Tag Archives: pick of the week

Electric Ben!!!

Yes, we’ve transitioned into Springtime and yes, it’s Easter and I missed out on blabbing all about my favorite Easter books because I tried to really limit my computer time during Lent.  I’ve been itching to share some goodies discovered and biblio-thoughts that have marinated over those 40 days but first I want to tell you all about Electric Ben: The Amazing Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin before I forget.

Benjamin Franklin is absolutely the BEST character for Revolutionary Era picture books.  His unique background and personality and lifetime accomplishments make him ripe for the memorializing… and there have been many books written about him.  So when I noticed a brand new one out by Robert Byrd, I was mildly surprised that publishers would consider any more books on Franklin. I mean, he’s not exactly a novelty in the picture book world and I wasn’t convinced an author could offer us anything fresh about the man.


Byrd has proved me wrong.  His book is absolutely a new essential for Franklinophiles and for students studying the birth of our nation (or electricity, or fireplaces, or printmaking, etc…).  The book is best suited for maybe ages 9 and up. It’s wordy and fascinating and the pictures, though quite well done are fairly small for the most part. The book is the epitome of a living book. It could honestly be a starting spine for an entire Revolutionary era study and use all the fascinating bits of Franklin’s life as jumping off points for other things. He covers science, the economy, politics, nation building, farming, weather… truly Franklin’s was a universal mind.

To be fair, there a number of excellent Ben Franklin books out there. We absolutely LOVE our How Ben Franklin Stole the Lightning for example. And the never disappointing D’Aulaire’s Benjamin Franklin is also on our bookshelf. But there was just something really special about Byrd’s new book. It was so thorough! Just so well done all around! So, take that for what it’s worth. But Benjamin Franklin is the quintessential American and if it seems random to praise his books on Easter Monday, so be it.

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Pick of the Week: Mice on Ice

 

Mice on Ice by the Rebecca Emberley and her father Ed. This was a random grab at the library, chosen for its season appropriateness and because I am a big fan of Ed Emberley. I credit all his drawing books to really jumpstarting my boys with the confidence to become little artists of their own. We own several of his books and will happily check out more when given the opportunity!  Regarding this particular title, I love it for three main reasons.

1- The illustrations are fun, bright and engaging!
2- It’s a reader book with very basic wording, yet not boring.
3- There’s an unexpected and clever little “development” in the book that I appreciated very much and won’t spoil for you with details. Otherwise, you’re pretty much just enjoying pictures of mice on ice the whole book.

And it’s as simple as that folks!  Fun, easy reader book that is both wintry and engaging!  Readers usually suffer from one two problems: they are either commercialized character books (which annoy me aesthetically and concern me parentally, when fed in excess to children) or they are dry as dirt in their story lines (if you can call a cat sitting on a mat a story).  Usually they are both.  I understand that the stories HAVE to stay simple to some extent but this is proof that they don’t have to be banal.  A refreshing change up.

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Here Comes Jack Frost

This isn’t exactly new (2009) and it isn’t exactly obscure but I wanted to give a plug for a new addition to our Winter Basket this year: Here Comes Jack Frost by Kazuno Kohara.  Kohara made waves in the picture book world with her Halloween title Ghosts in the House but I think Jack Frost is really where she shines best.

The books screams WINTER through and through because of its crisp two toned blues and whites and it’s sharp linocut illustrations.  It’s lighthearted, sparkly and a fun addition to the mid-late winter category of books. Jack Frost visits a bored little boy and they have all sorts of fun until the hint of spring chases Jack Frost away.  The book would make an excellent springboard for resist-art based projects with children.  I’m particularly fond of this winter birch tree art project (then again, I’m particularly fond of birch trees in general…) which seems very, very easy to do! Enjoy the book!

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Butterfly Tree: Pick of the Week

Often when an author makes a children’s picture book based on a memory he or she had, the result falls flat.  It’s hard to convey sometimes the significance and specialness of an event in a way that complete strangers (and young strangers to boot) will appreciate.  In the picture book world, there are exceptions to this of course. Authors like Allen Say or Barbara Cooney for example, both excel at making lovely stories out of personal memories.

Sandra Markle’s Butterfly Tree is a book in this vein.  The text, though not rhyming, is written in stanzas and the fuzzy (oil paint?) illustrations give the book a somber tone and set a thoughtful pace.  The story is about a girl witnessing a giant migration of monarch butterflies: it looks like it’s raining black pepper from a clear blue sky.  She is confused and frightened at first as she and her mother go to investigate in the woods.  All her senses seem heightened as she goes through the trees noticing things until suddenly An explosion of golden-orange bits fills the sunlight streaming between the branches.


 I especially appreciated the endnotes in this book as it fills in the gaps on a personal level with the author and shows an informative map illustrating the migration routes of Monarchs.  The book would make an excellent fill in on a butterfly study or general winter preparation/migration/hibernation studies for animals.
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From the Good Mountain: How Gutenberg Changed the World

Every now and again, a really, really special biographical picture book comes along that makes me giddy.  By now, you know I love this genre of picture books best of all and I wanted to highlight one really excellent book that was just published last month: From the Good Mountain: How Gutenberg Changed the World.  What makes it great is the delicate balance it has mastered in a genre where so many others fall short– bringing the subject alive without weighing us down with facts and details.  See, some non-fiction picture books seem to be written as little more than textbooks with pictures.  Boo.  I appreciate the effort, but children’s books ought to contain stories first and foremost and if the author can’t manage to create a story out of his subject, he ought to exit the children’s book world.  That said, there are many fantastic living, story books out there.  I am so happy to add From the Good Mountain to the list.

The text is poetic while still staying informative and grounded.  It is rhythmic in a most satisfactory way.  James Rumford (the same author who brought us the wonderful Seeker of Knowledge: The Man Who Deciphered Egyptian Hieroglyphs) wrote this book as a series of riddles: “What was made of rags and bones, soot and seeds? What wore a dark brown coat and was filled with gold? What took lead and tin and a mountain to make?” The pictures are superb; all the little characters from medieval Europe come alive with vibrant colors and details.  Such a delight to hold and read.

Perhaps best of all, is the fact that the author resisted any temptation to get into biased or spurious historical tales about the printing press and its relevance to the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Church.  The book, even down to the informative footnotes, sticks to the aim of honoring this wonderful achievement with a clear and focused story.  Another excellent point about this book is that Rumford created a companion guide to go with it.  The guide offers even more details on the printing press machinery and times and would make for excellent “living history” reading for anyone studying the late Middle Ages.  Click to see images from inside the book on amazon’s site, especially on the hyperlink “Surprise Me” to give you an idea of what you can expect.

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Apple by Nikki McClure

Washington State has produced a couple great children’s book author/illustrators (including my very, very favorite, Doris Burns), with the latest being from Olympia– the excellent Nikki McClure.  She is famous for her intricate, yet deceptively simple looking paper cut illustrations in her titles for very young children.  Her first attempts at paper cut illustrations gave birth to a little, homegrown book that was distributed locally in 1996. Apple is the new reprint of that effort, now available to the masses!  It is lovely, and begins with the play on words: “Fall”… as you see an apple falling from a tree.  The book continues with a single word on each page, documenting the life of the apple as it goes through autumn and is composted into the ground before giving new life the following spring.  The book would make a great springboard to inspire budding artists or writers with the art of paper-cutting.  Here is a great little tutorial on that. The little write ups in the back about the life of apples and about composting are just as excellent as this juicy, little morsel of a book itself and I highly recommend it for your early reading pleasure.

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Bear Has a Story to Tell: Pick of the Week

Newly released last week is title by one of my increasingly favorite husband/wife duos: Philip and Erin Stead: Bear Has a Story to Tell.

Around here, this would be a great book for early November. In other parts of the country, winter comes earlier or later so if you are particular about acute seasonal timing, know that this is about winter knocking at the doorsteps of fall and animals getting ready for it. All the while Bear is looking for someone, ANYONE to give him some time to hear his story. A tiny little curveball gets thrown by the time his friends are ready to listen.  It’s a beautiful book, some books are great to gobble up quickly, others give you a sense of slower pace and savory appreciation right at the get-go… even with the paper its printed on!  This is one of those books.

I am in love with the illustrations by Erin Stead, as per usual. For anyone who still doubts that creating children’s books is truly a unique and detailed art form, check these pictures out from her website that show her woodblock printing technique:

and the book trailer:

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Night Knight: Pick of the Week

Here is a fresh bedtime story!  Released in the US just this year, Night Knight(not to be confused with the fun little homonym book: Night, Knight is an excellent end-of-the-day ritual book. There are few words… but it is the artwork  that is truly memorable.  The limited palette is so rich to look at; I was surprised that this was done entirely with digital media. It reminds me just a tad of some of Maurice Sendak’s work.  One reviewer hit it spot on: you could essentially buy the book just to cut up (*gasp*) for the artwork to hang in a young lad’s room… it’s that good.  Anyway, this was one of those welcome surprise grabs from the library and my five year old son and I had a good time exploring some of the pictures.  I am eager now to check out author/illustrator Owen Davey’s original, wordless story: Foxly’s Feast.

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Have You Ever Done That?

Bring on summertime!  I’ve been wanting to write about some titles to accompany my Top Ten Summer Books list but it sure doesn’t feel like summer around here yet! I’m writing this from a chilly house, wearing a long gray sweater and leggings under my skirt.  It’s drizzling gray outside. Such is the Puget Sound life. Yeah,  I’m ready for some sun already.  Have You Ever Done That? by Julie Larios is a lovely book to get you in the mood.  Evocative language.  Read it sweet and slow and soak it up.  It’s not so much a story as a poem of questions… and the illustrations by Anne Hunter are so simple and childlike.  Perfect for this text.

Have you ever slept outside on a hot summer night? Everything looks different in the moon’s strange light.  The trees seem to whisper so you bravely whisper back.  Outside at night.  Have you ever done that?
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Isabella’s Garden: Library Pick of the Week

There are a million and one books that have copied the old “This is the house that Jack built” rhyming structure. While this does mean it can get tiresome… It does not mean that all new versions of it are unoriginal. Isabella’s Gardenby Glenda Millard is a lovely, lovely book. Originally published in Australia in 2009, it’s finally made its way to our shores and would make a gorgeous addition to anyone’s springtime basket. Well, it goes through all the seasons really, but the underlying theme is in the seeds lying “dark and deep”…

What really make this a treasure is the artwork done by artist Rebecca Cool; it is her first children’s book and we can only pray for more! It looks like a folk collage that you’d see hanging on a metropolitan art museum wall. The colors are perfect and bold and exciting, the people move with strange fluidity and vibrancy. I absolutely love it all!

These are the flowers that waltz in the wind that ruffles the buds all velvety skinned…
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