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As I've mentioned before, I had the great honor and opportunity to serve again as a second round judge on the Elementary/Middle Grade Nonfiction book award panel for the Cybils Awards. If you're not familiar with the Cybils awards, they are the Children and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards.
Our judging panel chose the following as the 2014 Cybils Award winner for best Elementary/Middle Grade Nonfiction book:
Using child-friendly similes, Feathers shows that there is both beauty and purpose in nature and that, although we do not fly, we have many things in common with birds, such as the need to be safe, attractive, industrious, communicative, and well-fed. The simple, large text is suitable for reading to very young children, while the inset boxes contain more details for school-aged kids. The scrapbook-style watercolor illustrations show each feather at life size, and provide a nice jumping-off point for individual projects. Science, art, and prose work together to make this the perfect book to share with budding young artists, painters, naturalists, and scientists, and it will be appreciated by parents, teachers, and kids.
Esther Ehrlich’s debut novel, Nest, is an arresting story of an eleven-year-old girl named Chirp Orenstein, whose life becomes acutely sharp and complicated as her mother’s illness overtakes the familyAdd a Comment
Are you ever too old for a picture book?
Walk into a bookshop, and you’ll rarely find a picture book on the shelves labelled 5-8, 9-12 or Teenage/Young Adult (the age bandings used in the most widespread chain of bookshops in the UK), implicitly telling buyers that picture books are only for those under 5.
But what if you have a picture book about Descartes’s philosophical statement “Je pense donc je suis” or to put it another way “Cogito Ergo Sum”?
A book which not only explores learning to listen to yourself, to trust your own instincts but also what it feels like when you think you have failed and how to fight against the dark thoughts that then crowd in.
Gosh, if only we all knew everything we needed to know about these issues by the time we were five! Wouldn’t life be much simpler?
I am Henry Finch written by Alexis Deacon and illustrated by Viviane Schwarz is a new picture book which makes readers and listeners think about every one of these big concepts and more. It’s about being brave, about being independent, about feeling secure enough to not follow the crowd (though also being happy to be part of a community).
It’s also about totally adorable little birds and one terribly monstrous beast who wants to eat them all up.
Henry is just one of a huge flock of finches. They make a racket all day long, doing the same as each other over and again but one day Henry starts thinking for himself. He starts to have his own dreams, his own vision of who he could be, independent from the community he’s grown up in.
Alexis Deacon has written (although not specifically about Henry Finch):
“It seems to me that if every character in your story is entirely on message and engaged with the world you have created it can be very off-putting for the reader. I find that I am drawn to stories where not every character follows the grain: Reluctant characters, perverse characters, selfish characters, irreverent characters. They are often the catalysts for action too.”
And Henry Finch does indeed go against the grain, doing things differently to those around him, daring to be different. But he’s not selfish. In fact, his ability to think for himself gives him the courage to tackle the monster who threatens his family and friends.
Danger, doubt and darkness beset Henry, but he survives and shares what he has learned with his fellow finches, sparking a cascade of individual ideas and wishes as they each set off to explore the world, though not before reassuring each other that “We will come back“; the finches are thinking for themselves, but individuality doesn’t have to lead to the destruction of their community.
Deacon’s story is full of food for thought, opportunities for discussion and debate, whether you’re 4 or 40 or more. The meaty issues explored never become overwhelming, not least because Viviane Schwarz’s illustrations bring so much humour, delight and simplicity into the story.
The use of fingerprints to illustrate a narrative about what it means to be an individual is a stroke of genius; is there a more powerful symbol of individual human identity than the imprint left by the small ridges on the tips of our fingers? They also bring massive child appeal; mucky fingerprints on walls and furniture are unavoidable aspects of life with children, and so there is nothing like these marks to proudly proclaim, “Hey, I’m here, me, this child, and I can make a mark on the world around me!”.
I really like how Schwarz sometimes brings her real life community into her artwork. In her graphic novel The Sleepwalkers there are crowd scenes filled with real people she knows, and in I am Henry Finch, she’s included fingerprints from friends as well as her own. The joy she’s had in creating these images can be seen in the hugely expressive faces and wings of the finches, and that seeped into us: we just had to make our own flock of finches using the same technique.
We started out with inkpads, paper and lots of messy fingerprints…
…but soon we were experimenting with other sorts of prints too…
Then we added beaks and wings…
And soon we had our very own chattering of finches:
One or two elephants interloped! (these were made from prints using the side of our fists – click here to see what Viv Schwarz created with similar prints)
These finches were born from toe-prints, whilst the beasts were heel-prints:
They just kept on coming, causing havoc, and just getting on with doing their own thing.
Whilst fingerprinting and making our own flock of birds we listened to:
Other activities which could work well alongside reading I am Henry Finch include:
I’ve more philosophy in the form of illustrated books coming up soon on the blog, with offerings from the Netherlands and Spain. What are your favourite picture books which deal with the big issues in life?
Disclosure: I received a free review copy of I am Henry Finch from the publishers.
It's time to fly home for dinner! In this witty picture book from award-winning and bestselling author Mac Barnett, a mother bird gives the bird next to her a message for little Peter.Add a Comment
One Thing Stolen. I had an idea about vanishing and effacement. I am obsessed with birds and floods. I sometimes misplace things, especially names, and I have, therefore, a growing obsession with the mind and where it puts the things that once were.
Kephart at her poetic and powerful best. ONE THING STOLEN is a masterwork—a nest of beauty and loss, a flood of passion so sweet one can taste it. This is no ordinary book. It fits into no box. It is its own box—its own language.Add a Comment
ONE THING STOLEN is a tapestry of family, friendship, Florence, and neuroscience. I’ve never read anything like it. Kephart brings the reader so deep inside Nadia we can feel her breathe, and yet her story leaves us without breath.
A.S. King is the author of Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, Reality Boy, Ask the Passengers, Everybody Sees the Ants, Please Ignore Vera Dietz, and The Dust of 100 Dogs
Having mastered ballet in Flora and the Flamingo, Flora takes to the ice and forms an unexpected friendship with a penguin in Molly Idle's Flora and the Penguin.Add a Comment
Title: A Letter for Leo Written and illustrated by: Sergio Ruzzier Published By: Clarion Books, New York, 2014 Themes/Topics: postmen, friendship, letters, birds, weasels Suitable for ages: 3-5 Fiction, 32 pages Opening: Leo is the mailman of a little old town Synopsis: Postman Leo … Continue readingAdd a Comment
|©the enchanted easel 2014|
This is one of the projects I've been working on recently, for an art college class. Yes, birds and mail art. Wonderful. Loads of cutting, slicing, collaging, and then drawing and painting, was done. I ended up with a couple of options to work on, and liked them both but ended up picking this one below for the final review.
I went through a bit of exploration and research and managed to develop quite a fascination with ravens, sifting through poems such as Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Raven', folklore, fairy-tales, fables--almost picked Aesop's The Crow and the Pitcher--so it isn't too surprising that I went with this pair in the end ... In Norse mythology, Huginn (from Old Norse "thought") and Muninn (Old Norse "memory" or "mind") are a pair of ravens that fly all over the world of Midgard, and bring information and news back to the god Odin. Flying messengers. Perfect.
I've depicted them as a white and black raven, and addressed the envelope to them. Their names are written in ancient Nordic runes just above their respective beaks. Yes, there's a message inside as well, written on rice paper 'parchment'. Private, of course. Let's hope that the envelope will eventually be returned to sender (me!) with a postal mark to show that it's been in the system. Here's a glimpse of the bit of mess I made while researching and working on the project ...
Here's the back of the envelope with a depiction of the Nordic mythical Tree of Life, Yggdrasil ...
The ravens and the tree were paper cuttings (my sketch book suffered somewhat) that I painted (watercolour for the birds and some marker pen on the tree) and collaged onto the envelope. On the front I'd also glued crosswords (to symbolize thought, naturally) onto the original white envelope, and then placed a thin sheet of rice paper over the whole thing so that it looked like parchment, slightly aged. I quite like the result, what do you think?
The other attempt at mail art was slightly a different one: I made an envelope from black paper and then cut straight into it, collaging and shading only the white bird on the front. Then I placed white paper inside the envelope so that it showed through the snipped out leaves, flowers and insects.
Simple, but I think it's quite cute. The back is a more abstract representation of a (meaner) raven and its wings, can you see it?
I did like this black and white bit of mail art, but once I'd begun on the research for the winged messengers of Odin, I fell in love with them and that was pretty much that. I think I made the right choice picking them as my final piece, what do you think? There are infinite possibilities for both options though, and I may end up using them somehow on cards and other goodies, so keep an eye out for them up at the Floating Lemons shops in the near future ...
Meanwhile, I wish you a fantastic week. Cheers.
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Here are some pictures from the album launch of Kawakawa's new album, "Island Species".
It's beautiful, and we had a great evening.
There were some very strange birds present...
The Adventures continue…and you can read more here: The Tales of Mr. and Mrs. Wren Filed under: Nature's design Tagged: birds, eggs, feeding, hatchlings, insects, nest, nesting, wrensAdd a Comment
Red Squirrel, a new imprint from Barrington Stoke, is dedicated to creating exciting picture books.
But what makes them sit especially tall on the bookshelf is that as well as superb storytelling and inventive illustrations, these picture books contain lots of dyslexia friendly features so that grown-ups with dyslexia can also experience the joy of reading aloud to the kids in their lives.
Have you ever been reading a book and then fallen into a reverie imagining yourself as the character you’re reading about?
This is exactly what happens in All I said Was, and as a consequence – with the help of just a little magic, a boy and a bird swap places.
The boy-turned-bird is delighted. “This flying lark is amazing. I wan to to be a bird all my life.”
The bird-turned-boy is also pleased as punch: He discovers the joy of being able to read.
But is bird-life really all it’s cracked up to be? And can the magic ever be undone?
A quietly funny celebration of the power of a good book to transport us anywhere – safely – this is lovely story, told clearly and concisely. Its theme makes it particulars appropriate for opening a new venture which will hopefully enable more families to enjoy more stories.
Collins’ characterization and visual humour are especially strong (I particularly like his farmer and pigs). The illustrator also has the final say with a brilliant twist in the tale once Morpurgo’s words are complete. It’s a brilliantly satisfying, slightly naughty and rather funny end to a super book.
This is a book that could be enjoyed for so may different reasons – whether you’re looking for a prime example of illustrations doing so much to enrich a written text, a book celebrating how books can bring our imagination to life, or simply a funny story to share at bedtime – whether or not you yourself sometimes struggle with the written word.
All I can say is: Hurrah for Red Squirrel and their broadening of what it means for picture books to be inclusive.
Both M and J said they too would love to experience flying like a bird. The nearest I could offer them was the joy of flying…. a kite, made to look like a bird. Ah well, us parents, we can only try our best
We cut out very rough bird shapes from old plastic bags which we decorated with permanent pens. Once the feathers, beaks and eyes were in place we attached thin doweling to our birds. I used this commercial product as a starting point, cross referencing it with these instructions for making a diamond kite to come up with All-I-Said-Was-Kites Mark 1.
We each made one kite and then imagined us swapping places with the birds as we flew them.
Additional activities which could work well alongside reading All I said Was include:
Music that goes well with All I said Was and the playing it induced in us includes:
If you could swap places with a character in a children’s book, which character would you swap places with (bearing in mind whoever you swapped with would take your place in your family/classroom/library….)?
Disclosure: I received a free review copy of All I said Was from the publisher.
Book: Early Birdy Gets the Worm
Creator: Bruce Lansky
Illustrator: Bill Bolton
Age Range: 2-5
Early Birdy Gets the Worm is billed by the publisher, Meadowbrook, as "A PictureReading(TM) Book for Young Children". The end flaps include a User's Guide for Parents and Teachers on using PictureReading books (with pictures telling the story) to support storytelling with young kids. The guide says: "The ultimate goal of PictureReading is to turn over to the child the role of figuring out the plot points and connecting them with a narrative thread as soon as possible." So, something like a wordless picture book that is meant for the child to lead the reading of, instead of the parent taking the lead. An early reader without any words, if that makes any sense.
For me, however, a book has to be judged on how good it is, not on what the intentions are. It needs to be a book, rather than a "parenting resource". And in the end, I liked Early Birdy Gets the Worm as a wordless picture book, but I didn't love it. It's the story of a young bird who is inspired by seeing his mother pull a worm out of the ground to try to do the same thing himself (with less than successful outcomes). Bolton's illustrations are gentle, and convey a mild humor, though his backgrounds seem overly simplistic.
I think that Early Birdy's setbacks will make kids laugh, even as they feel a bit protective of the fuzzy brown chick. For example, he see a bit of pink poking out of a tree trunk and pulls, only to find an irate mouse at the other end. The expressions of the characters are slightly exaggerated, to make sure that kids can follow the story.
I found the conclusion to Early Bird Gets the Worm disappointing, however. He's never able to get a worm himself. He goes back to his nest, and then his mother brings him a worm. The message feels like: Try, but don't worry, if it doesn't work out, Mommy or Daddy will take care of you. And while this is doubtless true in most cases, I found it unsatisfying in a narrative sense.
I will try this one out with my four-year-old daughter. And thinking about this book has inspired me to try to be a bit more interactive when reading with her, to encourage her to tell the story. Early Birdy is definitely cute. But I'll be surprised if Early Birdy Gets the Worm lands a spot on our regular re-reading list.
Publication Date: May 6
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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Kittens and Cute. They go together like purple and prickles, tigers and teatime, picnics and lashings of ginger beer.
But even though every reader who picks up this book will definitely find Max adorable and charming, Max himself definitely does not want to be called cute. He wants to be big, grown up and brave. And to prove his mettle he’s going to hunt down his nemesis… a mouse.
But therein lies a problem. Max does not know what a mouse looks like.
The kitten’s not-knowing-any-better does indeed result in displays of exuberant courage and kids every where will identify with Max’s desire to be be hailed a hero, his refusal to lose face and the simple joy and playfulness of the chase to say nothing of the everyday challenges which arise from simply having to learn how the world works and what it made up of.
This book is an example of storytelling – in both words and pictures – whittled down to the very purest. With only a word or two on many pages, plain typesetting, apparently simple, unadorned illustrations (where much of the impact comes from the page colour and large empty spaces rather than highly detailed or vast drawings). In its bareness there is a direct line to the story, the humour, the characters. There’s nowhere for this story to hide, no embellishments, no fancy details, and this clarity gives the storytelling a freshness that is bold and very exciting.
Restraint may be present in Vere’s brushstrokes (he captures moments of determination, puzzlement, fear poetically and precisely – just take a close look at Max’s eyes on each page to get a sense of what I mean), but this is vividly contrasted with an exuberant use of colour to fill the pages. From Meg and Mog to several fabulous books by Tim Hopgood and one of my most recent reviews, The Cake, there’s a great tradition in picture books of banishing white pages and using glorious swathes of intense colour to the very edge of the pages. One could do some fascinating research into background page colour and emotions at any given point in the story; here, for example, the pages are red when Max is annoyed, and blue with things are quieting down and Max is feeling soothed.
Readers and listeners to Max the Brave may hear echoes of the Gruffalo’s Child with its themes of bravery and danger as a result of not knowing what something looks like, but perhaps more satisfying will be the recognition of characters (or at least their close relatives) from other books by Vere. Is that Fingers McGraw being sneaky once again? Could that be the monster from Bedtime for Monsters making a guest appearance? And indeed, is Max related somehow to the Bungles in Too Noisy? How lovely to be able to imagine these characters having such an real, independent life that they can walk out of one book and into another.
Packed with so much laughter and sweet appeal this book will prove a hit with many, many families. It’s certainly one we’ve taken to our heart – so much so that the kids wanted to make their own Max and retell his story in their own inimitable style.
First J sewed a black kitty out of felt, with pipe cleaners for arms, legs (and one stuffed in Max’s tale so it could be posed.
M (pen name: Quenelda the Brave) then used our new Max to create montages for each page in Ed Vere’s gorgeous book. She modelled her scenes quite precisely, took a photo, and then (as a veteran of adding moustaches and more to photos in the newspaper) edited her photos in a graphics editor to add her own sprinkling of magic.
Here are a couple of pages showing Ed’s original work (reproduced with permission) and the corresponding scene M created:
“This is Max. Doesn’t he look sweet!”
“Max looks so sweet that sometimes people dress him up in ribbons.”
“Max does not like being dressed up in ribbons.
Because Max is a fearless kitten.
Max is a brave kitten.
Miax is a kitten who chases mice.”
Here are a couple more spreads created by M (with guest appearances by Elmer as the elephant in Vere’s book, and a Wild Thing who is mistaken for a mouse.)
M had enormous fun (and showed a lot of dedication!) with this – she’s recreated the entire book out of her love for Max. I wonder what Max will get you and your kids doing…
Here’s some of the music we listened to whilst making Max and our fan-fiction:
Other activities which would go well alongside reading Max the Brave include:
What’s the cutest book you’ve read recently?
Disclosure: I received a free, review copy of Max the Brave from the publisher.
by Molly Idle
Chronicle Books 2013
978-1-4521-1006-6 CALDECOTT HONOR BOOK
Age 4 to 8 32 pages
“Friendship is a beautiful dance. In this innovative wordless book, a tentative partnership blooms into an unlikely friendship between a girl named Flora and a graceful flamingo. With a twist, a turn, and even a flop, these unlikely friends learn at last how to dance together in perfect harmony. Artist Molly Idle has created a story full of humor and heart, with emotions that leap off the page, and memorable characters who are worthy of countless standing ovations.”
A flamingo, peacefully standing one-legged in the water, turns its head to look behind it and eyes one little girl, named Flora, standing one-legged in the water, imitating the flamingo, who then turns her head to look behind her.
Do you remember repeating everything your older sibling said or mimicking every movement, just because you could? Flora mimics the flamingo, but not to get the flamingo’s goat. The little girl, in her pink one-piece swimsuit and pink flowered swim cap, takes on the flamingo’s graceful movements and the two begin a beautiful duet.
Words would undeniably be a distraction in the story of Flora and the Flamingo. Movement flows from a variety of flip pages attached atop Flora or the flamingo on several of the pages. For example, Flora imitates the flamingo’s stance: standing on one leg, head tucked under a wing. Flip down the flaps and the stances change. Both dancers remain on one leg, but now each twists her head toward the other, possibly checking to ensure the other is still there.
The flamingo is Flora’s mirror, or maybe Flora is the flamingo’s mirror. Each bend, each stretch, each turn, and each look magically appear on both characters at the same time. Flora and the Flamingo will make you giggle and grin. Young girls will love the mystical dance between these two unlikeliest of friends. Before a friendship can be established, the flamingo LETS Flora have it! The shock of flamingo’s sharp bleat flips Flora over and up, landing her on her rear, unhappy. Flora turns her back, refusing to play any longer, but the flamingo finds this worse than being shadowed. It offers Flora a wing, which Flora thinks about before allowing flamingo to help her to her feet. (Are these two friends or siblings?)
At the moment of friendship, when Flora and the flamingo become dancing partners instead of solo acts, the spread takes on a drastic change. The two begin together on one page. They had begun their awkward dance with the flamingo firmly staying on the left page and Flora on the opposing right page of the spread. Now both are on the right page, figuratively and physically. Their movements become wider, and joyous. The two fly across the spread, smiling as they float, as if on ice. Then there is a big finale, as all great ballets should have. The finale is a wonderful dance only Flora and her flamingo can perform, together in the same spotlight, four pages in length. BRAVO!
Girls will love this graceful dance between friends, especially those little girls starting their first ballet lessons, wearing their pink tutus, and pink leotards, and some with pink ballet shoes, while others still will have pink ribbons in their hair. Flora is at her first class and flamingo is the instructor. This makes a wonderful baby-shower gift, when the parents-to-be know they have a girl on the way. Flora and the Flamingo is a beautiful book, with brilliant illustrations that float across the pages. It is no surprise Flora and the Flamingo became a Caldecott Honor Book. The medal winner must have been an amazingly illustrated picture book to beat out these two graceful dancers.
FLORA AND THE FLAMINGO. Story and Illustrations copyright © 2013 by Molly Idle. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Chronicle Books, San Francisco, CA.
Learn more about Flora and the Flamingo HERE.
Also by Molly Idle
FLORA AND THE PENGUIN 2014