Monthly Retrospective May 2016

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:

Ada Byron Lovelace

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine:

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 DragonHave 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
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!




WHOOSH jkt 300.jpgThis 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 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 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.

Apples and Robins

My basically self-inflicted finger injury (dear God, that sounded so stupid I feel ridiculous) is healing well, and I’m able once more to scatter my pearls of insight across WordPress.  No, really, you don’t have to thank me.  It’s my gift to the world.

OK, you all remember the hint I gave you in my apology for taking a day off due to an injured finger (seriously, doesn’t sound any less stupid the second time around), so this will be no surprise.  Maybe you all clicked the link and found yourselves staring at such a lovely book you spontaneously bought it.  You brought it home and loved it so much that your lives are enriched to such an extent that you’ve devoted your lives to the study of geometric forms and what combinations produce the finest robins.  Ultimately, you’ll discover that Lucie Félix (her site is awesome, so visit it!) already came up with it in Apples and Robins (originally Après l’été), which brings us right back to where we started: our book for today, which is an astoundingly simple and elegant exploration of geometry, life, and natural beauty.  It’s like if Wagner’s Ring Cycle were more, well, um, not to put too fine a point on it, but… enjoyable?  (Sorry, music-lovers, including my dad.  I greatly admire the Ring, but you’ve got to admit that it’s not all apples and robins.)

Apples and Robins

But what do I mean, and why, precisely, do I risk alienating all the Wagner fans out there?  Bear with me a moment and we’ll see if I can redeem myself at all.

First of all, let’s talk about how, once again, Chronicle Books has found a remarkable French book to bring to American eyes.  Keep doing this, Chronicle Books, and I will keep buying them.  They are so pretty.  They are so clever.  They are so smart.

Smart and clever are perhaps the first words to come to mind right after the “oooooh, pretty” infatuation abated.  (That’s a technical term right there.)  I snapped this book up in all of five seconds after I spotted the illustrations and flipped the first two or three pages.  It just spoke to me.  But I admit that I wasn’t sure it would speak to the Changeling, so it settled on a shelf for a little while, only read by me.  Then, this past weekend, I realized something which should have occurred to me before, but didn’t because I am apparently as dense as bad soda bread:


I don’t know if you’ve heard about this before, but, y’know, the Changeling loves birds.  So we read it, and she loved it.

“But, wait a second,” you ask.  “Why in the world weren’t you sure that your book-loving toddler wouldn’t go for this book?”  An excellent question.  First of all, I’m dense.  Second, this really is a very, very clever book.  It’s engineered in a visually stunning way: geometric shapes on the page, when the page is turned, become apples, or a ladder, or a flash of lightning.  Here, let me show you:


That should give you a basic impression of the book, but the Chronicle Books trailer can really show it off:

You see how it works?  Shapes which just seem abstract and geometric become, when the page is turned, a whole new world of storms and apples and birds.  As I said, it’s smart: it’s one of the smartest books I’ve seen this year, and, being rather dense, I thought it was too smart for my daughter.

Yeah, right.  Too smart for me, maybe, but not for her.  She loves watching the transformations, and, I think, even loves the story which quietly underlies the transformations.

You have apples.  And then you have a ladder.  Next, you add the robins and a birdhouse.  Then comes the storm which disrupts the natural order.  Slowly, though, it is rebuilt.  Apples are gathered and the birdhouse is restored– and then the birds make it their home until spring comes and you have more birds, apple blossoms, and the prospect of the whole cycle beginning again.  (See?  Just like Wagner, but happier, and, well, less dreary.)

Why shouldn’t that be a story which my daughter can understand?  Because, perhaps, she’s too young to remember from season to season?  She remembers winter.  She remembers people.  She remembers almost every word of Green Eggs and Ham, and recites it daily.  So, why assume she can’t remember the season?  Perhaps I was assuming that she’d be bored because there wasn’t a more vivid story?  Well, if I was mesmerized by the changing shapes and colours, why wouldn’t she be?    Perhaps I thought that she couldn’t draw comparisons with Wagner?  Happily, being not-yet-three, no, she can’t.  But I think you can enjoy this book without being familiar with Wagner.  (Now there’s a pull quote for you!)

Honestly, I’m not sure why I thought this book was so much too old for the Changeling.  She’s a clever almost-three-year-old, and this book is recommended for ages 4-6, her usual range in books.  It’s true that she can’t track the geometric changes as the pages turn, but she does find them mesmerizing to watch, just as I do.  It’s true that she’s too young to really grasp the cyclical nature of the world and nature, but she’s also too young to know about theories of the fantastic but she still enjoys The Tea Party in the Woods.

The fact remains that I think there is one simple, poetic story in this book which can be apprehended in as many different ways as you can draw apples and robins: it’s the story of the turning year, and turning pages, and turning leaves.  It’s as beautiful as taking simple boxes and ending up with a slender ladder to get you up into greenest trees.  It’s also as fun as watching a bird pop out of a hole.  It’s a story which grows with you.

Dammit, I’m not sure how to do this book justice except to link to it again here and say this: I’m labelling this book for all ages.  I think the colours will engage an infant (just keep it away from grabby fingers or the holes will tear), but the shapes and story will engage a toddler, and the older you get the more you’ll see.

Also?  This is another one I really want to see in the original French, just to compare.

Guys, this is beautiful, and, sneak peek: this is going on my spotlight list for Monday’s monthly blog summary, you bet it is.


Sorry for the radio silence around here!  Obviously Monday was a holiday, which I spent with the Changeling, my husband, and a whole whack of sheep (i.e. we promised my daughter a trip to a farm, which is to say the sheep and wool festival).  Today, I meant to write a post about a fantastic book which all three of us enjoyed multiple times over the holiday weekend but then an, erm, accident left my right index finger in a terrible swollen state.  Don’t ask.  Point is, typing is not fun.  I’m wincing right now.  So you’ll find out all about this book on Friday, I devoutly hope, and you’ll get the monthly round-up on Monday.  Wish my finger better!  (Finger injuries feel so damned stupid, don’t they?  But they’re nasty little beasts, they really are…)