Author: Samantha Berger
Illustrator: Kristyna Litten
Publisher: Dial Books (2015)
This book attracted me immediately because it promised me a nap. Recently fighting a lack of energy or any will to do anything at all, this book was the most taxing project I could hope to aim for. I started reading it a couple of times and was immediately drawn in by the quilt-like endpapers, the sweet sleepy characters such as koalas, kittens and yes - a sloth. This sloth book called out to me like an ice-cream calls out to a child in a park on a hot summer day. It was the lullaby of a book I needed in my nasty grown-up life. However my nasty grown-up life got in the way of finishing it until today.
My teenaged daughter has a lot on her mind right now too. Nasty grown up things were getting in her way as well, so I invited her onto the sofa to hear this book. It's OK. It's perfectly acceptable to read picture books aloud to teenagers if they will let you. It's even OK to blog about it if you're sure that teenager never reads your blog. Because if there's one thing I know about picture books, is that they can be therapy for any age of human being. And this one is for any age of human being who would like to take a long, long nap.
I read this book aloud in the type of soothing voice you would expect from a mother to her child, and I am 100% sure that in the olden days, when my kids were little this book would have been a terrific bedtime book. It rhymes, kind of Dr Seuss style but with words like "naptacular" and "Nuzzledome" that are constantly suggestive of sleep. The main character, sleepy sloth Snuggleford Cuddlebun takes her special blanket, pillow, journal and favourite bedtime book to the Nuzzledome by bus, where she sets herself up in a hammock to sleep through a music festival of sleep inducing bands.
I would have enjoyed this book far more thoroughly if I were not Australian. I'm sorry to have to say this, but I was rudely awakened from my own slumbering narration by the following line: "All the best sleepers in Snoozeville are there, like wildcats and wombats and koala bears". Click here if you don't know why that made me cringe. I get that this is a book for an American audience. And I get that some people say "koala bear". However, every time I see this I want to coin new phrases like "coyote dog" or "bison cow" to use with my American friends. Later on in the book the story also refers to a poet mole who "imitates rain with his didgeridoo", and I just don't want to start up about how little the sound of rain resembles the sound of didgeridoo....
All in all, I find this book delightful, so much so that I read it to my other teenaged daughter when I had a chance. And although I quite ruined the rhyming scheme, I left a poignant space where the "bear" once was, which ultimately allowed us to share a smile, while also sharing a blanket this cold winter night in front of the fire, before listening to the didgeridoo. Mmmmmmm. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
Author/Illustrator: Daniel Miyares
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (2015)
Language: English / Wordless
When I unpack new books that get sent into the office, certain books unpack themselves, gently demanding that I stop what I am doing and read them. So it was with Float. I stopped my colleague and we read the book together. Then we walked around the corner to show our librarian. This striking book was very quietly demanding attention. Now at 5:37 am on January 11th it is demanding attention again after I woke up dreaming of it. Later this morning I will find out if it demanded any attention from 15 Caldecott judges who were meeting this weekend. I am in Boston for the announcements. Who knows?
Float is the simple wordless story of a little boy who takes his paper boat outside in the rain to see if it will float. Very soon the boat embarks of a journey on its own as the boy chases along. A dramatic climax is followed by a gentle scene where his Dad blow dries his hair. A hopeful ending is beautifully drenched in colour, the grey/yellow palette of the book suddenly reversed in a visual twist. You can find more pictures on the publisher's website.
I don't care much for children's books that are artistic but fundamentally miss what it is to be a child. However, Float is both a visual feast and a wonderful tribute to the things of childhood: creativity, adventure, splashing in puddles, facing problems, being sad and picking yourself up again, moving on, being joyous. A modern myth about children is that they are constantly stuck to a screen, or that busy parents schedule too many activities during the day to for their children to enjoy childhood. While these stereotypes may bear some truth, I believe that children are happiest when they independently think of something to do and then do it. At school and at home, kids do best when they play creatively. Even when things don't go as planned, they can always move on to the next thing. It's a concept that adults too often forget.
Float woke me up this morning and bathed me in its metaphors. Now I'm walking off to the convention center to see if any Caldecott judges agreed with me. There are other really good books that could easily be chosen, but I'm floating this paper boat out there before we find out for sure.
The moment I picked this book up off the Dav Pilkey signing table at the ALA conference I was taken away. Don't you just love a good end paper (pictured above) that immediately draws you right into the story? The cars and trucks of early morning America are commuting across the bridge in the extreme early morning. By the final end paper when they are making the return commute under a moonlit sky the book has lived exactly one day in the life of Americans. It's simply a beautiful simple timeline told mostly through the medium of children.
When Barack Obama was sworn in the second time in 2013, this poem by Richard Blanco was recited at the podium. Obama had had an eventful first term, but the essence of America remained the same. The good, the bad, the ugly all come together in this exquisite book to paint a picture of one uneventful, but very thoughtful day. This book feels like the people in it are living deliberately. It feels like they are moving forward. From the very first endpaper done in vibrant, deliberate colors this book is a distinct declaration, not of national pride, but of national collective effort to move forward. "Yes, we can!" proclaimed the President the first time he took office. This book is a hopeful disclaimer to that proclamation, that a country is only as great as the hopes and dreams within it - that darkness happens but it's this very darkness that could prove the mettle of our worth.
The lines in this book are absolutely stunning. There are lines cast by sunlight, and lines cast by shadow. There are lines that are man-made objects such as buildings and bridges, and lines in the natural world that make up these poignant illustrations. When I think of Dav Pilkey I like others think of the simple line drawings of Captain Underpants, but this book (along with Caldecott honor book The Paperboy, and other works such as God Bless the Gargoyles) is another side to Dav Pilkey's work filled with strong, dark colors that have something to say.
Get this book. Get it now. If you have children (and even if you don't) I already have an idea which page will stab you right in your heart, but I'll keep that to myself and let you experience this book for yourself. Have a good day. And if you're in a place in your life where good days are eluding you, have a better one tomorrow. Either way, read this book as a call to a better life more deliberately lived in full colour.
Title: One Today
Author: Richard Blanco
Illustrator: Dav Pilkey
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (November 3, 2015)
Today is as good a day as any to start a book blog. In fact, it's really a perfect day to do it. My friend sent me a book I had been obsessing about from the UK, and I was able to pick up the original in the local Japanese language bookstore. It's a perfect book to kick off this book blog, because it is all about explicitly defining things that would otherwise define themselves.
A young boy comes home from school and finds an apple on the table. At least, he thinks it's an apple but it might be a fish rolled up to look like an apple, it could be half apple / half orange, or nothing but peel within peel. The apple might have feelings, the apple might have friends and relatives somewhere. The apple might be planning something. The apple could be from outer space and be home to tiny little apple aliens that can only be seen with a magnifying glass. There is no way to know for sure. This one apple is food for the little boy's wildest imagination, and each page brings fresh possibilities, ripe with deep thought and complete with diagrams and labels that explain the boy's thinking.
Explaining thinking is a skill that we insist children must develop in all subject areas at school. Math, science and language arts all demand a level of critical thinking and transparent thought processes that were not a part of traditional teacher-centered education in years past. Gone are the days when rows of correct answers on a worksheet are enough. Now children are asked to make their thinking visible, and for good reason. By making thinking visible we are opening our thought processes to a dialogue with others (peers, teachers, parents) and by doing that we are keeping our thinking alive and moving forward. We are also honoring an ancient truth found in constructivist theories of education, that all knowledge is built on the foundation of existing knowledge. By making our thinking visible, we share things we already think we know and wonder how our theories might live up to reality. There are no wrong answers - just theories that need to be tested. This book is all about that process.
It Might Be an Apple asks the reader to think outside the box on a very simple topic, and the simple line drawings and diagrams featuring mainly grays, yellows and pale pink colors make sure that the many red apples and applesque ideas pop from the page. It would be great as a parent to child read aloud, an exploration with a teacher and a class (maybe 1st or 2nd grade?), or an individual quiet reading project for an older child with an abundance of curiosity.
A note about the Japanese book which likely proved a challenge for the translator: there is a page of "friends and relatives" of the apple that is laid out like the Japanese hiragana alphabet. The page before names just five of those friends: Rango, Ringo, Rungo, Rengo and Rongo, each shaped differently and each representing ら (ra) り (ri) る (ru) れ (re) and ろ (ro) from the Japanese alphabet. These five characters appear again on the next page laid out with each and every letter of the Japanese hiragana alphabet, with the shapes and colors of the different apple friends being suggestive of the name (extra points to the friend Ungo who looks like unko : poo). The alphabet effect and many of the suggestive shapes are lost in the English translation, but instead attention has been paid to make sure names in each row will rhyme. An amusing effect can be noticed from the page before, where the names do not rhyme or resemble what they are supposed to be. If the reader is really on their toes they will notice those five friends appear together in a column on the next page. I am really sad, however that in the English translation they changed the name Ringo (which means apple in Japanese) to Jingo. It does rhyme with the other friends in that row (Bingo and Wingo), but leaving this one as Ringo would have been a nice light bulb moment for any children who have any knowledge of Japanese, since this particular friend is the only one on the page that is shaped like a regular apple.
I have so much more to say about this book and about Japanese picture books in general, but I don't want my first blog posting to be overly long. I really appreciated this book as a reminder to make my thinking visible about this blog. I didn't want this blog to be like other book blogs that concentrate on a particular marketplace. I will review old books, new books, books published in the USA and books published in other countries. I am Australian and have lived half of my life in Japan, so that's a good start. I now live in the USA and look after a bunch of multilingual/international picture books in my professional life, which is what gave me the idea for this very eclectic collection of thoughts. If you'd like to make your own thinking visible, please do so in the comments or contact me directly. It might be fun to think about these and other interesting picture books together. :)
Title: It might be an apple
Author: Shinsuke Yoshitake
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Thames & Hudson Ltd, UK (April 6, 2015)
Language: English (Translated from Japanese, originally published under the title Ringo kamoshirenai in 2013)
ISBN: 978-0500650486 (Japanese original ISBN: 978-4893095626)
An Australian who lived in Japan with my bicultural family now living in the USA, I believe that there are more different realities than there are books to be written.