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Book Reviews of Literature for Children and Young Adults
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Reviews

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Marcus, Leonard S.  1998.  A Caldecott Celebration:  Six Artists and 

     Their Paths to the Caldecott Medal.  New York:  Walker and 

     Company.  ISBN: 0802786561

 

     This nonfiction picture book by Leonard Marcus presents the  importance of the Caldecott Medal and how winning it impacted the lives of six illustrators.  He chose an illustrator from each of the six decades that the Caldecott Medal has been awarded to provide an informal cross section through time of the American picture book. He tells how each illustrator worked to perfect his/her art.

     At the beginning of each chapter he provides a photograph of the illustrator and the cover art of their award winning book.  He also gives the year this illustrator won the award for their book, year and place born, publisher, artistic medium, and a quote from the acceptance speech.

      The first chapter is about Robert McCloskey and his book Make Way for Ducklings. McCloskey lived during the Great Depression and received a scholarship to study art in Boston. "But for that scholarship, McCloskey later said, he might never have left Ohio or become an artist." Interesting facts about his study of ducks and how he drew them  are included in this chapter.  This study of ducks and his attention to detail culminated into the creation of Make Way for Ducklings.

     In 1955 Marcia Brown won the Caldecott for Cinderella; or, The Little Glass Slipper. Before that, many of her books were honor books. Marcus shows the research sketches that went into this award winning book and interesting little facts and chance happenings that influenced her life.

      The third chapter is about Maurice Sendak and his book, Where the Wild Things Are. It is interesting that he did not start out with "wild things" but "wild horses" and how the story evolved into its award winning form.

     Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig is an example of a book that continues to be timeless in providing enjoyment.  Why the main character, Sylvester is a donkey and not something else is explained by Steig. He tells about some of his decisions that went into the making of this book. "Art, Steig thinks, should give enjoyment."

     Van Allsburg was a sculptor first.  People in his life influenced him to try drawing for childrens books.  Jumanjii was his first Caldecott Medal winner, followed  just four years later by The Polar Express.  After winning the Caldecott Medal he says,  "I began to realize that maybe book illustration, not sculpture, was my true calling."

     The final chapter is about Tuesday and David Wiesner. There are many interesting facts about how Tuesday was created and also sketches when he first came up with the idea.  It was interesting to note that he put himself into the wordless book.

      A Caldecott Celebration showcases these six award winning illustrators and their books.  Interesting facts are provided about books that many children are familiar and enjoy. Booklist writes about A Caldecott Celebration, "Marcus, who interviewed each artist, provides a lively, informative introduction to each book and its maker. A beautifully made book, this will serve as a fine resource for children interested in illustration and for teachers researching author/illustrator studies."  It also provides some interesting information that can be presented when these books are read to young children.

 

Van Allsburg, Chris.  1992.  The Widow's Broom. New York:  Scholastic. 

     ISBN: 0590475436.

 

The Widow's Broom written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg is a fascinating story that has wide appeal.  In the story a witch whose broom has suddenly lost the power of flight falls into a garden of the widow, Minna Shaw.  Minna Shaw is a kind woman who helps the witch. The witch heals quickly from her fall, signals another witch, and leaves without taking her broom.  Minna Shaw is left with the broom that she thinks is just an ordinary one.   She quickly finds out that the broom still has some magic but is harmless and loves to sweep.  She teaches the broom to help her by chopping wood, carrying water, and playing the piano.  Her neighbors, the Spiveys do not like the broom and think, "This is the devil."  The fame of the broom spreads and all the neighbors come to see it.  Some are suspicious of it while others think it is very helpful to the widow.

     One day while the broom was sweeping the road between the Spiveys and Minna Shaws farms, two of the Spivey boys along with their dog decide to annoy the broom.  The broom attempts to ignore them but when they hit it with sticks the broom strikes them hard on the head.  The dog chases the broom and grabs onto the handle with his teeth. He is catapulted into the sky.  That evening Mr. Spivey and several neighbors come to get the broom.  They tie it quietly to a stake, not to wake it, and set it on fire.  The broom is destroyed.  Minna Shaw reports she has seen the ghost of the broom but Mr. Spivey does not believe her.  That night he watches out his window and sees the ghost of the broom circling his house.  Each night as he watches the ghost of the broom circles closer and closer carrying an axe. The Spiveys pack up their belongings and move.  The widow stays.  That night she listens to simple music played on her piano by the broom, "not a ghost at all, but still covered with the coat of white paint shed given it."

     The sepia colored illustrations give the illusion of the story taking part in the past and creates the mood of a possibly dark subject of witches and magic.  The illustrations with their different vantage points and composition are part of Van Allsburg's style.  In the beginning of the book the illustrations show the legs of the witch and broom falling.  The next page gives the feeling that the witch has fallen below the line of sight so that only the hat and cape are visible.  In another, Minna Shaws surprise at finding a witch in her garden is conveyed by the positioning of her hands while her face remains out of view.  In that same illustration, again the witch's face is not shown but the positioning of her upraised hand provides the clues that she is hurt and needs help.  In another illustration of the witch as she is waiting and watching the sky for another witch to come to her, the vantage point and the sweep of her garments causes the reader's eye to travel upwards.

     Many pages of text have a graphic headline and footing of sepia colored pumpkins to continue the setting.

     The text and the illustrations work together to make this picture storybook one that can be enjoyed over and over again. This book is one of my favorites of Van Allsburg that I like to share with my fourth and fifth grade students during the fall.  The story draws them in and they love the clever way Minna Shaw saved the broom. The subtly way Van Allsburg reveals this never fails to bring gasps of appreciation from the audience. School Library Journal states, "although not strictly for Halloween, may turn-out to be as much a part of that holiday as Polar Express is of Christmas."

 

Rohmann, Eric.  2002.  My Friend Rabbit.  New York:  Scholastic.  ISBN:   

     0439579309.

 

     My Friend Rabbit written and illustrated by Eric Rohmann is a delightful picture storybook with minimal text and great illustrations that provide a humorous story of mouse's well-meaning friend, Rabbit. In the story, Rabbit throws Mouse for a ride in a small toy airplane.  Mouse falls out and is caught by Rabbit but the airplane gets stuck in a tree.  Rabbit has an idea how to get the plane down.  He gets an assortment of animals to stack on each other in order to reach the branch where the airplane is stuck.  Trouble happens when the stack unhappy animals fall.  Mouse manages to get into the airplane and rescues Rabbit from the angry animals but they get stuck in a tree again, but dont worry, Rabbit has an idea!

     This book won the Caldecott Award 2003 for its hand colored relief prints.  Each page is framed in black. This use of black is repeated in the heavy outlining of each character and individual objects on the pages. This black outlining provides a vividness and boldness to each object and character. The story is told with many double page spreads and a lot of empty space to provide the drama and make the close-up characters and objects stand out on each page.  In the beginning of the book, the path of the airplane is illustrated with a heavy, curving broken line on the right side and Rabbit and Mouse looking up into the tree where the airplane rests on a branch on the left.  Another double page spread shows Mouse on one page standing looking very unhappily up while Rabbit bounds away with the text, Not to worry, Mouse.  Ive got an idea! The illustrator lets the reader guess what Rabbit is doing in a two-page illustration where Rabbit is dragging some animal whose body is off the page. All that is shown is the animals tail. With this illustration there is a great deal of empty space and no background provided except the grass under the characters feet. Continued action is suggested on the next double page spread where the rest of elephant's body is shown with just the back end of Rabbit as he bounds off the right of the page.  The Illustrations are humorous when small Rabbit is pushing a huge rhinoceros and carrying a fat hippopotamus over his head.  Faster action is suggested when multiple animals being carried individually by rabbit within one page.  Vertical positioning of the book is needed to show the unstable stack of animals and the predictable outcome. The next double page spread shows the baby duck running in a panic to get out of the way of the animals falling.  The next double page spread shows the animals in the process of falling and after that glaring down at Rabbit as he sits on alligator.  Mouse is flying into the picture from the upper left with the airplane.  The next double page illustrations show with a heavy black broken line the path of Mouse's flight to rescue rabbit from the clutches of the angry animals.  Rabbit in his unthinking way covers Mouse's eyes.  The out of control flight of the airplane is again illustrated with a broken dark line.  On the last page mouse, rabbit, and the airplane are caught in the tree with the repeated text, "Not to worry, Mouse.  I've got an idea."

     In a book review from Hornbook they state, "Rohmann's hand-colored relief prints make fresh and innovative use of picture book space--and broadly humorous."

     This story combines the illustrations and minimal text to tell a humorous story in a very effective way.  The illustrations provide character development when we see Rabbit come up with and idea and impulsively act on it.  He has determination but he doesn't think things through.  This is illustrated when he drags or carries the heavy animals then stacks the animals haphazardly.  Mouse is illustrated as a character that enjoys having Rabbit as a friend and follows his lead but sometimes has to rescue Rabbit from his mistakes. He appears to be the more sensible of the two.

     This book is very appealing with its humorous characters and plot.  It should be enjoyed over and over again.

 

Kulling, Monica.  2004.  Eat My Dust! Henry Fords First Race. Illustrated

     by Richard Walz. New York:  Random House.  ISBN: 0375815104

 

     This beginning reader picture book is a Step into Reading Book, level 3 for children ready to read on their own and who are able to decode some new words.  The story is based on a real event on October 10, 1901 when Henry Ford raced against a professional driver Winton to win one thousand dollars in order to start Ford Motor Company.

     The story is written in large type and fairly simple text. Some beginning text appears stilted with the author using the words Henry Ford liked to drive.  He liked to drive into town.  He liked driving into town. is repeated on the next page.  The illustrator Richard Walz uses a painterly technique with watercolor to provide a humorous and comic approach to the story.  Each illustration works with the text to support the beginning reader. The author provides some interesting facts in the story such as Henry's car did not have brakes and that he tied his car up like a horse so it would not roll away.

     There is an authors note at the end explaining about the real event that inspired this book and a photograph of the race taking place.

     This book is a good example of its format but might not work as a read aloud with its simple language. It may stimulate an interest in Henry Ford and how the first cars were made.

 

 

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