Category Archives: picture books

One architect, one activist, one strong man

I suppose that “architect, activist and strongman” could all work together in the right person.  However, today I’ve been reading nonfiction picture books about three very different people: Zaha Hadid, Jane Addams, and Eugen Sandow.

You might not think they’d have a lot in common, but all faced challenges from people who maybe thought they’d fit in better if they’d grow up and do something just a wee bit more “normal.”  Eugen Sandow, the strong man, grew up not so strong, with people who encouraged him to become a doctor.  He ran off with the circus before eventually becoming a bodybuilder, starting a gym, and working with people on nutritious eating. Jane Addams never seemed particularly interested in following society’s expectations for young women when she was young.  She was shocked by the conditions poor people lived in, founded Hull House, and later ruffled feathers by speaking out for peace during a war, also winning a Nobel Peace Prize.  Zaha Hadid loved to design things even as a child.  She left Iraq to study architecture and mathematics and eventually designed buildings (and shoes and furniture, too) inspired by patterns, shapes, nature, and whatever else sparked her interest.

Take a look.  There’s inspiration all around here.

The World is not a Rectangle:  a portrait of architect Zaha Hadid, Jeanette Winter

Dangerous Jane, Suzanne Slade and Alice Ratterree

Strong as Sandow, Don Tate

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“Sing, don’t cry, even if it is only in your soul”

singdontcryMy abuelo was not a cool musician who sang songs when he came to visit.  He was more of a pipe-smoking, western-reading, Wheel of Fortune kind of guy.  But I’m so glad Angela Dominguez had an abuelo who played the guitar and sang and knew the power of music.

Sing, Don’t Cry is a sweet picture book, highlighting the love of grandparents and grandchildren for each other, while also illustrating the power of the wisdom older people can pass on to younger ones.  Sure, when you’re a kid, you might not always remember to sing your way out of a crisis, but it’s a message that you could carry with you into your teen or adult years and be able to rediscover when you’re thinking about your abuelo or abuela and need a little boost.

Sing, Don’t Cry by Angela Dominguez

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When you’re scared of your underwear or losing your head or both

“Time passed and Bonaparte was so worried about school that his head fell off.”

Yikes.  But that happens if you’re a skeleton, I guess.  Fortunately, when you’ve got friends like Franky Stein and Mummicula, you’re probably likely to find a solution for your wandering bones.

And if you fear the dark or your glow-in-the-dark underpants, you can also problem-solve your way to peace and relaxation with a little time and thought and possibly a shovel.

Looking for funny Halloween books?  These might work.

Creepy Pair of Underwear by Aaron Reynolds and Peter Brown

Bonaparte Falls Apart by Margery Cuyler and Will Terry

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Seeds of selfishness, seeds of kindness

if you plant a seedOnce in a while, I get sort of insanely excited about something almost no one cares about.  This did not happen in the case of the recent eclipse, which just hit everyone about two weeks after I began completely geeking out about it—thank you, NPR’s Science Friday, for always being a little ahead of the curve on things like that.

Anyway, strangely enough, this has to do with a toddler storytime.  I fill in at storytime now and again, and while I love books and reading with kids and occasionally dancing, too, especially if Laurie Berkner songs are involved, I am simply not a genius at toddler storytime like my youth librarian friends are.  However, I love picture books, so I manage to muddle through it by choosing books I love and charging ahead.

Last week, I was thinking about storytime and decided to do something on gardens – squash plants are on the march throughout my backyard, covering a bush, roaming across the hostas, and taking over an entire raised bed as well as the “open” space in the back of the yard – and when I started looking for books, I came across Kadir Nelson’s If You Plant a Seed.

I love Kadir Nelson’s work.  The other day I pulled out four of his books for someone to read just because I was chattering on about how amazing he is and felt like they needed to see some right then.  Yes, I am the pushy library worker who does that kind of thing.

Anyway, If You Plant a Seed is about more than growing tomatoes and cabbage.  It’s about choosing an attitude of kindness over selfishness and working together rather than looking out only for yourself.  It’s something we could all use a reminder of right now – local and national political leaders, community members, neighbors.  Planting a seed of selfishness really does mess things up, and it’s not just because you end up with tomato seeds on your head and pile of shredded cabbage.  We can do better.

If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson

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For all your Moby Dick picture book needs

mighty mobyI would have loved being a fly on the wall during the publishing meeting where this book was discussed.  Was this an easy sell, or did it take some convincing?  Was there really a need for a picture book about Moby Dick?

Perhaps not, but if you’ve got to have one, this is it.  Illustrated magnificently by Ed Young, and carrying snatches from Moby Dick, every page is a stunner.  To be honest, I like this version better than the original, which I must now admit I never read past the first three chapters and never plan to pick up again.  And the ending makes it more than a retelling of the original – I loved the wet feet on a bath mat – and almost makes me want to hear a sea chantey or follow up on the resources noted at the back.

Mighty Moby – Barbara DaCosta and Ed Young

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And so we’d best enjoy ourselves

Groundwood Logos SpineWhy write a book about the cycle of life?  Why talk about death with young children?  Why not?

I often wish there had been more books that could show me how to grieve when I was young and grieving, especially books like this that make death and birth and life all part of a process.  Does it make you feel any better?  Maybe not.   But it gives you space to appreciate and think about and maybe even talk about things.  We all lose people we love if we love at all.  We all have joys and sorrows, however small they might be.

The artwork is engaging and quirky.  Is that a pregnant woman or a woman with a child and a zoo on her lap?  Why is the pig riding a horse?  Do we care?  We do not.

And So It Goes by Paloma Valdivia

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Andrew Carnegie everywhere

ManWhoLovedLibraries_cover_screenRGB_1024x1024My travels around Iowa – checking in on friends, stopping on the way to state parks, seeing what I can see—often bring me to small towns with Carnegie libraries.  I may not work in one, but I can appreciate what a big deal they were (and are) to many small towns and to the community members who used them in the past and still use them today.  Free libraries are a palace of opportunities, right?

Why did Andrew Carnegie love the idea of them so much?  He and his family did not have many opportunities when he was young, although he certainly made the most of those he had, becoming one of the wealthiest people in the United States even as he started life with little in Scotland.

The Man Who Loved Libraries presents a child-friendly version of Andrew Carnegie and his life.  (You can read about his union-busting in a paragraph in the back, but there’s no in-depth look at the darker sides of his success.)  He loved his family, worked hard, and enjoyed school while he could go.  He kept reading even when he was out working, taking advantages of one successful man’s private library to continue learning.

The illustrations are simple and help fill in the story’s ideas.  Worth a look, definitely!

The Man Who Loved Libraries: the story of Andrew Carnegie by Andrew Larsen and Katty Maurey

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Read. Repeat. Now read it again.

turn on the nightI came across this one in the new picture books at another library.  (Yes, I’m just that much of a geek that I visit other libraries in my free time.)  I glanced at it, and seeing it was wordless, it went into my stack to take home.  On the first read, I thought it was a little weird.  Then I read the inside flap.  Aha… I read it again, noticing a few more details.  And then again.  More.  And again.  Even more.

It’s the best kind of wordless picture book.  You could read the story each time in a slightly different way, and it might change a little as you notice more and more of the details.  Don’t get me wrong – the pictures are not full of tiny, over-the-top drawings that make you stay on a page for five minutes.  They’re simple, but deceptively simple.  Is that another reindeer?  Are the lights different now?  What happened to the sleeping girl?  Definitely worth another look.

Turn On The Night by Geraldo Valério

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Grief and how to look at it

where do they goSome years ago, a dear friend told me to keep an eye out for blinking lights.  “When you see them, you’ll know it’s me on the other side,” she said.  Once you start noticing it, lights are blinking all the time.  So, of course, I think of her every time.  And they are always good memories – eating her cookies, talking (in a kind way) about everyone we knew in common, remembering the time she held my just-born son only a few weeks before she died.

Death and grief can be tough topics for adults to address with kids, but it has to happen, right?  It’s part of life to deal with death, and finding gentle ways to grieve and remember can help kids realize that.

Where Do They Go tackles it head on, but in a way that leaves the door open to many interpretations, religions, and backgrounds.  The pictures support the words and bring out the joy in remembering and sadness of losing someone.

Where Do They Go by Julia Alvarez and Sabra Field

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A bad guy meets his match

bad-guy-9781481460101_lgAh…siblings.  The power struggles, the down and dirty tricks, the trips to the library.  All part of that constant struggle to stay on top, right?

There’s a nice twist here.  The bad guy whose mom calls him “sweetie” turns out to have an equally evil sister, the kind who will eat the last popsicle in front of you and probably laugh her evil laugh.  And Mom?  Maybe she’s not so nice, either….

Bad Guy by Hannah Barnaby and Mike Yamada

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