Picture Book Reading Challenge: November 2016

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Beautiful by Stacy McAnulty/Illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff
All about the ways that girls are beautiful. This book is a true collaboration between author and illustrator. The girls in this book are all-girl: feisty, dirty, creative, imaginative, funny, intelligent, curious, loud, musical, friendly, reflective, athletic, and dozens of other suitable adjectives. They are diverse, they are friends, they are competitors, they are collaborators…you get the point. Girls are girls and this is what it looks like to be all those wonderful descriptors as girls. I loved this book because it was the first time I recognized my two little girls between the pages of a picture book and in the descriptions and illustrations – a delightful hodge-podge of childhood exploration and discovery. 

The Branch by Mireille Messier
When an ice storm snaps the young protagonist’s favorite branch off of a tree she begins her determined effort to save the branch from her mother, clean-up crews, and the neighbor’s chain saw. When her neighbor, Mr. Frank, introduces her to the idea of “potential” she studies her fallen branch.

In the brief pages of a picture book, Author Mireille Messier captures the imagination, disappointment, insight, perseverance, creativity, and joy of children. The key question “What do you see?” is answered initially only to Mr. Frank. Readers must imagine and guess through the remainder of the book, giving time for further consideration of what “potential” there might be. Even more endearing is Mr. Frank’s clear consideration of the small girl’s potential to find an answer. In the end she creates not just an answer for what to do with her beloved branch but also affirms her ability to be part of the solution.

(Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advance copy of this book; it absolutely merits a spot on November’s Top Ten list.)

Nanette’s Baguette by Mo Willems
This book deserves a nod to reading aloud. Decent enough as an inside-your-head kind-of read, but the rhyming sequences with the -ette/-et suffix are great. A child learns about responsibility and caprice in one book! The mom’s actions at the end resonated strongly with me. At one point early in my first-born’s dining-out experiences I gave her the last breadstick. I looked at my husband and said, “That. That is true love.” I get it. (If I’m being completely honest, which, I am, I hated the drawings. Green pseudo-pickle/people aren’t my thing.) But still, loved the rhymes, loved the story.

Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller
Meet Sophie’s friend: Bernice. Bernice is a squash. Turns out squash are just the right size for a lot of things. Her mother relents at first and calls for pizza instead of cooking Bernice for dinner. But after a couple weeks the parents are worried. They try to explain that Bernice is a squash and she will get mushy soon. Yep, good luck with that one parents. But Sophie does take the advice of a farmer at the farmer’s market and the result is wonderful for every person and every squash involved. Loved this unique angle on squash and this every-child-character who exhibits all that is genuine and caring about childhood.

Most Loved Monster by Lynn Downey
Ah the wisdom of mommy monsters. This Mama tucks in all four of her little monsters and each one asks who is her favorite. Her response is beautiful: “I love all my little monsters. But you–you are very special.” Of course each monster wants to know how they are special and Mama shares a special trait for each one that marks them as unique from the others. Of course, monsters have slightly different values than people so children and adults will laugh and groan at the descriptions. When Mama is asleep the little monsters get up to leave her a special treat in the morning. It would be an unusual one, but this would work well as an unconventional Mother’s Day gift.

The Mangrove Tree: Planting Trees to Feed Families  by Susan L. Roth & Cindy Trumbore
The story builds line by line as the impact of the process is revealed on the ecosystem and community around it. On the left side is the line-by-line story of mangrove trees being planted in Hargigo, Eritrea. On the right side is the non-fiction narrative about the man who had the idea and implemented it. The success is chartered one by one as each level is impacted by the addition of the mangrove trees. A building story of process, patience, and potential.

Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille by Jen Bryant
Louis Braille was blinded from a childhood injury and infection. His parents supported his continuing education and sent him to Paris. While there he learned to read by feeling the large shapes of the letters that we know today. About three letters in and he was to the end of the page – not efficient or helpful. When a captain of the French army sent the school a copy of the secret code he used to communicate-using touch not sight, Braille’s brain latched to it. There had to be a way to make reading easier for blind people. He tweaked and twiddled and finessed and figured. When his system was finally ready he tested it with one of his professors, and blind history was changed forever. An informative and intriguing story about Louis Braille and the Braille system. A good book for starting discussions on language and communication.

101 Reasons Why I’m Not Taking a Bath by Stacy McAnulty
Hahahahahahahaha. I’ve heard just about all of these reasons for not taking a bath. Author McAnulty nails it. The story is told in a perfect stream of childhood excuses for not taking a bath. The little boy in this story goes on and on and on. You can sense the lack of breathing. Just to prove a point and avoid a bath. Except that, in the end, after he’s been in the tub for a while, what happens? Of course! He doesn’t want to get out. The laughing and eye rolling through this one were intense. I’d be concerned about reading it to my little ones for fear they might get ideas, but….they’ve pretty much used them all already so no worries there. Just teaching them to laugh at themselves every once in a while. Something we all should probably do. Before I get on a rabbit trail, I’ll move on to the next book…

Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed
Two girls in a refugee camp come up with one sandal each from a delivery of clothing donations. The sandals bring the girls together as they agree to take turns wearing the complete set of sandals. One day for Lina, one day for Feroza. The girls become friends. When Lina and her mother are selected to go to America she gives the sandals to Feroza. As they prepare to board the bus, Feroza hands one sandal back to Lina. “‘What good is one sandal?’ ‘It is good to remember.’ Feroza held up the other sandal. ‘Four feet, two sandals.'” That hope and friendship can be so inextricably entwined with pain and separation is gently woven throughout this story. A good story for exploring universally-shared concepts outside the boundaries of our locally-understood realities: an eye-opener and a heart-opener.

Chicks Run Wild by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen
Bedtime: A Parent’s Nemesis. But, as these sneaky chicks soon find out, Mama is of the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” mindset. Instead of getting her feather’s ruffled, Mama asks for an invitation to the dancing and partying that happens whenever she closes the door. The chicks are dumbfounded but agree. The party continues and Mama teaches her chicks The Chicken Dance. She wears them out. They go to bed. Win-win (At least in storybook world. At the end of the day this mama has zero energy left for sashaying through bedtime into the wee hours of the night, but a fun idea nonetheless). The last page is closer to reality with a picture of Mama Hen collapsed on an overstuffed chair. Funny, surprising, and entertaining. Don’t read it as your last bedtime story (the antics may have the reverse effect on soothing your little ones), but it’s a good one to start with. So much fun.

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