Wee Gillis by Munro Leaf

Alastair Roderick Craigellachie Dalhousie Gowan Donnybristle MacMac, aka Wee Gillis, doesn’t know which he wants to be: a Lowlander like his mother’s relations, calling cows, or a Highlander like his father’s relatives, stalking stags. He tries both out, but in the end he turns out to be something else entirely.

This picture book by Munro Leaf was published in 1938, two years after Leaf’s most famous picture book, The Story of Ferdinand. Both book share a common illustrator, Robert Lawson, and similar protagonists, seeking their identity. Ferdinand must decide what kind of bull he is, and Wee Gillis must choose how and where he will be a Scotsman. Lawson’s illustrations, black and white pen-and-ink, complement the story and its setting in Scotland with memorable, detailed facial features and clothing for Wee Gillis and all of his relatives.

Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson were in fact friends before Ferdinand was published in 1936, and Leaf actually wrote The Story of Ferdinand “on a whim in an afternoon in 1935, largely to provide his friend, illustrator Robert Lawson (then relatively unknown) a forum in which to showcase his talents.” Lawson went on to illustrate many more books, two others with Munro Leaf as author, The Story of Simpson and Sampson and an edition of Aesop’s Fables. Mr. Lawson also illustrated another book in 1938 that won a Newbery Honor in 1939, Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater.

The details are what make this picture book stand the test of time: a picture of Wee Gillis yelling through the fog, Wee Gillis’s absurdly long name, the alliterative fun of “calling cows” and “stalking stags”, and the tempestuous tantrum that Wee Gillis’s uncles throw when trying to persuade him to choose either the Highlands or the Lowlands for his home. And of course the theme/plot of finding a way to reconcile both halves of your heritage and still become uniquely yourself is always timely.

Read to your primary and preschool age children and then, listen to some bagpipe music together:

Giraffe Meets Bird by Rebecca Bender

An indeterminate but colorful species of bird meets a a large, mostly peaceful giraffe. Bird and Giraffe learn to share, live and let live, and eventually they face and conquer danger together.

This Canadian picture book opens with Bird flying, or perhaps dancing, off the edge of the front endpaper into the beginning of his growing friendship with Giraffe. However, the title page shows Bird’s egg beginning to crack open, and the real story begins at hatching. Giraffe and Bird are in turns surprised, amazed, fascinated, tickled, cross, angry, pleasant and polite as their unusual friendship moves through its successive phases. Then, danger unites the two friends, and they share in their escape together. On the final endpaper illustration, Giraffe gets his own picture, upside down and munching on a leaf.

I looked for “giraffe books” a few months ago when a teacher I know was doing a giraffe day in her ongoing series of animal mini-units. The only good giraffe-themed picture books I found in my library were Jaffa by Hugh Lewin, about an African boy who pretends to be different animals, and Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andrede, about courage to fail and self-expression. I may never be asked again for a set of books featuring giraffe characters, but if I am, Giraffe Meets Bird would be a nice addition to the other two.

It’s cute and light-hearted, and the illustrations, also by Rebecca Bender, are adorable, especially the expressive eyes, faces, and bodies of the two main characters. The story is a little illogical in a couple of places: at the end Bird and Giraffe say a tearful goodbye (to each other?) and then set off together. And they hide from danger together in a rather peculiar position. Nevertheless, I can overlook and suspend disbelief since the pictures and the story are just cute and engaging.

As it turns out, when I look on Amazon I see that Giraffe and Bird have been featured in two previous picture books written and illustrated by Ms. Bender, Giraffe and Bird and Don’t Laugh at Giraffe. Those two look delightful, too.

A Year of Borrowed Men by Michelle Barker

1944. Not all World War 2 stories, even those about prisoners, are about concentration camps and horror and death. Even those stories that exist in the shadow of death and destruction can be human and hopeful. A Year of Borrowed Men is one such hopeful war story about kindness and friendship.

Seven yer old Gerda’s father and brother have been “borrowed” by the German military to fight in the war. But the farm where Gerda and her mother and her four brothers and sisters live is necessary to the war effort, too. So the Nazi government sends three French prisoners of war to Gerda’s farm to help with the farm work.

The German families who were hosting the French prisoners were under strict orders not to treat them as family members or even as valued workers, but rather the prisoners were to be used as slave labor to support the German war effort and the feed the populace. However, Gerda’s mother tells her that the French men are only borrowed, that someday they will return to France, and in the meantime they are to be respected and well-treated. The growing friendship between little Gerda and the French prisoners demonstrates the possibility that even in a time of oppression, humanity can bloom.

The illustrations in this Canadian import are beautifully evocative of a rural island of peace in the midst of war. Renne Benoit, the illustrator, lives in Ontario, Canada, and the pictures remind me a little of photographs I have seen of the Canadian prairies, although the book is set in Germany. The watercolor and colored pencil illustrations are also quite similar in style to Renee Graef’s illustrations for the Little House picture books. If you like those pictures of cozy farm life, you’ll probably appreciate those found in The Year of Borrowed Men.

The story is based on the World War 2 experiences of the author’s mother. An afterword at the end of the book informs the reader that little Gerda, Ms. Barker’s mother, never saw her father and brother return from the war. She also never again saw the three Frenchmen who worked the farm after war was over, but she did remember the French “borrowed men” with fondness as “fruende” or “amis”.

I am pleased to add this picture book to the World War 2 section of my library as it gives a different perspective on the war and its many stories.

Baker’s Dozen: Recent Nonfiction Picture Books

I am developing a great affection and enjoyment for nonfiction picture books. The picture book seems well-adapted to the telling of a short episode from history or a scientific breakthrough or observation in concise prose with pictures to illuminate the story. The following narrative picture books would be great for “doing history” or “doing science” with elementary age children, and each one is a good introduction to an historical events, famous person, or scientific concept for even older students.

Impossible Voyage of Kon-tiki by Deborah Kogan Ray. Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-tiki: Across the Pacific by Raft has been required reading in many schools for more than a generation. I was assigned to read it more than 40 years ago. But I didn’t finish it because, frankly, at the time, I was bored by the minute by minute account of Heyerdahl’s voyage across the Pacific. This picture book account of the journey could be a doorway into the story of Mr. Heyerdahl’s experiment to see if ancient South American inhabitants could have voyaged by raft to the islands of the Pacific.

The House That George Built by Suzanne Slade. The building of the White House. See my review here.

The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower, or John Howland’s Good Fortune by P.J. Lynch. Candlewick, September 2015. I haven’t read this one yet, but I’m told it’s an absorbing account of the Mayflower immigrants and their journey to the HNew World.

Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens by Nina Nolan. Amistad, January 2015. This picture book biography of the great gospel singer is limited in informational value, but quite lovely and inspiring. The book should inspire children to listen to Mahalia Jackson’s music, and that in itself self makes the book worthwhile.

Ira’s Shakespeare Dream by Glenda Armand. Lee & Low, August 2105. Ira Aldridge dreamed of becoming a great Shakespearean actor, but in the early 1800’s, for a black man, it seemed impossible. Nevertheless, with determination and perseverance, Mr. Aldridge was able to become a celebrated and accomplished actor, even though he had to emigrate to England to make his dream a reality.

The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch by Chris Barton. Eerdmans, April 2015. John Roy Lynch was a field slave who became a photographer, then Justice of the Peace, then Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives, and then a U.S. Representative. His climb from slavery to Congress is chronicled in Chris Barton’s book. Semicolon review here.

Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle. Newbury honor winner Margarita Engle writes a poem-story about 1930’s and 40’s Cuban jazz drummer Millo Castro Zaldarriaga. The book makes lovely use of words and phrases to evoke drums and music and a Caribbean atmosphere.

Spic-and-Span! Lillian Gilbreth’s Wonder Kitchen by Monica Kulling. Illustrated by David Parkins. Tundra Books, 2014. If you’re a fan of Frank Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey’s Cheaper by the Dozen and its sequel Belles on their Toes, this picture book biography of the mother of the clan, Lillian Gilbreth, will certainly be a welcome addition to your reading list. Semicolon review here.

Elvis: The Story of the Rock and Roll King by Bonnie Christensen. Elvis’s boyhood and early career are the focus of this picture book biography, with a long, tall two page spread illustration of Elvis and his guitar placed at the climax of the story when Elvis recorded his first hit song, That’s All Right. The book emphasizes Elvis’s youth, summarizing the bulk of Elvis Presley’s career with these words at the end: “With echoes of gospel, country, jazz, and blues, Elvis’ voice touched the hearts and souls of millions, then, now, and always.”

Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh by Sally M. Walker. A delightful lead-in or accompaniment to a read or re-read of Winnie the Pooh, which is always a good thing at any age.

Draw What You See: The Life and Art of Benny Andrews by Kathleen Benson. Benny Andrews, African American painter, illustrator, and printmaker, provides a role model and an example for aspiring young artists. His story is told succinctly, but expansively, in this biography, and the illustrations from Mr. Andrews’ own work make the story even richer.

A Nest Is Noisy by Dianna Hutts Aston. Ms. Aston, the celebrated author of A Seed Is Sleepy and An Egg Is Quiet, is back with a treatise on nests of all sorts and sizes for young naturalists to savor.

Emmanuel’s dream: the true story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson. Cybil’s nonfiction finalist. Emmanuel, born with only one leg, shows Ghana, and then the world, how people with disabilities can do important, world-changing work.

Reading Picture Books With Children by Megan Dowd Lambert

Reading Picture Books to with Children: How to Shake Up Storytime and Get Kids Talking About What They See by Megan Dowd Lambert, in association with the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

I was quite impressed, and furthermore educated, by this guide to the “Whole Book Approach” to reading picture books aloud to children. Like the author, I am much more attuned to print than to pictures, and many of the techniques and strategies for helping children to engage with not only the text but also the illustrations and the graphic layout of a book would never have occurred to me on my own. Who looks closely at the endpapers of of a picture book? Or the frames and white space around the pictures? Have you ever thought about how artists adjust their illustrations to take into account the gutter, the place where the facing pages come together in the middle? Other than my husband, who used to be a printer, does anyone look at the typography in a picture book and think about how it adds to or detracts from the meaning and feel of the story? What about the size of the book? The orientation, portrait or landscape, of the pictures on the pages? The shape of the the book?

Ms. Lambert suggests some simple questions that story readers (adults) can ask the children with whom they are sharing a picture book:

How is the cover of this book inviting you into the story?
what clues do you see in the jacket art that tell you what the story might be about?
Why do you think the endpapers or the boards are this color?
Can you make a color connection to the jacket art?
What’s going on in this picture?
What do you see that makes you say that?
What more can you find?
Does anyone else have a different idea about this picture?

These are all things that Ms. Lambert spends a great deal of time analyzing and explaining, and she also has developed many ways of helping children to see and think about these things during story time. Reading Picture Books With Children is great book for parents, teachers, and librarians to come back to over and over to refresh and expand the way we engage with picture books and the way we lead children to do the same. I’m going to recommend the book to the Cybils picture book judges, who probably already know all about all this stuff. But I didn’t. And I went to library school, back in the dark ages. But I don’t remember discussing any of these design and illustration choices in my children’s literature classes or in any other education or library science classes. Anyway, I really appreciate the publisher, Charlesbridge, who sent me a copy of this book for review, and I plan to recommend it to others who are interested in introducing children to art and illustration and graphic design in picture books.

Reviewing picture books here on the blog just got a lot more interesting, and my reviews might be a lot more perceptive and interesting, too. Maybe. But I’m still a print/story/words kind of gal.

” But art just wasn’t my thing. Or so I thought. The picture book class showed me that art could be my thing–even if I wasn’t an artist. I’d just have to learn to think with my eyes.”

Story Time in the Library: Cats

I had such a pleasant morning in my private subscription library this morning. I had two story times, one for preschool and another for primary age children. Next time I’ll probably combine the two, but I wasn’t sure how many children to expect. There were seven children in attendance in all, and we read all sorts of books about cats. Here are a few of the treasures we read:

Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag.
“Cats here, cats there,
Cats and kittens everywhere,
Hundreds of cats,
Thousands of cats,
Millions and billions and trillions of cats.”

Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes.
Poor kitten! This adventurous kitten, who thinks she sees a full bowl of milk in the sky, travels all over to find that the only real bowl of milk is at home on her own porch.

Three Little Kittens: A Folk Tale Classic, illustrated by Paul Galdone. I love Mr. Galdone’s illustrated folk tales and nursery rhymes. “Oh, Mother Dear, we sadly fear/Our mittens we have lost!”

Puss in Boots, illustrated by Paul Galdone. Since I like Mr. Galdone’s versions of these tales so much, we read another one. This one is in a large format book featuring a huge Puss with fancy red bots and a wise aspect. Of course, a cat like the one in this book could make a fortune for the miller’s son!

Hot-Air Henry by Mary Calhoun. Illustrated by Erick Ingraham. A couple of the moms remembered this story from Reading Rainbow, and that may be where I first heard it myself. Henry the Cat accidentally flies solo in a huge hot-air balloon, averts danger, and comes safely home after his adventure.

We made some cute little cats of our own during and after reading the stories. We had pink cats, blue cats, red cats and rainbow cats, nothing so ordinary and boring as a black and white cat or a tiger-striped cat.

I also had a few other books that we didn’t manage to read this morning as a group, but the children were looking at these after story time, still wanting more cats and kittens:

Cats by Gail Gibbons. (nonfiction)
Dick Whittington and His Cat by Marcia Brown.
Mittens by Claire Turlay Newberry.
William and His Kitten by Marjorie Flack.
The Fire Cat by Esther Averill.

Do you have a favorite picture book about cats or kittens, one that I missed? Or do you have a suggestion for my next story time which I think will be about Dogs?

Yellow Copter by Kersten Hamilton

For those helicopter and airplane-loving boys and girls in your life, Yellow Copter is sure to please. The story is rather slight: Yellow Copter, the rescue helicopter, rescues the schoolteacher from the top of the ferris wheel. The end.

Still, the pictures are bright and simple. The story is short and sweet—with sound effects and some rhyme and rhythm. So, toddlers and younger preschoolers should enjoy looking at his one over and over again. The blurb in the back of the book refers to Ms. Hamilton’s first “action-packed adventure for young readers”, Red Truck. I haven’t seen it, but if your child likes Yellow Copter, and you’re looking for more of the same, Red Truck might be a good choice.

I wouldn’t give either book to “young readers”, but I would buy it for those who are just past the book-chewing age and who love vehicles of all kinds and shapes. Maybe a toy helicopter to go with the book would make it a perfect gift.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.

Five Things to Make You Smile on March 2nd

Texas independence Day. On March 2, 1836, Texas declared its independence from Mexico.

Coincidentally, March 2, 1793 happens to be the birthdate of that most famous Texan, Sam Houston. If you haven’t read Jean Fritz’s biography of Mr. Houston (see list below), you should.

Read Across America Day. Oh, the Places You’ll Go when you read!. March 2, 2015 is NEA’s Read Across America Day and this year, the book is the Seuss classic, Oh, The Places You’ll Go. Be sure to follow Read Across America on Facebook and Twitter with #readacrossamerica.

“You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read with a child.”

Not coincidentally, March 2nd is Dr. Seuss’s birthday also.

Related books that I have in my library:
By Dr. Seuss: The Foot Book, Green Eggs and Ham, And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, ¡Cómo el Grinch robó la Navidad!, Horton Hatches the Egg, The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, and several more.
Sam Houston, the Tallest Texan by William Weber Johnson.
Make Way for Sam Houston by Jean Fritz.
Remember the Alamo! by Robert Penn Warren.
The Story of the Lone Star Republic by Conrad R. Stein.
Remember the Alamo!: The Runaway Scrape Diary of Belle Wood, Austin’s Colony, 1835-1836 by Lisa Waller Rogers.

Christmas in France, c. 1930

From Noël for Jeanne-Marie by Françoise Seignobosc:

“Listen, Patapon,” says Jeanne-Marie. “Noël is the birthday of the little Jesus.”

“And there is something more about Noël. If you are very good, Father Noël brings you presents. He comes in the night. No one sees him, no one at all. I put my wooden shoes near the chimney and Father Noël fills them with presents. You will see, Patapon, you will see . . .”

Unfortunately, Patapon is Jeanne-Marie’s pet sheep, and sheep have no wooden shoes to place beside the chimney for Father Noël to fill with presents.

I love both the illustrations and the story in this simple picture book about a little French girl and her pet sheep. Ms. Seignobosc, a French-American author and illustrator who used the pen name of simply “Françoise”, wrote and illustrated over 40 picture books between the years of 1930 and 1960. I would suggest that if you find any of her books about Jeanne-Marie or any of her other lovely picture books that you snap them up. They are not only collector’s items, but they are also delightful, simple stories for reading with preschoolers and for the young at heart.

Take a look at this one about Biquette, the white goat with a lovely special-made coat.
Or Springtime for Jeanne-Marie, one of my favorites.
More from Springtime for Jeanne-Marie.
And here’s some information about another Francoise book, The Thank You Book.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.

Cybils: Picture Books

Nominations are open through October 15th for the Cybils, the book awards for children’s and young adult literature that are administered, judged, and awarded by kid lit bloggers. The category description for Picture Book Fiction says:

The category contains titles for toddlers and third graders, funny stories and moving tales, history and fantasy, traditions and diversity, elegance and silliness, education and entertainment. An amazing conceptual range for books with typically 32 to 48 pages.

Here are a few Picture Book Fiction books that may deserve a look, but haven’t been nominated yet. If one of these is your favorite, please nominate it for a Cybils award.

The Christmas Cat by Maryann Macdonald. NOMINATED
Stone Soup with Matzo Balls by Linda Glazer.
Deep in the Sahara by Kelly Cunnane.
The Artist and the King by Julie Fortenberry.
Audrey Bunny by Angie Smith.
Those Magnificent Sheep in Their Flying Machines by Peter Bentley.
Mikis and the Donkey by Bibi Dumon Tak. NOMINATED in Middle Grade Fiction.

Keep turning in nominations for all your favorites in all of the categories, but remember that only those books published between Oct. 16, 2013 and Oct. 15, 2014 are eligible. And only one book per nominator per category.