Tag Archives: pick of the week

A Home for Mr. Emerson

I saw A Home for Mr. Emerson randomly at the library and grabbed it up immediately.  What a find!  I use picture books heavily to teach history/science/pretty-much-anything and after reading this book, I decided to change up my homeschooling plan just a bit this fall to make sure and include Ralph Waldo Emerson as a featured poet—all because of this book.

So many biographies fall flat with cartoony, digital pictures; others have long, dry text that reads like an encyclopedia entry. But this book does what all picture books should aim to do: tell a good story and illustrate it well.  It’s that simple… and that difficult.

I really didn’t know much of anything about Emerson but this book has all the necessary elements to serve as an educational spine and build out from there.  A real story (complete with a beginning, middle, and end—not just a telling of his life), quotes from his writings, fantastic, appealing pictures to delight young and old, and a full page of biographical notes in the back for further research.

 Yet another ‘bonus’ element of the book is the underlying message about how important it is to build the life you dream of, connect with your community and find sanctuary in your home.  I also had no idea that this team of Barbara Kerley and Edwin Fotheringham had produced 3 other biographies (Those Rebels, John and Tom, What To Do About Alice?, and The Extraordinary Mark Twain) that I am adding to my check-out list immediately. Knowing how important it is to have the right illustrator for the right text and vice versa, I can say with confidence that this duo is a match made in picture book heaven.  Kerley has written other non-fiction titles and her Walt Whitman book deserves accolades of its own.  Those illustrations are rich and realistic—great for that book. But  there’s something about the chemistry of Kerley/Fotheringham that I personally really love.

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Celebrating Gyo

Gyo Fujikawa is recognized for being the first mainstream illustrator to show children of many different races in her books. She does so in a beautiful, natural way—not a “trying-to-be-politically-correct” way.  Gyo was an author/illustrator that I never fully appreciated until I had my daughter.  As an adult, I’m captivated by both the beauty of pictures and the storyline; my boys are too.  But Gyo’s books dwell happily in the beautiful world with just a quirky amount of prose. Her books are perfect “looking books.”  And they lend themselves well to children finding and identifying themselves (and siblings… and every friend they have… ahem) with someone on the page.  This is especially important for my four year old who squeals in delight at the abundance of red-heads in her books. (She especially sees herself as the messy-haired girl holding a brush with a sassy look in Are You My Friend Today?)  Then she yells “There’s Henry, holding a dog!” and “Here’s Leo making cookies!” And people of all age regress into babies in her favorite title: Ten Little Babies.

I for one just enjoy the art: such detailed, vintage imagery (and for the record, my favorite title of hers is Oh, What a Busy Day) …

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ABC Animals: Pick of the Week

I didn’t think I could get excited about any new alphabet books.  There are so many fabulous ones on the market already.  (See my Top 10 posts Part One and Part Two about that— which means I either need to amend these lists or start a Part Three!)  But this is like someone reinvented the wheel! Produced by the American Museum of Natural History, ABC Animals is a large board book that is one of the best alphabet books I’ve seen in a long time. What makes it so appealing?  The simplicity for one thing. It’s printed on excellent, high glossy pages with incredibly engaging photographs of various animals.  The text is very brief too.  Many alphabet animal books act like encyclopedia entries and kids almost never take the time to read through the whole bit.  This one is perfect, just one or two sentences describing a fun fact about each animal.  And it succeeds on one of my most critical alphabet-book-judging-points!  They didn’t cheat on the letter X!  (X-ray Tetra Fish indeed!) Considering that this was just a spontaneous grab at the library, I am highly impressed!  Now I have to go seek out the AMNH’s other ABC books: ABC Dinosaurs and their new ABC Oceans which will release next month.

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What’s Your Favorite Animal?

I picked up What’s Your Favorite Animal? on a whim and was happily surprised to find it as satisfying for adults as it is for children. (That’s the test of great children’s literature you know!)  In it, there is a medley of picture book artists who submitted illustrations of their personal favorite animal and a small anecdote or explanation why.  It’s great fun comparing the different styles of art and well-read children will find it a fun piece of trivia to see if they can match the artwork with the books they have previously read by that particular artist.  Some are obvious… like Eric Carle. Others require just a pinch more thought: like Peter Sis.  At any rate, it’s a fun little diversion from typical picture book fare and something any bibliozealot can appreciate!

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Saint John Bosco: The Friend of Children and Young People

Our “saint of the month” for January is St. John Bosco (feast day: January 31). I’ve grown to have quite an affection for this man who was such an amazing inspiration for youth in his time.  In reading more and more about him, I’ve started to look to him for a lot of our homeschooling philosophy too.   I love quotes like these:

“Without confidence and love, there can be no true education.”

“The teacher who is seen only in the classroom and nowhere else, is a teacher and nothing more; but let him go with his boys to recreation and he becomes a brother.”

“Frequent Communion and daily Mass are the two pillars of education.”

“[I have] always tried to enlighten the mind while ennobling the heart.”

“Do you want to do a good deed? Teach the young!
Do you want to perform a holy act? Teach the young!
Do you want to do a holy thing? Teach the young!
Truly, now and for the future, among holy things, this is the holiest.”

But I digress.  This is my blog; I’m allowed to digress.  Anyway, we picked up a small book at our parish library to read about Don Bosco this month and I was happily surprised at its digestibility.  See, I’m due any day now with my 6th baby (pray for me!!!) and this is currently one or our “low tide” seasons in homeschooling.  Latin lessons are on hold. Formal science is out.  It’s very basic morning basket time, and then individual math work and copywork.  Maybe a cool Loch Ness Monster documentary in the afternoon…  but frankly this is all I have energy for right now.  Real life will hopefully fill in the gaps but for now, we are busy tidying the home, running errands, readying the nest and resting aching joints to get ready for this babe.  You can expect a winter slowdown on this blog too.

So, like I said, I was happy to not have to devote hours and hours to a biography on Don Bosco.  He isn’t exactly the St. Francis of Assisi to the picture book world either so I was happy to find a little, colorful 65 page story about him from Paulist Media.

Saint John Bosco : The friend of children and young people tells the story from his childhood on up to his death and is both enjoyable and thorough in the process.  You could read it in one sitting, but we have chosen to make it a two-day read, stopping halfway about when he enters adulthood.  The pictures are engaging enough and so far it is holding the attention of my 4-11 year olds… quite a span!

Here are some pictures of the inside of the book to give you an idea of what to expect.

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The Mice, the Monks and the Christmas Tree

When I somehow stumbled on the title of The Mice, the Monks and the Christmas Tree, I had to immediately find out about it.  I love tales of mice at Christmastime and I love tales that weave the Catholic faith into them too.  It had to be good right?! Well, I couldn’t find any info online whatsoever other than it was written by George Selden—author of the famed Cricket in Times Square.  So I found a cheap copy online and bought it… a rare move for me when I know or hear nothing about a picture book!  But I am not disappointed.

The story is lovely.  A group of monks are all so busy performing charitable works for others that they quite forget about getting a Christmas tree.  On Christmas Eve, the mice of St. Patrick’s Monastery finally take matters into their own hands and chop down and decorate their own tree to present to the good brothers.  The whole story begs to be read with a thick Irish accent… it’s a fun piece of vintage children’s picture book history.  Here are some amateur images so you can take a peek inside:

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Saint-Saens’s Danse Macabre: November Perfect

In the Catholic faith, we are asked, during the month of November, to reflect on The Four Last Things: Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell. In the picture book world, I like the idea of using the first part of this month to read darker, haunting or semi-macabre stories (think fairy tales). In having a healthy respect for the supernatural while living as best one can in the state of grace, I really think we have no reason to fear darker themes. And when you treat things in their proper place and have a good understanding of all things ghoulish… kids I think, will too. I mean, my children and I are fascinated by the Martyrs of Otranto for example and on my “money-is-not-a-factor bucket list”, I hope to see their shrine someday, complete with the skulls on display. There is no “creepiness” in death really and ideally, it’s a glorious passage… but I digress.

I was checking to make sure that Anna Harwell Celenza hadn’t produced a book on Mozart (whom we are studying this term) and was reminded with happiness that she had just put out Vivaldi’s Four Seasons this summer… but my eye caught another new title I hadn’t seen before—produced just this August! And that was Saint-Saens’s Danse Macabre. We love Celenza’s books in this house (and accompanying CDs) and have purchased four of them now… to supplement our studies of composers.

To be honest, I don’t know anything about the Danse Macabre or much about Camille Saint-Saëns either, but I was intrigued by the cover and read up a bit about the history of that piece in particular.  I learned a lot about the Dance particularly

here. ApparentlySaint-Saëns actually went a-loitering in the catacombs to get inspired for this piece! Anyway, during November, before settling down with the comforting, festive Thanksgiving stories, this would be an excellent book to read and composition to study. I unfortunately, have maxed out both my book budget for the month as well as my request for materials to be purchased at the library right now… so I don’t have a first-hand review of the book to offer yet.  But I’m certain, like all of Celenza’s books, it’s excellent…

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Pick of the Week: Somewhere In The World Right Now

Somewhere in the World Right Now by Stacey Schuett is a beautiful book that introduces the concept of time zones and geography and what’s happening at any given moment around the world. The art is superb. In fact, it’s one of those excellent books where it is almost obvious that the author had to be the illustrator as well… because the marriage between word and picture is so complete and so congruent. The book would be an excellent study for any child studying the world-at-large or time zones in particular. I also think it pairs nicely with the excellent On the Same Day in March: A Tour of the World’s Weather as they both give an instant glance at the larger cultural/sociological picture of life. I sigh a happy sigh when these types of educational books are executed in a way that the educational attempts of it are not so orchestrated and obvious… but flow seamlessly and beautifully within the book. Well done indeed!

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If You Want to See a Whale

I was eagerly waiting to get my hands on this book.  When Julie Fogliano paired her first story And Then It’s Spring with illustrator Erin Stead… it was a match made in Heaven and one of my very favorite books of last year.  I loved it so much that I did what I almost never do for children’s books: paid full price for it just to call it mine and see it sitting pretty in my springtime basket. So when If You Want to See a Whale came up, I snatched it up at the library and dove right in.

I had to read it twice. I wasn’t in the right mindset at first and I found myself getting lost in the lyrical side of it, wondering what the heck relevance this book had to a young reader. The pictures were gorgeous of course, and the text placement well thought out and the paper quality excellent… but I missed the magic boat initially.  So I read it again without my analytical, book critic glasses on.  It occurred to me that from the perspective of a young child, this book was a pure slice of lovely. Who cares if it was slightly off-center with where-is-this-going logic?!  I had to look at it the way I have to look at the genius of the incomparable A Hole Is to Dig for example.

      If you want to see a whale you shouldn’t watch the clouds, some floating by some hanging down in the sky, that’s spread out side to side or the certain sun that’s shining because if you start to look straight up you just might miss a whale.

I read an interview of Fogliano recently where she remarked that she loved working with Erin Stead because Stead often knew what she was trying to express better than she did. And I think this point is especially evocative in this story. The illustrations make the magic; they connect the sometimes disparate sentences.  Don’t get me wrong; the writing is great, and the cadence is well done… you just have to snuggle up with someone little and love it with them and for them to really appreciate it.

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Unspoken: Pick of the Week

I picked up Unspoken: A Story From the Underground Railroad thinking it was pre-Civil War but it is clearly in the midst of it.  It’s a wordless book (a genre of which I’m an admiring fan) and the pictures are muted pencil drawings throughout.  Unlike other Civil War stories, this doesn’t highlight either tragedy or heroism really… it just sort of shows a simple piece of reality in some “safe houses” where a little girl finds a runaway slave and acts to secretly help the person in small ways. The Confederate soldiers come by and the family has nothing to say…

A lovely book, best shared in a bigger context of the Underground Railroad, and other more complete Civil War studies.

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