Monday, September 9, 2013

Picture Book Reviews

Raschka, Chris. 2011. A Ball for Daisy .  New York, NY: Schwartz & Wade Books.  ISBN 978-0-375-95861-8 

 A Ball for Daisy is a wordless picture book that sweetly details the story of a dog named Daisy and her love for, and attachment to, a red ball.  On an adventurous walk with Daisy’s owner, the ball is chased and ultimately destroyed by another dog.  A dejected Daisy falls into a depression until, on another walk, the owner of the dog who destroyed Daisy’s red ball presents her with a new blue ball.  Daisy and the other dog play, and Daisy happily takes her new blue ball home.

As a wordless picture book, A Ball for Daisy is all about the illustrations.  The medium of water color is used, with simple muted colors of primarily black, white and gray, which serves to highlight the significance of the “red” ball.  The placement of the ball and Daisy on the pages in different locations emphasizes robust movement and play throughout the book, until toward the end, when a droopy and dejected Daisy must leave the park without her beloved ball.  

Through his illustrations, Chris Raschka creates many emotions in Daisy, such as excitement, happiness, contentment, joy, playfulness; then shock, denial, sadness, anger, disappointment and, finally, depression.  Ultimately, Daisy experiences surprise and happiness again upon receiving the gift of the new blue ball from a new friend.  It isn’t always true that life ends with a happily-ever-after, but picture books are a great way for children to begin to see how life happens. This book tells a huge story without one single word.

Personal Response:
The cover of the book doesn’t reveal the tremendous story inside, and I found myself lost in the pictures and the story they presented, just as I would be lost in any good book.  The buildup of Daisy’s emotions, the conflict of the destruction of the ball, and the resolution of a new blue ball made a satisfying “reading” experience, and I ended up with a smile on my face!

Reviews and Awards:

Caldecott Medal Winner; A New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book of the Year; A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year; A Hornbook Fanfare Book

“Rarely, perhaps never, has so steep an emotional arc been drawn with such utter, winning simplicity.” – Kirkus Reviews, Starred

“Raschka’s genius lies in capturing the essence of situations that are deeply felt by children.” – School Library Journal, Starred

“Noteworthy for both its artistry and its child appeal” – The Hornbook Magazine, Starred

Children can relate to the emotions involved in the loss of a beloved toy by misplacing or breaking it; and the joy of receiving a new toy has been experienced by most children as well.  The book allows children to experience a plethora of emotions, both good and bad, in a safe way, and ultimately reveals that something good can come from an unhappy experience.  A deeper theme of loss and recovery is explored in a way which children can relate to.
Another book that could be read along with A Ball for Daisy is The Odd Dog, by Claudia Bolt, about a dog who is afraid of losing his beloved apples to a neighbor dog, and the emotions he experiences when that does happen.  Depending on the culture of the library, the English/Spanish book The Lost Ball/La Pelota Perdita, about a boy and his dog searching for a lost ball could also be read.

In a story time, the children could participate in coloring a picture of a dog with a ball and explain choosing the color red or blue for their ball.  Small, inexpensive rubber balls could be provided to play with.  Children could share experiences of when they lost a toy and what happened afterwards. 

Willems, Mo. 2004. Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed. New York, NY: Hyperion Books for Children. ISBN 978-142311437-6

In this picture book, a naked mole rat named Wilbur likes wearing clothes, which is not the tradition of everyone else in his community.  He is questioned, ridiculed and ostracized by his fellow naked mole rats. However, a surprise awaits when the Grand-pah naked mole rat makes a proclamation that there is nothing wrong with wearing clothes and appears dressed in a dapper suit of his own.  The naked mole rat community then adapts, as some decide to try wearing clothes, but others choose not to – and all are accepted either way.

Mo Willems creates a unique character in Wilbur, the naked mole rat, who has a strong sense of self and is confident in challenging the norms of his community.  The conflict arises when Wilbur is mistreated for trying to be different, something that happens often to children due to peer pressure.  The resolution and the story itself create a theme of identity and individuality – that it is ok to be different – and to stand firm in one’s convictions.  

The illustrations are cartoon-like line drawings of characters and objects with mostly pastel colors, creating a gentle feel, all the while telling a strong story about prejudice and intolerance, and ultimately, acceptance.  The characters’ facial expressions and bodies are drawn to reflect many moods: the antagonists’ shock, disgust and anger at Wilbur’s decision to keep wearing clothes; the thoughtfulness of Grand-pah’s proclamation; and ultimately acceptance and happiness as everyone decides that doing one’s own thing is ok after all.

Personal Response: 
 Having experienced intolerance about clothing choices myself, as a pre-teen, I appreciate Wilbur’s willingness to stand firm in his convictions.  Seeing young children succumb to peer pressure, myself and my own children included, makes me realize  that this book is has a strong theme that could have an impact on a child’s choice to be strong and stay true to his or her own belief system.

Reviews and Awards:
Bulletin’s Blue Ribbons, 2009; Publisher’s Weekly Review Stars , 2008; Parent’s Choice Award, 2009; Black-eyed Susan Book Award, 2010-2011, Nominee

“Adults will embrace the message of tolerance, happy to have a tale that can be shared with young children” – School Library Journal 

“…mostly it is Wilbur’s guileless observations that will have young readers feeling good about individual expression” - Booklist

In a school or library setting, reading a non-fiction book about real naked mole rats would be a good choice to go along with Willems tale, such as Kristin Petrie’s Naked Mole Rats.  In addition, there are other children’s books about intolerance and identity that could be read along with this book, such as I like Myself, by Karen Beaumont and Day and Night,  by Teddy Newton.  A craft could be made with a paper-doll Wilbur and clothes to color and cut out for him. 

Ga’g, Wanda. 1928. Millions of Cats.  New York, NY: Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers. ISBN 978-0606018173


A little old man and woman are lonely and decide they would like to have a cat to keep them company.  The little old man travels far and wide, along finely drawn hills and valleys and encounters “millions of cats.”  Unfortunately, he cannot decide on one cat and ultimately takes them all home to the little old woman.  The couple quickly realizes they cannot keep them all.  When asked who is the “prettiest,” the cats begin to quarrel, and after the fight ends only one scrawny, unattractive cat remains.  The couple loves the cat anyway and treats it very well.  After some time, they decide it’s a beautiful cat after all, having seen “hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats,” a recurring phrase throughout the book.

This “classic” children’s book, one of the oldest still in print, is illustrated in black and white drawings, as it was created before color printing was popular in picture books.  The pages contain quite a bit of text which is also different from the colorful, popular picture books of today.  However, the story has many traditional children’s book elements: characters seeking something, a journey, decisions to be made, conflict and a satisfying resolution.  The story also contains the rhythmic refrain of “hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats” which clearly calls for repeating by the audience.  One negative of the book is the fact that the millions of cats apparently eat each other while fighting, which may seem morbid to young children, and the theme of greed may go over their heads. Additionally, the age of the book and the lack of colorful pictures might possibly cause a child to forego this book in favor of a brighter choice. In spite of those issues, the story continues to delight, even after more than 80 years.

Personal Response: 
This book was a surprise, as I did not realize it had been written so long ago. I read that it is the first book to use pictures on facing pages, which is the standard of picture books today.  The text was engaging and the drawings were well done, plus the rhythmic refrain is quite catchy.  Classic picture books do still have a place in the hearts of children – and adults.

Awards and Reviews:

John Newbery Medal, 1929; and a number of “Top 100” lists for children’s books

The age of the book make it difficult to find published reviews.

This book could be read with other “classic” picture books, such as Make Way for Ducklings, by Robert McCloskey or Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig.  Additionally, other books about different kinds of cats could be read, such as I Don’t Want a Cool Cat! By Emma Dodd and Cats, Cats, Cats!  by Leslaea Newman.  Activities could include coloring sheets for children to draw the “perfect” cat for them, or a flannel board activity as the story is read prepared with laminated cut outs of characters from the books.


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