Introducing Activism to Children

November 17, 2016 § 11 Comments

Ordinary People Change the World by Brad Meltzer & Christopher EliopoulosIn light of last week’s election results, I am struggling, like so many millions of Americans, with the question of what I can and should do to combat the rhetoric of hate and intolerance that has prevailed in this unfathomable reality, where someone running on a platform of racism, misogyny, and xenophobia would be awarded the highest position of power in our country.

What do we do now? Specifically, how do we advocate—and inspire our children to advocate—on behalf of those who are afraid, of those who are on the receiving end of vitriolic slurs and physical threats, of those whose place in our communities is suddenly threatened?

In the first 48 hours following the shocking results, I was unable to turn away from the news, inhaling every editorial or opinion piece that I could find—as if, taken together, all those words could fill the chasm that I felt breaking open inside me. Two common refrains did provide some element of sense-making—at the very least, something I could echo to my children: one, that many of the people who voted for our president-elect do not support his hateful rhetoric but did so because they or their communities are hurting in very real ways; and two, that with a country so vehemently divided, we have to start listening to one another if we are going to find a productive and peaceful way forward.

Eventually, though, the news just made my head hurt more. (I then went through a period of emotional eating, but we’ll leave that out…plus, it hasn’t completely ended and, come to think of it, I think I’m getting low on peanut butter ice cream…)

Ultimately, though—as has been true so many times in my life—it is books that are serving as my therapy, books that are giving me hope. In my alone time in the car, I am listening to Sissy Spacek’s beautiful recording of To Kill a Mockingbird and taking heart in everything that comes out of the mouth of Atticus Finch. Immediately following the election, I read to the kids Debbie Levy’s new picture book biography, I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark, mostly so I could reassure myself that there are still people in power fighting for decency and justice. Then, over the weekend, the kids and I cozied up and rejoiced in Ratpunzel, the latest in the deliciously feminist “Hamster Princess” series, because, well, escapist therapy feels pretty great right now.

But the most fortuitous book-related turn of events came when the kids and I stumbled upon a collection of books about the very heroes from our past who can inspire us to stand up in our future. These are true stories that address many of the very prejudices and injustices that I believed were mired in our country’s past, but which I am now painfully aware were not all that deeply buried after all.

As kismet would have it, last week’s election was immediately followed by the arrival of our Scholastic mail-order books, which my kids have been eagerly anticipating ever since they turned in their orders at school a few weeks ago (the newsprint circulars from Scholastic are another thing that has not changed in this country).

I had been pleasantly surprised when my six year old originally picked out a “starter set” of five titles in Brad Meltzer’s “Ordinary People Change the World” series, seeing as she has shown zero interest in biographies to date (or, if I’m being honest, in most non-fiction). Of course, she’s exactly the reader that Meltzer intended to target when he decided to introduce historical figures through conversation, cartoons, and a child-centric view of the world, in such titles as I am Abraham Lincoln, I am Rosa Parks, I am Albert Einstein, I am Jackie Robinson, and I am Amelia Earhart. (In less than a week, we have since added I am Jane Goodall, I am Martin Luther King Jr., I am George Washington, and I am Helen Keller to our collection. And I am Lucille Ball and I am Jim Henson are on our list.)

If I was originally surprised by my daughter’s selection, I am even more surprised that, in the days following our initial reading of the first five books, my daughter has carried them everywhere. She reads them in the bathroom. She reads them at night by flashlight. And, since she can’t actually read, she asks me to read them aloud to her again and again.

I am even more surprised that my third grader has stopped what he’s doing—every single time—to look over our shoulders as we read them. As if he too can’t get enough. He even took three to bed with him last night.

I am even more surprised by how animated and excited I become while reading these books, as if optimism—and not outrage or heartbreak—is raining down upon us for a few precious minutes.

I am even more surprised that I’m saying this about these particular books. Because I have, admittedly, been slow to get on the bandwagon of Brad Meltzer’s popular series, which launched almost three years ago. There’s much about Christopher Eliopoulus’ illustrations—the oversized heads, the gaping black mouths, the blunt backgrounds—that I initially mistook for crude (the adult-in-a-kid’s-body still kind of freaks me out). I preferred reading about Einstein through the sublime art of On a Beam of Light, or Lincoln through the abstract palette of Looking for Lincoln. But, of course, my six year old doesn’t.

So, while I’ve recommended the “Ordinary People Change the World” series to schools, even brought them into my kids’ classrooms from the library, I never really saw them as worthy to own. Of course, I hadn’t ever sat down and read one cover to cover. Until now.

Now, I get it. Because Meltzer’s writing is utterly captivating. The choice to write in the first person is unique (“It’s like I’m hearing their real voices, Mommy!”), and the choice to directly address the child reader makes it impossible to look away.

Each book is a living and breathing example of what it looks like to stand up for what you believe, to stand up for what you love, to stand up for what is right. Each book showcases obstacles that had to be overcome, nay-sayers that had to be denied, and courage that had to be summoned. Each book demonstrates the way in which determination, combined with hard work, a hefty dose of creativity, and serious guts, fuels ordinary people to make the extraordinary happen.

It turns out that Eliopoulus’ blend of cartoons and comics perfectly complements the tone of the narrative, heightening the indignance of the voices, the unfairness of the situations, and the celebration of expectations overturned. As a bonus, his pictures lend humor to many of the pages (and if there’s one thing that will get my youngest interested in history, it’s humor).

When Rosa Parks talks about how she used to wonder if rainbows would come out of the “colored” drinking fountains—the ones that were outside and around the building from the “white only” fountains—we want to reach through the page and hold her little hand.
"I am Rosa Parks" by Brad Meltzer & Christopher Eliopoulos

When the character of Jackie Robinson confides to the child reader about bravery, we lean in to listen. Jackie was not by most definitions a brave kid: “In fact, as a kid, I didn’t like sleeping alone. I used to sleep in my mom’s bed. Even when she tried to bribe me, I wouldn’t leave.” And yet, years later, his passion for baseball—and for winning at baseball—led him to persevere against all odds, despite pitchers throwing fastballs at his head and catchers spitting on his shoes and letters that threatened to hurt his family.

"I am Jackie Robinson" by Brad Meltzer & Christopher Eliopoulos

These books are much more sophisticated than I presumed at first glance—scintillating for a kindergartener, yet still plenty meaty at 30-40 pages for a third and fourth grader. Neither do they shy away from hard truths. In I am Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln watches as a boat sails down the Ohio river carrying slaves chained to one another (“I didn’t do anything that day, but for years, the memory of those people…it haunted me.”).

"I am Abraham Lincoln" by Brad Meltzer & Christopher Eliopoulos

In I am Martin Luther King Jr., many of the nonviolent protests of the Civil Rights Movement—and the violent reactions they sometimes spurred—are vividly brought to life, including the Children’s Crusade (“The chief of police told the firemen to spray the children with water hoses and attack them with dogs.”).

"I am Martin Luther King, Jr." by Brad Meltzer & Christopher Eliopoulos

Defiance comes in many forms. Both my kids were fascinated to learn that General George Washington used invisible ink and code names to draw up plans that the British couldn’t read (“How’d we win? We were smarter. We were sneakier. We were fighting for a cause. For freedom!”).
"I am George Washington" by Brad Meltzer & Christoper Eliopoulos

Helen Keller, mocked for her “dumbness” and initially told she couldn’t attend college—even after she had taught herself to speak—went on to fight for the access of public universities for all people, regardless of disabilities. Because activism breeds activism, she also went on to become a suffragist, an early advocate for free speech, and a fighter for equal rights for black Americans. And she did so by making sure that she met with every president from Grover Cleveland to Lyndon Johnson (“But let’s be honest. They met her.”)

"I am Helen Keller" by Brad Meltzer & Christopher Eliopoulos

Jane Goodall’s love for the planet and the animals with whom we share that planet feels especially poignant right now; and the undeniable cuteness of the chimps in I am Jane Goodall doesn’t hurt. (“Listen to the feelings in your heart. We are responsible for the animals around us. We must take care of them. When one of us is in trouble—be it human, creature, or nature itself—we must reach out and help.”)

"I am Jane Goodall" by Brad Meltzer & Christopher Eliopoulos

It’s hard to say how much my daughter understands about this presidential election and its ramifications. Probably not a whole lot. In the 48 hours that followed, while her older brother was busy listing off organizations that we should give money to and describing signs he wants to make for the yard (Peace for All), Emily just kept asking, “Can’t they have a do-over?”

But I wonder if, perhaps on some subconscious level, she was drawn to these books because they carry with them a note of hope in a time that feels dangerously close to listing toward hopelessness. Children don’t have to understand the particulars about our government to pick up on the uncertainty and uneasiness that exists in the air right now. These books reassure us of the greatness in our country and across the world, of the resiliency of mankind, and of the potential for one person to make a difference.

Each of Meltzer’s biographies closes with a call to action, an encouragement to stand up in the name of human dignity. One of the most fitting passages, given our current social climate, comes out of the mouth of Rosa Parks (via Brad Meltzer).

In my life, people tried to knock me down.
Tried to make me feel less than I was. They teased
me for being small. Being black. Being different.
Let me be clear: No one should be able to do that.
But if they try, you must stand strong.
Stand for what’s right.
Stand up for yourself (even if it means sitting down).

Brad Meltzer needs to write a whole lot more of these books—and FAST. I hope to see an even greater diversity of races, religions, and sexual orientations represented in the people he decides to profile. I promise you, we are going to read every single one. Multiple times.

If I can encourage my children to bear witness to these acts of dismissal, hate, and bigotry on paper, then hopefully they will spot them in real life, too. If the language for talking about these acts already exists in their lexicon, then hopefully they will not shy away from speaking out, not only when the time is right, but every time it’s right.

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch tells his daughter, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

With these small books, our children (and us) have an opportunity to climb inside different slices of history, to witness how activism can take a multitude of brave and peaceful forms, and to perhaps even feel some of the bewilderment, outrage, thoughtfulness, and determination of ordinary people who spoke up and acted out to change the world.

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All opinions are my own. Amazon.com affiliate links support my book-buying habit and contribute to my being able to share more great books with you–although I prefer that we all shop local when we can!

In the Absence of Words: Why Share Wordless Picture Books With Your Kids

September 22, 2016 § 2 Comments

The Journey Trilogy by Aaron BeckerA few days before summer break ended, a giant box arrived from Candlewick publishing, containing a number of advance copies of fall releases. Candlewick is one of my favorite publishers—also one of the most generous supporters of my blog—and the buzz in our house when one of their boxes arrives is akin to Christmas morning. The kids and I tore open the box and quickly identified new installments in some of our favorite series (the new Princess in Black comes out in November, as well as the third in the “hat” stories by the dry-witted Jon Klassen; both are fabulous).

But there was one book that—hands down!—got the loudest squeals and the highest jumps as soon as my kids laid eyes on it. Aaron Becker’s Return (Ages 5-10) is the much-anticipated finale of a wordless trilogy about a girl, her red crayon, and the otherworldly adventures to which her art and her imagination transport her (I wrote about the first title, Journey, back in 2013, before it went on to win a Caldecott Honor).

Wordless books can be a hard sell. They can be an especially hard sell for parents, because what exhausted parent wants the pressure of making up a narrative when the relief of bedtime is so near? How can I read a book with no words? Can’t my kid just look at that on his own?

Hear me out.

For starters, education researchers have long touted the value of wordless picture books as a tool for pre-literacy. When children are learning to read—when they’re caught in that delicate balance of needing to cherish small successes but not fully versed in phonograms and sight words—they can look to pictures for valuable clues about what the text might be saying. (He’s picking up a fork, so that word must be “fork”; there’s a grimace on his face as he’s eating, so that must mean the words are going to be about him not liking it).

When children are forced to extract a narrative from pictures alone, they become well versed at using visual clues to decode text.

I would argue that the value of wordless picture books extends well past the early-reading stage. Wordless books can help make close readers of our children, a vital skill for academic success at every grade level.

Especially in the hands of a visual wizard like Becker, the reader is rewarded for every extra second he or she takes to study the pictures. On nearly every spread in Journey, Quest, and Return, there is mystery, intrigue, wonder, and confusion. Repeated readings only deepen our experience, reveal things that our eyes—in our haste—missed the first time.

Let’s talk about that haste for a minute. (We are listening to Charlotte’s Web in the car these days, so I feel inspired to quote the wise Charlotte: “…with men it’s rush, rush, rush, every minute. I’m glad I’m a sedentary spider.”)

When my nine year old tears through beloved series like The Hardy Boys, Hazardous Tales, and I Survived, I can’t help but wonder: how carefully does he read? Does he skip over passages when he doesn’t understand? Does he take time to notice the language, the details of a setting, or the way a character is described? Does he have an opinion about the book, other than “It was epic!”?

I try very hard not to scrutinize or judge (outwardly) my children’s reading habits. If my kids are reading, I want them to read—without my asking loaded questions about whether they’ve finished a book or what they are learning from the story or whether they will read aloud parts to me. I want them to read for the love of the thing. I want them to discover their own motivations for reading outside parental or adult pressure.

Instead, I try to model good books and good reading practices. I choose books to read aloud that showcase beautiful language, complex characters, and plots rich in shades of grey and murky emotions. I often share aloud my own feelings about the things we’re reading. I tell them which questions are giving me pause. Much of the time, they are quick to join me in conversation.

As it turns out, I don’t have to be reading books with words to accomplish that.

Weeks back, when that box showed up at our doorstep and my kids jumped up with Return in their hands, then ran through various rooms to locate the first two titles in the trilogy so that we could read all three books straight through, I was reminded that sharing wordless picture books with our children can be another immensely valuable way to teach them to slow down and cherish the intricacies of a story.

It’s a credit to Aaron Becker just how hard my children and I are willing to work to interpret his lantern-hung forests, his purple skies, and the rock-clad walls of his prophetic caves. (Interesting side note: in the author’s bio printed on the jacket cover of the newest book, we learn that the exotic kingdom depicted in the trilogy, with its lavish domes and flowing canals and frenetic kings and emperors, is inspired by Becker’s visit as a child to Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy, France—the same walled island we all grew to love in the 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner, All the Light We Cannot See).

"Journey" by Aaron Becker

Here’s the gist of what my kids and I have surmised from the time we’ve spent with these books.

In Journey, a girl escapes boredom by drawing a doorway into a magical land and inadvertently finding herself in the center of an enslavement plot. Her creativity, along with the artistic aid of a like-minded boy, guides her safely home again, while at the same time giving her the companionship she has been seeking.

"Journey" by Aaron Becker

In Quest, Becker’s second book, the girl with the red crayon and her new friend with the purple crayon are drawn back into the mysterious world, where greater intrigue and suspense greet them. We learn that their crayons are part of a larger set of six that, in the right hands, can return color and freedom and prosperity to this grey and conflict-laden kingdom.

"Quest" by Aaron Becker

Now at last, in Return, we are given the final pieces of the puzzle. It was my son who came up with the idea that the bad guys aren’t simply after the crayons; they’re after art. Or, rather, they’re out to destroy the transformative power of making art. It was also my son who pointed out details that I initially missed: how the green emanating from the emperor’s boat is a sickly, unnatural green, a slime green, a green that somehow instinctively identifies him as evil.

"Return" by Aaron Becker

Our reading of these books is full of “Wait, look at that!” and “Oh, now I get it,” and “But what it THAT?” Three heads huddled over the same book. Three sets of fingers pointing. Three voices contributing to one shared understanding.

Perhaps there’s a third, even more powerful benefit that comes from sharing wordless picture books with our children—and that’s the opportunity to collaborate with them.

I’ve been thinking about this issue a lot, as we make the difficult transition into the rigidity of fall routines: of rushing to school, of rushing home from school, of trying to get dinner on the table and everyone to bed at an early hour so that we can make some semblance of an attempt at doing it all over again the next day.

Too often, I parent from a place of authority rather than a place of collaboration. But how can I insist that my children develop flexibility unless I am willing to demonstrate It myself? Wordless picture book, like the Journey trilogy (and I’ve listed other favorites at the end of this post), present a rare gift for us parents to embrace the benefits of honoring our children as partners, rather than progeny.

Appropriately, this happens to be precisely how the trilogy concludes. If the first book casts a less-than-favorable light on the girl’s parents—her mother chatting on the phone while cooking, her father too busy on his computer to respond to the girl’s entreaties to play—the third book spins a more optimistic narrative.

Return begins when the father looks up from his work and, seeing his daughter’s kite dropped at his feet, goes in search of her.

"Return" by Aaron Becker

When he finds her red door, he ducks and enters—until he, too, is a character in the vivid magical world that has bewitched his daughter on so many occasions. As it turns out, and as the girl only recognizes once she has forgiven his indifference and welcomed him into her imagination, the father has a critical role to play in the unfolding drama. The two share an adventure which, not only brings them closer together, but reveals a secret about the father’s own history with art and imagination. A door once closed has opened again for him.

"Return" by Aaron Becker

We do not need words on a page to comprehend the sheer joy on the girl’s face at the realization that she has an accomplice in her beloved parent. (Hint: see if your child picks up on the subtle change in the endpapers from the beginning of Return to the end; my daughter had to show me, and I almost broke down sobbing, so close to home did it hit.)

In a few months—and at a time when we aren’t rushing—I plan to get out these books again and encourage my kids to look at them alongside me with fresh eyes. I imagine they won’t need convincing. I think we’ve only scratched the surface of what we can discover and interpret and learn from these sensational pages.

Updated Nov 2017: The Journey trilogy BOX SET is now available: gorgeously packaged and including a never-before-released print!

Other Favorite Wordless Picture Books:
Hank Finds an Egg, by Rebecca Dudley (Ages 3-6)
Flashlight, by Lizi Boyd (Ages 3-6)
The Farmer and the Clown, by Marla Frazee (Ages 4-8; I challenge you to get through this story of connection without tearing up.)
Sidewalk Flowers, by JonArno Lawson & Sydney Smith (Ages 4-8)
Pool, by Jihyeon Lee (Ages 4-8, reviewed by me here)
The Girl and the Bicycle and The Boy and the Airplane, by Mark Prett (Ages 4-8)
Fox’s Garden, by Princesse Camcam (Ages 4-8)

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Review copy provided by Candlewick. All opinions are my own. Amazon.com affiliate links support my book-buying habit and contribute to my being able to share more great books with you–although I prefer that we all shop local when we can!

Seduced by Engineering

July 23, 2015 § 1 Comment

"Mr. Ferris and His Wheel" by Kathryn Gibbs Davis & Gilbert FordOne of the Great Surprises of my life came on a hot, clear summer day last August. My sister in law was visiting, and she and I decided to take the kids over to National Harbor in Maryland. “You know, Mommy, I heard they built a Ferris wheel there. I think we should ride it,” offers my eldest.

SAY WHAT? Now, I’ve read the parenting books, and I know we’re not supposed to label our children. So, in lieu of describing my seven year old as cautious, I’ll just say that he prefers to apply the road sign, PROCEED WITH CAUTION, to as much of his life as possible. If JP determines something to be of physical risk, he’ll likely avoid it all together—or spend weeks (ahem, years) ruminating on it, observing others doing it, until he’s absolutely sure he can proceed safely and confidently and without anyone’s assistance (see: bike riding). Heck, there are slides in our neighborhood that he still deems too tall to slide down.

So, I’m suddenly supposed to believe that my son is going to leave the safety of the ground aboard a giant rotating wheel that he has never actually laid eyes on? Don’t get me wrong, I was positively giddy at the prospect (wait, do you think we can start going to theme parks and rock walls?!), although I was careful to do my best nonchalant impersonation when I answered him, “Yeah, sure, we can do that, maybe, whatevs.” No need to jinx things with my shock and excitement.

On the ferry ride over, as we caught first sight of the Metal Monstrosity, hanging precariously out over the pier, I once again thought, NOT A CHANCE. And I once again was floored. “Wow, it’s a lot bigger than I thought, Mommy. But we are definitely riding it.”

As we got in line and paid a mere fortune (honestly, I would have forked over any amount to reward this burst of spontaneity), I watched with trepidation as the color began to drain from JP’s face. I realized he was listening to the attendant, who was loading people into what turned out to be giant glass-enclosed cars and then pointing out the large red “panic” buttons located in each interior. “Why do they need those buttons?” JP asked me.

“Um, in case someone feels sick and they want to come down and get out. I’m sure they hardly ever get used,” I quickly responded. Although I was beginning to wonder the same thing.

And then we were bolted in, quickly rising higher and higher, until we were suspended over the water on one side and the itty bitty figures of people waiting in line on the other. And then—as is the custom with every Ferris wheel I’ve ever been on—we were paused, dangling, SWAYING, for what seemed like an eternity, as a new round of people boarded at the bottom. And we still had four more laps to go.

IMG_8085

I looked at JP. “How are you feeling, buddy?”

He shot me a look like, don’t you dare talk to me right now or I’m going to start screaming like a banshee. Or maybe I’m just projecting how I was feeling. That panic button was calling to me. My sister in law looked equally frozen. (My three year old, on the other hand, seemed completely unfazed.)

But we did it. All of us. All five laps. We oooed and we ahhhed, and then we ventured that we might, we might, do it again someday. As we stepped off, I turned and asked the attendant (out of earshot of JP), “How often do people use that panic button?” She rolled her eyes. “You have no idea,” she said. But I did.

Weeks later, I asked JP what made him decide to ride the Ferris wheel. He started rambling about metal and motors and making grand gestures with his hands—and, suddenly, it dawned on me that it was sheer engineering that had seduced him. Even before he saw it in real life—when it was just something he had seen in pictures—the lure was magnificently romantic.

As if right on cue, Kathryn Gibbs Davis’ Mr. Ferris and His Wheel (Ages 5-10), a fascinating picture book biography of the man who invented the Ferris wheel, was soon published and quickly became a favorite in our house (along with the other engineering-themed picture books listed at the end of this post).

Once again, as with the best non-fiction children’s books, I was learning alongside my children.

Like many of history’s greatest inventions, the Ferris wheel was born out of competition. It was constructed for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair in an attempt, not only to “impress the world,” but to rival France’s Eiffel Tower, which had debuted ten months earlier. George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr., an American mechanical engineer, was already famous for designing some of our country’s biggest bridges, tunnels and roads. As he watched the earliest skyscrapers rise in front of his eyes on “elegant steel frames” (modeled after birdcages, as we learn in one of the fascinating asides in the book), he began to ask himself, what if I take the skyscraper concept and have it “dazzle and move, not just stand still like the Eiffel Tower?”

"Mr. Ferris and His Wheel" by Kathryn Gibbs Davis & Gilbert Ford

Of course, it wouldn’t be a story if there weren’t plenty of speed bumps along the way. After initially flat-out rejecting George’s proposal as “so flimsy it would collapse,” the Fair committee later reluctantly awarded him the bid, on the contingency that George secure his own funding (which he did by depleting his personal savings, so fervently did he believe in his dream).

"Mr. Ferris and His Wheel" by Kathryn Gibbs Davis & Gilbert Ford

Next, there was the stress of time: Ferris had only FOUR MONTHS to source materials, hire a crew, construct a perfect, enormous circle (“834 feet in circumference, rising 265 feet above the ground”), and then make it spin with the “precision of a small watch.” Oh, and did I mention that the passenger cars were the size of living rooms, with enormous picture windows and velvet seats to boot?

IMG_2160

The next time your child tells you something is impossible, have them think on that.

Still, if those challenges aren’t enough to rivet your child’s attention, let me tell you about my son’s favorite page (can we say dynamite?). When George and his crew first began work on the foundation, in the middle of one of Chicago’s coldest winters, they not only had to blast through layers of ice, but they had to battle 35 feet of quicksand (yes, that’s right, the Fair’s site turned out to be atop QUICKSAND).

"Mr. Ferris and His Wheel" by Kathryn Gibbs Davis & Gilbert Ford

All these happenings are narrated seamlessly and compellingly by Kathryn Gibbs Davis, appealing to a wide range of ages. Some of the more technical information is presented in optional asides (not optional for us, of course), but even the engineering specifics feel accessible.

"Mr. Ferris and His Wheel" by Kathryn Gibbs Davis & Gilbert Ford

Still, not being an engineer myself, I have to say that, for me, the greatest appeal of this book lies in Gilbert Ford’s exquisite mixed-media watercolors, which twinkle and soar and PERFECTLY ROMANTICIZE the dream, the ambition, the teamwork, the national pride, the engineering prowess, the magic, and the fun surrounding the Chicago World Fair. The fantastical color palette of turquoise, hot pink, deep purple, and midnight blue makes the experience of reading the story even more magical.

I get goosebumps just thinking about how the Ferris wheel must have looked to the people who stood before it, especially when it was lit up at night. At that time, houses were still predominantly lit with candles, so this was most people’s first chance to see electricity in action. Farmers and executives alike came to see the 3,000 electric light bulbs in action. Why, it must have seemed like the work of fairies. At least, that’s how it is painted.

"Mr. Ferris and His Wheel" by Kathryn Gibbs Davis & Gilbert Ford

Of course, Davis’ story reminds us that the wheel was, in reality, four months of incredibly hard, back-breaking labor, nearly all of it performed by human hands. Not to mention exacting conceptualizing, measuring, and overseeing by human brains, most notably those of George and his engineering partner, William Gronau.

During the nineteen weeks the wheel was in operation, 1.5 million passengers rode it. It revolved more than 10,000 times, withstood gale-force winds and storms, and did not need one repair.

Perhaps, no matter how cautious we might consider ourselves (or our children), we are powerless to resist the seduction of the Ferris wheel. Untethered from the ground, given over to pure engineering beauty, we feel the awe-inspiring magnitude of the human spirit.

But it does feel good to be back on firm ground when it’s done.

Other Favorite Engineering-Themed Picture Books:
Building Our House, by Jonathan Bean (Ages 4-8)
Rosie Revere, Engineer, by Andrea Beaty & David Roberts (Ages 4-8; reviewed here!)
Violet the Pilot, by Steve Breen (Ages 4-8)
Pop’s Bridge, by Eve Bunting & C.F. Payne (Ages 6-12)
Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building, by Deborah Hopkinson & James E. Ransome (Ages 6-12)
The Amazing Impossible Erie Canal, by Cheryl Harness (Ages 7-14)

AND get this: there is ANOTHER picture book bio about George Ferris coming out this fall, titled The Fantastic Ferris Wheel: The Story of Inventor George Ferris, by Betsy Harvey Craft. As far as I can tell, it details the same story but with more text and information, so it could potentially be great for an older child. It also looks beautifully illustrated (by Steven Salemo)—in a completely different way than Gilbert Ford’s.

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Review copy provided by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All opinions are my own. Amazon.com affiliate links support my book-buying habit and contribute to my being able to share more great books with you–although I prefer that we all shop local when we can!

 

Weird and Wonderful Hospitality (Courtesy of Ben Hatke)

May 21, 2015 § 8 Comments

"Julia's House for Lost Creatures" by Ben HatkeI’d like to be the kind of mom who has the house where all the kids want to hang out. I’d like to be the kind of mom who throws back her head and exclaims breezily, “The more the merrier!” Who pulls out a sheet of warm chocolate chip cookies from the oven and, after grubby little fists have snatched them up, goes on to say, “You know, why don’t you all stay for dinner? I have something delicious bubbling away in the crock pot!”  I’d like to be the kind of mom who turns the other cheek at dirty footprints, blots of ink, trails of sand, and piles of crumbs; who sighs and thinks, “All that matters is that they are here and they are happy.”

I am not that kind of mom. Two years ago, I participated in a Spring Break Swap with a group of close friends, where we each took turns at our respective houses watching nine kids for a day. My kids have lovely friends. Kind, intelligent, creative friends. But that did little to quell the feeling that I was UNDER SIEGE. So many little mouths telling me they were hungry! So many eager eyes imploring me to admire their drawings! So many children running up and down stairs, squealing and shouting and scrabbling!

Nope, I am not that kind of mom. It turns out that becoming a parent didn’t transform my Type A personality. I’m often still as inflexible as my daughter is when she’s presiding over her tea parties. Still, the idea of having an open-door policy, of creating a space where everyone feels welcomed and accepted, holds great romantic appeal. On paper.

This promise of hospitality is just one of the many reasons that I continue to be taken with Ben Hatke’s 2014 picture book, Julia’s House for Lost Creatures (Ages 3-6). The only reason I didn’t write sooner about one of my favorite books of last year is that it was initially such a runaway hit, the Indie publisher couldn’t print them fast enough!

Allow me to touch on some of the gems in this story. To begin with, there’s Julia, our young Type A heroine with a handkerchief in her hair and gold in her heart; who dreams of making her large, rambling Victorian house a refuge for “Lost Creatures.” (Incidentally, Julia’s compassion towards “misfits” reminds me of the equally enchanting Miss Maple’s Seeds.)

"Julia's House for Lost Creatures" by Ben Hatke

But WAIT. My children would go absolutely bananas if I wrote another word without mentioning their favorite detail: that the book opens with Julia’s life-sized house arriving at the seaside on the back of a turtle. That’s right, some people go where the wind blows them; others follow the whim of a giant, purposeful turtle.

"Julia's House for Lost Creatures" by Ben Hatke

Then there are the Lost Creatures themselves: an energetic hodgepodge of trolls, mermaids, ghosts, dragons, fairies, folletti, and other unidentifiable but irresistibly appealing creatures—some sad, some hungry, some lonely, and some just plain curious. (Here, we get reminders of another favorite, The Monster’s Monster.)

"Julia's House for Lost Creatures" by Ben Hatke

There is the predictably unpredictable chaos that ensues when all the creatures suddenly find themselves under one roof—and the effect that this has on poor Julia, who would really like to be a lot breezier than she is. Even if she can get past the mountain of dirty dishes, the footprints on the walls, and the loud music, a folletti toasting a marshmellow over a small bonfire on her roof is just one step too far.

"Julia's House for Lost Creatures" by Bob Hatke

There’s Julia’s stroke of genius—a chore chart!—which ultimately allows everyone to co-habitate in peace and harmony. (Of course! Give everyone jobs! Why didn’t I think of that?)

"Julia's House for Lost Creatures" by Ben Hatke

Finally, there is author-illustrator Ben Hatke’s unique treatment of the subject matter. Those with kids who have been bitten by the Graphic Novel Bug (which may not be a new phenomenon, but which is gaining momentum like never before) may already know Hatke from his acclaimed Sci-Fi series, Zita the Spacegirl (Ages 8-14). Even I—not by nature a comics lover—have fallen in love with this sophisticated graphic novel trilogy for its spunky heroine, other-worldly setting, deeply cadenced narrative, and all-around cool factor.

With Julia’s House for Lost Creatures, Hatke’s first foray into the picture book world (and the beginning of more to come!), he blends both traditional picture book elements with comic-strip attributes. Playing to his strengths as a graphic artist, Hatke is able to advance Julia’s story as much through the visual spreads and frames as he does through the carefully-chosen sentences. The resulting hybrid feels almost like a new literary category, and both of my children Can’t. Get. Enough.

"Julia's House for Lost Creatures" by Ben Hatke

When I learned that Ben Hatke would be leaving his rural Virginia home (nestled in the Shenandoah Valley with his wife, four young daughters, and an eccentric cast of cats and chickens) to visit Hooray for Books here in Alexandria, you can bet we were going to be there. Hatke is exactly the kind of literary artist that I would like my children to know: approachable, vastly talented, and bursting with pleasure to be doing exactly what he is doing. His enthusiasm for book making—specifically for experimenting with the comic format—is positively contagious.

Ben Hatke at Hooray for Books

My seven year old, fueled by what I am not sure is a healthy obsession with Calvin and Hobbes (if you hear the rustling of pages in his room at 6am, you can bet that he’s reading one of the ten Calvin books stacked next to his bed like a second nightstand), has spent much of this last year attempting to write and illustrate comic stories of his own. When Hatke told JP that each of his book projects originates in a designated notebook, and that most of his ideas arise from free-form sketching in said notebook, I saw JP’s eyes light up. I was not surprised when, the next day, he brought his wallet to the grocery store to purchase a notebook for his “next project.”

Ben Hatke Event

Speaking of projects, here is a glimpse of Hatke’s next picture book, starring a misunderstood goblin and his skeleton friend, destined to live in that same compelling cross-section of fantasy and realism that is very quickly becoming Hatke’s claim to fame.

Ben Hatke

And even before the goblin book comes out, as early as this September, we’re going to get an early-reader graphic novel, somewhere between the levels of Julia and Zita, titled Little Robot. That’s right, people, this guy is on a roll.

"Little Robot" by Ben Hatke

Perhaps someday I’ll get up the courage to invite Hatke and his family and his four-legged and feathered pets to my house for a play date. Heck, maybe I’ll invite all of you to bring your kids, too. I’ll sit back, watch the kids overturn paint cups and spray each other with our garden hose, and I’ll smile and think, “The more the merrier.”

Or perhaps I’ll leave the hosting to local bookstores.

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All opinions are my own. Amazon.com affiliate links support my book-buying habit and contribute to my being able to share more great books with you–although I prefer that we all shop local when we can!

Over the (Big) Top

May 14, 2015 § 4 Comments

"Pop Goes the Circus" by Kate KliseThere’s an undeniable thrill that comes from binge reading a series that has already been published in its entirety. But it can be equally exciting to read through a series in real time, anticipating the next installment for months, then rediscovering characters like old friends. One of our family’s greatest literary pleasures over the past 18 months has been the Three-Ring Rascals series (Ages 7-11, younger if reading aloud), by sister duo Kate Klise (author) and M. Sarah Klise (illustrator). Perhaps you heard our squeals a few weeks ago, when my kids and I walked into our local bookstore and discovered that the fourth installment, Pop Goes the Circus!, was out (with still more on the way!).

What has made this early-chapter book series such a joy in our house is that it has been enjoyed equally and together by my four and seven year old. In fact, it hits every criteria on my Must-Find-Chapter-Book-That-Appeals-to-Both-Hooligans agenda.

Three-Ring Rascals Series by Kate Klise & M. Sarah Klise

As far as early-chapter book series go, Three-Ring Rascals is a big step up in reading level from, say, the ever-popular The Princess in Black—and a smaller step up from another of my favorites, the Arnie the Doughnut series. The lengthy text, challenging vocabulary, and frequent word play make it suited for the most enthusiastic early readers. At the same time, the layout, broken up on every page by contagiously charming black-and-white sketches and speech bubbles, make it equally ideal for the so-called “reluctant” reader. When we first started the series, my son was a budding reader, and we quickly fell into a groove where I would read the main text alone, and he and I would read the speech bubbles together. “It’s like we’re putting on a play!” he announced jubilantly one night.

The best part, especially for those looking for chapter books suited to a pre-reading audience, is that this series reads aloud beautifully. If that doesn’t sound unusual, then you have not tried reading aloud other early-chapter series, like The Magic Tree House. Don’t get me wrong: The Magic Tree House books are perfect for developing readers to enjoy on their own—their fast-paced chapters of time-traveling adventures are highly effective at igniting a love for reading—but God help the parent that tries to stay awake while reading such exclusively plot-driven material.

Allow me to liberate you. Never for one minute think that it is your job to read aloud prose that doesn’t sing, that doesn’t impress you with its inventiveness, that doesn’t cut to the heart of what life should be about, that doesn’t keep you on the edge of your seat or have you erupting in giggles alongside your children. And this, my fellow parents, is exactly what Three-Ring Rascals does.

Three Ring-Rascals is equal parts sweetness and silliness. But don’t be fooled: lurking beneath the glitzy surface are substantial lessons about kindness, loyalty, and forgiveness.

The series is about the (mis)adventures of an eccentric, lovable troupe of circus performers—some animal, some human—under the care of a benevolent old man named Sir Sidney (who longs to retire to his private peanut farm). In the opener, The Show Must Go On! (Book One), we are introduced to an insidious scam artist named Barnabas Brambles (a.k.a. “Big Mean Baddie”), to whom Sir Sidney misguidedly entrusts the operations of his circus. Blinded by greed, Brambles attempts to over-schedule performances and mistreat the animals. As it does in all the books, the cleverness of the animals ultimately wins out, and the story ends with Brambles a reformed and repentant character, now sincerely dedicated to the welfare of the circus.

"Three-Ring Rascals: The Show Must Go On" by Kate Klise

In The Greatest Star on Earth (Book Two), the peace and harmony of circus life is again compromised, this time by a competition staged by local reporter Polly Pumpkinseed, in which Sir Sidney’s performers try to “out-do” one another (with disastrous results), in an effort to be crowned the “greatest star on earth.” It takes Barnabas Brambles, acting under the tutelage of a pair of wise mice, to show the group that they each play an integral role in making the circus a success. (Everyone just needs to chill out.)

"Three-Ring Rascals: The Greatest Star on Earth" by Kate Klise

In The Circus Goes to Sea (Book Three), the performers try their hand aboard the S.S. Spaghetti, where they end up saving the cruise ship from sinking (using a giant meatball), while simultaneously befriending the lonely daughter of the ship’s single-mother captain. By the book’s end, the skeptical, unyielding Captain LaPasta falls in love, not just with the unpredictable circus troupe, but with Barnabas Brambles himself (cue wedding bells!).

"Three-Ring Rascals: The Circus Goes to Sea" by Kate Klise

If the third book ends with a wedding, the fourth and newest, Pop Goes the Circus! (Book Four) (which we devoured so quickly we immediately had to start it again), ends with a funeral for someone who isn’t dead. If that sounds bizarre, it is—but only in the irresistibly quirky way that this author-illustrator duo can so seamlessly pull off (their older-reader series, 43 Old Cemetery Road, really showcases their fondness for the macabre). You see, when circus mouse Bert gets carried off by a helium balloon in the book’s early pages, what else are his friends supposed to believe if not the worst? We alone are privy to Bert’s runaway adventures, involving robbers, ventriloquists, and a reunion with the third book’s young heroine, Flora Endora Eliza LaBuena LaPasta (say that five times fast). Of course, all is well that ends well, and Bert finds his way back to the circus just in time to turn his funeral into a popcorn-tastic homecoming party.

"Three-Ring Rascals: Pop Goes the Circus" by Kate Klise

With any of these four books, it’s downright impossible on a first reading to grasp every detail embedded on the pages, from the main text to the accompanying graphics (things like ticket stubs, newspaper clippings, text messages, recipes, and song lyrics). Luckily, you won’t mind reading each book a second or third or fourth time, because it’s absurdly good entertainment. Find me another story where a circus train gets stuck atop the St. Louis Arch for a week. Where words like “worried” and “nervous” come together to make “worvous.” And yet, one thing that this series unquestionably shares with so many of the Greats is that good and true hearts always prevail in the end.

"Three-Ring Rascals: The Show Must Go On" by Kate Klise

Sure, go ahead, wait for number five to be published (it will be titled Secrets of the Circus); wait for any more that might be coming down the pike; and then sit down with your kids and read each book back to back. Personally, that’s not my style. When something is this good, the kids and I just have to jump in before knowing how it all turns out. We might be pulling our hair out for months in between, but that might be the telltale sign of a Perfect Read-Aloud Chapter Book.

Other Favorite Early-Chapter Series That Make Engaging Read-Alouds:
Three Tales of My Father’s Dragon, by Ruth Stiles Gannett (read my post here)
Toys Go Out and sequels, by Emily Jenkins
Dory Fantasmagory, by Abby Hanlon (the equally awesome sequel comes out this July, woo hoo, read my post about the first one here)
Lulu and the Brontosaurus and sequels, by Judith Viorst & Lane Smith
Mercy Watson to the Rescue and sequels, by Kate DiCamillo & Chris Van Dusen
The Princess in Black, by Shannon Hale & LeUyen Pham (the highly-anticipated sequel comes out in October, read my post about the first one here)
The Adventures of Arnie the Doughnut: Bowling Alley Bandit and sequels, by Laurie Keller (read my post here)

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All opinions are my own. Amazon.com affiliate links support my book-buying habit and contribute to my being able to share more great books with you–although I prefer that we all shop local when we can!

A Mother’s Greatest Gifts to Her Children

May 7, 2015 § 4 Comments

"Dragon's Extraordinary Egg" by Debi GlioriIn this age, where our self-worth seems increasingly defined by how busy we are, I find that one of my greatest challenges as a mother is quieting the “to do” list in my head when I am around my children. I’m not talking about simply spending time with them. I’m talking about being in the moment with them. I might be on the floor playing Candy Land, but I’m secretly fretting over when I should start dinner. I might be throwing a ball in the backyard, but I’m all the while thinking about the mountain of weeding that needs to get done.

My children know I love them. But how often do they feel the gift of my time?

This winter, I fell in love with a picture book by the lovely Scottish author-illustrator, Debi Gliori, titled Dragon’s Extraordinary Egg (Ages 4-8). It’s about dragons, yes, but it’s also about penguins and a landscape of ice and snow, so by all accounts, I should have shared it with you in the height of snow days and sub-zero temperatures. Except that it’s also one of the most beautiful portraits of motherhood that I’ve ever come across in a children’s book (it’s right up there with this one). So, I’ve been saving telling you about it until Mother’s Day, a time for celebrating those who are trying so hard every day to do right by the little ones we love.

Dragon’s Extraordinary Egg is, if we’re being literal, a multi-generational adoption story. But get it out of your head right now that just because my or your child wasn’t adopted, that this story won’t resonate through every inch of their being. More than anything, Dragon’s Extraordinary Egg is about the power of maternal love to transcend differences, to transcend convention, to transcend the occasional ugliness of life.

The story begins with a dragon who finds herself the only one of her kind without a spotted, striped, or bumpy egg of her own; a heartbroken dragon who “went off to be alone for a while” and in the process stumbles across a small, abandoned egg on a sheet of ice. “Yes, that egg needed a mommy. And that dragon needed an egg. It was a perfect fit.”

"Dragon's Extraordinary Egg" by Debi Gliori

When the egg hatches to reveal “Little One,” a black, fuzzy, round baby who looks nothing like the other dragon children, we as readers immediately recognize her as a penguin chick (although, in perfect keeping with the story’s message, she is never labeled as such). For each way that Little One is different from the other children, her dragon mother makes sure that she has exactly what she needs.

"Dragon's Extraordinary Egg" by Debi Gliori

All the other eggs grew big and strong.
They grew long necks and wide wings
and hard scales all over.

But Little One, being small and fluffy,
grew courage instead.

All the other eggs were given endless gifts:
fast toys; vast toys; flashing,
clattering things that made a noise.
But Little One was given
love and time, the greatest gifts of all.

“Love and time, the greatest gifts of all.” (Can you hear my sobbing? Is this not the most beautiful thing ever? OK, OK, let me continue.)

As Little One grows up with the dragons, who live “on top of a mountain with a fire in its heart,” she is often picked on by the others for her inferior size, her inability to breathe fire, her failure to fly. Her feathers may keep her warm, she quickly learns, but “they can’t keep cold words out.” However, a real dragon’s skin is “too scaly to feel the heat,” and it’s Little One who perceives the volcano roaring to life beneath her and sounds the warning for the other dragons to fly away and save themselves.

In possession of courage and the will to survive, which her dragon mommy has so lovingly bestowed on her, Little One discovers that she can fly on her own to escape the flames—that is, on her belly down the snowy mountain.

"Dragon's Extraordinary Egg" by Debi Gliori

At the bottom of the mountain, Little One—like her mother before her—finds an egg that’s in need of someone to love it.

Beyond the soft, warmhearted illustrations; beyond the beautiful blending of two species to create an enduring familial bond; beyond the impressive aerodynamics of the dragons and the grounded sweetness of the roly poly penguins—is something even better: a narrative twist that’s hinted at in the story’s beginning, but gets a big, surprising reveal at the end. As it turns out, the story I’ve just told you is a story within a story, a story that happened three generations ago. In the present, Little One is now grown up, her egg now a rambunctious young penguin named Pip. Pip is requesting his favorite bedtime story, the story about his grandmother—a dragon—who took a chance on an abandoned egg and gave it all the love and time she could. In the warm, secure embrace of his mother, a son is reminded of what matters most.

"Dragon's Extraordinary Egg" by Debi Gliori

I recently took a yoga class where the teacher ended by sharing a personal story about attending an outdoor concert with her husband and children. She admitted that, even with the electrifying music, even with the beautiful sky above them, her thoughts kept returning to the work waiting for her back home. Then, one of her children needed to go to the bathroom—and afterwards, on the way back to their seats, she and the child discovered that they were locked out of the concert. For the next hour, the two sat together on a fence, listening to the distant music and laughing about the unexpected turn of events. Throughout that hour, she felt completely grounded in the present and acutely aware of the palpable love between her and her son.

As I listened to that story, it hit me that this is precisely why I choose to read aloud to my children so often. When I read to my kids, my heart and my mind are equally focused on what’s directly in front of me. Thanks to how picky I am about what we read and to how exceptional today’s offerings are, I’m usually just as enthralled in the story or pictures as my children are. I can ignore my beeping phone; I can forgo the distraction of Facebook; I can quiet the “to do”s.

When I’m reading to my children, every one of my senses is engaged. I feel their soft limbs pressing against me. I inhale the musty smell of a library book or the inky crispness of newly-purchased pages. I discover things I might otherwise miss, when little fingers point something out on a page. I’m astonished and proud and moved by what they say or ask when we finish a final chapter. Reading to my children is one of the few times (I’d have to add impromptu dance parties and family bike rides) when I can shut out everything else and just be with them.

When I can give my children, not only my love, but also my time.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mommies out there—getting up each day to do what we do—and may we all clear more mental space for ourselves and for our loved ones in the days and years ahead.

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Hibernating with Poetry (Joyce Sidman Style)

February 26, 2015 § 2 Comments

"Winter Bees" by Joyce Sidman & Rick AllenNews flash: right now, under your very own backyard or front porch, there could be as many as 20,000 garter snakes huddled together, using the body warmth of one another to wait out these cold winter months. SAY WHAT? If you think I’m exaggerating, I’m not. And now you, too, can be reminded of said news flash by your seven year old every morning as you leave the house. All thanks to one of twelve poems in Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold (Ages 6-12), the latest lyrical and visual masterpiece by poet Joyce Sidman and printmaker Rick Allen.

Thankfully, Winter Bees IS a masterpiece, so you won’t mind reading about snakes, which may or may not be lurking in “hibernaculums” beneath the ground on which you tread (if you remember, our snake obsession started here). Thankfully, too, most of the poems in Winter Bees are more beautiful than creepy, inspiring awe for animals like tundra swans, moose, beavers, moles, and chickadees, as well as frosty events, like ice crystal formation.

"Winter Bees" by Joyce Sidman & Rick Allen

Joyce Sidman has long been one of my favorite poets for the elementary crowd (see her other books at the end of this post), crafting odes to the natural world that are packed with figurative language both compelling and accessible to a young audience. Unlike much of the poetry targeted at this age, Sidman’s poems are neither silly nor funny. Like the natural wonders that she describes, her poems soar, move, and transcend. And the best part? You’ll be astonished at how much your children’s minds absorb and expand while reading them. Take “Dream of the Tundra Swan,” the book’s opener about swans preparing for a migratory flight:

That night, we dreamed the journey:
ice-blue sky and the yodel of flight,
the sun’s pale wafer,
the crisp drink of clouds.

"Winter Bees" by Joyce Sidman & Rick Allen

My seven year old doesn’t tolerate my pausing for discussion after every poem, but I’m usually able to milk a few. “What do you think they mean by ‘sun’s pale wafer?’ I ask. “Because the sun is round like a cookie,” he responds. “And why would it be a ‘pale’ cookie?” I ask. “Because it’s not very bright that day? Because sun in the winter is kind of dull,” he offers. And then he adds, of his own accord: “I never thought that you could taste water if you flew through a cloud and you weren’t in an airplane—that’s cool!”

While us adults often shy away from poetry, children—if given the chance—often run towards it. Think about how non-literal and non-linear children’s minds are, how front and center their imagination is each time they take in the world. Is it any wonder that poetry has been called the language of childhood? Is there better proof of this connection than discussing Sidman’s poems with your children?

But Joyce Sidman has gone the extra mile here. She has not relied on poetry alone to teach children about the hidden secrets of the winter world. She has paired each poem with a fact-filled paragraph that enhances through juicy, relevant details. Honeybees, my children were shocked to learn (because when was the last time you saw a bee in the snow?), actually remain active throughout winter, eating their way through stored honey supplies and “shivering” on especially cold days to generate warmth inside the hive.

"Winter Bees" by Joyce Sidman & Rick Allen

No plug for this unique book would be complete without acknowledging the impact of Rick Allen’s stunning, take-your-breath-away illustrations: a winter wonderland like no other. Blending old and new art mediums, each image has been cut, inked, and printed from over 200 linoleum blocks;  colored by hand; and, finally, digitally scanned and layered on the computer. I’ve always been drawn to woodblock printing, but…wow. Just WOW. This is winter at its best. This is the winter of our dreams (NOT the winter that Boston has been having, nor the ubiquitous school delays and sub-zero wind chills.) It’s the perfect contrast of warm oranges and chestnut browns against the crisp white snow. It’s the twinkling, ethereal effect of snowflakes caught on a moose’s fur. It’s the bare white branches of trees against a purple sky-filled night. It’s OMG GORGEOUS.

"Winter Bees" by Joyce Sidman & Rick Allen

"Winter Bees" by Joyce Sidman & Rick Allen

Read from start to finish, Winter Bees takes us on a journey from the beginning of winter to the first hints of spring (can we have a Halleluiah please?). As the days lengthen, the chickadee calls out announcing a new nesting season. Skunk cabbage “peeks up through the snow:/ the first flower in the wood./ Wreathed in an eerie purple glow,/ up through the slick of soggy snow,/ smelling of rotten buffalo.” Tiny flea-like creatures called springtails (with anti-freeze in their bodies!) burrow up through melting snow and somersault into the air, celebrating the change of season (“we have to move!/ we have to spring!”).

"Winter Bees" by Joyce Sidman & Rick Allen

As much as I love wintery books like this (all the better to read to my children under the covers or with a hot mug of tea in my hand), I know I’ll feel akin to the springtails in a few weeks, more than ready to catapult my family into spring.

Other Favorite Poetry Picture Books by Joyce Sidman:
Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature, illus. Beth Krommes (Ages 4-8)
Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors, illus. Pamela Zagarenski (Ages 5-10)
Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night, illus. Rick Allen (Ages 6-12)
Song of the Water Boatman and Other Pond Poems, illus. Beckie Prange (Ages 6-12)
Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow, illus. Beth Krommes (Ages 6-12)
Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors, illus. Beckie Prange (Ages 6-12)

Review copy courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All opinions are my own. Amazon.com affiliate links support my book-buying habit and contribute to my being able to share more great books with you–although I prefer that we all shop local when we can!

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