The latest science picture book I read first caught my attention by the beautiful cover illustration. The Vast Wonder of the World: Biologist Ernest Everett Just by Mélina Mangal and illustrated by Luisa Uribe (Millbrook Press, 2018) is much more than a picture book about a scientist discovering the secrets of egg cells. This book really is vast in its scope, in what it attempts and succeeds in putting into the typical 32-page format of a picture book. It’s a biography. It teaches science processes and information on cell division. It presents the grit and passion of a black man in a time where the odds were stacked against him. It’s inspiring. This book is a beautiful example of the dance between text and illustrations that authors and illustrators strive for in writing picture books.
I love the choice of color and detail in the illustrations. I love how the story doesn’t skimp on talking of the hardships Just faced, yet such examples do not overly burden a young reader. Instead, readers learn how Just continued on in the face of these hardships, how his passion fueled his drive and inspired him to keep going. I found comfort in the fact that there are other ways to fight racism than by political activism – that there are other ways to be a hero. In Ernest Everett Just’s case, he chose to go where his ideas and science were valued without regard to skin color. He never gave up and science has a lot to thank him for his dedication.
Few people have probably heard of Ernest Everett Just. His story needs to be told. I am so glad that Mangal and Uribe were the ones to do so. They have made magic in their portrayal of Just’s life and scientific passion.
Everyone is back to school and routines after the holiday break. When the excitement of new beginnings wears off we may find ourselves in a funk, especially on a gray day. I have just the remedy for you. Inky’s Amazing Escape: How a Very Smart Octopus Found His Way Home by Sy Montgomery and illustrated by Amy Schimler-Safford (Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, 2018) takes us on an adventure into the life of the octopus and will leave us able to see our days anew.
Sy Montgomery tells us the true story of an octopus that escaped from an aquarium in New Zealand. Inky the octopus had been the size of a baseball when he was found in a lobster trap with two injured tentacles and brought to the aquarium. At the aquarium he was treated well and spent his days exploring his tank. His injuries healed and he grew to the size of a soccer ball. Soon thereafter came his great escape! Was Inky sad and pining for his home? Was he just continuing his explores and therefore purely chance that he found the drainpipe that led to the ocean? We will never know.
But what your young reader will learn is numerous and fascinating facts about the octopus, all set in whimsical mixed-media illustrations. The book is delightful and makes a welcome respite on a gray winter day. I came away knowing that if I approached my days like Inky does, with a sense of wonder, curiosity and adventure at all that is around me, even a gray winter day will hold something un hum drum in store for me.
If you want to know more about the octopus, I highly recommend Sy Montgomery’s adult book The Soul of the Octopus.
Happy New Year! Many adults set goals as they usher in 2019: to lose weight, learn a new language, eat better, save for retirement – the possibilities are endless. We reflect on our perceived weaknesses and try to improve. But what about our children? Some, I think focus on their perceived weaknesses every day wishing they were bigger, stronger or less necky. Yes, I wrote necky. Even giraffes have problems. And this week at the library, I came across two books that can help children see their problems from a different perspective – one sweet and tender and the other sweet and funny.
I am Small by Qin Leng (Kids Can Press, 2018) tells of a young girl’s frustration about being the smallest in her family, in school, and out and about the town. Encouraged by her friends, she starts to see some advantages to being small, but they are not enough. She’s still angry. That is, until Mom has a new baby. The wonder of knowing someone smaller than her transforms her frustration to wisdom, and she caringly assumes the role of big sister. The illustrations are delightful and full of detail that will keep your young reader pouring over them. And maybe find some reasons to enjoy being small.
Giraffe Problems by Jory John and illustrated by Lane Smith (Random House, 2018) is a funny tale of a giraffe who feels bad about his long neck. He tries various ways to hide it without success. Then he meets a turtle that also feels bad about his neck because he wants something he can’t reach very badly – this is the really funny part. Giraffe helps him and they become friends and appreciate their necks in a new way. Silly, yes and downright funny, but without preaching, young readers can take away the message that we all have strengths and to accept and use no matter how we are built.
Good luck with your resolutions, if you made any, but be kind to yourself. And make sure one of your resolutions is to share lots and lots of books with your children. It’s a great way to cultivate all kinds of goodness. Happy New Year!
This week I read The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee (Dial Books for Young Readers/Penguin 2018). It is brilliant. We are always told that we need to write to two audiences – the adults who are buying and the child who is reading/being read the content. Any adult who believes it is better to build bridges than walls will want to check out this book and share its message with their young reader. I think children will delight in the little knight character and his supposed dilemma about the other side of the wall. The Wall in the Middle of the Book really succeeds in writing to two audiences.
In the opening scene the little knight is climbing a ladder to replace a brick that had fallen out of his wall. He demonizes the creatures that live on the other side of the wall. Agee cleverly uses the gutter of the book to divide the book into two sides, safe and dangerous, theirs and mine. Yet when trouble comes to the ‘safe’ side of the book what will the little knight do? I won’t give it away except to say that what we don’t take time to know and understand often causes unwarranted fear. Kids will get this concept.
The Wall in the Middle of the Book is deceptively simple, wonderfully creative, thought provoking and politically timely. I love the artwork, the idea, how Agee implemented his idea, its message, its re-readability. Like I said, The Wall in the Middle of the Book is brilliant.
If you teach k-3, you may be interested in a guided reading lesson plan I wrote to go with this book. Please visit my store at Teachers Pay Teachers to find out more.
The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Rafael Lopez (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2018) is a beautiful portrayal of what it feels like to be an outsider, to grapple with differences in a world that can be cruel. Yet the text and illustrations flow like a hug from our best supporters, encouraging us to be ourselves and hold strong. When that friend comes along who accepts who accepts us unconditionally…that’s the day we begin. This book is for anyone needing those special connections. This book is for everyone.
I love books that make me laugh out loud, and that’s just what happened when I read we don’t eat our classmates by Ryan T. Higgins (Disney Hyperion 2018). The story is about Penelope, a Tyrannosaurus rex, who is nervous about her first day of school. When she discovers her classmates are all children, things are not good. Children are delicious! In this funny tale Penelope really wants to make friends, but children are delicious. Her classmates don’t want to be eaten naturally so Penelope finds herself alone. Finally, when the class pet tries to eat Penelope, she realizes what it feels like to be eaten. School gets much better after that.
It’s that time of year again! Time for costumes, spooky stories and a writing challenge for Halloween. It’s time for the 8th Annual Halloweensie Contest. This year we are challenged to write a Halloween story using 100 words or less and the words cauldron, shiver and howl (or any form of these three words). All stories posted between 12:00 AM EDT Saturday October 27th and Wednesday October 31st by 11:59 PM EDT will be judged. So without further ado…here is my story (98 words!).
Wanda’s Midnight Wish
Wanda approached the fire slowly. Her wolf howled, filling her with hope. Professor Tia’s normally kind eyes glinted fiercely in the Halloween moonlight. Tia dumped a box of alphabet noodles into the cauldron. Wanda shivered and peered into the broth. She groaned; her eyes watered. RATS U F floated on the surface. How unfair! She’d practiced all year. “Look again Wanda,” she heard. Wanda peered through the steam. CONGRATS U FLY TONIGHT bobbed among the carrots and snails. Wanda beamed and jumped on her broom. “You deserve it, but first we eat,” Tia smiled, handing her a spoon.