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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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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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April’s Kittens – 1940 Caldecott Honor Book

I am quite surprised that April’s Kittens by Clare Turlay Newberry achieved the status of a Caldecott Honor Book.  While I really enjoyed the story, the pictures were not what I would consider worthy of this award. 

In this book April’s cat has three kittens.  Since her family lives in a small apartment in New  York City, her father says she can only keep one cat.  She loves all of the cats, but is faced with giving away the adult cat in order to keep her favorite kitten.  Finally, April’s parents decide it is time to move into a larger home,as the family has outgrown their current accommodations.  This move will allow April to keep both her cat and her very favorite kitten.

 Caldecott Criteria:

1. “Excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed.” – While I was not impressed with the artwork as a whole, the faces and expressions of the kittens were very life-like.

2. “Excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept.” – I felt that much more could have been done artistically to enhance the storyline.3.“Appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept.” – The love that Aprilfelt for her kittens is well-portrayed visually, so much more that is explained in the story is missing in the illustrations.4.“Delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood or information through the pictures.” – April is only seen twice in the book, a little boy who is a minor character gets an entire page, and the rest of the illustrations are of the cats.  I would have liked to see April’s parents and her surroundings, too.  The simplicity of April’s life is evident.  The changes in mood throughout the story are not as obvious as they could be.

5.“Excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience.” – While my girls liked this story, I found them zoning out visually and not even looking at the pictures.

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Fly High Fly Low by Don Freeman – 1957 Caldecott Honor Book

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.

Caldecott Criteria:
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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