Monday, June 28, 2010


It's beautiful summertime, what could be better than a day in the country? Here's a book that will take you there.
I don't know why, why, why BEACH didn't win one of the most major awards the year it came out in 2006, I suppose I just have to file that one under "s" for "shrug" or "w" for "what the heck more could they want?" or possibly "what-evah," but luckily the voice of this quick-sketching artist has not been quieted.   In these latest pages is a grace as deep as the roots of striving plants, as high as cirrus clouds. 
"The girl picks more corm for dinner...When she shucks the ears of corn, they squeak."
"Even the clouds seem to make noise as they bump across the sky."
"On the farm, even when it's dark, some animal is always awake."
"The rows look like wet hair just after it has been combed."
"...the fields change from the color of milk chocolate to the color of dark chocolate."
"The girl reads on the swing, until the sun finds her under a tree."
Beach"Birds whirl behind the chaff, eating insects."
"Kernels rattle against the silo's metal sides like someone typing very loud and fast."
"September shows that some things are not forever."
Beaver Is LostBeeguI am always bothering children to make active use of the area on the piece of paper in front of them, as more self-conscious young artists who compare their emerging abilities to others often have trouble giving themselves permission to use a whole page, or try to hide shortcomings in the smallest of figures and objects.  But Cooper offers a new example, doing something very strange and almost provocative with his art by making the pictures small, as if at a distance, creating in the reader the feeling of approaching what is depicted instead of having arrived, inspiring both longing and anticipation. Horizontal layouts add to the sweep of the spreads, and rightly puts into perspective the busy  people's doings against nature's backdrop of sky and land.  The pictures keep us afar, but the words, personal and confiding like one who knows and is sharing, these draw us close, close enough to smell the barnyard, to hear the clatter of the cowbell, but not close enough to pet the dog.  Cooper has decided where we stand.  That is some powerful brush.  (5 and up)  If (when) you enjoy this author's books, also be sure to let children read the pictures of his brand new wordless book, BEAVER IS LOST (Schwartz & Wade, 2010) , an exciting linear narrative about a little beaver who takes a wrong turn on the Mississippi and wanders into the environs of Chicago (very refreshing to see a city besides New York in a children's book, thank you very much).  After being chased by a dog, taking a splash alongside the paddleboats of Lincoln Park, and following a street-smart mouse along the skyline, Beaver's determined direction from the west end of the spreads to the east never relents, and finishes with a comforting return to family after a day of being misplaced and misunderstood that brings to mind Alexis Deacons' great BEEGU.  (4 and up)

Also of interest:
More picks for our countrified reading picnic.

The Story of Ferdinand (Puffin Storytime)OTIS by Loren Long(Philomel, 2009)  A friendly little red tractor is the companion and comfort for a skittish new calf, but out with the old and in with the new, a snazzy new yellow model seems to do a better least, until the pretty little bovine is dramatically caught and sinking into Mud Pond. Endearing illustrations in largely sepia tones with splashes of tractor-paint color have a sentimental, vintage quality, and begs for animation like stills of an old-school Disney classic. Illustrations of the admiring little calf copying the tractor's front-wheel "handstand" and standing in the middle of a game of ring-around-the-rosy with some energetic ducks are so achingly dear, it's hard to not want to give this to every young child you know, if only to say, look how good the world can be! Long, who recently revisited THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD with new illustration, continues to make use of classic book influences.  Breezes of the spirit of Robert McCloskey (MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS, LENTIL) blow gently here in an old-fashioned sense of small-town community gathering to solve a problem, as well as cooperation between people and animals. To say this is a loving nod to Munro Leaf's FERDINAND, the peace-loving bull, is an understatement; more like a prequel (is the calf a young Ferdinand?), and likewise, has a gentle message: in the name of progress, careful not to discard the good of what has come before.  Something to sit under the apple tree and think about.  (4 and up)

Our Farm: By the Animals of Farm SanctuaryOUR FARM:  BY THE ANIMALS OF FARM SANCTUARY by Maya Gottfried, illustrated by Robert Rahway Zakanitch (Knopf, 2010)  This collection of beautiful poems have  bylines by livestock, and show the world as seen through their eyes.  Hear the prayer of gratitude from a sheep, the haiku of a nervous rabbit, get a rather up close and personal introduction to two peckish goats ("Yummy pants leg. / Can I try some? / I'd like to nibble on your sleeve. / Nice shoes, do they taste good? / Nice to meet / chew.") twirl with the turkeys ("See out magnificent/dance/in/the/grass. / We are so graceful, /like/a/ballet/class")  and read a short autobiography of a pig who is convinced she is a flower, and might convince readers, too.  The artwork is a stand-out, with handsome, colorful animal portraits in watercolor paint and complimentary sketches in pencil and pen.  Each poem was inspired by farm friends that really lived.  What an inspiration for young writers to take on the voices and observations of animals around them! Or break out your favorite Folkmanis puppets and have a poetry reading.  (Have you seen the bristly new piggy puppet?  It's very nice.)  Good cheer and an appreciation of nature cluck, baa and moo on every page.  (5 and up)

Mary Was a Little LambMARY WAS A LITTLE LAMB by Gloria and Ted Rand (Holt, 2004) Poor little lost lamb on Cranberry island! Luckily, bleeding heart Mrs. Paradise answers her bleats and brings her home, where she is cared for very well. Mary's inquisitive nature leads her beyond the garden fence, into the backyards and schoolyards of neighbors where she creates a nuisance. When Mary shows no interest in returning to her feral flock, the community must come together to figure out what to do. Based on a true story of a lamb on Decatur Island in Washington State, this is a picture book of special warmth. I just love the illustration of Mrs. Paradise maneuvering her bike with the little lamb under one arm, and the expressions of pleasure on the friends as they gather to see their mascot in her new home. You, too, will care what becomes of Mary! Pair with Sarah Josepha Hale's original poem, "Mary Had a Little Lamb" (I like the version illustrated by Salley Mavor, I don't care if it's out-of-print).   (5 and up)

Higgledy-Piggledy Chicks
HIGGLEDY-PIGGLEDY CHICKS by Barbara Joose, illustrated by Rick Chrustowski (Greenwillow, 2010)  "Banty Hen lays seven perfect eggs.  The Aunties fuss over each one.  Bucka-buk!  Bucka-buk!"  Banty's feathery brood is her heart's delight, but what a lot of mischief seven little chicks can find on the farm!  Cleverly, the illustrator includes a tail or paw to foreshadow the threats to  the curious little peepers, but mother is never too far to rescue them from danger. A perfect bedtime or storytime read-aloud, full of sound effects for participation, paired with a thoughtful and elegant vocabulary, combining to create quite a fine preschool pick.  Sure to appeal to fans of Nancy Tafuri, Jane Simmons' COME ALONG, DAISY! and for some really superior poultry suspense, be sure to add Erica Silverman's tale of competition gone a-fowl in DON'T FIDGET A FEATHER! Or perhaps a little George Orwell for the preschool set in Martin Waddell and Helen Oxenbury's FARMER DUCK?
Have You Seen My Duckling?

The farm is always great fodder for classic and beloved children's books (from the oldie but restful-ie resissue of BIG RED BARN by Margaret Wise Brown, to more recent examples, like Denise Fleming's BARNYARD BANTER and Doreen Cronin's CLICK, CLACK, MOO:  COWS THAT TYPE, Jerdine Nolen's glorious fantasy HARVEY POTTER'S BALLOON FARM and Aaron Reynolds' always hilarious CHICKS AND SALSA).  It's sad to see some lovely barnyard books have gone out of print:  THE REAL TRUE DULCIE CAMPBELL by Cynthia DeFelice, Suzanne Tanner Chitwood's WAKE UP, BIG BARN!, and Marie Bradby's ONCE UPON A FARM.  Luckily, the best of seasons past are still well-preserved at the library. Bet you could name a few favorites. Aren't we lucky to have such a bounty?
Harvey Potter's Balloon FarmDont Fidget A FeatherChicks and Salsa (Book and Audio CD) (Paperback)

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