Book Reviews / KidLit / Picture Books / Reading

Picture Book Reading Challenge: October 2016 (SCBWI Edition)

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When I saw that the Society for Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) was having a book blast special mid-October through mid-November it sparked an idea. To support these creative writers & illustrators, October’s list of my favorite picture books are selected from the SCBWI bookstore. If you want to get a glimpse of the exciting titles that have come out or are coming out in 2016, now’s your chance to take a look! Click here for the landing page to peruse (and buy) away – the holidays are just around the corner, after all. 

And, as always in no particular order, here are my favorite October picture books reads from SCBWI authors and/or illustrators. 

Fiona’s Luck by Teresa Bateman
Luck has dwindled in Ireland, and Fiona knows it is the work of the leprechauns. She also knows they are not likely to just hand it back. And so we meet the clever Fiona. She tricks the townspeople and the leprechauns to believe she somehow still has a bit of luck. When the greedy leprechauns come looking she gets to see the leprechaun king. There she makes a bargain. The king is going to test to see how much luck she has, even though she claims she has none. If he discovers some then he gets to keep it, but if he doesn’t find any then Fiona will be granted one wish equal to the amount of luck she has. The testing begins, Fiona ultimately has no luck. The king thinks he has won it all anyway because no luck means a wish of no value. Except that Fiona is smiling. She has found a way to bring luck back. Such a clever twist at the end. 

Rubber Shoes…A Lesson in Gratitude by Gladys Elizabeth Barbieri
Los zapatos de goma…una lección de gratitud par Gladys Elizabeth Barbieri
A little girl goes shopping for shoes. She imagines what pair she might find. She thinks of the lovely shoes of her friends: Mary Jane and Dorothy among them (if you are imagining shiny, black shoes and red sparkling shoes you’ll appreciate the touch of humor). But her mom picks out big, clunky, “On Sale” shoes. She is horrified, and tries a number of schemes to disown the shoes. None of them work, and she resigns herself to outlive her horrible shoes. And then! As children do at remarkable speed, she outgrows those shoes and goes to buy another pair. But first, she and her mom stop by a friend’s house to donate her shoes to a younger little girl. And that small girl adores the new shoes. A thoughtful story about gratitude.

Mango, Abuela, and Me by Meg Medina
Mia’s abuela leaves her home and comes to live with Mia and her family in the city. Abuela does not speak English and Mia does not speak Spanish. Their first efforts at getting to know one another are disappointing, but with some creative activities, initiative 
on both sides to learn the other language, and a thoughtful gift from Mia, they form a bond. As Abuela’s mastery grows so does her community. But it is the gift from Mia, a parrot they name Mango, that bridges the gulf of language. The parrot picks up both Spanish and English and repeats it back and forth to whichever recipient is appropriate. A good book with touches of interesting vocabulary, and a compassionate read for understanding the challenges of second-language learning and intercultural communication. 

A Day With No Crayons by Elizabeth Rusch
Liza loves to color with her crayons, but when she runs out of paper she turns to the big, white space of all childrens’ dreams and parents nightmares: the wall. Her mother takes the crayons away for the whole day. Liza is devastated. She continues grumping until she notices the grass stain on her pants is a mix between green and jungle green. The flower above her head is a cornflower blue. She crushes a dandelion in her hand and promptly dubs the resulting color laser lemon. And then, color is everywhere. Liza spends the rest of the day arranging the colorful objects of nature and play in huge masterpieces. When her mom returns the crayons Liza opts instead for one more day without them. Such a fun book. The color names are bold and imaginative. Liza’s creations are inspiring. Little minds will immediately look around them to consider what they might combine to create colorful arrangements of art. 

Mrs. Muddle’s Holidays by Laura F. Nielsen
Readers start in a typical suburban neighborhood where small children and families celebrate an eclectic range of holidays. In March: enter Mrs. Muddle. Month after month the children notice Mrs. Muddle behaving…well, unusually…and ask what she’s doing. Month after month Mrs. Muddle has a holiday to celebrate. Of course, the children join in with gusto. Who doesn’t love dancing the Water Waltz or Puddle Plop in April on the First Shower of April holiday? Or, a Let’s Pretend it’s Summer Day in the middle of February. The children are convinced Mrs. Muddle knows all the holidays, but they still want to find a new one to introduce to her. When Mrs. Muddle notices the children and families acting unusually it’s her turn to ask what they’re doing. This book is great for learning the months of the year, but it’s best for talking about building community. Such a fun read!

The Eye of the Whale by Jennifer O’Connell
Now, I’m no animal lover. I don’t hate animals, I just don’t have a natural affinity towards being interested in them. But this story is amazing. Based on real events, this is the story of a whale caught in crab-trap lines and straining to stay alive. This is the story of the rescue that clipped off the lines to release the whale. And this is the story of the whale that came back to say thank-you. Wow. Just wow. So cool.

The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
It’s true that it would be difficult to write a book about a bookstore that I didn’t think was great. That’s true. But, this book goes so much farther beyond a nice story affirming reading. This is the story of the man who opened the National Memorial African Bookstore as told through the eyes of his son. It is based on a true story. “Dad says he got the book itch and needed to scratch it.” When the banks refused him a loan because, “Black people don’t read,” he washed windows and saved money. The bookstore attracted young, old, black, white, celebrity, and not. The boy’s father never kicked anyone out who was reading a book. He set up a platform outside for activists to use. The story links to the activism of Malcolm X in a connection between what is lost in a person being retained in words so that people know their history. And that is how the young boy in this telling of the story understands the importance of his father’s bookstore. “Words. That’s why people need our bookstore.”

There is so much packed into this book that is quotable and thinkable. I’d love to write them all. But author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson already did, so go read this book. And keep reading books. I’ll just pick out two of the powerful reasons this book provides:

“Not every book is true, he says, but the more you read, the easier it is to figure out for yourself what is true.”

“Maybe someday, I’ll believe in something so much I’ll have the itch to make it happen.
For now, I read books. I ask questions. I listen to the people on the platform outside. And I talk with my dad about truth.”

The Bag I’m Taking to Grandma’s by Shirley Neitzel
Anyone, regardless of relationship, who has ever watched a child pack will appreciate this book. And any child who has ever attempted to pack for a trip will appreciate it as well. The story starts with a young boy backing his bag for one night at grandma’s house. Each layer is added and repeated in the following pages until the mom arrives. Then the negotiations begin. The mom believes she has reasonably responded to the situation, and turns to give her son some clothes to pack only to find he has already filled the bag with different items. A light-hearted read on an experience that often leaves both parents and children exasperated. The Bag I’m Taking to Grandma’s is a charming read that sheds a little light, and maybe builds some empathy, for what both parents and children are concerned about when going on a trip. 

The Promise by Nicola Davies
This is the story of a hard, mean girl in a bleak, mean city. She takes what is not hers, and one day she tries to take a bag from an old woman. The woman struggles but then promises to release the bag only “If you promise to plant them, I’ll let go.” Readers can almost sense the young girl rolling her eyes, agreeing, and thinking of what reward might lie in the large, heavy bag as she agrees to the odd request. What the girl finds inside and connects with the meaning of her promise will slowly transform her perspective, her purpose, and her world. A gritty look at the reality of poverty and a hopeful story of potential and growth. 

Sparse sketches that slowly evolve in color and scope create a visually stunning landscape to support and empower the meaning in the story.

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis
The French had the Eiffel Tower at the last World’s Fair. What would Chicago unveil at this one? As planners and designers submitted ideas for a creation that would impress visitors to the 1893 World Fair, the selection committee despaired. But not enough to accept mechanical engineer and steel expert George Ferris’s idea right off the bat. Finally, with only four months until the fair and no other good ideas, they gave George the go-ahead. Getting the approval was only the first hurdle. Getting it done, getting it paid for (the judges wouldn’t provide financial backing), fighting a brutal Chicago winter, digging below layers of quicksand, and convincing people to ride a giant circling wheel in the sky would all join the process to create an environment of improbable success. Given that Ferris Wheels are ubiquitous in U.S. amusement parks and regional fairs, readers will know that somehow it worked. An unlikely happy-ending story with tension at every page turn, this biography of both Mr. Ferris and his wheel is a great story of pride, perseverance, and ingenuity.

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