Favorites of 2013

  • Island: A Story of the Galápagos by Jason Chin:  We initially checked out this book from the library months ago when it was a new arrival.  We read it over and over and ended up checking it out again recently!  I figured the concepts would be a bit too advanced for D, but the illustrations and the topic were too good to pass up.  D and I instantly fell in love with this book!  Not only do we admire the illustrations but the organization of the descriptions make it a pleasure to read.  D listened intently to the explanations of the development of landforms and how the animals arrived and evolved over time.  It has been delightful using Island as a reference point to help him make connections about nature and science when we are watching shows, reading other books, or observing plants and animals in nature.
  • The Curious Garden by Peter Brown:  I am a fan of all the Peter Brown books we have read, but this one is my favorite so far.  The use of color throughout the book — as a gloomy, grey city evolves into a cheery, green paradise — is spectacular.  More than anything, I love the portrayal of huge change led by one small, creative boy who cared enough about his surroundings to work toward improvement.  As with Island, we checked out Curious again from the library after a couple of months; the second time around, D remembered the details of the story as if we had just read it the week before.  He even pointed out parts of the illustrations that I hadn’t noticed.  This is the kind of book we enjoy the most, because we can have a dialogue and Q&A about the events that are occurring.
  • Ocean Sunlight: How Tiny Plants Feed the Seas  by Molly Bang/Penny ChisholmWith this book, we learned about the replication of phytoplankton, the dependence of the food chain on those phytoplankton, waves, how the sun is essential for life on land and water, and carbon dioxide/oxygen.  This is another book that is a bit out of my son’s league, but there is still much he learned from it.  Some of the concepts of the sun’s energy, and of the phytoplankton that we cannot see but still exist, were new to him.  The illustrations are interesting because the scenes go from up on the sunny land, all the way down to the darkest part of the ocean.  There is stippling to represent the sun’s light.  The animals in the lighter/upper part of the ocean are outlined in yellow, which is a tasteful way to distinguish each animal and show how many there are in the water.  Animals in the darker/deeper part of the ocean are mostly grey, white, and a striking blue.  Regardless of a child’s age, there is plenty for parents and kids to talk about here (which is why I prefer the more advanced books when we read together).
  • Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney: We love the Llama Llama books because they are simple, rhyming, and realistic in theme.  Little Llama is scared of being alone in bed and pushes Mama Llama’s buttons as she attempts to concentrate on her own tasks.  There is a brief scare, Mama Llama gets upset, but then she calms down and explains sweetly to the little llama that he has no reason to fear.  The personification of the llamas is wonderful.  The wide range of expressions on their faces is  beautifully illustrated.  This Llama Llama book helps remind D that parents have other things going on aside from responding to every whim of the little one.
  • Pirates Don’t Change Diapers by Melinda Long and David Shannon: We love this sequel to How I Became a Pirate.  I have mixed feelings about Shannon’s illustrations because they are often messy in style, but in these books they are detailed and just plain funny.  D has an increasing interest in pirates, so this is a great book for him.  He and I repeat our favorite line from the book, “NO SITTING ON BABIES!” almost every day, to give ourselves an extra giggle when we need an extra dose of silliness.
  • Willie was Different by Norman Rockwell:  Norman Rockwell has been a favorite artist of mine since I was small.  Naturally, once I saw this book on the shelf at the library, I was hooked.  Willie is about a small bird who knows he is different from the rest of the wood thrushes and who refuses to conform to what all the other thrushes do.  Obviously, wonderful illustrations.  The message, though, was fantastic as well.  This book sparked some discussion with D about some of the rules of nature, and about being different.
  • Freedom Song: The Story of Henry “Box” Brown by Sally M. Walker and Sean Qualls:  It is not too often that we come across children’s books with tough social themes like slavery.  This book sets the scene for a good introductory discussion about this topic.  The story is sad in parts — like when Henry’s family is taken away (D asked me to explain more about why this happened) — but overall uplifting.  Henry presses on with his songs, regardless of what obstacle he must tackle in life.  The illustrations match the tone of the book, and I love the style.  This type of story is an essential for your library.
  • Mi Barco by Randall de Séve and Loren Long:  We checked out this book from the library, and what first caught my attention was the illustration of this toy boat made of ordinary items: a can, a cork, a pencil, etc.  This reminded me instantly of my husband, who is so easily able to create wonderful things out of items that many people would overlook.  The writing is good, though the storyline is much like that of Scuffy the Tugboat.  The personalization of the big boats that this barquito de juguete comes across is amusing.  The cartoonlike realism of all of the illustrations, which capture details of day and night lighting effects, is impressive.  Aron and D sat down to read this book together, and both loved making noises to imitate the splashing of the waves and sounds of the boats.
  • What Can You Do with a Paleta? | ¿Qué puedes hacer con una paleta? by Carmen Tafolla and Magaly Morales:  This is one of my top 5 favorite bilingual children’s books ever!!  It’s about the paleta (frozen fruit-flavored treat) vendor passing through a neighborhood, anda child’s description of the many ways to enjoy a paleta.  There are a lot of things I really like about this one, especially from the perspective of a writer and designer.  First, I love the way both languages are equally included in the layout;  that is, neither language is displayed dominantly on the page over the other.  Second, the double text does not distract at all from the images.  Next, I love the use of the word “paleta” in both Spanish and English; there is no good, short, non-trademarked word in English for paleta, and I am glad Tafolla stuck with paleta because it is the most accurate, concise description for the treat.  Both Aron and I can sit down to read this with D, and be a little silly and extra-vocal about it.  The illustrations are wonderfully colorful without being tacky.  Finally, the book’s theme itself is heartwarming and reminiscent, particularly to those of us who have had the fortune to experience living in a place where street vendors still have a presence.
  • The Oak Inside the Acorn by Max Lucado and George Angelini:  A closer look at growth and basic faith, this book made both my son and me cry!  It was fitting that we read this book not long after we experienced the sadness of miscarriage because the recurring lines, “Within you is a great oak.  Just be the tree God made you to be,” reinforced the notion that we were meant to face this loss and rise above it.  Whether the reader is a theist or not (if not, you could easily substitute some words here and there), the book’s calming words, paired with beautiful illustrations help remind us all that life continues and we become stronger — and that it is usually a good idea to trust in the words of your mother!
  • Desert Giant: The World of the Saguaro Cactus by Barbara Bash:  My son continues to gain interest in science and nature, so we enjoyed talking about this book’s images and descriptions of the growth of the saguaro cactus.  Giant tells not only about the plant itself but also about the insects, animals, and people who have come to depend on the plant!  Detailed, colorful, almost cartoon-style illustrations help readers ask questions and understand the process.  We found this among the shelves at a Goodwill Store, and it has made a fantastic addition to our library!
  • Minette’s Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat by Susanna Reich and Amy Bates : We liked this story about world-famous Julia Child and her cat Minette Mimosa McWilliams Child, “perhaps the luckiest cat in all of Paris.”  The descriptions of Julia’s entrance into the cooking spotlight are few; the focus is on the relationship of the owners and their sweet, mouse-loving cat.  The rich illustrations marvelously depict many gorgeous aspects of Paris by using muted yet striking colors over layers of sketchy lines.  The warm details of the kitchen, animals, clothing, utensils, containers, furniture, and building ornaments make the scenes come to life.

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