Friday, December 20, 2013

Fun with Color

Little hamsters help toddlers to recognize and name familiar colors in the playful board book This Little Hamster by Kass Reich. The examples mix the routine with the whimsical. For black, it's a tire (in the form of a swing), a top hat, and a "healthy snack" (blackberries).

Repetitive phrasing allows toddlers to join in on repeat readings, and large, open type helps them recognize patterns of letters and length of words, even if they're not reading yet. The pictures clearly show the items mentioned in the text, and the charming hamsters make ideal models for the objects under examination.

Hamsters Holding Hands, also by Reich, which counts up to 10 and back down again, boasts a "meatier" story line, but by the time toddlers finish this pair of board books, they will be quite comfortable with both numbers and colors--and likely will have shared more than a few laughs.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Two Sides to the Story

Gene Luen Yang

 Gene Luen Yang is no stranger to pushing the limits of what graphic novels can say and do. With his Boxers & Saints, he tells both sides of the story of China's late-19th-century Boxer Rebellion. It's a conflict rarely taught in schools, yet its themes reverberate through history: economic disparity, oppression, freedom to practice one's beliefs, and a right to education.

Yang's highly visual approach, and his balance of humor with weightier themes make this a fascinating, entertaining journey to a foreign land during a pivotal era. The origins of the project began in Yang's own back yard--at a celebration of Chinese Catholics newly canonized by Pope John Paul II at the author-artist's Catholic church in the San Francisco area, he told us in an interview for School Library Journal's Curriculum Connections. As he researched these martyrs from China, Yang also gained compassion for the peasantry who fought against the missionaries arriving from Europe to increase their congregation--and their power.
Photo Credit: Jarrett Krosoczka

Teens will find both Bao, the hero of Boxers, and Four-Girl, the heroine of Saints, to be sympathetic. The way Yang integrates their stories and intersects their paths in the two books makes it nearly impossible to choose sides. Bao's fondness for the Chinese Operas through which he learns history leads to a visually entrancing comics-like superhero-style thread (when the peasant-rebels fight, they transform into Chinese deities). Yet Yang ratchets up the emotional impact as high as the suspense about the fate of his two protagonists. The author-artist's exploration of China's terrain, gender differences, and the lack of education available to its less affluent citizens will further contribute to readers' appreciation of the full potential of the graphic novel form.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Paleoartist on the Case

Catherine Thimmesh

Catherine Thimmesh takes a unique approach to dinosaur detective work in Scaly Spotted Feathered Frilled: How Do We Know What Dinosuars Really Looked Like? First off, the book makes readers aware that those who draw and paint dinosaurs are also scientists.

Kids may already assume that those who put together dinosaur skeletons must be scientists, to know which bone is connected to what other bones, but what about those who sketch and paint dinosaurs?

The other thing Thimmesh makes clear is that scientists must stay current to new scientific discoveries and also be open-minded, willing to revise their models and drawings in accordance with those discoveries. A perfect example in the book is Stephen and Sylvia Czerkas's life-size reconstruction of the dinosaur Deinonychus--which served as the model for the raptors in the Jurassic Park movies. The couple spent three years working on those models. "Every single scale was delineated," Sylvia Czerkas explained. But then scientists discovered that Deinonychus had feathers, so the couple covered over their three years' work with feathers instead. "That's what you have to do," Stephen Czerkas said. "You have to be ready to change what you think in the face of new scientific evidence.... [It] was undeniably clear that Deinonychus and many types of dinosaurs were feathered."

Thimmesh, through specific examples, such as pairing two paintings of Triceratops a century apart (one by Charles R. Knight, another by Mark Hallett), or the previous example of the Czerkases' revision, demonstrates how flexible scientists must be--willing to reexamine their approach in light of new evidence. It's scientific theory in practice, and models for children that the best practitioners must combine discipline, research, critical thinking and creativity in their endeavors.