Friday, July 14, 2017

Paging Through Picture Books: I Know a Lady (1984), The Twelve Dancing Princesses (1990), If Not for the Cat (2004), Planting the Trees of Kenya (2008)

Here's another set of picture books selected to fulfill these categories in the Picture Book Reading Challenge: #25 free choice (I Know a Lady), #35 a fairy tale (The Twelve Dancing Princesses), #49 a book published in the 2000s (If Not for the Cat), #64 a picture book biography (Planting the Trees of Kenya).

I Know a Lady by Charlotte Zolotow, illustrated by James Stevenson

I often associate James Stevenson with those wacky books about Grandpa and Uncle Wainey, so it was a surprise to see his softer side come out in his pictures for this Charlotte Zolotow book. The text describes a figure many children can recognize from their own neighborhoods: an old lady who lives alone and interacts with kids in various ways over the course of a year's holidays and celebrations. The text is spare, but the overall story is a poignant portrait of an inter-generational friendship that has made a strong impact on the young narrator. I'm not certain that kids can appreciate this book as well as adults, but I really loved it.

The Twelve Dancing Princesses by Ruth Sanderson

I have never been much of a fairy tale reader, but Miss Muffet (3 years, 7 months) and I have both fallen in love with this picture book. For me, it's really the story that is intriguing. I like the element of mystery (why are the princesses' shoes worn out every morning?) and the fact that the underdog (Michael, the garden boy) becomes the hero. For Miss Muffet, I really think it's more about the illustrations, as she asks different questions each time we read it, and she seems completely engrossed by the pictures on each re-reading.

If Not for the Cat by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Ted Rand 

If Not for the Cat is a book I discovered on Instagram, where a fellow Catholic mom and book lover said she thought my three-year-old might like it. It's a collection of haiku, each poem of which describes a specific animal depicted in the accompanying illustration. Miss Muffet did indeed enjoy naming each animal after I read the haiku, and she actually knew almost all of them, despite the fact that the poems don't name their subjects. I thought the descriptions of each animal were wonderfully well-done, and I liked seeing a more serious side to the work of the often silly Prelutsky.

Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai by Claire A. Nivola

My husband borrowed a few books illustrated by Claire Nivola from the library, and I liked the way they looked and read them as well. This is one of many picture book biographies of Wangari Maathai, who was a popular subject for early elementary school book reports when I was working in the library, but I found it more memorable and more beautifully illustrated than many of the others. I like the small details in Nivola's pictures and the fact that most of them are sweeping two-page spreads focused on a big picture, instead of on one small aspect of her subject. The text is straightforward and strictly factual, but there is a bit of playfulness and creative storytelling in the pictures that I enjoyed very much.

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