“There is a unique kind of magic that comes from hearing a story told. With only the power of a voice, an entire world can be created. Suddenly, the audience becomes the hero, the villain, or the magic djinn commanding the desert sand storm.”
So says Evan Turk in the author’s note to his book The Storyteller. Apparently, it is also an old Moroccan saying that “when a storyteller dies, a library burns.” I thought that sharing this book on Read Across America day was especially important.
There is power in telling a story, especially to an audience. While we now have easy access to books, television, movies and so on, we have historically learned from tales passed down orally from generation to generation. Stories teach us the ways of our cultures and feed our souls. Evan Turk shows that feeling in a literal way through this vivid tale.
Long ago, the kingdom of Morocco was formed on the edge of the great, dry Sahara. It had fountains of water to quench the thirst of the desert and storytellers to bring the people together. But just like everywhere else, modernity came and people soon forgot their storytellers and the land soon became parched.
As a young boy walks home, searching for water, he is given a brass cups from a water seller in the hopes that he might just be lucky enough to find something. What he finds is an old storyteller who calls out to him, assuring him that his thirst will be quenched if he listens to a story. The storyteller spins a tale of the terrible drought and how one family always had enough water to share. The young boy is enthralled, and by the time the old man has finished speaking, the boy’s cup is miraculously filled with cool water.
Through the power of a magical brass cup and the voice of a storyteller, a young boy once again learned the history of his people and slowly brought water back for his own parched thirst. What he didn’t realize was that not only was he physically thirsty for water, he was spiritually thirsty as well.
At the same time that the storyteller is weaving the story for the young boy, a sandstorm is forming. Just as the boy is quenching his thirst with the power of the story, the sandstorm comes to destroy the city in the form of a djinn. He has the power to destroy the city because the fountains have run dry and the fountains have run dry because the people have stopped listening to the storytellers. The boy, realizing the power that the story holds, tricks the djinn into listening to a story before destroying the land. It takes him multiple days to tell the story, but through the power of his tale and the fact that he is telling it in front of an ever expanding audience, the boy refills the city’s fountains and quenches the physical and metaphysical thirsts making the djinn powerless.
As the author notes, “Morocco, like countries all over the world, including the United States, is at a crossroads where the future threatens to eclipse what is beautiful about the past.” Evan Turk gave us a beautiful reminder to keep the past alive through the power of a good story.
The Storyteller was a beautiful book with haunting illustrations. You can also get a sense of it from the following trailer. May we continue to shine a light on the power of the story.
I’ve written in the past about books that help children consider and discover the great artists of our past and present. Recently I came across the endearing book “Painting Pepette,” by Linda Ravin Lodding, and its manner of introducing artists made me smile.
In this book, beautifully illustrated by Claire Fletcher, young Josette Bobette and her favorite stuffed animal, Pepette the bunny, live in Paris. Josette loves sitting in the great room that happens to be filled with a wall of family portraits. Everyone in her family had a painting, even the family dog, but Pepette’s portrait was missing. So the two set off to Montmarte, the famous artists quarter in Paris, to find someone to truly capture Pepette and the love that Josette has for her.
As soon as they enter the quarter, a man stops them and wants to paint Pepette’s portrait because of her “majestic ears.” He then fills an easel with Pepette’s image, but instead of two ears she has three, instead of one nose, she has two. The painting looked vaguely familiar to a certain famous artist, and I suddenly realized why there were portraits of a few famous artists in the beginning of the book. Each page would focus on a famous artist’s style, this one being Picasso.
Josette and Pepette continue to wander through the artists and get stopped by various artists. In this way, they are introduced to Salvador Dali, Marc Chagall, and Henri Matisse. Even though these amazing men had painted Pepette’s portrait, none of them captured her the way Josette had dreamed of. So she realized that she had to do the painting herself and it was perfect.
I loved the illustrations in this book and the whimsical way of showcasing famous artists. I will admit that some felt more true to the artists than others, but it is a great way to peak a child’s interest. Children also love the notion of a scavenger hunt, so they are able to find the artist’s portrait at the beginning of the book. A truly engaged child might also ask to see more work by each individual artist. Regardless, this was a very sweet book that not only showcased great art, but the love of a child and her stuffed animal.
Children love learning about colors and they are often some of the first words that they can read on their own. There is something completely fascinating in what you can do with three primary colors if only you are allowed to try. There are actually many wonderful books that open up a world of possibility and encourage creativity in the realm of color exploration, I’ve only found a few of them…
This post was born from random library browsing. A few weeks ago I picked up a wonderful book called Snap at our local library. When I was returning that and looking through other new books, I came across Swatch: The Girl who Loved Color and an idea was born. Why not write a post about books that talk about color? Do you have favorite books about colors? I would love to hear of them in the comments section.
My children love books that allow them to be involved. Hervé Tullet has a collection of interactive books and Mix-it Up is his way of teaching color theory. This book is a great way to get kids thinking about how to utilize the primary colors to make a world of possibilities. One of the fun things about this book is that most of it can also be done with actual paint allowing the kids to get truly tactile.
Another fabulous book that focuses on the colors themselves with less of a story is The Usborne Big Book of Colors. This is a great book to start young children in an understanding of colors. This is a visually stunning book for the youngest learners to kick start their excitement about colors. What is marvelous about this book is that it goes beyond exploring the basic red, blue, green colors and instead shows the various shades within the main color groups. Where it goes further is by having a color wheel to show complimentary colors, a page with an acetate layover to show how colors mix together, and a page that shows color words that are used to describe feelings.
Touching on the concept of colors used as ways to describe emotions, My Blue is Happy is a great book that perhaps changes how we look at colors. We often forget that colors mean different things to different people. Is red angry, like a dragon’s breath? Or brave like a fire truck? Is pink pretty or annoying? Is black scary like creeping shadows or peaceful like the still surface of the lake? Art teacher Jessica Young challenges common assumptions about colors and celebrates individual perspective in this ode to colors and the unique way we experience them.
Who doesn’t love a brand new box of crayons? In this colorful book, Evan can’t wait to draw with his brand new set until, SNAP! his brown crayon breaks in two. He tries everything to get the crayons back together until “as if by magic, something changed.” What changed? This is the awesome part – Evan realized that having two pieces was even better than having one!
In an unusual twist, Snap shows kids how to make lemonade out of lemons. The broken crayon encouraged all kinds of creativity in Evan. When wrappers came off, he figured out how to do etchings, when he lost his green crayon, he accidentally got into color mixing. This is a marvelous book about creativity, discovery, color combinations and always looking on the bright side. An incredibly fun way to encourage a young artist and the dreamer in all of us.
Peter H. Reynolds is known for his amazing books about creativity and thinking outside of the box. In Sky Color, Marisol is ready to paint the sky for her class mural, but there is no blue paint. While the rest of her class works on their portions of the mural, Marisol ponders how she can do her part. As she watches the sky, she realizes that it is so much more than blue, changing as the son moves across the horizon. When she goes to school the next day, she creates her own new color, “sky color,” and the effects are stunning.
In this newly released book by Julia Denos, Swatch: The Girl who Loved Color is about a little girl named Swatch who loves to run with the colors and make masterpieces. When she called to the colors, they would come to her “because Swatch loved color and color loved Swatch back.” One day she realizes that she can capture the colors in jars and starts to make a collection. However, when she goes to collect her final color, Yellowest Yellow, the color actually asks her what she is going. Yellowest Yellow doesn’t want to be put into a jar and while Swatch could have scooped it up anyway, she agrees to allow him to go free. Yellowest Yellow reminds her just how wild he is from roaring and loud to warm and buttery. She allows all of her colors to be free again and together they make a masterpiece. A wonderful book highlighting the beauty and power of colors and the life that they can bring to your world.
Liza loves her crayons, but when she decides that a blank wall in her room would make a wonderful canvas, her mother takes her beloved crayons away from her. Immediately, this bright, colorful book turns black and white and Liza experiences a life without crayons and, in her mind, a life without color. She goes about her day and unknowingly starts to create art. When she roams outside, grass stains open her eyes to the wonders that are nature and she starts to bring color back to her pages. As colors return, so does her outstanding creativity. She gets her crayons back, but she no longer needs them. A glorious look at colors and the creative genius.
Finally, what would a post about colors and crayons be without The Day the Crayons Quit? There is actually a series around this book and the kids LOVE it! The concept of the first book, The Day the Crayons Quit, is that Duncan opens his crayon box to find that all of his crayons have quit. Beige is tired of playing second fiddle to Brown. Blue needs a break from coloring all that water, while Pink just wants to be used. Green has no complaints, but Orange and Yellow are no longer speaking to each other. The Day the Crayons Came Home is about some of the lesser known crayons writing postcards to Duncan asking to be rescued from various scenarios. This October there will be a new board book available, called The Crayon’s Book of Colors, where the crayons come together to make Duncan a birthday card.
No matter which book you choose, there is a world of color waiting to be explored!
In our search for good books about art, I happened up on this little gem about museums themselves. In David Goldin’s “Meet me at the Art Museum,” a used museum ticket stub meets up with the docent’s name tag and gets a full tour of the museum after hours. While the book has a slew of outstanding art in it, the focus of the book is on how a museum works.
Whether a child has had a chance to visit an art museum or not, this is a great look behind the scenes. Daisy, the name tag, shows Stub, a used ticket, around the museum – from the delivery zone, to galleries, offices, the library and restoration room. She also explains how galleries are organized and who gets to decide what pieces go in the museum. For little hands that like to touch, she also shows the security side and explains that touching is not allowed.
This is a marvelous look at how museums work. For older kids who want a little more details, the back of the book has a “who’s who” and “what’s what” section as well as a list of all of the art work they referred to in the book. An excellent addition to the art category!
I’m always looking for ways to get my girls interested in art. It is very hard living in an area that does not have art museums easily accessible. When I was growing up in Los Angeles, we were taken to museums on a regular basis as part of our formal education.
So imagine my surprise to find the book “Who Stole the Mona Lisa?” in our local library and for J to declare it one of her favorite books. She read it over and over. I think that actually sparked her desire to take an art class and start delving into Picasso. This innovative take on da Vinci’s masterpiece is full of interesting facts, but is also told as something of a mystery about the time when Vincenzo Perugia stole the painting and kept it for two years.
Told from the perspective of the lady herself, this book starts in the Louvre with the reader getting to listen to a curator give a guided tour of the museum. They stop at the Mona Lisa for detailed inforation. Interesting facts about the time when Leonardo da Vinci painted her are presented along with great facts about the master himself. It turns out that the Mona Lisa was owned by many French kings until Napoleon decided to donate her to the Louvre where she became world famous.
Everything was great until 1911 when she was stolen from the wall of the museum. The French police looked everywhere, but could not find her. People came to the museum to see the blank space where she was supposed to be and pay tribute to her memory. She was finally found in the home of Vincenzo Perugia, an Italian living in Paris and the world went wild.
The book starts and ends questioning why the Mona Lisa is smiling. By the end of the book, we are told that she is smiling because she is happy. Happy to be back where she belongs.
As with great books for children that are based on actual events, the final page in this book is the author’s note with additional facts and details about the Mona Lisa and the time that she was stolen from her home.
Since reading this, J has also been reading “Who Was Leonardo da Vinci” and the Da Vinci edition of the Getting to Know the Great Artists series. She continues to learn huge amounts about the artist and his work and is quite fascinated by him. She has learned just how much of a renaissance man he was and all of the amazing things that he invented. She loves that he was fascinated by puzzles and codes. Her only sadness is that we can’t just visit the Louvre ourselves. Someday 🙂
My 8 year old has recently gotten into art. She is starting to have more faith in her abilities and seems to be enjoying the process more than she used to. Last weekend I signed her up for a local art class that was focusing on Pablo Picasso’s Cubist period while creating dogs in his style. I was amazed at the work that they did with such a complicated style. J thought hers didn’t come out well, but I explained how unusual Picasso was and showed her some of his work. We also had a few books about him, so I let her explore some on her own. She’s decided that she is not a fan of his Cubist period, but is opening her mind to the broader world of art.
One book that was given to us years ago is the book When Pigasso Met Mootisse. In an incredibly creative manner, this book tells a somewhat fictionalized version of the friendship between Picasso and Matisse. While the two were never neighbors, they were friends. Unfortunately, they also were in a bit of competition in the art world at the same time and said some means things to each other. What is outstanding about this book is the art and how it showcases both artists and their different styles. Picasso’s sharp angles next to Matisse’s soft, realistic paintings highlights how two artists can view the same thing in completely different ways.
I also knew that somewhere in the house we had a biography on Picasso. Written in 1984, the picture book biography by Ibi Lepscky focuses on Picasso’s youth. He was moody and liked to collect things. His mother, in particular, didn’t understand him and was frustrated by the messes that he often made. His father was not often around, as he himself was an artist and spent all of his free time painting. When his mother felt like she could no longer handle him on her own, she got his father involved and he realized that Picasso had an amazing artistic talent. While a simplistic telling of his younger years, it is interesting to see how misunderstood Picasso was as a child and how important it was to have someone finally see his potential.
Of course looking at these books and encouraging J to understand Picasso more also made me curious about a book series I had seen at her school library. They have a series of books called Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists. When I was volunteering on Monday I checked out the Picasso book. If you are looking for a great way to teach kids about artists, this is it! With a mix of photographs, art samples, and illustrations, kids can really get a sense of the artist. Picasso was an artist who tried many different styles based on where he was in his life and this book does a great job of explaining his different “periods.” The pages on Cubism were great for J to see and understand, but the whole book itself is quite impressive.
We are really excited that J is getting more interested in art (it has always been E’s passion). While the closest art museum is unfortunately over an hour away, we are definitely going to have to start going so that both of our girls can get exposed to all of the amazing art that is out there.
This post is part of my challenge to post weekly about a non-fiction picture book through a link-up at Kid Lit Frenzy. Check out all of the amazing posts that get updated weekly.
Many people are very familiar with the name Laura Numeroff from her incredibly well known series “If You Give a Mouse…” We are big fans of that series, but I think we are even bigger fans of her lesser known series “The Jellybeans.”
“The Jellybeans” is a series that is at its core about friendship. The basic concept is that there are four girls who each have different passions but realize that that doesn’t mean that they can’t also be friends. They meet each other in The Jellybeans and the Big Dance and then continue to grow through three other books, each focusing on one of the girls. In the first book Emily notices that the first letters of their names spell out “beans” and she brings the group together by sharing jellybeans with the group.
Just as jellybeans are different flavors but go well together, the girls were all different but got along great – and so they called themselves The Jellybeans.
Both my 5 year old and my 8 year old LOVE these books. The stories are sweet and each girl can see herself in the characters. I love these books too. It is great to see four friends who are so different (and also represented by four different animal species) manage to find their common ground and support each other so beautifully.
The first book in the series is The Jellybeans and the Big Dance. In this book, the main focus is on Emily who loves to dance. She dances while waiting for the bus, while watching TV, even while brushing her teeth. One day she goes to a new dance class full of excitement, but is discouraged to discover that the three other girls in the class are not as excited to be taking the class. Nicole would rather be playing soccer, Bitsy would rather be painting and Anna just has her nose in a book. When one accidentally knocks into their dance cubbies and knocks their name tags down, Emily notices that the first letters of their names spell out “bean.” While she thought that was funny, no one else seems to care. By their fourth class, Emily just feels frustrated. Her mother tries to cheer her up by taking her to the local candy store and once inside she gets the brilliant idea to buy all of the girls a bag of jellybeans in the hopes that perhaps she could find a way to bring the girls together. Her idea worked and then each girl uses her own strengths to bring something special to their dance recital. When Emily has a moment of stage fright, the other girls band together and support her and the performance goes off without a hitch.
My favorite of all of the books is The Jellybeans and the Big Book Bonanza. This book focuses on Anna who is an avid reader who love spending time at the local library. One day the girls’ teacher assigns them all a book report and Anna is excited to bring her friends to her favorite place. But when they get there, each girl complains about how they would rather be doing something else. Even so, the librarian knows that books also come in lots of different flavors and helps each girl find a book that she likes. When they go to give their book reports the next day, Anna gets scared. She loves books, but is not so thrilled about public speaking. Just as she had helped her friends discover books, they stood by her to support her through her report. In her report, she sums it up perfectly.
My youngest daughter has a special soft spot for the book The Jellybeans and the Big Art Adventure. This book focuses on Bitsy and her love of art. In this book, the owner of the local candy store that sells their beloved jellybeans asks the girls to paint a mural on her wall. All of Bitsy’s friends think that they can’t paint, so they took a trip to the art museum and each girl realized that there were many kind of art that appealed to their different sensibilities. After visiting the museum, each girl was excited to create their own art, but suddenly Bitsy had artist’s block. Of course her friends came to her rescue and encouraged her to believe in herself.
Finally, The Jellybeans and the Big Camp Kickoff focuses on athletic Nicole and her love of soccer. When the girls go to sleep-away camp together, everyone finds tons of things to do. When they are encouraged to take a class or participate in a group activity, everyone finds something, except Nicole, because while camp Pook-A-Wow has a lot of sports, they don’t have a soccer team. Nicole tried tons of other sports, but just didn’t like them. Her friends come to her aid by starting a camp soccer team, even though they don’t know how to play. While it isn’t our favorite of the Jellybean books, it continues to shine on the fact that we are our best when we are with our friends and supporting each other.
Both of my girls really enjoy the Jellybean books. They are sweet and having wonderful messages. Most kids, particularly girls, can find themselves in the pages of these books, but they also learn the lesson that sometimes they need to try new things to not only grow themselves, but to help support a friend. If you haven’t already checked out the Jellybean books, you should definitely take a look!
When we first opened the pages of Willow, the strains of Harry Chapin Carpenter’s “Flowers Are Red” floated through my head. Given that this was a favorite song from my youth, I was immediately captivated by this book. Multiple readings with my 4 year old only made the book that much better.
Willow is the story of a little girl with a big imagination and a deep love of art. The only problem is that her art teacher cares more for order and conformity than for creativity. With today’s climate of teachers being so limited by new rules and regulations and a need to teach to the test rather than inspire and focus on creativity, this book really touched home.
Every day when the kids entered their art class, the room felt cold and definitely devoid of creativity. Their art teacher, Miss Hawthorne, isn’t what you would expect from an elementary school art teacher. She expects the room to be in order with nothing out of place and no broken crayons.
Each week Miss Hawthorne gives them assignments with an example of what she would like to see. Then all of the children in the class copy what she does. “Everyone except Willow.” Willow takes the assignment and then paints what she sees when she closes her eyes. Each time Willow gets told things like trees are not pink and apples are not blue.
This would crush most children, but Willow has a deep love of art and a favorite art book at home and so each time she is told that she has done it “wrong,” she brings in her art book and shows another famous painting that didn’t follow the rules.
When winter break comes, only Willow thinks to give Miss Hawthorne a gift – her beloved art book that inspires her. All alone during the break, Miss Hawthorne allows herself to be creative and the children come back to a brand new world of art.
This is a marvelous book that encourages children of all ages to use their imaginations and to believe in themselves. It is also a good way to see that famous artists often saw things outside of the box and created fabulous works that viewed the world in different ways. It is through art that we can have pink trees swaying in the breeze. It is through art that you can combine parts of many different animals into one.
My 4 year old loves this book because she has a very vivid imagination. My 8 year old has started to enjoy art more and this is a nice way to encourage her to believe in her own vision and start wanting to visit art museums with us. As Harry Chapin Carpenter said
There are so many colors in the rainbow,
so many colors in the morning sun,
so many colors in the flowers and I see every one.
Every once in awhile you find an author that just clicks with your child. For E, one of our current favorites is Leo Lionni. His books appeal to both of us with wonderful artwork and lessons. Without being pedantic, his books talk about issues of community and creativity, encouraging children to make the most of their world while also making the world a better place.
A few weeks ago, we randomly pulled “A color of his own” off of our shelf. This sweet book is about a little chameleon who struggles with the fact that all of the other animals have a color of their own while he changes colors wherever he goes. He even tries to stay in one place so that he can stay one color, but picks a leave the changes colors with the season and then falls to the ground. When he meets another chameleon, he learns that true identity comes from who you are rather than what you look like. The world may change around you, but being true to yourself and embracing who you are makes you a happier person in the long run. What a beautiful sentiment.
Since I loved the message in his story and because E loved the artwork and the simplicity, we hunted down more books. The only other book that we own is the Alphabet Tree, which is above E’s level, but worth mentioning. This book teaches how letters come together to make words and how words come together to make sentences and how powerful our words and thoughts can be. The letters need to band together to form words so that they can stay on their tree when the wind blows, but they learn that a strong message will take them even further. The final message is one of peace. Truly beautiful and great to repeat to young children to place the crumb of the power of words in their heads.
We then hit the library and found some other gems…
Fish is Fish is a very cute story about a tadpole and a minnow who are inseparable. As the tadpole starts to change into a frog, the fish doesn’t understand because “how could you be a frog if only last night you were a little fish?” Then the frog goes away and experiences the world outside of the water. When he returns, he tells the fish all of the extraordinary things he has seen. The fish’s imagination runs wild and the illustrations that go with this are some of the best in the book. The fish can’t stop thinking of all the things above land and feels that he must go see them for himself, not thinking about the fact that he can’t breathe or move on land. Luckily the frog saves him when fish jumps out of the pond. Back in his home, fish realizes that he is surrounded by spectacular beauty of his own. Sometimes it is hard for children and adults to hear our friends’ experiences and not wish that we could do what they do, but Fish is Fish reminds us that finding happiness and making joy in our own worlds is the way to experience life.
Frederick is a fabulous take on the classic Ant and the Grasshopper fable. Frederick is a mouse who lets all of the other members of his family do the work during the fall to keep them alive during the cold winter months. When they ask him why he isn’t helping, he always has some artistic response – “I gather sun rays for the cold dark winter days,” or “I gather words for when we run out of things to say.” Winter comes and when the mouse family does start to run out of food and grows tired of their boring surroundings they turn to Frederick and ask about his supplies. He paints images with words to bring warmth, color and beautiful poetry to their lives. One of many books by Leo Lionni that highlights how important the arts are.
In the same vein, Matthew’s Dream is a story that explores art and the artist’s role in shaping our visions and our dreams. Young Matthew’s parents want him to get a good job and provide for them. One day he visits the art museum with his class for the first time and Matthew is blown away by what he sees. That night, he dreams that he is walking in an abstract painting. When he wakes up, he realizes that he wants to be an artist himself. Given the fact that we keep taking the arts out of our children’s education, this is a wonderful reminder of just how important art is.
If you are looking for some wonderful books that quietly teach lovely lessons to kids, definitely check out Leo Lionni.
Last night, my 3 year old and I read the book Colors for Zena, by Monica Wellington.
While the writing was incredibly basic and repetitive, the illustrations are vibrant and fun and they started a conversation about mixing colors. Since E loves to paint, I figured that this would be the perfect opportunity to let her get her hands dirty, literally, seeing how colors are made.
The concept of the book is that a little girl wakes up to a gray drab world – “Where did all the colors go?” Outside she finds individual colors, but everything is all one color. After two primary colors meet, the next page is a secondary color. When the secondary colors join her and the primary colors, they are able to paint a beautiful picture with all of the colors in the world.
What was wonderful about this is that it was a way to get E excited about primary and secondary colors. She loves “cooking” and mixing food coloring in water and seeing what colors they will make, but I also wanted her to see the colors more vividly using paint. So today, we got down and dirty with our fingers exploring how mixing colors worked.
We started simple with basic primary combinations plus red and white to make pink.
It was a little hard for her to fully mix the colors, so there was some motherly help.
From there I let her pick some additional color combinations – it was hard to explain that mixing any color with black doesn’t get you too much. Orange also tends to mix with anything and make it look brown, but it was fun.
Finally, I figured it was a good use of all that paint to actually do some painting which is another of her favorite things. She seemed to gravitate towards the various greens that we made, but we also had fun finding out that pink and turquoise make a color very close to the paint on her walls.
I’m not usually one to get crafty after reading a book, but that is definitely what this book inspired us to do and from the moment she woke up she kept asking when we were going to start mixing the colors. That to me made the book a success.