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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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The Polar Express – 1986 Caldecott Medal Winner

The Polar ExpressAs we celebrate the holidays with friends and family, the Christmas spirit is in high gear around our house, and we are enjoying the opportunity to read several seasonal books.  I particularly enjoyed The Polar Express, a 1986 Caldecott Medal book, by Chris Van Allsburg.  Although the movie based on this book is also a family favorite, we had never before read the book.  The storylines follow the same path, but the book has far fewer details as it is only a short children’s pictures book and could not fill in all of the details required for a 90 minute film.

Caldecott Criteria:

1. “Excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed.” – We enjoyed the captivating artwork on every page of this book.  The vibrant colors and details give the reader plenty to savor.

2. “Excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept.” – The story is richly illustrated, but I wished more scenes could have been included.

3. “Appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept.”-  The style brings Christmas to mind in every illustration.  The use of light and shadowing are stunning. 

4. “Delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood or information through the pictures.” – The plot could almost be told through the illustrations themselves, the theme is excellently explained via the pictures, and the setting is obvious, but the mood is a bit confusing on some pages.

5. “Excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience.” – My children enjoyed this book and had fun comparing it to the movie.

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The Christmas Anna Angel – 1945 Caldecott Honor Book

The Christmas Anna AngelThe Christmas Anna Angel, a 1945 Caldecott Honor Book by Ruth Sawyer and illustrated by Kate Seredy, is a difficult book to understand without a good handle on the history of Russia, the traditions of the Russian Orthodox Church and lots of old wives tales, which, admittedly, I was lacking upon reading this story.  In the beginning Anna and her family are visited by a scary-looking man dressed in colorful robes and carrying a staff on St. Nicholas Eve who asks what they would like for Christmas.  Apparently, this was supposed to be St. Nicholas himself on December 6th.  The next holiday that the family celebrates is St. Lucy’s Day on which the children chase the chickens around their yard in an attempt to make them lay eggs, supposedly causing them to lay every day throughout the entire year.  This holiday takes place on December 13th and is celebrated mostly in Scandinavia, but also in some parts of what I think of as Russia today.  Finally, the family celebrates Christmas Day with their modest presents and ornately decorated shaped cakes.  There is so much more to this story, but I found the storyline impossible to follow.  With a talking dog and an angel appearing to the girl with her same name, as well as with the arrival of St. Nicholas, I could not tell from the story itself what was real, imagined, or a dream.

 

Caldecott Criteria:

1. “Excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed.” – A wide variety of pictures are in this book.  Most of them are charcoal and colorful chalk – very typical of the western Russian culture of the late 1800’s to early 1900’s.

2. “Excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept.” – The pictures do complement this story well.

3. “Appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept.”-  Depictions of St. Nicholas and other religious icons, as well as the clothing pictured make this story come to life as a Russian tale.

4. “Delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood or information through the pictures.” – The pictures do not serve to interpret the confusing plot or theme, but the characters and setting are very clear and well-pictured.

5. “Excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience.” – My children did enjoy this book, but were confused about the storyline, too.  To do fair justice to this book, I would need to spend considerable time teaching them about the history and culture suggested in the narrative and by the illustrations, so that they could truly understand what is happening.

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The Rainbabies by Laura Krauss Melmed

The RainbabiesThe Rainbabies written by Laura Krauss Melmed and illustrated by Jim LaMarche tells the story of a couple who have a wonderful life together, but still wish they could have a baby.  One night the woman hears rain falling at night and insists they go outside in the rain since she has heard that a moonshower is good luck.  As the rain ends, they see twelve drops of water each containing a tiny baby.  The couple take the infants inside and begin to raise them.  Soon they experience several trying circumstances, such as a sudden storm while in a boat, a wildfire encircling the babies, and a weasel stealing one of the infants.  One dark, rainy night the family is visited by a youg man who asks to trade the babies for a valuable stone.  When the couple refuses, the man turns into a beautiful woman.  This Mother Moonshower insists that, even though the man and woman have been wonderful for the babies, it is time for her to take them back since they cannot grow without her.  As she is leaving she shows the couple that she has brought them an adorable infant of normal size to be their own child.  This daughter, Rayna, grows up and makes the couple truly happy.

Pros:  My girls loved this book because it provided plenty of room for imagination.  I was surprised when, hours after we read together, my oldest daughter mentioned this book,specifically reminding me that she really liked the story.

Cons:  While I didn’t have anything specific against this book I did not particularly enjoy reading this fanciful story.  It was just a bit much of a stretch for me.  My girls did not like the way the story ended.  They wanted the couple to be able to keep the Rainbabies!

Age Range: 3-9 years

3 of 5 stars

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Mother Goose illustrated by Tasha Tudor

Mother Goose illustrated by Tasha Tudor, a 1945 Caldecott Honor Book, sweetly retells 87 pages of well-loved nursery rhymes.  Several times I have read Mother Goose compilations with many unfamiliar poems, but I was pleasantly surprised that I knew most of the verses in this book and that my children were saying many of them along with me as I read to them.

Caldecott Criteria:

1. “Excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed.” – Vibrant watercolors superimposed on beautiful, old-fashioned line drawings on every other page.  That this artist was also well-known for her work on Christmas cards, calendars, and Valentines is no surprise, judging by her charming and heart-warming art work in this book.

2. “Excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept.” – These children-friendly pictures make each rhyme easily understood.

3. “Appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept.”-  These pictures do seem to fit well with the typical image seen of Mother Goose and her characters.

4. “Delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood or information through the pictures.” – As this is a compilation of individual verses no ongoing plot, theme, or setting is evident.  The mood is generally light-hearted, which fits these rhymes for children.  The visual information does help children to understand some of the less-used vocabulary as well as to remember the poems. 

5. “Excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience.” – Even though this book was longer than we usually read in one sitting, my children begged for me to keep reading while they enjoyed the pictures until we had completed the entire book.

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The Thanksgiving Story – 1955 Caldecott Honor Book

The Thanksgiving Story written by Alice Dalgliesh and illustrated by Helen Sewell is certainly one of the better children’s books with which I am familiar that recount the story of the Pilgrims’ and Indians’ first day of giving thanks together, along with the events leading up to that famous occasion.  Historical fiction, this 1955 Caldecott Honor book follows a family with four children through this time in history.  While I love that the emphasis is on giving thanks to God, I was disappointed with an incorrect definition of “Pilgrims” early in the book.  I believe the author could have applied her definition more correctly  to the term “Puritans” and called all of the travelers, regardless of their reason for pursuing a life in America, “Pilgrims.”

 

Caldecott Criteria:

1. “Excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed.” – Every other page is illustrated with vibrantly colorful, simple depictions of the story.  The alternating pages are outlined with interesting, rust-colored block figures and drawings.

 2. “Excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept.” – I appreciate that the illustrator chose to accurately picture the story, including the clothing and food.

 3. “Appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept.”-  These pictures are stylistically appropriate for the era of the story.

 4. “Delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood or information through the pictures.” – All of these characteristics are clear through the pictures except for mood.  From what I understand of Puritan culture, though, this lack of emotional display would have been typical.

 5. “Excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience.” – My children enjoyed this book and asked lots of questions about the story.  I would recommend this book to remind families of the true reason for our nation’s Thanksgiving holiday.

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