Two Picture Book Takes on Painting

I’m just not awake enough to come up with a snappy title for this post.

Today I’ll be writing about two more Georgia picture book nominees. The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse written by Patricia MacLachlan and pictures by Hadley Hooper. And one called Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell and illustrated by Rafael López.

9781596439481“If you were a boy named Henri Matisse who lived in a dreary town in northern France, what would your life be like? Would it be full of color and art? Full of lines and dancing figures?” -from the publisher.

This is an undeniably gorgeous book. The committee that chooses these nominees never fails to pick excellently illustrated titles that combine words and pictures at the highest levels. It is a meditation on the creative spirit and for parents, on fostering that creative spirit.

But as a whole class read aloud? For me? It was a bit of a clunker. I mean it’s not bad. It’s lovely but just not engaging to the audiences I was presenting it to. So I’d read this one first and then read….

9780544357693“Mira lives in a gray and hopeless urban community until a muralist arrives and, along with his paints and brushes, brings color, joy, and togetherness to Mira and her neighbors”-from the publisher.

This one is based on a true story of a neighborhood in San Diego getting together to brighten the place up with colorful murals. So the idea of actually getting to paint on the walls of building combined with the photographs at the end showing people actually doing it knocked my students right out. I made clear before reading it that there is a difference in graffiti and murals and getting permission to do it being the main one. Luckily not too far from here a nearby town has had some boring highway dividers painted with colorful murals so they had an immediate connection.

So while the Henri Matisse book wasn’t their favorite, these did pair well together showing the different kinds of art a painter can do, inspiring many comments and questions which is always one of the best parts of reading aloud.



It Came in the Mail

9781481403603“After Liam writes to his mailbox, asking for more mail, he gets his wish, but soon he realizes that sending mail is even more fun than receiving it.”

Ben Clanton (of Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea fame) delivers another fun read aloud, this time about the joys of getting and sending mail. I know it sounds a little old fashioned but who doesn’t still love getting actual, real, personal mail now and then?

I paired this with an old favorite of mine, Dear Mr. Blueberry by Simon James. Both books make writing and receiving mail seem interesting and “teach” things needed to send mail such as forms of address, postmarks, closings, and more without hitting you over the head.

Clanton had my students in stitches with Liam’s word choices such as “boogers” and “diddly-squat.” Later when Liam realizes he can get free stuff from this magic mailbox just by asking he goes a little crazy. He writes, “I would love it if you sent me a hundred GAZILLION more things.” When I read that part, my students eyes got wide and a few gasped “oh no.” They seem to instinctively know that asking a magic mailbox for a GAZILLION more things can’t end well.

But Liam decides he’s gotten more than enough and sends things to other kids around the world (and even in space!) to share his weird bounty. So there’s a nice little message about not being greedy among all the flying dragons and aliens and delightful little illustrated jokes. And it’s diverse! Liam is a white kid but his best buddy Jamal isn’t and there are plenty of random kids from around the world (and out of this world) depicted. Some of the mail even comes in foreign languages.

This is a Georgia State Nominee for Best Picture Book for 2017-18.

Guy Read 2018 Book List

January – Oxford American Music Issue (Dec. 2017) – Cool idea but it might sell out before I get to it so I don’t know if I’ll do this one.

February – The Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien – Read one of his in college so this will be interesting.

March – Ecology of a Cracker Childhood – Janisse Ray – My Lovely Bride already has this from a graduate class.

April – Giving Godhead – Dylan Kreiger – poetry

May – My Man Jeeves – P.G. Wodehouse – always love him.

June – Trouble Boys – Bob Mehr – a biography of The Replacements.

July – The Mind-Gut Connection: How the Astonishing Dialogue Taking Place in Our Bodies Impacts Health, Weight, and Mood – Emeran Mayer

August – Last Bus to Wisdom – Ivan Doig

September – Lysistrata – Aristophanes – Timely choice.

October – The Gallery of Unfinished Girls – Lauren Karcz – YA and another local author!

November – The Association of Small Bombs – Karan Mahajan – Don’t know. Will look it up.

December – The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu – Joshua Hammer – Well there’s a title that grabs me!

Due to family issues and travel I am behind with my book club reading. I missed the November meeting (with the author!) and have yet to finish her book. And now I need to set it aside so I can read The Odyssey for the December meeting and get back to the Julia Franks (which is amazing by the way and you should see if it’s for you). So that’s another reason I might not get the January music thing. I’m already behind and really want to finish the Franks and the Odyssey before going on with anything else.

What are your reading plans for 2018?

Are We There Yet?

download“A boy goes on a long car ride to visit his grandmother and discovers time moves faster or slower depending on how bored he is.”

This is one of those smack yourself on the forehead titles. Of course there should be a picture book called “Are We There Yet?” It’s so obvious!

And Dan Santat is the perfect guy to take us on this journey. What would a squirrelly back seat kid like more than a book you have to twist and turn to get everything out of of?  One with all kinds of hidden fun Easter eggs (find Princess Leia among the crowd cheering on the jousters). One that takes us back and forth in time and even has a delightful ‘shopped author photo with Santat as the grumpy driver, passenger and back seat rider.

It’s a more fun read-aloud than I expected. The text, about enjoying the moment you’re in, is meaningful to me as a grown up. I don’t know how much of that gets through. The kids love the illustrations. Pirates! Dinos! Robots! And the whiny kid in the back seat is funny. When he exclaims that “My butt hurts!” it gets them every time.

A nominee for Georgia’s Picture Book of the year.


Fuzzy Mud

9780375991295“Two middle-grade kids take a shortcut home from school and discover what looks like fuzzy mud but is actually a substance with the potential to wreak havoc on the entire world.”

This was the winner of Georgia’s Book Award last year (which means Louis Sachar will be here in GA in the spring to accept his award and give a talk!) and it’s on this year’s Reader’s Rally challenge for my district. And my wife, a fifth grade teacher, says it’s her new favorite read-aloud.

In less than 200 pages you get a fun and exciting story that covers many questions which will lead to great discussions. Bullying, clean energy, population growth, and when it’s okay to tell someone that rash might be something worse than it looks.

The two kids who take the shortcut home are trying to avoid a bully. When he shows up in the wrong place and time (in the woods where a defensive and protective girl just discovered this patch of weird fuzzy mud) he gets it thrown in his face. Of course.

It turns out to be the mutated offspring of a nearby secret lab’s biofuel and it doesn’t play well with others. And it spreads quickly. That’s another awesome thing to discuss with this book! The math is fun to think about.

I don’t know who came up with the design of this book, but they are a genius. At the top corner of ever chapter break is part of a circle with a dot in it. In chapter one it’s one dot. In chapter two it’s two dots. In chapter three it’s…four dots. Then eight, sixteen, and so on until by the end the dots are splashed across the page and you have a nice and chilling visual representation of how fast this nasty stuff can grow out of it’s petri dish and out into the unsuspecting world.

It’s definitely a fast paced issue book that will leave plenty of food for thought. It’s not character or setting driven. The characters and setting are only as interesting as they need to be to advance the plot and story. The bully is bad. The fifth grade girl is good. The seventh grade boy is confused and conflicted. And that’s about it. But it’s all you need for the unrealistic and realistic to converge in the woods…and in the constantly-growing fuzzy mud.

Lion Lessons

9780803739086“Learning to be a lion takes some serious lessons, but luckily, this kid has a teacher who is a real pro.”

Jon Agee makes wonderful picture books and cartoons for The New Yorker. Always full of wordplay and wit the thing that he really gets right here is perfect timing. It’s a simple set up. A young man walks past storefronts where he could take lessons in yoga, karate, knitting, speaking Spanish and many more, but he chooses to take Lion lessons from a professional lion. There are seven steps and he is pretty bad at all of them. He can barely roar. He doesn’t look fierce. He can’t control his tail when trying to be stealthy. His pounce is laughable. But when a real world situation comes along, the lessons pay off and he’s able to earn his “diploma.”

I mostly judge these GA Picture Book nominees on how well they work as read alouds. They can have gorgeous art and be about an interesting subject but if I can’t sit and easily read it aloud to a class of second graders? Then it falls down the list. If it is fun and interesting and, most importantly, has great timing? Then it goes up, up, up the list. Right now this is up there with I Don’t Want to Be a Frog for me this year.

The Boy on the Wooden Box

9781442497818“Leon Leyson describes growing up in Poland, being forced from home to ghetto to concentration camps by the Nazis, and being saved by Oskar Schindler.”

Apparently Mr. Layson didn’t really feel comfortable sharing his story until the Spielberg movie came out in 1993. By then he was a teacher in California and there just wasn’t good ways to talk about it for him. He had told his children when they were old enough but that’s about it. He said there was this weird thing where if the war came up with someone who had lived through it in America and he mentioned, for example, barely having enough to eat for three weeks, they would nod and say rationing was hard for them too.

Or he’d be talking to another actual Holocaust survivor and it would be almost like a competition to see who had suffered the most. So he pretty much kept it to himself until a persistent reporter found him and got him to talk when Schindler’s List came out.

He spent his remaining years talking about it to churches and synagogues and schools and any other group who wanted him too, and never for payment. So this book was just a matter of he and a co-writer sitting down with all the articles and a few transcripts and fleshing it out into a book form. It reads like your Jewish grandfather is sitting across from you telling you all of these horrible (and sometimes wonderful) stories.

Even if you’ve read or seen Schindler’s List there is a ton to learn from this book. It’s pretty horrible but still age appropriate, though I wouldn’t read it out loud to a class without letting parents know in case anyone had nightmares or something.

Leyson is one tough cookie and seems to have spent his life after the war in relative happiness. He says that every time he retold this he’d re-experience the trauma, especially of losing certain family members, but it was all in the past for him and he didn’t let it spoil the happiness of his marriage, children, or teaching. In some ways, he seems even more optimistic for having gone through these experiences. When he gets to America and has to take a long, arduous train journey across the country he thinks it’s funny how much others complain about it. “We slept in our seats. There wasn’t a shower for us to use. But for me, every minute of the trip was wonderful.”

It’s an interesting book since it’s from the point of view of someone who was a child at the time. It will make it much more relevant to my Reader’s Rally crew when they get to it. I’m interested to see how they take it and what the conversations and questions are like. I’ll update this post when they tackle it!

I Don’t Want to be a Frog!

9780375973345“A frog who yearns to be any animal that is cute and warm discovers that being wet, slimy, and full of bugs has its advantages.”

This is just great. It’s short and funny and gives me great opportunities to do voices. I love reading this out loud. I paired it with last week’s other Georgia Picture Book Nominee, Red: A Crayon’s Story. That one was about someone who wasn’t exactly how they first appeared. This one is about someone who knows exactly who there are, they just want to be something else.

Frog loudly proclaims the he just doesn’t want to be a frog. And older and wiser (and perfect straight man of a) glasses-wearing frog calmly enumerates the many reasons why he can’t be such things as a cat or a pig or a rabbit or and owl. Finally another creature clues him in on why being a frog can be a good thing.

Apparently this is a hit, so you know what that means. There’s already a couple of sequels out there. I don’t have those yet. I’ll have to check them out.

When I read a book aloud with multiple characters I try, when it makes sense, to give them different voices. I usually give the protagonist my own voice and make changes for the other characters. Not this one. For this one I pitch my voice a bit higher and whinier (but don’t overdo that) for the main frog who doesn’t want to be a frog. I use my own, emphatic teacher voice for the bespectacled frog. “Of course you want to be an Owl! Being an Owl is the greatest thing ever. Boy, would you love being an Owl.”

“So can I be an Owl, then?”

“NO! Of course not!”

Heh heh.

I wasn’t familiar with this author or illustrator but it’s a winning combination. Definitely check it out and add it to your read aloud pile.

A Ghost in the Library!

IMG_1525For our Halloween morning show broadcast yesterday my crew wanted to do something fun. Since someone back in the day painted the walls of the broadcast room green to make the use of the ChromaKey green screen thingee easier, we have had no use for the big green curtain provided to us.

Until yesterday!  In the picture above the “ghost” is pretty obvious to you. But not when the ChromaKey is on with our news background! It just looks like a slightly blurry background when it moves. They brainstormed a bunch of gags, but I said we didn’t want to do anything too scary for the little ones. So our ghost just moved that mug back and forth a couple of times and messed with our anchors, flipping hoodies and levitating and knocking off hats and such while they made concerned faces.

In the end of the show a hand magically appeared, gave a thumbs up and high-fived the two anchors.

Hope you all had a Happy Halloween!