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.