featured in this book. It is like Fleischman was giving the reader a preview of all the places they were going to get to visit! My students would love to read this book and put their map skills to good use. On each page, the illustrations and text are bordered separately in color which closes us off from the story. Then the background behind the illustrations are one color and pattern whereas the page background is a contrasting bright color and different pattern. The images themselves, the background patterns, and the text, each tell their own story and yet work together to tell the same one. The illustrations promote visual literacy brilliantly. This book has a Victorian feel to it. The illustrations remind me of the beginning of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast movie because of the folk/Victorian feel and extremely bright, contrasting colors.

I believe this book will be a bit overwhelming for my second graders. They will enjoy the illustrations and the fact that it is a Cinderella story molded from variations around the world; but I think they will have a hard time following the connections between countries and the variations in the story itself. It may be difficult for them to comprehend with so many aspects changing constantly to show tribute to the various countries represented. But I would definitely use this story to help teach the story elements. I think the most beautiful thing about this book is that it celebrates all versions of Cinderella and that there is no right or wrong tale of the story. They just are all different.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Niño Wrestles the World

Nino Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales is one of a kind. It was published in 2013 and won the Pura Belpre Illustrator award for 2014. It celebrates the Spanish American heritage in an adorable children’s story. This book is about Nino; the lucha libre mini-wrestler in his undies that takes down all competition! The story begins on the inside of the front cover where we are introduced to Nino's competitors. The energy of this book is loud and proud! The coloring is bright with mostly shades of red, blue, and yellow.

I cannot express the level of happiness I feel when I read this book. The energy is so positive and playful. The book begins with Nino playing with his toys in his bedroom when suddenly, the Nino wrestling show begins! Nino puts on his red mask and wrestles his enemies until he wins. He always wins! That is, until his two little sisters wake up and become his next competitors… to which he is no match! It is a sweet ending to an even more adorable book. The “fight scenes” are reminiscent of comic book style but even more fun! The book is filled with simple words in Spanish and the hectic lucha libre wrestling madness that normally ensues. On the last page, Morales explains lucha libre in more detail for the readers.

It was refreshing to read a book with Latino characters  and Spanish! This book is sure to be a hit with my second graders; especially the boys. You do not need to know anything about lucha libre wrestling to be a lover of this book. It will surely touch your heart! I am embarrassed to say I have not exposed my second graders to enough Latino/Latina literature. It is difficult to find! This book will now belong in my classroom library for all of my students to read. If you end up LOVING this book as much as myself and want more, check out Danielle Davis' blog for creative craft ideas that relate to the story. Enjoy!

Let's Talk About Race

“I am a story. So are you. So is everyone.” Published in 2005, Let’s Talk About Race written by Julius Lester and illustrated by Karen Barbour is the perfect picture book for introducing and discussing the topic of race with children.  It demonstrates a message of celebrating racial diversity and equality. Topics of diversity have always been a sensitive subject for teachers. We are living in a very sensitive country, and yet now is also the time to push the boundaries of what we have been previously taught of race. I believe this book, and others like it, are the tools teachers need to execute diversity education in their classrooms.

This book is from the first person perspective of the author, Julius Lester. He begins by telling the reader that everyone has a story. He begins telling the story of his life and asks the reader to reflect on their own. Lester goes on to introduce himself in a child-friendly manner by explaining his parents, family, and favorite things. The last thing he explains to the reader about himself is his race. Not because race isn’t important; but because it is not the most important aspect himself. Lester goes on to explain that all people, of all races, all over the world have their own story and no race, gender, or socioeconomic status is better than the other. The way Lester explains the message of equality to children is remarkable. He is able to simplify such controversial and complicated topics to ensure children understand right from wrong. Lastly, Lester teaches the important lesson of equality through a small experiment the children get to try. He tells the reader to touch the bone under their eye and to touch that same place on another person. He then says, “Beneath everyone’s skin are the same hard bones.” How can anyone argue with that? What a brilliant sentence! 

“Those who say, ‘MY RACE IS BETTER THAN YOUR RACE' are telling a story that is not true.” This line stuck out to me while reading this text for the first time. I hear echoes of my students saying to each other, “My (fill in the blank) is better than yours.” He puts this timeless, childhood argument to rest by saying, “…it is a story that is not true.” I hope to read this text to my students next week and I am so excited to gauge their reactions!

The illustrations in this book are absolutely beautiful. Barbour uses so many bright COLORS, COLORS, COLORS! As she should, for this book is about celebrating the many racial and ethnic colors in the world. This book would not have as effective of a message if the illustrations were black and white or dull shades of color. The artwork immediately reminded me of Picasso’s artwork with the vibrant colors and resemblance of cubism. I don’t think there could have been a better illustrator for this book. Barbour’s illustrations are child-like and yet serious enough to convey the gravity of the message. Her use of color, line and repeated illustrations tell a story all on their own. Who are all of the people and animals in the pictures? What are their stories? I tried to pick a favorite illustration to discuss here but I can’t choose just one.
As a teacher myself, I will admit that discussing race with my students used to make me uncomfortable when I first started teaching. Who was I to discuss such a sensitive topic? Would I get in trouble with my administration or by parents? There can be so much baggage that comes with discussions such as these even though there shouldn’t be. But then one day during my first year of teaching, a little boy in my class held his forearm next to his friend’s and asked me, “Why is my skin darker than hers?” That’s when I realized I was doing a disservice to my students by not formally and even informally discussing the topic of race. I decided then that I was no longer going to tip toe around it and instead face it head on and hand in hand with my students. Now, I read as many culturally diverse books to my students as I can. We openly discuss our races, culture, heritage, and how our differences make us unique. After all, the children are our future. What are we teaching them by not celebrating what is unique about us?

 Let’s Talk About Race teaches children an imperative lesson about equality and kindness for all. And so, fellow bloggers, I leave you with the monumental question that Julius Lester asks of his readers at the end of his book. “I’ll take off my skin. Will you take off yours?”


Faith by Maya Ajmera, Magda Nakassis, and Cynthi Pon celebrates religions all over the world. Published in 2009, Faith is compiled of real, fascinating photographs of authentic people around the globe. This book is a wonderful introductory text to religious diversity for children. The background color changes to a new solid color with the turn of each page and the photographs are brightly colored too. The text of the book is large and is not too difficult for young readers. Captions accompany the photographs very clearly. Faith discusses all types of religions like Rastafarian, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, and others. It gives brief descriptions of the different ways that religions celebrate their faith, their holidays, and their customs. The photographs feature children of races and religions all over the world.

I love the use of photographs as the cover, front matter, and back cover. This book would be helpful for teaching nonfiction text features. After the main body of the book, there is a world map that labels each country that features a child in the book. How INCREDIBLE is that?! My students would love to put their map skills to use and see where in the world these children are from.  The “Elements of Faith” section in the back of the book reviews the general aspects of religion in greater detail that in the first half of the book. It goes into detail about prayer, chanting, singing, holy books, listening, cleansing, holy places, and more.  That would be very helpful for younger students, especially for those that have not had any experiences with religion. Then the “Words to Know” section afterward would surely prove to be very helpful for children expanding their vocabulary. It acts as a general glossary for the religious vocabulary in the book.

Religion is another sensitive subject in the world today and especially in schools. We try to keep a separation between church and state. But that does not mean that children should not be exposed to the diversity of religions in the world so long as the teacher shows no bias. I am excited to read this text to my class of second graders. I think they will enjoy the book because my class is always fascinated with the customs of others. My one negative criticism of the book is that there seems to be a lot going on within the pages. My eyes had a hard time figuring out where to look first because of the organization of text and photographs and I worry my students may as well.

I purchased my own copy of Faith for my classroom for a few reasons. It teaches children a simple, friendly, unbiased message about the various religions available to them. Also, it teaches the message that people are people no matter their religion.  Lastly, it has an underlying message of good values in all religions and parts of the world:

“We respect others, making friends and building peace. We give to others, and we help those in need. Most of all, we hope.”

After all, if we do not have faith and hope, what DO we have?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Night in the Country

Have you ever wondered about the sounds outside your bedroom window at night? This mysterious book is about what happens at night in the country while people sleep. Night in the Country was published in 1991 and written by the incredible Cynthia Rylant. The gorgeous artwork was illustrated by Mary Szilagyi. Rylant’s descriptive, lyrical language combined with Szilagyi’s vibrant and fresh illustrations make this a definite go-to-bedtime story.

This book follows the sounds and sights of night in the country. We lead such fast and busy lives! Thank goodness for Rylant's perfect reminder that we need to take the time to stop and listen to the world around us. Throughout the story we are introduced to various animals and their night escapades—an owl, frogs, and rabbits, to name a few. Rylant’s use of onomatopoeia is poetic and engaging for children:

“And, if you lie very still, you may hear an apple fall from the tree in the back yard. Listen: Pump!”
I can envision young children interacting with her words and smiling as they listen for night sounds around themselves. All the text in the book is yellow which really makes them pop against the dark backgrounds. It was a unique touch! It places deliberate emphasis on the text and keeps the reader involved in the story. On the other hand, the illustrations are darker shades of color to emphasize the sneakiness and solitude of the night. But on every page there are bright pops of color that show a brilliant contrast.
I am a huge fan of Rylant’s beautiful way of storytelling. In this text, she does a great job coming full circle with the story. On the first page she begins by describing how people are asleep in their beds dreaming of the day, while a whole other world is coming to life in the night. Whereas on the last page she comes back full circle with, “Then they will spend a day in the country listening to you.” I admire how this book inherently teaches how much we are connected with Mother Nature. Their day is our night and vice versa, but we share the space. What a brave new idea for children to learn.

This book has the ability to make one feel warm and cozy inside. I recommend it as a bedtime story as it definitely has a sleepy, comforting tone. One of my favorite parts of the story in both terms of text and illustrations is in the first half, on the page with a cat on an open window sill.  There are no warm colors just the deep, cool shades of blue on the window sill and curtain. The cat is as dark as the night outside of the window. These shades of blue are so soothing and calming. The perspective of the reader facing the open window is so inviting. I felt like I could actually stick my head outside the window and listen to the sounds myself. Take a look for yourself:

My favorite text of the book is also on this page when Rylant said, “And if you are one of those people in one of those little houses, and if you cannot sleep, you will hear the sounds of night in the country all around you." This part hit close to home. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, in a small blue house, in a quiet neighborhood. Although the Chicago suburbs are far different from the country; I remember lying awake at night and listening to the sounds of the suburb. I could hear the wind blowing through the trees, cars passing by every few minutes, and cicadas chirping. There is comfort in those sounds for me now no matter where I live. What sounds of the night do you remember listening to while you were trying to sleep?


Monday, February 3, 2014

Sidewalk Circus

Sidewalk Circus was published in 2004 and was written by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. This book is proof that sometimes actions speak louder than words. This wordless picture book conveys a storyline where ordinary people on the street parallel circus characters in the eyes of children.  I absolutely loved this book! Ok, I know what you’re thinking. What book don’t I like? I can’t think of one!

Since I knew this was a wordless picture book, I decided to really take my time reading it. If there is no text to convey the story then the pictures must be pretty intricate and telling, right?! There is a great deal of intricate details in the pictures of this book. The first thing I noticed that caught my eye on the front and back of the book was how the shadow did not match up with the characters. The shadows told a different story! Those are not regular working class people on the sidewalk… it’s a circus!

My favorite page in the whole book is the first two page spread. My eyes immediately were drawn to a little girl in yellow. Her bright yellow shirt popped against the dark shadow of a building and the monotony of adults. Then my next thought was, what is she looking at? This brings me to my next point. The illustrations are brilliant and absolutely beautiful in this book! The straight shadow line points our eyes directly at a construction man in overalls. Only, the little girl isn’t really looking at that man. She is looking at his shadow and imagining him instead as the circus ringleader like on the cover. But if you look at the shadows of the other working people in this picture they all have their own, normal shadows. It was like Fleischman and Hawkes were giving his a sneak peek at the excitement to come. Lastly, another reason this is my favorite part is because of the elderly woman sitting on the bench. I saw her as a preview for what is to come for this little girl. Too soon her childhood will be gone and her imagination with it. On this sidewalk, only children get to see the circus act.

As the book continues, this same little girl sits on the park bench surrounded by working class adults who are busy drinking coffee, reading their newspapers, or grumbling. They are all in black and white colors while the girl is in full color. As she sits on that bench and waits for her bus, the sidewalk of this street comes to life as a circus. On the second two-page spread we see an old theater with the sign, “WORLD-RENOWNED GARIBALDI CIRCUS!!! COMING SOON!” As she sits each working person across the street becomes a circus performer in her mind. There are the tight rope walkers, the strong man, the clowns, the juggling act, the daring sword swallowers, stilt walkers, and even the flying trapeze. What an imagination she has! But sadly, her bus arrives and she gets up to get on board.  Suddenly the adults become back in color as they board the bus showing that her child-like imagination was coming to an end now as she was pulled back to the real world. In the background we see a boy walking up the street in the same way the little girl did. He too sees the sidewalk circus! And so it continues!

I cannot say enough about the illustrations. The colors are soft with varying shades of dark and light. The textures are incredibly real looking. The shadowing is deliberate and does a perfect job drawing the eyes to certain parts of the page. The use of line in this book is magnificent and they go in all directions. My mind was never bored “reading” the pictures of this story. I would love to read this book to my second graders and watch the story come alive from their eyes. I am interested in reading more wordless picture books! Do any teachers out there have suggestions for me?  Check out this book from a library near you!