Monday, March 09, 2015

What I’m Reading Now: WHY, WHAT, and HOW of a Picture Book Study

My ReFoReMo Resources and Booklist: 
The First 10--

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, during the month of March, I’m participating with over 200 other writers/readers in ReFoReMo (Reading For Research Month). At the hosting site, blogger/author, Carrie Charley Brown, has a slew of guest bloggers with long lists of paperback book suggestions. Each day has been filled with wonderful insight and information!

But as of yesterday, Carrie challenged the participants to read at least five new picture books a day. Perfect timing! Like most writers, I need another reason to give my loved ones for why I spend hours away from them, squirreled away in corners of libraries with piles of books surrounding me. (Besides the fact that I am a book hoarder.)

Every few days, I plan to share the books that I’m reading and give some insight into WHY I chose these picture books, WHAT I found most interesting about them and HOW I think others (writers/teachers/readers) might use these books as mentor text.

The books listed here are in no specific order, but I am going to use keywords to help connect them to others throughout the month. (Theme, genre, plot, etc.)

1.  WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN by Jodie Moore. Illustrated by Howard McWilliam. 2011/Flashlight Press. 
(Picture Book/Fiction-Fantasy/2nd POV/Responsibility for Actions)

WHY: Dragons. Simple. I like books about dragons. There just aren’t enough picture books about dragons either!

WHAT: One of the best things about this book is how the author invites the reader to become a part of this story, being a “partner in crime” with the boy (pictured) as he explains what is so great about having a friendship with a dragon. The twist near the middle of the book is fantastic!

HOW: This would be a great book to look at the TWO different, yet parallel story lines. In the first half of the book, it is the boy and the dragon and their adventures; in the second half of the book, the reader is clued into the fact that the dragon may not actually exist--
This text is a great mentor text to have around if, as a writer, you are looking at ways to express the feelings of a character without “telling” everything.

2. POLAR BEAR NIGHT by Lauren Thompson. Illustrations by Stephen Savage. 2004/Scholastic Press (Picture Book/Fiction/Nighttime-Sleeplessness-Arctic Life)

WHY: This picture book is compact in size, which makes me wonder if it was chosen purposefully to reflect the diminutive size of the MC, little Polar Bear.

WHAT: Stephen Savage has used color to reflect the mood that Lauren Thompson creates in her minimal word choices. This is a book about quiet, night, and peacefulness. It is not a loud book with clapping monkeys!

HOW: I liked analzying the sentence length and word choice in this book to look at how selective Lauren was in efforts to convey enough, but not overload the senses. By taking the text out of the images, students/writers can also create mock “blocks” of text to experiment with how the pacing of the story would be different.

1997 This is a stunning Willy book with spectacular, surreal paintings - by one of the most acclaimed of all picture book artists. Willy loves to dream. He dreams that he's a film star, a sumo wrestler, a ballet dancer, a painter, an explorer, a famous writer, a scuba diver...Sometimes he dreams that he can't run but he can fly. He dreams he's a giant or he's tiny, a beggar or a king, in a strange landscape or all at sea. He dreams of fierce monsters and super heroes, of the past and, sometimes, the future. Willy's dreamland is a gallery of amazing and magical pictures, each one magnificently executed and packed with bananas and slyly surreal details that cannot fail to intrigue and delight. The pictures pay homage to famous paintings by the likes of Dali, Magritte and Henri Rousseau, as well as film and book characters and much more.  2000 Hugely entertaining and informative - this is a unique art history lesson given by internationally acclaimed children's book illustrator. Willy's pictures look like great works of art, but not quite...for Willy has added himself and his friends to famous paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Vermeer, Manet and many more. Delight in his dazzling portfolio then open the fold-out pages to see the original pictures and learn about the artists who painted them. As Willy knows, every picture tells a story...  2004 An atmospheric exploration of a child's anxiety. One night a boy is woken by a terrible sound. A storm is breaking, lightning flashing across the sky. In the morning Dad is gone and Mum doesn't seem to know when he'll be back. The next day Mum asks her son to take a cake to his sick grandma. "Don't go into the forest," she warns. "Go the long way round." But, for the first time, the boy chooses to take the path into the forest, where he meets a variety of fairy tale characters and discovers the fate of his father.
3WILLY’S PICTURES by Anthony Browne 2000/Candlewick  
5. INTO THE FOREST by Anthony Browne 2004/Candlewick
(Picture Books/Fiction-Fantasy/3rd POV/Art-Fables-Fairy Tales-Dreams-family)

WHY: Anthony’s artwork instantly reminds me of Maurice Sendak, Chris Van Allsburg and David Wiesner’s. I’m amazed how much detail he puts into each page!

WHAT: Similar to the other illustrator/author’s I mentioned, Anthony’s layers of images are like “search and find” pages. Especially in INTO THE FOREST--The story is a twist on Little Red Riding Hood, but throughout the MC’s trip through the woods, he encounters other fairy tales. Anthony hints at these in the art work while carrying the main story of looking and longing for a missing father throughout.

HOW: WILLY’S PICTURES/WILLY’S DREAM could both be used to introduce a variety of art styles and conversations with students on aesthetics and interpretation. Whereas, I found INTO THE FOREST most interesting in storyline. As a writer, INTO THE FOREST is a great example of fracturing a fairytale.

6. A BIRTHDAY FOR BEAR by Bonny Becker Illustrated by Kady McDonald Denton 2009/Candlewick Press (Chapter Book/Fiction/3rd POV/Companions-Friendship-Birthdays)

WHY: I had to break the rules and pick up a easy-reader chapter book. The format of the easy-reader chapter books baffles me and I wanted to have at least one in mind to compare as I continued reading picture books this month.

WHAT: I LOVED this story! Like LITTLE ELLIOT (described below), this story is an a-typical story between unlikely friends. Bear is a grump, but also has the appealing quality of being a hard worker. Mouse is more relaxed, and obviously loves his friend. These characters are easy to fall in love with and I would revisit them in other adventures.

HOW: As a writer, this is a great place to start to look at the set-up of a beginner chapter book. The difference between the chapters is clear and evident. The plot is simple to follow and has predictability (which I’ve found most children love in read-a-louds!)

(Picture Book/Fiction/3rd POV/Companions-Friendship-Size)

WHY: Mike Curato’s Little Elliot books are hot right now! His images are winning awards and cute, little Elliot beckons the reader to take a look.

WHAT: I love how Mike develops the unlikely friendship between mouse and Elliot. To be honest, I wasn’t thinking about how traditionally mice and elephants are not friends. The story takes you past these types of stereotypical characterizations.

HOW: When I use picture books with my junior high students, characterization is a large part of our opening discussions. The Little Elliot books put elephants in a new light. Elliot is SMALL. I would start there: How can changing the concepts of what we expect about a character affect the rest of the story?

The Swamp Where Gator Hides

(Picture Book/Non-fiction/3rd POV/Swamp life-Science Biomes-Animal Habitats)

WHY: It’s NONFICTION! And it has the “House that Jack Built” structure, which I find appealing. It’s easy for children to follow, predict and at the same time, build their knowledge of various details of swamp life.

WHAT: I really loved how the end of this book was set up. Like most nonfiction books, at the end, there are fact boxes or blocks of various information connected to the main text. In many ways, this particular book set pulled information for not only the expected animals focused on in the story, but also other small details. (Which led me back to the text to see how the illustrations and story incorporated these!--Re-Readabilty that Susanna Leonard Hill shared with us during ReFoReMo!)

HOW: Besides the obvious science (STEM) connections, I found this book to be a wonderful mentor/writing text for the reasons I stated above. I will be going back to look at this one again!

9. FOSSIL by Bill Thomson 2013/Two Lions
(Wordless Picture Book/Fiction-Fantasy/Fossils-Science-Anthropology)

WHY: Bill Thomson’s illustrations drew me in. I’m a huge fan of David Wiesner, and Bill’s style is reminiscent of David’s.

WHAT: I didn’t expect the fantasy element in this book. From the front cover, I anticipated the anthropology backdrop but as the story progressed, I found myself creating the narrative even possibly more dramatic than Bill envisioned.

HOW: Wordless picture books offer many opportunities to develop those budding writers. As a children’s writer, I find it challenging to try to recreate the pitch for this book. There is an obvious story arc and the mood is clearly defined in the expressions of both the boy and the dog characters.


10. GREEN by Laura Vaccaro Seeger . 2012/Roaring Book Press
(Picture Book/Fiction/Interactive/Colors-shades/tints-botany)

WHY: This book was first introduced to me during one of my critique group “shares”. It was given as an example of simplified text, but I was intrigued and wanted to find more!

WHAT: What I found most interesting about this book goes beyond the basics of color theory and is more centered around the themes in the book. I was quite surprised to realize that this book echoes a strong ideology about stewardship of nature.

HOW:  I can see teachers in elementary classes and even upper elementary using this book beyond art lessons. With it’s nature themes it would fit in well as part of Earth Day celebrations and nonfiction botany units.


Louann Mattes Brown said...

So glad I'm following you. So many PB's so little time!

Carrie Charley Brown said...

Excellent analysis! You amaze me! Thanks, again, for the shout out! I am going to share this!

JEN Garrett said...

I loved how in GREEN the cutout method in the illustrations was used to add suspense. I like to do that in my writing. Leave a hint of what's to come, and let the reader be surprised.

I also liked WILLY'S DREAMS. I told my son that it's a nowhere plot, but wow, does it work.

Mary said...

Love this! Thanks for sharing!!

Manju Howard said...

I appreciate your picture book analysis. It's great that you use PBs with your junior high students.

Kaye Baillie said...

Thanks so much for the analysis. I love seeing books broken down.