Monday, October 30, 2006
Unlike many biogrpahies, this is a book told from the perspective of a child and told as a personal narrative. The information about Romare Bearden is all accurate, but the story format makes this information both interesting and enjoyable for children to learn. The book is illustrated in a way that honors and foregrounds Romare Bearden's unique style and contribution to American Art, but the illustrations are not as abstract and difficult to understand as Bearden's work. I used this book during a biography unit in my classroom and was delighted by how many students became interested in learning more about Bearden.
This biography of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. uses words from his actual speeches and writing to tell the story of his life. Some of the words are repeated throughout the text, making it both accessible and enjoyable for younger audiences. The illustrations further this theme--making Martin Luther King into a character that is friendly, loving and accessible to very young children. While I believe this book is successful at what it aims to accomplish, I think it vital that children of all ages be given more comprehensive information after such a beautiful, but simple, introduction to Martin Luther King.
Six third-graders tell the story of a single school day in a series of first-person poems that capture not only the unique and delicious flavor of urban classrooms, but also the developmental stage when children’s voices are beginning to become more mature, more observant, and more different from one another. Although these are very particular, individual children, their personalities, desires, fears, and troubles will be familiar to many middle grade students and teachers. The illustrations heighten the poems’ power and provide excellent visual accompaniment to the brilliant verse. This is the one book that I didn’t already own that I allowed myself to purchase after completing a picture book assignment for a children's lit class. I had one "rough-edged" fifth grade boy horde it for a week after I shared it with my students.
This book has one elegant poem for each month of the year. The poems and illustrations work together to capture the unique flavor of each season, the innocence and playfulness of childhood, and the texture of a year as each spicy month passes by. LeUyen Pham’s richly colored and gentle illustrations are perfect for the sparse, elegant poems, and help make the whole book a reading and viewing pleasure. The children depicted are black, but their ethnicity and race are not central to the book—it is about the joy of childhood and the changing of seasons as universal, human themes.
Sunday, October 22, 2006
Ma’a’anta is a remarkable heroine —she is strong, brave, and very smart. In this story Ma’a’anta sleighs a horrible sea dragon, outsmarts an evil King, and rescues a dainty princess. Her name means that she has more sense than a king, and in the end the villagers chase away the king and make this young heroine their queen. Part tall tale, part fantasy adventure, the story is brought to life by Hyman’s mixed media art, which captures a wide range of emotions: she makes each human vibrant, animated, and expressive. This is a perfect story to empower young girls, especially, but not exclusively those young girls who are wondering if it’s cool to carry things on your head—African style—and who need a heroine who looks like them.
My Feet Are Laughing is a story told in a series of poems in the jazzy, spunky voice of a Dominican American girl named Sadie. The events of the plot are actually quite tragic: Sadie’s parents split up and then Sadie and her mom and sister have to move into her Grandma’s place. But Sadie is a true poet—she sees happiness underneath the surface of things and uses her writing as a tool to reshape, soften, and invigorate her world. The illustrations further this reshaping—the characters are represented as silly, rambunctious, happy, and resilient. Sadie’s poetry, alone, is spectacular and funky enough to make a great book, but coupled with the fluid, vivid illustrations, My Feet Are Laughing is a rare, delicious gem.
The tall tale canon will never be the same with the addition of Thunder Rose. This bull- wrestling, lightening-wrangling, song-thundering girl legend is the stuff tall tales are made from. Thunder Rose is full of delicious descriptive language, unbelievable feats of strength and wit, and illustrations that add humor, beauty and grace. The text of this book is like a rhythmic, twisted, gyrating dance. Beware, it requires some practice to get all that tongue twistin’ perfect. But even nine and ten year olds delight in the illustrations, in the language, and in the knee-slappin’, foot-stompin’ story of Thunder Rose.