Archive for June, 2013

Module 4 Book Reviews–Realistic Fiction

Ivy and Bean by  Annie Barrows

Summary

 

This book centers around the life of 7 year old Bean.  When she sees the new girl, Ivy, across the street she just knows that they will never be friends.  One fateful day, that all changes.  Bean has an older sister whom she just loves to play pranks on and annoy.  When one of her tricks goes awry, Ivy jumps in to rescue her.  From then on out these two girls are inseparable.

Barrows, A.  (2006).  Ivy and Bean.  California:  Chronicle Books, LLC.

My impressions

 

I don’t think the plot is the most interesting of plots, but for the reading level and age appropriateness the plot is believable and pertinent.  The story is about two girls, Ivy and Bean.  Ivy has just moved into town and Bean seems to be the neighborhood troublemaker.  Together they get into mischief typical of young girls like dressing up like a witch, mixing potions and playing pranks on older siblings.  As soon as I started reading it I remembered being that young and had a moment of nostalgia thinking about my best friend and I.  We actually met in a similar fashion, I was the new girl in town and was very much like Ivy (right down to the curly red hair and witch costume!).

Reviews

Is it any good?

Making the jump from a short, early reader to a chapter book is a huge milestone for the beginning reader. IVY AND BEAN makes it easier with its large-print, easy-to-follow text, expressive illustrations — and, most importantly, two colorful 7-year-old girls. Reminiscent of the classic Beverly Cleary series about Ramona, here’s another book series about friendship, silliness, pranks, adventure, getting in trouble, and challenges with siblings, that’s a sure hit with kids.

So typical of real life, these girls, who are neighbors, are urged by their respective mothers to play together. Ivy appears quiet, dainty, dutiful; and Bean is wild, dirty, and full of sass. Not until they join forces against Bean’s older sister do they discover each other’s unique qualities. Ivy is actually studying to become a witch. Bean knows how to move through the neighborhood via backyards. Here’s to the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Gelman, P.  Review for Ivy and Bean.  Retrieved from

http://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/ivy-and-bean

Suggestions

 

This would be a great book to use for a book talk for grades 1-3, maybe including books such as Junie B. Jones and Ramona.  Going to classes might not be an option, so a mother/daughter book club might find all of these to be interesting reads.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

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Summary

Melinda Sordino is an outcast in her freshman year of high school. She doesn’t say much and at first readers are confused as to why she is in such a mood, refuses to talk to her mother and avoids friends.   Her best friend, Rachel, won’t talk to her and Melinda feels as if she has no one.   Going back and forth from the present to the past more and more details are revealed to let readers know what happened to her that made her close down and become silent.  Harsh teenage realities are brought to life in this painfully truthful novel.

Anderson, L.  (1999).  Speak.  New York:  Penguin Group.

My impressions

I was left speechless by the end of this book.  It was a page turner and I couldn’t put it down until I knew what had happened.  Anderson’s fast paced style made this book a quick read.  Her descriptions made it easy to remember what it was like to be a teen and I was able to connect with the main character.  The events and emotions that are associated with being a teen were accurate and I couldn’t help but feel like I was walking in Melinda’s shoes, a pair of shoes that no one should ever have to walk in.

Reviews

Just in time for the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week, Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak (FSG, 1999) is under attack once again. This time, Wesley Scroggins, an associate professor of management at Missouri State University, is cautioning parents of the Republic School District against what he refers to as “soft porn” books used in the curriculum, including Speak, which is about rape.

Scroggins’s op-ed piece in Missouri’s News-Leader has generated more than 300 comments on the newspaper’s website, is the topic of several blog posts, and prompted its own Twitter feed (#SpeakLoudly).

……….

Can you share an example of how Speak has made a difference in someone’s life?

I have heard from many survivors of sexual assault who told me that they didn’t dare tell anyone about being attacked. They held in the physical and emotional trauma, sometimes for decades. Often they turned to drugs, alcohol, or cutting to cope with the emotional pain. Then they read Speak. Melinda gave them the courage to speak up for the first time, to tell what happened, and to get the help they deserved. I have heard from even more people who were not raped, but who found a piece of themselves in Melinda. Her story strengthened them, too.

These are excerpts from a review to find the full article click the link below.

Staino, R.  (2010, October 13). Anderson’s Speak Under Attack Again (Review of Speak).  Retrived from

http://www.slj.com/2010/10/industry-news/andersons-speak-under-attack-again/

Suggestions

I like to do outreach at different locations.  This book would be a good one for a book discussion with a rape support group.  Speak would let women and men know they were not alone.  I believe that getting this information out is important and the more we can show a group like this that they have options and have even more support at the library the better.

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Module 3 Book Reviews

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Summary

Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book follows the life of a boy.  His family was murdered and he wandered out of the house arriving in the graveyard when he is 18 months old.  An old ghost couple, the Owens, decide to take the baby in and name him Nobody Owens, “Bod” for short.  They grant him free range of the graveyard, meaning that he can go through walls and tombstones and he is invisible to most humans in the graveyard.

As the book continues Bod grows older and we watch him meet new friends, some are human like Scarlett and some are ghosts like Liza.  Bod always seems to be getting into some sort of trouble weather it be the ghouls, the police or the man who murdered his family.  With the help of his friends Bod is able to escape and the reader gets to watch him learn through these experiences until he leaves the graveyard at the age of 15 with a suitcase, money and a head full of dreams.

Gaiman, N.  (2008).  The Graveyard Book.  New York:  Harper Collins.

My impressions

I had so many people recommend this book to me a few years ago.  I have never read a Neil Gaiman book, but all of my friends rave about him.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I like what I got.  I am a big fan of Tim Burton movies because of the gloom and darkness and this book had the same feel which drew me into this book.  I love to explore old graveyards and the creepiness presented in the book kept me turning the pages.  I liked that the reader gets to watch Bod grow over the years.  It was very easy to feel compassion for him and forgive the few mistakes and bad manners.  This was a great read and I will definitely recommend it to my patrons young and old.

Reviews

Raised by Ghosts

By MONICA EDINGER

Published: February 13, 2009

With best-selling books for adults and children — including “Coraline,” a brand-new animated movie — Neil Gaiman has carved out a passionate following in the world of fairy tale and fantasy. Now his latest novel for children, “The Graveyard Book,” has won a top literary honor as well: this year’s Newbery Medal for the most distinguished contribution to children’s literature. After the prize was announced last month, a debate ensued among teachers, librarians and critics about whether the selection of a popular author was a departure for the Newbery, one of the most prestigious prizes in children’s books — and, if so, whether it was a welcome one. Gaiman himself seemed surprised by the honor. “There are books that are best sellers and books that are winners,” he said in an interview with The New York Times.

But none of this will matter to readers — for “The Graveyard Book,” by turns exciting and witty, sinister and tender, shows Gaiman at the top of his form.

The story opens with a pretty terrifying situation: a man has slaughtered a family in the middle of the night, all save a toddler who escapes unnoticed, walking out the front door and away from the mayhem. (Parents may worry about the violence, but they shouldn’t. The action isn’t described, and the fourth-grade class I read the book to had no problem whatsoever.)

Up the hill trots the toddler, to a graveyard full of ghosts who take him in. The tone shifts elegantly from horror to suspense to domesticity, and by the end of the first chapter Gaiman has established the graveyard as the story’s center. Within its reassuringly locked gates, the boy finds a safe and cozy place to grow up. (Gaiman has said that “The Jungle Book” was one of his influences.)

Among the dead are teachers, workers, wealthy prigs, romantics, pragmatists and even a few children — a village ready to raise a living child. And they do, ably led by Silas, an enigmatic character who is not really one of them, being not quite dead and not quite living. In this moonlit place, the boy — who is given the name Nobody Owens, or Bod for short — has adventures, makes friends (not all of them dead), and begins to learn about his past and consider his future. Along the way, he encounters hideous ghouls, a witch, middle school bullies and an otherworldly fraternal order that holds the secret to his family’s murder. When he is 12 things change, and the novel’s momentum and tension pick up as he learns why he’s been in the graveyard all this time and what he needs to do to leave.

While “The Graveyard Book” will entertain people of all ages, it’s especially a tale for children. Gaiman’s remarkable cemetery is a place that children more than anyone would want to visit. They would certainly want to look for Silas in his chapel, maybe climb down (if they were as brave as Bod) to the oldest burial chamber, or (if they were as reckless) search for the ghoul gate. Children will appreciate Bod’s occasional mistakes and bad manners, and relish his good acts and eventual great ones. The story’s language and humor are sophisticated, but Gaiman respects his readers and trusts them to understand.

I read the last of “The Graveyard Book” to my class on a gloomy day. For close to an hour there were the sounds of only rain and story. In this novel of wonder, Neil Gaiman follows in the footsteps of long-ago storytellers, weaving a tale of unforgettable ­enchantment.

Monica Edinger is a teacher at the Dalton School in New York City.

Edinger, M.  (2009, February 13).  Raised by Ghosts (Review of The Graveyard Book).  Retrieved from

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/15/books/review/Edinger-t.html?_r=0

Suggestions

This would be a fun book to do an adult story time with, maybe near Halloween.  I might also read this book with our teen book club.   I always like doing a craft or related activity when we read a book.  For this book, we could decorate tombstones and have a contest with the wittiest sayings.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Summary

Miranda is a sixth grade girl in 1979whose mother is practicing to go on the game show $20,000 Pyramid.  The strange thing is that Miranda received a note days prior her mom’s acceptance.  The note told Miranda that her Mother should be expecting a postcard letting her know about her appearance.  Weird notes like this appear throughout the book, all of them telling Miranda about events that haven’t happened yet.  This book is part mystery (who is writing these notes?) and part coming of age (Miranda talks about her ex-best friend and how they fell out—by the end of the story she tries to make it right).

Stead, R.  (2009).  When You Reach Me.  New York:  Yearling.

My impressions

I always like a good mystery and time travel is one of those subjects that intrigue me.  This was a quick and easy read that I enjoyed very much.  It was fun to be in 1979 reliving things I had as a child.  A dream of mine was to be on $20,000 Pyramid (which I am sure most people would love to do), I was happy to recognize this show.

Reviews

Author: Rebecca Stead

Publisher: Random House

Age Range: Upper Primary – Adult

Awards: 2010 Newberry Medal Winner

Boston Globe-Hornbook Award for Fiction

2009 Indies Choice Award

ALA-ALSC Notable Children’s Book

CCBC Choices Book

Horn Book Magazine Book of the Year

School Library Journal Book of the Year

New York Times Notable Book

Themes: the complexities of friendships, self-identity, teenage years, bullying, fears, social structures, New York,  redemption, time, family, school

I’ve been asked on numerous occasions about books for children who are crossing that bridge from children’s literature to young adult literature.

It is such a tricky age for reading, but it is also the time to double efforts to engage them. Turning your child reader into a lifelong lover of books is one of the best gifts a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, teacher or librarian can give a child. You don’t always have control over this (or anything!) but you can but try and know you’ve done your best!

Every now and then I find books which fit this age and stage of reading perfectly and ‘When You Reach Me’ is one such book.

Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighbourhood. They know where it’s safe to go, like the local grocery store, and they know whom to avoid, like the crazy guy on the corner.

But as happens in life, things change. We grow up: grow away from childhood friends; make new ones and find out that life is far more complicated than we could ever have imagined.

For Miranda, life starts taking some very unexpected twists and turns. That is really ALL I can say without ruining this tale!

Confusing and perplexing…but also timeless, engaging and totally convincing. This book refuses to fit neatly into one genre and will challenge young readers to see that possibility of young adult books.

It is a clever, clever little book.

Daley, M.  Children’s Books Daily (Review of When You Reach Me).  Retrieved from

http://childrensbooksdaily.com/review-of-when-you-reach-me/

Suggestions

This is another great book for a younger book club.  There is a lot to talk about and explore such as friendship or time traveling.  A fun activity we could do with this discussion is to play $20,000 Pyramid, with answers that correlate to the book.

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Module 2 Book Reviews

Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg

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Summary

Ever hear the phrase “curiosity killed the cat?”  Well that is exactly what almost happened in this book by Chris Van Allsburg.  When Peter and Judy are left at home alone for the night, they quickly become bored.  Finding a game under a tree in the park they see a note that warns them to read the instructions; they take the game home anyway.

Once the children start playing the game they realize it isn’t like any other game they have played before.  The things described on the game board start occurring in their house, which is soon taken over by jungle animals including a lion, a stampede of rhinos, a giant python and some mischievous monkeys.  The only way to get rid of all the craziness is to continue playing the game until there is a winner.  Once Judy wins, the house is magically put back to normal.  The children quickly pack up the game and bring it back to where they found it, leaving it for the next unsuspecting victims.

Van Allsburg, C.  (1981).  Jumanji.  New York:  Houghton Mifflin Company.

My Impressions

I really enjoyed the illustrations and the plot of this book.  This was another one where I had seen the movie years earlier, so I had an idea what the book was about.  I find it amazing to see where the two formats intersect and where they differ.  I found it very hard to believe that this book was published in 1981.  The illustrations seemed very current, ahead of their time.

The combination of the text and the illustrations made this book an intriguing read.  Everything was in black-and-white, but Van Allsburg was able to capture the moods and the atmosphere using contrasting shades.   He made the characters and the book come alive using this technique.   I really loved these illustrations.

Reviews

By Elizabeth Bird

#50: Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg (1981)
27 points (4 votes, #7, #3, #2, #5)

Look no further than the cover artwork to witness Van Allsburg’s eerie, draftsman-like precision on full display. Jumanji (published in 1981) takes a story that could have turned out silly and crafts a hauntingly beautiful title through illustrations that speak volumes. – Travis Jonker

For those of you wondering where Mr. Van Allsburg has been hiding all this time, I can now tell you that he’s been lurking about the top of the list.  Now this is not going to be Van Allburg’s only appearance in the Top 50.  He has at least one other title coming up as well.  But it’s satisfying to see him make his appearance.  As a kid, Van Allsburg was one of my favorites.  I was always drawn to realistic illustrations.  I think I was probably most fond of his The Stranger, a book that to my mind doesn’t ever get enough attention.  And with this book, a Caldecott Medal winner, the man managed to combine realism with his customary insanity beautifully.

From my review: “Peter and Judy have been left home alone by their opera attending parents and boy are they boredy bored bored. After playing with their toys and making a mess they decide to take a run to the park. Once there, they discover an abandoned board game called Jumanji sitting beneath a tree. On a note taped to the bottom of the box read the words, ‘Free game, fun for some but not for all. P.S. Read instructions carefully.’ The kids don’t know what to expect but they take the game with them anyway. After reading the instructions they find that once a person begins Jumanji they cannot stop until someone has won the game. The first roll of the die leads to a space that reads, ‘Lion attacks, move back two spaces.’ Suddenly there’s a real live lion in the room, and it’s regarding Peter hungrily. The kids realize, to their horror, that whatever happens on the board happens in real life. If they want to finish the game (and remain alive) they’re going to have to continue.”

The film adaptation of Jumanji drilled home the fact that it is almost impossible to make a picture book into a decent full length motion picture.  Who was in that thing anyway?  I remember Robin Williams and Kirsten Dunst . . . wait a sec . . . Bonnie Hunt was in it?  Bebe Neuwirth?  Wow.

Unmemorable movie.  Memorable book.  You can read it here if you like.

Bird, E.  (2009, April 13).  Top 100 Picture Books (Review of Jumanji).  School Library Journal.  Retrieved from

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2009/04/13/top-100-picture-books-poll-results-50-46/

Suggestions

This book would definitely get a young child’s imagination working, but very young (beginner) readers would have a hard time with the text.  Older more experienced readers would not have a problem.  The use of the fantastically detailed pictures will help those younger readers understand what was going on.  For a library program that includes everyone, it would be fun to design our own board game as a group after we read the book together.  We could then play the game ourselves and open it up to other library patrons.  This activity would teach kids the importance of working together, not giving up until they are done and to enjoy themselves (all themes that are apparent in the book).

A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka

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Summary

This is a simple picture book that relies on the use of pictures to tell the story.  Daisy is a cute little dog who has a beloved red ball that she does everything with.  The ball is never very far from Daisy, that is, until she takes it to the park and a bigger dog gets a hold of it and destroys it.  Daisy is heartbroken and at a loss for what to do.  Her spirits are lifted when she returns to the park and that big dog and his owner have bought a new blue ball for Daisy!

Raschka, C.  (2011).  A Ball for Daisy.  New York:  Schwartz & Wade Books.

My Impressions

I read this book with my 9 year old son and we both thoroughly enjoyed it.  Raschka’s use of simple primary colors got our attention and Daisy was just adorable.  We couldn’t stop following her through the book.  We were just as heartbroken as Daisy was when her ball was popped.  Raschka did a great job using pictures to tell this story; we could really see the emotions that Daisy was going through.  It is amazing when an illustrator can do that without the use of words.  This was a very cute picture book that I would recommend to anyone but especially those who love dogs or has ever had a toy they love get destroyed.

Reviews

By Kathleen T. Horning

Winner: A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka; illus. by the author (Schwartz & Wade/Random)
Starred review in The Horn Book Magazine, September/October 2011
The wordless story begins on the title page, where we see a scruffy little black-and-white dog about to be given a big red ball. It’s clear from the start that Daisy loves her new toy. After playing with it inside, she cuddles up with the ball on the sofa and contentedly falls asleep. The real drama begins with a trip to the park, where Daisy and her little-girl owner play catch and have a moment of panic when the ball goes over a fence and has to be rescued. All goes well until another dog shows up, joins in the play, and pops the ball. It’s a long walk home with gloomy Daisy, and the subsequent nap on the couch is lonely. In fact, the two contrasting double-page spreads of Daisy napping, with the ball and without it, show the ingenious artistry of Raschka, who communicates so much emotion through her posture. Throughout, Raschka uses broad strokes of gray and black paint to outline the dog, and varies the line to echo her emotions: bold, sure lines when Daisy is happy; shaky, squiggly lines when she is upset. Background watercolor washes also reflect Daisy’s mood, going from bright yellows and greens to somber purples and browns. Raschka employs a series of horizontal frames to show sequential action, interspersed with occasional single paintings to show pivotal moments, such as the moment near the end of the book when Daisy gets a brand-new ball, this time a blue one, from the owner of the dog who destroyed her first one. It’s a satisfying conclusion to a story that is noteworthy for both its artistry and its child appeal. KATHLEEN T. HORNING

Horning, K.  (2011, September/October).  Reviews of the 2012 Caldecott Winners (Review of A Ball for Daisy).  Retrieved from

http://www.hbook.com/2012/01/choosing-books/reviews/reviews-of-the-2012-caldecott-winners/

Suggestions

 

This is a book that I would use in my preschool story time.  The younger children would love the colors, but I would be making up the dialog and describing the pictures.  The preschool story time children would be old enough to describe to me what was going on.  I always love to hear the children’s side of the story, so this would be a fun activity, to let them create.  During this story time we could also play a sharing game with a ball, maybe hot potato.

Another idea is to have our therapy dogs come visit during this activity.  Children can “read” the book to the dogs and then play catch in the back garden.

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Module 1 Book Reviews

Module 1

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett

 

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Summary

 

This children’s picture book starts out with an incident occurring at breakfast between a grandfather, his grandchildren and a pancake.  This incident spurs grandfather to tell the children a tall-tale at bedtime about a town called Chewandswallow.  This isn’t any ordinary town.  In this town no one needs to go to the grocery store or plan what they are cooking for dinner.  In this town, food falls from the sky every day.  That’s right!  Meatballs, donuts, and orange juice are falling right from the clouds.  The citizens of the town go outside at meal times with plates, bowls, forks and knives and collect their breakfast, lunch or dinner.  That is, until the weather starts to get a little wacky.

Barrett, J.  (1978).  Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.  New York:  Simon & Schuster.

My impressions

 

I really enjoyed reading this book.  I had never read it as a kid or to my own son.  We had seen the movie a few years ago, so I was semi-familiar with the story, or so I thought.  This book is actually told from a different perspective and is told as a tall-tale.  I read this book with one of my story time classes and they absolutely loved it.

I was very drawn in by the artwork.  The beginning and the end are in black ink (when it is just the grandfather and the grandchildren), but when talking about the town of Chewandswallow, color becomes a part of the illustrations.  Though this book was written in 1978, the illustrations were not outdated and neither was the story.   This was a fantastic read and I highly recommend everyone read it.

Reviews

By Elizabeth Bird

#75 Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett, illustrated by Ron Barrett (1978)
26 points

A childhood favorite.  My mother used to come and read this book to my classes when I was young.  I remember dreaming of food falling from the sky, though never so much it destroyed the town.  Whimsical storytelling and fantastic drawings. – Sharon Thackston

Aside from The Giant Jam Sandwich there’s really only one other iconic gigantic food book that comes immediately to mind.  I rediscovered this book in my old age, and was delighted to find that it really does stand up to scrutiny.  Sadly, I found that it is not the best readaloud for large groups, but in spite of that it’s a fine tale of the best and worst aspects of sky-related foodstuffs.

The publisher description of the plot reads, “The tiny town of Chewandswallow was very much like any other tiny town except for its weather which came three times a day, at breakfast, lunch and dinner. But it never rained rain and it never snowed snow and it never blew just wind. It rained things like soup and juice. It snowed things like mashed potatoes. And sometimes the wind blew in storms of hamburgers. Life for the townspeople was delicious until the weather took a turn for the worse. The food got larger and larger and so did the portions. Chewandswallow was plagues by damaging floods and storms of huge food. The town was a mess and the people feared for their lives. Something had to be done, and in a hurry.”

Think it’s all fun and games?  Think again.  Bottom Shelf Books revealed what is undoubtedly the strangest picture in the book.  One that I’m pretty sure most of us have missed for years.  Mind you, there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for it.

Of course Cloudy was not without its sequel.  I don’t know many people who would claim to know Pickles to Pittsburgh particularly well.  Except possibly the Pittsburgh librarians out there.  So let’s hear it, Pittsburghians.  Do you know this book?  Do you read it regularly?  Cause as far as I can determine it is the ONLY picture book out there with the word “Pittsburgh” loud and proud on its cover (please prove me wrong, somebody).

Remember the film?  That happened. It made money too so one naturally wonders if a Pickles sequel might already be in the works . . .

Bird, E.  (2012, May 21).  Top 100 Picture Books (Review of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs).  School Library Journal.  Retrieved from

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2012/05/21/top-100-picture-books-75-cloudy-with-a-chance-of-meatballs-by-judi-barrett-illustrated-by-ron-barrett/

Suggestions

When I did this book for my story time group, they really loved it.  We did a craft where the kids got to draw their own town and then we glued giant paper cut outs of food onto their town.  I have been brainstorming what else we could do and have decided that next year when we are doing our science themed summer reading program, we are going to have outside weather experiments.   After the experiments we will have a giant food fight.  Each child that participates is responsible for bringing one item of food that can be used for the event.

George and Martha by James Marshall

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Summary

George and Martha is a collection of very short picture book stories.  The stories are about two hippos, one named George and the other Martha.  They are the best of friends and have many adventures together.  One of the stories in this particular book was called “The Tub.”  In this adventure Martha is taking a bath, when who she be caught peeping in on her….George.  Martha firmly tells George that they are friends, but even friends have boundaries and looking through the window was not okay.  Other incidents occur between the two friends, each ending with a lesson to be learned about being a good friend.

Marshall, J.  (1972).  George and Martha.  New York:  Houghton Mifflin Company.

My impressions

I thought this was a great book to teach kids about friendship.  The stories were short and catchy and quite funny.  The story about the tub had me laughing aloud, I was totally not expecting George to be a peeper.  It is a good way to teach children about personal boundaries but with some humor mixed in.  All of the stories were situations that children and adults have been in or will be in.  I appreciated the lessons that were meant to be taught.  They were a good stepping stone to discuss the issue further.

The text was simple enough and short enough for emergent readers to read and practice with.  The illustrations were some of my favorite.  I adore James Marshall as an illustrator and am very attracted to his work.  I think it is because it reminds me of being a kid and reading his books.  I think the stories and the illustrations held up over time and are still relevant today.

Reviews

By Elizabeth Bird

#48 George and Martha by James Marshall (1972)
38 points

I know this is a Marshall-heavy list, but it’s not my fault that he is the greatest thing to ever happen to picture books. – Shannon Ozimy

I didn’t read George & Martha until I became a librarian, but it was irreverent love at first sight. – Jessalynn Gale

Though recently republished as Easy Books for the early reader market George and Martha was originally published in a picture book format.  Though they’d be shoo-ins for the Geisel Award if they were originally released today, they stand on their own.  Witty.  Urbane.  They are the true predecessors to characters like Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggy or James Howe’s Houndsley and Catina.

The plot description, such as it is, from the publisher reads: “Two lovable hippos teach the meaning of friendship in five separate vignettes: ‘Split Pea Soup,’ ‘The Flying Machine,’ ‘The Tub,’ ‘The Mirror,’ ‘The Tooth’.”

Maurice Sendak wrote the Introduction to the collection George and Martha: The Complete Stories of Two Best Friends.  As is right.  You may read it here if you like.  In it, Sendak says of the man, “With his first George and Martha book, James was already entirely himself.  He lacked only one component in his constellation of gifts: he was uncommercial to a fault.  No shticking, no nudging knowingly, no winking or pandering to the grown-ups at the expense of the kids.  He paid the price of being maddeningly underestimated – of being dubbed ‘zany’ (an adjective that drove him to murderous rage).  And worse, as I saw it, he was dismissed as the artist who could do – should or might do – worthier work if he would only dig deeper and harder.  The comic note, the delicate riff were deemed, finally, insufficient.”

No Caldecotts for him.  Mind you, this is not to say ALA never honored him.  In 2007 he received the posthumous honor (he died in 1992) of the Wilder Award, given under the auspices of Chair and Horn Book editor Roger Sutton.  The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, “honors an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children.”  Said Roger in honor of James, “Marshall conveyed a world of emotion with the placement of a dot or the wrinkle of a line.  In both his drawings and impeccably succinct texts, he displayed a comic genius infused with wit and kindness.”

That kindness was key.  It is one thing to put pen to paper, and another entirely to create whole words out of almost nothing.  And looking again at Sendak’s words regarding Marshall’s style, “The simplicity is deceiving; there is richness of design and mastery of composition on every page.  No surprising, since James was a notorious perfectionist and endlessly redrew those ’simple’ pictures.”

The saddest and most touching tribute to Mr. Marshall for me was this one from Jaime Temairik, “Yes, most everybody loves James Marshall. But do you have nightmares about him being your real dad and only finding out about that fact after he’s died? And I have the same nightmare about Jim Henson and wake up in tears. Anyone?”

There was a lovely Arnold Lobel exhibit at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art last year called Seeking a State of Grace: The Art of Arnold Lobel.  Within that exhibit there was a case, and inside that case was a little birthday book that James Marshall had made for Arnold Lobel’s birthday one year.  The only page visible showed George and Martha involved in a debate over whether or not to go to Arnold’s party.  I believe that the fact that he lived in Brooklyn was being considered as a possible deterrent to the trip.  A pity that little book not available somewhere.  Ah well.

Finally Publishers Weekly said of the books, “The secret of Mr. Marshall’s success lies not just in the freshness of his sense of the ridiculous, but in the carefulness of his control and editorial judgment.”

The man is missed while his books live on.

Bird, E.  (2012, May 29).  Top 100 Picture Books (Review of George and Martha).  School Library Journal.  Retrieved from

http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2012/05/29/top-100-picture-books-48-george-and-martha-by-james-marshall/

Suggestions

This is definitely a book I could use in story time or while doing outreach.  It gives the kids and I something to talk about.  Since all the stories are about friendship, we might make friendship necklaces and bracelets.

Another idea is to use this book with our reluctant readers and our therapy dogs.  This is an easy read and would definitely keep them laughing and encouraging them to continue.

This book would also be good to act out.  You only need two people to act and this would be a fun activity to perform.  If a second person could not be found, a puppet show would always work as well.  There are two really nice hippo puppets at www.folkmanis.com (which is my favorite place to order puppets).

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