Monday, April 03, 2017

Update: Picture Book Reading Challenge - Part 1

I've been a little slow getting started with my reading this year. Didn't read nearly as many books as I usually do in January or February or March, and April isn't looking much better. Just haven't been able to stick with anything long enough to finish it.

But I've done much better with children's books! Guess I've found my level.

I signed up for Becky's Picture Book Reading Challenge and I've already read more than the six book minimum. So I thought I'd do a little update, mainly just so I'll remember what I read and what I thought about it. I'm going to break it up into a couple of parts, so it won't be such an overwhelming post.

I'm using Becky's check list for choosing my books, and the numbers in parentheses here are the numbers from her list.

(17.) a book about pets (cats, dogs, fish):
My Kitten, by Margaret O'Hair; illus. by Tammie Lyon (pub. 2011)

Very cute story told in simple rhymes ("Food kitten, munch kitten, yum kitten, eat. / Lick kitten, fur kitten, clean kitten, neat."), about a little girl and her mischievous kitten. Tammie Lyon's illustrations stretch across two pages and are sweet and full of energy. I think this would be a lovely book to read aloud with your toddler.

(41.) a series book:
Arthur's Nose (25th Anniversary Edition). Marc Brown (first pub. 1976)

I'm a longtime fan of the Arthur cartoon series on PBS (a guilty pleasure), although I had never read any of the books. But they've been so super successful, I was interested to see how it all began. This 25th Anniversary edition of the series' first entry gave me that chance; plus it has extra material by the author, telling about what inspired him to write that first book about the young aardvark and his friends and family. I'm still a fan, but I have to admit if I was a kid just discovering this first book, I'm not sure it would leave me wanting more.

In the story, Arthur doesn't like his nose. He doesn't like the way it looks or the fact that it gets in the way when he plays games. And his friends think it's funny. He decides to change it, and goes to the rhinologist for advice. The rhinologist has him "try on" pictures of other noses to see if one of them suits him better. Well, of course, you know Arthur doesn't end up changing his nose. And that's it. Not the most scintillating of tales. But the pictures are cute and funny, and it's definitely nice to see how Arthur and his pals have changed over the years.

(43.) a book published before 1950:
Millions of Cats, written and illus. by Wanda Gág (pub. 1928)

A Newbery Honor Book, Wanda Gág's classic tale of an old man and woman who decide to get a cat is a book I've always known about, and always wanted to read. Strange that I just read it this year for the first time. Have to say, I thought I would like it more than I did. I loved the black-and-white artwork, but somehow I expected better story-telling. Maybe it's one of those books only children really respond to.

(62.) a Caldecott winner:
Time of Wonder, by Robert McCloskey (1958 Winner)
Another book that's been on my must-read list since it first appeared. However, this one I loved.

McCloskey's classic tale of a summer spent on an island off the coast of Maine is told in gorgeous, atmospheric pictures and stirring, poetic text. The description of the approaching storm and its effects on the family are wonderfully evocative, and the pictures put you right there. It's a beautiful, unforgettable reading experience for children and their elders.

(63.) a Caldecott honor:
The Garden of Abdul Gasazi, by Chris Van Allsburg (1980 Honor book)

Young Alan Mitz is looking after Miss Hester's dog Fritz while Miss Hester visits her cousin Eunice. Fritz is not the tamest of canines, which is why cousin Eunice asked that he be left at home. One day while Alan isn't paying enough attention, Fritz runs away and strays into the forbidden garden of dog-hating retired magician, Abdul Gasazi. Of course, Alan has to follow and try to get the bad dog back. He eventually meets Mr. Gasazi and has a rather nasty trick played on him. Does he get Fritz back? You'll have to read the story to find out.

I have a sort of love/hate relationship with all of Chris Van Allsburg's work. I recognize the mastery, but I can't really say I'm attracted to his style of drawing. This is an intriguing story and the garden is appropriately mysterious; and Abdul Gasazi has a bit of magic up his sleeve. Is the magic real? That's a good question to explore with young readers.

(86.) a poetry book:
Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night, by Joyce Sidman; illus. by Rick Allen (pub. 2010)

This was a Newbery Honor Book for 2011, but I must admit I bought it just because of that cover. What a powerful image! And the artwork between the covers is wonderful, too. Even the Table of Contents page is colorful and fun to look at:

The book sticks to a strict pattern of poetry on the left-hand page, and on the right, a short lesson about the outdoor world at night. I learned quite a lot from those lessons. Some of the poetry rhymes, some doesn't. Some of it is simple and some is a bit more intricate. It's all very intriguing, and should appeal to readers of all ages. But I'm thinking it might be better for younger children to read with an adult — someone to explain the more unfamiliar words, and point out things a child might miss (like the fact that in the poem about the "Dark Emperor," the text is actually shaped like a stylized owl).

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