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.

 

 

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

Rosie Can Do It!

What are the chances that a picture book told in rhyme would succeed in revealing the seldom-featured value of apparent failure and the need for perseverance? Not only that, the author and illustrator would show how females can overcome inner doubts and cultural biases by pursuing their own ideas. The unlikely and totally likable Rosie Revere, Engineer celebrates girl power in a big way.Rosie Revere Engineer by Andrea Beaty and ill by David Roberts

The can-do spirit of this story, which echoes Peggy Seeger’s acerbic “I’m Gonna Be An Engineer” (1970), in which Seeger advocated for pay parity, respect, and equal opportunities for women, employs humor, rhyme, and bright, detailed watercolor, pencil, and pen-and-ink illustrations to reach impressionable children in need of positive themes.

Wide-eyed Rosie, shown with hair tucked into a red polka-dot kerchief, is a tinkerer at heart. She routinely scrounges in waste baskets for treasures she can use to build things in her room at night. David Roberts provides delightful two-page spreads highlighting the child’s various designs, tools, and original gadgets. These illustrations alone will have children poring over this picture book again and again.

While Rosie beams when her inventions such as helium pants (!) are a hit, she becomes discouraged after her zookeeper uncle laughs at the snake-repelling hat she created for him. “She stuck the cheese hat on the back of her shelf/ and after that day kept her designs to herself.”

What Rosie needs is a mentor, and fortunately, her great-great-aunt Rose, “who’d worked building airplanes a long time ago,” is a dynamo. When again Rosie’s inventions don’t work according to plan, her relative urges her on, stressing that “failed” attempts provide opportunities for learning and, in time, for succeeding.

Rosie regains her groove and goes on to inspire her classmates, who ultimately join in working, learning, and creating the gizmos of their dreams.

Adding value to the exuberant plot are Beaty’s notes about the women who entered the workforce during World War II and facts about women’s contributions to aeronautics. Don’t miss reading this book aloud to a group, or revelling in its encouraging message with your young ones, especially girls. Required reading for ages 5 to 9.

And check out these related posts, on Mordecai Gerstein’s The First Drawing, and on architects and builders.

From Scraps to Treasure

Summertime, and creativity is easy. Are you and your children looking for inspiration for art projects? Just dip into acclaimed author/illustrator Lois Ehlert’s latest, The Scraps Book: Notes fromScraps Book Notes from a Colorful Life by Lois Ehlert a Colorful Life, and you might not even finish the book until you’ll be itching to go for a nature walk to scavenge materials for little masterpieces.

Known for her bright collages, Ehlert has written and, of course, illustrated a brief, lively memoir that touches upon her early influences, her artistic process, and her many children’s books. She shows photographs of herself and her parents, whom she credits as being people “who made things with their hands.” She includes images of old scissors, paintbrushes, pumpkin seeds and crab apples, even the folding table her dad set up for her as a child and which she took with her to art school years later. We get to feast on colorful images from her popular titles such as Planting a Rainbow, Nuts to You! and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. In the process of revealing all this, she provides engaging and accessible ideas for young artists’ own work: a paper aquarium … a cat mask … a flower necklace.

Because of Ehlert’s vivid illustrations and her exuberant focus on the creative process, The Scraps Book promises to appeal to a wide range of children, from 5 to 10. I join the artist in wishing you a colorful life.

Ehlert’s other picture books are aimed at ages 5 to 8; recommended titles include …

Waiting for Wings by Lois EhlertPie in the Sky by Lois EhlertCuckoo Cucu A Mexican Folktale retold and illus by Lois Ehlert

 

 

 

Approaching heaven with a pair of scissors

Henri's Scissors by Jeanette WinterWith Henri’s Scissors, Jeanette Winter, whose sensitive, colorful books I’ve praised previously, provides a sharp focus on Henri Matisse’s bright collages that blossomed with the cut-paper creations of his later years.

Using simple language, the acclaimed author/illustrator introduces Henri as a creative child inspired by his mother to draw and to paint. In adulthood, Matisse abandons the field of law and turns to art, his true calling. Readers get a sense of the artist’s style, as Winter incorporates a bright palette, swirling cut-paper and acrylic images, and her own representations of many of Matisse’s famous artworks.

When Matisse’s health fails and he can no longer paint, Winter depicts the bed-bound artist’s bleak world with dark yet star-filled pages. After Matisse discovers another way to create art, the book brightens, along with the life of the artist. “A pair of scissors is a wonderful instrument,” he says. He proceeds to fill his room with a paper forest of vivid colors and supple contours. “As time went on, Matisse cut bigger and bigger shapes. They filled his seaside room with color.”

This brief but exemplary picture book uses quotes from letters Matisse wrote to his friend Andre Rouveyre, collected in Matisse: A Second Life (Hazen, 2005). Best of all, Henri’s Scissors leaves readers with the exhilarating sense that creativity can evolve and continue to enrich life. The author includes a beautiful quote from the fabulous collage artist Romare Bearden: “Matisse got as close as one can get to heaven with a pair of scissors.” Recommended for ages 4 to 7.

Also see my post on Bryan Collier and these fine books (first title recommended for ages 5 to 7, other titles for ages 7 to 10.)

Me and Uncle Romie A Story Inspired by the Life and Art of Romare Beardon by Claire HartfieldAmazing Paper Cuttings of Hans Christian Andersen by Beth Wagner BrustRomare Bearden Collage of Memories by Jan Greenberg

Back to the Dawn of Drawing

“Imagine … you were born before the invention of drawing, more than thirty thousand years ago.” So begins Mordicai Gerstein’s singular picture book celebrating creativity.First Drawing by Mordicai Gerstein

Featuring a likeable, shaggy-headed boy, The First Drawing draws inspiration from ancient cave drawings — accompanied by a child’s footprint — discovered in southern France. The Caldecott-winning author/illustrator invites us to enter that world by following one boy’s freely roaming imagination. He gazes at clouds and sees animals. He watches shadows dancing on the cave walls and discerns wild herds. He wonders, “Why can’t they see what I see?”

When the boy announces he’s seen a woolly mammoth, his dad doesn’t believe him — until he picks up a charcoal stick from the fire and draws on the cave wall. Suddenly, his large family can visualize not only what the young one has seen but how they can represent what they’ve encountered, as well.

This fresh, simple story leaps to life with Gerstein’s vigorous acrylic, pen-and-ink, and colored pencil illustrations. His perspective ranges from broad swathes of billowing clouds to the intimate cave with its comforting fire. Humorous touches, such as the image of the child patting the head of his pet wolf, add much appeal.

Children will no doubt grasp the powerful message that they, like the cave boy, can work their own magic. Highly recommended for ages 4 to 7.

Also see my post on A Splash of Red

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