What can I say about this book? It is a masterful blend of imagination, heartache, nostalgia, and hope for the future. The illustrations cast familiar yet somber scenes which only helps to give this story its depth and emotion. I am a huge sucker for good art and I consider the art in this book simply breathtaking. The muted colors and realistic portraitures make this story relatable, despite its fantastical elements. More breathtaking still, I might add, is the quiet story of overcoming loss and heartache. Following the story of two girls who recently lost their mother, this children's book shows how they celebrate their loved one's legacy as they use their memories of who she was and their dreams and imagination to solve a problem they face on a walk home from school. Layers of this story you can use to discuss with children include death, loss, survival, hope, honoring memories, weather, dreams/imagination, and dedication. I would highly recommend this book to be read to any child who may be struggling with a loss of a close loved one.
The Dark. Oh, Lemony Snicket already had my heart prior to this storybook! But an illustrated children's book by Lemony Snicket? I thought for sure it was too good to be true. But this book proved every bit as clever, eery, and charming as A Series of Unfortunate Events. This book tells the story of a little boy named Lazlo and how he overcomes his fear of the dark. The words are simple and the illustrations equally so, but a lot of the book is what is felt while reading it, rather than what is said. As you read this book there is a quiet and heavy feeling, not in a sad way, but in an anticipatory way. I just love how "the dark" is explained and characterized. The nice thing about this book is despite its topic, it is not a scary book. It neither dumbs down the fearful "unknown" aspect of the dark, but it also refrains from embellishing that fear as well. The dark is simply present and is not menacing, even if it is creepy. I really don't know how else to describe it in any other way, but this makes the scary seem more friendly. I would highly recommend this book for children between ages of 5-7, as I feel they could handle this not quite euphemistic yet not quite frightening portrayal of a common fear.
Well, I definitely did not do these book reviews in order, because if I had to put any book "on top" of my list of favorites? It would most definitely be this one. Patricia Polacco is one of my very favorite illustrator/authors. This story is a sequel to Thank You, Mr Falker (an autobiographical picture book about her personal struggles in learning how to read.) I don't even know how to explain all that is in this book that gives it such depth, but it covers many many different themes that just speak to my heart. Some of these themes include going to a new school, making friends, learning disabilities, bullying, death, creativity, risk taking, and personal confidence. This story takes place in a special education classroom and features the inspiring story of a teacher who helped her students soar, mainly by showing her confidence and love for them. I think the most important theme which is covered in this book is the journey of learning how to believe in yourself, that you matter, that you can take risks, that you can do amazingly and seemingly impossible things, regardless of your circumstances. I plan on using this book in my future teaching career to help build a classroom community among my students.
Over 4 years ago I did a report on Helen Oxenbury for an "Art for Elementary Education" class and she has been my very favorite illustrator, ever since. Her use of water color pencil and pen is just so simple and charming and I wish, with all my heart, that I someday will be able to draw just as beautiful of art as she does. This simple story, about a bear hunt, follows the classic action rhyme, "I'm going on a bear hunt, I'm going to catch a big one..." and takes the reader on a journey through rivers, plains, mud, and forests to get to the bear's cave. The text of this story is simple and predictive and repetitive in a way that allows the children to become engaged in the reading process by guessing what words come next. It is not so repetitive, however, that I have ever felt annoyed in reading it. It is one of my children's very very very favorite books.
The art alone, makes this one of my favorites, but the story is sweet and heartwarming as well. When Amos McGee gets sick he has to stay home, and his friends (who he never misses visiting at the zoo), decide to leave the Zoo and come visit and take care of him for a day. The layers in this book include service, friendship, thoughtfulness, catching colds, zoo animals, and animal characteristics. The simplicity of the illustrations and the words also helps teach the lesson that the most important things in life aren't really that complicated. This story shows that the simplest thing, such as spending time with another person, is usually what does the most good.
So there are a few of my favorites! If it wasn't finals week I could go on and on about more amazing children's books, but this will do for now!
What are your favorite children's books? Do you look more for the art, the story, or the lessons being taught? One book I didn't add above is "Enemy Pie," and it teaches the awesome lesson of how to get rid of your enemies (in a very sneaky sneaky way)...by making them your friends. What stories have you read that teach amazing lessons?