Ten: With Their Own Two Hands

When we make things, we participate in shaping our own environments, as well as the world in which others will live. We take ownership of our places in our communities in a creative and unique way — what we create reflects who we are and how we see ourselves contributing to the people around us. This week’s Ten is full of characters whose diverse creative gifts impact their worlds in big and small ways.

Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry
Kira’s twisted leg makes her an outcast in a community that values usefulness above all else. However, a special gift for creating pictures with coloured threads makes her invaluable in preserving the past and shaping the future of her village. This is the second book in Lowry’s Giver quartet.

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Ish by Peter H. Reynolds

ImageRamon loves to draw. He draws anything, anytime  anywhere. That is, until his older brother teases him about his artwork, leaving him overly critical of his drawings. After that, his works never seem “perfect.” He draws and draws and draws again, but feels that his drawings are never good enough. He ends up crumpling them up and drawing them over again.

One day he notices his younger sister picking up one of his crumpled pieces of art. Chasing after her to get his drawing back, Ramon follows her into her room, where he finds all of his crumpled up drawings carefully hung on his sister’s walls. When a flabbergasted Ramon tells her that the drawings are not perfect artistic renditions, his little sister doesn’t even blink, saying that while his drawing of a vase doesn’t look like a vase, it still looks “vase-ISH.”

Ramon feels inspired once more as he starts to see things in an entirely new way. “They do look…ish,” he says. Feeling less burdened and newly energized, Ramon begins once again to draw freely, living “ish-fully ever after.”

This book shows readers that whatever someone says to them, not everything needs to be perfect. It provides an avenue to know that they can relax and stand by their ideas and or works and express themselves fully in adverse situations knowing that there is value in imperfection. Contemporary in its artwork, Ish is a story filled with emotion and warmth that will surely grasp the attention of readers young or old.

See a booktalk on YouTube.

Get to know a little bit more about Peter Reynolds on his website. Learn about his mission, read his blog, and browse through his photo album.

Find a classroom guide for this story as well as for the dot, another one of Reynolds’ books.

Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath

Everything on a Waffle coverWhen Primrose Squarp’s parents disappear at sea, the town places her in the care of the ancient Miss Perfidy, contacts her uncle, and waits for her to mourn. When she doesn’t (Primrose is certain her parents are alive somewhere), they turn her over the guidance counselor, Miss Honeycutt, who is biding her time in Coal Harbor, B.C. until she can claim her inheritance back home in England. Miss Honeycutt, it turns out, is far more interested in Primrose’s Uncle Jack than she is in Primrose, and rather more interested in herself than in Uncle Jack. Uncle Jack proves to be a dear soul who quits the Navy and begins a development project in Coal Harbor in order to care for his niece. Unfortunately, the new project keeps him busy — and eventually lands him in the hospital — so Primrose is left largely on her own. Aside from a couple of minor accidents, Primrose manages pretty well on her own, making friends with Kate Bowzer, owner of The Girl on the Red Swing, where everything is served on a waffle. Kate offers no judgement on Primrose’s certainty regarding her parents’ safety, and helps Primrose to fill her mother’s notebook with recipes to share on her parents’ return (the recipes are included at the end of each chapter).

Primrose’s story is simple and sweet, if a little too exaggerated to feel quite real. Most of the characters are entertaining caricatures, playing out their roles on the periphery of Primrose’s life without experiencing any real development of their own. Still, Primrose’s faith in her parents, her friendship with Kate, and her resilience throughout the series of small traumas in Everything on a Waffle make for an appealing and memorable character. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, One Year in Coal Harbor.

Read the Kirkus review, or one from Bunbury in the Stacks (spoiler warning).

Listen to Polly Horvath talk about the process of writing Everything on a Waffle.

A Sick Day for Amos McGee written by Philip C. Stead and illustrated by Erin E. Stead

Sick Day for Amos McGee coverAmos McGee takes good care of his friends at the zoo. He plays chess with the elephant, keeps the shy penguin company, reads stories to the owl who is afraid of the dark. It’s clear that Amos loves the animals, and they love him back. When Amos doesn’t arrive at the zoo one day, though, the animals worry. At first they wait in their usual spots, polishing chess pieces, stacking up story books, but soon enough they decide that waiting is not going to solve the problem. They pile onto a bus and go to Amos’s house, where they find him sick in bed. Without a second thought, each animal cares for Amos in his own way, echoing the ways that Amos has cared for them. It isn’t long before Amos is feeling much better, and everyone tucks in for a good night’s sleep before catching the bus back to the zoo the next morning.

In Amos’s world, friends take care of each other according to what each good at, and what each needs. Stead demonstrates this matter-of-factly, avoiding any hint of preachiness, but offering plenty of ideas to start readers thinking about how they can help to take care of someone else. The illustrations form an integral part of the story, not only elaborating on the text, but also occasionally moving the story forward independently. The illustrations also add a lot to the rereadability of the story, introducing all sorts of details that will take multiple reading to catch. My favourite (aside from the penguin’s socks) are the little bird and mouse that appear on nearly every page, whether waiting at a tiny bus stop, sitting listening to Amos’s story, or tucked under the rhinoceros’s scarf for the night. Highly recommended for both children and adults.

Read a wonderful, detailed review from School Library Journal, or a shorter one from the picture book review blog Story Snug.

Enjoy an interview with Eric C. Stead, the illustrator of Amos McGee on Seven Impossible Things before Breakfast.

Ten: On Choosing Books

Readers find books in all sorts of ways. Sometimes they’ll make use of the sort of resources we listed last week, sometimes they’ll ask someone they trust — a friend, parent, teacher or librarian — and sometimes they’ll just go browsing. Each reader develops a sense of what characteristics tend to mark the sort of books they’ll like, including title style, plot features, protagonist characteristics, setting, format, and even features of the physical book, such as colours, fonts and types of images used on the covers. I think it would be fascinating to have students browse the library, pick out five books that appeal to them, and then have them sit down and look for the common features that they’ve learned intuitively to watch for. In the meantime, I thought I’d share ten new(-ish — 2012/2013 releases) books I’m looking forward to reading and why.

Based on Experience
Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart and illustrated by Diana Sudyka
I loved the Mysterious Benedict Society trilogy, in part because I was so impressed by Stewart’s ability to tie the three together effectively while making each story distinct and enjoyable on its own, and in part because I liked the characters so much. Each is unique, grows believably through the course of the trilogy, and relatable in their mixes of strengths and weaknesses. While Reynie, Kate, Constance and Sticky won’t be in this prequel, I’m hoping to find Nicholas Benedict similarly developed as a dynamic, memorable character.

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When Vera Was Sick by Vera Rosenberry

Upon coming down with the  measles, Vera is lovingly settled into a quiet, dark room by her mother. And what follows, this little girl discovers, is a life very much stripped of colour — at least for the time-being! 

veraToo sick to read books; play with crayons; or participate in the bustle of family life, Vera feels increasingly lonely. Not even visits from her family or sneaky ventures downstairs help her spirits or those pesky, itchy red spots. And once boredom strikes, and pink calamine lotion abounds, Vera’s had just about enough! Is there any end in sight?…

As a note to all those with children in daycare (especially in that first year!), Rosenberry’s tale provided a solid means for helping my toddler put words to the physical states of colds and the flu. Because it’s a fairly long tale, we initially compensated by focusing on a few pages central to the experience of sickness, and especially those with comical aspects. But a year down the road, the whole book is more than manageable for her, and permits many openings through which to discuss the experience of illness, and its effects on ourselves and those around us.

Check out a NYTimes review, and if your interest is at all peaked, you can join in my excitement of discovering that Rosenberry has a whole series of books featuring Vera. For the record, though, I think that I’ll avoid Vera Runs Away for the time-being…no need to plant such ideas just yet!!

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork

Marcelo in the Real World coverMarcelo Sandoval experiences things differently than most. Difficulty understanding body language and social conventions, and a deep commitment to his “special interest” — God and religion, generally speaking — make “Asperger’s” the easiest answer to people’s questions about his behaviour, though Marcelo notes that this is not quite accurate. Still, going to Patterson, a special school that helps students with all sorts of mental and physical challenges to learn strategies for managing those challenges, has been beneficial for him, teaching him to relate more easily with others and offering him opportunities to help other students. He is comfortable at Patterson.

The summer before his last year of high school, his father gives him a choice: demonstrate that he can successfully follow the rules of the “real world,” working at his father’s law firm through the summer, and choose for himself where he will finish high school, or take his preferred job working with the therapy ponies at Patterson, and prove himself instead at public school in the fall. Marcelo chooses the former, and discovers both the satisfaction to be found in taking on challenges, and the disillusionment that is part of navigating the “real world” of adult responsibility and compromise.

Marcelo is a lovely, thought-provoking story that encourages readers to contemplate the definition of “self,” the challenge of balancing competing loyalties, and the sacrifices involved in taking an adult place in the world. It does include some mature language and subject matter, and while neither is gratuitous, it is likely that older teens will be better prepared to take these in stride. This novel is likely to appeal to those who enjoyed the unique perspective found in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and to those who enjoyed the philosophical/religious musings of Life of Pi.

Read the NYTimes review, or find out what Wrapped Up in Books thought.

A trailer: