Tag Archive | Marla Frazee

Walk On

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Written and Illustrated by Marla Frazee

Harcourt, Inc., 2006

Is sitting there on your bottom getting boring?

The plot in a nutshell:  Lessons on how to start walking.

If you’re a baby and you’re tired of just sitting around, maybe it’s time to start walking. The first step, of course, is to stand up. It’s best to find something to support yourself until you’re ready to stand without support. Once you’re standing, find your balance and then let go of your support and stand all on your own. And don’t worry about falling down. That happens to everyone.  When you’re ready to go to the next level, make sure you’re ready and your surroundings are prepared, then look straight ahead and start by taking that first step, then the next and before you know it, you’re walking!

Bookshelf favorite Marla Frazee scores again in this wonderful and motivating book, which is delightfully relevant to anyone in the process of trying something new. I love the framework of literal first steps to symbolize the important things you need to do before any major endeavor, such as finding balance, leaning on others for support until you’re ready to go it alone and of course, getting back up from the inevitable falls. With all that in mind, however, I imagine that the book is also very appealing to kids, especially those who have younger siblings learning to walk.

Stand up

Hang in there, Baby!

The illustrations, done in pencil and gouache, are as adorable as I have come to expect from Ms. Frazee, who has an amazing ability to show depth of expression in this baby’s face. We see lots of familiar emotions reflected here, including fear, frustration, determination, confidence and the joy of accomplishment. I don’t think it’s an accident that on the final page, the baby is walking away from the reader, gently reminding parents that every milestone moves your baby toward to the goal of independence, which also moves them away from you. I really enjoyed this book and its message.

And what did we learn?  What I take away from this book is that every big accomplishment starts with one single decision to get moving.

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The Farmer and the Clown

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Written and Illustrated by Marla Frazee

Beach Lane Books, 2014

The plot in a nutshell: A farmer cares for a young clown

The farmer is tending to his field and turns to watch a circus train go by. He sees something fall from the train and when he wanders over to take a closer look, he discovers a smiling baby clown, with a tall red hat. The clown hugs the farmer and they walk, hand in hand, back to the farmer’s home. They share dinner and then, when they wash up, the farmer realizes that the baby’s smiling face was just painted on and underneath, he looks vulnerable and a little sad. In the morning, the farmer makes funny faces at the clown and gets him to smile and to ride on his shoulders. Together, they eat breakfast, milk the cow, collect eggs (which the baby juggles) and work in the field. As they’re sitting down to a picnic, they see the circus train in the distance and they run toward it. The clowns on the train are overjoyed to be reunited with their baby. The baby jumps into the farmer’s arms and hugs him and the farmer kisses the baby on head. As the train pulls away, they wave to each other, with the baby wearing the farmer’s wide brimmed hat and the farmer wearing the baby’s pointed red hat.

Author/illustrator Marla Frazee has published lots of books that showcase her comic side, so I really enjoyed this one, which has a warm and sentimental core. Choosing to present this story without words was brilliant, as it makes the reader really examine everything about the characters, from facial expressions to body language and there is so much to discover there. In the moment when the clown washes his makeup off and becomes a lost baby, everything changes and the reader becomes totally invested in the relationship between these two disparate characters.

Wake up

This is how I would like to wake up every morning.

Ms. Frazee illustrated this book in Prismacolor pencil and gouache, with the opening landscape depicted in neutral shades of black and brown and tan. The story’s themes are echoed in its color palettes, where the multi-colored train drops a bright red object into the dull scenery and the farmer retains a little of that color when the baby leaves, showing that his life has changed. As the farmer walks back to his house, a little circus monkey is following behind him, breaking the fourth wall to ask the reader not to tell the farmer he’s there. It’s a nice postscript to the sadness of having to see these two separate. I loved this book a ton.

And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that no matter how different you are, you can connect with anyone by showing them love and care.

All the World

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Written by Liz Garton Scanlon, Illustrated by Marla Frazee

Beach Lane Books, 2009

Awards: Caldecott Honor

Rock, stone, pebble, sand

The plot in a nutshell: The world is made up of everything and everyone in it.

The book opens with two children playing on a beach and the world is said to be wide and deep. We see people working in a vegetable garden and selling their crop at a market and the world is called a garden. A grandfather buys a new tree at the market and on the way back home, his grandchildren stop to climb a big tree and the world is old and new. People and animals travel everywhere when the sky is clear and stay indoors when it rains. People gather in a café for a meal and the world can be both cold and hot. After a busy day, the busy world becomes very still and comprises all of its people, gathered together in families. And in addition, it is made up of things we can’t see, such as hope and love, because the world is all of us.

It’s tough to say a book celebrates everything in the whole world, but that’s kind of what author Liz Garton Scanlon is doing in this beautiful book that will make you look at your life and wonder if you’re appreciating it all enough. The rhyming verse is singsong and is gentle and fun to read, with words that bring back things we enjoyed as kids and sometimes are guilty of passing unnoticed as adults, like great climbing trees and perfectly smooth pebbles. The ending, in which it pulls all the world together and points out that it’s in all of us, is sure to prompt big family hugs at bedtime.

So many different ways to get you where you're going.

So many different ways to get you where you’re going.

Bookshelf favorite Marla Frazee’s pencil and watercolor artwork helped this book bring home a Caldecott Honor for its year. She populates this story with families and people who feel very real, with wrinkled clothes and messy hair and a casualness that tells you these people are not part of any rat race. In the world of this book, there is always time to play in the pond and you can carry your farmer’s market purchases home in a little red wagon. The image of the café at nighttime, with all its customers together in the warmly lighted room while the last remnants of the rainstorm drip from the awnings outside, made me want to pick up and go on vacation immediately. And don’t get me started on the big picture of everyone, old and young, playing music and just enjoying time together. I ended the book feeling that I was part of the big beautiful story and newly inspired to make the most of it.  I loved this one a ton.

And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that we are all part of the world and, consequently, part of each other, too.

A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever

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Written and Illustrated by Marla Frazee

Harcourt, Inc., 2008

Awards:  Caldecott Honor

One hot summer day, James went on a long drive to Bill and Pam’s house so he could go to a week of nature camp with his friend Eamon.  Bill and Pam are Eamon’s grandparents. They live at the beach.

The plot in a nutshell:  Two boys spend a week with one boy’s grandparents

Eamon’s grandfather wants the boys to go to nature camp because he loves the outdoors and animals, especially penguins.  He offers to take them to the penguin exhibit at the museum.  James and Eamon prefer to stay home.  The boys enjoy nature camp (to a point) and when they are at the beach house, Bill continues to try to pique their interest in penguins and Antarctica, while Pam cooks them delicious food.  They become so close during the week that Bill takes to calling them Jamon, as though they were one person.  On their last night together, all four of them have a popcorn party.  Bill and Pam fall asleep and are loudly snoring on the couch, so James and Eamon go outside for some quiet. After the sun goes down and the stars come out, they start working on a project that turns out to be the best part of their week, making a model of Antarctica out of shells and stones, with mussel shells and white rocks for penguins. Bill and Pam hug them goodbye and the boys waddle out the door like penguins.

Can I go there now, please?

Can I go there now, please?

This comical story was born from the personal experience of author/illustrator Marla Frazee’s son and his friend, who spent a week with a set of grandparents in Malibu while attending a nearby nature camp.  The thank you letter she wrote to the grandparents turned into a small book (at the suggestion of her editor) and she asked the boys to provide illustrations for it.  The result was so much fun that she wrote a version of it for publication.  There are lots of uses of sarcasm and subtext in this book, which may go over the heads of younger readers, but I think most kids will understand how the boys are really feeling, even when it seems to be in contrast with the book’s text.

The artwork is done in black prismacolor and gouache, which helps give the book a feeling of authenticity, as though the boys were telling and illustrating the story themselves.  The use of word balloons gives it a dash of comic book flavor as well.  The end papers show what the boys actually did while they were at nature camp.  An element that I really loved of this book is that, although the boys mostly wanted to sit inside and play video games, it was the time they spent outside, being creative and doing something for Eamon’s grandparents that they liked the best.

And what did we learn?  What I take away from this book is that nature speaks to everyone in their own way.

Roller Coaster

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Written and Illustrated by Marla Frazee

Harcourt Books, 2003

All of these people are waiting in line for the roller coaster.

Previously Reviewed Books from this Author:  Boot & Shoe, Santa Claus: The World’s Number One Toy Expert

The story starts with a long line of people, waiting to ride the roller coaster.  Some are roller coaster fans, some have only ridden a few times and at least one (the little girl who is pretty much the subject of our story) has never ridden a roller coaster before.  The roller coaster is big and has a height requirement, which she passes.  When they get to the front of the line, the girl and her father, along with ten other people, board the roller coaster car and buckle in.  The train clicks up the hill and then dives and swoops, up and down, while everyone screams and laughs.  At the end of the ride, some people are dizzy and the little girl wants to ride again right away.

Author/illustrator Marla Frazee amazes with her ability to recreate all the emotions of a first roller coaster ride, including the nervousness that grows as you get closer to boarding, the ‘am I really going to do this?’ moment, the fear of the unknown as the ride starts and then that rush of adrenaline and excitement at the first big drop.  The illustrations, done in graphite and watercolor, are presented without background, which brings the ride itself into full focus.

Someone needs to tell the guy in the back that bubble gum is ill advised on a roller coaster.

Someone needs to tell the guy in the back that bubble gum is ill advised on a roller coaster.

The story works as a metaphor for life, with the differing levels of experience and reactions.  I love that the artwork includes a wide variety of people, from different age and racial groups.  One of my favorite surprises was the older couple, who seemed to enjoy the thrills even more than the two young men riding right behind them.  I like to think my husband and I, both huge coaster fans, will still be screaming on the big drops well into our twilight years.

And what did we learn?  What I take away from this book is that life has ups and downs and everyone experiences them differently.  It’s best to just hold on tight, bring someone you love and enjoy the ride.

Santa Claus: The World’s Number One Toy Expert

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Written and Illustrated by Marla Frazee

Harcourt, 2005

No one knows more about kids than Santa Claus.  He is the world’s number one kid expert.

The plot in a nutshell:  There are lots of reasons why Santa is so good at his job.  This book outlines some of them.

The idea that Santa reads to the cozy toys to make them better at being cozy is almost too adorable.

The idea that Santa reads to the cozy toys to make them better at being cozy is almost too adorable.

Santa Claus meets lots of children and as he listens to the ones who will sit on his lap, watches the ones who won’t and thinks of all the others that he doesn’t get to meet, he takes notes and considers them all.  He tries out all the toys to pick the best ones, even working to improve them when possible, and matches the right toy to the right child, based on all his research.  He loves his job. On Christmas morning, when the kids open all their toys, Santa has usually gotten it 99.9% right, which is pretty darn good.  Then he goes home to play with the toy he has picked out for himself, which is almost always the perfect toy.

There are lots of origin stories about Santa and plenty of stories about how he goes about his yearly run, but this is the first story I’ve read about how he feels about it all and it’s just adorable.  Author/illustrator Marla Frazee draws him, in black pencil and gouache, as an affable old guy with a great wardrobe (I love his pink star pajamas) and a super organized system. Instead of the usual workshop, complete with elves and assembly lines, we see Santa asleep at his computer, climbing on ladders to file his notes away and managing a truly impressive wall of wrapping paper.  Ms. Frazee makes Christmas even jollier by showing us a Santa who truly loves every part of his job.  And that bit about not being 100% correct?  Well, she even includes a lovely little touch on the back cover, where we see that the boy who wasn’t thrilled with his gift initially has learned to enjoy it, which is an awesome and very subtle reminder about appreciating what you have.

And what did we learn?  What I take away from this book is that, as the saying goes, find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.

Boot & Shoe

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Written and Illustrated by Marla Frazee

Beach Lane Book, 2012

Boot & Shoe were born into the same litter and now they live in the same house.

The plot in a nutshell:  Two dogs have their routine interrupted by a squirrel and it throws their lives into chaos

Boot is not entirely sure about this front porch thing.

Boot is not entirely sure about this front porch thing.

This very cute story had me in its palm from the minute that a mischievous squirrel “got all up in Boots’ business.”  These two littermate dogs share the basics – a food bowl, a bed and a peeing tree.  But during the day, they hang out on different porches.  Boot stays on the back porch, while Shoe is a front porch dweller.  So when this squirrel comes along and gets them all befuddled, they wind up on each other’s porches, lost and lonely.  It’s ultimately a story of friendship and love, with a happy ending that is sure to make you smile.

Author/illustrator Marla Frazee is a two-time Caldecott honor winner who has a wonderful way of conveying emotion from these two furry friends, especially considering that you can’t see their eyes for the fur fringe covering them.  I love that Ms. Frazee shows us the mad chase that follows the squirrel’s appearance by a huge picture with multiple dogs and squirrels, showing us the paths that all the animals took, around and over the house.  I just loved these two little dogs.  And if you’re confused about how to tell them apart, just look at their feet – they each have black markings that resemble either boots or shoes.  (Took me longer than it should have to figure that out!)

And what did we learn?  What I take away from this book is that you occasionally have to step off the beaten path to find what you’re looking for.