Monday, February 24, 2014

Reading: The Girl in the Castle Inside the Museum

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Written by Kate Bernheimer, The Girl in the Castle Inside the Museum appears to be a treasure.  When I saw this book, I instantly judged it by its beautiful cover - a young girl peering curiously at a miniature castle with a small figurine of a girl standing at the top, her hair swaying the breeze.  After reading the book, I couldn't help but feel disappointed in the story, as I was simply expecting more.  However, this book would certainly be appropriate for kindergarteners and allows for interaction that will make it a personal book for many young readers.  The illustrations by Nicoletta Ceccoli, however, make The Girl in the Castle a memorable book indeed that young art enthusiasts will enjoy taking time to admire. 

This story, told as a fairy tale with the famous opening "Once upon a time," tells about a girl that lives in a castle inside of a museum.  Children come and press against the glass of the display, hoping to get a glimpse of the small girl that they have all heard about.  When the children go home, the girl inside the castle feels lonely and dreams that child visitors to the museum come back to visit her and play in the castle.  Suddenly, the girl has an idea!  If you, the reader, put your picture in a picture frame illustrated on the castle wall, the girl will never feel lonely!  The last few lines say, "You keep her company in a magical world.  Do you see her?  She sees you."  Personally, I find the last line to be a little bit, er, creepy, if you will. But it's a perfect prelude for a mysterious film adaptation! 
Children crowd around to see the girl inside the

The Girl in the Castle Inside the Museum opens itself up to many questions.  First of all, what kind of museum is it?  It seems to showcase only interesting toys that children will delight in viewing.  No video games.  No I-pods.  No computers.  All of these modern day play things have been replaced with wind-up clowns, toy trains, flying airplanes, elephant puppets, and handcrafted dollhouses.  How did the girl get inside of the castle?  Why is she in there all alone?  Will she ever get out?  If so, where would she go?  What would she do? Does she have a mom and dad?  What is she made from?  There are so many more questions that arise after reading this book, thus it is a thought-provoking read for young students and a gateway for many writing prompts.  Still, I would have enjoyed the story if there was more of a plot or more interaction between the girl inside the castle and her visitors.  I understand that the author intended this book for younger audiences, but I couldn't help but feel disappointed by the story, or lack thereof.

However, the best aspects of this book are the beautiful illustrations that breathe life into the story.  Looking at the pictures, I get lost in the vivid colors and luminous characters.  There appears to be a light shining on each page, and attention has been paid to the smallest of details, such as freckles and hair barrettes.  There is a dreamlike quality to the full-bleed illustrations, which begin on the end pages, perhaps hinting to the fact that this story is, of course, an original fairy tale.  After doing a little research, I learned that the illustrator is from Italy and has received numerous accolades for her work.  After reading this book, I can see why and hope to acquire more books with Ms. Cocceli's work. 

Even though the story was not particularly fulfilling, there are many activities to do in the classroom to extend it.  The stunning illustrations more than compensated for my disappointment in this book, and I would be anxious to see if my students would find the ending to be startling or sweet.  I recommend this book to readers who enjoy pages filled aesthetic delight.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Reading: The Golden Book of Fairy Tales

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When I was a child, my sister and I had a bookshelf filled with Little Golden Books.  I recently discovered the Golden Book of Fairy Tales and knew that I had to read this collection!  The description at the Barnes and Noble website was convincing, as it emphasized that fairy tales from many different cultures are interwoven into this book.  The description reads: "Originally published in 1958, this book contains a selection of 28 traditional stories from the French, German, Danish, Russian and Japanese traditions, [including] The Sleeping Beauty, The Frog Prince, Puss in Boots, Thumbelina, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and Beauty and the Beast." Besides sharing famous tales, this collection includes breathtaking illustrations.

This collection, translated by Marie Ponsot and illustrated by Adrienne Ségur, features 28 diverse tales.  Many of the tales are new to me, including Urashamia and the Turtle, a Japanese fairy tale, and Hans and the Striped Cat, by the Brothers Grimm.  This anthology is a great edition for classroom libraries because of its breadth of tales.  As a teacher, I will place this in my library so students can select it for independent reading.  Of course, I will emphasize the importance of using the table of contents to find a tale to read, rather than just reading it from beginning to end!  It will allow students to read their favorite tales, as well as to become acquainted with tales they have never heard.  It also gives me a great variety of tales to share with my class.  Most of the tales are 3-7 pages, making them manageable read-alouds.  

The text and layout of the book make it feel antiquated or magical; each story begins with a small illustration alongside the first paragraph, and the stories are arranged with two columns of text on each page.  Designs of butterflies or thistle weeds and other natural things run vertically between the columns.  Some of the stories, like Kuzma and the Fox, include a small picture at the top of each story; most stories include a full-bleed illustration.  Some of the illustrations are black and white, and others are vibrantly colored.  At first, I thought the black and white illustrations were drawn to make the fairy tales seem dreamy; however, I am perplexed as to why some of the drawings are colored, while others are not.  Was this just done randomly to stay within a particular budget of producing the book?  Regardless of which pictures are in color and which ones are black and white, all of the illustrations are beautiful!  They are richly detailed and captivating, and they breathe life into each tale.  Of all of the fairy tales I have reviewed so far, this collection includes the most spectacular illustrations.  Born in 1901, illustrator Adrienne Ségur was known for her beautiful fairy tale illustrations and made many contributions to literature with her magnificent drawings.  For more information about Ms. Ségur, view a fan's online tribute.

Since the Golden Book of Fairy Tales includes a myriad of stories to choose from, along with fantastic illustrations, it is going to become a classroom favorite in room 119! 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Reading: Fairy Tales by ee cummings

The newest cover of Fairy Tales
Three years after his death. four poems written by ee cummings for his daughter surfaced and were published in a compilation aptly titled Fairy Tales.  While the earliest edition of this book are quite valuable, newer publications are affordable and readily available from booksellers worldwide.  I enjoyed reading these four tales, as they are different than other fairy tales I have read and also rather comical.  Although I am not familiar with cummings' body of work, I know it is quite extensive and was unaware that he had created these delightful stories for children. 

In Fairy Tales, four of cummings' tales have been reproduced.  The first tale, "The Old Man Who Said Why," tells about a fairy that lives on the farthest star and solves problems for his other fairy neighbors.  He lived there for millions of years without growing old.  The fairies dined on foods like "star petals" and "air-flowers."  (Don't those just sound like fairy fare?)  One morning, millions of angry fairies come to visit him with complaints about the man on the moon who always ask "why!"  The lead fairy tells the others to leave their troubles under the apple tree, and he himself visits the questioning man.  Every time the fairy tries to explain the purpose for his visit to the old man, the man asks, "Why," and becomes younger each time until he eventually falls to earth as a newborn.  The second tale, "The Elephant and the Butterfly," features an elephant who does nothing all day long and a friendly butterfly.  One day, the butterfly decides to visit the elephant's home, where they wait out a rainstorm inside.  After the storm, the elephant asks the butterfly if "you love me a little," and the butterfly says, "No, I love you a lot!"  The two friends then journey down to the butterfly's home, where the elephant says he will come to visit everyday.  They are friends forever after that!  The next tale, titled "The House That Ate Mosquito Pie," tells about a sad, lonely, and abandoned house.  When a lone bird arrives singing a beautiful song, the house feels happy and cleans itself up!  Finally, a family discovers the freshly pampered home and wants to move - but the house makes a ruckus of noise and frightens the family away, leaving the house and the bird to live happily ever after.  The final story, "The Little Girl Named I," is written in a conversational tone with a storyteller and a responder who responds to the storyteller's questions.  The little girl named I travels through the valley asking animal after animal if they will come to tea with her.  All of the animals say no.  When the little girls sit down in front a pond and sees her own reflection, she asks a little girl named "You" to tea, and the girls dine on bread and jam while sipping tea.

As a teacher, I believe my students would love these stories for the unique tales that they tell.  They are written especially for children, who will enjoy the word play in "The Little Girl Named I" and the budding friendship between the elephant and the butterfly.  I also imagine the summarizing activities my students could participate in, from oral re-tellings to book jacket summaries, due to the obvious story elements in each tale.  As an adult, I enjoy these stories because I am forced to wonder how ee cummings would desire his fairy tales to be interpreted.  Embedded within each tale seems to be a greater theme, which is the case for most fairy tales!  In the first tale, I feel that cummings is emphasizing that curiosity - as seen in the man on the moon - is the key to staying young.  The second story seems to be suggesting that those who have no friends may often need someone to open the door, just like the butterfly did for the elephant, in order to build an everlasting friendship.  I also imagine that this might be hinting that friendship can be created between the most unlikely of pairs.  Butterflies are small and fragile, and elephants are rather large, but the butterfly and elephant care for each other and become eternal friends despite their differences.  The third tale seems to suggest that the quality of a friend is better than the quantity and again emphasizes that friendship can be made in the most unlikely of pairs.  The final tale suggests that one can never be lonely with imagination.  Of course, these are just my interpretations of the tales!  I am not sure how my students would perceive them, but it would be interesting to juxtapose the tales and see what we can learn from them and from each other. 
The original cover of Fairy Tales

The illustrations in ee cummings' most recent edition of Fairy Tales, published in 2004, are drawn by Meilo So.   These illustrations are bright, vivid watercolors.  Her illustrations are full-bleed and separate from pages containing text.  These drawings appear ethereal and somewhat abstract.  A little bit of research taught me that illustrator John Eaton created drawings for the first editions of the book, published in 1965 and 1975.  These illustrations appear to be sketched and pale in color.  While original illustrations are often the most beloved, the updated drawings cater to current audiences without omitting meaning from the original tales, thus I prefer the vibrant illustrations and think that my students would, too. 

The sweetest aspect of Fairy Tales is that these stories were written by a father for his daughter.  They are original tales, while still sharing aspects commonly seen in other fairy tales, such as concrete story elements, a theme, and magical characters.  I am excited to introduce my students to a famed American author with these stories.  For more information about introducing your students to fairy tales, click here!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Reading: The Three Little Javelinas [A Southwestern Fairy Tale]

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A few summers ago, I spent five weeks in the Southwestern United States, a region that was vastly different than any other part of the country I had previously visited.  The expansive deserts seemed endless until I neared El Paso, when I suddenly became enveloped in a world of yellow sand, tall gray mountains, and lonely cacti.  Everything was new to me, but I found the region to be quite wonderful and rustic.  The fairy tale The Three Little Javelinas was created to honor the Southwestern United States by retelling The Three Little Pigs with a southwestern creature - the javelina.

For readers who have never heard the word "javelinas," author Susan Lowell provides a helpful description as she begins the story of the three javelinas that live way out in the desert and depart from one another to seek their fortunes.  The first little javelina gets swept up in a tumbleweed and decides to build his house from them.  The second little javelina constructs his home from saguaro ribs, sticks from a cactus-like plant, and the third little javelina creates her home from bricks. Suddenly, these juicy creatures come to the attention of hungry Coyote, who obliterates the tumbleweed and saguaro homes and frighten the first two javelinas to their sister's house.  When the coyote tries to sneak into the brick home via chimney, the javelinas light the stove and scare the sneaky coyote away! 

I enjoy this version of The Three Little Pigs for several reasons, primarily because I admire the southwestern region in which it is set.  The illustrations are true to the region itself and remind me of the deserts that I visited and some of the creatures that I saw there. Author Susan Lowell presents an authentic view of the Southwest and is a credible source for doing so; after all, she was born in Mexico and has written a myriad of fairy tale books that take place in the Southwest, including Cindy Ellen: A Wild Western Cinderella and The Tortoise and the Jackrabbit, among others.  She also includes a note detailing her process for writing about the Southwest and telling about what guided her to make her decisions for writing the book.  On the other hand, illustrator Jim Harris is not from the southwest; he grew up in North Carolina. However, I feel that he illustrated the book to align with the author's descriptions and brought the Southwest to live with justice! 

Further, I appreciate The Three Little Javelinas because it can be incorporated across the curriculum.  This book would align greatly with the study of ecosystems (particularly the desert), animal adaptations, and even economics, as students can analyze what resources were used to create the homes of the javelinas.  And of course, being that it is a fairy tale, it has solid story elements and would be an excellent book for summarizing and sequencing.  The Three Little Javelinas could also be incorporated into a fairy tale unit and compared and contrasted with other Little Pig books. Interestingly, this is the first Little Pig book that I have read in which of the pigs is a girl!  

After reading The Three Little Javelinas, I felt like I had been transported back to the deserts of New Mexico and Texas!  While those places are a long way from Virginia, I am grateful for this book for bringing a piece of the Southwest into my library.  If you would like more information about Susan Lowell or Jim Harris, you can click their names and view their websites!     

Monday, February 17, 2014

Reading: Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal - A Worldwide Cinderella

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The book Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal, written by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Julie Paschkis, allows young readers to travel the world, as bits and pieces of different Cinderella stories are woven together in a diverse tapestry.  I delighted in the ornate illustrations, retelling the story from Mexico to Appalachia to Zimbabwe and Germany, and appreciated the captions for each drawing, which taught me where each part of the story originated.  With large text spread lightly across each page, Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal is appropriate for the youngest and oldest of readers.

Being most familiar with Walt Disney's version of Cinderella, this book opened my mind to other tales of the orphaned child.  In fact, in Glass Slipper, Cinderella isn't orphaned at all!  She still lives with her father and stepmother, but her stepmother is so demanding that she is allowed to torture poor Cinderella.  Why, Cinderella even has to sleep on the warm ashes of the hearth!  While most children in this situation would understandably complain to their fathers, Cinderella does not because she "picked up the scorpion with [her] own hand." So, she endures the oppression brought about by her mother with the help of her animals friends: a cow that gives her honey, a fairy that gives her fruits, and a snake that provides her with rice.  Because she is nourished from the generosity of her friends, Cinderella grows into a beautiful young girl. When the king announces his search for a queen, the wicked stepmother makes Cinderella stay home to do impossible tasks.  To her rescue comes a witch whose spells cause the chores to do themselves, and to the shore comes a crocodile with a golden sarong, feathered clock, and red kimono for Cinderella to wear to visit the king.  Magical glass slippers, diamond anklets, and golden sandals appear on her feet, and her aunt transforms a big fruit into a coach to transport Cinderella to the king's palace.  At the palace, Cinderella dances with the prince until the rooster crows, then dashes away and loses her glass slipper.  The king searches for the girl on mountains and in deserts, so desperate is he to find his mysterious love.   

While reading Glass Slipper, I especially enjoyed analyzing each illustration and thinking about each one represented its culture in the book.  The illustrations for Mexico, represented in the first pages, show Hispanic individuals, and the young girl is dressed in a gown with bright, yellow flowers similar to the dresses that I saw when I visited Mexico several years ago.  The background illustrations are bright yellow and reveal donkeys, cactus, and pan dulce - things that readers might see if they were to visit certain geographic regions in Mexico.  I find it neat that individual illustrations are framed against the lively backgrounds, making it appear as if they are photographs of special events from history.  I also found it neat how the little girl and mother on the first page are showcased again on the last page reading the same book that I just read!  What a fun connection for students to make!  Further, I appreciated having the opportunity to hear parts of other Cinderella stories and am eager to find more of these fairy tales and broaden my own world-view of this famous fairy tale.  This book will be essential when I conduct my next unit on fairy tales, as it embodies several Cinderella stories into one!  It will be a Cinderella tale like most of my students have never heard, and they will remember the different cultures represented and will perhaps seek out other versions on their own.

Because of its lively illustrations and its seamless way of combining the various Cinderella tales, Glass Slipper is a fairy tale that I will not soon forget!  I hope that other authors will follow suit and create more fairy tale books that encompass many tales within. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Reading: Cinders - A Chicken Cinderella

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Every time I hold a children's book written by Jan Brett in my hands, I feel like I am grasping onto a piece of art.  I was first introduced to these colorful dream worlds when I was a first grader, and my teacher shared The Mitten with my classmates and me.  Recently, I led my students in an author study of Jan Brett, and we learned that she feels that she is a stronger artist than writer and that writing is very difficult for her; in fact, she writes with a timer on her desk to keep her focused!  While it's undeniable that Jan's illustrations are captivating, the stories that she writes are wonderful, too.  In her most recent book, Jan Brett re-imagines the classic fairy tale  Cinderella and presents her to the readers in the form of one of her favorite animals: a chicken!  Talk about a story!  In the last Cinderella book review I wrote, I was disappointed in what I felt was an absence of story.  In Cinders: A Chicken Cinderella, I am delighted by the rich characters, the engrossing story, and the new spin on a beloved fairy tale!  With memories of my grandpa sitting in a lawn chair tossing handfuls of seeds to his chickens in the barnyard, I might be partial to these feathered creatures myself, but I feel that Jan Brett does them justice by portraying them as royal, majestic, and beautiful animals.

Chickens at my grandpa's farm 
Cinders begins when young Tasha delivers handfuls of oats to the chickens in her father's barn.  Largessa, the hen, and her chicks, Pecky and Bossy, are quite domineering feasters and push Cinders away from the delicious fare.  So, Tasha scoops up the young hen in her lap and feeds her handfuls of oats herself.  After Tasha falls asleep near the warm stove, Largessa retrieves an invitation to a ball hosted by Prince Cockerel, in which he will be looking for his princess!  (Since Tasha has just fallen asleep, I almost wonder if the author is illustrating the young dreams of the imaginative girl.  Either that, or chickens are rather sneaky creatures when humans are not around! )  From that moment on, Pecky and Bossy order Cinders around to scrub their toes and trim their tail feathers!  When Cinders gets left behind while the other chickens attend the ball, a beautiful, fluffy Silkie hen appears and promises to make Cinders' dream of attending the ball come true!  During the ball, Silkie goes to the palace and peeks in through the windows.  Suddenly, the doors of the palace literally open with pull-out pages revealing what is happening at the ball:  Cinders and the prince enjoy one another's company as they gracefully burn up the dance floor, the other chickens looking on in admiration and curiosity - until the ice clock chimes twelve, of course!  That's when Cinders has to make a get-away and loses her crystal slippers in the shuffle.  A search for the special chicken ensues, and in the end of the story, Tasha's father opens the barn door with a surprise - a handsome cockerel!  

I enjoyed reading this story, partly because of the neat characters, the fresh spin on an old story, and the enchanting artwork!  So many things occurred on each page as evident by the lively illustrations with the neatest details - chickens printed on the door handles of the palaces, chickens dressed in Russian clothing, a beautiful winter scene with the brightest whites and most royal blues I have ever seen, framed settings (the chicken barn, the forest, the inner palace)!  The Silkie Hen is a beauty with her royal purple ribbon and fluffy tail feathers, and Cinders looks astounding in her glowing ball gown!  Jan Brett included chickens of all shapes, sizes, and colors, and the final embrace between the prince and new princess chicken is a sweet ending to an enjoyable story - like the cherry on top of a hot-fudge sundae!  Using chickens in this Cinderella story as opposed to people makes the fairy tale even more magical, and the love that buds between the clucking birdies is believable to anyone peeking inside the palace windows with Silkie.  I also admire how Tasha befriends and cares for her father's chickens!  On a personal note, she is "a girl after my own heart!" 

According to Jan Brett, this story was inspired when she actually witnessed chickens being selfish!  There are not a lot fiction stories that do showcase chickens as beautiful animals, and I think it's time that these lovely birds receive their due!  Cinders does a great job representing the chicken kingdom and retelling a classic fairy tale in a fun manner that children will enjoy.  For more information about Cinders, visit Jan Brett's helpful and interesting blog post! 

Reading: Cinderella Retold by Cynthia Rylant

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Published in 2007, the Cinderella story written by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Mary Blair tells a well-known Western fairy tale with beautiful illustrations.  The cover page made me nostalgic for Saturdays spent at home watching Disney movies in the afternoon with my sister and my dad.  Cinderella was one of our favorite movies, particularly for the cute little animals that Cinderella befriends!  Unfortunately, those cute little animals were omitted from this story in exchange for some mushy ramblings about love, which I am not so sure children will understand or enjoy.  I feel like a big ol' mean-head when I say this, but if I am truly being honest as I begin to review this book for the sixteenth time today, I have to say that I am surprisingly not an admirer. I felt as if something was missing.   While I appreciate the vintage aesthetics of this story, I feel that it is told with minimal details, and the characters are not developed for readers to really become acquainted with them.  

In Cynthia Rylant's version of Cinderella, Cinderella is an unloved girl enslaved by an evil stepmother and stepsisters.  She desires only one thing in life, and that is to be loved, to be pulled away from her wicked stepfamily and never forgotten about again! This book doesn't really explore the meaning of love, except to imply that the kind of love Cinderella is seeking is the love of a Prince Charming, since that's the kind of love she receives at the end of the book.  I wonder why the author left out the caring mice and birds that help Cinderella to get ready for the ball as seen in the motion picture? Those particular creatures certainly cared for Cinderella, but it seems that Cythnia Rylant wanted Cinderella to seem void of love or friendship of any kind.  

While the author paints the stepmother and stepsisters to be especially cruel, I wish she had extended the idea of love to include the love that one feels for family.  And I wish that somehow, somewhere, an act of love could have been shown to the cruel stepfamily so that their hearts could warm up a little.  People are not born cold-hearted and cannot become immune to love and goodness and cheer, as those things are always contagious! I know that showing love towards the stepfamily is not embedded into the original fairy tale, but wouldn't it have been interesting if Cynthia Rylant had explored that in her emphasis of love in this book?  

Further, the magical appearance of the Fairy Godmother seems like an act of love, as well!  This mysterious being helped the sorrowful girl to prepare for a trip to the palace, seeking nothing in return!  If that's not love, then I don't know what is! However, the fairy Godmother arose from Cinderella's tears, and I was surprised to read that "tears are magical" and can change things.  I hope I don't sound cold-hearted or bitter because I am certainly not, but I have to argue with the author's point there.  I am a very sensitive person, and if I were forced to cook and clean and live in a scullery all day, I'd cry all the time!  But tears don't really change anything; it's the action that a person takes to change his/her situation that really matter.  If only we could all be so lucky to have our tears transform into fairies who make our dreams come true!  Then again, I guess that's the point of a fairy tale!  

Because I was left to question the author's narrow focus on love and was disappointed in the exclusion of some events I had expected to read about from the movie, I didn't particularly enjoy reading the story.  It's not that the book wasn't well-written, but I felt like this was perhaps more of a philosophy on love than it was an actual story that I would share with my students.  For example, I read the following lines to my fiancé to see if his opinion meshed with mine: 

Love meant nothing, and if love ever did come to them, it is unlikely they would have even know what it was.  Like the roses, which did not bloom across their doorways, Love itself did not even linger. 

Perplexed, he asked, "That's a kid's book?"  I mean, sure, the words are lovely, and I do appreciate lovely writing, but if I read this to my own students, they might be bored.  And as I've already said, I want to see cute birds and mice singing songs when I read fairy tales!  Replicating the Disney version of Cinderella, I feel like this book eliminates the most fun aspects! 

The element that I did enjoy about this book is the illustrations by Mary Blair, an illustrator for several Walt Disney books.  The title page alone makes me nostalgic for my childhood days, and the rest of the pictures are mostly full-bleed sketches that look reminiscent of the animated movie.  A little bit of research taught me that the images in the book were actually the drawings first created for the film in the 1950's.  The colors and shapes of the book and film are certainly very similar, but the characters in this book seem a little more abstract than they do in the movie. 

I notice a lot of dark illustrations at first, save for a little bit of pink in the flowers that surround Cinderella's mirror, the bright and shining white of Cinderella's ball gown, and the glow of the palace itself.  When Cinderella rushes back to be home by midnight, the shapes of the horses and surrounding landscape look to be moving in a rushed way, showing the urgency of Cinderella's mission.  When I look at the pictures, I feel like they're getting ready to come to life, and I want to see more!   

If I were to present this aesthetically-pleasing book to my students during a fairy tale unit, it would be crucial to talk about the characters, what attributes they possess, and why.  The author says that Prince Charming is loyal, honorable, courageous, and a person of integrity; all of these words are important for students to understand, and I strive to incorporate literature into the classroom that feature characters with these traits.  Discussions could certainly ensue about what these words mean and how to showcase each word in daily living, especially since the author does not provide evidence to show how the prince embodies such characteristics.  Being that this book is a solid fictional story, I can imagine doing many summarizing activities, including sequence organizers and story element flip-books.  It would also be integral to read this book with other Cinderella-themed books, particularly those from other cultures, to compare/contrast the fairy tales and determine what makes certain versions more enjoyable than others. Going back to the point I made earlier, I would also like my students to imagine what could have happened if someone did show love for the stepfamily.  Are people with mean spirits always going to stay mean?  I think (and hope) not!  

If I had read this book with no prior knowledge of Cinderella, I don't think I would be moved by it.  The characters are not strongly developed, and even though Cinderella gets to ride off into the sunset with her prince, the text itself feels joyless.  Perhaps this book is more of a collector's item for devoted Disney fans or for fans of Mary Blair's illustrations.  In my next few blog posts, I will be looking at some other versions of Cinderella and am excited to compare and contrast them with this version to formulate a stronger understanding of the fairy tale. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Reading: Fly Free!

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In the beautifully written and illustrated children's book Fly Free by writer Roseanne Thong, Mai is a young girl growing up in Vietnam who yearns to set a cage of birds outside the Buddhist temple free.  But, it's too expensive.  To ascertain the validity of the illustrations, I did a little research and believe that they do a commendable job representing the country of Vietnam.  The story itself is also timeless. 

In the beginning, Young Mai does a good deed for a girl named Thu and reminds Thu of the Buddhist principle: Fly free, fly free, in the sky so blue. When you do a good deed, it will come back to you.  This proverb is repeated throughout the book as character after character receives help and passes on a good deed afterwards.  At the end of the book, a wealthy gentleman whose son was healed by a Buddhist monk completes his good deed by paying for all of the birds to "fly free."  The message of passing on good deeds is one that children will delightedly take to heart and fulfill!  I can imagine my own students being kind to one another with the reminder, "Fly free!  Fly free!"  This book intertwines elements of Buddhism with the story, a religion not commonly seen in American picture books.  It is important to be representative of many cultures in a classroom, and Fly Free is a great story that will allow teachers to do that. 

Further, Fly Free is an exceptional piece of writing.  The author has incorporated many beautiful similes into the book.  Simile-writing is a topic that my students and I discuss often, and they love to use similes in their own compositions.  Phrases such as a sun as round and red as a parasol, birds bobbing their comical heads like puppets, and a wound that stung like an animal's bite fill the pages of Fly Free and make it a delightful read, as well as a quality example of literature for budding writers.  Fly Free is also a great book for predicting what will happen next and analyzing cause and effect.  Sequencing the characters' good deeds is also a great activity that would fit with this book.  

The illustrations in Fly Free are lovely, full-bleed drawings that were created by using water color on wood.  This technique makes the pages reminiscent of the village in which Mai lives.  Since I have never visited Vietnam, I could not ascertain whether or not the illustrations were truly representative of this country.  The author has family from Malaysia, and the illustrator is from South Korea, which made me think that perhaps they have visited Vietnam and are more familiar with the clothing and landscape seen there.  I used the Google Satellite function to navigate the land of Vietnam and was surprised by how vast and fertile it seems; I saw no traces of city life anywhere!  Thus, I believe that Fly Free truly captures life in Vietnam and would enjoy sharing the images I viewed with my students to accompany the paintings.  

I noticed that the author has written many books focused on particular cultures, such as Red is a Dragon, Green is a Chili Pepper, and Round is a Tortilla.  I wonder what propels her to write books about many different cultures?  Perhaps it is her interest and her preferred academic study.  At the same time, I noticed that her books are published by Chronicle Books, headquartered in my favorite city, San Francisco. Thinking about how diverse San Francisco is, it is no surprise to me that a publishing company in the city by the bay would desire its books to represent its multicultural population.  

After reading Fly Free, I am anxious to share this book with my students.  I know that they will appreciate the quality writing and will enjoy taking an auditory scavenger hunt for similes.  At the same time, this will be the first time many of them have heard the word "Buddhism," and I am happy that they will be able to associate this new word with a positive experience.  If you would like to know more about Chronicle Books, visit their website, and to find out about more books written by Roseanne Thong or to check out her educational resources, check out her site, too! 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Reading: The Missing Mitten Mystery

Growing up in Indiana, wearing mittens, a hat, snow boots, and snow pants to school was commonplace from December to March.  Sure, it took my classmates and I a quarter of an hour to lace up our boots and buckle the suspenders of our swishy snow pants, but by the time we got outside for recess - three times a day, mind you - those few minutes we had of building snowmen, making snow angels, and jumping up and down to stay warm were totally worth it!  Every year, I seemed to go through countless pairs of mittens, always losing a mate on the playground or in the backyard or stuck deep inside the puffy arm of my marshmallow coat.  

In The Missing Mitten Mystery, young Annie retraces her steps to find her missing red mitten.  As she backtracks, she problem solves to think about what possibly could have happened to her mitten.  Perhaps a bird took it for its nest? Maybe a mouse wanted to use it as a sleeping bag!  Or, maybe Annie and Miss Seltzer could plant her other mitten and grow mitten trees so that Annie could give everybody mittens as Christmas presents next winter!  Author and illustrator Steven Kellogg tapped into the imagination of a child to create this book and to tell a charming story about a missing mitten.  The main character of his book embodies leadership, demonstrates problem solving, and showcases perseverance, as she doesn't give up the search for her missing mitten!  This story is ideal for analyzing characters, and it lends itself to a study of sequence, as students can go back and help Annie retrace her steps!  Ideal for kindergarten through second grade, The Missing Mitten Mystery has light text on each page, uses mostly sight words, and incorporates repetitive phrasing, such as "But no mitten."  

Besides the text, the illustrations in The Missing Mitten Mystery really bring the story to life!  For one thing, every page features brightly colored images that capture the essence of winter.  Most of the pages showcase full-bleed drawings, but when the character imagines where her mitten could be or thinks about what she might do in the future, the images are framed to help the reader differentiate between Annie's thoughts and Annie's present reality.  Diagonal lines show the imprints of sled tracks in the snow, and readers can follow Annie's path from the footprints left in the snow.  The winter sky is yellow, orange, white, blue, and gray, similar to the evening sky I often see in Virginia in the winter: a reminder of summer against a cold sky.  It's interesting how colorful Stephen Kellogg depicted winter to be!  From the bright colors of Annie's winter clothes to the light streaming inside Miss Seltzer's home, winter suddenly feels tropical and warm! 

While reading The Missing Mitten Mystery, I was reminded of another book I read earlier this winter titled Snowflakes Fall by Patricia Maclachlan.   I realized that Stephen Kellogg also illustrated Snowflakes Fall, as he has a very distinct, pleasant style of illustrating books. I visited his website and realized that he has written and illustrated many other picture books that I am familiar with, including Johnny Appleseed,  The Day Jimmy's Boa Ate the Wash, and If You Made a Million.  I was eager to see the new books Stephen has coming out, and you can learn about these at his website, too!  

The Missing Mitten Mystery is a fun story applicable to many standards.  The illustrations are memorable for children, and they will probably recognize many of the images from other books drawn by Stephen Kellogg.  I am excited to add more of his books to my picture book collection! 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Reading: Faith

Courtesy of
One of the biggest issues in our society is misunderstanding, which leads to intolerance for others and fear.  Often, these misunderstandings begin in childhood when children do not get to interact with people who are different from them.  Growing up in a small community in the Midwest, I wasn't aware of many cultures, nor did I learn about faiths that could be different than mine.  In fact, it wasn't until middle school that I realized there were many faiths and religions that people could choose from!  In high school, one of my friends celebrated Diwali and invited me to participate with her family traditions.  I felt honored that she included me in an event very special to her!  In college, I took my first Religious Studies course and got to learn about seven of the most common religions, their foundation, and their principles.  Interestingly enough, I found that their basic values weren't that different.  

Unfortunately, outsiders of one faith can find it to be threatening to their own, which has caused hate crimes, violence, prejudice, and even wars.  I think that if people learn about the existence of different faiths and the mores of those faiths when they are young, those types of tragedies can be prevented.  In the book Faith by Maja Ajmera, Madga Nakassis, and Cynthia Pon, children can visit other children just like them practicing their own faiths.  This book is a valuable tool that can be used to introduce new religions and to show how all faiths are united.

As I began reading through the book, I noticed many religions being displayed in photos that I have never learned about.  Each page details what people of different faiths do.  For example, one page says, "We pray."  Then, the surrounding photos show children of different religions and from different geographical regions praying.  The next page shows children of different faiths singing, and the following page depicts children reading their holy books.  I appreciated how this book approached different faiths in a positive way by showing what they have in common.  I liked how all of the photos showed children engaging with their faiths, often with a smile on their faces or the helping hand of an adult nearby.  Rather than separating children of different faiths, this book showed how people of different faiths help others and have hope. 

For me, it was amazing to see photos illustrating religions in regions that I hadn't associated with that religion.  For example, towards the end of the book, a young boy from Tanzania holds palms in his hand in observance of Palm Sunday.   I had never thought about Palm Sunday being observed so far away in Africa!  At the same time, there is another page of young, Caucasian children with blonde hair observing a Muslim celebration.  Normally, I think about Islam being a religion observed in the Middle East, so this book is a reminder to me that all faiths are observed throughout all parts of the world!  

Faith is not a subject that I tend to discuss with my students.  They ask me, from time to time, questions about God, and I have worked with students who are Jehovah's Witness and do not participate in our holiday celebrations.  Normally, we discuss how people have different beliefs, and some people don't believe in celebrating holidays.  This is normally a surprise to the majority of my students who cannot imagine life without Halloween candy or Christmas presents!  But the book Faith makes me want to have faith-based discussions with my class - not pushing a particular faith over the other but helping my students to understand that there are many religions with many similar traditions.  

After reading this book, I went on a search for more multicultural books about faith, and to my dismay, I found very few that seem appealing to children.  I will continue with my quest to obtain more books like Faith.  In the meantime, if you'd like to learn more about Maja Ajmera and her work, please visit her website

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Reading: Let's Talk About Race

Courtesy of 
"I am a story.  So are you.  So is everyone."
What's your story?  In the book Let's Talk About Race, author Julius Lester takes a personable approach with his readers, asking them rhetorical questions and teaching them all about himself.  His affable manner makes him a friend, and the wisdom that he shares is something to talk about indeed.  

In Let's Talk About Race, Mr. Lester explores how everyone has a story!  We all have parents, hobbies, favorite foods, and birthdays!  We also all have a race.  Some people are black.  Some are white. Some are Asian.  Others are Hispanic.  But no one race is better than any other, and no one person is defined solely by his or her race!  His central message is that if you strip away the skin and hair and color from a person, you are left with bones and a story.  

This book shares a message for everyone, whether they live in racially diverse environments or not.  I wish I had discovered this book before my fourth year of teaching so that I could have shared it with students that I have taught in previous years.  I have taught students who have expressed pride for their race, shame for their race, and confusion about race.  I like that Let's Talk About Race encourages students to be proud of their stories, race included, and to listen to the stories of others.  

The message of this book and the illustrations drawn by Karen Barbour make it a memorable read.  All of the pages feature colorful backdrops, and the skin tones of the people represented in the book vary from brown to black to beige to gray to orange and beyond.  Pupils are created from butterflies and dollar signs, hats are worn with birds on top or jewels.  People of all shapes and sizes are communicating - laying on the beach together, standing side by side, or going fishing.  Each person in Let's Talk About Race has a story to tell, and if I were guiding my students through this book, I would hope to stop at each page and brainstorm elements that could constitute each person's story.  Yet, how we do we really get to know about someone?  Well, we have to ask.  Let's Talk About Race opens up dialogue for students to start talking and learning about others' stories. 

Perhaps you would like to use this book in your own classroom.  This is a great
website that includes questions for discussion.  If you are looking for more books written by Julius Lester, try visiting his own website so that you can also learn more about him.  While I feel like we are already friends from his manner in Let's Talk About Race, I am excited to learn more about his story. 

Reading: Valentine's Day Treat - My Penguin, Osbert, In Love

Courtesy of
I discovered My Penguin, Osbert, In Love at my school library while searching for a fun, festive Valentine's Day book that I could use as a read-aloud with sequence activities.  The beautiful, pastel-purple cover caught my attention first; the adorable penguin gushing and holding a bouquet of flowers kept it.  As I read My Penguin, Osbert, In Love, I was mostly captivated by the whimsical pictures;  my students, however, were very expressive as we shared the story, amazed at the young boy's helicopter, and disgusted with the budding love between two penguins. 

In My Penguin, Osbert, In Love, author Elizabeth Cody Kimmel tells a story about Joe and his penguin, Osbert.  Joe received Osbert as a Christmas gift from Santa in the book My Penguin, Osbert, and in this sequel, Osbert and his penguin chums visit Joe with an invitation to see the fantastical night sky in the South Pole.  Penguins can't fly, but with his brand new helicopter, Joe can!  Throughout the book, Joe and the penguins journey to the South Pole, where Osbert falls in love with a new penguin and seems to forget about Joe.  

My students absolutely loved seeing an illustration of Joe's helicopter, which was a full-bleed illustration taking up nearly two full pages to show the immensity of this machine.  The boys in my class were delighted, oohing and ahhing and dreaming about flying their own helicopters someday!  The illustrator, H.B. Lewis, strategically uses his art to convey emotions that might not easily be revealed in the text.  For example, when Joe sneaks the penguins into his house, the illustrations are full-bleed and span across both pages to show how exciting this endeavor is!  When Joe is in his bedroom cleaning his ant farm, the illustration is framed in the middle of the page, as this is a rather mundane task.  When Osbert falls in love, he and his penguin love are framed in an abstract heart shape, and when Joe feels forgotten by his dear friend, an image of the two lovebirds standing uphill from Joe reveals the distance between the characters.  And as Joe walks back to the helicopter preparing to fly home - alone, it is the illustration that capture Joe's emotion and shows the audience how hurt he feels.  Lewis' illustrations add SO much detail to the text and support the story immensely. The whimsical, bright colors make Osbert in Love an aesthetic treat and are, perhaps, the next best thing to actually viewing the South Pole sky.  Further, I appreciate the size of the text!  Since Osbert in Love is intended for children, the larger text size makes it easier for children to see and read, revealing that this book was created with its audience in mind!
With beautiful illustrations and whimsical colors, Osbert in Love is a treat!

Besides telling a unique story, Osbert in Love reiterates the importance of friendship and reveals that making a new friend doesn't mean losing a former one!  It fit in excellently with my students' study of sequence, and they enjoyed sequencing the story, as well as the functional text recipes found in the back.  My Penguin, Osbert in Love, is a cute story with beautiful illustrations!  If you would like to become acquainted with the illustrator himself, be sure to visit his website!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Reading: Sidewalk Circus

Photo courtesy of
I'll never forget Mr. Pettibone, famed principal of Webster Elementary School, visiting my classroom with a cardboard carton of Whoppers and the wordless picture book Good Dog, Carl by Alexandra Day.  I simply loved that story when I realized that I could make it unfold the way that I wanted it to!  A story about a dog, mingling with the sweet taste of chocolate on my tongue, was simply euphoric!  Now, as an educator myself, I realize that wordless picture books are excellent writing teachers, encouraging children to create their own stories.  They're also friendly and approachable, especially for struggling readers, as they aren't saturated with those muddling words!  I have wanted to introduce my class of third graders to a wordless picture book to inspire their own narrative writing, and I am thankful for reading Sidewalk Circus by Paul Fleschman and Kevin Hawkes; I know my students will delight in the opportunity to create the words to go along with the outstanding illustrations in this book.

As I think about reading a wordless book, I am forced to analyze what literacy skills are involved.  Certainly, children who read books without words must still have an awareness of books, including how to hold the book correctly and how to analyze a page from left to right (although I did find my eyes going back and forth between the pages of Sidewalk Circus).  As I stated earlier, wordless picture books are a gateway to a child's imagination by giving him/her a prompt to think about it, pictures to interpret, and a story to write!  Sidewalk Circus does contain environmental text, which children see in their surroundings everyday, but struggling readers can still feel comfortable with this text.  As a comprehension tool, Sidewalk Circus would also be an ideal book for analyzing cause and effect.  For example, teachers and students can discuss certain events and what caused them to happen.  "What caused the famous Colombo Clown to fall headfirst into a cart of melons?" teachers may ask.  Looking at the illustrations, it appears that it was a collision brought on by a careless boy on a skateboard! 
What caused Colombo the Clown to dive headfirst
into a cart of melons? Readers of Sidewalk
 can analyze the illustrations
to figure it out!
Photo courtesy of 

In this particular book, I am intrigued by the illustrators' use of shading and coloring.  More specifically, the adults in the story are illustrated like shadows, while the children are bright and cheerful.  While a child wearing a yellow shirt sits on a street bench and watches the seemingly commonplace workers - a newspaper salesman, a painter, a businessman - go about their duties, she imagines them as being a great act in the circus!  This seems to illustrate how children imagine their world.  Even the most typical scenes can be magical to a child.  As the child gets swept into this spectacular world, the adults sitting around her are darkly colored and mutely sipping their coffee, bending over their newspapers, or folding their arms while looking bored.  To me, this book is a reminder that children are fascinated by, in my perspective, some of the simplest things!  The world is new to them, and they yearn to see it, to explore it, and to learn about it!  

In a couple of weeks, I will be sharing Sidewalk Circus with my students to see how they perceive the story.  In the meantime, I am eager to expand my own library of wordless picture books with classics such as Good Dog, Carl, and yes, you guessed it, Sidewalk Circus! 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Reading: Cherry and Olive

Courtesy of 
From the moment I opened the first page of Cherry and Olive, I knew I was entering the world of a beautiful book.  I devoured each page with the same resplendency I have when I eat my morning bowl of chocolate-chip-cherry oatmeal, only more so with this deliciously aesthetic treat.  Calling Cherry and Olive a treat, however, makes it sound like a joyful frolic in the park, and the book is far from being cheerful. While it ends in an uplifting way, Cherry and Olive feels rather gothic for a children's book with dark illustrations and a young, sullen girl just yearning for a friend.

Cherry Sullivan is a lonely girl that lives with her father in an apartment in France.  She loves chocolate!  And she tries to stay quiet at school so that no one will tease the plump, little girl.  She sits by herself at recess reading, letting herself explore new worlds that are safer, more interesting, and more wonderful than the one in which she lives.   In her own world, readers are introduced to Angelo, one of Cherry's classmates.  He reminds Cherry of the heroes in the books that she reads, and he is always surrounded by a gaggle of giggling girls - save for Cherry, of course.  After school one day, Cherry is assisting her father with his job at the animal shelter when she meets a puppy that reminds her of herself - a little plump, wrinkly brown dog.  Cherry names the dog "Olive" and forms a friendship with him.  Her father, of course, reminds Cherry that Olive may be picked up by his owner, so she shouldn't get too attached.  Will Olive's owner come to claim him, and if he does, just who will it be?  

To say that I adore this story would be an understatement about my actual feelings towards Cherry and Olive. I am entranced by this book, by the beautifully illustrated pages with textured painting, by the use of cherry reds and chocolate browns and olive greens - three things essential to the story!  I'm captivated by the details shown in each page, from abandoned bicycles propped up against iron gates to fall leaves loitering on the sidewalk.  And being that I love a good scavenger hunt, I was positively tickled to find a doll version of Sally from Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas propped up on Cherry's bookshelf!  It is evident that Tim Burton has had an influence on the author's work indeed, and after I thought about it, a movie version of Cherry and Olive has great potential!  I was so intrigued by the artwork that I decided to research author and illustrator Benjamin Lacombe to see if he has written or illustrated other books!  Sure enough, he has, and they have been translated in many languages, including Swedish, German, Russian, Spanish, and others.  With my research, I learned that Lacombe has written a second book featuring Cherry titled "Cereza Guinda," meaning "Cherry Cherry" in Spanish.  However, these precious books are seemingly impossible to find, and if I do stumble upon one on Amazon, it is rather expensive!  Are most of his books out of print? I wonder.  Are they readily available in other countries, just not the U.S.?  Sure, his illustrations are much darker than the ones typically seen on the shelves of Barnes and Noble, but children should not be deprived of these beautiful pictures and so relatable, yet such uncommon, stories! 
I am captivated by the cherry reds,
chocolate browns, and olive greens
present in this book.
Photo Courtesy:

In Cherry and Olive, the author mentions that Cherry's mother just left.  Why did she leave? I'm not sure; readers can only assume, but many children are growing up with only one parent, and not many picture books touch on this issue unless they are solely focused on divorce itself. Cherry is also teased by her classmates and feels isolated from the world until she meets a four-legged friend and makes a special friend at the book's end.  How comforting for those children constantly being teased in their own realities.  I also appreciate how the author showcases a dog in an animal shelter, and not a perfect, cute, cuddly little thing, but a plump, wrinkly brown creature! As an advocate for animals, I believe that it is never too early for students to be aware of the importance of animal shelters and community service.  Just like Cherry helped her father at the animal shelter, older students can participate in service-learning by helping their own local animal shelters.  I realize that there might be safety concerns with actually going into a shelter, but collecting food, leashes, toys, and blankets for animal shelters is another way that classrooms can be empathetic and caring.  

Along with service-learning, students can be engaged in rich discussions about bullying and friendship.  With clear story elements, Cherry and Olive is a great book for students to summarize.  The characters in this book possess varied traits, providing an opportunity for students to analyze each character with character diagrams or compare and contrast the characters.  Grading each character using a "Character Report Card" is another activity that would correspond great with the use of Cherry and Olive in a classroom.  With a positive ending, students can extend the story to write about the events that happen after Cherry makes a new friend.  This book could easily be assimilated into a unit about friendship or, more specifically, a unit about dogs and the friendship that they provide.  

Because Cherry and Olive is not an easy book to find, I will handle my ex-library copy with loving care so that I can savor the illustrations and words inside for a long time. In the meantime, I hope that more of Benjamin Lacombe's work appears in my local library and bookstores not only for me but also for young readers.  If you would like to learn more about Mr. Lacombe's work, please check out his website. Perhaps you will be as mesmerized as I am! 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Reading: Paul Meets Bernadette (Picture Book)

Life inside of a fish bowl is what you make it! 
Have you ever had a pet fish?  Occasionally, my father would agree to let my sister and I add a goldfish to our family tree  (and one time a frog, which hopped away in the house somewhere and never was found).  While goldfish are not typically known for their outgoing personalities, Paul Meets Bernadette, written by Rosy Lamb and published in late 2013, shows that, like all animals, fish have their own perspectives to life.  It subtly hits at the importance of friendship and shows how peer relationships can help one to broaden his own worldview.  Further, the pictures are quite pleasant and, from my perspective, breathe new life into the landscape of children’s illustrations.

Paul is a fish that spends his time traveling around and around in his fish bowl.  Just as round as he spins are the brushstrokes that grace each page.  With every turn of the pages are more round brush strokes, making me feel like this book was personally painted just for me!  The dark tones in the beginning of the book hint at the void world in which Paul lives, but when Bernadette joins him, the world brightens up!  And isn’t that what happens when we meet a new friend that comes along to brighten our lives?  Bernadette introduces Paul to the world outside, showing him commonplace objects in the kitchen and explaining their uses from her perspective.  For example, what I perceive to be a banana is actually a boat!  And the blue and white tea kettle?  It’s an elephant feeding its babies (the teacups), of course! Children will delight at the opportunity to predict how Bernadette perceives objects throughout the kitchen, thus Paul Meets Bernadette is an excellent choice for teaching students many comprehension strategies.  Most notable, and as I’ve stated already, Paul Meets Bernadette is a great book to reveal how characters have different point of views.  Perhaps students could write a journal entry from Paul’s perspective telling about a typical day and then do the same for Bernadette.  Students can discuss how the character’s own view points affect what they see, learning that everyone has a different opinion.  This is a crucial discovery children must make on the path to tolerance.   While younger children may observe this book from the surface and simply read a story about two fish who become friends, making the world a better place, older students can examine it more deeply and think about how new friends can broaden our own understandings of life.  And last but not least, Paul Meets Bernadette is a winning choice to help students develop robust vocabulary.  With words like "enchanting" dazzling the language in the book, there are ample, yet manageable, opportunities to introduce students to vivid vocabulary.

The pictures are sure to please children of all ages, as they are bright, colorful, and realistically oil-painted.  It is evident that they are painted with thick, circular brushstrokes throughout the book.  I cannot recall other children's books that I have read with this illustrative methodology, making Paul Meets Bernadette a new frontier in children's illustrations.  The bright colors make me happy, and I want to take the pages and frame them on my walls!  Not only would Paul Meets Bernadette be beneficial in a reading classroom, I also think art teachers would enjoy discussing the fantastic illustrations and the techniques used to create them. 
It is only a matter of time before Paul Meets
 will get to wear a shiny gold medal on
its cover, recognizing the prized
illustrations inside! 

As this story was just released in December 2013, it is has yet to be rewarded for its unique, memorable illustrations.  However, I predict that it is only a matter of time before Paul Meets Bernadette wears a shiny gold medal on its cover!  If you are interested in reading this book or would like to see some of the paintings for yourself, check out this exciting book trailer!