AHEM: Be sure to scroll down all the way so you don’t miss the announcement about a little contest with a book prize!
First thing first: dear my readers, do you love the little book house up there as much as I do? I just got it made for us and I’m so happy about it I couldn’t resist a little bragging. (It was made for us with pencils and coloured pencils by Clare Dean, who caught exactly the “book illustration” style I described to her rather romantically.)
On to the books. As those of you who have been reading along this month know, this month was all about reading picture books with an eye to how older children might respond to them. This was inspired by Betty Carter’s article in The Horn Book Magazine, Escaping Series Mania, in which she argues for the value of inspiring older children to read more picture books. So almost everything today is going to be going back to the same question: What can an older reader (say, Grade 1-3) get out of a picture book?
The very first thing which occurs to me is how little I altered my choices and methodology when I decided to experiment with making a month about older child readers. I attribute this to two things: a) I already read a fair number of “older” picture books, such as Jazz Day and Willy’s Stories; b) It’s really not hard to find value in giving even ostensibly “younger” books (such as Apples and Robins, which is listed for ages 4-6) to older readers. After all, I find value in reading them at age 29, so why not at age 9?
Thus much for my stint on the soapbox. I’m going to give you my spotlights now, and as a new little feature, keep scrolling after the spotlights for a few words from an editor at Charlesbridge (remember Feathers: Not Just for Flying?) about what one of their books has to offer an older audience.
One last thing: remember my Chesterton craze? Well, I’m stymied. I’m still reading Chesterton, but E. T. A. Hoffman has also somehow turned up. Flitting back and forth between the two is really weird. Bombs and automatons and placid smoking and wild crazes… I’m telling you, it’s a very strange place to be right now. But I can’t put either one down voluntarily, so I’m taking votes as to who I should focus on first. Chesterton or Hoffman? You tell me.
Now for the spotlights:
The story of young Ada and how she grows up to write what’s considered the very first computer program– before the computer even became a reality. This is a brilliant match between author and illustrator, the story is clear and compelling, and the premise is strong without being overwhelming: Don’t let societal conventions stop you from pursuing your passions. Ada was a mathematician at a time when women weren’t: maybe you can be, too. For authors, this is an exemplar in the art of “show, don’t tell.”
Have You Seen My Dragon?: A young boy travels through New York City looking for his dragon, always accompanied by a large, and scaly friend who somehow goes unnoticed. Witty, whimsical, and just wise enough to bring you back again and again, this is now on my “buy for every child I know” list. Steve Light does things with black and white art punctuated by unexpected colours that make my own pens speechless with awe.
Apples and Robins: There are apples, there’s a tree, there’s a ladder, a bird, a birdhouse. Then comes a storm. The child gathers the apples and rebuilds the birdhouse, and we watch what happens as the seasons continue to turn. The prime attraction in this book, what will engage younger readers, are the brilliant colours and shifting shapes as the pages turn: cleverly cut paper turns geometric shapes into birds. But older readers will appreciate both the breathtaking pictures and the story of the year turning and the seasons changing– and beginning again!
This was generously shared with me from Julie Bliven at Charlesbridge: WHOOSH! is about Lonnie Johnson’s eventual and accidental invention of the Super Soaker—one of top twenty toys of all time. A love for rockets, robots, inventions, and a mind for creativity began early in Lonnie Johnson’s life. Growing up in a house full of brothers and sisters, persistence and a passion for problem solving became the cornerstone for a career as an engineer and his work with NASA. Older readers might engage happily and enthusiastically with this particular picture book because it shares themes of curiosity, perseverance, and experimentation—traits innate to many kids as they navigate what does and doesn’t interest them in this vast world.
How about an experimental contest?
Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday, June 17 with a story about a bird near you (it doesn’t have to be a robin– I have a blue jay nesting near me!) for a chance to win a copy of Apples and Robins.
Rules: One submission per person. One winner. Deadline is June 17, and I will choose a winner by a random number generator on Monday, June 20. I’m afraid you do have to be in the USA or Canada. Apart from that, have fun! Share widely, and anyone can submit so long as you’re in the USA or Canada.
Finally, here is my list of all reviews for the month of May (and, erm, June so far):
- The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (picture book, conceptually challenging, but my toddler loves it)
- Willy’s Story (wants you to at least know about the existence of some classic novels)
- My Wild Family (a beautiful picture book for toddlers and up)
- Jazz Day (a story, poetry, and music: older kids will love this, Grade 1 and up, maybe?)
- Have You Seen My Dragon? (charming for toddlers through early grade school)
- Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine (a beautiful book, good for once you can follow a life story, perhaps Grade 1 and up?)
- Apples and Robins (All ages. Bold colours and clever concepts make this an enduring book.)
The last thing I’ll leave you with is the Changeling’s current reading obsession: A Castle Full of Cats. Every day now. She’s starting to “read along.”
And that’s it for this month! On Wednesday we’ll be back to reading new books.