Thursday, October 29, 2009
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
I’ve been reading a lot of snow/winter books recently. I can only assume it comes with the season. As the leaves change and the temperatures fall, my thoughts turn to winter. Plus there are just so many beautiful books about winter. Komako Sakai’s The Snow Day is no different. This simple quiet book is more about mood than story. But the mood that it sets is just too perfect.
The story follows a little rabbit who wakes up to find out that snow has been falling all night and she doesn’t have to go to school. She wants to go out to play but her mother tells her to wait until the snow stops. Her father, who has been traveling, is stranded and they are not sure if he will come home that day. The little rabbit sneaks out onto the deck of the family’s apartment to make snow dumplings while her mother does dishes. They play cards together and do indoor activities. They stand out on the balcony and listen to the silence of the snow. Finally, that evening, the storm stops. Even though it is close to bedtime, they go out to play in the snow until it is time to go to sleep. Tomorrow, she remarks, Daddy will be home. Because the snow stopped.
As I mentioned before this book is more about mood than it is about plot. The story is simple with very little happening. Instead we get to feel the impatient waiting of a child who wants to go outside. We get to hear the silence that comes with a heavy snow when no one is outside. I loved the moment where the little rabbit sneaks out to the balcony to make a snow dumpling. We see the apartment building shrouded in white with the little rabbit on the balcony. We feel the silence and the cold and the magic of the moment. When she is finally allowed to go out and play, we feel that excitement as she rushes out into the field. There is a sense of freedom.
Sakai’s illustrations are muted and beautiful. She appears to mix paint and crayon to create these part sophisticated, part childlike images although there is no mention of the medium in the title page. The palette is very muted with a focus on whites, grays, and browns. The rabbit is cute and I was very taken with the clothes she wears (which is surprising because I don’t normally notice things like that). Each page is a silent little tribute to the frustration and beauty of a snow day. A quiet book but one packed with emotion and feeling. And a little bit of magic.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
I’ve been a little lax in posting things lately. It’s not that I haven’t been reading some fantastic children’s books. It’s just that things have been unusually busy and I’ve had trouble finding time to write. I’ll try to get back into a much more regular schedule this week. I have a ton of great books to talk about.
The first of these was a wonderful little story called Ella Takes the Cake. You have to love a book that combines a spunky little elephant character, a bicycle adventure, and cakes. The book, written and illustrated by Carmela and Steven D’Amico, follows Ella, a little elephant who wants desperately to help at her mother’s bakery. But she’s too young to either bake or help customers and she’s bored of sweeping the floor. So when the deliveryman forgets one of the cakes that needs to be delivered, Ella offers to take it in a wagon attached to her bicycle. She sets off on her journey but is sidetracked by a friend who wants a ride. Her friend then offers to deliver some library books for a townsperson. When the road becomes too long the friend bails out. And that’s when Ella’s problems really begin. She delivers the books but the cart, parked on a hill, breaks and rolls down the hill. The cake and cart roll all the way through town until a drawbridge operator stops it. Finally Ella is able to get back on the road and delivers the cake on time. She arrives back at the bakery to have her mother ask her for help on baking a cake.
The character of Ella is what made this book a treat for me. She’s industrious, generous, and determined. As the last line states, “…because more than anything else, Ella loved to help.” We see how downcast she is when her mother tells her she can’t help. She wants to be doing things. Although she protests a bit when her friend wants a ride it is more because of the lack of room in the cart, not because of the extra work. The same with the library books. When the regular deliveryman catches up with Ella and offers to take the cake, she declines saying she would like to finish what she started. She is genuinely worried about doing a good job. Belinda (the friend), on the other hand, is portrayed as lazy. When Ella protests the lack of room in the cart, Belinda just climbs in. After Belinda offers to take the books to the library, she calls the library boring (the horror, the horror J) and backs out. She’s much more interested in playing than doing work. Ella on the other hand is just a perfect little lady.
The illustrations in this book are simply beautiful. Ella is adorable in her little blue jumper and her lucky red hat. But it is the surrounding landscapes and cityscapes that are done in lush detail. The bakery is warm and inviting, with morning light slanting through the windows at the beginning of the story. The ocean, which appears in many of the shots, is a vivid blue, which makes me want to live there. Although that could also be because of the cute buildings, stately library, and tropical palm trees. Steven D’Amico, the illustrator, uses bold colors to create images that draw readers in. We find Ella cute because of Steven’s cute little drawings, but we love her because of her winning personality. This book completely won me over. I understand that it is a series. I’ll be looking for more of these. A wonderful little girl in a beautiful world. Great book.
Monday, October 12, 2009
After I first saw the cover for My Penguin Osbert online, I knew I had to read this book. It was just so perfect. The little boy is wrapped up, covered in snow, and looking miserable. The penguin, on the other hand, is joyous. I loved the look of the boy and from that moment on I decided that I needed to find a copy. I picked up the book from the library and by coincidence it snowed this week. I was wrapped up and looking just as miserable as our hero. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, I didn’t have a singing penguin by my side.
The story, written by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel, follows Joe who asks Santa for a penguin for Christmas. Joe isn’t taking any chances this year. He’s been disappointed in the past when Santa brought him (almost) what he wanted. So this year he asks for a real penguin, about 1 foot tall, with a yellow beak, named Osbert. And he receives his gift. But immediately he starts to realize that his gift might not be perfect. Osbert wants to go outside rather than open the rest of the presents. So Joe takes him outside and spends most of the evening out there since it makes Osbert happy. The next morning Osbert wants cold creamed herring for breakfast so that is what they have. Osbert makes a mess of the living room trying to build a village out of freezer pops and Joe has to clean up the mess. Joe is still thankful for his present but he’s getting a little tired of dealing with Osbert. So he writes Santa another letter. In this one he says that he loves Osbert as a gift but if Santa thinks that he should have asked for a different gift, then that would be okay. Santa comes through again, this time with tickets to Antarctic World, an exhibit at the local zoo. The two walk there in the snow (Osbert doesn’t like the bus) and have a great time. When it comes time to leave, Osbert doesn’t want to go. He wants to stay with the other penguins and the cold ice, and the creamed herring that they get. So Joe gives up Osbert to the zoo with the promise to come visit. And he’s already thinking about what to ask for next Christmas.
I loved this little story for a number of different reasons. The characters were sweet, the situation was silly and fun, and the story just made me smile. But what I liked the most was the character of Joe and his responsible attitude throughout the whole book. He constantly talks about how he needs to do things for Osbert. One phrase is repeated almost on each page. “But I had asked for Osbert, and now I had him.” I’m impressed with the character for his willingness to make sacrifices to keep his present happy. When he wants chocolate chip waffles, and Osbert wants cold herring, they have cold herring. When Joe wants to go to bed, and Osbert wants to take a cold bath, they take a cold bath. Of all the characters I’ve read, this one is the most selfless. He starts the book talking about how he’s been disappointed by Santa but when he does finally get what he wants, he’s willing to work for him. The story in itself is just one of those adorable tales that I want to read every winter. I loved the simplicity and the selflessness of it.
And I love the illustrations by H.B. Lewis. I cannot imagine cuter illustrations. Lewis uses watercolor and pastels to create soft sweet images. Osbert is long and thin and a cute penguin but it is Joe that steals the show. This kid is just adorable. When he’s standing outside singing the old penguin songs, when he’s freezing in a cold bath, or when he’s hugging his little penguin goodbye you just want to pinch his cheeks and tell him how cute he is. Joe is often sad and somehow that sadness just makes the images that much sweeter. I love the image of Joe and Osbert trudging towards the zoo. It is a simple but beautiful scene with a lot of emotion. Lewis is wonderful at creating sweet scenes and expressive characters. I loved the story, the illustration, the characters, and the sweetness of this story. This would be a perfect read-aloud tale for a cold winter day or anytime you need an emotional boost. Cute and sweet, my favorite type of story. And one I intend to rush out and buy before the snow flies again.
Monday, October 5, 2009
If I had to try to define an age level for The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, I would be stumped. I found it a parable for adults, a fairy tale for older children, and a perfect choice for an animated short. It is hard to characterize. This odd little story was written by George Saunders who somehow came up with Gappers and goats and, illustrated by Lane Smith who manages to bring the characters to life. This has to be one of the most unusual stories and illustrations I've seen in a while. And I mean that in the best possible way.