September 23, 2017

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Smiles of Bibliophiles: Celebrating Books and Reading

 

International Literacy Day, a global observance promoted by the United Nations to underscore the importance of literacy to empower individuals, communities, and societies, is celebrated each year in September. Share this selection of picture books about reading, story sharing and creating, and the transformative power of books to mark the day.

Spread the Joy of Reading

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater and Ryan O’Rourke’s Read! Read! Read! (Wordsong, Sept. 2017; K-Gr 3) presents 23 poems that celebrate familiar learning-to-read milestones and convey the elation—and benefits—of becoming a lifelong booklover. Mostly written from a first-person perspective, the accessible offerings are presented on single- or double-page spreads colorfully illustrated with whimsical details and a charming cast of children. One poem depicts that memorable moment when “pretend” reading (“Tracing my fingers/under each letter”) transforms into the real thing (“And one day/I took off./I was swooping/alone/over words/once confusing/but now/all my own”). Other offerings describe how literacy skills go way beyond books, as youngsters scan a “Cereal Box” or the “Sports Page,” decode “Maps” and “Road Signs,” Google info on the new classroom pet, peruse the Sunday comics, or tuck a hand-written “Birthday Card” from Grandpa into a “secret box/stuffed with/fall leaves/letters/and love.” Paired with an illustration of an intrepid boy perched on a made-from-books pyramid, “I Explore” encapsulates the power of literature to transport readers to other places, while “Double Life” guarantees that “A book will always be a friend/reaching out two wordy hands/offering enchanted lands.” One girl finds comfort in “Stories” and the lessons learned from Charlotte’s Web when her own Grandma dies, and another child finds common ground with a mother who also once “read past her bedtime/under the blankets.” Share these poems with students to underscore the many different and wondrous aspects of reading—from nurturing brains to soothing souls and expanding imaginations.

Go to the Source…Library Tales

The Library Book (Atheneum, Oct. 2017; PreS-Gr 3) pairs the lyrics of Tom Chapin and Michael Mark’s beloved “Library Song” (released in 1989) with Chuck Groenink’s exuberant digital-and-pencil artwork. It’s a rainy Saturday morning, dad is snoring, and everything on TV is boring. Fortunately, the tale’s endearing young protagonist is unperturbed—donning lime-green boots and lemon-yellow slicker, she heads out to her favorite neighborhood destination: “Oh, I’m going down to the library,/picking out a book, check it in, check in out./Gonna say hi to the dictionary,/picking out a book, check it in, check it out.” Settled into a comfy chair, the youngster is greeted by children’s book characters (Sleeping Beauty, Madeline, Pinocchio, and more), all of whom entreat her to take them home. When she approaches the checkout desk with her boisterous literary friends (and a big stack of books), the girl is hushed by the suit-wearing Mrs. Parker (“Shhh! Quiet, please!”). Later on, this possible stereotype is playfully turned upside-down; as the celebration builds and book characters and library patrons sing and dance together, the child shushes the now gleefully cavorting librarian. Filled with rhythm and repetition, the text makes an ear-pleasing read-aloud, and the warm-hued nostalgia-tinged artwork is packed to the edges with amusing-to-look-at details. Share this upbeat library ode with an audio or video version of the song (music and lyrics area included on the endpapers).

Dee and her friends are sitting in a cozy library nook waiting for story time to begin, but Ms. Merryweather is nowhere to be found. After searching a bit, the kids come across giant-size paw prints, a sticky-with-honey desk, some torn-to-pieces pages, and what looks to be The New LiBEARian (Clarion, Jan. 2018; PreS-Gr 3). With a wordless nod, this gruff-looking creature agrees to read them a story, not about pirates or princesses, but about bears, of course, enthusiastically roaring, growling, and stomping his way through the tale. “EEEEE,” the delighted children scream, and ask their storyteller to “Read it again!” When Ms. Merryweather finally appears (she was cleaning up hot lava from a volcano eruption in the Ancient History section), she begins to read “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” only to discover that one of the title characters is missing from the pages (“I know you’re hiding, Baby Bear”). Everything is set right, and the book ends with the revelation that another literary personage has gone AWOL. Alison Donald’s lively text and Alex Willmore’s buoyant artwork celebrate the camaraderie and wonder of sharing stories in a group setting and the power of imagination.

Find a Cozy Spot

Two eye-grabbing picture books encourage youngsters to read here, there, and anywhere…and underscore the message that books can unleash imaginations, initiate exhilarating adventures, and take them anywhere they want to go.

In Leigh Hodgkinson’s whimsical offering, a smiling boy with side-swept hair and cat companion has book in hand but needs to find A Place to Read (Bloomsbury, Jun. 2017; PreS-Gr 3). Concise rhyming text and vivacious multimedia artwork describe how the youngster tries to settle into a series of unique furniture options—Goldilocks style—but nothing seems quite right: an overstuffed armchair with a bee-enticing floral pattern is “comfy” but too “buzz-buzzy,” and a hairy-looking monster seat (complete with googly eyes, tooth-filled smile, and plated tail) is “growly, itchy, FUZZY.” Other unsatisfying scenarios, all cleverly expanded through the fanciful illustrations, include a too-dark forest filled with “HOOTS;” a “slippy, slimy” pond; a too-far-away star; and a too-high-up tree. Throughout his quest, the boy accumulates a colorful crew imaginary critters (a bee, a mini-monster, a fox, a frog, and more), all ready to settle down on the floor and listen when he finally realizes that it doesn’t matter where you sit—“…a book is best anywhere…/a book is best when you SHARE.”

Helaine Becker’s brief rhyming text and Mark Hoffmann’s quirky stylized artwork highlight the many different places You Can Read (Orca, Feb. 2017; K-Gr 4). Two young protagonists, a girl and a boy, explore locales that are sometimes familiar (the classroom, the park, under the covers) and other times adventurously (and often hilariously) surprising: “You can read in the desert,” under the sea, in a spaceship, and more. In one snicker-inducing spread, the girl utilizes the bathroom facilities while perusing a copy of The Time Taker; meanwhile, the boy knocks impatiently on the door, legs crossed and a copy of News Flush clasped under his arm. Another illustration shows the two children reading while “walking down the street,” a perhaps unwise idea, since “you might step in…‘EEEW!’” (the girl, nose in a copy of Fancy Foot Work, gets off scot-free, but the disgusted facial expression of the boy, who holds a book ironically entitled Look Where You’re Going, shows that he has stepped in doggy do). The tale’s amusing silliness and heartfelt enthusiasm are endearing, and the message that “reading’s great for doing…Every Where” is delightfully trumpeted throughout.

That Perfect Book

In Give Me Back My Book! (Chronicle, Sept. 2017; K-Gr 4), two friends argue over possession of a favorite tome. Redd, a glasses-wearing monster drawn by Travis Foster, and Bloo, a buck-toothed bunny drawn by Ethan Long, each insist that the forest-green volume in question is his. Accusations fly back and forth via dialogue balloons, as each character tries to prove ownership through identifying elements (“my book has a table of contents, funny little chapters, and every now and again there is something called an illustration”) and sheer bravado. Tension builds until the two reach a tug-of-war impasse, and the volume is stealthily snatched away by a bookworm wearing a floppy straw hat. Forced to forge an alliance, Redd and Bloo hatch a clever plot to regain their treasure: gathering pencils and art supplies, they make their own book to use as a bait and trade with Bookworm, a plan that results in a satisfying creative collaboration and smiles all around. Humor abounds in both the verbal exchanges and the visual images, which pair the dynamically rendered cartoon-style characters with collaged photos of real objects. Fun to share aloud to celebrate the joys of reading, this engaging offering can also be used in the classroom to outline and expand upon the parts of a book, discuss the creative process, and launch book-making projects.

Henry has just found “the most awesome book” in the school library and is absolutely hooked (“It was incredible. Amazing. Simply stupendous. Who knew?”), but his reading efforts are repeatedly and frustratingly interrupted by the ringing of the school bell. Fed up, he decides to ignore the sound, stay put at his desk, and keep his nose firmly planted in his book. Pandemonium ensues as a result of this change in routine, and several inept adults (a visiting mayor, governor, and senator) attempt to remedy the problem by introducing a series of louder bells that become increasingly earsplitting and remain ineffectual. Ultimately, a “mega-giga-decibel monstrosity,” which is more deafening than “the Daytona 500, a squadron of Blue Angels, and an army of door-to-door jackhammer sellers,” has a vibration strong enough to “jitter” and “jutter” clothing off individuals and fling backpacks “willy-nilly,” but leaves Henry unscathed and still reading. It takes Henry’s teacher, Ms. Sabio, to come up with a simple solution to save the day. Told with uproarious humor and illustrated with energetic, detail packed illustrations featuring a multicultural cast, Chris Barton and Ashley Spires’s Book or Bell? (Bloomsbury, Oct. 2017; K-Gr 4) will entertain youngsters while celebrating the intoxicating contentment of connecting with that perfect book.

The Book No One Ever Read (Breathing Books, May 2017; K-Gr 4), written and illustrated by Cornelia Funke, switches the narrative perspective from reader to provider.  The characters here are sprung-to-life books, depicted in lush jewel tones as volumes with cleverly incorporated facial features and protuberant limbs, all inspired by real authors and their works. The action centers around Morry, a young volume whose turquoise complexion and stylized palm trees immediately suggest Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. Tired of sitting on the library shelf, Morry longs to be read and pushes himself out a few inches, hoping to catch someone’s eye. However, not all of his compatriots share this aspiration, and his rash act causes much consternation: Nietzsche declares the importance of keeping one’s pages unbent and fingerprint free; Beatrix (Potter) bemoans the possibility of “pages smeared with coffee and chocolate;” and stern Victor (Hugo) sends Morry tumbling off the shelf with a push. Luckily, Morry lands on his back and sets off on an adventure to find freedom…and the (slightly sticky) hands of the reader who will love him forever. Funke includes a note about the authors who have inspired her and “enchanted” her life. Whimsical and imaginative, this tale sends the message that books are meant to be handled, cherished, shared, and loved.

Read It…and Create It

Rupert, a mustached, spectacles-wearing mouse, is excited about getting started on his latest venture—creating a wordless book (after all, “They are very artistic”)—but he just can’t get his two loquacious friends to BE QUIET! (Disney/Hyperion, Apr. 2017; K-Gr 4). Despite Rupert’s repeated requests, Thistle and Nibbs just won’t stop the chatter (expressed in dialogue-balloon format), as they discuss what it means to have “strong illustrations” (they envision two rippling-with-muscles strongmice), suggest possible “strong-but-silent” type characters (um…a cucumber with googly eyes and a drawn-on smile?), explore artistic styles (Nibbs poses in a framed self-portrait presented à la Vincent van Mouse), and invent a comic book hero who fights words (“Captain Quiet: Vocabulary Vigilante,” complete with a belt buckle that says “SH”). The silliness increases along with the word count, as Rupert’s exasperation reaches steam-out-of-the-ears proportions. Ryan T. Higgins’s text is wittily packed with auditory misunderstandings and delightful wordplay, adding another level of amusing irony to Rupert’s desired goal, and the rich-hued, pleasingly textured artwork makes the most of the humorous happenings. Pair this laugh-out-loud romp with a selection of (truly) wordless picture books to bring the point home, and challenge students to create their own pictures-only works.

Adam Lehrhaupt and Magali Le Huche’s This Is a Good Story (S&S/Paula Wiseman, Sept. 2017; K-Gr 4) offers a breezy introduction to storytelling and the basic elements of story writing. As a young pigtailed girl draws the pictures, an unseen narrator guides her through the process of effective story-smithing. The protagonists, Hero and Heroine (both clothed in flowing capes and eye-covering masks), live in a town called Setting, where they wait to hear about the Conflict (“a problem that needs fixing”) that will provide their story with a Plot (the young writer also waits with eyes wide and pencil poised). Never fear, Setting is soon attacked by an Evil Overlord who captures all of the townsfolk and takes them to Evil Lair, requiring the two protagonists to mount a daring rescue mission. Throughout, the narrator guides the youngster and encourages her to “try again” and mold events for better storytelling. Over-the-top bossy and humorously exaggerated, the narrator’s tone becomes adulatory by tale’s end (“Wow! This is a Good Story.”), and the child, who looks thrilled with her results, can’t wait to get started on creating a sequel. Rendered in pencil and digitally colored, the crisp artwork has a childlike quality that is accessible and energetic. An appended list of terms will aid in the discussion of story elements and structure. Use this tale to touch upon the basics and then set students free to create—and revise—their own tales.

How is a storyteller forged? In her semiautobiographical picture book, Someone Like Me (Roaring Brook/Neal Porter, Jul. 2017; K-Gr 4), Newbery Medalist Patricia MacLachlan (Sarah, Plain and Tall) reflects on the experiences that helped her to become the person she is, “a writer.” Lyrical text draws in readers as the young protagonist engages in formative moments spent listening to stories told by adults “over and over and over;” reading books “every night, every day” and even when walking home from the library; hiding under the dinner table to eavesdrop on grown-ups telling secrets; trying “to teach her dog to talk by moving his lips like hers” (and her chicken, too); and perching in the branches of a cottonwood tree to watch the sky fly by. Chris Sheban’s watercolor, colored pencil, and graphite illustrations convey the action in sepia tones touched with sunlight, depicting details of a long-ago rural America and creating a mood that blends sweet nostalgia with a dreamy sense of wonder. This lovely picture book reveals to youngsters—and aspiring authors in particular—that creative inspiration can be found all around them—in the dazzling beauty of everyday moments, the stories and experiences shared by loved ones and others, and time spent daydreaming and allowing one’s imagination to soar free.

Share these engaging titles to celebrate the importance and empowerment of literacy, encourage students to become readers and creators, and set the tone for a book-loving school year.

 

Curriculum Connections

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Joy Fleishhacker About Joy Fleishhacker

Joy Fleishhacker is a librarian, former SLJ staffer, and freelance editor and writer who works at the Pikes Peak Library District in southern Colorado.

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Comments

  1. What a collection! I have some book buying to do! Thank you very much for featuring our forthcoming READ! READ! READ! on your list. It is an honor to find it nestled among all of these gems. Happy International Literacy Day! xo

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