There are some books that just scream out for certain children. When I walked my younger daughter into kindergarten today, her teacher had the latest Peter H. Reynolds book up on the counter. I love Peter H. Reynolds. He is the genius behind ish, The Dot, and Sky Color (among others). His latest book is called Happy Dreamer and it just calls out for E. Turns out that this book is due to come out at the end of March and I will have to purchase a copy of it at that point.
This beautiful book encourages the dreamer in all of us, but especially in children. E is one of those children who loves to create her own worlds, who is constantly doing some sort of art project, and who of course leaves a mess in her wake. She marches to the beat of her own drummer and happily dances around to the music in her soul. Her older sister and I are more literal, but her path is anything but straight. It is what makes her so special.
Peter H. Reynolds gets what it is like for children, especially for dreamers. He understands how hard it can be to sit still sometimes when there is so much going on in your brain. He understands how it can be hard to be quiet when there is so much to shout about. Poignantly, he gets how challenging it can be for some to sit still and pay attention in school when your dreams have a mind of their own (and can be more interesting then what’s in front of you).
Happy Dreamer celebrates all kinds of dreamers. He acknowledges that sometimes it can be really hard, like when your parents tell you to clean up – because if I put my things away, “there is less me to show” (seriously, it feels like he talked to E before writing this page). That life doesn’t always work out, but that true dreamers must believe in themselves at all times and they will be able to find a way back to their happy spots, because “Dreamers have a way of bouncing back…and moving forward!”
I adored this book. I think this book is important for all of the dreamers our there. “There are so many ways to be a happy dreamer. What kind of dreamer are you?”
Yesterday was Benjamin Franklin’s birthday and my daughter’s kindergarten class has been focusing on inventors and inventions because of it. When we think of inventors, we often think of older white men with crazy hair. But there were a lot of amazing inventions created by children and young adults, male and female, black and white.
Since it was Ben Franklin who got me thinking about this, I did find three very different books about him and his work. For a true biography on the great Ben Franklin, David Adler’s A Picture Book about Benjamin Franklin is a great start! This book focuses less on his inventions and more on the man himself. Some of Franklin’s inventions are cleverly interspersed as he created them with the reasons why he invented them as well.
In Now and Ben: The Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin, Gene Barretta highlights a large number of Franklin’s inventions. What makes this book extra interesting is how Barretta juxtaposes how we use these inventions in the current day to when Franklin was creating them. A great way to show the impact that Benjamin Franklin has had on all of us.
Alan Schroeder brings us an unusual look at Benjamin Franklin and his inventions in Ben Franklin: His Wit and Wisdom From A-Z. A very interesting way to learn more about this amazing inventor and founding father.
Emphasizing the power of perseverance, The Inventor’s Secret: What Thomas Edison Told Henry Ford, by Suzanne Slade, alternates between the lives of two inventors, beginning with Thomas Edison, who was 16 years Henry Ford’s senior. Many of Edison’s major inventions are touched on, and young Ford is portrayed as curious as to the secret of Edison’s success. Ford continues to work on developing engines and designing cars and finally seizes the opportunity to meet Edison in person. The two go over Ford’s designs, and Edison urges the younger man to “keep at it!” With that, Ford discovers that “he’d known Thomas’s secret all along!”—a realization illustrated with a light bulb over Ford’s head.
Want a quick, fun rundown of a ton of inventors? That is what you get in So You Want to be an Inventor?, by Judith St. George. This colorful book reminds young minds that they “don’t have to have white hair and wrinkles to be an inventor” and then it gives them a slew of examples. The book features some of the world’s best-known inventors-Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Eli Whitney-as well as lesser-known geniuses like Georges de Mestral (inventor of Velcro), Wilhelm Roentgen (inventor of X rays), and Hedy Lamarr (inventor of a system that became the basis for satellite communication). One page highlights that not all inventors are men and focuses specifically on female inventors. Also highlighted is the fact that some inventors work alone while others work as teams and that one great invention can often lead to another. The bottom line is that your invention could change the work, you just have to take the risk.
Inventions often come out of a specific need. Such was the case for Louis Braille. When we think about famous people who are blind, the first name that usually pops into people’s heads is Helen Keller. But we also need to give credit to young Louis Braille, who invented the Braille alphabet, allowing visually impaired people to read. Six Dots, by Jen Bryant, excellently tells the story of how Braille lost his sight at 5, his constant desire to still be able to read, and his creation of the Braille alphabet. A fascinating read.
Most kids know the thrill of soaking someone with a water gun, or being soaked themselves, so reading about the guy who invented them is an enticing subject. But Whoosh! is more than just a story about how super soakers were invented. Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions, by Chris Barton, tells of a young boy fascinated with how things worked and who loved to create. It tells of the successes and failures that all inventors deal with. It illustrates how unusual it was for an African-American team to win a major science fair at the University of Alabama in 1968. And then it shows how Lonnie Johnson came up with a great idea that got rejection after rejection until he finally had success. A true story of perseverance and innovation.
There are a ton of female inventors out there, but they don’t get the same kind of recognition that men do. In Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor, Emily Arnold McCully tells the story of Margaret Knight, aka Mattie, who was a brilliant woman who lived from 1838-1914, during the height of the industrial revolution. Her father’s toolbox and her sketchbooks of ideas were her salvation during a very rough childhood of poverty. When she was a child, no one felt that a woman could have an inventive mind, but she always saw ways to improve things. She probably saved many lives by creating a safety device for looms and was the brains behind the flat-bottomed paper bag. When a man tried to steal her invention before she could get it patented, her methodical notebooks and determination proved to a judge that a woman could and did invent the new bags. This book is a wonderful story that children can relate to and it helps them comprehend the struggles that Mattie and every woman went through so many years ago.
In Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine, by Laurie Walmark, girls can see the story of the woman credited with creating the first computer language, way before the actual invention of computers. While she didn’t code in the way that we thing of the terms now, she realized that a machine to solve complex equations created by a fellow inventor could not actually run without a detail set of instructions. By using his notebooks and her knowledge of mathematics, she left her mark on the history of computer science.
A final fascinating story is that of young Wiliam Kamkwamba told in The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind. This is the picture book version of the autobiography written by Kamkwamba. When a terrible drought struck William Kamkwamba’s tiny village in Malawi, his family lost all of the season’s crops, leaving them with nothing to eat and nothing to sell. William began to explore science books in his village library, looking for a solution. There, he came up with the idea that would change his family’s life forever: he could build a windmill. Made out of scrap metal and old bicycle parts, William’s windmill brought electricity to his home and helped his family pump the water they needed to farm the land. This is a wonderful way to bring a current story to a younger audience.
While I have focused on nonfiction picture books about inventors, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the outstanding books by Andrea Beatty. Rosie Revere, Engineer, Ada Twist, Scientist, and Iggy Peck, Architect are three of our favorite books and such a wonderful way to show children that they should follow their dreams and believe in themselves. For more information on these books and a few other fiction titles, check out the post I wrote last year.
I have been encouraged by the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy to post about a nonfiction title each week. My goal is to post these books every Wednesdays. Please check out Kid Lit Frenzy for an amazing resource of nonfiction picture books.
Today is Roald Dahl day. The comedic genius would have turned 100 today! We have had a long fascination with Dahl so I thought it was appropriate to share J’s summer reading project today since it focused on one of his books.
Roald Dahl wasn’t a big part of my childhood, but J has really taken a liking to his work. I personally love his style and think that he has a marvelous way with kids. Especially in a world where we are focusing so much on science and teaching to tests rather than encouraging a child to explore their creativity, Dahl is an amazingly fresh voice. His stories speak to kids and grab them quickly. He makes the children the heroes and often turns the grown-ups into the villains.
The first book that J ever read by Roald Dahl was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Reading it with her, I realized that it was one I had never read as a child, but the story was one that we both enjoyed together.
When we started getting obsessed with Broadway I introduced J to “Matilda the Musical.” I had to explain the story to her, which then, of course, got her intrigued by the book. She loved it so much that we managed to convince our kids’ book club to read Matilda as well.
Over the summer, she decided to take Dahl’s The Witches with her to summer camp. She fully enjoyed the book and when she was faced with having to do a book report project upon returning to school, she chose The Witches as her book.
The Witches is pure Dahl. As the synopsis says, This is not a fairy-tale. This is about REAL WITCHES. Real witches don’t ride around on broomsticks. They don’t even wear black cloaks and hats. They are vile, cunning, detestable creatures who disguise themselves as nice, ordinary ladies. So how can you tell when you’re face to face with one? Well, if you don’t know yet you’d better find out quickly-because there’s nothing a witch loathes quite as much as children and she’ll wield all kinds of terrifying powers to get rid of them. Ronald Dahl has done it again! Winner of the 1983 Whitbread Award, the judges’ decision was unanimous: “funny, wise, deliciously disgusting, a real book for children. From the first paragraph to the last, we felt we were in the hands of a master.”
J’s project for school was actually to write a picture book version of the novel. She’s never been a huge fan of drawing, but I think she is completely fascinated by Quentin Blake – she notices his work regardless of the author he is illustrating for.
In The Witches, Roald Dahl decided to really focus on the ugly side of witches. Witches have been portrayed in many ways by various authors, but Dahl had a lot of fun making them disgusting, nasty creatures. Who else would think to create witches with such grotesque features?The details of what the witches looked like made for my favorite page in her project.
This story is rather crazy. A young boy and his grandmother wind up in a hotel that happens to also be hosting a witches convention. He accidentally gets himself locked into the room with them and they turn him into a mouse. But it is more than that, they plan to turn ALL children into mice! The young boy and his grandmother turn the tables on them and instead set out to rid the world of witches.
Not everyone is a huge fan of Roald Dahl, but J has certainly gotten a kick out of his work. We love the strength of his young heroes even in the face of some very difficult odds. His work encourages children to think on their toes, to believe in themselves and their power, and to be kind even when those around them haven’t been kind to them. So happy birthday, Mr. Dahl!
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!
As the mom of two girls, finding things to encourage them to persevere regardless of the challenges they face is incredibly important. When children are in school they learn all about the famous inventors Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Benjamin Franklin and so on. Very few students today can name female inventors, but they do exist. Last month was International Women’s Day and much was said about the fact that while we are encouraging our kids to be inventors and scientists, they still don’t get to see a lot of women in history who stepped outside of the box.
Of course, we have found a slew of books on this subject, but I know that I’m not exactly normal when it comes to finding kids books, so for anyone looking for ways to encourage the dreamer in your daughter, take a look at these and check out the post I wrote a year ago encouraged by the same event.
Rosie Revere, Engineer, by Andrea Beaty could quite possibly be one of my favorite books. This is the story of Rosie Revere who dreamed of becoming a great engineer. “Where some people see rubbish, Rosie sees inspiration.” Rosie loves to invent things, but after an uncle laughed at one of her inventions, she became afraid to show anyone anything. When her great-great-aunt Rose (Rosie the Riveter) comes for a visit and mentions a life-long dream of flying, Rosie sets out to create a flying machine for her. It hovers for a moment and then crashes and Rosie again feels like a failure. Her aunt Rose, on the other hand, sees her invention as a marvelous success because you can only fail if you quit. This is a great book to encourage experimentation and to remember to believe in yourself.
I’m super excited that Andrea Beaty’s newest story Ada Twist, Scientist, is available for pre-sale (she also wrote Iggy Peck, Architect). According to the description on Amazon, Ada has a boundless imagination and has always been hopelessly curious. Why are there pointy things stuck to a rose? Why are there hairs growing inside your nose? When her house fills with a horrific, toe-curling smell, Ada knows it’s up to her to find the source. Not afraid of failure, she embarks on fact-finding mission and conducts scientific experiments, all in the name of discovery. But, this time, her experiments lead to even more stink and get her into trouble!
Inspired by real-life makers such as Ada Lovelace and Marie Curie, Ada Twist, Scientist champions girl power and women scientists, and brings welcome diversity to picture books about girls in science. Touching on themes of never giving up and problem solving, Ada comes to learn that her questions might not always lead to answers, but rather to more questions. She may never find the source of the stink, but with a supportive family and the space to figure it out, she’ll be able to feed her curiosity in the ways a young scientist should.
In the same vein of creating new things, we also love The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires. This is the story of a little girl and her dog who love to do things together. One day, she gets a marvelous idea to make the most magnificent thing. She knows just how it will work and starts drawing up plans and then she gets to work in front of her house and starts to build. She figures that building it will be easy-peasy, but it’s not. She tries over and over again and just can’t get it right. She gets frustrated and then even gets mad. Her dog convinces her to go for a walk and it manages to clear her head and by the time she gets back, she has figured out exactly how to build her project. This book is awesome in its display of perseverance and creativity.
For real-life stories about actual inventors, there are few marvelous sources. First, to show the full spectrum of inventors is the amazing book The Story of Inventions. Now I will admit, that I am an Usborne Books consultant, but we purchased this book way before I got involved and my older daughter just ate it up! Toasters, toilets and televisions, computers, cars and chocolate bars, flying machines and even your jeans. All these everyday things and many more are only here because someone bothered to invent them. This book reveals the real-life stories and bright sparks behind dozens of brilliant inventions. What is extraordinary about this book is that it is immensely readable. It also does a wonderful job of including female inventors right alongside all of those important male inventors. You can check it out here.
Similarly, there is a great book called Girls Think of Everything, by Catherine Thimmish. As this book starts, “In kitchens and living rooms, in garages and labs and basements, even in converted chicken coops, women and girls have invented.” Here, young minds can see some of the amazing things that women have invented over the years. Many inventions evolve out of general curiosity, but some out of need and some happy accidents. From the Apgar score of measuring crucial aspects of a newborn baby’s health to chocolate chip cookies, windshield wipers to liquid paper, women have invented some pretty amazing things.
This book also encourages young minds to create things themselves by highlighting some inventions by younger people. In the 1970s a 10 year old girl invented a “glo-sheet” so she could write in the dark. In 1994, it was the inquisitive mind of an 11 year old that created the no-spill feeding bowl that so many parents now use. This book was written in an incredibly engaging way, encouraging all would be inventors to dream big.
Girls Who Rocked the World, by Michelle Roehm McCann and Amelie Welden, was a favorite of J’s a few years back. This book is intended for upper elementary and middle school aged kids and introduces them to a number of influential women who each rocked the world in their own way, from Joan of Arc to Coco Chanel. One thing that is extra special about this book is that the women included each first started to impact the world while they were in their teenage years or younger! Personal aspirations from today’s young women are interspersed throughout the book, which also includes profiles of teenagers who are rocking the world right now. This book can show young minds that it’s never too soon to start making a difference.
Marvelous Mattie, by Emily Arnold McCully truly is marvelous. Margaret Knight, aka Mattie, was a brilliant woman who lived from 1838-1914, during the height of the industrial revolution. Her father’s toolbox and her sketchbooks of ideas were her salvation during a very rough childhood of poverty. When she was a child, no one felt that a woman could have an inventive mind, but she always saw ways to improve things. She probably saved many lives by creating a safety device for looms and was the brains behind the flat-bottomed paper bag. When a man tried to steal her invention before she could get it patented, her methodical notebooks and determination proved to a judge that a woman could and did invent the new bags. This book is a wonderful story that children can relate to and it helps them comprehend the struggles that Mattie and every woman went through so many years ago.
In Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine, by Laurie Walmark, girls can see the story of the woman credited with creating the first computer language, way before the actual invention of computers. While she didn’t code in the way that we thing of the terms now, she realized that a machine to solve complex equations created by a fellow inventor could not actually run without a detail set of instructions. By using his notebooks and her knowledge of mathematics, she left her mark on the history of computer science. The book is also important, as discussed in this recent post, because it again talks about the struggles that she went through simply because she was an intelligent woman.
The children today are our hope for the future. We educate them with books and with love and support. These are great books to add to any library.
I often find out about great non-fiction texts from bloggers who participate in Kid Lit Frenzy’s non-fiction picture book challenge. Check out her website for a ton of great resources!
To all of the future inventors, I leave you with this marvelous song from Zootopia about the importance of making mistakes in order to make it just right.
Adults often shy away from reading fiction aimed at children. Perhaps they think it is too juvenile for them. Perhaps they think the writing isn’t as deep as books written for adults. I can tell you, in the last number of months I have read enough fabulous middle-grade fiction to know that anyone who misses these books is missing out.
After my 8 year old read Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, one of my favorite bloggers, Pragmatic Mom, suggested that we also read The Candymakers. That was enough of a ringing endorsement for me to reserve a copy at my local library. When it came in, simply reading the intro on the book flap was enough to hook me and J.
The concept of this story is that four 12 year-olds have entered a contest to create the next big thing in the candy world. You first meet Logan, the only child of the Candymakers, who own and operate the Life is Sweet factory where the four kids will get to create their masterpieces. Logan has the rare gift of being able to figure out ingredients by taste alone. Everyone thinks that he has an advantage in the competition due to his upbringing, but he just wants to be like everyone else. Then there is Miles, a quiet, bookish boy who talks about the afterlife and has some unusual allergies. Daisy is our lone girl contestant. She is super-strong, arrives on horse one day, and is often found randomly reading a romance novel out loud. Finally, there is Philip, who arrives at the competition clad in a suit-and-tie. He doesn’t seem to want to be anyone’s friend and will not even taste the candy the factory makes.
These four are a part of a national competition, but they get the opportunity to spend a little more than 2 days at the Life is Sweet candy factory. The factory itself feels oddly reminiscent of Willa Wonka’s factory. They have their own cows to provide milk for their chocolate which is made from cocoa beans that are harvested in their in-house tropical forest, and that’s just the start of it.
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”
Every day, Logan’s mom gives him a slip of paper with a quote on it. The above saying is what he was given on the second day of the competition. This quote struck me as I read it simply because it is completely accurate. But it has a deeper meaning in this story because the story itself unfolds by repeating the same 2 day period from the unique perspective of each character. By seeing events from each contestant’s eyes, your preconceived notions about each character change as they layers of the onion are peeled off. Miles’ strange habits make more sense, Philip turns out to be not as bad of a character as you initially believe that he is. This was actually J’s favorite aspect of the book and why she was completely unable to put it down. She enjoyed the fact that you got to learn about the different characters slowly, especially Daisy and Phillip.
As the story unfolds, you also learn that Logan was horribly scarred as a child. When reading the book from his perspective, nothing is mentioned of his scars because he simply doesn’t think of them. He has basically been sheltered at the factory since he was quite young and doesn’t come into contact with people very often who aren’t already aware of his scars. However, the other contestants are curious but also don’t want to be the one to bring the topic up. Young Logan is wise beyond his years when he says:
“I don’t understand why anyone would feel sorry for me. Some people have scars on the inside, and some people’s are on the outside. It shouldn’t matter.”
J has completely devoured this book. She loves reading about the factory itself in the same way that she enjoyed Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. As with Lemoncello, she wrote this week’s letter to a classmate about The Candymakers.
As an adult, I appreciated the insights that the characters learned about their own situations. In addition to Logan’s consideration that there are visible and invisible scars, Miles makes huge advancements. His own personal scars run deep, but when he discovers that what he viewed as his defining moment was different than he believed, rather than be angry at the pain it had caused him, he realized that it helped him grow.
“The whole thing taught me a lot about life and losing things. I can kind of see things in people now, like I know when someone else has lost something, and that makes me understand them better.”
I’d love to see J read this again in a few years to see if she comprehends it on a different level, but for now, this is one book that we have both truly enjoyed in our own ways.
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.
September is national library card sign-up month. If you hadn’t already figured it out, I would be completely and utterly lost without the local public library. Buying books is great, but finding books in the library allows us to read a much wider variety of great books. I still have fond memories of the library where I grew up, and we are fortunate to have two libraries here even if I do have to pay to use one of them. Granted, I still miss living in a bigger city with multiple connected libraries, but beggars can’t be choosers.
Sometimes I go to the library with a specific list of books I want to get for the girls and sometimes I just randomly pull things off the shelves. I’ve gotten really lucky the past few times and wanted to share a bunch of gems that we’ve found.
We fell in love with the original My Name is Not Isabella, and I was thrilled to find another of her adventures on our local library’s bookshelves. Isabella: Star of the Story is an homage to books and to the library in general. How could we not love it? Isabella goes to the library with her parents and checks out Peter Pan, Goldilocks, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Black Beauty, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and The Wizard of Oz.
The title of this book attracted me, and both my 2 year old and 6 year old LOVE it. This fabulous rhyming story dedicated to Dr. Seuss brings a librarian and her bookmobile into the zoo. There she lures the animals into a love affair with books in the same way that we all hope to lure our children into loving books. With absolutely beautiful artwork by Marc Brown, we watch as the librarian finds just the right book for each animal. The crocodiles read Peter Pan while giraffes want “tall books” on subjects like basketball and skyscrapers and the Pandas demand “more books in Chinese.” By the end, the animals are writing their own stories and opening a zoobrary. The animals are wild about books and we are wild about this one too.
I was actually shocked to find this on the shelves of our small town library as it is a brand new book. The story is about a goat who thinks he’s pretty hot stuff until a unicorn moves into town. When the unicorn flies, makes it rain cupcakes and turns things to gold the goat gets a case of the green eyed monster. Then one day, while moping around eating some goat cheese pizza, the unicorn comes up and is jealous of all the things that make goat special. The two realize that they each have qualities that make them pretty awesome and that together they would make an unstoppable team. It is a great story about being happy with yourself while learning that the grass only looks greener on the other side.
I picked up this book because we struggle with J and keeping her hair brushed, let alone pulled back in pretty barrettes. So imagine my shock when we get to the end and Sophie decides to chop off her hair and give it to “Locks for Kids,” a hybrid of Locks of Love and Wigs for Kids. What seemed like a superficial story turned out to be a lesson in humanity. It is hard to explain to a 6 year old that kids can get cancer too, but this is a truly wonderful story.
For all of the picky eaters out there, I present a ridiculous story of a little girl who refused to eat her green beans until the beans came to town and kidnapped her parents. The only way for her to save her parents from those mean old beans was to eat them, but the beans didn’t think she could do it. This was a silly tale that shows that you shouldn’t be afraid of your food. We read a lot of semi-serious picture books, and those are usually the books that make it onto the blog, but a little fluff now and then is important too 🙂
Peter Reynolds gets a lot of press in September with the 15th being International Dot Day. The Dot is a marvelous book with a great lesson, but in looking for that on the shelf, I came across the lesser known, but stunningly wonderful Sky Color. Reynolds’s books encourage kids to nurture their inner artists, but what I love about this one is that it takes someone who is comfortable with her inner artist and forces her to think outside of the box. Marisol’s class is going to paint a mural and she volunteers to paint the sky, but when she goes to the paint box there is no blue. “How am I going to make the sky without blue paint?” Marisol watched the sky to try and figure out a solution and dreamt of a sky of swirling colors, mixed together “making too many colors to count.” Her final product shows how many ways to look at things there are. I loved the colors and her frustrations and her attempts to figure it out. An unusual, but impressive little book.
There are some books that find their way into our house because they contain a message that I would like to subtly convey to my children. In a world of “more more more” and always trying to “keep up with the Kardashians,” I find it important to leave little life lessons through books about a slightly more simple life where being true to yourself and not necessarily conforming to anyone’s standards is more important then wearing the right designer label.
Many of the books that I discussed in the the post on princesses with panache fit this mold. Another book we’ve had for a while that I really like is Fanny. A good friend told me about this book and I immediately went on to Amazon to buy it. J enjoys this book. I’m not sure what message she gets from it, but hopefully she gets that just because everyone else has a certain toy, it doesn’t mean that she needs the exact same one.
The story is of a little girl named Fanny. For her birthday, more than anything else, she wants a Connie doll like her two best friends. Mom doesn’t like Connie dolls because they are “just too…much.” Connie comes off as a mix between Barbie & Bratz. I personally have no problems with my kids playing with Barbie dolls, but Bratz, Monster High and the like are not coming into our house, so I feel for Fanny’s mom. Fanny is a smart little girl, so when she realizes that mom really isn’t going to buy her a Connie, she makes her own doll. She was going to name her Connie, but then realizes that “maybe Connie isn’t exactly the best name for you,” so she names her Annabelle.
Fanny thinks that Annabelle is great until her two best friends come over to celebrate her birthday and bring along their Connie dolls. Her friends quickly got busy “dressing them and combing their long hair and posing them as gorgeous models and sassy celebrities.” When Fanny brought out Annabelle, her friends ignored her doll and Fanny starts to doubt Annabelle’s marvelousness. To make matters worse, when Fanny’s mom gets her a sewing machine for her birthday, her friends giggle about how they would never want a gift like that and prefer things that are “store-bought” anyway. I’m not sure if kids get that the behavior of these little girls is not ideal. J has started asking questions when statements like this get made, so we must be on the right track.
That night, Fanny thinks that Annabelle must be lonely stuffed in her drawer, where she put her when she was ashamed of Annabelle. She gets her out and realizes how special her doll is and that she really does love her because she made her. Fanny makes sure that Annabelle gets included when she plays with her friends. When she goes over to her friend Tiffany’s house and Fanny suggest they play veterinary hospital, Tiffany and Coco clap their hands saying their Connies can be nurses. Annabelle gets to be the doctor and all afternoon, “Dr. Annabelle performed operations on every stuffed animal Tiffany owned while the glamorous nurses assisted.”
I think this book is great. It even has a paper doll in the back for your child to make her very own doll. I love that Fanny is inventive enough to make her own doll. I love that in the face of her two friends looking down on her doll and her love of sewing, she realizes that Annabelle is special and that she can make things she wants instead of relying on other people to buy her things. I think it is very hard for little girls to grow up surrounded by messages about how they should look, how they should act, what music they should like, and consumerism in general and stay strong. I guess that’s why we have so many books that subtly tell my girls that it is okay. That being kind and smart is important. That asking questions and even questioning authority is great. When we are reading and J asks me things, I always point out to her what great questions she is asking. She isn’t just skimming by. My girls have always sort of marched to the beat of their own drummers and I want to make sure that they know that that is great thing for them to do.