I often pick up books at the library simply because they have that enticing yellow “new” sticker on them. I’m not sure exactly what drew me to “The Branch” by Mireille Messier and Pierre Pratt, but this is a wonderful book to share.
What is extraordinary about this book is that it shows a special multi-generational friendship between the little girl and her neighbor, and it encourages children to up-cycle a cherished item by turning it into something else.
When an ice storm snaps a small girl’s favorite branch from the tree in her yard, she’s crestfallen. The girl’s mom says it’s just a branch. But not to her! “That was the branch I sat on, jumped from, played under. It was my castle, my spy base, my ship . . .” Luckily, her neighbor Mr. Frank understands. He says the branch has “potential.” “What’s potential?” she asks. “It means it’s worth keeping.” And so, with imagination and spirit, and Mr. Frank’s guidance and tools, the girl transforms the broken branch into something whole and new, giving it another purpose, and her another place to treasure.
Being a kid is hard. Every day a new challenge comes around that might stop you in your tracks. How you deal with it is key.
There are a lot of books out these days about believing in yourself. I’ve written a bunch about the idea of believing in yourself in the past, but it is a topic that resonates with me and with children. When you are learning to do something new, it is so easy to just give up when it is hard, but where would that get you?
Not giving up is the main focus of Ashley Spires’ new book, The Thing Lou Couldn’t Do (Kids Can Press, May 2017). In this story, Lou and her friends are brave adventurers who have big dreams and can do anything. Except that one day when they decide to play pirates, her friends suggest that the pirate ship be a tree and she has never climbed one before. Lou suggests other games, comes up with excuses why she can’t climb the tree, and finally admits to her friends that she just doesn’t know how. With a little help and encouragement, she decides that she will give it a try. What’s even better? Spires doesn’t actually show Lou getting up the tree. She gives it a go, still doesn’t make it, but she will be back another day to attempt it again. We loved Spires’ earlier book The Most Magnificent Thing, and this is a great addition to books about perseverance and determination. Continue reading →
I read way too many picture books, though I know that there are always tons of others that I have yet to hear about. That’s one of the reasons that I look forward to the annual #pb10for10 blogging event organized by Cathy Mere.
Each year, on August 10th, picture book lovers from near and far join together to share favorite picture books. Classroom teachers, librarians, parents, authors, and other book lovers join the #pb10for10 community to share their favorite titles. Stop by the community to share your favorites and to discover new titles you won’t be able to resist.
This year, I decided to focus on books that celebrate the power in believing in yourself and following your dreams. Even as adults we sometimes forget how important believing in ourselves is.
Jonathan James and the Whatif Monster – I can’t say enough about this book by Michelle Nelson-Schmidt. Using rhyming, fun pictures and pretty simple text, this book deals with the anxiety of childhood. What if no one likes me? What if I don’t know anyone in my new class? What if I fall? What if I make a fool of myself? What if people laugh at me? What if I don’t like it? What is outstanding is when, halfway through the book, Jonathan turns to his Whatif monster and says “whatif you’re wrong?” Sure, anytime you do something, it go badly or you could mess up, but you’ll never get to experience all of life’s amazing highs if you don’t go out and try. My full post on it can be found here.
Cordelia – Also by Michelle Nelson-Schmidt is another book about soaring high, no matter what other people say. In this gem, little Cordelia believes that she can fly, singing with the birds and dancing with the stars. Her life was full of joy “until the day others doubted she flew.” She had never before worried what others thought, but now it grounded her and she just trudged along and her world turned grey and dull (literally). But just as Jonathan questioned the whatif monster, Cordelia realizes that no one else has the right to say whether or not she could fly, so she once again began to believe in herself “because what others thought, didn’t matter anymore.”
Amelia Who Could Fly, written by Mara Dal Corso, is about young Amelia Earhart and her dreams of soaring high in the sky. Here was a young girl living in a time when girls were not supposed to get dirty and have big dreams, bu that didn’t stop her. She realized where her passion was and went after it with everything she had. I love the illustrations in this book as well. You can see my full post here.
A Bad Case of Stripes – If there was ever a book that showed how changing yourself to please everyone else causes problems, this is it! David Shannon captured the need to conform perfectly by having poor little Camilla Cream get a bad case of stripes. It all started with the fact that Camilla loved lima beans but wouldn’t eat them because none of the other kids liked them. She worried so much about what other people thought that she couldn’t figure out what to wear to the first day of school. When she was striped from head to toe, she had to miss school anyway. She went the second day, but anytime someone talked about shapes or colors, her skin would change to match it. Her illness continued to worsen until a little old woman convinced her to eat what she was craving – some lima beans. The old woman knew that the real Camilla was in there somewhere, she just needed to believe in herself.
Red: A Crayon’s Story, by Michael Hall, is a marvelous multi-leveled story about a crayon who was given the wrong wrapper. Red has a bright red label, but he is, in fact, blue. His teacher tries to help him be red (let’s draw strawberries!), his mother tries to help him be red by sending him out on a playdate with a yellow classmate (go draw a nice orange!), and the scissors try to help him be red by snipping his label so that he has room to breathe. But Red is miserable. He just can’t be red, no matter how hard he tries! Finally, a brand-new friend offers a brand-new perspective, and Red discovers what readers have known all along. He’s blue! This story is about being true to your inner self and following your own path despite obstacles that may come your way.
Periwinkle’s Journey is a new book by Judy Peterson-Fleming. Periwinkle is a Little Blue penguin who lives in Australia. When she gets invited to her cousin’s birthday party on the Antarctic Peninsula she realizes for the first time that she looks different than the rest of her black-and-white cousins. Her mother gently reminds her that “It’s not how you look on the outside, it’s what’s inside that matters.” Periwinkle then joins another penguin and an albatross on a journey south to meet his family and learn that each penguin has something that makes them unique. In a marvelous way, children are able to learn about 17 different types of penguins and what makes them special and individual. A beautiful book connecting individuality as well as a respect for nature.
Chrysanthemum, by Kevin Hankes, is a book that I return to over and over, so it has a well deserved place on my #pb10for10 list. Chrysanthemum is a marvelous book about loving who you are regardless of what others say and do. Chrysanthemum is a little mouse who, until going to kindergarten, always thought that she had the most wonderful name in the world. When she arrives in school the other children all have short names and a trio of other little girls make fun of her. When they do, she wilts. The story does a great job of showing how even though others might not appreciate things about you, you need to love yourself and believe in yourself rather than listening to people who just like to put others down. In the end, even the mean girls realize that her name is special.
In the same notion of liking your name, I give you The Name Jar, by Yangsook Choi. This story tells of a young girl from Korea and how having a name that others can’t pronounce easily makes her uncomfortable. So when she enters her new classroom, rather than telling everyone her name, she tells them that she hasn’t picked on yet, but will let them know as soon as she does. Her new classmates are fascinated by this no-name girl and decide to help out by filling a glass jar with names for her to pick from. But while Unhei practices being a Suzy, Laura, or Amanda, one of her classmates comes to her neighborhood and discovers her real name and its special meaning. On the day of her name choosing, the name jar has mysteriously disappeared. Encouraged by her new friends, Unhei chooses her own Korean name and helps everyone pronounce it—Yoon-Hey. While believing in herself is somewhat thrust upon Unhei, the process in getting to that point and having kind people in your life can be just as important.
Spoon is one of those books that my daughter loves to pull off of the shelf every now and again, and it is one whose story never really gets old. In this book, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, everyone is encouraged to celebrate what makes them special, not what they can or cannot do. Spoon has always been a happy little utensil, but lately, he feels like life as a spoon just isn’t cutting it. He thinks Fork, Knife, and The Chopsticks all have it so much better than him. A nice talk with his mother reminds him of all of the special things that only spoon is able to do and poses the thought that maybe Fork, Knife and The Chopsticks look upon him with a little bit of envy as well. A book for all ages, Spoon serves as a gentle reminder to celebrate what makes us each special.
Oh the Places You’ll Go, by Dr. Seuss, is one of the most common books given to kids as they graduate from various stages of school. It was not a book that I loved much early on, but when J was younger I read it from a different perspective and realized that this book is about not only believing in yourself and following your dreams, but it is also a book that says that sometimes life can suck and there might be things that hold you back or get you down, but YOU need to be the force of change and get back on a course that works for you. On a lot of levels, this is the ultimate believe in yourself book.
As the New Year approaches, we are often encouraged to make resolutions and usher in the coming year with thoughts of new beginnings, introspection, and the plan to be the best you in the coming year. For my column in OutreachNC, I was encouraged to write about books that touched on this subject. Most young children cannot fully comprehend the notion of resolutions, and they shouldn’t need to, but as kids start getting into the middle of elementary school, the notion of looking forward and making changes to make yourself a better person can start to make sense.
In author Grace Lin’s debut novel, “The Year of the Dog,” readers on the third to fifth grade level get a gem of a story about finding yourself in the New Year – the Chinese New Year. Pacy “Grace” Lin, the protagonist of the story, is a young Taiwanese-American girl who lives in an upstate-New York community where there are not a lot of other Chinese children. The beginning of the book finds her family celebrating the Chinese New Year and all of it’s customs with special foods, colors and activities. They are ringing in the year of the Dog, which her mother tells her is a “good year to find yourself…deciding what your values are, what you want to do – that kind of thing.” Grace vows that this year she will discover new talents and decide what she wants to be when she grows up.
What is special about this book is that it is truly told from Grace’s voice and is true to what a child would experience. As Grace moves through the year, she is trying to figure out her place in the larger world. She tries to balance Chinese culture with American culture. She makes new friends and starts paying more attention to which boys might like them. She works on a science fair experiment and auditions for the school play. She is confronted by bullies.
Grace faces struggles that any kid can relate to. While her focus is on the fact that she is Chinese-American in a world where everyone else is white, it comes down to a feeling of fitting in, something we have all considered from time to time. Grace struggles because she cannot see her role in the larger world because of her culture, but this is a feeling most children go through. For Grace it is highlighted when she was going to audition for Dorothy in a school production of “The Wizard of Oz.” Rather than saying that of course she should try out, one of her friends comments that she “can’t be Dorothy. Dorothy’s not Chinese.” This feeling is only compounded by the fact that she seems to not find any characters in books or film that are like her, which in turn makes her feel less important.
The biggest turning point for Grace comes when she is working on a project for a national contest called “Written and Illustrated by…” All of the kids in her class get the assignment that they not only have to write a story, but illustrate it as well. Her friends all come up with stories, but she has a major case of writer’s block. Her teacher encourages her to “write what you know” in order to have a book with a unique and original idea. She winds up writing a story that is auto-biographical about the time her mother grew “ugly” vegetables that were turned into an absolutely delicious soup.
J and I really enjoyed reading this book. I think that she could relate to what Grace was going through. We also really enjoyed the family stories that were interwoven throughout the book. Whenever there was an experience that Grace was going through, a family member would tell them a story from their past. For example, when she is so tired after celebrating Chinese New Year that she doesn’t want to go to school, her mother tells her of the story when “Mom Sleeps in School.” Or when she struggles with coming up with a topic for her writing assignment, her mother tells her about “The Paper Piano” to encourage Pacy to work on it a little every day, just like practicing and instrument. These stories kept the whole thing light-hearted and give the story additional depth.
“The Year of the Dog” is a lighthearted coming-of-age novel with a cultural twist. A real page-turner that will delight readers.