Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Get the Picture??

Day two of what makes a picture book special to me.  In addition to being simple, I think the best picture books have a big message.  Yes, they seem to contradict each other.  How can a book be simple and have a life-changing message?  Well, that is what makes them amazing!

Mirror tells the simple story, through pictures only, of a girl who dances with her reflection in the mirror.  However, she also learns the consequences of reacting too quickly.  Something for us all to reflect upon, no pun intended, of course.

Hopper and Wilson see a shooting star.
Another book I picked up earlier this week demonstrates just how beautifully a picture book can leave us all pondering big questions.  This was a new book for me so I was happy to add it to my collection.  Hopper and Wilson by Maria Van Lieshout, says it best on the book jacket.  "A touching and playful tale about friendship and what makes home feel like home..." 

In this story, Hopper, a blue elephant, and Wilson, a little yellow mouse, decide to set sail in a newspaper hat in search of their biggest wishes in endless supply of lemonade and a staircase to the moon. Along the way, a storm comes and Hopper is thrown from the "boat."  Wilson asks the turtles, the penguins, and a whale if they have seen his friend.  "Hopper is not good at being alone, you see..." he explains to the "giant fish."  But no one has seen his friend.

Big lesson?  Yep!  Sometimes you need to go out looking for what you want in life, sometimes it takes a journey to realize that you already had what you want.  All of that told through simple drawings and a few words.  Almost all of my favorite picture books have some kind of lesson to learn, message to the audience, etc.  I am constantly amazed at what I have learned from picture books!

And, If you have followed this blog, or know me, you will know exactly why I love this book.  I love big messages.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Today's Lovely, Wonderful Thought

As I mentioned yesterday, children's books are one of the things in life that make me happy when I'm feeling down.  I snatched up some pretty amazing children's books yesterday and they all have the elements that make me fall in love with any given picture book.  The first element I will share with you today is simplicity.

There are some authors who have mastered the art of creating a picture book with a simple message.  Often times I will pick up a book that has great pictures, an adorable title, great character names, and a good idea.  But the plot just gets too complicated.  The words all mush together and the magic is lost.  This happened when I picked up one book yesterday.  I loved the concept of the book but when I started to read the language bored me to death.  Keep it simple, folks!  That's what I like.

A Beautiful Mess
One book that I snagged embodies simplicity in it's best.  Mirror by Suzy Lee is a wordless book.  The illustrations tell the story of what happens when a little girl notices her reflection in a mirror and starts to dance. Lee uses one side of each page layout to show the girl and the other to show what happens in the mirror. No words are necessary to uncover the joy, and sorrow, the girl feels in this story. There are no names, no drawn out plot, no fluff in the words, and a one-word title.

LOVE this illustration!
I have mentioned the work of Suzy Lee before in this blog.  She illustrated two other wordless books, Wave and Shadows.  These books also demonstrate her mastery of creating a beautifully simple story line that captures the reader's heart.  I was so happy to see yet another book by Lee and then discovered, when I googled her, that Mirror was actually created before Wave and Shadows.  I don't know how I missed it but so glad to have it now!  I also discovered that Lee created an Alice in Wonderland book!  You can bet that is on my list of books to own!

Every emotion is captured with illustrations like this one.
So there is your first clue into what I look for in a picture book...simplicity.  Are we smiling yet?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Lovely, Wonderful Thoughts

"You just think lovely, wonderful thoughts," Peter explained, "and they lift you up in the air."
 ~ Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie

Someone once asked me, without knowing my serious obsession for children's books, what my lovely, wonderful thought would be if I were to fly.  I think my soul giggled at that moment because after all, Peter Pan is one of my favorite children's books ever, and I think that is a wonderful question to ask someone! What would make me fly?  After a couple of minutes I decided on three things. And it is true, in the toughest of times I go to those three and even if it is not 100%, my heart is lifted up in the air.  After this Summer of Love I am completely exhausted.  On the heels of another wonderful weekend with family, I found myself down in the dumps on my return flight.

Ruby Reds.
However, as I pulled onto my street I looked up at the electrical wires and there, dangling as if Hurricane Irene dropped them there herself, was a pair of high-heel ruby red slippers. As they twirled, they glittered from the rays of the bright California sun. Seemed almost poetic after a weekend of cyclones...there's no place like home!  And then I remembered that question that made my soul smile and knew it would be ok.  Today, I have all three happy thoughts to shoot me up amongst the stars.

1.  Music.  Adele has been singing my thoughts lately and everywhere I went today I heard her music.  In the car, on the plane, in the grocery store, even a lady blasting the heartfelt words from her car as I was walking to my apartment.

This is HOWE we do it!

2.  My family.  I mean, look at this picture.  How could you NOT fly??

3.  Children's books.  Ironically, I was blessed with a bunch today!  My good friend Afton, from Boston, sent me a box of books for my classroom.  These used to be a part of her 4th grade classroom and she decided to pass them on to me now that she is pursuing other dreams.  It was a lovely surprise to be greeted with a box full of terrific books when I got home!

Thanks Afton!!

I also found a long-lost gift card to a local bookstore I had never visited. Vroman's is a store in Pasadena and I had heard that it is a force to be reckoned with.  Armed with a mission to soar, I petted Nikolas James Pumpkinhead hello, grabbed the gift card, and hit the road.  This store is amazing!  Their selection of hard-cover picture books leaves most local bookstores in their dust. I picked up some winners today.  Some of you have wondered what I look for in a children's book.  Well, this entry would be way too long if I described why I picked each book. Sooo, in the next few days I will share one lovely, wonderful thought about each book and maybe it will bring a big goofy grin to your soul!

116 years?! Take THAT big box book stores!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Summer of Love

Summer of Love!  Dad, J and I jamming on the porch
At the beginning of the summer, my mom dubbed this the Summer of Love.  I'm not exactly quite sure why, but the name fit!  This summer I found love in every corner of the country.  Starting off with a dear friend's wedding, in my week back home to celebrate my grandma's 90th birthday, my drive across the country with my dad, a college reunion in Roslyn, Washington, a wedding in Blue Hill, Maine, even in a quiet night in with Harry and Sally.  Through all of this I was able to devour all the kids books I set out to read and then some!  The only neglected book on my list was the Garcia Marquez book, which breaks my heart.  This will be the first summer I have not read a book of his.  I should have known better than to pick a long one during my summer of love but alas, there it sits.  So here they are folks, reviews and pics of the Summer of Love!

Noah Barley Water Runs Away by John Boyne

I read this book at the beginning of my travels.  It was a great way to start.  This tells the story of a boy who runs away from home, why we are not sure, and travels through a magical land.  It has a taste of magical realism to it, which I loved.  Noah meets a talking donkey and a helpful dachshund who direct his attention to a toy store filled with very curious puppets.  Noah discovers the toy maker, a curious man himself, and the touching lives of both characters are revealed through stories told around a cup of tea.  There is a special little twist to the story that I definitely will not give away but will make a smile slowly creep across your face.  This was my most magical story of the summer.

Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool.

Heading to the Grand Canyon.
I wanted to get this book as my dad and I were driving through the heartland of America and I am so glad I did.  It tells of a girl who wanders off a train and into the town of Manifest.  Manifest is a dying small town in Kansas and Abilene Tucker, the main character, has been sent there by her father.  She learns of the town's past through newspaper clippings and the local gypsy.  She also discovers a thing or two about some infamous boys who used to raise ruckus in the town.  What I loved about this book was how they story was told through different perspectives.  Whether it was Abilene, the gypsy woman, or the old newspaper articles featured in the book, the story unfolded beautifully.

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld.

Uglies was read in a beautiful town: Roslyn, WA.
Uglies was a much more serious book and one that I would recommend for late junior high or high school kids.  It is a dystopia book that reveals a world where everyone is ugly until they turn 16.  Then, with plastic surgery that makes botox look like nothing, everyone becomes a "Pretty."  They move to Pretty Town and never look back.  However Tally, the main character, discovers a secret world outside of everything she has known.  She has to decide if being pretty is worth losing so much more.  Can you think of a more powerful message for the youth of today?  Living in a place like Los Angeles I can say that this book should be read by more than kids.  Not as good as Hunger Games but definitely worth a read.

And then some...
My new reading spot in LA.
When I arrived in LA I met with the other 4th grade teacher and we decided on some books we want our kids to read this year.  This meant, however, that I needed to catch up.  The bonus books for the summer are: Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko, By the Great Horn Spoon by Sid Fleischman, The Stowaway: A Tale of California Pirates by Kristiana Gregory, and Zia by Scott O'Dell.  Yes, they are all related to California history.  Sadly, my least favorite was the pirate story.  By the Great Horn Spoon was my favorite.

Dad snapped this one of me, feeling the love!
Although I didn't read a single grown-up book this summer, I am happy with the 7 chapter books I read!  Happy reading everyone!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Light Reading, sorry kids!

I have finished all my kids books for the summer, and then some. Nikolas James Pumpkinhead and I are just waiting at the airport for our trip back to Los Angeles. What to read? Marquez? Another kids book? Nope! Sorry kids. these exhausted travelers need to unwind. I bought my first cosmo in about ten years today. Don't worry, I will review all those fabulous books when I land. Sometimes you need to try something new...