19 June 2010

A Home Full of Light

For module 2: The House in the Night.

Swanson, S. M. (2008). The house in the night. Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston.

A child gets ready for bed and explores many different aspects of the house in the night and its contents.

My view:
Written by Susan Marie Swanson and illustrated by Beth Krommes, this beautiful book is, in my opinion, fully worth all the awards that can be bestowed upon it. Ever since I became acquainted with scratchboard in my botanical illustration class, I have been impressed with its excellent use. Beth Krommes has such beautiful artistry that I am impressed all over every time I see this lovely book. For me, however, the words are just as lovely as the pictures. I am a wordsmith and word lover first of all, so the simple story of a little one getting ready for bed is touching, especially because the language used is so evocative and simply resonant with beauty. Just try saying "starry dark" over and over again and maybe you'll be as enchanted as I. Not least is the chiasmic repetition of the elements in the story---moving forward and then tracing backward to make the reader exceedingly satisfied and moving into even a little bit of snuggly sleepiness at the end. Yes, this is a favorite book---one I intend to read to my grandchildren (when they come along in a couple of decades).

A review from Booklist, written by Irene Cooper, says in part, "Executed in scratchboard decorated in droplets of gold, Krommes’ illustrations expand on Swanson’s reassuring story (inspired by a nursery rhyme that begins, “This is the key of the kingdom”) to create a world as cozy inside the house as it is majestic outside. The two-page spread depicting rolling meadows beyond the home, dotted with trees, houses, barns, and road meeting the inky sky, is mesmerizing. The use of gold is especially effective, coloring the stars and a knowing moon, all surrounded with black-and-white halos. A beautiful piece of bookmaking that will delight both parents and children."

Cooper, I. (2008). The house in the night (review). Booklist, 104(16), 46.

In a library setting, I can see this book being used as an example of art and pictures. Maybe a class could create chiasmic poetry, or try scratchboard art. It is a great example of both types.

11 June 2010


For Module 1, Journey to Topaz

Uchida, Y. (1971). Journey to Topaz. Creative Arts Book Company: Berkeley.

Young Japanese girl
Goes to an internment camp
In Topaz, Utah

Delicate yet stark
Record of atrocity
Wreaked on innocents.

A cup of hot tea
And a handful of peanuts
Treasures between friends

Powerless and weak,
The maligned patriots wait
For a better time.

Strikes the young without warning
Falling in the dust.

A small trilobite
And a shard of arrowhead
Are they worth a life?

So many bright stars
Shine in the dark desert night
There is beauty here.

Freedom, freedom, free!
The air is somehow sweeter
Outside the barbed wire.

"As with many other picture books about war, The Journey is not for the very young. A sense of history and social justice is required to understand the events depicted. Children in grades 5 and up will see why Japanese Americans were among the first to speak up for Arab Americans during the current conflict. They'll also see how easily justice and compassion become casualties of war."
Polese, C. (1991). Journey to Topaz. School Library Journal 37(4), 43.

So many uses in the library! This would be excellent coupled with The Devil’s Arithmetic to discuss what similar things were happening in Europe. Or how about as part of a larger discussion about the American Immigrant Experience? There are many possibilities for expansion and exploration.

09 June 2010

We Are His People, and the Sheep of His Pasture

During the next weeks I will be posting analyses of children’s and young adult books for my master’s degree class. This is an analysis for Module 1 of Slake’s Limbo.
Holman, F. Slake’s Limbo. New York: Aladdin Publishing. 1974.

Slake runs down into the subway station and doesn't emerge for almost six months. What he finds and what he learns turns an ordinary story of a boy finding a place in the world into an extraordinary tale of insight, friendship and redemption.

I just finished reading Slake’s Limbo, by Felice Holman. What an amazing, refreshing, compassionate story. Where has it been all my life? I am surprised that in all my reading I have never come across it before. Aremis Slake, who has no one except a harsh, disengaged aunt, runs down into the New York subway one day to escape some tormenters. He does not emerge into the fresh air and sun and sky again for 121 days. As I read I was reminded of Cormac McCarthy’s book The Road. I found myself reflecting on McCarthy’s book again and again as I read about Slake’s experiences in the subway. Certainly The Road is grimmer than Slake’s story, but there are glimpses of brightness, even joy as the father and son interacted. Similarly, there are bright flashes of goodness as Slake finds compassion in people around him, learns to feel compassion himself, and is given ways to survive that seem to appear quite serendipitously.

One of the things I loved best was the sub-plot of the subway operator: Willis Joe. This man had a secret desire to be a sheepherder in Australia. Even though he has never realized this dream, he rides the bumpy rails and sometimes almost feels as if he has become a sheepherder, gathering the sheeplike riders from one station and delivering them to another. But now he is grown and has a wife and children, and his dream seems far away. Who is the head sheep, the ones who lead and don’t follow. And is there no more to life than this? His life is careening down a dark tunnel, away from the dreams he once had. And then, and then, he sees Slake’s sign and realizes in a moment of epiphany that he is not some type of overlord unwittingly living out his life and controlling others senselessly, but the head sheep himself, and therefore led by a wise Shepherd. The realization changes Willis Joe’s life, and Slake’s life as well. Indeed, as Psalm 100:3 states, “Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.”

I am thankful that I’m not alone in my praise for this amazing book. As Claudia Moore wrote in a review of the audio book: "This unusual story combining coming of age with adventure will be sure to please many young teens."
Moore, C. (2001). Slake's Limbo. School Library Journal 47(4), 92 .

This would be a great book to couple with books like Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, or My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. It is a survival book in its own way—just the urban jungle instead of the Canadian north or the Adirondacks in winter. It would also be nice to pair with From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. Can you see the similarities? I think it is a natural combination.