Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Pigeon!

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus is another favorite among my students.  They absolutely love to shout no to the pigeon when he’s begging to drive the bus.  What makes this book so funny and entertaining for kids? The pictures are definitely a huge part of it.  Somehow the simplicity of the pigeon is immediately relatable to the students.  The simple lines, with the extremely expressive eye and wings, give the pigeon emotion and complete relatability.   Then there is of course, the two-page spread where the pigeon absolutely loses it.  Children love this page.  They giggle and giggle and giggle because they completely relate.  The pigeon is not getting what he wants and it’s just NOT FAIR.

The simplicity of the pictures somehow gives added power to the speech bubbles that make up the story’s text.  A number of students in my class complained that these pictures were too simplistic and not very impressive.  I would argue that it is the very simplicity of the pictures that makes them so very powerful.  The pigeon is absolutely relatable to the students. For me, the text of this book is told in very simplistic, childlike language.  The pigeon is bargaining – repeating words like please and why not and I’ll be … Therefore, for me, it is very natural that the pictures would be simplistic as well.  The simplistic lines of the illustrations match the simplistic wording of the text. 

The pigeon is drawn much like a child would draw him or herself, as a simple line drawing, not quite a stick figure, but pretty close.  The words are exactly as a child would say them – “I’ll be good.”  The bargaining has begun.  For me, the text and pictures work seamlessly together, to create a story infinitely reasonable to all children who have been in that position – trying to convince the adults in their lives that their request is a reasonable one and that they deserve for it to be granted.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

If You Give...

I love this entire series of books by Laura Joffe Numeroff.  They are fabulous books for teaching cause and effect as well as circular storytelling.  The pictures themselves are fun for kids, as in If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, when they detail the utter chaos the boy creates in responding to each of the mouse’s demands.  Then, of course, just as the boy has finished cleaning up the chaos, it all begins again, with the mouse’s request for a glass of milk (and by extension, a cookie to go with it). 

This book is wonderful in its predictability, though it is not always predictable in the ways that we expect.  For example, the boy stares in the mirror, decides to give himself a trim, after trimming, wants a broom to sweep with, then a mop for cleaning, then wants to take a nap, but needs a bedtime story that leads him to request some crayons so that he can draw a picture.  As each request is delivered, we understand and find the request to be a natural one, though we didn’t necessarily anticipate that particular request at the time.  It is only at the end, as he arrives at the refrigerator to post his picture, that we can anticipate what the next request will be – milk! 

There are any number of fun extension activities that can be done with this book, particularly around cause and effect.  I don’t just mean cause and effect in the text, but also within the pictures.  The request for a straw leads to a mess that we can see spilling out onto the page.  The request for a broom leads to dust clouds in every room and the request for a mop leads to suds across the floor. It’s chaos unending and it is quite enjoyable for students to analyze and talk about.

While the text indicates what the mouse is requesting, it is only through the illustrations that we understand the results of these requests. Similarly, without the text, we would not know what the boy’s motivation was, nor would we understand that the mouse was the driving force behind all of the boy’s actions.  Without the text, we would have only half the story. 

In essence, the text and the pictures work together to tell the complete story.  The text complements the pictures and the pictures complement the text.  Without both working together, we would have an incomplete story at best. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013


I had never actually read the story Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg.  It is hard to read it now, as an adult, without picturing the movie starring Robin Williams and Bonnie Hunt.  I read this book and immediately wanted to go watch the movie again.  I find the story itself to be absolutely charming.  The concept that a board game can affect reality is quite appealing.  Though the book is more simplistic than the movie, I was quite impressed to realize how true to the book the movie had remained.  I also found it impressive that the creators of the movie managed to expand what is arguably, a quite short story, into a full feature-length movie, without losing the feel of the book.  I absolutely love the fact that Judy and Peter are still the stars of the movie, and that the guide they release in the book turns out to be Robin Williams character in the movie.  Truly the movie did a superb job of transforming the book into live-action.  The characters in the movie are dressed much as they were dressed in the book and the set resembles the Van Allsburgs illustrations as well.  Fans of Jumanji, the picture book, must have been thrilled to experience it as a movie.

Jumanji won the Caldecott award for its black and white charcoal pencil drawings.  The drawings show an immense amount of detail, to an extraordinary degree at some points.  For example, the drawing of Peter and Judy facing the adults at the end of the story is incredible.  Judys hair is finely drawn, each individual strand rendered in exquisite detail.  Similarly, her brother, Peters hair is carefully drawn, as is the expression on his face. In fact, I think the profile of Peter is incredibly well done.  The smile on his face, the shaggy cut, the look in his eyes all of these combine to make an amazingly realistic portrayal of a young child looking up toward his older sister.  By contrast, the adults in this picture are featured from their necks down, with very little detail drawn.  They are very much in the background, while the children remain the focus of this picture.  It is an incredibly powerful rendering because ironically, the children stand with their backs to the reader, while the adults face the reader.  And yet, the children are the ones our eyes are drawn to, while the adults remain a faded background to the childrens vibrancy.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Good Night, Moon

Personally, Good Night Moon by Margaret Wise Brown has never been a favorite of mine.  I am not fond of the transition between the color pictures and the black and white ones, particularly as the transition never made sense to me.  At first, I thought the color pictures represented what was real and the black and white ones what was not real (i.e., the pictures hung on the walls).  However, this pattern was broken immediately with the second black and white set of illustrations. 

I also did not like how the original picture changed.  There was no old lady in the rocker originally and then there was.  This bothered me as a child.  While I understood the old lady was capable of moving and had obviously sat down in the rocker, I wondered where she had been originally, why she hadnt been seated in the rocker to start with, or standing next to the bed.  Why did she suddenly appear out of nowhere?  This was unacceptable to me.  She should have been somewhere!  I remember, as a child, flipping back and forth from the first pages to the later ones, trying to find where she would have been.  She just wasnt there.  And then she was.  It just didnt make sense to me and that pretty much ruined the book for me.

In addition, even as a child, I had a strong sense that a book should tell a story.  To me, this book excelled at telling me nothing.  It was a book about nothing.  About saying good night.  I did that every night and I wasnt much interested in reading about the process of saying goodnight, even if it was said to all the inanimate objects in the room.  I found it uninteresting in the extreme. 

For me, this book has always been the book you read to infants and to extremely young children before they are able to express their desire for a real story, and frankly, for real illustrations.  This was a book of the same illustration, over and over again.  The bunny moves in tiny ways, as do the cats and the mouse, but otherwise, everything is the same.  Except the old lady disappeared again!  From one frame to the next.  I didnt like that.  It might be realistic, but it annoyed me.  She had the ability to just disappear and we were not shown that.  Where was the love between the mama / grandmama / nanny rabbit and the child?  Where was the goodnight kiss?  Where was the picture of the old lady leaning over the child in tenderness at the end of the night?  I didnt like the appearing and disappearing old lady who only ever said, hush.  There was so much wrong with this story that when I re-read it as an adult for this class, I had the same, exact, visceral reaction as a child I immediately began cataloging its failings.  I am left to question why so many people love this story, when for me, it is (as my middle school students would say) an epic fail.

Saturday, April 6, 2013