Monthly Archives: January 2013

When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant

When I Was Young in the MountainsOne of my earliest memories at a library was hearing When I Was Young in the Mountains, written by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Diane Goode, read during preschool storytime.  The story itself did not make enough of an impression on me at the time that I remembered it well, but the picture on the cover of the brother and sister with their brown dog looking over a mountain scene is something I have not forgotten over 25 years later.  In reading this book to my children I realized there were probably several reasons why I did not retain the content of this story, but feel that this can be different for my kids.  First, the children in this book live with their grandparents and have a very close relationship with them which is something with which I could not relate to at that young age.  Second, several topics, such as coal mining, the use of an out-house, and being baptized in a muddy pond, required more detailed explanations to young children than would be practical for a larger group of children.  Finally, the thought of having a dead snake slung around the necks of 4 children for a picture is repulsing to me even to this day.  In short, I still squeal at the sight of even the smallest snake.  I hope that I was able to overcome some of these obstacles with my children so that they will be have more detailed memories of this book and may want to share it with their own children years from now.

Pros: A great conversation starter about life in other cultures and times in the United States.  A sweet look at family love.

Cons: If you have a fear of snakes, take a deep breath about the middle of the book.

Age Range: 4-9

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Aesop’s Fables

Aesop's FablesWe recently finished reading a compilation of Aesop’s Fables.  So much wisdom is packed into each concise story that we had to take reading this one slowly so I could make sure that my older girls really understood the meaning behind the stories.  I knew for sure that at least something had sunk in thanks to my 4-year old’s responses to me when I fussed at her for dragging out her chores.  She said, “Mom, slow and steady wins the race!”  Her excuse did make me giggle!

Pros: A group of stories that can be read in shorter spurts, so are suitable for a wide variety of ages.  I enjoyed that every story is different – funny, sobering, or exciting – yet, they all teach a valuable lesson.

Cons: After reading more than 100 pages of this book some of the stories started to sound alike.  I found that I would skip to the end of each and review the moral to the story to see if it was overly similar to ones we had already read.

Age Range: 3-Adult

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A House is a House for Me by Mary Ann Hoberman

A House is a House for Me by Mary Ann Hoberman opened up a new way of thinking for my children.  The premise of this book is that everything is a house for something else, everyone has a house of their own, and that the world is where we all belong.  Thinking of earmuffs, books, and castles all as houses was intriguing and fun.  We had a great time continuing to think of other houses and their occupants after we finished this book and during the entire family meal which followed!A House is a House for Me

Pros: A fun way to teach children to look at the same item from various perspectives.

Cons: One page discussed four types of homes used by Native Americans.  While this was interesting and something I wanted my girls to learn, I did not like how it was presented.  On the preceding page all of the home inhabitants mentioned are animals, while on the following page they are modes of transportation, and no other homes for humans are discussed other than on this page.  To me this seemed to dehumanize Native Americans.  Usually I can easily overlook this type of issue or see it as a view common in the era of the book, but not so in this case.  Still, overall, this book is worth reading and this one page could easily be skipped.

Age Range: 3-8

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My Mother is the Most Beautiful Woman in the World – 1946 Caldecott Honor Book

My Mother is the Most Beautiful Woman in the WorldBy the time we are reading this, our forty-first Caldecott book, it has become clear to me that people of the 1940’s must have been very intrigued with other cultures and countries since so many award-winning books written during that period have these common themes.  My Mother is the Most Beautiful Woman in the World, written by Becky Reyher and illustrated by Ruth Gannett, is a retelling of a Russian folktale.  In this story a little girl gets lost during a harvest-time feast.  When asked about her parents all she can say is that her mother is “the most beautiful woman in the world.”  The villagers sort through all of the gorgeous women nearby for the child’s mother, but are surprised when they find that her mother is a rather homely looking lady.  In the end, the mother tells her daughter that she is happy that her daughter sees beauty not only with her eyes, but also with her heart.

 

Caldecott Criteria:

1. “Excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed.” – Stippling and pointillism, a painting technique in which small, distinct dots of color are applied in patterns to form an image (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pointillism), are used throughout this book.  While I did not find these illustrations particularly beautiful, they are artistically detailed, and maybe that is the point given the storyline.

2. “Excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept.” – While I did not find these illustrations particularly dazzling, they are artistically detailed, and maybe that is the point given the storyline.

3. “Appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept.”-  A peasant Russian style is evident throughout the story.

4. “Delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood or information through the pictures.” – Each one of these literary aspects is clearly defined through the illustrations.

5. “Excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience.” – When I asked my oldest daughter if she liked this book she very nostalgically replied, “Yeah, the pictures are pretty.”

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You Can Write Chinese – 1946 Caldecott Honor Book

You Can Write ChineseI would love to know more about author Kurt Wiese’s purpose for writing You Can Write Chinese, a 1946 Caldecott Honor Book.  This German-born author/illustrator led a very exciting life of travel through much of the world.  At the start of World War I, he was in China as a importer/exporter, but was captured by the Japanese, turned over to the British, and held in Australia.  He eventually made his way to Brazil and then the United States where he took up illustrating and was married.  This still does not explain the background for this story.

 

Caldecott Criteria:

1. “Excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed.” – While the illustrations are interesting, I would not classify these illustrations as exceptional.

2. “Excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept.” – The pictures at the beginning of the story help to explain why these students are learning to write Chinese, but after the first few pages the reader only sees the words in Chinese.  I would have liked to reconnect visually with the students and teacher at some point later in the story.

3. “Appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept.”–  While stylistically old-fashioned Chinese, these pictures are the story. 

4. “Delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood or information through the pictures.” – The plot is clear in the beginning, but lost after the first few pages.  The theme, characters, setting, and information are well-explained through the illustrations.  No mood is evident in this rather pedantic book.  

5. “Excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience.” – My children did not enjoy this book.  Maybe introducing writing in another language before they have fully grasped writing English is just too much for them.

 

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Sing Mother Goose – 1946 Caldecott Honor Book

Sing Mother GooseSing Mother Goose, with music by Opal Wheeler and illustrations by Marjorie Torrey, takes the reader, or musician, through 52 common nursery rhymes.  I was pleasantly surprised that I was familiar with most of these poems, but the tunes were not those that I grew up singing along with the rhymes.  The darling illustrations in this 1946 Caldecott Honor book make this a worth-while book to check out.

 

Caldecott Criteria:

1. “Excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed.” – The incredible detail and use of rich, varied colors in each illustration are remarkable.

2. “Excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept.” – Each rhyme comes to life with the help of beautiful illustrations.

3. “Appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept.”-  I loved the colors chosen for each specific poem.  The sandy whites and browns for a rhyme about the seaside in comparison with pastel pinks, blues, and greens for “Curly Locks” helps the reader to remember the storylines even more.

4. “Delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood or information through the pictures.” – The illustrations in this book easily communicated each of these literary components. 

5. “Excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience.” – While the musical scores were lost on my children, they did enjoy the amazing illustrations.

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Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown

Big Red Barn

I grew up reading books by Margaret Wise Brown, but I was not familiar with her book, Big Red Barn.  This book seems a bit different from many of her others because the illustrator, Felicia Bond, is not someone she collaborated with much in her writings.  Being a simple review of barnyard animals and their sounds, along with other items common to a farm, Big Red Barn easily won the attention of all of my children.  The rhymes that slip easily off the tongue, as well as the farm day’s progression from morning to night offer opportunities to teach preschoolers.

Pros: A fun, easy-to-read book ripe with topics for learning, this book is a great preschool read-aloud book.

Cons: None.

Age Range: Infant – 6

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