I’m never sure if anyone reads my reviews here or not, but I figure, just in case someone does, I’m sorry that I’ve been so long without posting this year (something about teaching in 2014 sucked up all my energies)
I thought I’d kick off with some of my first books from the year–a collection of picture books that ended up in a lot of conversations around the Caldecott Medal–my full break down and ballot can be read at my personal blog.
With that, here they are:
I pick up all my kids books at the downtown library, about fifteen minutes from my school. That means I often grab them after work or during my prep period. It also means that when I bring them back I get a lot of inquiring eyes and even a few grabby hands.
So it was that thee students caught a hold of Bluebird before I had a chance. And then they all sniffled about Bluebird before I had a chance. And they all spoiled the ending of Bluebird before I had a chance to read it for myself.
And yet, there’s an impressive artistry to Bob Staake’s charming tale of friendship and love that defies any number of spoilers or other reactions. Without a single word, he creates an intense commitment to the characters and their fates. It becomes as emotional as a movement from Fantasia and as rich as a Pixar feature. The rich use of colors gives a mood, a tone, and a theme to hold us close; as it captures our eyes and moves our hearts it not only meets the expectations of a good children’s book, it swiftly approaches the standards of a classic.
On a Beam Of Light
It’s a tricky business turning history and science into an easily digestible children’s story. Simplicity is the order of the day, but when you’re trying to simplify the life of the world’s greatest physicist it’s a slightly trickier proposition.
Yet that’s what Jennifer Berne and illustrator Vladmir Radunsky attempt to do in their history of the life and times if Albert Einstein.
The story is as simplified as you might expect, there’s plenty about how goofy and inventive Einstein could be, and very little about the specific science he pioneered. After all, what would be the point of tryng to break down the speed of light to kids who are still picking up their times tables?
It’s effective in giving the vital information about Einstein’s life and times and it does a fine job of having a consistent artistic pallette to draw from. But the upper level vocabulary does most of the heavy lifting, and while Radunsky’s art is charming it doesn’t do much to tell the story.
For those who prefer their artistry and story telling more along the lines of Gerald McBoing Boing than a sixth grade science textbook or a stylish bit of Disney films, there’s Dan Yaccarino’s Doug Unplugged.
Set in a pseudo 50’s New York City populated wih both chromatic people and robots, Doug is a student the most technologically integrated way possible. Like something from the Jetson’s, he links up to antique mainframe each morning and downloads random factoids that offer knowledge but not understanding.
Once Doug unplugs, he gets to explore the city, learn all the truths of life that you can’t find in a computer. It’s a clever bit of commentary on the over reliance of educators (myself included) on the quick tech fix rather than the complicated business of actually learning.
The antiquated art style serves the point well. The older style asks us to think about just how much we really do things, whether we’re kids or grandparents. Yet, it doesn’t quite do the job of telling the story, as the Caldecott requires. Still, it’s an adorable story, and a memorable one to boot.