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






Leave Room for Pecan Pie

I’ve been marveling at Jacqueline Woodson’s finely wrought fiction for years, so it seems fitting that I feature her in this fourth of four posts on outstanding African-American authors or illustrators. Her latest picture book, Pecan Pie Baby (Putnam, 2010), is another treat. Mama’s little Gia isn’t wild about having a new baby in her family. In fact, all the fuss about that “ding-dang baby” is just plain annoying. When Mama says the baby’s wanting some pecan pie, Gia says, “Well, … I love pecan pie. And you love pecan pie. So that baby’s just being a copycat!” Sophie Blackall’s ink and watercolor illustrations clearly portray the child’s worried, sometimes exasperated expression.  At Thanksgiving, engulfed in the family’s incessant talk of “baby this and baby that,” Gia explodes: “I’m so sick of that DING-DANG BABY!” Sent to her room, a teary little Gia sits alone on her bed. The illustrator’s perspective of looking down on Gia from a distance captures her forlorn mood. Later, Mama comes upstairs and tells Gia how she’ll miss those special days shared by just the two of them — just the message she needed to hear. The night ends with cuddles and a plate of pecan pie for all three. Growing families will find this a sweet, reassuring book to share with children ages 4 to 7.

More Timeless and Touching Picture Books …

Coming on Home Soon. illus. by E.B. Lewis. Putnam, 2004. Ages 6-9. Set during World War II, Ada Ruth’s mom has left to seek work. She’d heard “they’re hiring colored women in Chicago since all the men are off fighting in the war.” Her grandmother tries to comfort Ada Ruth, but it’s just not the same. Lewis’s lovely watercolor paintings capture the changing emotions of the girl as she waits. One full-page illustration shows her sitting in an old-fashioned hardback chair, gazing out the window at the snow and trying to recall her mother’s smell: “like sugar some days.” A little black stray kitten arrives and gives Ada Ruth some comfort. The pet stays nearby as she and her grandmother listen to news on the radio. Ada Ruth prays for the soldiers who won’t return anytime soon. And she thinks proudly of her mama, washing the trains up in Chicago. At last, Mama’s long-awaited letter arrives with much-needed money and with the words Ada Ruth has craved: she’s coming on home soon.

The Other Side. illus. by E.B. Lewis.Putnam, 2001. Ages 6-9. In this sensitive story, there’s a split-rail fence that separates a rural black community from the white. Young Clover lives in a yellow house on one side of the fence; a new girl, Annie, lives on the other. Clover watches red-headed Annie sit on the fence and stare. She watches as Annie plays in puddles. Finally, she gets up the nerve to approach her. The girls introduce themselves and smile. When Annie tries to persuade Clover to climb the fence and sit with her, Clover says, “My mama says I shouldn’t go on the other side.” Annie’s heard the same warning. “But she never said nothing about sitting on it,” she counters. So begins the friendship between the two girls who shared the fence and watched the “whole wide world” around them that summer about 50 years ago. In time, Clover’s friends join the two. Lewis’s double-page watercolor shows a line of six girls, hot and tired from jumping rope. “Someday somebody’s going to come along and knock this old fence down,” Annie says. Clover agrees. This simple, powerful picture book, with its metaphor of the fence, resonates with children. The Other Side provides the perfect opportunity to discuss prejudice and how it walls us off from the wider world of friendship and respect.

Show Way. illus. by Hudson Talbott. Putnam, 2005. Ages 8-12. What should each generation bequeath to the next? Follow the trail of two needles with “thread dyed bright red with berries from the chokecherry tree” to discover one family’s history from a Virginia plantation to freedom. A quilt showed the slaves the way out, and eventually “the words became books that told the stories of many people’s Show Ways.” This unusually designed book, with its cut-out cover, bright collages, and images of quilt squares won a 2006 Newbery Honor for its writing, a rare occurrence for picture books.

Sweet, Sweet Memory. illus. by Floyd Cooper. Putnam, 2000. Ages 5-8. Sarah mourns the loss of her beloved grandfather. As she recalls Grandpa in his garden, she finds some comfort in his words: “The earth changes. Like us, … a part of it never dies. Everything and everyone goes on an on.” This sweet book reminds us of how we can hold loved ones in our heart of memories.

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