The mark of a silly old bear

Finding Winnie by Lindsay MattickThe wide-ranging artwork of contemporary children’s book illustrators earns the spotlight at an impressive exhibit at Brandywine River Museum of Art in Chadds Ford, PA.

Guest curator H. Nichols B. Clark has selected art by eight renowned artists, several of whom I’ve featured on this blog: Sophie Blackall, Bryan Collier, Raúl Colón, Marla Frazee, Jon Klassen, Melissa Sweet, David Wiesner and Mo Willems. For any children’s book lover in the Philadelphia area, the exhibit, running through October 9, is a must.

Since children, as well as us older ones, often face so many changes and challenges as the new school year approaches, this seems like the perfect time for a reassuring story such as Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear, which earned Sophie Blackall the 2016 Caldecott Medal.

Blackall’s watercolor-and-ink illustrations provide a lively sense of movement, both literally and figuratively, and evoke sweet emotional connections among loved ones. The connection between children and their stuffed animals or similar toys is often psychologically rich and deserves attention and respect. This title taps that vein and adds an interesting realistic angle, as well.

The author, employing a story within a story, introduces readers to a loving mother and her rosy-cheeked son, Cole, cuddling at night while the child clutches his bear and requests a bedtime story — “a true story. One about a Bear.”

The mother tells the boy the story of veterinarian named Harry Colebourn, who, while heading off to serve in World War I, encountered a trapper with a baby black bear at a train depot. Colebourn, wanting to rescue the bear, bought it and took it across Canada to the army base in England. He named the bear Winnie, short for Winnipeg, his hometown.  Winnie made himself at home, but when the troop had to ship out to France, Colebourn managed to find his pet a new one, at the London Zoo. In time, a father and his son, Christopher Robin, visited the zoo, and the boy couldn’t get enough of the bear. His father, A.A. Milne, began to spin stories about the bear, whimsical stories that went on to garner a coveted spot at many a child’s bedside.

This endearing true story, told by Colebourn’s great-great granddaughter, has enough substance for upper elementary students, while also sweeping up younger ones.

Complement Finding Winnie with …

Knuffle Bunny by Mo WillemsDahlia by Barbara McClintockAlexander and the Wind-Up Mouse by Leo Lionni.jpg

 

 

 

 

Do you hear what I hear?

Versatile poet Marilyn Singer has again teamed up with Canadian illustrator Josee Masse to create a vivid collection of brief poems that promise to appeal to a broad array of children.

Echo Echo by Marilyn Singer and illus by Josee Masse

As with her two previous titles featuring reverso poems, a form Singer devised that employs pairs of poems that can be read line-by-line in two opposite directions, Echo Echo: Reverso Poems about Greek Myths plays with perspectives, short lines, accessible language and lively content.

This intriguing format proves to be a particularly apt approach for the subject of Greek mythology, so resonant with dual perspectives and dramatic conflict. Singer’s polished poems provide one point of view on the left-hand side of a page and an opposing perspective in the other half. Visually, too, each side stands out, as the text of one poem employs white text against a vibrant Aegean blue, while the other displays the opposite combination.

The fourteen pairs of poems, complemented with Masse’s bright, energetic full-page acrylic illustrations, feature the famous myths of Pandora and the box … the rivalry between Arachne and Athena … King Midas and the daughter he turned to stone … Perseus and the slaying of Medusa … Bellerophon and his capture of the winged horse Pegasus … the self-absorbed Narcissus and Echo (a highlight of this collection) … Pygmalion and the statue Galatea … Theseus and his escape from the labyrinth thanks to Ariadne … Icarus and Daedalus … Melanion and Atalanta and the three golden apples … and the tragic stories of Demeter and Persephone and of Eurydice and the musician Orpheus.

Singer’s playful yet thought-provoking poems provide educators with the perfect resource to help young people realize the power of point of view, of word choice, of poetic tone, and punctuation. Why not use this creative poetry to craft a writing workshop like no other? As Singer writes, “When the world was young,/ such wonders!”

See also …

My previous post on Singer’s Mirror Mirror and on poetry collections that celebrate nature.

 

 

On a peaceful note

If you’ve ever heard the song “Christmas in the Trenches” by folksinger John McCutcheon, yChristmas in the Trenches by John McCutcheonou will remember it. It’s become part of my Christmas tradition after hearing it on a local college radio station in ’84. In his beautiful picture book Christmas in the Trenches, McCutcheon has adapted his touching song about the Christmas Truce of 1914 for older children. The story’s narrator is an elderly man named Francis, who tells his grandchildren of the unique Christmas he experienced as a young soldier in WWI.  The soldiers in the trenches were bored and homesick on Christmas Eve. Suddenly, they heard German voices singing Christmas carols. The English soldiers decided to join in on “Silent Night,” an act that inspired a German soldier to cross No Man’s Land with a white flag and a Christmas tree. The two sides called a temporary, informal truce. Sorensen’s atmospheric oil paintings highlight the unexpected night of peace with a double-page spread showing the soldiers and the battlefield. Included are an author’s note, music notation, and a CD with the title song and “Silent Night/Stille Nacht,” along with a reading of the story. This sensitive picture book won a 2007 Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People.

For older children who want to learn more about the event, show them Jim Murphy’s Truce: The Day the Soldiers Stopped Fighting (Scholastic, 2009). Murphy gives an accessible overview of WWI and focuses on how peace was briefly restored when troops defied orders and met their enemies in the barren land between the trenches. Archival photographs, maps, and artwork help children understand the events.

Polishing the Heart’s Mirror

Light suffuses this unusual picture book created by acclaimed author/illustrator Demi and poet Coleman Barks, celebrated for translating and popularizing the mystical writings of the 13th-century Persian poet known as Rumi.

Painting Heaven by al-ghazali, demi, coleman barks
With its golden cover flecked with small figures of painters and children dressed in rich hues of scarlet, emerald and violet, Painting Heaven: Polishing the Mirror of the Heart beckons readers to a numinous landscape. Based on a story in the renowned Muslim philosopher al-Ghazali’s The Revival of the Religious Sciences, this children’s book invites young and old to ponder the multifaceted nature of reality, spirituality, and beauty.
The seemingly whimsical plot springs from the visit of a Chinese painter to the King of Persia. Dressed in white and black, the foreigner makes the strange assertion that, unlike other artists, he can make heavenly paintings that “contain all the colors of the rainbow, and also no colors at all; they contain all the clouds in the sky, the sun and the moon, the planets and stars and everything on earth; but they also contain Nothing at all but the shining Light of Heaven!”
Intrigued by this extraordinary claim, the king proposes a contest. The Chinese artist will compete with five of the Byzantine kingdom’s best painters, and in six months they will all submit their work to be judged.
The ensuing contrast between the king’s chosen artists and the Chinese painter unfolds with humor and a sense of wonder. The Byzantine painters pile on the rainbow colors, images of the sun and moon, children and animals, and “everything on earth in perfect detail.” The Chinese man, however, asks for no colors and no brushes. Instead, he requests just polishing tools and cleaning rags and every morning, disappears behind a curtain to work all day. The perplexed king assumes the man must be crazy.
At the end of six months, the king encounters the expected—bright, gorgeous paintings by his kingdom’s artists—but also the unexpected splendor of the visitor’s work. Sharing the king’s surprise, readers will likely gasp as they view the Chinese man’s polished, sparkling work of art. Here, Demi delights her audience by showing the blissful visitor on a shimmering silver page reflecting the brilliant colors of the book’s opposing image.
Perhaps some will disagree with the king’s judgment, but Painting Heaven provides a singular opportunity for readers to glimpse the ancient wisdom of an Islamic philosopher who has urged humans to “polish their hearts” so they can appreciate both the visible and the invisible world.
Older readers, theologians and educators will appreciate the book’s inclusion of the translated story by al-Ghazali, a poem by Coleman Barks inspired by the tale, and passages from The Marvels of the Heart, Book XXI of The Revival of the Religious Sciences.

Reprinted with permission from the New York Journal of Books

See also SLJ’s “Teachers Find Many Reasons to Use Picture Books with Middle and High School Students” and these titles …

Rumi Persian Poet Whirling Dervish by DemiMuhammad by DemiMosque by David Macaulay

On the Road to Respect

Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah was born with just one leg in rural Ghana, but he defied people’s low expectations by bicycling 400 miles across the country and thereby raised awareness for disabled people in Africa and around the world.

Emmanuel's Dream by Laurie Ann Thompson The engrossing picture book Emmanuel’s Dream opens with his birth: “Two bright eyes blinked in the light,/ two healthy lungs let out a powerful cry,/ two tiny fists opened and closed,/ but only one strong leg kicked.” With childlike, expressive mixed-media artwork, acclaimed illustrator Sean Qualls (Dizzy, 2006) reveals the precarious nature of the baby’s world: the father stoops in despair, while the concerned mother gazes at him, knowingly. Then we read how people in Ghana considered those with disabilities as worthless, or even as a curse.

The baby’s father abandons the family, but the mother, Comfort, graces her child with the name “Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.” She focuses on her son’s abilities rather than on his one shriveled leg. In time, the child learns to crawl, then hop, then climb coconut trees and fetch water. Mama Comfort carries him to school until he gets too heavy. After that, Emmanuel hops the two miles by himself.

Children will marvel at Emmanuel’s pluck and perseverance. When his classmates scorn him, Emmanuel decides to earn money to buy something special–a real soccer ball–and he earns their respect by playing with one leg and crutches. After his mother becomes too ill to sell vegetables at the market, Emmanuel moves to the big city of Accra to earn money to support his family. Two years later, he returns home, where his mother tells him from her deathbed, “Be respectful, take care of your family, don’t ever beg. And don’t give up.”

With his sharp mind and bold heart, Emmanuel concocts an unusual plan to honor her memory. He would show Ghanians he could accomplish a seemingly impossible feat: ride a bike nearly 400 miles across the nation. We see Emmanuel, his right leg tied to the bike frame and his left foot on the pedal, riding “up, down, across, and around his country, proudly wearing the colors of its flag on a shirt printed with the words THE POZO, or ‘the disabled person’.” And as he bikes, he attracts more and more attention. The children come to cheer; people with disabilities escape their stifling home to greet their hero.

In 10 days, Emmanuel proves his ability to accomplish his goal, but his journey continues. In the author’s note, Thompson points out that Emmanuel maintains a scholarship fund to help children with disabilities attend school, and he speaks to government officials and others about the need to pass laws protecting the rights of disabled citizens. Trust me; you’ll be glowing along with your audience as you share this inspiring, true story with children ages 6 to 9.

See also …

Helen's Big World The Life of Helen Keller by Doreen Rappaport

Before John Was a Jazz Giant by Carole Boston Weatherford and illus by Sean Qualls

Case for Loving The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko and ill by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko

 

A Crocodile’s Gift

How lively can Cinderella get? Discover Judy Sierra’s superb picture book The Gift of the Crocodile: A Cinderella Story, and you’ll find a tale that will engage even the most restless young listeners.  Gift of the Crocodile retold by Judy Sierra and illus by Reynold Ruffins

Damura lives in the Spice Islands of Indonesia with her stepmother, stepsister and father. She must do all the chores and sleep on the floor midst the ashes of the fireplace. One day, while washing clothes in the river, she encounters a crocodile and refers to her respectfully as grandmother. When Damura loses her sarong in the river, the crocodile fetches it. In return, Damura tends the crocodile’s stinky little baby and sings it a sweet lullaby. When Grandmother Crocodile reaches the shore, she rewards Damura with a fine silver sarong rather than the worn-out one swept away by the river.

Upon returning home, the stepsister notices Damura’s exquisite sarong and seethes with jealousy. She sets out to find the old crocodile so that she, too, can get a fancy new sarong. The selfish stepsister, unlike Damura, treats the crocodile and her baby with disdain and disrespect. When she sings to the crocodile, she says it smells like garbage! (You can bet children will cackle when you sing this line to the tune of “Brahm’s Lullaby.”) In a humorous touch of poetic justice, the lovely-looking sarong the crocodile brings the stepsister turns to garbage the moment the girl touches it — and it sticks to her for a year.

In time, the prince announces he will give a grand party, and Damura envisions wearing her silver sarong to it. Instead, her stepsister grabs it, leaving Damura in her rags. Grandmother Crocodile, however, delivers Damura a splendid gown of gold, with matching slippers. She tells the girl she must leave the party when the first rooster crows and return the garb to the crocodile. Inevitably, the prince falls in love with Damura and wants to marry her. But when the cock crows, she escapes, losing one slipper.

She returns the remaining items to the crocodile, apologizing for the lost shoe. Don’t worry, the crocodile assures her, the slipper will help her to become a princess. And then, we see that the slipper will fit only the kind and lovely Damura.

Headed for the palace, Damura sets off down the river in the company of her stepmother and stepsister, but they push her overboard, and a crocodile gulps her down. The calculating stepsister hopes she will become his bride instead, but the prince refuses this heartless trade. Instead, he goes to the river and calls upon Grandmother Crocodile, telling her the story of Damura’s cruel treatment. In an instant, the grandmother gathers the other crocs and forces the chubby culprit to spit up Damura. Then she lovingly licks the girl’s face and brings her back to life. She commands the other crocodiles to leave Damura alone but to eat the stepsister and her mother if they ever encounter them.

Overhearing the crocodile, the two flee, never to return. Then Damura and her prince go on to live in harmony, raising their children in the shade of the clove and nutmeg trees.

Illustrated by Reynold Ruffins with vivid hues, humorous touches, and plenty of movement, Gift of the Crocodile is a crowd-pleasing Cinderella tale that should enchant any young audience.

See also …

Glass Slipper Gold Sandal A Worldwide Cinderella by Paul FleischmanRough-Face Girl by Rafe MartinElla Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Making Music a Little Easier

Yes, the hills might be alive with the sound of music, but how do you teach the elements of music to small children? Teacher/author Leah Wells chooses to use the power of story to do that job in a whimsical, sure-footed manner. Song for the Birds by Leah Wells and illus by Naomi Rosenblatt

In A Song for the Birds, the first of her new picture-book series, she begins with the most basic question: What is melody? To illustrate the idea that a melody is an arrangement of notes, she has created a simple, memorable story featuring birds and a bird-watcher. Each bird sings a particular note on the treble clef: the albatross sings A, the bluebird sings B, the canary sings her C, etc. An attentive bird-watcher listens to the birds but longs for a song instead of individual notes.

When he requests they sing a song, however, the “birds look at each other with confusion.” The bright watercolor images of Naomi Rosenblatt, the author’s sister, add humor and interest to the simple plot, as she skillfully evokes the birds’ various emotions and personalities. They comprehend what the bird-watcher wants after they listen to the mockingbird’s pleasing arrangement of notes.

They provide a brief concert outside the bird-watcher’s window on a starry night. With musical notation included, this final page presents the perfect moment for families and preschool groups to burst into “Twinkle, Twinkle …” And if there’s a piano nearby, why not accompany young singers?

Rainbow Remembers the Music by Leah Wells and illus by Naomi RosenblattIn the just-released second book, The Rainbow Remembers the Music, the author and illustrator show how we can remember music by using notes on a staff. Ms. Wells introduces the treble clef as well as the bass clef and accidentals. Here, the story employs the bird-watcher again, but this time with his two grandchildren as they witness birds singing as a rainbow appears. When the rainbow disappears, how can the birds recall which notes to sing? As the granddaughter begins to draw the lines of a rainbow in the mud, she places pebbles on her rainbow to show the notes of their song. A snail makes its way over and curls into the shape of a treble clef.

Grandpa, however, can only sing lower notes, so his grandson draws another “rainbow” and places two pebbles on it. After Grandpa kicks over the bucket of worms, one crawls over the that second rainbow and settles itself beside the two pebbles. At home the children decide to put the notes on paper, and so can readers, as The Rainbow Remembers the Music provides specially sized paper at the end of the story.

Music teachers and music-loving parents will want to seek out this fresh new child-friendly paperback series, available on Amazon. Please write back if you’d like to share your experiences using these pleasant little books.

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