Friday, April 19, 2013
The Spider and the Fly revamps Mary Howitt’s cautionary tale about a soothsaying spider and a sweet, naïve fly by pairing the verse with Tony Diterlizzi’s Caldecott-honored illustrations. At first glance, contemporary book browsers might wonder how a poem written in 1829 (complete with Victorian vernacular) could hold the attention of today’s child reader. However, all dusted off and with a fresh coat of paint, this story proves that some scares are timeless. Diterlizzi’s drawings toe the line between charming and creepy, with an aesthetic nod to old film noir and Edward Gorey. The story itself plays out the melodrama of an unsuspecting damselfly who meets an unfortunate end at the many hands of a scheming spider.
The text rings with the moralizing overtones common to the children’s literature of its era. This is a story with a lesson, particularly for little girls, about the big bad world. Some parents may bristle at the basic plot trajectory – a wide-eyed babe in the woods is taken in, seduced, and murdered by an unctuous older man – but hey, they’re only insects! And as the afterword reminds any disgruntled readers, “What did you expect from a story about a spider and a fly? Happily ever after?” That being said, this book would best be reserved for an elementary school aged reader (the jacket advises 6 and up).
Diterlizzi’s illustrations really do balance out the spookiness and slime with sophisticated fun. The little Fly is all rouged up like a flapper while the Spider smolders like a portly Gomez Addams. The backgrounds of each scene are not to be missed; these pages were designed for lingering. The Spider’s lair is dripping with beautifully gory detail, decorated by a dead ladybug footrest and a coffee table copy of The Joy of Cooking Bugs. Diterlizzi also accomplishes a haunting range of light and shadow using only black, white, and shades of gray.
All in all, this is a lovely book with some serious style. There’s an applicable message about the dangers of sweet-talking strangers, but the illustrations are worth the price of admission alone.
Thursday, April 18, 2013
Perfect for picky eaters and fruit aficionadas alike, Go, Go, Grapes! announces itself as a fruit chant. This full color picture book takes the reader on a tour of the supermarket produce aisle, introducing exotic new fruits alongside familiar peels and pits. Apples, berries, melon, and of course, grapes are the main attraction in this produce parade. But what about cactus, kiwano, or rambutan? Never fear, for every fruit is invited to join the party in April Pulley Sayre’s follow-up to Rah, Rah, Radishes. Child readers ages 3-7 will enjoy the vivid color photographs taken from fruit stands and grocery stores around the world. Adults will also appreciate the diverse sampling that represents a multicultural culinary tradition. While the photos are sumptuous and sure to steal the show, the book’s language is just as great a delight. Pulley Sayre’s verse is (pardon the pun) pithy and energetic. There is alliterative magic in lines like “Grab a guava. Live for lime.” The book begs to be read aloud and would be especially appropriate as a bedtime story for a little one who is loathe to eat his or her fruits and veggies. However, even established omnivores should find this book to be a sweet treat.
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Edited by Georgia Heard, Falling Down the Page: A Book of List Poems is a refreshingly unique poetry anthology for young readers. Heard unites these poems by form allowing the book to explore a variety of subjects while simultaneously highlighting the range and depth of the list form of poetry. Falling Down the Page highlights themes young readers can relate to, touching on everything from test anxiety to the beauty of nature. While the overall arc of the book follows a school day and a school year, the poems themselves grapple with issues and ideas far more diverse.
The best poems in Falling Down the Page come to life in the specificity of the objects or observations being catalogued. In “In My Desk” Jane Yolen’s list of absurd objects “one/ holey/ sock, […]a pair of moldy/ old pincecones, […] my braces that were much too tight,/ a lunch box/ with a great big/ hunk/ of rotting cheese” drives the voice of this loveably eccentric speaker (16). The details draw the reader in heightening the emotional impact. Similarly, Kathy Applet’s “Test Day” uses specific details to enliven the voice of the poem. The poem opens, “It is never about the things I know:”(30). Then it continues with a list of weighty points of knowledge, “That my great-great-aunt learned to drive when she was 68 […] How the thunder scares my ginger-striped cat” each item enriches the speaker’s voice (30). Applet’s “Test Day” is one of the many skillful voice driven poems that run through Falling Down the Page.
Moreover, the poems in Falling Down the Page are richly musical in a variety of ways. Many of the poems, such as the opening poem, “Good-byes,” use a short meter and overt rhyme scheme to create a whimsical music. Lines such as, “It’s really hard/ to say good-bye/ to twinkling beach,/ and golden sky,/ to castles rising/ from the sand, to Annie’s caramel/ popcorn stand,” evoke nursery rhymes establishing a familiar poetic music. In “Things to Do if You are the Sun” Bobbi Katz employs a more subtle soft tone of music. Relying on assonance and internal rhyme, allow the stark images of the poem to not be overpowered by a heavy rhyme scheme. Katz writes, “Keep things cool enough for penguins./ Slip away to end the day./ Light the moon at night./ Let people and animals sleep./ And at the crack of dawn,/ wake up the world!” foregrounding the speaker’s views of the sun thereby letting the music work as a soft underscore (33). On the opposite end of the musical spectrum, David Harrison’s “Chorus of Four Frogs” is one-hundred percent music. The poem is made up of four voices repeating onomatopoeic words in a variety of sequences. The words “Greedeep,” “Ribbet?” “Peep-peep” and “Ker-plum!” are repeated to create, as the title suggests, a frog chorus crescendo. “Chorus of Four Frogs” provides a unique perspective of the list poem (39). Young readers will love reading this poem aloud.
While one might worry an entire book of list poems may grow tedious, each poem in Falling Down The Page is unique and engaging. Readers will be captivated by the diverse voices and music singing from the page and inspired to try to create a list poem of their own.
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Ziba Came on a Boat is the story of Afghan refugees traveling by sea to an undisclosed host country. The crowded fishing boat surrounded by blue water is the initial and oft repeated full-page image—the constant return to the image throughout crafts the ebb-and-flow feel of the story. The narrative crosscuts from occurrences at sea—waves, calm, storm—that prompt young Ziba’s flashbacks to her mountainous village before and after Taliban rule. The connection between sensory experience and memory is sophisticated and fluid; the text is straightforward and resonant. The reader gets the feel of the monotony and solitude of this type of desperate boat escape—sitting cross-legged, exposed to the elements, surrounded only by family, having fled without belongings. All that remains are memories, good and bad, hope for the future, and dreams of “azadi”—freedom.
As difficult as the underlying subject matter is, this book is a gentle gem, accessible and re-readable. The undercurrent of hope and the security of already having escaped prevent readers from experiencing any anxiety. Ziba’s flashbacks focus on childhood scenes that are universal—reading schoolbooks and helping to set the dinner table—and more culturally-specific, like carrying water jugs back to her mud-brick home. Her snapshot memories translate easily for a young audience, while the background illustrations invite talking opportunities between child and adult readers. While the illustrations of faces tend to be a bit fuzzy (though ethnically specific), the depictions of mountainous Afghanistan are lovely and informative without romanticizing village life. The book is frank but inviting—perfect for readers interested in a multicultural world where children experience political strife.
Monday, April 15, 2013
“Dog loved books!”
So begins the story of Dog, a pooch who loves books so much, he owns his own bookshop. There is nothing Dog enjoys more than sharing and reading books. He gets a big surprise one day when he receives a curious package in the mail... a book with no words or pictures! With his pens, brushes, and colored pencils, Dog embarks on a lively journey, making new friends and creating his own adventure along the way. Reminiscent of the classic book Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson, Dog Loves Drawing is cute and charming, and the author’s pencil and watercolor illustrations and doodles are absolutely adorable. Readers will be delighted to see how Dog makes his own world of fun and will likely be motivated to do the same!