I have been absent from the virtual world this week, with the exception of rather voraciously reading blogs and message boards at odd hours, like 3 a.m. when I was up with a sick DLM. Yes, a plague descended upon the House of Hope sometime this Sunday past, and we only yesterday emerged from the haze. Although it only affected Louise, the DLM, and me, Steady Eddie has borne the brunt of the work–lots of getting up through the night with a congested baby, even though he had to drive distances for his job the following mornings, etc. He has also done his fair share of housework this week. (Really, though, there’s nothing unusual about that!) I appreciate my husband, friends.
So what has this to do with Read Aloud Thursday? Well, I’ve had this stack of books in the computer cabinet, just waiting for review. I pulled them out on Tuesday night and re-read them to my girls since it had been a long while since we were first introduced to them, and only then did I realize what a coincidence it is that my favorite of the lot, this year’s Caldecott Medalist A Sick Day for Amos McGee has me and the protagonist of the tale in the same predicament: sniffly, groggy, and not quite up to our normal task of taking care of all the critters we’re responsible for.
The best word I can use to describe this story is gentle. The story opens in much the same way as an episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood:
Amos McGee was an early riser. Every morning when the alarm clock clanged, he swung his legs out of bed and swapped his pajamas for a fresh-pressed uniform.
Amos McGee, the slight zoo keeper, loves his job; in fact, although he has a lot to do at the zoo, “he always made time to visit his good friends”: he plays chess with the elephant, races the tortoise (‘though he tortoise always wins), reads the owl a bedtime story, and just sits quietly by the bashful penguin. When the day arrives that he is too sick to go to work, his friends wait for and worry about him, until they decide to take matters into their own hands (hoofs? flippers? wings?) and ride the city bus to his home and check on him. At his home, they are able to show him the caring and solicitous concern he has always shown them. Of course, this is a Caldecott Medal winner, so the illustrations are par excellence. This book is written and illustrated by husband-wife duo Philip C. and Erin E. Stead, and I have to say that I love the story every bit as much as the illustrations. (Can you tell?) The illustrations are something, though. Made using a painstaking woodblock printing/stamping technique (which you can see here on her blog), the illustrations are both simple and detailed. There is nothing extraneous or messy about any one of these pictures. I love that the colors are muted and grainy (not really grainy, but I can’t think of a better work–incomplete? maybe. . . ) I love this book for so many reasons, and I even told Steady Eddie that the next time he feels compelled to buy me a book, this one is it. This is my top pick of all the recent award winners that I’ve read, and I give it a Highly Recommended.
- Erin Stead Illustration
- Philip C. Stead’s Online Portfolio
- Review of A Sick Day for Amos McGee at Brimful Curiosities–includes neat-o art activity
Shark vs. Train by Chris Barton is one of those Cybils nominees that got a lot of press, at least on the blogs I read, so I bought myself (ourselves? Really–these picture books are for my children, aren’t they?!?) a copy. This is one of those books that I find difficult to read aloud, but I did it. It has a lot of cartoonish “talking” between the shark and train using speech balloons and I’m never sure whether or not read that part aloud. Without it, though, much of the charm of this book is lost. Okay, maybe I should back up and explain the premise. This book is a competition between a shark and train–which one would win, for example, a diving competition? a ping pong game? sword fighting on a tight rope? The title page has this exchange between the shark and train: Shark says, “I’m going to choo-choo you up and spit you out”, to which Train replies, “Ha! I’m going to fin-ish you, mackerel-breath.” That’s funny, but I think it takes a certain level of maturity to get the humor. My girls didn’t love this one, but Louise did spend some time studying Tom Lichtenheld‘s colorful illustrations. I’m going to make a sexist statement here, so beware. I wonder if this book would appeal more to the masculine gender. I don’t know, but lots of people have loved it, so there must be something to it that maybe we just didn’t quite get. C’est la vie. This one was a Cybils shortlisted title, too.
- review at Jean Little Library
- review at 5 Minutes for Books
- Chris Barton’s website
- Tom Lichtenheld’s website
- You Tube video trailer about the book
- Shark vs. Train website
Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein is similar to Shark vs. Train in one way–this is a book that really can’t be read in a linear fashion; the whole premise is that the little red chicken constantly interrupts his papa’s attempts to read him a bedtime story. However, we clicked with this one a little more; the premise is very funny, and since we have our own Interrupting Chicken around here (whoshallremainLOUISEnameless), we can relate. This book won a Caldecott honor this year for its vivid and memorable illustrations of these talking chickens. This is an endearing book that is good for a laugh; if you like jokes with swift punchlines (that are repeated often), you’ll like this one. Jennifer @ Jean Little Library points out that the book pages that Papa is reading look suspiciously like Paul Galdone renditions of fairytales, a nice little detail I failed to notice. The really neat thing about such lavishly illustrated stories is that there’s always something new to see. Interrupting Chicken won the 2010 Cybils award for best fiction picture book.
Speaking of interruping, I interrupted Lulu’s obsession with all things Ramona (she was reading Ramona Forever for what must be the umpteenth time!) to have her read Bink and Gollie by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee aloud to Louise (while I not-s0-subtly listened in). It had been a while since we read it, and I didn’t think at the time that we had taken the time to properly appreciate it. Lulu moaned and groaned a bit at first, of course, but by the time she had finished reading the first little story in this volume, she was smiling and giggling as she read. Need I say more? This is such an endearing tale (really, a collection of short-but-related tales)–we couldn’t help but be drawn in by this pair who are oh-so-different from one another and yet who are obviously the best of friends. Bink’s the one up there with the wild hair; Gollie is her taller, more reserved buddy. Bink loves big words; Gollie loves colorful socks. I’ll bet you know a pair like this one; we have a pair like this at the House of Hope, which makes the story all the more enjoyable for the mama. I first read about this book here on Melissa Wiley’s blog, Here in the Bonny Glen, as if its being co-written (is that a word?) by the wonderfully talented Kate DiCamillo wasn’t enough of a recommendation. (I love her books, you know. I’ve written about them here, here, here, and here.) Tony Fucile’s illustrations bear mentioning because he has captured the essence of these two characters so perfectly in his drawings. I’m curious as to why this one wasn’t nominated for a Cybil last year, unless it was released too late to get in under the deadline. If that’s the case, it should make this year’s list, for sure! It has already won the 2011 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award given by the ALA/ALSC for books for beginning readers.
I saved this one for last because no matter how many times I asked my girls to pick their favorite, they always chose this one. Dave the Potter : Artist, Poet, Slave contains so much of what my girls love in a story–historical detail and pathos that grips the heart. It’s the true story of Dave, a slave in the nineteenth century U.S., who left his mark on our world through the pottery he produced. Laban Carrick Hill‘s prose borders on poetry; it’s sparse but evocative:
The shoulder and rim
as the jar took the shape
Dave knew was there,
even before he worked
the raw mound on his wheel.
Bryan Collier‘s watercolor illustrations are gorgeous and garnered this book a Caldecott honor. My girls were really taken in by this story, and every time we read it they requested that I also read the historical note at the end of the story. In addition to being nominated for a Cybil, Dave the Potter also won the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award. Highly Recommended
- Review at Check It Out
- Laban Carrick Hill website
- Bryan Collier website
- My review of Martin’s Big Words, another Caldecott honor book illustrated by Bryan Collier
If you’ve read this far, I thank you. This is a long post that looks even longer since I’ve included these humongous images of the bookcovers. Amazon has gone and changed things up again for the Associates links, and I can no longer put a nice little clickable book cover image in my posts. Thus, I am including the above widget, just in case anyone actually wants to click over to Amazon.
Have you read any of these award winners with your children? What are their favorites? Talk to me! Oh, and don’t forget to link up your Read Aloud Thursday posts in the comments, too!
Happy Read Aloud Thursday!