Less is More

Book Reviews - Books for Building Your Library

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Roberta Gardner brings you another spectacular collection of book reviews. This issue's titles include those that say "more with less." Enjoy exploring the ways that writers and artists can communicate big ideas succinctly.

The Snowy Day

We are excited to feature this classic book in our "Less is More" issue. This winner of the 1963 Caldecott was a trailblazing book, one of the first children's books that featured an African-American boy as its hero. Keats uses illustrations made with cut-outs, watercolors and collage to share a simple story about humble adventures. This book clearly illustrates the philosophy of "less is more" with its unique and special story about a winter wonderland.

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Click here to view this book in Amazon +

The Three Pigs

Leave it to David Wiesner to treat a traditional story like The Three Pigs in ways that are absolutely non-traditional. In fact, the pigs in Wiesner's version of the classic tale throw into question every aspect of narrative stories: plot, setting, characterization.... You can read Wiesner's The Three Pigs to search for his hallmark flying animals and horned dragons, or read it to see the ways he turns narrative on its ear. Either way, you and your students will find yourselves returning to this story again and again as you will discover new dimensions to explore with every reading. This book never gets old!

Art & Max

On the heels of a four-year hiatus from author/illustrator David Wiesner, this visual masterpiece will drop onto bookshelves in October 2010. In true Wiesner-style, simple text is accompanied by intricately imaginative illustrations that keep the eye searching for new details with each read and keep the mind wondering, "How does he come up with this stuff?"

In this book, readers are introduced to two lizard friends who are on different levels of artistic achievement. Arthur (don't call him "Art") is an accomplished painter with little time for nonsense while Max is an ambitious novice seeking guidance in the craft. When Max's enthusiasm to put his paintbrush to use compromises Arthur's very existence, it is up to the oddly-matched duo to work together to get Arthur out of precarious circumstances. Wiesner's story gets at more than just creating a piece of art. Lying in wait are the lessons that students can be teachers and that open-mindedness can lead to new avenues of creativity.

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Click here to view this book in Amazon +

Keat's Neighborhood

Keat's Neighborhood is a compendium of ten classic stories by the legendary Ezra Jack Keats. In addition to the treasure trove of mixed media images, this book features tributes by well-known authors and illustrators such as Eric Carle, Jerry Pinkney, Simms Taback, and Reynold Ruffin. It also includes a useful chronology of all of Keat's works, in addition to a biography.

Little Yellow Leaf

This is one of those books that kids keep asking you to read again and again, and do you know what? You will not mind one iota. Just like your young listeners, you will be enveloped by the exquisitely rendered images featuring woodland creatures scampering amid leaves swirling about. The leaves paint the ground with warm amber and flourishes of yellow and crimson. Each flutter and whisper of the crisp wind ushers in the promise of winter but a little yellow leaf clings to a branch, fearful of letting go. But hark! There is another lone leaf jostling about, and together they gracefully fall. Carin Berger's collage images are eloquent and she doesn't stop there, she also crafts the writing in pleasing verse that culminates into the creation of a visual and lyrical masterpiece.

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Click here to view this book in Amazon +

How the Stars fell into the Sky

A female protagonist seeks to create order in a complex universe and subsequently sets about the task of creating laws and order amongst the stars. This Navajo legend about the origin of the stars features captivating illustrations and universal themes that can be used for numerous cross-curricular extensions. Lisa Desimini creates a dramatic work of art using simple shapes and rich jewel tones and Jerry Oughton's prose describing "the rim of the night" exudes grace. This is a wonderful book to demonstrate the wisdom of simplifying something intricate and complex. It serves as a great mentor text for how-and-why stories or as a precursor for units on classification and pattern making.

The Quiet Book

Quiet. It's a simple word that has many contexts. For example, there's sleeping sister quiet, last to get picked up from school quiet, and pretending you're invisible quiet. This book is a charmer. A rabbit, a wombat, an owl, and a bear demonstrate various states of quietness, and boy are they cute. By design, the text is succinct and simple because the heart of the story is in connecting children to the emotions behind the various forms of quiet. Deborah Underwood succeeds on every level with enchanting characters and a state of being that young children can relate to on a basic and deeper conceptual level.

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Click here to view this book in Amazon +

Not a Stick

This book is an ode to the imagination. It may look like the little pig in the story is holding a stick, but he's not. It's not a stick... it's a sword, and page after page, the "stick" becomes many other objects that suit the creative whims of this inventive little pig. Antoinette Portis composed the pig and stick using simple black outlines that stand out against the wood-grain background of the little pig's wondrous playscapes. It's his world and he can make the stick become whatever he wants which is why he so aptly calls it "my not a stick." In a world full of intricate gadgets Portis' little masterpiece serves as a grand reminder of the infinite possibilities one can enjoy with a simple found object like a stick.

Yesterday I Had the Blues

When you open this Ezra Jack Keats Award-winning book, you step into a pool of indigo, then pink, then red, green, deep blue, and sky blue. You are introduced to a flourish of richly hued colors that match the sentiments and emotions of the individuals encountered by the young boy whom we accompany throughout his urban neighborhood and into his home.

As his sister Sasha is preparing for an after-school dance class, "she has the pinks." Sasha prances about in shiny tights with glitter upon her cheeks. R. Gregory Christie captures the spirit of the dancing diva, filling the page with a tsunami of intense raspberry and fuchsia. You can't help but revel in her excitement. Page after page, Jerone Fran's word play and R. Gregory Christie's artistry convey the energy and complexities of the various emotions using colors and the shades and gradients in between. This book serves as a great anchor text for writing about mood changes or as an introduction to metaphor.

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Click here to view this book in Amazon +

Little Red Fish

Sometimes you should judge a book by its cover. For example, the cover for Little Red Fish is a work of art, and serves splendid entry for this unique story. The cover features a brilliant red textured cloth cover with a die cut displaying a sepia-toned background.

When JeJe accompanies his grandfather to work in the library, he brings along his red fish. After exploring, he drifts into a deep sleep and awakens to a world of enchantment. JeJe's fish is no longer in the bowl, and he must find his elusive fish. We are whisked right along with JeJe as he goes on an escapade diving and dashing throughout the pages of this magical book trying to locate his thrill-seeking fish. Tae Eun Yoo's tale is a magnificent fusion of classic and contemporary art and storytelling.