Friday, April 13, 2012
If One Cool Friend, by Toni Buzzeo (Penelope Popper, Book Doctor) and David Small (Imogene’s Antlers, So You Want to Be President?), is any indication of the quality of picture books that will be published in 2012, then we are in for quite a treat. This one is clever, silly, and surprising, and young readers will love this tale of unlikely friendships and hilarious misunderstandings.
Buzzeo writes that “Elliot was a very proper young man,” which all readers can see from his quiet disposition, elevated language, and a black & white wardrobe (complete with bow-tie) that would make Edgar Allen Poe proud. While visiting the aquarium with his father one day, unruffled Elliot becomes quite taken by the Magellanic Penguins, “In their tidy black feather tuxedos with their proper posture, they reminded Elliot of himself.”
Elliot identifies with the little dapper dudes so much that he decides to take one home with him… only after first asking his father for permission, of course.
Unfortunately, Elliot’s turtle-obsessed father, distracted by his latest copy of National Geographic Magazine, misunderstands Elliot’s request and believes that the boy would simply like to take home a plush penguin from the gift shop. Hilarity ensues, as the young boy turns his room into an Antarctic wonderland for his new friend, Magellan, and Elliot and his father continue to misinterpret one another. Readers will be laughing out loud when all comes to light at the end of the story.
David Small’s illustrations for One Cool Friend are absolutely charming. His celebrated mixed-media artwork is full of creative details, interesting snippets of newspapers & maps, and fabulous pops of color. He has also drawn speech and thought bubbles around Elliot & his father’s dialogue, as well as their inside thoughts, which adds a creative and slightly comic-strip feel to the text. Readers will find themselves looking back through each page, searching for the small details that hint at the book’s silly conclusion.
One Cool Friend is imaginative, hilarious, and an absolute joy to read.
Thursday, April 12, 2012
Historical fiction picture books are unusual to begin with, but Mara Rockliff’s text takes an even more uncommon approach—she depicts the American Great Depression from the point of view of a village child in Africa.
When her teacher tells them about the plight of children in the (contemporary) Great Depression, Kedi’s “heart stands up and it won’t sit down.” She understands the hunger of those New York children because she, too, has gone to bed with a grumbling empty tummy! Her mother’s initial reaction to Kedi’s desire to help is to let the American people come to them; they can share their dinner. And when Kedi asks her mother and the other villagers for monetary aid, the African villagers wonder, “Why send money to people whose faces we haven’t seen?”
On her way to school the next day, Kedi’s mother gives her one coin—their only coin—which seems puny and useless, until all the villagers arrive at the school bearing their coins. Finally, Kedi’s heart can sit down.
As described in the author’s endnote, the fictionalized tale is based on a true event, in which the city of New York received a donation of $3.77 from a small Cameroon village to aid the hungry of the city. Such generosity, Rockliff points out, is not solitary, as similar instances occurred in Papua New Guinea and Santa Domingo, Guatemala.
The text offers a very interesting opportunity for discussion, even with students whose reading level would be above and beyond the simplicity of a picture book. What prompts us to want to help those far away, even if we ourselves have little? What can we do to help those in need and what is the effect of our donation beyond its actual monetary value?
The art is brightly colored and chunky, reminiscent of other picture books of African folklore. My Heart Will Not Sit Down carries an interesting and heartwarming message of human generosity, and the accessibility of the illustrations packages that message with candor and simple honesty.
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Every person has that friend who plunges headlong into life, approaching all obstacles with a no-holds-barred fearlessness. For Sam, the library mouse who lives behind the children’s reference books, that friend is Sarah. The tug-of-war between Sam’s pragmatic reluctance and Sarah’s enthusiasm forms the impetus for their adventures. Each time Sarah hurtles herself clumsily into adventure, Sam points out the danger and encourages her to do more research first. She pushes his boundaries to help him “see the world without ever leaving the library.”
The story models some wonderful viewpoints about libraries, particularly the idea that libraries, and by extension, books, can be fun. In addition to the benefit of simply meeting a new friend, the pair learns to make their research a reality by dressing up and play-acting the reference books. Also, since the two mice do so much “traveling” through their research, the story demonstrates the potential of books to transport the reader to new worlds.
Kirk’s illustrations employ dense, opaque colors that often fill the page. The library books, all very brightly colored and complete with call number stickers, look inviting and sturdy. Flipping through the pages, I want to pull them off their shelves to look at the covers! The mice have lifelike fur, interesting facial expressions, and colorful outfits. The library posters, upon closer examination, feature the mice themselves, as well as other whimsical critters.
Used by a teacher, this book could be an excellent introduction to a trip to the library (…or the internet), perhaps to inspire students to bring “reference” to life.
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Biff, an adorable pug who “is not like other dogs,” has one mission—he wants to do ballet. He is not interested in normal doggy stuff. In fact, he has no interest in characteristic canine behaviors like weeing on fire hydrants, scratching his fleas, or playing fetch. He’d rather watch ballet. Not only does Biff want to watch ballet, he wants to be a ballet dancer. This desire sends him on a journey. He follows his owner and sneaks down the street, aboard a bus, and then finally peeks through the window of a dance studio. Unfortunately, the ballet teacher, Miss Polly, sees Biff and he is thrown out. Biff, though, doesn’t give up. When the Royal Ballet comes to town, he again follows his owner and her father all the way to the symphony hall. It’s a beautiful evening, but suddenly there is a terrible accident and the prima ballerina trips, falls off the stage, into a tuba, and can’t go on. Biff though, comes to the rescue in pink tutu-ed glory and saves the performance to great applause and yells of bravo. This delightful story ends with, “Dogs DO do ballet. Bravo, Biff!
I had more fun reading this book than I have had in a long time. After all, there is a pug who wears a pink tutu and takes theatrical ballet poses at any opportunity: “Plie! Jete! Arabesque! Pirouette!” Angela Kemp’s smartest move, though, is that Biff’s owner is not named. This allows another reality to take place where the reader (or listener) imagines what it would be like to have a dog who wants to do ballet. It personalizes the book.
Testifying to the success of Dogs Don’t Do Ballet is the way readers consistently try to see the next page before it is turned. Most words are easy to recognize but there are a few that pose an enjoyable challenge to the early reader. Dogs Don’t Do Ballet is a success—a book I haven’t minded hearing more than once!
As much as Kemp’s storyline is enjoyable, it’s possible that Sara Ogilvie’s illustrations are what make the book. They are painted with beautiful hues in a loose, sketchy style that adds greatly to the movement throughout the book. Biff and his owner’s personalities bubble off the page in their large imploring eyes and lively postures. One of Ogilvie’s greatest strengths is her ability to portray believable expressions throughout. I found myself reacting to Biff’s hopefulness, the father’s disinterest, and the orchestra, audience, and father's shock at seeing Biff dance away on the stage. Other delightful details are Ogilvie’s attention to fashion, which I started to notice on my third reading. Biff’s owner is often wearing red galoshes and a red knit cap with a little bit of a dress peeking out beneath a brilliant blue coat. Also, keep an eye out for details such as little purses, buttons on boots, the father’s comfy slippers, and, of course, tutus throughout the pages. This is a book I look forward to guiding future students through.