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Your Storybook Suggestions
Tag Archives: illustration
“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.
In honor of Arbor Day on April 29, we read “A Tree is Nice” by Janice May Udry and illustrated by Marc Simont. A lovely cover illustration, and an atypically tall and narrow layout drew us to this book immediately. Inside, the simple but delightful prose from Ms. Udry shares multiple ways in which a tree can be special. The Caldecott Medal-winning illustrations from Mr. Simont picture in enchantingly abstract detail all the wonderfully fun activities described in the text. It’s a combination that makes for a great read-aloud, and it’s an attractive book for inspiring beginning readers.
As Ms. Udry reminds us, trees are wonderful for so many reasons: leaves whispering in the breeze or providing soft piles for play in the fall; limbs for climbing and playing pirate ship or for hanging a swing; trunks against which to sit in the shade and rest…even (in some cases) apples for snacking! Perhaps best of all for Arbor Day, if you plant a tree and you tell people about it, they will wish they had one and will plant a tree too!
Mr. Simont’s drawings, alternating vibrant color (especially in fall) with black and white, look sort of like rough sketches – which adds to the charm. In fact, as a veteran doodler, the drawings looked to me like exactly the sort of simple but compelling work that might inspire a budding artist to pull out their own sketch book and go to work. We loved all the life and activity taking place around the trees, and I was particularly fond of the tree growing from the rocks by the sea; it made me wish I were inside the book myself.
All in all, this is a beautiful little book about subjects we love – trees and playing outside. I believe now I will step out and have a go on the swing hanging from the live oak in our own front yard!
“Madame Eiffel: The Love Story of the Eiffel Tower” by Alice Brière-Haquet & Csil is a charming book that relates a famous and romantic legend about the construction of this iconic building; a bit of cultural literacy packaged in a sweet love story. Its pages are decorated with quirky, intricate black-and-white line drawings that are accented with the occasional splash of pink. The playful illustrations are a perfect complement to occasionally rhyming prose with a variable rhythm that will keep readers on their toes (see what I did there?).
Young Eiffel is a happy engineer married to the love of his life, Cathy, a beautiful girl with a thirst for life. Cathy inspires Eiffel to build all manner of grand structures, and the two soul mates travel the world hand in hand, until one morning when Cathy wants nothing more than to stay in bed. Days pass and Cathy remains uncharacteristically blue, so an increasingly distraught Eiffel seeks the advice of doctor after doctor. At a loss for an explanation, they all agree that the only thing to be done is to get her some fresh air…but Cathy is too weak to travel. As Cathy continues to fade, Eiffel works tirelessly to care for her and to engineer a solution – a “railway to the stars” in the form of a spectacular and massive tower. When he is finished with his creation he whisks his dear Cathy away and carries her, floor by floor, to where a miracle awaits the couple – above the glittering roofs of the city, with the Seine and the children on carousels below, “Cathy’s cheeks turn rosy and her eyes begin to sparkle again.”
The look and feel of “Madame Eiffel” really drew us in – the cover practically calls out to be picked up (it was actually selected as one of the best illustrated children’s books of 2015 by the New York Times). I especially enjoyed the picture on the final page that shows the Eiffel Tower casting a shadow in the shape of Eiffel and Cathy holding hands: “Who knows, maybe (Cathy and Eiffel) are still there? Rumor has it that sometimes at night you can see their shadow appear in the street light.” After reading this fairy tale of the Belle Époque, I suddenly felt inspired to visit Paris and see this world-renowned symbol of France (and her shadow!) for myself.
We chose this book for our read aloud on the 31st because the Eiffel Tower, still the tallest building in Paris, was completed on that same day in 1889. Although my friend who lives in Paris with her family says this day is not celebrated in an organized fashion, we thought the anniversary was a fun excuse to introduce our little one to the Eiffel tower, and to this delightful legend about its creation.
Today’s book, Gerda Muller’s “Circle of Seasons”, is a simple and soothing introduction to the seasons, complete with playful and captivating illustrations in Ms. Muller’s characteristic style. While paging through this lovely book, we kept feeling as though we wanted to be inside each of the seasonal scenes, and we could feel a love of nature and of natural beauty shining through each of the drawings.
“Circle of Seasons” is actually a compilation of four “Seasons” board books that were individually published in 1994. The four original books have no text, just Ms. Muller’s charming pictures. This “Circle of Seasons” compilation adds only minimal prose to these illustrations, and does a really nice job of maintaining a slow and inviting pace. After reading the cover page for Spring, (“You know it’s spring when…”) the reader is presented a wordless 2 page bucolic scene of a little country house with flowers in bloom, buds on the trees, baby sheep in the field, and many other sweet details that children can come to associate with the season. Each wordless spread, two per season, presents a welcome invitation to stop and explore the illustrations, to discuss what is happening in the picture and to pick out the details that might be associated with the season depicted. I love the timeless nature of the seasonally-appropriate games and activities taking place in each scene, and I thought it was neat that Ms. Muller included both Christmas and Hanukkah as representative of winter.
We have had Ms. Muller’s Seasons books in our collection for several years, and they have been solid favorites with our youngest for quite a while. I had a bit of a hard time locating a copy of this compilation, but I am so thankful we found one to add to our Gerda Muller collection.
It feels a little bit too early to be celebrating Easter before March is even over, but here we are! In honor of the holiday, we celebrated with some egg hunting, some paper crafts, and – of course – storybooks! It’s been a holiday-filled month, with several days that merited their own book bundles: Pi Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and National Quilting Day. For Easter, however, we went a step further. After sprinkling our reading list with rabbit and egg-themed books over the past week, today we read four books specifically about Easter.
The first book, “Easter” by Gillian Houghton, was a brief primer on the holiday in English and Spanish, providing some background regarding the religious significance of the day and some of the symbols and traditions that people associate with Easter. With that groundwork laid, we moved on to three charming picture books which were enjoyed by all.
“Bunny’s Easter Egg” is a sweet and simple story about a tired little bunny looking for a quiet place to rest after a long night of hiding eggs. Too exhausted to do any more work, bunny puts one final egg in her own basket and settles in for a nice snooze…but the egg starts crackling and bumping! Seeking a more peaceful location for her well-deserved nap, bunny hops from one potential resting place to another – but whether due to noisy birds, a prickly hedgehog, squeaky mice, or any number of other disturbances, no location is quite as nice as her basket. Eventually, she returns home for a brief snooze before waking to find that the last egg has hatched her a brand new friend – a fluffy little duckling!
We liked Ms. Mortimer’s cute and fluffy illustrations. There is also some repetitive text in the book which is nice for beginning readers, and creates a fun way to interact when reading aloud with little ones. After reading it through a few times, you can ask little listeners to help you to fill in the blanks (for example: “oh no, I can’t sleep here, it’s far too…noisy, squeaky, busy, etc.”)
The Easter Egg by Jan Brett
“The Easter Egg” by Jan Brett is a charming parable about a little rabbit named Hoppi with big dreams and an even bigger heart. Every year the Easter Bunny selects the rabbit with the most amazing egg to help him hide eggs for the children to find on Easter morning. Seeking inspiration for his first egg, Hoppi hops from one house to the next observing how each rabbit applies his or her special talent to create spectacularly decorated eggs. Before Hoppi can decide how to start on his own project, however, he comes across an egg that has fallen from Mother Robin’s nest. Hoppi offers to keep Mother Robin’s egg safe and warm while she tends to her other eggs still in the nest, and he stays with it until it hatches into a little baby bird. When the Easter Bunny arrives to judge everyone’s creations he is impressed with all the beautifully decorated eggs. However, it is the empty blue shell of Hoppi’s egg that the Easter Bunny selects as the most special of all.
“The Easter Egg” is a beautiful book, richly adorned with Ms. Brett’s characteristically detailed and beautiful illustrations. As in other Jan Brett books we have read, we found stories taking place not only in the middle of the page but in the margins as well. We also appreciated how, with all of the artistic talent displayed by the other rabbits in the story, it is Hoppi’s kindness that makes his egg exceptional. It may be an inspirational message for some children to hear that attributes like a big heart or a kind soul can be “talents” just as much as skill at painting or woodworking.
“The Country Bunny” is a delightful book whose bright colors and vintage illustrations are particularly inviting. There is something about the look and feel of this book that just makes you want to pick it up and page through it; it has been a favorite selection in our house ever since we acquired a copy.
The story centers on Mrs. Cottontail (the “Country Bunny” of the title) and her childhood dream of one day becoming an Easter bunny. She grows up, gets married, and has twenty-one (!) children, and presumably lets go of her dream. Once her children are old enough and well trained enough to run the house on their own, however, Mrs. Cottontail is presented with an opportunity: one of the five Easter bunnies has grown too slow, and Grandfather Bunny must select a replacement. While she has no expectation of being chosen, and while there is no shortage of applicants who are swift enough for the job, it is only Mrs. Cottontail who is singled out by Grandfather Bunny as also being kind enough and wise enough. Eventually, Mrs. Cottontail also proves herself the bravest of the bunnies, earning Grandfather Bunny’s admiration and the golden shoes of the title.
Originally published in 1939, “The Country Bunny” has an endearing old-time feel, although the feminist theme that you can have it all as a woman – motherhood and a successful career – seems like a more modern concept. I found it to be a soothing, reassuring story – even if suspension of disbelief was a challenge at times (twenty-one children left home alone who keep the house spotless and tuck themselves into bed on time?). Most of all, however, I am glad we have the book because we all like to hold the book and look at it. Everyone in our house agreed that this one is our favorite.
“P. Zonka Lays an Egg” by Julie Paschkis is a delightful and playfully illustrated book that incorporates inspiring themes of staying true to yourself and avoiding mindless conformity. P. Zonka, a name taken from the word for a Ukranian Easter egg (“pysanka”), is a chicken living in a farmyard where the other hens lay eggs regularly. P. Zonka, in contrast, does not. She spends her days wandering about the yard and soaking in the natural beauty that surrounds her, while her yard mates gossip about her indolence. Eventually, when she does decide to give egg-laying a try, P. Zonka produces something spectacular: a single, amazing egg, adorned with all the vibrant colors and patterns she has been “collecting” on her farmyard strolls! From that day forward, P. Zonka continues to wander about the yard and to lay eggs only occasionally, but – as Ms. Paschkis assures us – when she does, they are worth the wait!
Ms. Paschkis’ colorful and exuberant illustrations make it easy to understand P. Zonka’s sense of wonder as she strolls about the farmyard, and the book provides a compelling reminder to readers to take the time to appreciate the everyday beauty in their own lives. We also liked the fact that the gossipy chatter of the other chickens seems to have no impact on P. Zonka, although it does help make this a particularly fun book to read aloud. All-in-all, a great addition to our Easter week reading list.
Category: 365 Read Aloud
“It was time for a little bunny to be on the move. From here to there, a bunny goes where a bunny must.” Will he stop? No – but for a brief nap, this little bunny will not stop – not for pigs, or cows, or fat sheep, or even a sweet little girl who would keep him as a pet. Over hills, through fences, across railroad tracks, this little bunny is not to be deterred – but where is he going?
Peter McCarty’s “Little Bunny on the Move” is a simple and comforting story about a darling little bunny – who looks like a tiny marshmallow puff – moving purposefully across the landscape to make his way back home. While he appears at times to be almost marching across the page, Mr. McCarty’s little bunny is nothing like the frantic White Rabbit of Alice in Wonderland, he is merely determined to rejoin his family.
The book is illustrated in Mr. McCarty’s unique style: a dreamy and lightly tinted combination of pencil and watercolor that creates a lovely softness and augments the gentle feel of the story. There is also an interesting interaction of dark and light in Mr. McCarty’s drawings that creates a certain glow to the illustrations. The overall effect is memorable, so much so that even though we haven’t picked this book up in almost a decade, it still felt familiar.
Oliver the gray tabby cat lives an idyllic life alone in an apartment with Miss Tilly. He is a pampered “only child” who is unaware that the world is full of other animals; the nearest thing to a rabbit that he has ever seen is a “stuffed plush Easter bunny.” All he craves in life – and all he has known – is peace and quiet, and being served his meals on time. Then one day, Miss Tilly brings home something small, white, and furry with tall ears, pink eyes and a wiggly nose…and it is alive! “What do you think of this, Oliver?” Miss Tilly asks, “Its name is Marshmallow.” Well, let me tell you what Oliver thinks – he is appalled, and he is afraid of this alien presence. Concerned about Oliver’s ability to peacefully cohabitate with Marshmallow, Miss Tilly keeps the two pets separate – until one afternoon when Oliver slips into Marshmallow’s room. Just as Oliver is about to pounce, Marshmallow scampers up and kisses him on the nose! From that moment, the two are inseparable, “romping like two kittens” with Marshmallow following “lippity-lippity” at Oliver’s heels wherever he goes.
“Marshmallow” by Clare Turlay Newberry is a darling, endearing little book, like the little rabbit himself. According to the author, “every word of (the book) is true…the bunny was so little and was so convinced that Oliver was his mother, what could Oliver do but be his mother the best way he could?” Ms. Newberry’s amusing descriptions and her delightful charcoal drawings of Oliver’s and Marshmallow’s behavior (which won the book a Caldecott Honor in 1943) are remarkably effective at capturing the interaction between the two animals. Her drawings of Oliver in particular looked familiar to us. Having had both cats and bunnies as pets ourselves, we could picture Oliver watching the twitchy-whiskered invader, “…opening and closing his eyes as if it actually hurt them to look at a rabbit”…or lashing his tail and preparing to spring every time the little rabbit hopped by him. Our favorite part of all, however, was the way that Oliver grew to nurture and love Marshmallow as his own.
If you weren’t convinced before reading “Marshmallow”, by the time you are finished perhaps you will agree with Oliver – as we do – that “a bunny’s a delightful habit, no home’s complete without a rabbit.”
Riddle me this: what could be more awesome than a lushly-decorated book with a touch of mystery that also increases your children’s understanding of nature? That same book with lift-the-flap – of course! Enter “Whose Egg” by Lynette Evans and illustrated by Guy Troughton, the second of our Easter-inspired selections this week.
Each two-page spread of “Whose Egg” presents a riddle with clues to help identify the animal hiding behind the flaps, and Mr. Troughton’s vibrant watercolor paintings provide additional hints for observant readers. There are eggs from reptiles, birds, insects, and even a certain duck-billed mammal – eight in total. We really enjoyed trying to guess each hidden animal. The only challenge for us was keeping our youngest from opening the flaps too quickly!
Like “An Egg is Quiet”, which we read yesterday, the production quality of this book is wonderful; if nothing else, it is just fun to hold and to look at. I can already tell that it is going to be well loved in our house…and I have a feeling I will be taping some of these flaps back on at some point in the near future!
I had a feeling just from looking at the cover of this evening’s storybook that we were in for a treat, and I was not disappointed. “An Egg is Quiet” by Dianna Aston and illustrated by Sylvia Long, is a beautiful combination of science, poetry, and art.
The simple but elegant text introduces the reader to the wide variety of characteristics an egg can exhibit: not only can they be quiet, but they can also be “clever”, shapely, artistic, and fossilized…just to name a few. Each two-page spread presents a new characteristic complete with stunning watercolor illustrations that are well complemented by the choice in fonts; the production quality is excellent. There are notes scattered around each page providing additional information and letting the reader know what animal belongs to each of the eggs shown. One review I read had what I thought was a particularly apt description of the overall effect: it is like reading a naturalist’s journal.
We read the book through once to get a sense for the flow – the “big picture” if you will – before going back to soak in and discuss all the wonderful details. I really enjoyed being able to identify some of the more unusual eggs from the labels, and was fascinated to learn (for example) that seabird eggs are pointy on one end so that they “roll around in safe little circles, not off the cliff.”
We originally selected Ms. Aston’s book for this week because of the approaching Easter holiday. While not, strictly speaking, an Easter book, “An Egg is Quiet” still fits in nicely – presenting a natural variety and beauty to eggs that outshines the colorful plastic egg decorations we see everywhere this time of year. It seems like the kind of book that would be nice to have on the shelf for little ones to pull out periodically and pore over and I was happy to discover that Ms. Aston and Ms. Long appear to have published several similarly attractive collaborations. I expect we will be reading more of their work this year.