Friday, June 21, 2013

Open This Little BookOpen This Little Book by Jesse Klausmeier
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What Jesse Klausmeier’s “Open This Little Book,”  lacks in plot, it makes up for in cleverness and creativity. This is one of those books that is so clever in its concept that I found myself thinking, “I wish I had thought of that.” Klausmeier and artist Suzy Lee have come up with a book that makes the page turn an exciting event and have so smartly integrated it into the book’s concept that this is one book (like a pop-up book) I can’t imagine ever working on a Kindle. Part of the genius of this book is the change in page/paper size as the book unfolds. The title page itself is smaller than the page that comes before it and each page after that gets physically smaller until you get to the middle of the book where the pages start getting larger again. Now this may not seem like a stroke of genius to you, but the author and artist have brilliantly combined this size-changing concept with a simple series of events that will teach kids about size relationships, colors, animals, patterns and the joys of reading. One thing that I didn’t even notice on my first read was that the color palette changes as the story goes along. Each turn of the page adds another new color until the reader gets to the final illustration where the reader is rewarded with a beautiful illustration that uses the entire rainbow spectrum of color that we’ve been slowly introduced to. Suzy Lee’s illustrations, which in a few places remind me of William Steig, are charming and the last illustration in the book is so delightful, it gets my vote for best children’s book illustration of the year! This is a really clever and fun book.

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Sunday, June 09, 2013

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This non-fiction picture book by Michelle Markel is a fascinating and important look at an era of America’s history that saw the rise of the labor movement and life-saving changes in worker’s conditions. Told through the eyes of young Clara Lemlich, a recent immigrant who finds work in the garment industry, this is a story of one young girl’s struggle to make a difference in the world. With her father unable to find work, it’s up to Clara to help support the family. When she gets a job stitching blouses in a garment factory, her eyes are opened to the unsafe and unfair working conditions that women (and men) of the day were forced to endure. For example: if you pricked you’re finger and bled on the cloth, you were fired; if you were a few minutes late you lost half a day’s pay; the doors were locked and every night the workers were searched to make sure they hadn't stolen anything; three hundred girls had to share two toilets. Disgusted by these unfair practices, Clara urges the other girls to fight for their rights. This is a book about standing up for what you believe in, not backing down and showing the courage of your convictions. These are lessons that shouldn’t be forgotten and are as important today as they were one hundred years ago when this story takes place. The story is beautifully complimented by Melissa Sweet’s mixed media illustrations that combine watercolor and gouache with collaged and stitched pieces of cloth and torn paper.

One of Melissa Sweet's mixed media illustrations

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Friday, June 07, 2013

A Little Book of Sloth

A Little Book of SlothA Little Book of Sloth by Lucy Cooke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you’re not yet a member of the Sloth Appreciation Society, you will be after reading this adorable non-fiction book by Lucy Cooke that immerses readers in the world of orphaned and injured sloths. Filled with sweet photographs that are guaranteed to make even a curmudgeon smile, you’ll learn fascinating facts about the Bradypus or three-fingered sloth with their Mona Lisa smiles and their two-fingered cousins, the Choloepus who, according to the author, look “like a cross between a Wookie and a pig.” One of the things I learned  from this book about these adorable creatures is that sloths, unlike other mammals, can not regulate their body temperature. Consequently, sloths, like reptiles, need to bask in the sun in order to warm up. I also didn’t know that sloths are slow and slothful due to their diet. Cooke informs us that in the jungle, they eat slightly toxic leaves which don’t give them much energy. Because it takes them four weeks to digest a meal, they need to take it easy to stay free from painful indigestion. As fascinating as all of these facts are, I think the main attraction to this book, at least for kids, will be the adorable photographs of Buttercup, Wally, Honey, Sunshine, Sammy, Velcro and the other cute sloths that fill these pages with their cuddly personalities and sweet smiles.

Below are some of Lucy Cooke's photographs from "A Little Book of Sloth."

Mateo with his plush toy, Mr. Moo
Sunshine and Sammy
Baby sloth in a special onesie

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Thursday, June 06, 2013

Dream Friends

Dream FriendsDream Friends by You Byun
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In "Dream Friends," artist You Byun’s debut picture book, a lonely girl named Melody has a special friend. As you may have guessed from the book’s title, the catch to their friendship is that Melody and her friend can only meet in her dreams. It’s an idea filled with promise and Byun has beautifully captured a child’s surreal dream world in her muted pastel colored paintings. With their slightly over-sized, bean-shaped heads, the character design in “Dream Friends” reminded me of the children in the animated film “My Neighbor Totoro,” (Melody's large dream friend, is also not unlike Totoro). The story itself is very simple and half of the book consists of scenes of Melody romping with her Dream Friend in their dream world. I do wish there was more development of Melody's character, but seeing that this book is meant for very young children, it's understandable that story and character development are secondary to the lovely illustrations. Even though the story may seem simple, the book does deliver a heartfelt message. In the end Melody learns that by taking inspiration from her dreams, she can find happiness, magic and friendship in her waking life. I suppose it's a lesson even grown-ups can learn from.

Below are two of the dream vignettes featured in You Byun's picture book, "Dream Friends."

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