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Your Storybook Suggestions
Category Archives: Real World
“Emanuel’s Dream” is the amazing and inspiring true story of Emanuel Ofosu Yeboah, a young boy from Ghana born with only one leg who managed to ride his bike all around his home country.
When Emanuel was born his father left home, and everyone thought that with only one leg, Emmanuel would be useless, or even worse: a curse! Everyone that is, except his mother, Comfort. Mama Comfort told Emanuel he could have anything, but he would have to get it for himself.
When Emanuel went to school, his mother carried him at first; when he became too heavy, he hopped. He saved his money and bought a soccer ball, and played with the other boys on crutches. Then, Emanuel learned to ride a bike with only one leg(!).
When Emmanuel was thirteen, Mama Comfort became very sick, so Emmanuel moved to the capital city Accra to earn some money to care for her. When Mama Comfort died, she told Emanuel, “Be respectful, take care of your family, don’t ever beg. And don’t give up.” Emanuel wanted to prove that being disabled did not mean being unable, so he resolved that he was going to bicycle around Ghana. When no-one in his town was willing to help, that did not deter him; Emanuel instead wrote to the Challenged Athletes Foundation in San Diego California, and they sent him the things he needed. He received a blessing from the king of his region, hired a taxi to drive after him and film him, and Emanuel rode all the way around Ghana with only one leg wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the word “Pozo” (meaning “The Disabled Person”) on his jersey.
We absolutely loved this story, as did I think everyone else who’s read it – based on the reviews we’ve seen. Emmanuel represents true grit and strength and his story is full of so many wonderful messages about never giving up on your dream or on the people you love.
“Island Boy” is another charming tale of historical fiction from one of our favorite author/illustrators, Barbara Cooney.
Matthais is born on Tibbets Island, Maine and his life is inextricably tied to the sea. After traveling the world as a young man, he returns to the island to marry his sweetheart and raise a family. The story crosses generations, sprinkles in some Maine history, and also includes a fascinating map in the back for children and parents alike to pore over. The ending is a little bit sad, but the book is as charming and beautiful as you would expect from Ms. Cooney. We thoroughly enjoyed it.
Over in the ocean
Far away from the sun
Lived a mother octopus
And her octopus one
‘Squirt’ said the mother
‘I squirt’ said the one
So they squirted in the reef
Far away from the sun”
So begins Marianne Berkes’ “Over in the the Ocean”, a wonderfully catchy rhyming and counting book that also serves as an introduction to some of the amazing animals that live along the coral reef. Set to the rhythm and tune of Olive Wadsworth’s classic rhyme “Over in the Meadow”, “Over in the Ocean” is a delightful read aloud experience made all the more entertaining by Jeanette Canyon’s intricate “relief” illustrations.
We had a lot of fun reading this book. The pace and rhyme scheme are addictive – it rolls right off your tongue and should keep little listeners thoroughly engaged. In the back of the hardcover edition that we read there is also a copy of the music to go with the rhyme and some additional information about the coral reef and the animals in the book. The end notes also include some tips from Ms. Canyon – who created all of the illustrations in the book with polymer clay(!) We love finding these kinds of extra “goodies” as part of our reading adventures – it’s so fun!
For some additional background information, you can watch a video about Ms. Canyon’s work on “Over in the Ocean” by clicking here.
“My mother says you can ask the ocean to bring you something. If you look, she says, you might find it.” A wooden shoe, a sea turtle skull, pelican feathers, coconuts, and a beam from a sunken ship are just a few of the fascinating (and ultimately “necessary”) things found on the beach in today’s book, “Out of the Ocean” by Debra Frasier. Ms. Frasier’s book, illustrated with a combination of colorful collages and photographs against a sandy backdrop, is a thoughtful and charming tribute to the ocean and all the things it can bring you…if you just remember to look!
Ms. Frasier narrates her book from the point of view of a little girl, recounting the treasures she has found on the beach and the conversations she has had with her mother about the ocean. Walking the beach, the narrator has asked for and been presented with all manner of treasures, from sea glass to shark’s teeth to skate eggs…to a wooden shoe – and each time, what she has brought home has turned out to be exactly what she wanted.
Meanwhile, the little girl’s mother asks the ocean for things that are too big to bring home: the sun, silver moonlight, the sound of waves, and sea turtle tracks. “Those things are always there”, the little girl tells her mother, “You just have to look for them.” Laughing, her mother tells her that she discovered the secret: “It’s not the asking, it’s the remembering to look.” Some of the biggest gifts the ocean has to give can be missed or taken for granted, if you forget to look.
We thought “Out of the Ocean” was surprisingly sweet and profound. I particularly enjoyed the line about every discovery turning out to be exactly what the little girl wanted – it made me smile, and reminded me of the old saying that happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have. The body of the book makes for a fairly quick read-aloud, but there is also a six-page “Ocean Journal” at the end that is quite informative and worth a read – providing more detail about some of the specific things the author herself has found at the beach. With or without the journal, however, Ms. Frasier has written (and illustrated) a wonderful book that is a great selection for summer-themed reading.
June is our month to read about the beach and the ocean, and it also happens to be National Scuba-diving Month. What better time, then, to read a picture book about Jacques Cousteau, the world’s most famous scuba diver, who also happens to have been born in June (June 10, 1910). “Manfish” by Jennifer Berne and illustrated by Eric Puybaret is a lovely book, with poetic prose, attractive full-page illustrations, and an inspiring story about the explorer and inventor whose many films (over 115!) introduced the world to the wonders of the ocean.
Ms. Berne introduces us to Jacques as a little boy in France – a little boy fascinated with the ocean who dreams that one day he will be able to “fly” and breathe under water. He is also fascinated with machines and with films – which he begins creating with a small home-movie camera he bought by saving his allowance “penny by penny.” After finishing school, he travels the world as a member of the French Navy, filming everything he sees. Then, one day, wearing a pair of goggles given to him by a friend, he wades into the ocean and his eyes are opened to the wonders below the surface. Driven by a passion to explore the deep as a “manfish”, Jacques eventually invents the “aqualung” – and for the first time a person is able to swim for an extended time below the surface of the ocean. Success! With his cameras, his new invention, his best friends, and his ship (Calypso), he sets out to explore the oceans and to share the experience through his films. Along the way, he discovers amazing creatures the world has never seen and continues to innovate – improving his diving apparatus and even inventing cages for him and his crew to be able to film sharks without being eaten!
We really enjoyed learning more about Jacques Cousteau, including the extra details provided in the Author’s Note at the back and the surprise pull-out page. The story is informative without being dry – this is no “laundry list” of events in the life of a famous explorer. This story is about a little boy’s dream that grew into a man’s passion to become a manfish and fly beneath the waves – and how he worked to share that passion with the world. I think Ms. Berne does a wonderful job of conveying the feeling of wonder that the ocean inspired in Jacques, and which he hoped to inspire in everyone else.
Ever wondered how to hide an octopus? How about a cuttlefish? Don’t know what a cuttlefish is? Well, have we got the book for you: “How to Hide an Octopus” by Ruth Heller. With rhythmic, rhyming text, it’s an entertaining and informative read-aloud about some very clever, camouflaged sea creatures.
While most children will already be familiar with the titular octopus, Ms. Heller adds interest by introducing readers to some less-well-known denizens of the deep. Along with the aforementioned cuttlefish, there is a (spectacular) sea dragon, a (splendid) sargassum fish, and a (deceptive) decorator crab – just to name a few. In the flow of the book, Ms. Heller presents each animal and then hides it insider her colorful illustrations – great for engaging little listeners: can you find where the octopus is hidden? It’s quite fun. My favorite part was the closing page, which hints at a sequel…after summing up why these sea creatures might want to hide themselves, Ms. Heller observes that:
…predators to live must eat,
so also fade and are discreet,
and then their prey on which they sup
can’t see who’s going to eat them up.
If you’ve been wondering about how to hide an octopus and you’re looking for a light and lively read-aloud on the subject, we’ve found it! Eight tentacles up!
It’s summer time – time to head to the beach! What better time to read a book called “Seashore” by Alain Greé. “Seashore” is a captivating book with pages packed full of lovely, vintage (60s & 70s) illustrations. It’s a stunning picture book, and the production quality is excellent.
The book includes examples of things you might pack to take to the beach, games you might play at the beach, animals you might see there, food you might eat there, and so on. It’s not really a story book, although there is a bit of narrative flow to it. It is a great book for teaching little listeners sea- and beach-related vocabulary. What makes this book so great, though – and what makes me so happy to have it in our collection – is Mr. Greé’s artwork. This is exactly the kind of book that little readers (and parents) want to pick up page through again and again.
“The Canadian wilderness was white with snow. From Lake Superior northward the evergreen trees wore hoods and coats of white…There was no sound. Nothing moved.” A young, native American boy sits in a cabin near Lake Nipigon, carving a man in a canoe out of a piece of wood. After painting the canoe and adding some lead for ballast, he inscribes on the bottom: “PLEASE PUT ME BACK IN THE WATER. I AM PADDLE TO THE SEA”. So begins the epic tale of “Paddle-to-the-Sea” by Holling C. Holling, a captivating Caldecott Honor storybook originally published in 1941. This fascinating tale provides a lesson in geography and history through the journey of a little man in a wooden canoe (“Paddle”) who manages to make his way, with a little bit of help, from the side of a snow-covered hill in Ontario, through each of the Great Lakes, up the St. Lawrence River, and all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to France.
In the course of his travels, Paddle spends some time dammed up in a pond with beavers, he narrowly escapes being run through a sawmill, and he sees the great iron freighters being loaded with ore in Duluth, Minnesota. He passes by fishing villages, witnesses a shipwreck in the midst of one of Lake Superior’s legendary storms, and travels the length of Lake Michigan on a freighter, all the way to the steel mills of Gary, Indiana. Making his way back up the coast of Michigan, he watches a forest fire in the Upper Peninsula, and wends his way through Lake Huron, where he is picked up in a motor boat and carried to the entrance of Lake Erie. He passes over Niagara Falls, through Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence River and out to the Grand Banks – where he is picked up by a French fishing boat for his journey across the ocean.
Along the way, through twenty-seven one-page chapters and several years, Paddle encounters people who pick him up and help him along his way – staying true to the request carved into the bottom of his hull. In nearly every chapter, there are maps in the margins showing Paddle’s progress, as well as beautiful, intricate, full-page illustrations facing each page of text. Mr. Holling also weaves all kinds of nuggets of information into the text – historical and geographical.
This is an amazing book. It may be a little bit long for a single evening’s read-aloud – it’s certainly a bigger bite to swallow that our typical picture book selection so far this year. It’s worth it, though. You may be able to split it over a couple evenings, although I predict that the story will be too compelling to put down. The idea that you can put a little canoe on a snow drift above a little creek and that he will eventually make it all the way to the ocean is sure to capture the wonderment of young and old alike.
As a bonus, I suggest watching this adaptation from 1966 by the National Film Board of Canada. I remember watching this film when I was in elementary school (not all the way back in 1966, by the way – how old do you think I am?). The story stuck with me in the back of my mind for years because the concept is so fascinating, but I had forgotten that it came from a picture book. When we discovered “Paddle-to-the-Sea” at the library, it clicked and I was thrilled to have rediscovered it! Needless to say, I had to get my own copy, which I am looking at right now.
Arnold lives with his parents in a little white farm house out in the country, and sitting alone on top of a hill at the farm is Arnold’s Apple tree. It is in this idyllic setting that Gail Gibbons’ “The Seasons of Arnold’s Apple Tree” takes place, and where Ms. Gibbons – with the help of Arnold and his tree friend – walks readers through the changing seasons in a characteristically engaging manner.
The book begins in spring, where we find Arnold lounging in the tree’s branches, enjoying the sweet smelling apple blossoms, and watching the bees collect nectar. In the summer, he builds a tree house to go with the swing he hung in the spring, and he does a juggling act with some of the green apples that have begun to grow large. In the fall, he rakes the falling leaves and gathers the delicious red, ripe apples in a basket to take home – where he and his family make apple pie and apple cider. In the winter, he builds a snow fort around his friend with a snowman sentry. The tree’s branches are bare – at least until Arnold decorates them with strings of popcorn and berries! Of course, after the snow melts…it’s spring again!
Just like most Gail Gibbons books, this book was full of great information and colorful illustrations. There is less information packed into this book than we have found in other Gibbons books, where many pages are filled with insets and callouts. “The Seasons of Arnold’s Apple Tree” has more of a traditional storybook flow. There is an inset about apple blossoms and bees, an apple pie recipe, and a diagram of a cider press – but the focus in this book is clearly on the interaction between Arnold and his tree. It’s a charming book that helps explain the seasons to little listeners, and will make readers long to spend a lazy day around their own apple tree out in the country…at least, that’s how it made me feel!
I have always enjoyed looking at maps, committing historical charts to memory and covering my bedroom walls as a teenager with political maps swiped from my dad’s National Geographic magazines. I still have a world map covering a wall in my office; I think understanding political borders and geographic proximity helps immensely with understanding what is happening in the world around us. Of course, all of that fascination with maps is focused mostly on land masses, which only cover about 30% of the Earth. What about the over 70% of the world that is covered in water – mostly oceans? With beaches and oceans being our focus for June, what better time to “dive a little deeper” into the subject of mapping the oceans…so tonight we read a book called “Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea” by Robert Burleigh and illustrated by Raúl Colón, a fascinating and beautifully decorated biography of Marie Tharp, who was the first person to map the ocean floor.
When Mary was young, her father was a cartographist, and her love of maps began while watching her father do his work. His job took him and his family all over the country, and by the time she graduated high school, Mary had attended 17(!) different schools. When she went to college, Mary realized that scientists really know very little about the seafloor. When Mary graduated, she was ready to research the ocean, and be a scientist, but science wasn’t ready for Mary (me: c’mon science!). One firm told her they did not need any more file clerks when she tried to apply for a scientific position, and scientists at the Oceans Studies lab at Columbia University in New York told her it was bad luck to have a woman on a ship (so she could not go out on the research ships). Fortunately, Mary was not easily discouraged. She “bit her tongue” and with the help of a friend at Columbia, she decided to try and map the ocean floor anyway. She began to collect data from soundings taken by the lab’s research ships. As she pieced the puzzle together, Mary realized that – yes – there were in fact mountains (and valleys) under the ocean. She also found a deep crack running down the middle of the Atlantic (the Mid-Atlantic Ridge), supporting the theory held by a minority of scientists that the Earth’s surface was covered by a series of interlocking plates (Plate Tectonics). Using different colors for different depths, and engaging the services of a landscape painter from Austria, Mary finally had her masterpiece – the first map of the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Mary had always tried to think big, and in the end it paid off: her maps changed the way people looked at the world.
We really enjoyed this book – beautiful artwork, maps, an inspirational life story, maps, and an amazing woman who bucked the status quo to forever change the world for the better. With two girls, that last item is particularly important to us. Our oldest was especially inspired – her soul fired by anger at the closed-mindedness of the scientific establishment when Mary began her quest, and filled with intense admiration at Mary’s perseverance. It really is a wonderful book (whether you have daughters or not). Also – don’t forget to read the passage in the back of the book, which shines more light on Mary’s life.