…storytime, books, and ideas

Archive for the ‘art’ Category

Picture Book Month 2016– Week One

Fsor adasPicture Book Month, I will be posting new books each week. This week I want to feature one book that I am particularly fond of.  Last year my PBM favourite, Finding Winnie, happened to win the Caldecott Award. Just saying.

The book I am loving right now is Ada’s Violin by Susan Hood, illustrated by Sally Wern Comport. First off, let’s talk about the story. This is based on the true story of a small town of Cateura, Paraguay, which is the location of the main garbage dump for the capital city of Asuncion. Garbage is the main employer of most of the town’s residents — they spend their time picking through looking for something of value to sell or recycle. As you can imagine, poverty is rampant, and life is hard. Ada, the main character, wants more than joining a gang. Her grandmother signs her up for music lessons, and when Ada and the other children arrive, the find there are only a few instruments and they all have to share. An enterprising man builds them instruments from garbage, and an orchestra is born. You may have seen this on YouTube or on social media, their story has been shared often. This book tells the story for a younger audience without talking down to them, and yet putting the social issues at the forefront.

The story is one that will grab readers of a wide age range.  The illustrations are what grabbed me. Comport uses light and shadow to visually draw our attention to important parts of the story. The text does not point this out, and so Comport’s illustration deadas1epens the story and extends the meaning for readers. In this spread, Ada notices the gangs of teens hanging out in alleys. She and her sister are in shadow as well, as though they are uncertain if their future is to be in the sunlight playing, like the middle of this spread, or like the teens in the alley.

Her use of yellow to denote light is seen throughout the book. A simple line of yellow paint shows light on a face, a drum, a violin. An she uses line to draw the eye along the page, using crisp triangles that remind us of tadas2he spotlights that later shine on the orchestra as they play onstage. This spread, of Ada playing her landfill violin, is a fine example of both light and line. You can also see the little bits of paper collage, with music notes on them. She’s used reclaimed materials in the art which remind us of the reclaimed materials used for the instruments.

Take a look at this one – you will be amazed at the art and the story. I would not be at all surprised if the Caldecott Committee is taking a look at it as well. Have you seen this book? Leave your observations in the comments.

Come back next week for more picture books!




Oh, Canada!

A huge stack of books is sitting on my living room floor. At least half of them are from Canadian publishers, authors, or illustrators. I bet you can guess what this post is going to focus on. So, here we go!

darkestI’ve been waiting to get my hands on The Darkest Dark, by Chris Hadfield, illustrated by the Fan Brothers (Tundra Books).  Hadfield wowed me from space with his photos and songs, and the Fan Brothers wowed me with their book The Night Gardener , so I was really looking forward to this one. I was not disappointed. It is the story of a boy who loves everything about the moon, but is afraid of the dark. His love for outer-space helps him overcome his fear, and gives hope to all young dreamers. Based on Hadfield’s own life, this story will be a hit in classrooms and storytimes. And the illustrations! Oh, those pictures will grab the reader and have them looking at every detail. It is a beauty, so don’t miss it. Smells nice, too.

From Canadian publisher Second Story Press and Plan International comes As A Boy. We know that around the world, boys are treated differently than girls. This book explores that, and gives boys solutions to helping create equality for any gender. Full of beautiful photographs, this is an interesting way to explore gender.

Two new books from Sara O’Leary is cause to celebrate. First off is You are Two, illustrated by Karen Klassen. The bright collage and paint pictures will appeal to the newly two-year olds at your toddler storytimes, and they will relate to the gentle text that we expect from O’Leary’s child-view books. I’m really excited about A Family is a Family is a Family, illustrated by Qin Leng. The title says it all– O’Leary explores so many types of families – this book is geared to be uber-inclusive. Leng’s cartoon drawings are just right for the book’s tone. family

Go really local with Doretta Groenendyk’s new book, A Harbour Seal in Halifax, from Nimbus Publishing.  Based on a true story about a lost seal pup, and filled with the cool blues and whites of a winter night, this book by Valley resident Groenendyk will be a fun one to share.

Staying with the night theme, pick up Turn on the Night by Geraldo Valerio (Groundwood Books). A wordless night-time romp bounds across the pages as a little girl’s imagination is brought to life with acrylic paint.

Anyone who knows me knows I am not the sportsy type. I will admit it here in public: I’ve never been to a hockey gamturn-nighte (but I have watched curling, so that has to count for something, eh?) So it may surprise you to see me recommend The Hockey Song, a book based on the Stompin’ Tom Connors song, illustrated by Gary Clement (Greystone Books). Everyone is playing hockey in this book – boys, girls, moms, dads, all ages, all races. The illustrations made me look again and again. kulu

Sweetest Kulu, written by Celina Kalluk and illustrated by Alexandra Neonakis (Inhabit Media) is not new — it was published in 2014. But is is new to us, and it is time we owned this lovely little ode to a newborn. Set in the Arctic, it is filled with animals and plants that bring the region right into the lap you are sharing with this book. The paintings are full of light and movement, and fit the words just right.

For Teachers:

Staying with the First Nations theme, I have two longer books to recommend for teachers. First up is The Spirit of the Sea by Rebecca Hainnu, illustrated by Hwei Lim (Inhabit Media, 2014). This is an Inuktitut story of a proud girl who becomes a sea spirit. I would recommend it for orcaolder readers, maybe grades 3-5, as the story deals with deception, cowardice, and other issues that need maturity in order to appreciate. Full of lovely watercolour illustrations, and it even includes a helpful pronunciation guide.


And last, but not least, is Orca Chief by Roy Henry Vickers and Robert Budd (Harbour Publishing, 2015). This British Columbia tale is illustrated with iconic paintings that evoke aboriginal art from the northwest. The story is one that teaches respect for nature and for our food sources. These two books would be perfect for a First Nations study.

A couple of books for a busy summer

Honestly, my summer has been so busy that I’ve had very little time to look at picture books. But I found three that Istoryteller really must share with you.

First up is The Storyteller by Evan Turk, published by Atheneum. I loved Turk’s illustrations in Grandfather Gandhi, so I was really looking forward to this new book. And I am not disappointed. Turk’s illustrations, created with “water-soluble crayon, colored drawing pencils, inks, indigo, sugared green tea, a heat gun, and fire” are appropriately desert-toned, as the setting is Morocco. The story is about drought, but also about the lack of stories. Stories represent water, and lively blue swirls are visual metaphors for words and water. The striking page layouts and bold lines make this art that one can return to again and again. I love this book, and I think it would make a good choice for listeners who like a longer story and who can appreciate the lovely artwork. I am going to read it again and again.

ookoBefore I share this next book, I have a confession. I am a Book Sniffer. Yes, I love the way books smell. And some books smell better than others. Some have that old-book smell, some just have an abundance of ink. This one smells woody, like a fresh forest hidden inside the pages, which is appropriate, as it is a book about a fox named Ooko. Written by Esme Shaprio and published by Tundra, this is a story of a little fox who wants a friend. the watercolor and colored pencil illustrations create a whimsical world for Ooko. The pages are lovely and the story is just right for a young child.

And finally, there’s a soft spot in my heart for anything that Tomie DePaola illustrates, and so of course I moonsapprove of this collaboration with Patricia MacLachlan,  The Moon’s Almost Here.This book features a very simple poem just right for bedtime sharing, and DePaola’s signature illustrations beckon the reader into a twilight blue world.

Enjoy the rest of summer, and I will try to be back soon with more books!

Summer Reading

We have some new books, just in time for summer reading. Picture books are NOT just for little kids, you know. Everyone should rdollhouseead a stack of picture books now and then. Here are some suggestions.

This is my doll house by Giselle Potter;  Schwartz & Wade Books

Imagination is the key in this story. A little girl makes her house from cardboard, and uses her imagination to create the family and their daily activities. Her friend has a fancy store-bought dollhouse – quite sterile and not much fun. When the two girls play with the fancy one, they are bored, When they play with the hand-made one, stories happen. The lovely primitive-styled illustrations bring forth the imagination message. A great one to pair with Sara O’Leary’s This is Sadie.

hectorHector and Hummingbird by Nicholas John Frith;  Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., 2016.

Storywise, there’s not much new here: one friend is annoyed by another, until that friend goes away, then is missed. There’s a little communication problem going on between Hector Bear and Hummingbird. The retro-inspired illustrations, with their turquoise, pink, brown, and green palette, are fun and fresh, and reinforce a simple message that kids can learn a gentle lesson from.

Hare and Tortoise by Alison Murray;  Candlewick Press,

A fresh version of the story for a new generation of young listeners. Digital illustrations that have the feel of cut-paper collage and paint are bright and will attract kids. Slow and steady wins the race, once again.

chimps for tea
Chimpanzees for Tea by Jo Empson;  Philomel Books

Another in the “Forgetful Boy” line of stories, Vincent is sent to the store with a list, runs into a circus, and of course, forgets to bring home the things on the list. He does, however, bring home animals and other characters from the circus, so it is a big party at the end. Exuberant watercolors make this a fun one, with repeated readings guaranteed.

The Perfect Dog, by Kevin O’Malley, Crown Books for Young Readers

Youngsters hoping to get a dog will love this book—and parent will appreciate that the perfect dog—is one that is happy. A fun addition to storytimes with cartoon-like ink & digital illustrations, and lots of good vocabulary.


A few for summer

Only a few to recommend this week, but they are all winners.

Picture booksthunder boy

Thunder Boy Jr. By Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Yuyi Morales. Little, Brown Kids

What a power combo for a picture book! Alexie has a pitch-perfect voice for the main character, and Morales has a gorgeous palette & joyful line to match the tone. In this story of a boy who wants his own name, Alexie gives us a peek into a father-son relationship that just happens to be from a Native viewpoint. (Alexie is from the Spokane tribe, and so we may intuit that their naming traditions are portrayed here.) This book is a lovely look at how a child feels about his own selfhood; it just happens to contain a cast of diverse characters, beautifully portrayed in Morales’ cartoon-realism style. If you use it in a classroom, read this link.


gardenerThe Night Gardener by The Fan Brothers, Simon & Schuster

Terry & Eric Fan are Canadians – so if you are looking for some Canadian content, shout hooray, because this book is a real looker. I am hooked on the art- shades of green and blue and grey alternating with sepia-toned pages move the story along. And the story is a fine as the pictures. A sad, grubby street is suddenly brought to life by a man who creates topiary during the night. A young boy follows him, and learns the trade. The transformation lasts as the Night Gardener passes his secrets along to this small, lonely boy. A gorgeous book, at storytime or one-on-one.

For teachers….pinny

Pinny in Summer, by Joanne Schwartz, illustrated by Isabelle Malenfant, Groundwood

In four short chapters, this little charmer follows Pinny and her three friends as they pick berries on a summer’s day. They meet a seagull, and Pinny teaches them (and the reader) a lesson in patience. Teachers could use this as a writing example—the whole book takes place in one day, with several events that tie together. Child-like illustrations add ambiance to the text, but do little to advance the story. Put it on your suggested Summer Reading list.

Friends and animals

This handful of books caught my eye on the new book cart. This week’s theme? Friends. And animals.

Picture Booksroar sweet
Listen to our World by Bill Martin Jr., Illustrated by Melissa Sweet , Simon & Schuster    We begin with children, and then we travel the world with baby animals listening to the sounds in their environment. The sounds all appear in the illustration, integrating text and art. Sweet’s mixed-media illustrations make the simple text so much richer; just look at these lion cubs roaring! With lots of good vocabulary, this is a great addition to animal storytime.

I am Bear by Ben Bailey Smith and Sav Akyuz, Candlewick
A very slight book that will be a fun addition to storytime—if you can pull it off. There’s a video by the book’s makers, which may give you a suggestion of how to rap this book. If your storytimers love “Pete the Cat”, you should probably give this one a try. Just be prepared to explain the homonyms of BEAR and BARE.

birdsSome birds by Matt Spink, Abrams Appleseed
A short, rhymed text about birds is made large with stained-glass style illustrations. These birds have familiar shapes, but the colours are all fun and games! With the feel of a completed colouring book, these birds are fun to peruse and will make a fine addition to birdy storytimes.


There was an old woman who lived in a shoe by Jane Cabrera, Holiday House, Inc.    Cabrera has extended yet another familiar nursery rhyme, this time taking on that old woman and her shoe. If  you are looking for a book that will satisfy your recycling and re-purposing niche, try this one! This “old woman” makes do with whatever she can reuse. A nice twist on an old rhyme.

For Teachers….
The Typewriter by Bill Thomson, Two Lions typewriter
Three friends find a typewriter – it must be a magical one, because when they type words, the words come to life. Beach, ice cream, ball, crab – a sunny day at the beach ensues. This is a wordless book, so makes for a good writing exercise. And it has diversity—the friends are each a different race. This is the kind of diverse book I really appreciate—the book is not about them being different races, it is about friends having fun who happen to be of different races.

Two beauties: Santat & Smith

Occasionally, I find books that make me stop in my tracks. Books that scream at me. Books that say, “Notice me. Read me again and again.” Well, this past two weeks have uncovered two such books that I just have to share with you.

IMG_0694Firstly, there’s Dan Santat’s latest book, Are We There Yet?  (Little Brown & Co, 2016) We don’t yet have this one , but it is on order. I was lucky to get a copy before the actual pub date. Thanks, Little Brown!

On to the fabulousness. A new Santat is cause for celebration. Some of you may already know how very much I adore Beekle,  that little imaginary guy. Well, Are We There Yet? is pretty swell, too. Take off the dust jacket (or peek under the cover if you are looking at a library copy). There’s a surprise under there! The book is encased in lovely film-frame endpapers depicting a day’s travel. Open to the title page, and you know that Santat has been stuck in a car with a boy yelling, “Are we there yet?”.  And you know he remembers what it was like to be a kid stuck in a long car ride. You know all that by the expression on the faces of everyone in the car. He might even know what it is like to be the Mom. The title gives you a big clue about the story, but the basic premise is this: family is going to Grandma’s house for a birthday party. Kid is bored. Kid’s imagination goes wild (or maybe Dan Santat’s imagination has gone wild). IMG_0695

As the story progresses, suddenly, the book forces us to flip it. In the hands of a less accomplished book-maker, this might be just a gimmick. But Santat flips the reader and keeps them there for quite a while. It works. It is clever. It is not gimmicky. We are taken on a very grand adventure. We even meet a robot who speaks QR code (and yes, those codes do work!). Santat takes us finally to the party, pulls another surprise, and leaves us with something to think about. And all this presented in lovely, funny, thoughtful art. PS — can you find Beekle in the book? AND– the BOOK TRAILER was just released!

IMG_0693Next up is Sydney Smith’s latest, The White Cat and the Monk (Groundwood Books, 2016). Based on a poem that has been retold by Jo Ellen Bogart, this is a lovely tribute to books, cats, pets, poetry, and the fine art of companionship. I was expecting to like this book. After all, Sidewalk Flowers charmed me the instant I met it.  But I was not expecting to be utterly smitten with this book. Granted, it could be the subject matter– after all, I have recently fallen in love with Medieval manuscripts. And I am addicted to picture books. So a picture book that celebrates Medieval manuscripts (and cats!), well, it has just about everything I could ask for in a picture book. Speaking of cats – Smith has gotten the feline just right. The dark shadowy monastery is never scary. His use of yellow to contrast candlelight with shadows is perfect. The book has the right colours — the muted palette makes the appearance of the illuminations pop.

IMG_0692When the monk’s manuscripts are shown, the reverence to these books is captured– this wordless spread makes me pause,  look around, admire, and think, as it is meant to. Even the pages are thick, recalling the parchment of old. I might be overdoing it here, because I have a huge crush on this book. But you must take a look at it. It would pair so well with Brother Hugo and the Bear, and Medieval Monsters, that I wish I were a teacher so I could create a unit around these books.


Tag Cloud