Monthly Archives: June 2016

PPBF: The Most Wonderful Thing in the World

What is the most wonderful thing in the world? You’ll have to read this Perfect Picture Book to find out! But I think anyone with a child will understand (and run out to purchase this book).

0763675016.medTitle: The Most Wonderful Thing in the World

Written By: Vivian French

 

Illustrated By: Angela Barrett

Publisher/date: Candlewick Press, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: fairy tale, love, love of family, wonder

Opening: “Once, in the time of your grandmother’s grandmother, there was a kingdom.”

Brief Synopsis: The king and queen search for a husband for their only daughter by running a contest: whoever can show them the most wonderful thing in the world will become her husband.

Links to Resources:

  • What do you think makes something wonderful? Think about/list/draw pictures of what you think is wonderful (note, the word is not beautiful; unique; biggest; or strongest – but are any of these features part of your wonderful something?)
  • This story begins in the time of your grandmother’s grandmother: how long ago was that? Explore time by building a paper-plate clock or a paper-chain calendar.

Why I Like this Book:
Both the words and the images in this book transported me to another place and time. Set in the Edwardian era in a place with Venetian overtones, the lyrical prose and lovely watercolour vignettes work together to tell a story of “love of family as the center of life” while including “a playful undercurrent of both whimsy and irony.” (Kirkus Reviews, 4 Aug 2015). And while written in the “then and there” classic fairy tale tradition, The Most Wonderful Thing in the World also incorporates some of the here and now in both words and subtle (and some not-so-subtle) images.

A Note about Craft:

Although The Most Wonderful Thing in the World reads like a newly-written fairy tale, in the endnotes Angela Barrett mentions that she had remembered a story of that name from her childhood and convinced Vivian French to retell it. Reading this makes me want to pore through old books to find a “new” old fairy tale to rewrite!

I also love how both author and illustrator weave allusions to today into the story. You’ll have to read the book to see what the illustrator hides in plain sight, but I can’t resist sharing my favourite lines of the book:

            The last of the suitors had sailed away to his kingdom, his weapons of mass destruction rejected.

            “How can anyone believe weapons are the most wonderful thing in the world?” asked the queen.

            The king shrugged. He was too tired to answer.

Finally, to bring this review full-circle, look again at the opening. I love thinking about “the time of your grandmother’s grandmother” as a way to show that this story happened long ago. I can’t wait to write about a past event and figure out a way to anchor it using an equally understandable measure of time that resonates like this.

PPBF – It’s Tough to Lose your Balloon

As we head into summer, I plan to lighten things up a bit and add a craft component to the reviews. I saw this Perfect Picture Book on my favourite Library shelf – the NEW books shelf, and thought back to the New England SCBWI conference in late April at which Jarrett Krosoczka was a keynote speaker. Having heard his story of perseverance and seen his amazing illustrations, I quickly picked this fairly recent picture book up. I’m so glad I did, not just because of its scenes of summer mishaps and fun but also because of its positive message for youngsters and adults of all ages.

9780385754798Title: It’s Tough to Lose Your Balloon

Written & Illustrated By: Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Publisher/date: Alfred A. Knopf/2015

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes/Topics: Loss, calamities, coping with loss

Opening: “It’s tough to lose your balloon…but it’ll make Grandma smile from the sky.”

Brief Synopsis: A series of vignettes in which a diverse group of kids overcomes troubles by looking on the bright side of things.

Links to Resources:

Try some awesome balloon activities, art, experiments, and crafts;

Think of something that has gone wrong; describe, draw or write about how that bad thing did or could have turned into something good.

Why I Like this Book:

In a series of vignettes, veteran author/illustrator Jarrett Krosoczka shows some common childhood obstacles or problems and then, when the pages turn, shows the bright sides of the situations. In one sense, this is a Concept Book about opposites: happy/sad; not fun/fun; worst/best. On a different level, though, this is an advice book showing readers and listeners how to cope when calamity strikes. None of the calamities rises to the level of awful; this is a fun-filled romp through those situations that often cause tears and tantrums, but, with a bit of coaching, could bring smiles and laughter. This is a book to have on hand when disaster strikes your own young child to help him or her see the bright side of the situation. It also could help bolster those coping skills all of us need to deal with troubles big and small.

A Note about Craft:

Krosoczka notes in an endnote that he had written a version of this book about the injustices of childhood back in 1999, but it had lain there, not quite working. Until one day, the title event happened to his daughter, and his ever-resourceful wife remarked that Grandma was on an airplane and she would see the lost balloon. Krosoczka followed his own advice to view an obstacle as an opportunity, and made lemonade from lemons – turning a potentially day-ruining event and a long-dormant story into a delightfully simple, but oh so effective, picture book. To all my writer friends: pour some lemonade and pour through those mothballed manuscripts – who knows what opportunities await.

 

 

 

 

PPBF -By Mouse & Frog

I purchased By Mouse & Frog at a conference I recently attended and where I had the pleasure of meeting the delightful Deborah Freedman, its talented author/illustrator. I was instantly drawn to this book based on the cover artwork, but it’s the story of the creative process told within its covers that makes By Mouse & Frog a Perfect Picture Book.

T9780670784905itle: By Mouse & Frog

Written & Illustrated By: Deborah Freedman

Publisher/date: Viking Penguin Young Readers Group/2015

Suitable for Ages: 3-5

Themes/Topics: friendship; cooperation; creativity

Opening: “One morning, Mouse woke up especially early, eager to write a brand-new story.”

Brief Synopsis: Quiet, organized Mouse is writing a quiet story when his exuberant friend, Frog, arrives, interrupts and inserts his own jumble of characters and events into the story. When Mouse cries “Stop,” and hurts Frog’s feelings, the two must learn to work together to create their own story.

Links to Resources:

Deborah Freedman has a study guide for By Mouse & Frog. Ideas include:

  • Pass on the Story: each child takes a turn adding a sentence or two to a group story;
  • Finish Mouse’s story that begins “Once upon a time, Mouse woke up early and set the table…”
  • Siblings, friends or classmates together create a large picture together with each person adding to the scene. This could be a terrific rainy day activity.

Why I Like this Book:

At its heart, this is a story about two friends who learn to work together to create something that combines the best of their styles. On another level, it’s an insight into the creative process: from the barebones, straightforward story that Mouse envisions to the thoroughly chaotic world that Frog conjures up, to the balanced story that results when they combine their talents and work together.

This book would work well in a classroom setting with young children, as a roadmap for siblings to work together, and even as an example of give-and-take team building for teens and adults. As Mouse and Frog come to realize, structure without imagination is boring while exuberance without structure quickly gets out of hand. By blending the two, with some negotiating between siblings/friends/teammates, a better story, or project, results.

By Mouse & Frog combines simple text, primarily dialogue, and amazing artwork. The book begins with Mouse’s uncluttered pencil drawings against a white backdrop, crescendos as Frog’s characters and story elements appear as line drawings against a pastel background, and culminates with…you’ll have to read the book to find out!

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

Susanna takes a break during the summer months. I plan to post – although I reserve the right to skip from time to time during particularly sunny spells and maybe even shake the format up a bit.

PPBF: When Green Becomes Tomatoes

I constantly am reminded of how my life has become less and less connected to the seasons in so many ways. As I sit in my air-conditioned home and drive from place to place in the air-conditioned car, eating what had once been considered “seasonal” foods at almost any time of year, I cannot but miss the seasonality of my youth.

The picture book I’ve chosen for today provides a perfect antidote and made me feel like a kid, immersed in nature once again.

 

9781596438521Title: When Green Becomes Tomatoes

Written By: Julie Fogliano

Illustrated By: Julie Morstad

Publisher/date: Roaring Brook Press (Macmillan), 2016

Suitable for Ages: 5-10, but I’d say all ages

Themes/Topics: seasons, poetry, nature

Opening:

Spring

march 20

from a snow-covered tree

one bird singing

each tweet poking

a tiny hole

through the edge of winter

and landing carefully

balancing gently

on the tip of spring

Brief Synopsis: A collection of nature poems divided by seasons

Links to Resources:

  • Think of words or images that make you think of a particular season;
  • Write a free-verse poem using the words or images that come to mind;
  • Think of a color, animal, sound, etc. and then pair it to a season;
  • Older children, or the entire family as a group, can keep a nature diary;
  • Take a nature walk;
  • Plant a garden.

Why I Like this Book: This is a beautiful celebration of the seasons. Divided by date, as diary entries, Julie Fogliano’s lyrical poems take the reader and listener from one spring equinox to the next, beginning, and ending, with the image of one small bluebird poking from winter to spring.

The poems vary in length, but all evoke the sights, sounds, smells, touch and even tastes of the four seasons that children will readily recognize (at least those who live in a region with these four distinct seasons). They can be read separately or together, or grouped by season. Any way they are read, the imagery will leap off the pages: “sounds like slippers” (a house in winter), “snowy arms sagging” (an evergreen in winter), “a star…more flicker glow than blinding”, “a day that drips hot and thick like honey”, and many, many more.

Julie Morstad’s lovely illustrations complement the poems so well, and she includes many multicultural children – an added bonus.

9781596438521.IN02

This is a book to own and savor throughout the year. And for those who can’t wait to read the book to find out, when does green become tomatoes? You’ll know because “there will be sky/ and sun/ and possibly a cloud or two….”

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!