Quirky, Weird and Wonderful:

These are books that I have discovered over the years and want to celebrate.
Some are out of print, some are new, but most of them have fallen through the cracks for some reason
or another and are not on the general must read lists of books for children.
This does not mean I do not love award winners and best sellers,
but I have a soft spot for the unappreciated and misunderstood.
Please understand that my taste is eclectic, slightly warped and a bit dark.
I like books that make me laugh, books that make me cry, and books that make me think.

I welcome suggestions. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Jeannie Baker - author/illustrator

I love the art of collage and author/illustrator, Jeannie Baker, is one of the best. Her work is gorgeous and full of rich details. Made from natural materials, like sand, bark, twigs and moss, her collages capture and evoke nature beautifully.

Baker is Australian and, obviously, cares about the environment. Some of her books are almost preachy, but the images are so riveting that you don't really notice. Its the details, that catch your imagination and the changing point of view. Imagine trying to see a forest and then a leaf. Baker can do that! Her books are not subtle. Instead they are carefully, lovingly constructed pleas for us to look and care about the world around us.

Where the Forest Meets the Sea
is about a tropical rainforest, Home is about city life, but both have to do with time and change and how humans impact their environments. The Story of Rosy Dock is the only picture book I know of that has to do with invasive plant species! I don't really have one favorite of her books, rather I want to give a shout out for any of them. Baker was creating books for children about the natural world long before it was fashionable. Please check them out.

Teacher Notes: It is a mess, but I've found students love making collages from natural materials like Baker's. I've seen BIG collages in the Scottish Storyline method. that were just gorgeous. Baker's books were the seed.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Eva - Peter Dickinson

Dystopian novels are pretty big right now. Hunger Games, ...., the list goes on. I don't really want to dwell on the reasons why. But I do understand the attraction, the gut wrenching understanding that the terrible future imagined just might be possible. Reading a really good story about a bad future makes me look around at the here and now and see what is still good and worth keeping.

Many of these stories are really dark, but, for some reason, I don't seem to remember them well. Maybe I've become jaded or I'm reading too fast. But one has stuck in my mind for years. I think I first read EVA more than 30 years ago and it still haunts me. I read it again a while ago and it does feel dated, but the concept is so strong I didn't mind.

What if the world were in really bad shape and a girl had her brain implanted in a chimpanzee? What if she was torn between two species? What if she could teach the chimps? What if they could start over? These are really BIG questions with lots of repercussions.

EVA won the Phoenix award in 2008 which means there are lots of others who feel it is a great book that did not get enough attention. It was used for years by schools and it is being dropped now, but I hope it is not forgotten. This is the sort of book that makes us think.

Teacher Notes: This does have some references to sex, so be prepared.

Eva by Peter Dickinson
Laurel Leaf; First Thus edition (October 1, 1990)
ISBN-10: 0440207665
ISBN-13: 978-0440207665

Friday, July 9, 2010

Summertime from Porgy and Bess by George and Ira Gershwin, and Dubose and Dorothy Heyward ; Illustrated by Mike Wimmer

It is over 100 degrees today and I thought of this book.
I love the song
Summertime from Porgy and Bess and this illustrated version does a wonderful job of capturing the lazy heat of summer and the love of family. Brothers and sisters run in fields, sit on porches and are watched by loving parents.

I spent a few years of my childhood in Alabama and just seeing these pictures reminds me of the south. I remember ice tea, hiding in the shade, and relatives asking me to give them some "sugar" (kisses).
Mike Wimmer's paintings are just lovely. I keep buying copies and giving them away - especially at baby showers.

This is a wonderfully evocative rendition of African-American country life. I've heard a few gripes by people of color that there are too many books about slavery, immigration or struggles in general. This book is a celebration of the good things - even when life is hard.

If you like books based on songs, there are a few more that I'd recommend - the strongest based on African-American spirituals and also wonderfully illustrated. Check out: This Little Light of Mine, illustrated by E.B. Lewis, and He's Got the Whole World in His Hands, illustrated by Kadir Nelson. I love reading It's a Wonderful World illustrated by Ashley Bryan. A new version of This Land is Your Land has great illustrations by Kathy Jakobsen, though I wish they were larger. Lots of lists around but these are my favorites right now.

Summertime from Porgy and Bess by George and Ira Gershwin, and Dubose and Dorothy Heyward ;
Illustrated by Mike Wimmer
Aladdin (June 1, 2002)