Smoky Night

Score: lemon_1small lemon_2small lemon_3small lemon_4small out of 5 lemons

Smoky Night challenges readers to think about themselves. In the story, a young African American boy, his cat Jasmine, and his mother watch the riots unfolding in the streets of Los Angeles, as the reckless public steal a TV, clothes, and even groceries from Mrs. Kim’s Korean grocery store. The boy and his mother go to sleep in their day clothes, when a fire ignites within their apartment building, and they are forced to flee to a shelter with their neighbors. Two missing cats help to mend the discord in people’s hearts.

“They probably didn’t know each other before,” says the young boy, about the two cats who were reunited after the fire.

Smoky Night is a thought-provoking, serious picture book with themes of racism, violence, tolerance, and acceptance. At first, the two cats do not like each other, but enduring a difficult situation together brings them closer, and gives them the opportunity to understand one another. Likewise, the community follows suit, starting with the boy’s mother and Mrs. Kim by extending and accepting an invitation to learn more about each other. This picture book has a beautiful message amiss the violence. Published in 1994, Smoky Night is a remarkable social commentary about its time.

The powerful illustrations are just as beautiful. The picture book mixes various mediums, such as acrylic paintings, hand-lettered techniques, and relevant, carefully composed real-life backgrounds arranged and photographed by David Diaz. The unique style shows that it is every bit deserving of its Caldecott medal through its use of texture, themes, and provoking story. My only criticism is that a young child (and even adults) may not be able to interpret some content in the photographed backgrounds due to its abstract nature.

Otherwise, I highly recommend this story, particularly for classroom lessons and discussion for children. This offers the chance and challenge for children to engage in their ideas about community, racism, cooperation, and differences. Parents may also want to share this story at home to help children navigate these subjects.

Olivia

Score: lemon_1small lemon_2small lemon_3small lemon_4small lemon_5small of 5 lemons

The best stories are the ones a reader can pick up and enjoy again and again. That is how I feel with Olivia. My version of Olivia contained a read-aloud CD, so I read the story for the first time with the audio from Dame Edna, who is quite the character. The music of the audio was perfect for the reading experience. It was slow at times, but expertly captured the fanciful tone of the story.

Summary: Young Olivia is good at so many things, such as wearing people out, like her brother named Ian, mom and dad, dog named Perry, and cat named Edwin. She is a fan of many activities like dress-up, going to the beach, and imagining life as a ballerina. Olivia has so many adventures every day.

As a pen-and-ink story, Olivia was whimsical, humorous, and clever. The author used minimalist colors and gray tones, but purposefully used the color red to draw attention to specific pieces and details within illustrations. The color red was used to illustrate the joy and energy of the character, who was inspired by Falconer’s niece. The illustrations paired well with its words, and I enjoyed different styles used in illustrating, such as with the portraits from the museum (Autumn Rhythm #30 and Ballet Rehearsal), Olivia’s drawings and paintings, and gradients.

Examining the simple story, the picture book captures the energy and exuberance of a young child through all the various activities, from sand castle-building to portrait-viewing experience. A young child can find a friend or his/her self in the little piglet. The text is brief, but interacts well with the illustrations. Falconer masterfully utilizes the composition of a page while maintaining the focus on Olivia.

lemonade-308970_640Overall, the artistic style is appropriate, creative, and works well with subject. The format, the typography is a bit small and may be used with older elementary readers. The layout is purposeful and cleverly arranged. The text and images complement each other, and as a reader, I was impacted by this story, as this was a story I shared with family and friends, something I wanted to pass on as a treasure. This book is clearly deserving of its Caldecott honor! A story like this is timeless for children (ages 3-7). 5 out of 5 lemons! Which means–it’s the perfect glass of lemonade!

Stuart Little

Score: lemon_1small lemon_2small out of 5 lemons

What a bizarre read.

Understand, this is a fantasy book. Suspend disbelief at the parents’, community’s, and strangers’ responses to Stuart Little, a mouse who stands two feet tall, who sleeps in a cigarette box and lives with his family in New York City. He delights in sailing boats in the park, landing in misadventures with the house cat, Snowball, and beautiful bird, Margalo. For children, this may be an imaginative treat. It’s a short classic story with charm, little thought, and strange events.

This book left me mystified. I found the narrative disjointed, as the story randomly bumbles along, describing Stuart’s misadventures with becoming lost in the house, sailing straight and true, nearly being killed by garbage truck, not-so invisible miniature cars, one little person named Harriet, and a random journey to find the misssing Margalo. This lacks the emotional impact of E.B. White’s classic, Charlotte’s Web, a favorite of mine. Though, I liked Stuart Little and his silliness as a sailor, teacher, and nutty little mouse.

Like Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little included original black and white line drawings from Garth Williams, who also illustrated the Laura Ingall Wilder’s Little House series. These delightful illustrations complimented the story and highlighted various dilemmas of the little mouse, like getting ready in the morning, leaving home, and traveling to find a missing friend. These illustrations were one of my favorite things about the tiny book.

I thought this book was going somewhere–not sure where, but somewhere–and then it ends. It simply ends. If you’re looking for conclusion, you won’t find that here. You never know what becomes of Stuart’s journey, Margalo, or even little questions about Harriet’s being or how humans can birth mice…

In the end, this little literary experience of Stuart Little earns little lemons, due to its lack of cohesion, answers, and conclusion. Two out of five lemons for its charm and interesting characters and events, but it would have benefited from a tight ending and more congruity between scenes.

Fairy Tale Comics: Classic Tales Told by Extraordinary Cartoonists

Score: lemon_1small lemon_2small lemon_3small lemon_4small lemon_5small out of 5

61I9UGXa2PL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Seventeen classic fairy tales are envisioned by a host of talented artists in this comic book compilation. All of the tales are illustrated utilizing unique techniques aligned with the exceptional artist’s style. Many of these artists have been nominated and/or received literary and art awards for their work. Some tales are adapted and retold with clever and fun division from the original recordings. Most of the original content is maintained in this child-friendly retelling. Even gruesome bits of the stories are expressed appropriately to maintain a suitable tone for young readers. Honestly, I appreciate the adaptations, due to some questionable, dark, and wicked elements of the originals that were first intended for adults.

20141230_105414Tales and Artists:

When a book compiles a series of comics from outstanding artists, it can only be a treat! The variation between comics delights readers with its stunning arrangements, colors, dialogue, and sometimes wordless narrations. To highlight some names, Brett Helquist, illustrator for many books like A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, creates a beautiful rendition of Rumpelstiltskin with its realistic characters, clear composition, and straightforward dialogue. (Though, I would love to insert a strong comment on the treatment of women in fairy tales.) Raina Telgemeier, author of the three graphic novels Smile, Drama, and Sisters, designs an amusing telling of Rapunzel with the heroine saving the prince and escaping from her tower prison. I very much enjoyed the work of Luke Pearson, cartoonist of the all-ages Hilda comic serieswho illustrates The Boy Who Drew Cats comic from the Japanese tale as told by Lafcadio Hearn. I had never heard this tale before and adored the humor, artistic style, panel arrangement, and surprise ending. Another favorite of mine is The Prince and the Tortoise, adapted from the 1001 Nights tale as told by Jean-Charles Mardrus, and illustated by Ramona Fradon, script by Chris Duffy, colors by James Campbell, and letters by Jack Morelli. This superstar collaboration envisioned and organized a humorous and complete story of three sons who marry due to the fate and a young son and tortoise who teach an important lesson about the nature of beauty and judging by appearances. At the end of the book, a bit of information and background is given about the contributors. I would have liked to know more about their artistic style and choices in creating the comics for the book.

The tales in this compilation are a blend of well-known tales from Brothers Grimm, recognizable stories, non-European tales, and male and female protagonists. The original tales may or may not be known to children, who may not be able to note deviations in these adaptions. This is a wonderful introduction to fairy tales through an accessible media form, which will be appreciated by children and intermediate readers. The comic form allows children to discover a story by deciphering the words and images while familiarizing themselves with elements of the traditional fairy tales.

In addition, I highly appreciate the editor’s note from Chris Duffy at the end of the book, which explains the selection of tales and includes a minor bibliography. I will link the electronic resources on this blog post:

  • gutenberg.org
    Project Gutenberg offers an extensive online collection of copyright-free works, including some fairy tale books. Try searching for the phrase “fairy tale” and the country or region of origin.
  • surlalunefairytales.com
    SurLaLune Fairytales is an online fairy tale resources, offering many of the classics.
  • pitt.edu/~dash/folktexts.html
    Curated by D. L. Ashliman, the Folklore and Mythology Electronic Texts compile folklore and fairy tales from all of the world.

lemonade-308970_640Because of the perfect score, this book earns a big cup of LEMONADE! This is a successful comic compilation from brilliant artists powerfully capturing the elements of the original tales and transforming them into an accessible book for children and intermediate readers. I recommend this book for your home or library book shelves.

John Coltrane’s Giant Steps (Picture Book)

Score: lemon_1small lemon_2small lemon_3small   out 5 lemons

612WNYgUnbL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_This picture book may be lost on me.

Chris Raschka‘s lively illustrations bring John Coltrane’s unique jazz style to life using a box, a snowflake, some snowflakes, and a kitten. Each character represents a specific element of music, such as the tempo and melody. These elements animate music as a visual experience for children. As the musical sequence progresses, the characters change color to reflect the movement of music. What’s fun is that the conductor/narrator allows the cast of characters to stumble in the music and then calls for them to stop! The conductor gives each character some mild criticism and compliments, and they restart their energetic performance, ending with brilliance and a series of “bravos”.

I appreciate and enjoy the concept of representing music as a literary experience specifically targeting children. I also appreciate introducing children to famous jazz figures and music terminology. People may experience music in different ways. This captivating storytelling is certainly unique and expressed brightly with vivid alternating colors on the pages. It’s experimental and exciting to the eyes.
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Although, I’m not sure if I “got” it. Maybe those with more experienced musical backgrounds will understand, and perhaps children, but it may require instruction and explanation. This book could be utilized in a unit, as part of a series of activities for children. My copy of the book did not come with a CD to follow along with, but that may have helped understanding the musical sequence in the story. I did, however, listen to John Coltrane’s spirited and complex Giant Steps track on YouTube while reading the story, which allowed me to grasp the tone of the picture book.

Overall, I found the picture book charming with its colorful illustrations, but also confusing. To those who are musically and analytically inclined, they may enjoy this introduction to jazz and music expressed visually. It is clever in concept, but it might be confusing for younger children without any sort of explanation or guidance from more experienced readers. Recommended for primary readers.