Monday, May 9, 2011

Crow Call

Written by Lois Lowry

Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

I was fortunate to have stumbled upon Lois Lowry’s, Crow Call, as I was looking through the picture book section for another book written by an “L” author.  I did not realize Lowry had ever written a picture book—and realized later through her website that this was her first.  I was immediately drawn to the book because there was something about the title and the illustrations on the front and back cover that reminded me of one of my favorite picture books, Owl Moon, written by Jane Yolen. 

Through the story of Crow Call, Lowry retells a true story from a childhood—an early morning when she went crow calling with her father in 1945 after his return from World War II.  Early on, we realize that the young girl is rebuilding her relationship with her father and hardly feels like she knows him anymore.  She says, “I practice his name to myself, whispering it under my breath.  Daddy.  Daddy.  Saying it feels new.  The war has lasted so long.  He has been gone so long.”  Later, the father asks, “What’s your favorite thing to eat in the whole world?”  The young girl responds, ““Cherry pie.”  I admit.  If he hadn’t been away for so long, he would have known.”

As the story continues, the young girl Liz becomes more and more comfortable with her father.  Similar to Owl Moon, Crow Call shows the powerful relationship between father and daughter and the importance of bonding.  The story is told through the perspective of the young girl, and Lowry incorporates a lot of dialogue between the young girl and her father in addition to the young girl’s innermost thoughts.  For example, a conversation about war: ““Daddy,” I ask shyly, “were you scared in the war?”  He looks ahead, up the hill, and after a moment he says, “Yes.  I was scared.”  “Of what?” “Lots of things.  Of being alone.  Of being hurt.  Of hurting someone else.”  “Are you still?”  “He glances down.  “I don’t think so.  Those kinds of scares go away.””  What a powerful conversation for the two of them to be having—it provides a chance for Liz to get to know her father on a deeper level—and a chance to understand an aspect of war.

Lowry writes using poetic and descriptive language.  For example, “I try not to laugh, wanting to do rabbits next, but I can’t keep from it.  He looks so funny, with his neck pulled away from his shirt collar and a condescending, poised, giraffe look on his face.”  We can visualize this special moment where Liz’s father is being silly making a giraffe call and we feel the warmth of the relationship between the father and daughter.  Also, “I want to scamper ahead of him like a puppy, kicking the dead leaves and reaching the unknown places first, but there is an uneasy feeling along the edge of my back at the thought of walking in front of someone who is a hunter.”  We can now sense Liz’s uneasiness as she relates to her father being a hunter in the war.

As Liz and her father approach the woods, Ibatoulline creates tension through his full-bleed, double-paged spread illustrations.  The full-bleed illustrations keep us at a close-distance.  Just like in Owl Moon, we feel like we are intruding on this very special moment between a father and the daughter.  The perspective of the illustrations does change throughout the book.  At times, we are close enough to hear the conversations of the characters.  At other times, we are watching from as if we are an animal peeking from their burrow. 

The colors throughout the story make readers think of fall—shades of brown, black, and light blue saturate each page.  The trees are bare in the woods, reminding us that winter is on its way.  The trees mostly consist of diagonal lines—again creating tension and evoking emotion in the reader.  The representational style of the illustrations reminds us that this story is real as we can sense the subtleties in the expressions of the characters and understand their feelings.

Although this story is nostalgic of an event in Lowry’s childhood, I feel it is relatable to anyone—young or old.  Children today are still faced with losing their fathers to war.  Many fathers do come back, but the bond between father and daughter must be recreated in order to make up for the time that has been lost.  Lowry’s Crow Call reminds us all what it is like to get to know a loved one for what seems like the first time.

Dear Mr. Henshaw

Written By: Beverly Cleary

Illustrated By: Paul O. Zelinsky

Life is tough for Leigh Botts as he struggles to deal with the divorce of his parents, the feeling of being abandoned by his father, and the everyday difficulties that go along with being in the sixth grade. 

Beverly Cleary, author of Dear Mr. Henshaw, writes the full story in the form of letters.  What is interesting; however, is that the letters are only written from the perspective of the protagonist, Leigh.  Readers can only assume how author Mr. Henshaw responds to Leigh’s letters, as sometimes Leigh leaves little hints in his next letter.  For example, on page 35, Leigh writes to Mr. Henshaw, “I’ve been thinking about what you said on your postcard about keeping a diary.  Maybe I’ll try it.”  We know from this that Henshaw has obviously suggested to Leigh that he begin a diary to write down some of his feelings—we can assume that the diary is meant to be therapeutic for Leigh. 

Cleary strongly develops Leigh as a character that many children can relate to.  Unfortunately, many children will either indirectly or directly experience divorce and feelings of abandonment.  The book can help young readers to cope and to understand that they are not alone—there is always someone to talk to—even if it is in the form of a diary.  The book can provide insight for those who are indirectly affected by divorce.  Leigh is an only child and cannot help but feel like he is to blame for his parents getting divorced.  Through his conversations with his mother and Mr. Henshaw, Leigh begins to realize that things are not his fault.  Many children can also relate to the social challenges associated with starting middle school.  This story can either help children to develop empathy for those they may be picking on, or comfort that it will end—for those who are being picked on.

What is best about the book is the fact that the issues and topics presented in the book are truly timeless.  This story was published twenty-eight years ago in 1983.  Unfortunately, the issues that are presented in this story are still issues of today and are still relatable.  Cleary kept a neutral setting and did not include anything that would cause the book to be outdated.

Although there are not too many illustrations throughout the book, illustrator Paul O. Zelinsky did include pencil illustrations, which help readers to visualize the book.  The very first illustration on the title page is a collage of all of the major events that will occur throughout the story.  As readers read through the story, connections can be made and brought back to the beginning of the book.

There are some things in life that we cannot change and we can always look to a book to help us get through difficult times.  For some, reading may be therapeutic.  For others, writing may do the trick.  In Dear Mr. Henshaw, Beverly Cleary shows us that both have the power to help us develop and grow.


Written by Jacqueline Woodson

Feathers, a realistic fiction novel written by Jacqueline Woodson that takes place in the 1970s, is about children who are trying to find their place in the world.  The protagonist of the story, Frannie, is eleven years old and much like her friends is not sure how to take it when a white, “Jesus-Boy” shows up in her classroom—one that is all black.  Sean, Frannie’s older brother, deals with being deaf in a community of people who can all hear.  Another young boy from Frannie’s class, Trevor, is biracial, but has difficulty dealing with this and in turn, becomes a bully.  The Jesus Boy, although he looks white, does not identify with being so.

Woodson develops a plot that is engaging and realistic to today’s youth.  People are constantly judging each other because of their looks, skin color, disabilities, etc..  The plot is full of different situations and problems that the children face.  For example, Frannie’s brother Sean deals with the reaction of young girls when they find out he cannot hear.  For some reason, they are no longer interested once they find out he is deaf. 

Woodson never names the setting, but according to her website, she was envisioning the story to take place between the Queens and Brooklyn border.  The biggest thing that makes this evident is that Frannie and the other children are always talking about the other side of the bridge.  Since they are living on Long Island, they would have to cross a bridge to get into New York City and another one to get beyond New York City.  Interestingly though, Frannie would not have had to travel beyond the bridge in order to see how the other side lived.  From what I know about Long Island, Frannie could have also just traveled further east and would have also been in a different world.  Woodson writes After Tupac & D. Foster in a similar setting to Feathers.

Although this story won the Newbery Honor Award, I did not feel as much of an emotional connection to the story and found it difficult to get through at times.  In comparison to some of the other Newbery Award winning books, I feel like others are overall much stronger.  For example, I feel there is a world of difference between the story, One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia and Feathers.  Regardless though, I found it intriguing to read about a boy who was the only white kid in the class—this is certainly different from what I am used to—although, the story did remind me of when I taught in a predominately African American school.

Born Yesterday: The Diary of a Young Journalist

Written By: James Solheim

Illustrated By: Simon James

Have you ever wondered what goes on in the minds of babies?  What are they really thinking when they suck their thumb?  What makes it appealing to them to stick their fist in their mouths or bite their ankles?  The story of Born Yesterday: The Diary of a Young Journalist, written by James Solheim, is a journey kept by a newborn baby in the first year of life.  Everything is written from the baby’s perspective and it is for lack of a better word—hilarious.

For example, on March 22nd the baby writes, “Finally—I have it figured out.  Some things are noses, some are taxicabs, and some are Belgians.  The up end of people is their hairstyles and the down end is their tootsie-wootsies.  These tootsie-wootsie things are fascinating.  I plan to write a book about them. My sister paints her tootsie-wootsie nails a special color called striped.  I can’t wait till I can paint my tootsie-wootsie nails the color called striped, and thus become a super-chick person like my sister.  For now, I just lift them to my mouth and suck.”

The illustrations in the story are simple and are very cartoonish.  The cartoon-looking characters add to the overall mood and humor of the story and the brightly colored watercolors attract the eye—making it perfect for young readers.  The pages are made to look like lined paper, giving the appearance of a real diary.  The illustrations are dispersed throughout the pages and are drawn as vignettes—adding meaning to the text surrounding it. 

A book review by Booklist on Amazon did not give Born Yesterday a positive review simply because the reviewer felt that some of the humor in the book may be over the heads of the intended age group.  The intended age group for this book is ages four through eight.  I do agree that this story will mostly appeal to children in the upper level of the age group because they will better be able to understand the humor—especially if they are an older brother or sister to a new baby in the household.  I read this story to my third-grade students and found that they were all rolling on the floor with laughter—actually, they thought it was much funnier than I had originally anticipated.

The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark

Written By: Carmen Agra Deedy

Illustrated By: Henri Sorensen

The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark, written by Carmen Agra Deedy, is a powerful story of heroism, strength, pride, and unity.  During World War II, the Nazis invaded Copenhagen, Denmark.  King Christian X was said to be a strong leader who stood strong for his people.  As told in the legend, the Nazis ordered anyone who was a Jew to wear a yellow star to be visible at all times.  The people of Denmark were frightened because they had heard stories of Jews being taken away once they wore the yellow star.  King Christian X decided that all of Denmark would wear yellow stars in order to protect the Jews. 

Carmen Agra Deedy begins her story with a strong and intriguing lead.  “Early in the year 1940, in the country of Denmark, there were only Danes.  Tall Danes.  Stout Danes.  Old Danes.  Silly Danes.  Cranky Danes…and even some Great Danes.”  Deedy immediately catches the attention of readers and makes them want to continue reading.  Deedy also uses the technique of making a long story short in order to maintain the interest of young readers while providing enough information to give understanding.  For example, when letting readers know that the Nazis invaded Copenhagen, Deedy writes, “Soon Nazi solders gathered like dark clouds at the Danish border.  Their arrival in Copenhagen brought food shortages, curfews, and a new flag, which was hung at the palace.”

Deedy’s repetitive words and phrases throughout the story emphasize their importance.  For example, “If King Christian called on the tiny Danish army to fight, Danes would die.  If he did nothing, Danes would die.”  The emphasis is on King Christian’s dilemma—that regardless of what he did in order to solve the problem, Danes would die.  Deedy emphasizes the unity of the Danes when she states, “…there were only Danes.  Tall Danes.  Stout Danes.  Old Danes.  Silly Danes.  Cranky Danes…and even Great Danes.”  Deedy writes her story using simple, yet poetic text that is very easy to follow and understand.  For example, “The terrible news arrived quietly, with leaflets that fluttered down on the city of Copenhagen.”  She creates an image in our minds of people spreading both the news and their worry.   

Danish illustrator Henri Sorensen paints in a style that is both representational and impressionistic.  This combination of style is able to evoke strong emotions from readers.  At some points in the story, he illustrates with fine details—particularly in the faces of the people of Copenhagen.  Readers can see the fear and the worry in their eyes.  It is at these points where we are pulled in emotionally to the scenes.  In the beginning and the end of the legend, where there are only Danes, his style is more impressionistic—emphasizing light and movement over the fine details.   Sorensen also shows powerful images of war, which he illustrates in shades of black and white.  These colors help to distance the reader from the horror of war—as we see images of tanks, sinking ships, and groups of Jews walking towards Concentration camps.   Overall, the illustrations are paintings that look as though they should be on display as artwork—he is an unbelievable artist.

The Yellow Star is perfect to use in conjunction with Lois Lowry’s, Number the Stars.  The setting of Number the Stars is in Copenhagen, Denmark, in the same time period as The Yellow Star.  The legend of Christian X is a further extension to the character portrayed in Lowry’s novel.  Lowry does a phenomenal job of portraying the setting of Copenhagen accurately in her novel.  Having the background information from Number the Stars makes The Yellow Star all the more powerful.

Carmen Agra Deedy includes an Author’s Note in the back of the book that explains the authenticity and accuracy of the legend.  She mentions that unfortunately, there is only unauthenticated proof that the story of King Christian X and his legendary defiance ever occurred against the Nazis.  Deedy gained much of her perspective on the setting of Copenhagen from Lois Lowry’s, Number the Stars.  Through Deedy’s research, she did find that King Christian X did ride through the streets of Copenhagen without guard, no Jews were ever forced to wear the yellow star, Denmark was one of the only places that rescued the majority of its Jews, and the king did support the Danish Jews.

Although only a legend, through her Note, Deedy encourages us to think what would have happened if every Dane had worn the yellow Star of David in order to protect the Jews.  She further encourages us to think about what would happen if we could still follow the same example.  She states, “What if the good and strong people of the world stood shoulder to shoulder, crowding the streets and filling the squares, saying, “You cannot do this injustice to our sisters and brothers, or you must do it to us as well.””  Deedy leaves us with the powerful question, “What if?”


Written By: Paul Fleischman

Illustrated By: Kevin Hawkes

Wesley is an outcast from the civilization around him.  He does not like pizza or soda, he thinks professional football is stupid, and he refuses to shave half his head like the other boys have done.  His parents are worried about him, but Wesley has accepted the fact that he is different, and does not care what other people think of him.  As a result of a summer project, Wesley ends up creating his very own civilization, which he rightfully names, Weslandia.  Through it all, Wesley proves that it is all right to be different.

Fleischman’s creativity is richly evident in this picture book that opens our eyes to the world of fantasy.  Fleischman’s descriptive style allows readers to create vivid images in their mind.  For example, he describes Wesley’s newly created clothing as, “Unlike jeans, which he found scratchy and heavy, the robe was comfortable, reflected the sun, and offered myriad opportunities for pockets.”  He also notes the change and curiosity in Wesley’s tormenters, “His schoolmates were scornful, then curious.  Grudgingly, Wesley allowed them ten minutes apiece at his mortar, crushing the plant’s seeds to collect the oil.”

Illustrator Kevin Hawkes, who also pairs with Fleischman in the creation of Sidewalk Circus, creates full-bleed, double-paged spread illustrations that are saturated with vivid colors.  Bright shades of orange, yellow, green, red, and blue jump off the page and bring the illustrations to life.  Just like in Sidewalk Circus, Hawkes brings our attention to different perspectives.  For example, in the beginning of the story we are invited to watch the magic begin as seeds blow into Wesley’s newly plotted yard.  The moving curtains, light, and trees give us the sense of movement and we sense that the story will unfold.  As Wesley’s civilization begins to develop, we are insiders to all of the fascinating secrets of Weslandia.  We feel as though we are sitting amongst the tall stems of the plants right along with Wesley.  Throughout the entire story, the illustrations help us to sense Wesley’s happiness and success.

At the end of the story, we find that Wesley has created a new language complete with an 80-letter alphabet.  We can see that Hawkes has clued us in to this special language with an emphasis on the number eight by illustrating the endpages in what we can only assume is the Weslandian language.

Once again, Fleischman shows his versatility as an author as he takes readers through the eventful journey of a boy who everyone will come to admire.  It was interesting to find out on Fleischman’s website how his childhood related to Wesley’s.   Fleischman does relate to Wesley on some levels.  He did feel different from his peers because he was the shortest boy in his class all the way through tenth grade.  He also made up an alternate world with his friends—just like Wesley.  Unlike Wesley, however, Fleischman says that he wasn’t an outcast and had a great group of friends.  Regardless of how Fleischman’s inspiration of Weslandia came to be, this imaginative story captures the attention of all those who read it.

Smoky Mountain Rose: An Appalachian Cinderella

Written By: Alan Schroeder
Illustrated By: Brad Sneed

“Now Lis’en.  Smack in the heart o’ the Smoky Mountains, there was this old trapper livin’ in a log cabin with his daughter.  One night, while Rose was fryin’ a mess o’ fish, the trapper, he starts lookin’ dejected-like.  “I reckon it’s hard on ye, not havin’ a ma,” he said.  “Tell me, Rose, would ye lak me to git hitched again?  There’s a widow woman with two daughters down the road a piece.  Way I see it, we’d all fit together neater’n a jigsaw.”

And with that, the story of Smoky Mountain Rose begins.  Author Alan Schroeder bases this sidesplitting tale on Charles Perrault’s, “Cendrillon.”  Perrault’s tale is one of the most popular versions of the classic Cinderella and is the one that most Americans are familiar with.  Schroeder kept many of the familiar elements of Cinderella in his version, Smoky Mountain Rose: An Appalachian Cinderella.   For example, the glass slippers, evil stepsisters, and the midnight curfew are all a part of Schroeder’s tale.  He also kept the overall plot the same—although, he did change the ending a bit by telling readers that Rose and Seb are still living happily ever after to this day—as they are sitting on a swing happily in their old age.

Although many of the classic elements of Cinderella are the same, the variations he made are what made this version special.  For example, a prince would be quite unrealistic, so instead, Schroeder created Seb who was a, “real rich feller—made his fortune in sowbellies and grits.”  Instead of having a fancy ball, Seb hosts a party—a shindig if you will.  To give the country feel, Smoky Mountain Rose’s godmother is a hog—and her carriage was made from mushmelon. 

Another difference in this tale is that the stepmother and stepsisters recognize Smoky Mountain Rose when she arrives at the party.  As they watched Rose and Seb having a great time, “Gertie and her two daughters stood off to the side, madder n’ blazes.  “Look at her,” sneered Gertie, “sashayin’ round lak she’s the belly o’ the ball.  I’ll fix her when she gits home—giver her a list o’ chores she won’t never finish.”  Similar to the Disney version; however, the stepsisters do have a change of heart once Seb and Rose get married.

The language and dialogue of this story is what makes it so comical.  This is definitely a book that needs to be read aloud in order to appreciate the full humor of the story.  Most reviews for this version were very positive; however, there were two reviewers on Amazon that did not appreciate the book at all.  One reviewer stated, “This book is a mockery of Southern Appalachian people.  Not only is the dialogue incorrectly conveyed, but the pictures are demeaning as well.”  Another reviewer writes, “The dialect is less Appalachian and more like something straight from an episode of the Beverly Hillbillies.”  It appears as though one reviewer is from West Virginia and the other does not specify.  Without being a cultural insider myself, it is hard to say whether or not this book is overall offensive to the Appalachian people.

The brightly colored illustrations by Brad Sneed are unique and expressionistic.  The figures are drawn very angular and disproportionate.  For example, the characters have narrow upper bodies and tall skinny necks, but have very wide lower bodies.  Sneed also uses a lot of perspective in his full-bleed illustrations.  Sometimes, we are brought in close to the action and other times we are kept away—but we are always kept close to the action through Sneed’s use of angles.  A reviewer from the School Library Journal writes, “The paintings are realistically rendered but slightly distorted figures are elongated and angular, features exaggerated, and perspectives askew. People are clad in fashions of the 1940s and the lush Appalachian landscape is always in evidence. The fanciful, but decidedly quirky artwork effectively informs readers, in case they didn't already know it, that there's magic in them thar hills.”  Booklist writes, “Sneed's watercolors are rich and intense; his angular lines draw readers into the action, whether the perspective is up close for Rose's feet or set back for scenes from a distance.”

Smoky Mountain Rose: An Appalachian Cinderella is a valuable tale to add to any Cinderella collection.  However, it is important to keep in mind that the dialogue and representation of the Appalachian people may not be accurate throughout the story.  Therefore, it is critical that if this book is made available to read, other books that accurately depict Appalachia must also be made available in order to void any stereotypes that may present themselves through the reading of this book.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Hansel and Gretel

Retold By: Roberto Piumini
Illustrated By: Anna Laura Cantone

Italian author, Roberto Piumini in collaboration with illustrator Anna Laura Cantone, have created a version of Hansel and Gretel that is light, humorous, and perfect for young readers.  Piumini tells the story using simple language.  For example, “A few weeks later, the witch felt the twig again and became impatient.  “That’s it!” she said.  “Whether you are fat or thin, I’m going to eat you right now.  Light the fire, Gretel!”” This in comparison to a version of the Brothers Grimm, “When four weeks had gone by, and Hansel still remained thin, she was seized with impatience and would not wait any longer. "Now, then, Gretel," she cried to the girl, "stir yourself, and bring some water. Let Hansel be fat or lean, to-morrow I will kill him, and cook him."”

Piumini also makes the tale a little less harsh for young readers.  For example, when Gretel shoves the witch into the oven, Piumini writes, “But as soon she opened the door, Gretel shoved the witch into the oven and trapped her inside forever.”  Again, in comparison to a version of the Brothers Grimm, “Then Gretel gave her a push that drove her far into it, and shut the iron door, and fastened the bolt. Oh. Then she began to howl quite horribly, but Gretel ran away, and the godless witch was miserably burnt to death. Gretel, however, ran like lightning to Hansel, opened his little stable, and cried, "Hansel, we are saved. The old witch is dead."”

Accompanying the text are Anna Laura Cantone’s interesting and cartoon-like illustrations.  Hansel and Gretel are drawn with big round eyes, huge noses, rectangle bodies, and tiny hands and feet.  These illustrations set more of a humorous tone to the book and help the reader to feel safe.  The witch, although given a more evil appearance, is quite funny looking with her huge nose, tiny teeth, feet, and arms, gigantic body, and hairy legs. 

In reading information about Cantone, I found out that her illustrations are a combination of acrylic, pencil and collage.  I did not notice the collage aspect of her illustrations until I went back and relooked at them.  Although there is not a ton, she did include what looks to be sandpaper, rope, and beads incorporated in her illustrations.  She also uses two lines around her characters.  The black line is to define the character and the red line is to give a vibrant effect.  It was interesting to find out the purpose of these lines.  Overall, these visual effects give her illustrations three-dimensional appeal that will engage and interest young readers.

In the back of the book, Piumini extends the fairytale by including a glossary, discussion questions, and directions for how to write your own fairytale.  I thought the directions Piumini gave for writing a fairytale were clear and easy to understand.  It will give direction to young readers who are inspired to write their own fairytales!

Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs: A Tale From the Brothers Grimm

Translated By: Randall Jarrell

Illustrated By: Nancy Ekholm Burkert

The German version of Snow White collected by the Brothers Grimm is one of the best-known versions of the classic tale.  The Brothers Grimm version featured some of the well-known elements of Snow White such as the magic mirror and the seven dwarfs.  The Brothers Grimm version, translated into English by Randall Jarrell, begins with the story of how Snow White came to be.  “Once it was the middle of winter, and the snowflakes fell from the sky like feathers.  At a window with a frame of ebony a queen sat and sewed.  And as she sewed and looked out at the snow, she pricked her finger with the needle, and three drops of blood fell in the snow.  And in the white snow the red looked so beautiful that she thought to herself: “If only I had a child as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as the wood in the window frame!””  The story continues as with the main plot being what we would expect—the Queen dies, the father remarries an evil step-mother, and the mother plots to kill Snow White because she is envious and jealous of her beauty.

Since this version is a literal translation of the Brothers Grimm version, it is certainly authentic.  Jarrell even chose to leave in the original Grimm ending, where the stepmother had to put on red-hot slippers and dance till she dropped down dead.  This ending leaves a bit of a different taste than the Disney version of, “And they lived happily ever after.”  Although the evil stepmother got what she deserved, it for some reason seemed more horrifying of a death than the three that Snow White had faced—perhaps it was because we knew she would survive all along.

What is interesting about this version of Snow-White is that Jarrell and illustrator Burkert alternated between side-by-side pages of strictly text, and double-paged, full-bleed illustrations.  The only time they did not use this technique was in the very beginning of the story when the illustration of Snow White’s mother is on the left page and the text beginning the story is on the right.  Since so much happened in the story on the pages with text, it was interesting to turn the page and see what details Burkert decided to focus on for her illustrations.  For example, Jarrell groups the events of the dwarfs saving Snow-White from the lacing that is tied to tight, the stepmother coming back to kill Snow-White with a poisoned comb, her coming back to life again, and the stepmother devising a plan to make a poisoned apple all in one spread.  Burkert chose to focus on the stepmother creating the poisoned apple in her next illustration. 

The intricate details of the beautiful illustrations will capture the interest of readers and have them spending just as much time looking at the pictures as they do reading the text.  The first illustration is when Snow-White is running through the woods—never to return home to her evil stepmother.  The page is completely saturated with muted shades of brown, black, blue, and yellow.  Our attention is drawn to Snow-White as her brightly colored yellow and blue dress stand out against the otherwise dreary forest.  The animals all seem curious as to why she is in the forest, but none seem to bother her.  They all seem to be running away—as if sensing the danger she carries with her.

As we are introduced to the seven dwarfs, there is a wider variety of color used in the illustrations.  Although never bright, the colors are less muted than they were previously.  This seems to signify that Snow-White is safe and happy with her new found life with the dwarfs.  Burkert continues to vary her color palate in order to reflect the happiness or sadness that we are to feel.  The illustrations are widely framed and leave only about a centimeter outside of the picture.  This allows readers to feel emotionally drawn in to each scene—yet gives readers a little bit of distance in order to feel safe. 

Although I think the illustrations along with this version of the story may be a bit frightful for children, illustrator Nancy Ekholm Burkert won the Caldecott Honor for her illustrations in this book.  Kirkus Reviews, as found on Amazon called the collaboration between Randall Jarrell and Burkert, “a sort of legend even before its time of publication.”  An Amazon review states, “Burkert’s illustrations are magical, light-filled creations that more than earn the book its Caldecott Honor Book status…This is an unforgettable interpretation of a well-loved story.” 

The Van Gogh Cafe

Written By: Cynthia Rylant

The Van Gogh Cafe is a place filled with magic.  It is a place where dreams come true and broken hearts can mend.  Marc, the Cafe’s owner, and Clara, his daughter, believe that each day will bring new magic to the Van Gogh Cafe, and they are always right. 

Rylant starts this work of fantasy with a strong lead, “The Van Gogh Cafe sits on Main Street in Flowers, Kansas, and the building it is in was once a theater which may be the reason for its magic.  Anyone who has ever seen anything happen on a stage—anything—knows that a theater is so full of magic that after years and years of opening nights there must be magic enough to last forever in its walls.”  It is hard to imagine not turning to the next page and continue reading after the introduction of the magical place.  Readers cannot help but wonder, what is so magical about this place?  What happens there?

Another interesting style Rylant uses throughout this piece is that she ends each chapter with a statement that leads us to the main purpose of the next chapter.  For example, on page 21, Rylant ends the chapter with, “But they’re nothing compared to magic muffins….” When you turn the page, the next chapter is titled, “Magic Muffins.”  She does this with every chapter except for the last one, entitled, “The Writer.”  

As with her other stories, Rylant uses very descriptive language.  For example, I am able to visualize the magic muffins on page 22 when she writes, “The muffins are inside the little foil package, of course, which Marc has unwrapped.  Tiny muffins, gumdrop muffins, they are charming…. “Like shells,” Clara says.”  The magic of the cafe comes alive through Rylant’s descriptions—we almost feel as though we are there in the cafe experiencing the magic for ourselves.

In addition to using descriptive language, Rylant also uses simplistic language that is poetic, yet very easy to understand.  For example, on page 14, Rylant writes,  “So she waits.  She eats a lot of pie and she waits.  Something else is bound to happen eventually.”  By using short sentences, Rylant is able to put emphasis on what is important in the sentence—the fact that the girl is waiting.  Even in longer sentences like this one, “Magic is a powerful word and often misused.  Some say magic comes from heaven, and others say it comes from hell, but anyone who has ever visited the Van Gogh Café knows that magic comes from a building that was once a theater; from a sign above a cash register that reads BLESS ALL DOGS; from a smiling porcelain hen on top of a pie carousel; from purple hydrangeas painted all over a ladies’ bathroom; from a small brown phonograph that plays “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To,” the language is simple, yet powerful and descriptive.

The magic in Rylant’s, The Van Gogh Cafe is contagious.  Visitors to the Cafe believe in its magic, and readers cannot help but get caught up in the hopes and dreams that the Van Gogh Cafe inspires.   

Tomie dePaola's Big Book of Favorite Legends

Collection Written By: Tomie dePaola

Tomie dePaola’s collection consists of four of his previously written legends.  The first tale, The Legend of the Bluebonnet: An Old Tale of Texas, tells how the Texas state flower, bluebonnet, came to grow in the wild.   The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush: An Old Tale of Wyoming, is a similar tale to Bluebonnet; however, it is about how the red, orange, yellow, and pink Indian Paintbrush wildflowers that bloom throughout Wyoming.  The third tale, The Legend of the Poinsettia: An Old Tale of Mexico, is about how the beautiful red flowers, the poinsettias, became a symbol of Christmas.  Lastly, the fourth and most humorous tale, Tony’s Bread: An Old Tale of Italy, is about how the traditional Italian sweet bread, panettone, came to be.

dePaola includes an author’s note for each tale that provides some background information on each legend.  He mentions how he took the greatest liberties with Tony’s Bread because it is such a widely varied tale to begin with.  dePaola does not necessarily go into great detail about how he researched each tale.  He is not a cultural insider to the first three legends, but does mention how he heard of each one.  Due to the lack of “authentic” source notes, I cannot be entirely sure that dePaola’s stories accurately reflect the cultures they are derived from.  

The language and plot of each legend is simple and easy to understand.  dePaola does incorporate Spanish into the Legend of the Poinsettia and Italian into the tale, Tony’s Bread.  In both cases, not knowing the words either does not affect the understanding the meaning of the story or, the words are defined.  For example, in Tony’s Bread, Angelo states, “Who is that lovely creature sitting at that window?  Che bella donna!—What a beautiful woman!”  In another example in Legend of the Poinsettia, dePaola ends the legend with this, “And every Christmas to this day, the red stars shine on top of green branches in Mexico.  The people call the plants la Flor de Nochebuena—the Flower of the Holy Night—the poinsettia.”

dePaola has illustrated over 200 children’s book in his career.  In any illustrated book of his that I have read, his style remains relatively constant.  In the first three legends, his style leans towards expressionistic and representational.  The figures lack great detail, but they are drawn proportionately and can be easily identified as being realistic people.  In Tony’s Bread, his style is more that of expressionistic and naïve/folk artbecause the characters tend to lack proportion and are childlike.  I think his style helps remind readers that these legends are fictional.  The characters lack a lot of emotional depth, which prevent readers from connecting with the characters on a deeper level.    He tends to use a wide palette of color and varies between full-bleed illustrations completely saturated in color and framed illustrations surrounded by the white of the page. 

Overall, dePaola’s collection is sure to please any reader.  The legends are interesting and make you think, “Ahh, so that is why the state flower of Texas is the bluebonnet!”  My personal favorite in the collection is Tony’s Bread because it was light and humorous.  Also, my Italian grandmother serves panettone every Christmas, so it was interesting to read the story behind the bread! 

Run, Boy, Run

Written By: Uri Orlev

Translated By: Hillel Halkin

Uri Orlev did not have an easy childhood.  He was born in Warsaw, Poland and was forced to hide in the Warsaw ghetto during World War II because he was Jewish.  He hid with his mother and younger brother from 1939-1941, but when the Nazis killed his mother, he and his brother went to Bergen-Belsen—a concentration camp.  He managed to survive the war, and now lives in Israel.  Uri Orlev has written many stories of his own past, but Run, Boy, Run is the true story of another young boy who also survived the Warsaw ghetto during World War II.  It is a story that moved Uri Orlev to tears when he first heard it—and a story that Orlev was inspired to tell.

Orlev writes from the perspective of an eight year-old boy, Srulik, who is eventually forced to change his name and lose his identity in order to survive.  Orlev brings to light the realities of the war.  For example, early on, Srulik describes how he and his mother had to search for food in the garbage.  “When his arms didn’t reach all the way into the garbage, he used a stick or a broken board.  He looked for peels of potatoes, carrots, beets, and apples and sometimes found old, moldy bread.  Everything went in a straw basket that he handed to his mother.  At home, she picked out what was edible and cooked it.  Although each family member received food rations, these were too small to keep them alive.” 

The story tells of Srulik’s struggle to survive.  At one point, Srulik got his arm trapped in a machine when he was working.  He was brought to a hospital and needed surgery.  After examining Srulik, a young surgeon said, “I’m not operating on this boy…Because he’s a Jew.”  Because the surgeon would not operate on Srulik, he ended up having to get his arm amputated.  After this happens, readers are left wondering how Srulik can possibly survive with only one arm.  Things are hard enough having both.

Having lived through many hardships himself, Urlev was able to captivate readers in through this compelling story.  He incorporated many details that make the setting real and believable.  After reading his account of someone else’s experience in WWII, I am intrigued to learn of his.  Run, Boy, Run is the 2004 winner of the Mildred L. Batchelder Award, which is presented to outstanding books originally published in a foreign language in a foreign country and later translated into English and published in the United States.  

Will Grayson, Will Grayson

Written By: John Green & David Levithan

Will Grayson, Will Grayson, written by John Green and David Levithan, is a realistic fiction novel about two boys, both named Will Grayson, attempting to find their place in the world as they both struggle through high school.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson, is written with a unique format and style.  I cannot think of any books that I have read that are written by two different authors.  Green and Levithan decided to each write half of the book in alternating chapters.  They even split the title—with John choosing the last name of Grayson and David choosing the first name of Will.  John Green wrote the perspective of Will Grayson, the teenager who wanted nothing more than to blend in with his surroundings, but could not possibly do so while being best-friends with Tiny Cooper who is, “Not the world’s gayest person, and he is not the world’s largest person, but I believe he may be the world’s largest person who is really, really gay, and also the world’s gayest person who is really, really large.”   David Levithan wrote from the perspective of the other Will Grayson—the one who was sad, depressed, and dealing with his homosexuality.

David Levithan’s writing style is particularly interesting.  Levithan writes the entire narrative without ever capitalizing a single word.  I believe this helps readers to sense Grayson’s depression—that he is so indifferent to feeling that he does not even bother to use the shift key on the computer.  Levithan, for the most part, does not have Grayson interact with others, which authenticates his loneliness.  The most social communication Grayson has is through Instant Messenger or Facebook and is with a boy named Isaac that he has never met.

John Greene presents his Will Grayson differently.    He incorporates a lot of dialogue between Grayson, his best friend Tiny, and a girl named Jane.  Grayson does seem as though he is trying to find his place in the world, but is not as depressed as the other Grayson.  Grayson abides by two simple rules: “1.  Don’t care too much, and 2. Shut up.  Everything unfortunate that has ever happened to me has stemmed from failure to follow one of the rules.”  Throughout the story, we witness how these rules affect the relationships between Grayson and his peers and how he starts to realize he needs to change his rules if he is going to survive through life.

Finding your place in the world is something that I think all teenagers can relate to.  Regardless of whether or not you are the football captain, head cheerleader, chess extraordinaire, thespian, prep, nerd, etc., everyone in high school struggles to figure out what they really want out of life.  It is all a part of growing up and enables us to be ready to move on when the time comes.  The story can also provide hope for those who are lost.  Both Grayson characters developed throughout the course of the story.  They realized that life did not have to be so difficult and that having good friends was more important than anything.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson received the 2011 Stonewall Honor Award in the category of children’s and young adult literature.  The Stonewall award is presented to books that have exceptional merit relating to the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered experience.  This book certainly took me out of my comfort zone in terms of books that I typically choose to read and I must admit, that it was difficult to get through the first section of the book because quite honestly, I couldn’t handle all of the negativity and moodiness.   As the story progressed and I got to know the characters and their perspectives better, I enjoyed reading the book and looked forward to how it would end.  Greene and Levithan brought to light the realities that young adults face today and the determination and support needed in order to make it through what can be some of the most difficult years of their lives.

Saturday, May 7, 2011


Written by: Lois Lowry

Although Gathering Blue was the second book in The Giver trilogy, it did not satisfy my yearning for a book that continued where The Giver left off.  I wanted to know what happened to Jonas and Gabe.  I only found out on the last few pages of Gathering Blue that Jonas was alive and living in a new community called the Village.  Messenger, written by Lois Lowry, is the final book in The Giver trilogy and ties the characters and stories from both The Giver and Gathering Blue together.

Messenger focuses on the story of Matty, the same young boy who had supported Kira when nobody else would in Gathering Blue.  Kira’s father, Seer, who has been given his name due to his ability to see in spite of his blindness, has taken in Matty as his own.  In the six years that have passed since leaving his own community and coming to the village with Seer, Matty has become much more refined and educated.  In fact, he holds a very special job in the Village—he delivers important messages through the forest.

What I found interesting about Messenger is that the Village did not seem to be utopic or dystopic.  Although it was obvious the book was set in the future, some aspects of the setting seemed closer to reality and more believable.  For example, those who ended up in the Village were those who had escaped from another society that had been unaccepting.  Many had physical ailments.  For example, the Mentor in the Village had a large birthmark along the side of his face and a hunched back.  All members of the Village were kind to each other and willing to help one another.  Of course, the book did include plenty of fantasy.  The forest came alive and characters had special magical gifts.

As hoped for, we find out what happens to Jonas.  Jonas reappears in this story as Leader.  The story briefly recounts his arrival and his importance to the Village.  “In the Museum’s glass cases there were shoes and canes and bicycles and a wheeled chair.  But somehow the small red-painted sled had become a symbol of courage and hope.  Leader was young but he represented those things.  He had never tried to go back, never wanted to.  This was his home now, these his people.  As he did every afternoon, he stood at the window and watched.  His eyes were a pale, piercing blue.”

After finishing the trilogy, I suppose the question becomes—should Lois Lowry ever have continued The Giver?  I find this a difficult question to answer.  In a way, I am glad I got to read two more science fiction books by Lois Lowry.  On the other hand, however, The Giver is a masterpiece that stands alone.  When I first completed The Giver, I wanted to know how things ended for Jonas.  I had so many questions I wanted answered.  I am sure that anyone who has ever read the book has countless questions as well.  It took Lowry seven years before she decided to write Gathering Blue and to finish the trilogy.  I believe that both books were beautifully written, but none could replace, or come even close to the power of The Giver.  I just did not feel the same emotional connection with the characters in Gathering Blue and Messenger as I did with The Giver.  I suppose I am mostly disappointed because the story did not end the way I imagined it.  I was hoping to not only find out what happened to Jonas and Gabe, but for their life to continue.  Although we did learn more about Jonas in Messenger, I feel like again, I am left with many unanswered questions.

The whole point of science fiction, however, is to leave readers with unanswered questions and to make readers think about what could be if the world continues on certain paths.  Overall, I think Lowry is an incredible author and I enjoyed reading both Gathering Blue and Messenger.  I am glad that I read all three and have closure for at least what happened to Jonas—but there is still much left to figure out. 

All three books show the growth of a young child coming to realize that something is wrong with society and change needs to take place.  In each story, it is a child that has the special gifts needed to make change.  Children are the future and we are counting on them to develop critical thinking skills and to make moralistic decisions that will lead our society in the right direction.  Lowry reminds us all of the dangers of what can happen if we take things too far.

Martina the Beautiful Cockroach

Written By: Carmen Agra Deedy

Illustrated By: Michael Austin

       Beautiful muchacha,
Won’t you be my wife?”

The answer to this life-changing question depends solely on the outcome of an extremely important and telling test—the Coffee Test of course.  Just as Martina wondered, “B-b-but…how will spilling COFFEE on a suitor’s shoes help me find a good husband?,” you may also be wondering about how this test will work.  The answer relies in the suitor’s reaction.  Grandmother stated, “It will make him angry!  Then you’ll know how he will speak to you when he loses his temper…”  Martina awaits her suitors on the balcony of her cozy lamppost home wearing una peineta, a seashell comb, and una mantilla, a lace shawl.  She is armed with her Abuela’s un consejo increíble, or shocking advice.

Martina the Beautiful Cockroach is a traditional Cuban Folktale published in 2007 that has been retold by Carmen Agra Deedy.  Deedy was born in Havana Cuba, and came to the United States as a refugee.  The narrative received the Pura Belpré Honor award in 2008, which is presented to a Latino or Latina writer and illustrator whose work best represents the Latino culture.

The setting of the story is Old Havana, Cuba.  Although the author outright tells us where the story takes place, there are so many subtleties throughout the story both in the text and through the illustrations that cue the observant reader into the beautiful tropic setting of Havana.  For example, Martina does not look like a cockroach one might imagine.  Bright green is certainly a prettier color than rusty brown and does not immediately set one off screaming, “EEEWH, COCKROACH!”  Did the illustrator choose to make Martina green because it is a prettier color?  The answer is no.  Martina is a species of cockroach named Panchlora Nivea, or the Cuban Cockroach.  This species of cockroach is native to Cuba and is attracted to light.  This helps to explain why the setting of the Cucaracha family household was cozy lamplight.

Through the combination of text and illustrations, Deedy and Austin were able to effectively develop the characters of the story.  In the beginning of the story, Deedy describes Martina as being a beautiful cockroach.  Austin supports this description through his illustration as he drew Martina with long eyelashes, a fitted dress, dainty legs, and high-heeled shoes.  He also drew a vanity with make-up, nail polish, and a spoon for a mirror—signifying that Martina’s appearance is important to her.  As the story continues, we learn more about Martina—we learn that there is more to her than just beautiful looks.  It is apparent that even before Martina completes the coffee test, she already knows when a suitor is not for her.  For example, when the Don Lagarto, the lizard, tries to propose to Martina, she, “...wasn’t taking any chances.  Martina returned with TWO cups for the lizard.”  We can also sense Martina’s frustrations with finding a suitor as the story progresses.  We are first hand witnesses to her excitement when she meets Pérez especially through phrases like “TI-KI-TIN, TI-KI-TAN.” By the end of the story, we know that Martina is strong and good—characteristics that are important to Pérez.

The quality of the language in this text is superb.  Deedy successfully incorporated Spanish throughout the text at just the right moments.  Although a dictionary of the Spanish words can be found through the book’s website, not knowing the Spanish definitions of the words does not impede understanding of the story.  For unfamiliar Spanish words or phrases, like un consejo incríeble, the meaning followed the phrase.  Other words, like una mantilla, were illustrated in the picture as well as defined within text.  Finally some words and phrases could be figured out by using context clues. 

It is evident through Deedy’s choice of language that this text should be read aloud in order to truly appreciate the humor, dialogue, and character emotions.  In fact, the audiobook version of Martina the Beautiful Cockroach won the Odyssey award.

By using a combination of warm and cool hues that completely saturate each page, Michael Austin is successful in creating vivid acrylic illustrations that pop. Throughout the story, most images in the story are full-bled; however, Austin shows variation in style by including some that are framed.  Although the images are framed, there is still a background using lighter tones of color—as if a layer of paint had been taken off the surface and a small detail from within the frame has been magnified.  For example, in the beginning of the story, Martina’s Abuela reveals the coffee test to Martina while in her room.  A spoon is used as a mirror above her vanity and a paper fan is used as a barrier from another area in the house.  Surrounding this frame that distances us from the scene, we are almost brought back in through the magnification of the spoon and fan.  The lines on the objects aren’t as clear.  It is like we are seeing the smaller particles of the objects.  He even lightens the overall tone of orange from the framed scene, but keeps a speckled texture that pulls in the dark tones from the inward frame.  Again, I imagine zooming in under a microscope or camera lens and seeing the color orange broken down into small particles—each lighter and larger than the last and decreasing the level of saturation.

Combinations of vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines are used throughout the story to most often bring our attention to a certain focal point on the page.  For example, when Martina first sits outside on her balcony, the text tells us that she is waiting for her suitors.  The text causes us to focus on Martina.  However, in this particular illustration our perspective has changed and we are viewing her from afar.  It is at this time that we can see Pèrez looking up at Martina as his flowerpot takes center stage on the double-paged spread.  At the same time, however, Austin uses the diagonal lines of the pole holding the plant and the chains that it is hanging from to deter our attention back up towards Martina.  It is almost like a tease.  He wants us to notice the flowerpot and Pèrez, but doesn’t want us to look long enough to be suspicious of his importance.

Not only do the lines tell us where to look, but also at times the use of diagonal lines truly creates a sense of tension.  This is most often felt when the illustrator combines the diagonal lines with our close distance to the action.  Illustrations that cause this feeling are unframed and close-up—allowing us to witness every minute as if we are there.  For example, when Don Gallo explodes in fury, his body is positioned diagonally.  This creates tension because we fear his reaction.  It also makes us want to turn the page in order to hope for a better suitor the next time around.           

By using various levels of saturation of color, warm and cool tones, and changing from full-bleed illustrations to framed, Austin is able to create a balance throughout the story.  He captivates the mood of the scene and changes his colors and style as needed.  Through this balance, we are truly able to understand the illustrations and gather more meaning to use towards understanding the text.

Young and old alike will enjoy this delightful and humorous tale of the trials and tribulations of finding a suitable soul mate.  Martina the Beautiful Cockroach is fully supported on Peachtree Publisher’s website with detailed information about the book. 

These Hands

Written by: Margaret H. Mason
Illustrated by: Floyd Cooper

In the 1950s and 1960s, African American workers at the Wonder Bread factories were not allowed to work as bread dough mixers or handlers.  They were only allowed to sweep the floors, load the trucks, and fix the machines.  Author Margaret H. Mason, learned about the discrimination that went on in the factories from an old friend, Joe Barnett, who was a leader of one of the bakery labor unions.  His story was powerful, and even though many years had since passed when Joe was telling his story, his hands were still trembling at the thought of the discrimination.

In 2006, Joe Barnett passed away, and Margaret H. Mason was inspired to write his story—the story of the hands that could not mix the bread dough at the Wonder Bread factory, but could do so many other things.

Throughout the story, Mason uses repetitive language in order to emphasize where our society has been and how far our society has come.  A grandfather tells his grandson about all of the wonderful things his hands can do.  “Look at these hands, Joseph.  Did you know these hands used to throw a curve ball faster than a dive-bombing honeybee?  Well, I can still help a young fellow learn to hit a line drive—yes, I can.  This same format is repeated throughout the entire book, with a different thing that hands could do each time.  The same format is used when the grandfather tells the young grandson that these same hands that could do all of these wonderful things, used to not be able to touch the bread dough in the Wonder Bread factory. 

It is at this point that Mason breaks from her repetition and adds understated text, “Because the bosses said white people would not want to eat bread touched by these hands.  Well, these hands joined with other hands.  And we wrote our petitions, and we carried our signs, and we raised our voices together.  Now any hands can mix the bread dough, no matter their color.  Now any hands can touch the bread dough, no matter their color.  Yes, they can.”  Each of these short statements is written on separate pages—emphasizing their importance and enabling readers to make their own connections with the Civil Rights Movement and how difficult it was for change to come about.

Accompanying the simple, yet powerful text, are beautifully crafted illustrations that evoke strong emotions.  Floyd Cooper has an interesting illustrative technique, which involves oil wash on board and then erasing some of the color.  A brief description of this technique is described through Amazon.  I recognized his compelling illustrations right away, and realized he is the same illustrator for the collection of poetry, The Blacker the Berry.  His illustrations are warm and inviting and focus on the emotions of the characters.  Each full-bleed, double-paged spread in a representational style helps readers to feel like a part of each illustration.  Cooper truly focuses in on the facial expressions of the people—making us feel their struggle and hear their voices.  We are always kept at a close perspective making us feel as though we are a part of the story.  There is only one moment when we are kept at a safe distance—and that is when the grandfather is reflecting back to the Wonder Bread Factory.  The illustration on this page is framed and is of a white man working in the factory.  The grandfather is unframed on the left, watching the white man work.  Tension is created as we think about the discrimination the grandfather and other African Americans endured.

As Mason writes in her author’s note, “The history is shocking today to many people.  But back then, it wasn’t news; it was just how things were.”  It is comforting to know that today, all hands, regardless of race, can do anything.  “Anything at all in this whole wide world.  Yes, you can.”

Mr. George Baker

Written By: Amy Hest
Illustrated By: Jon J. Muth

Mr. George Baker, written by Amy Hest and illustrated by Jon J. Muth, is the story of an unlikely friendship between two neighbors—Harry, who is in first grade, and Mr. George Baker, who is one hundred years old.  The two wait for the school bus side by side sitting on the front porch every morning—for they are both going to school to learn how to read.

As told from the perspective of the young boy Harry, the language of the story is simple and focuses on things that a child would notice and be fascinated by.  For example, “See his pants, all baggy, baggy, baggy?  What holds them up—suspenders!  Brown baggy pants with two side pockets, and two in back.  There’s candy in those pockets.  Little chocolate candies in twisty silver wrappers.  George pops one in his mouth and I do too.”  Harry is also in awe of Mr. George Baker and how he can tie two double knots that never come undone.

Hest also incorporates repetitive and rhythmic language to keep young readers engaged.  For example, Mr. George Baker used to be a musician and the young Harry describes Bakers hands as, “See these crookedy fingers, going tappidy on his knees?  They fly across his knees.  Tappidy-boom.  Tappidy-boom.  Tappidy-boom-boom-tap.  George Baker is a drummer man, and some people say he’s famous.”

The watercolor illustrations by Jon J. Muth are full-bleed, with some pages being completely saturated with warm, inviting colors and other pages having bright white surround the images.  His style is mostly impressionistic, as he emphasizes light, movement and color over detail.  For example, when the story begins, our perspective is as if we are watching from across the street as Harry walks over to Mr. George Baker’s porch.  The proportions of the figures are accurate, however, we are unable to see the details of the character’s facial expressions at this point.  Near the end of the story, as Harry and Mr. Baker are getting on the bus, we again see them from a distance and do not see many details in terms of their expressions.

Muth also uses a variety of perspectives throughout the story.   After the story’s beginning, when we are watching from across the street, our perspective changes with a page turn and we now see Mr. Baker from Harry’s point of view.  It is at this time Muth’s illustrations are more representational.  We continue to see the porch from a variety of different perspectives—at times, we feel like an insect crawling around looking up at the porch.  It is in these illustrations that we are invited to feel the close connection between Baker and Harry.  Readers can sense the happiness George Baker has had in his life through the illustrations including his wife, who is thought to be ninety.

The beautifully crafted illustrations and the simplistic text in this story of friendship and determination leave readers feeling happy that Mr. George Baker is finally learning how to read.  Young children may find it hard to believe that there are adults who are unable to read and may question why Mr. George Baker did not have the opportunity so many years ago.

Goin' Someplace Special

Written By: Patricia C. McKissack
Illustrated By: Jerry Pinkney

Patricia C. McKissack bases her story, Goin’ Someplace Special, on the story of her own childhood.  She grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, and although the setting of her picture book has been fictionalized, she brought it to life by incorporating real events from the time.  During the 1950s, segregation was prevalent and Jim Crow signs were posted on the doors of many different public places.  Throughout the story, ‘Tricia Ann saw numerous signs as she traveled to Someplace Special.  The very first sign she saw was when she got on the bus and walked to the back of the bus, sitting behind the sign that said, “COLORED SECTION.”  She then went to sit down on a park bench, but leaped to her feet when she realized there was a sign on the bench that said, “FOR WHITES ONLY.”  Later, she was accidentally swept into a fancy hotel lobby but when was noticed by the manager he said to her, “What makes you think you can come inside?  No colored people are allowed!”  Lastly, ‘Tricia Ann passed by the Grand Music Palace and was asked by a young boy if she was comin’ in.  The boy’s older sister responded, “Colored people can’t come in the front door.  They got to go round back and sit up in the Buzzard’s Roost.  Don’t you know nothing?” 

Just when it seems that ‘Tricia Ann will never arrive to someplace special, she finally makes it—she makes it to the doorway of freedom and reads the sign above the door, “PUBLIC LIBRARY: ALL ARE WELCOME.”  In her Author’s Note, McKissack writes about how in the late 1950s, Nashville’s public library board of directors quietly voted to integrate all of their facilities.  It was one of the few places where there were no Jim Crow signs and blacks were treated with some respect.  She continues to write that she did indeed make the walk to the library by herself just like ‘Tricia Ann and did face all kinds of racial bigotry and discrimination along the way. 

McKissack strongly develops ‘Tricia Ann in such a short time.  As ‘Tricia Ann embarks on her journey she is strong and feels great pride.  As she is constantly faced with discrimination, she begins to break and her strength seems to subside.  Many kind African American friends tell her things throughout her journey like, “Don’t let those signs steal yo’ happiness.”  She almost does let others steal her happiness, but she recalls her grandmother’s steady voice saying, “You are somebody, a human being—no better, no worse than anybody else in this world.  Gettin’ someplace special is not an easy route.  But don’t study on quittin’, just keep walking straight ahead—and you’ll make it.”  Through these words, ‘Tricia Ann musters up the courage to continue on her journey and to not let others take her happiness away.

Jerry Pickney’s beautifully detailed watercolor illustrations that accompany the text engage readers and make them feel a part of the story.  His illustrations are full-bleed, allowing us to feel the same emotions as ‘Tricia Ann.  He uses bright colors of turquoise, yellow, and red for ‘Tricia Ann’s outfit—making her standout from the crowd.  The remaining scenery and people are illustrated in more muted colors—almost decreasing their significance to ‘Tricia Ann—like she is keeping her eyes straight ahead with the library as her goal.  His illustrations are a combination of representational and impressionistic in style—objects and people in the foreground are drawn accurately; but he emphasizes light, movement and color over detail in the background.

Through this story, we are given a glimpse into racial segregation and how it affected day-to-day life for African Americans.  It reminds us of how far we have come since the 1950s, which was not too long ago.