One 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
The Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall, illustrated by Barbara Cooney – 1980 Caldecott Medal Book
The Ox-Cart Man tells the story of a family who works throughout the year on their farm to produce a myriad of items that may be sold at market in the fall to provide for their family. The book begins at what seems to be the end of the process as the man sets out to sell the goods and even the cart and ox that he took to town. He buys a few items the family needs, then returns home to start over. The folk-art illustrations, while simple, perfectly complement this story. The clear colors, countryside scenes, and pleasant expressions on the characters’ faces give a calming sense of well-being to this story about the rhythm of the passing seasons.
1. “Excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed.” – Beautiful folk art illustrations. Simple, yet effective.
2. “Excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept.” – As the family’s year unfolds, the story is easily understood through the pictures.
3. “Appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept.” –The style of the illustrations perfectly fits the storyline.
4. “Delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood or information through the pictures.” – The plot, characters, setting, mood, and information are depicted so clearly through the pictures on each page that the story could nearly be understood without words at all.
5. “Excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience.” – My girls definitely enjoyed this book. The illustrations led to great discussions about shearing sheep, spinning wool, and other old-fashioned farm tasks.
They Were Strong and Good by Robert Lawson tells the stories of the author’s parents and grandparents in short biographical form. Each from very different backgrounds as a Scottish sea captain, a Dutch girl, and a Southern gentleman who was a preacher and fought in the Civil War, the stories vary greatly in length and interest value. I had read this book to my children over a year ago and found it boring. With this reading, I found the beginning of the book to be entertaining and age-appropriate for my children, but the later part of the book seemed to drag on. The small-line drawings are incredibly intricate and again, fun in the early part of the book, but less engaging as the book progresses.
1. “Excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed.” – Very detailed, small-line, black and white drawings.
2. “Excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept.” – Each individual story is thoroughlyexplained through the illustrations.
3. “Appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept.” – The old-fashioned look of the pictures matchesthe overall storyline.
4.“Delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood or information through the pictures.” – The overall plot and theme are lost, but each story is made clear through the pictures. The settings and characters are very obvious.
5.“Excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience.” – My children enjoyed the illustrations near the beginning of the book, but lost interest as the book when on.
Age Range: 3-10
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Wee Gillis by Munro Leaf, illustrated by Robert Lawson – 1938 Caldecott Honor Book
Wee Gillis, a young boy from Scotland, is caught between his parents’ different cultures — the Lowlanders and the Highlanders. He spends alternating years with each side of his family learning their way of life and profession and becoming increasingly stronger. Finally, one day he must choose where he will live and what hisprofession will be. As his uncles are trying to convince him to work with each of them, a man happens along carryinga large bagpipe. The bag is so large, in fact, that the man does not have enough wind to play the pipes. Each uncle tries blow enough air into the bag, but fails. Finally, Wee Gillis succeeds in playing the pipes, thanks to the strength he has gained in his lungs while working with his family. He then decides to remain halfway between the Lowlands and the Highlands playing the largest bagpipes in all of Scotland.
1. “Excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed.” – The black and white short line drawings are amazingly detailed. I particularly liked that the viewer could practically “feel” the roughness of Wee Gillis’ woolen clothing.
2. “Excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept.” – The pictures convey the story plot effectively.
3. “Appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept.” – The Scottish theme is portrayed convincingly.
4. “Delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood or information through the pictures.” – The hilly setting, feuding families, and Scottish clothing evident throughout the illustrations make this story come alive.
5. “Excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience.” – My 5-year old and I were laughing by the end of this book and agreed that it was a fun and worthwhile book to read.
Age Range: 3-10
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Fly High Fly Low by Don Freeman, a 1957 Caldecott Honor book, captures the reader’s heart. A pigeon builds his nest in a letter “B” in a large sign, but is soon made fun of by other pigeons. A white dove befriends him and soon they have a nest with 2 eggs, but tragedy strikes when the letters are removed while the dove is sitting on the nest and the pigeon is away. After a long search aided by a man who feeds pigeons in the park, the little family is reunited and the other birds come to realize that the pigeon indeed did have a wonderful home.
1. “Excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed.” – The colored pencil illustrations are incredible!
2. “Excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept.” – Yes.
3. “Appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept.” – Perfect for this story based in the air and water.
4. “Delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood or information through the pictures.” – These illustrations make the book so personal.
5. “Excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience.” – My kids loved these pictures and could easily understand what they did for the story.
Age Range: 2-8
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Summary: In All the Places to Love by Patricia MacLachlan, a boy nostagically connects his years with the places that he and his family loved to go. I found this book irresistible, as much for its richly detailed paintings by Mike Wimmeras for its slightly emotional story which pulls at the heartstrings on many levels. I felt as if I could walk right into each of the illustrations and feel at home. My children loved the book and seemed captivated by the art work as well.
Pros: Lovely illustrations and a story that will bring back childhood memories for all.
Cons: “All the Places to Love” are clearly on this family’s farm, but I hope that my children can find places to love wherever God takes them throughout their lives.
Age Range: 2-8
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“There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island.” Walt Disney
The power and value of the written word has incredible meaning for our lives. As we expose ourselves and our families to stories, we learn information available from no other source. The content and quality of the books we read will be of lasting importance and will affect who we are and what our families become.
From an early age, I have loved reading. Some of my earliest memories are of the books that my mother read to me. As I learned to read on my own I was exposed to various genres and developed a clear idea of the types of books that I enjoyed. Fast forward through many years of reading to where I find myself now – a librarian’s wife and mother to 4 children who love books. As I read for myself and to my children I find books that are wonderful and I want to share with others and also find books that I would tell others are not of lasting value and thus not worth reading. My husband and I want to expose our children to a wide variety of reading – fiction vs. non-fiction, fantasy vs. real-life, books in print vs. audio books, print and ink books vs. digital books. With this goal in mind I want to share with readers of this blog many of the books we read, our impressions of these books, and recommendations for future reading.