Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Picturebook: Little Wizard

Wizards, knights and dragons most often make appearances in fantasy novels and other fare for school-aged children. But littler ones (especially boys) under five often want in on the action and Kazuno Kohara's Little Wizard is a stellar choice for the youngest fantasy fiends in your life.

This is the story of a burgeoning wizard who just can't learn to fly. Lonely and ground-bound, the little wizard meets a helpful dragon who befriends him and attempts to show him how to fly. Despite his best efforts, the tiny wiz still can't get up in the air and is left alone to sulk. But when the little wizard meets a dragon-hunting knight, he knows he must learn to fly to save his friend.

The cover shows the only three colours inside the book: black, purple and green. Kohara is able to do more with three colours than most artists can do with a whole palette. The effect is striking, engaging, and utterly original. These high-contrast illustrations will be especially appealing to very young children who are better able to process pictures with bold, sturdy outlines. More than an attractive package, the story's themes of friendship and perseverance are perfect for the preschool set.

Fans of this book will also want to check out Kohara's winter tale, Jack Frost and the hilariously spooky The Haunted House.

Ages 3-6
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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Picturebook: Little Owl Lost

Continuing in the tradition of P.D. Eastman's Are You My Mother?, Little Owl is on a hunt for his matriarch. When he falls out of his nest (with a Bump...Bump...BUMP!), Little Owl must team up with Squirrel to find his way back home.

Little Owl knows a thing or two about his mama - she's big, she's got pointy ears, and she's got big eyes. Unfortunately, many forest animals meet that same criteria. After encountering a bear, a rabbit, and a frog, Little Owl finally makes it back to the warm wings of his mommy.

While the concept may sound tired, Little Owl Lost is fresh, vibrant, hilarious, and perfect for reading aloud. Young children can play along with the action, making their own big bear arms, pointy rabbit ears, and big frog eyes. Sparse text and frequent page turns should also help capture the attention of the squrimiest listeners.

The colour palette is bright and delightfully imaginative. Squirrel is fuschia, the trees are crimson, and the sky is green. With such crisp colours and deliberate shapes, this is an ideal selection for very young children. Infants and toddlers find it easier to focus on blocks of colour and Little Owl definitely delivers in this department.

Ages 2-4
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Thursday, November 04, 2010

Picturebook: A Penguin Story

As the weather turns chilly, there is no better pick than Antoinette Portis' A Penguin Story. Although this book was published in 2009, it has a gentle, vintage, 1950s-esque style reminiscent of Goodnight Moon.

Edna has a thirst for colour. She is tired of the neverending white, black, and blue, blue, blue that surround her in her permanently winter world. But one day Edna discovers something absolutely magical - orange!

Orange comes in the the very friendly form of some researchers, decked out in neon orange parkas and living in neon orange tents. When Edna finally has to bid goodbye to her newfound friends, she keeps a very special orange souvenir.

This book is a pure joy, and quickly became one of my all-time favourites. Besides being a touching, quirky story, little ones can participate in naming the colours and shapes; with Edna's circle eyes and triangle beak, the square icebergs, and the half-circle tents, the possibilities are endless! A perfect lap reading for a two to four year old and an ideal Kindergarten read-aloud.

Antoinette Portis has several other stellar titles including Kindergarten Diary and Not a Box all available for check out at the Port Moody library!

Picture Book
Ages 2-6
Click here to see this book in the Port Moody Library catalogue

Friday, September 10, 2010

Picture Book: Todd's TV

This cautionary tale is primarily aimed at parents and older elementary aged kids who are keenly aware of the debate surrounding television's deleterious effects.

Todd loves his parents, but he loves his TV too. Todd's parents are busy, busy people who argue over who will take Todd to events, appointments, and other necessary functions. When they can't agree on who should parent their only child, Todd's TV steps in to take over his parenting (including tucking him in and giving him sage advice on life).

Slowly, Todd's parents begin to realize they've made a mistake. Their attempts to reason and negotiate with the TV for more time with Todd are rebuffed, until (aHA!) they discover the off switch. All is well in the family...until Todd gets a computer.

Kids will laugh at the TV's over-the-top antics, but parents will likely take a sober second look at the amount of time their own little Todds are spending in front of the tube: this is, of course, exactly what author James Proimos desires. Perhaps a bit preachy for those who are in the know, but a useful book for teaching kids about media awareness.

Picture Book
Ages k-4
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Picturebook: What If?

With a grand total of six words in the entire book, Laura Vaccaro Seeger's newest title explores the concept of social play and inclusivity through deceptively simple art.

Two seals are playing with a ball in the water, when a third seal appears on the beach looking for a friend. Rather than show a structured outcome, the author provides three different options, and shows the probable result of each.

In option one, the seal in the water is left out when the two on the beach begin to play. Option two also sees a seal left sad and alone, when the two original seals return to the water to play. But in option three, all three seals play together: nobody is left out, and nobody feels sad.

Kids will definitely need some help to figure out the non-linear structure of this book. Once they understand that three different social options are being presented, kids will clearly understand that leaving someone out of play can result in hurt feelings and sadness. (and who can resist a sad seal?) Getting kids to apply this abstract lesson to their actual play will take a bit of coaching, as the situation depicted (seals on the beach with a ball) may not translate immediately into playground practicalities.

Grades k-2
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Get ready to dance when you read this stomping, creeping, tripping, thumping book about dancing animals. Fantastic collage art illustrates each page, where familiar animals dance to their own beat.

Single stanzas encourage participation with repetetive rhymes, and a question/answer format. The title practically begs for a dramatic group reading, where the tiny, quiet ladybugs are followed by the huge, thumping elephant! This readaloud would be a perfect segue into an action song or rhyme as part of a motion unit or storytime.

Ages 2-4
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Picture Book: We Planted a Tree!

This eco-tale is a simple explanation of how one small act -planting a tree- can bring change to the world.

Bob Staake's stylized illustrations follow trees and families all over the world as they watch their tree grow from a seedling to a tree that provides food, shade, visual pleasure, and clean air.

These concrete examples of how a tree can help improve the environment will provide much-needed context for younger kids, who may not see the connection between a tree and the green movement. This is an effective and attractive title, and would work well in a preschool or kindergarten classroom setting as part of an ecology unit: just be ready to deal with a whole bunch or kids eager to go out and plant trees of their very own!

Ages 4- grade 3
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Picture Book: Erroll

When Bob finds a talking squirrel named Erroll inside his package of nuts, he can hardly imagine how a squirrel could have snuck inside. A gracious host, Bob offers Erroll a peanut butter sandwich, which trips off a crumby, peanut-buttery chase through the house and up a nearby tree.

When Bob's Mom finds the mess, she doesn't believe Bob's talking squirrel story: at least, not until Erroll politely introduces himself. Sensibly, Mom decides that Erroll must return to the woods (with a triple-decker peanut butter sandwich to keep him going, and a promise to visit soon).

The next morning, Bob opens up his package of Monkey Munch...can you guess who's inside?

Though the story is a bit stilted, energetic boys will immediately identify with Bob and his ability make the most of an unbelievable situation. The large type will invite new readers to try this book on their own, while the complex artwork will encourage kids to pore over the pictures as they follow Erroll's journey through the guys of the nut factory, or the disastrous path of the chase through the house.

Great for boys in grades 1-4, particularly reluctant readers or those who depend on pictures for motivation.

Picture Book
Grades 1-4
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Picturebook: Pink Me Up

Are you ready for an explosion of pink sparkles and frilliness? Little bunny certainly is. Today is the 3rd annual Pink-nic, and bunny is all set to rock the party with her equally pink Mama.

Unfortunately, Mama wakes up with a bad case of (pink) chicken pox. Uh-oh. Mama's too sick to go: today is the WORST DAY EVER!!!

Of course, there is a stand-in available...Daddy? Little bunny carefully informs Daddy that (ahem) he's a boy, and therefore is most decidedly not pink. However, Daddy (being secure in his manhood, and rather a good sport) ransacks his closet and finds one pink tie.

Inspired, Little bunny and daddy set to work on pinking daddy up: they draw pink polka dots on his shirt, tape pink stripes to his pants, and generally pinkify his wardrobe. Little bunny kindly holds Daddy's hand on the way to the pink-nik (after all, he's not used to this excess of pink) and soaks up the praise and applause when all the other Mama's see his remarkable outfit.

Little girls who are obsessed with pink, fairies, princesses and the like will eat up the text, while more jaded adults will stifle our hysterical laughter when the cartoon-like art shows Daddy's ambivalent expressions, and little bunny's master plan to pink up the universe. A wonderful and smart title that pokes holes in standard gender roles through gentle humour.

Picture Book
Ages 4-6
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Picture Book: Chalk

This wordless picturebook is very much in the style of David Wiesner, whose classic titles (Sector 7, Tuesday) have inspired kids to create their own stories based on his detailed and fantastical works of art.

In Bill Tompson's excellent title, three elementary aged kids find a bag of chalk at the playground, and proceed to draw amazing things into reality. Of course, when one of the kids draws up a dinosaur, much chasing and fleeing ensues. The solution? Quick, draw a rainstorm to wash all that chalk away! The simple plot is built around an engaging, if familiar premise. Kids who are newcomers to the wordless format will be able to immediately pick up on what's happening without too much effort. Because of this accessibility, Chalk would be a great choice for a reluctant reader.

The art in this title is the real standout. Crystal clear, photo-realistic images of engaging multi-ethnic kids will captivate readers. The unique perspectives and spot-on expressions lend interest to the simple plot. The sheer beauty of the illustrations will certainly capture the interest of most kids instantly.

As with many wordless picturebooks, the title would shine as the subject of a group discussion, particularly for boys or reluctant readers. The story invites questions like "What will happen next?" and "what would you have drawn?". Wordless picturebooks are always a great way to build engagement and print motivation, but this title is especially well suited to rambunctious grade k-3's.

Wordless Picturebook
Grade k-3
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Picture Book: What's the Matter, Bunny Blue?

Poor Bunny Blue! He's lost his granny, Boo hoo hoo!

With this rhyming refrain, even the youngest kids can read along as a wide and wonderful variety of animals try to figure out where poor Bunny's granny could be.

With very simple, soft images on an uncluttered page, this title would be suitable for very young toddlers. The familiar theme (losing a loved one) will resonate with most preschool kids, and of course there's a happy ending when Granny and Bunny are joyously reunited.

Aside from the occasional scanning difficulty with the rhymes, this is a wonderful, warm readaloud that would work for individual reading or groups. A great opener for discussions about what to do when you get lost, too!

Ages 2-4
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Picture Book: I'm Your Bus!

Marilyn Singer's rollicking, rhyming picturebook comes just in time for back-to-school.

With just one or two bouncing rhymes per page, this tale of a dedicated schoolbus is perfect for readalouds and storytime. The bright, cartoon-like art is friendly and large enough for big groups to view clearly.

This would be a great title for kids who are feeling a bit nervous about being at school all day: the schoolbus is shown as a dependable friend who picks them up from the safety of home, takes them wonderful places (like zoo field trips, farms, etc) and then waits patiently until it's time to scoop them up from school and get them safely home again.

Best for preschool groups or older kids with a special interest in vehicles. It really would be a shame not to use this excellent title as a "back to school" storytime opener.

Ages 2-5
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Picture Book: The Heart and the Bottle

With his trademark minimalist style, author Oliver Jeffers has written another picturebook that explores the roots of human emotions. When a curious little girl loses her beloved grandfather, she protects her heart by placing it into a glass jar.

Once grown, she realizes that she misses the wonder and magic in the world, and so she enlists the help of a small, curious girl (much like her younger self) to extract her long lost heart from it's hiding place.

Within this seemingly simple plot, there are many layers of complexity. The spare, evocative art is a perfect companion to the text, which conveys the message about living with a vulnerable heart with the bare minimum of words.

Jeffers' titles always seem to be aimed at a general audience, rather than specifically at preschoolers: his titles are as relevant to adults as they are to the diaper set. Though the protagonists and situations feature children, younger kids will definitely need a sensitive adult to guide them through the complicated emotional message of this title. Best for kids aged 5 and up, and certainly recommended as an adult/child one-on-one read.

Ages 5-7
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Friday, April 16, 2010

Picture Book: Bye-bye Baby!

Felix is not impressed with his new baby sister. He's off to a bad start when he's banished to the playground with his sitter during her birth: It gets worse when his sister goes to bed late, and wakes everyone up early. Felix votes for taking her back, but it seems that the only one on his side is Pancho, his beloved stuffed grey donkey.

When his baby sister is old enough to walk, the family visits the zoo. It's amazing! There are elephants that could sit on his sister, Hippos that could eat his sister, and Giraffes that could lift her high into the trees, where he would "never have to see her again!"

When it's time to leave the zoo, Felix is distraught. On the ride home, he cries. and cries. and cries. Nothing can make him feel better, until his sister reaches over, and hands him Pancho. With one small gesture, Felix finds that his sister might, just might, not be such a dud after all. His parting words? "I guess I can call off the hippo."

This short book clearly shows the disgust and alienation that older siblings might feel with a younger addition. Unlike many other titles in this genre, the issue isn't resolved within a week or two: it takes years until Felix's sister is able to relate to him in a way he can understand. This would be a great title to couple with a discussion about siblings, where you remind older sibs that their younger brother or sister might take a long time to start interacting with them. Patience is the key!

Picture book
ages 3-5
click here to check out the Port Moody Public Library's catalogue!