Wow, I am WAY overdue for a theme month, friends! 2017 has been a pretty busy year and my focus has been all over the place, hence my less frequent posting here at the bookshelf. But I’ve finally been able to devote some time to catching up on my ever-growing theme list. (Yay!)
June’s theme is ‘How To…’ books and will feature a month full of books whose titles start with those words. I was not surprised to see that there are just dozens of them out there, but I was very surprised to see how many of them have sub-themes in common. Lots of these books are teaching their readers how to deal with parents, grandparents and quite a few of them feature dragons. (I guess not a lot is really known about how to do things with dragons, so the younger generation will be better schooled than the rest of us on that subject.) There are many that offer tips on how to do specific things with animals and lots of them about the care and maintenance of friends. If there was a ‘How To Teach Your Grandma’s Cat How to Make Friends with a Dragon,’ I suppose that one would be the grand prize winner.
Ready to learn something new? Well, the How-To’s are heading your way starting tomorrow. See you then!
Written and Illustrated by Leila Rudge
Candlewick Press, 2016
Most of the time, Gary was just like the other racing pigeons.
The plot in a nutshell: A non-flying homing pigeon learns to travel.
Gary lives with a group of racing pigeons, but he never does any racing himself because he can’t fly. He keeps a scrapbook of mementoes from places that the other birds have been and loves listening to them talk about their travels. One night, he and his scrapbook fall off his perch into the travel basket and are inadvertently taken along on the race day trip. All the other pigeons fly away home, but Gary is stuck in the city. As Gary looks though his scrapbook, he realizes that the maps and notes in his scrapbook can help him find his way back. He takes a bus back to his home and now has adventure stories of his own.
Author/illustrator Leila Rudge gives us a scrappy little character with Gary. We don’t learn what limitation he has that keeps him from flying and there’s something I really like about that. It’s a good reminder that people can have limitations that aren’t readily apparent, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Gary has a great attitude, doing what he can to be a part of the racing team by collecting memorabilia and keeping a scrapbook, without ever feeling sorry for himself. When he finds himself lost and alone in the city, he admirably uses his resources to solve the situation for himself.
I wonder if he had to pay full bus fare.
The mixed media illustrations carry the scrapbook motif into the actual story, presenting several pages with detailed collages that resemble scrapbook pages. When Gary makes his way home, the illustrations show us his journey as a two-page scrapbook spread and while I like the presentation, I wish it had gone into more detail. I feel like this was a real missed opportunity where we could have seen him experiencing travel and collecting mementoes of his own and it felt like part of the story was missing. But overall, the story’s message is wonderful and Gary’s character is lovably upbeat.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that there are almost always resources around you to help you with any goal, if you keep your wits enough to use them.
Written and Illustrated by Pascale Allamand
English Translation by Elizabeth Watson Taylor
Lothrop, Lee & Shepherd, 1979
A little bear lived on an iceberg.
The plot in a nutshell: A group of animals attempt to recolor themselves.
The polar bear sees a rainbow in the sky and wishes he could be a different color. He shares his thoughts with a whale friend and the two of them decide to travel to a place where brightly colored animals live, so they can find out how they did it. Along their travels, they pick up a tortoise and two crocodiles who want to change their colors, too. They arrive at a shore near a jungle and meet a beautifully colored parrot. They ask the parrot how he got so colorful and he tells them that he was just born that way, so that he could match the colors of the jungle. The whale rolls in red mud, the bear rubs green leaves on himself, the crocodiles roll in blue flowers and the tortoise is smeared with orange mushrooms. They are pleased with their new colors, until the parrot tells them that they will stand out in their homelands, making it hard to hide from danger. So they wash the color off and return home, with a new sense of gratitude for their original colors.
There are lots of older picture books that have aged beautifully, becoming somehow even more meaningful and relevant along the way. This is not one of those stories. I felt like I got what author/illustrator Pascale Allamand was aiming for – a simple message about being yourself, since you are the way you are for a reason. But something about the way it’s presented feels disappointing. Maybe it’s just that ‘don’t stand out’ doesn’t play well here in the 21st century, where individuality and self-expression are important.
Especially in a place where everything is black and white, a rainbow is a miracle.
The story is presented with the text on the left pages and the illustrations on the right. The artwork itself is pretty simplistic, but I actually really like its charming 1970’s style. I think one of the things that bothered me about it was that, in the picture where all the animals are their new colors, they all look so happy. Having the parrot rain on their parade in such a way could have been softened with a simple word or two about other ways that they could feel special while still keeping themselves safe. I wanted to like this more than I did, but it just left me feeling a little bummed.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that there are lots of things about you that you can be grateful for, even when you don’t always recognize them right away.
Written and Illustrated by Jennifer Sattler
It was a beautiful day. Chick and Pug were enjoying some sunshine.
The plot in a nutshell: A girl pug tries to catch the eye of Wonder Pug.
Chick and Pug are napping in the yard when Daisy, a cute little black pug, visits. Chick introduces himself and tells Daisy all about his best buddy, Wonder Pug. Smitten, Daisy tries several ways to get Wonder Pug’s attention. She talks about how much she wishes someone would give her flowers, ‘loses’ her favorite red bow and pretends to be in danger, but Pug is more interested in napping. Chick, meanwhile, continues to praise Pug’s awesomeness. When a bee flies into Pug’s open mouth, he wakes up and struggles to get rid of it. Daisy comes to his rescue and then she cuddles up next to Pug for a nap.
This is the fourth book that author/illustrator Jennifer Sattler has written about these characters and it’s a nice continuation of their story. It’ll definitely help to know the characters already, but it stands on its own if you don’t, too. I often wish that Pug would play more of an active role in his stories, but that would kind of defeat the point and probably be significantly less funny. Plus, you always get the idea that there’s more to his laziness than meets the eye, especially in this book.
Daisy’s got it bad.
The artwork, in acrylics and colored pencil, is beautiful and colorful, once again using the cool device of sometimes showing characters on colorful background pages to emphasize their emotions. They all have wonderful emotive faces and it’s particularly fun to see Daisy’s reactions to all her failed attempts to capture Pug’s attention. This isn’t my favorite of the Chick n’ Pug books, but it’s a nice addition to the series and has me hoping that someday we might have Chick helping to raise some little pug puppies in the next one.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that you can’t wait around forever for something to happen. Sometimes you need to take action yourself.
Written by Charlotte Moundlic, Illustrated by Olivier Tallec
Candlewick Press, 2009
Mom died this morning. It wasn’t really this morning. Dad said she died during the night, but I was sleeping during the night. For me, she died this morning.
The plot in a nutshell: A boy tries different ways to cope with the loss of his mother.
The narrator of this story is a little boy who wakes up one morning and learns that his terminally ill mother has died. He remembers a conversation he had with her before she died, in which he told her he was angry for leaving him and that makes the anger comes back. He promises to take care of his dad and worries that he won’t know how to do that. Days later, he closes the windows in his house, in an attempt to keep his mom’s smell from fading away. When he falls down and skins his knee, he remembers his mother’s voice and the way she would comfort him, so he continually picks at the scab, hoping that the fresh wound will keep that memory close. His grandmother comes to help and when she opens the window to get some air, the boy breaks down and sobs uncontrollably. His grandmother assures him that his mom will always be in his heart. At the end of the book, he realizes he has forgotten to keep picking at his scab and it has turned into a scar, with fresh new skin.
Wow. The opening line of this book was so completely unexpected, that I believe I actually gasped when I read it. And I have to admit that I only made it a couple of pages past the first one before I was crying myself and I had to struggle to finish reading it. (A quick search of reviews shows me that I’m in good company on that point.) The emotions in this story are very real and raw and are presented without soft pedal or filter. I was 25 when I lost my mother and I remember the roller coaster of emotions, even for an adult who could understand what was going on.
Everything is that almost painful shade of red.
Author Charlotte Moundlic walks a fine line here, keeping the story honest and direct without ever becoming maudlin or preachy. I love that no one ever pulls the boy aside and tells him that he needs to ‘buck up’ or any such nonsense to devalue his emotions in any way. The analogy equating emotional healing with physical healing is brilliant. Illustrator Olivier Tallec uses acrylic and pencil to create very minimal artwork, mostly in shades of red and yellow. The illustrations echo the book’s emotions, enhancing the story and bringing you deeper into it. This is a very moving book of love and loss and even though it’s a sad story, I found it warm and comforting, with a beautiful sense of closure.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that all pain, even the kind that feels like it will go on forever, will eventually heal.
Written and Illustrated by Walt Disney Productions
Random House, 1979
There was once a fisherman named Goofy.
The plot in a nutshell: A fisherman makes wishes.
One day, while fishing, Goofy catches a magic fish who asks to be put back into the water. When Goofy complies, the fish offers him a wish. Goofy wishes to be a farmer, thinking it will be an easier life. But then he learns that being a farmer is actually a lot of hard work, so he returns to the ocean and asks the fish for another wish. This time, he asks to be a rich sea captain. He enjoys that life, until robbers steal everything he has. He returns to the fish and asks to be a king. But when his people rise up against him, he returns to the fish and wishes he was a fisherman again. He never feels the need to seek out the fish again.
Who knew Goofy was a such a fan of cats?
When our kids were little, we had a membership to the Disney book club (a gift from my parents) and as a result we had a large collection of book versions of Disney classics and new stories featuring Disney characters. This is one of the latter, featuring a take on the ‘three wishes’ trope with Goofy as the main character. In keeping with custom, the last wish resets the situation back to what it was in the beginning. But one thing that I really like about this version is that Goofy seems to have the ability to go back and ask for more wishes if he wants, but he learns the lesson so well that he doesn’t feel the need to do so. The book doesn’t list an author or artist, but simply credits Walt Disney Productions with the story and artwork. When the kids were little, we noticed this book’s Danish title, Fedtmule og den Fantastiske Fisk, on the acknowledgements page and have called it that ever since because it is just so much fun to say.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that every life has its hardships and sometimes it’s best to stick to the ones you already know how to handle.
Written and Illustrated by Lane Smith
Roaring Brook Press, 2016
There was a tribe of kids.
The plot in a nutshell: A boy meets many groups of animals.
A young boy, wearing only leaves, lives with a tribe of mountain goats. When they climb up the steep mountain, leaving him behind, he begins to wander. As he walks, he encounters other groups of animals, such as a colony of penguins, a pod of whales, an unkindness of ravens, a troop of monkeys and a crash of rhinos. He also makes his way around a formation of rocks and a growth of plants. After a night of dreams, he follows a trail of shells and finds a tribe of kids living happily in the trees and they welcome him.
I think I must have been really distracted when I read this book for the first time, because I missed the point of it entirely, taking it for a plotless book of gorgeous illustrations of collective nouns from the animal kingdom. Bookshelf favorite Lane Smith has given us so much more than that here. The play on words from ‘kids’ meaning young goats at the beginning to ‘kids’ meaning children at the end is clever and can be easily taken to symbolize the transition from those you thought you belonged with to those you truly belong with. It’s representative of your whole childhood journey, when you look at it through that lens and that’s really cool.
Of course, the illustrations are beautiful. Mr. Smith’s oil paintings were finished with acrylic varnish to give them texture and finished with colored pencil, graphite and both tradition and digital cutting and pasting. His use of color is marvelous, reflecting all the vibrancy of the animal kingdom and the earthy tones of nature. This book has been the target of some controversy; with people taking exception to his use of the word ‘tribe’ to describe the leaf-wearing children living in the trees at the end of the book, saying that it’s insulting to Native Americans. I took the word in a more general sense and never thought it was referring to any specific group of people. This was one I really loved.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that one of the most important steps for a happy life is to find your tribe.