Book Reviews / Picture Books / Reading

Picture Book Reading Challenge: July 2016

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Sam’s Pet Temper by Sangeeta Bhadra
On the playground Sam has to wait in line for everything. There he meets Temper. He discovers that Temper is very good at making other kids leave so Sam can do whatever he wants. But later when he brings his Temper home he finds that his mom is less inclined to back down or believe him when he passes the blame to his Temper.

“Sam, if you don’t control your temper, no one can control it for you.”

Through a series of events where Sam is blamed for Temper’s destruction, Sam comes to realize his responsibility. The story finishes back at the park where Sam opts to wait in line and take turns rather than indulge his Temper. He learns that he is stronger than Temper. Sam is free and Temper leaves to find another child to latch on to. The concept of Temper as a pet is a great way to introduce to children the connection between their behavior as a dynamic part of their reality and their responsibility for it.

Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford & R. Gregory Christie
‘They rejoiced as if they had no cares;
half day, half free in Congo Square.”

The language is simple. The meaning is clear. Nothing is glossed over.  While the book accomplishes much by way of celebrating community and vividly recounting a snippet of history, its strength lies in leading young readers to the question, “Why?” without stating it directly. Children have the opportunity to grapple with the absurdity of the dichotomy between a half-day of near-independence and six-and-a-half days of oppression.

The Gardener by Sarah Stewart
This is the story of Lydia Grace Finch told through a series of short letters. She moves to the city to be with her Uncle Jim while her family tries to make ends meet. At the outset Lydia acknowledges that she knows very little about baking, but loves to garden – is there anywhere to plant seeds, she wants to know. Uncle Jim doesn’t smile and Lydia’s story becomes as much about planting beauty where she finds space as it does about getting Uncle Jim to smile in his own way. She plants so much the customers at her Uncle’s shop start to call her ‘the gardener.’ She creates beauty where there is none. Indeed, the book is shows how pursuing beauty breaks boundaries.The most touching line in the book was in a letter to her mother where Lydia writes, “I’ve tried to remember everything you ever taught me about beauty.” 

May we give our children lessons in beauty to remember.

King for a Day by Rukhsana Khan
Set in Lahore, Pakistan, this is the story of a boy competing in a kite-flying battle during the annual spring festival of Basant. Malik has a small kite that he has named Falcon, and he’s taking it to the roof to dip and dive and twist and snip. In the air he confronts a local bully and shows that size is not always an guarantor of success. The book posits the ugliness of the bully on the ground with the beauty of the kites above. Malik continues throughout the day to have success and revels in releasing other kites into the air for a taste of freedom. He is the king of Basant!

This is a book of kindness, compassion, competition, celebration, family, and much more. Children can explore the uniqueness and beauty of another culture through the words, traditions, and pictures of this book and will connect with the familiar situations of competition, bullies, family, and celebration. 

Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin by Chieri Uegaki
Oh my family could tell you stories about when I was learning to play the violin! The noises! The creaks! The groans! (And that was just from my family.) This little girl is learning to play the violin, in the shadow of her grandfather’s legacy. Her brothers are not impressed, but she is focused and confident. She decides to perform in the talent show. Her brothers, as good brothers often do, mock her decision. She plays anyway.

I love that this book does not make a magical ending where the little girl somehow becomes a virtuoso to perform. (I also loved that it included the realistic family involvement with raising a musician.) Rather, it is her imagination coupled with the sounds that she can make with the instrument that informs her performance. Courage, determination, and creativity are all on display. Great story for young musicians, families of young musicians, budding creatives, and anyone with a bit of stage fright. 

You’re Mean Lily Jean! by Frieda Wishinsky
I have been warned at least twice by different people that the biggest test to my girls’ friendship will be how they handle their outside friendships. This book lays it out. Two sisters get along beautifully. A new girl next door joins their play, but only wants to play with the older sister. If the younger sister gets to play it is as an silent outsider. The older sister is obviously disturbed by this but not quite sure how to handle it. The younger sister cleverly figures out how. In a conclusion that speaks as much to necessary confrontation as it does to reconciliation, the three girls arrange to play together as friends.

The Tickle Stories by Jean Van Leeuwen
We’re going old school on this one. Grandpop is in charge of putting Maggie, Morgan, and Baby Max to bed. When they finagle a story out of him he comes up with some good ones that must be half whopper and half truth. There are three tickle stories that are set in the hottest summer Grandpop can remember – each one increasingly larger in incredibility. It’s good storytelling of good stories in a setting children, parents, and grandparents can relate to: bedtime.

Snoring Beauty by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen
This book is written in rhyme about a poor mouse who despairs of ever getting sleep. He is in the same tower as Sleeping Beauty who, as it turns out, is proficient in snoring noises. Mr. Mouse is going to be married the next day and just wants to sleep. Hark! A prince arrives! But after several unsuccessful tries at planting a kiss between snores the prince gives up so the mouse has to take matters into his own hands.

This book challenged my noise-making commitment in books. More practice I think would do the trick. I didn’t like a little section where the prince remarked that he liked everything about the castle and the money and the title but just couldn’t get past the snoring princess. At that point the prince didn’t deserve the princess in my perspective. But, I loved the overall concept and the rhyming was solid. My girls were laughing about it all day and occasionally calling me Snoring Beauty. Can you imagine?! Ah, mom life.

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Wallmark
Did you know the first person to write a complex algorithm for instructing a machine what to do was a woman (we’d call her a computer programmer in today’s lingo)? Me either. Did you know that when the program she wrote was tested decades later there was only one minor mistake – the rest was perfect? Me either. This woman loved, loved, loved numbers. Her mother was intrigued by them as well and encouraged her daughter’s passion and interest. When Ada came down with measles that left her blind and paralyzed, her mother kept her mind engaged with math problems. “Fifteen times twelve was still one hundred and eighty and always would be, whether Ada could see or not.” When Ada recovered her sight and legs she continued her passionate pursuit of understanding numbers. Charles Babbage, a mathematician and inventor, showed her his Difference Engine (a mechanical calculator) and his plans for an Analytical Engine. She took the plans, noticed a glitch, and developed an algorithm for the machine. I had no idea. But you better believe my daughter will! 

Have You Seen Elephant? by David Barrow
I’m not sure whether to recommend this for its subtle play on “the elephant in the room” or for the genuine funniness of hide-and-seek with an elephant. Both reasons, perhaps. The elephant hides in various places throughout the house and yard but the small boy can’t seem to find it anywhere. Children will love finding the elephant on each page “hidden” in common hiding places but bulging out due to size. It’s a great way to include a child in a joke throughout the pages. Simple concept, excellent illustrations, and old-fashioned funny (seems to be a theme this month).

3 thoughts on “Picture Book Reading Challenge: July 2016

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