30 January 2011

Three Picture Books

I love Anthony Browne. In my box of literary treasures is a picture of a gorilla he sketched for me when I wrote him a thank you for participating in a card catalog auction some years ago. As a fan, I was eager to read his take on the Goldilocks tale. Me and You is narrated by Baby Bear on what begins as a normal morning. Baby Bear talks about his family and their stroll through the park on the right-hand pages in spare prose and colorful illustration. On the facing pages, Goldilocks' story plays out in a much bleaker fashion. Her pages are wordless and consist of several panels per page, drawn in bleak sepia tones and set in an unfriendly urban landscape. While out with her mother, she spies a balloon, which she chases until she is lost and finds herself in front of the welcoming yellow house of the Bear Family... I read this book to my 3-1/2 year old niece, Payton, and she loved it. We talked about how sad Goldilocks looked before she found the house and Payton clapped with joy when our heroine is reunited with her mother on the final page. This is a beautiful new version of a familiar story.

A second new picture book I shared with Payton was A Garden for Pig written by Kathryn K. Thurman and illustrated by Lindsay Ward. Pig lives on an apple farm with Mrs. Pippins. Every day she picks the apples and turns them into yummy treats for Pig to eat - roasted apples, baked apples, applesauce and apple pie. The only problem is, Pig is pretty sick of apples. He dreams of vegetables. One day, he happens upon a vegetable garden and manages to eat some squash before Mrs. Pippins catches him and ties him up at home. Frustrated, he declares "NO MORE APPLES!" and wallows in his muddy pen. The next morning, apples uneaten and wishing for seeds, something amazing happens. Pig poops and out come squash seeds! After a good rain and some patience, Pig has a beautiful squash garden and is happy once again. The bright mixed media images fill every page cheerfully. Payton was surprised and excited to see Pig's garden. I could see using this book in a storytime about apples, gardens, pigs, farms, or seeds. For an older child, more discussion about seeds and how they can sometimes be transported by animals in unexpected ways could ensue. "Pig's Tips For Growing Your Own Organic Garden" are included.

I really wanted to love Eight Days: A Story of Haiti written by Edwidge Danticat and illustrated by Alix Delinois. This is the story of Junior, a seven-year-old boy who is trapped beneath a collapsed house following the earthquake in Port-au-Prince. When the story begins, Junior is standing in front of a crowd of reporters: "When I was pulled from under my house, eight days after the earthquake, my family was there waiting. The following day, everyone asked me, Were you afraid? Were you sad? Did you cry?" Junior tells them that sometimes he was scared and sometimes he cried when he missed his family, but mostly, in his mind, he played. In the following pages, Junior recounts the games he played in his mind as he waited under the house. When the house fell, his friend Oscar was with him and Oscar joins in the earliest days of playing. On the fifth day, "Oscar felt really tired and went to sleep. He never woke up. That was the day I cried." The illustrations in this book are glorious in their vibrancy. Bright colors portray a child's joy at hearing stories in the barbershop with his Papa or flying a kite with his best friend. The text is straight forward and poetic all at once. While it is a powerful look at the power of imagination to aid survival, this book is defintely for the "older" picture book crowd - maybe grades 2 and up? It is a book for an adult to share with a child so they can answer questions that may arise. In my mind, it could be a tiny bit confusing for a child reading it on his own; since all the illustrations show the beauty of life in Haiti before the quake, it may not be clear that the child is really trapped and imagining happier times during the course of the book. Still, as a book about an important event in recent history, this is a book worth reading and sharing.

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