Friday, October 25, 2013

Time to Play

Interior from Giggle!

Board books often seem to be directed at the adult playing with the child, rather than to the child directly. Giggle! by Caroline Jayne Church speaks directly to toddlers, and encourages adults to engage with them in the activities suggested in these pages. 

Giggle!--like Pete's a Pizza by William Steig, The Baby Goes Beep! by Rebecca O'Connell, illustrated by Ken Wilson-Max, and Mitchell's License by Hallie Durand, illustrated by Tony Fucile--features toddlers that model fun things to do with your child that require nothing but imagination and interaction.

If your baby or toddler is having a fussy day, just press the Giggle! button that pops through the upper right-hand corner of every page, and the sound of laughter emanating from the book is sure to pass on its infectious joy and improve everyone's spirits.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Price of Power

Holly Black

What could be a more frightening thought than teens who aspire to be vampires? Not for love, as with Bella and Edward, but for the desire to stay beautiful and young forever. That is the picture Holly Black paints in The Coldest Girl in Coldtown.

Black taps into that teen mindset of invincibility and carries it to its logical extreme in thought-provoking and haunting ways. She lays out the "scientific" parameters of infection versus "turning," after a vampire bites a human (there's an 88-day "cold" period during which, if an infected human does not feed on the blood of another human, he or she can theoretically return to a "normal" human state), and the elaborate Coldtowns that the government has built to contain the infected. Black gives a back story that explains how vampires are "made" and the complicated way that Lucien--a power-grabbing vampire whose nightly broadcasts within the oldest and most famous Coldtown--has achieved his status.

Once there were strict rules designed to "control," or at least track, the vampires' lineage--and the mysterious vampire Gavriel (aka, the Thorn of Isra) played a part in it. But Lucien has changed all that. The human heroine, Tana, makes a decision to rescue Gavriel, and gradually uncovers his complex past, and reveals a complicated history of her own. It's an epic book, with a size to support it, yet it reads in a flash. Black melds her characters' addiction for power, glamour and blood with sly commentary on today's youth-obsessed culture. The humor comes as easily as the book's gothic elements.

If you've not yet read her Doll Bones (aimed at middle graders, but which will appeal to her YA fans, too), it makes a fascinating contrast to this book. With a very different tone and equally serious (though less gory) themes, it too explores friendship, family, loyalty and independence. In many ways, Coldtown, with its exploration of hierarchy, the breaking of rules and fierce love, shares more of the aura of her Curse Workers series. This reader can't wait to see what she does next.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Time Matters

The father in Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Skottie Young, disrupts the space-time continuum when he escapes through an emergency exit, against the wishes of his alien captors. All the man wants to do is take some milk back to his children for their breakfast.
Neil Gaiman
Photo: Brady Hall

His children believe that their father is taking a very long time to buy milk for their Toastios. The people and creatures their father meets on his journey live in an era different from his. Professor Steg, for instance, believes they are in the future, but the father knows the Stegasaurus is from the past. The aliens are outside of time, and who knows what era the pirates belong to.

Gaiman plays with the elasticity of time. Time passes quickly from the father's perspective, as he moves swiftly through time periods and challenging situations, milk safely in hand. To the children, time plods along at a snail's pace. As we wait for a loved one, time moves slowly; when we are swept up in events, time moves quickly.  In an ever more programmed world--programmed by events as well as technology--time moves at a breakneck pace. 

As an early adopter, Gaiman was one of the first to join Twitter. He tweets throughout the day and often crafts a blog entry from them at night. He uses Twitter to reflect in the moment, and his blog to reflect on the day. So it was especially interesting to hear Gaiman say, when I got a chance to interview him recently, that he plans to take a break from social media. Why? Gaiman says, "I would like to be bored more. I don't think I get bored enough these days, and I think boredom is a brilliant, brilliant way of coming up with ideas."

Time to be "bored" feeds the imagination. Time to do nothing, matters.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Wordless Books & Visual Literacy

For a child who cannot yet read--who cannot decode letters as symbols that represent sounds--wordless books such as Journey by Aaron Becker give them a way to tell the story they see. 

From Journey by Aaron Becker
Children will notice the only colors that pop in the opening pages of Journey: a boy's purple crayon, and a girl's red one. Like Crockett Johnson's Harold and his purple crayon, the girl uses her red one to create a world. In her case, it leads her out of her alienating sepia-toned cityscape and into a lush world of forests, interconnected waterways and steampunk airships. Eventually, a purple bird leads her back to the boy and his purple crayon. She is no longer alone. 

Stephen Savage's Where's Walrus? is a terrific introduction to wordless books for children. Its direct, implicit puzzle--finding Walrus, who's escaped from New York's Central Park Zoo--allows them to pick the hero from a line-up based on his unique characteristics (flippers, tail, tusks, etc.). The book gets them thinking about patterns, likenesses and differences. Generous white space and bold colors repeated for maximum effect make this an ideal book for giving children the idea of how to "read" a purely visual narrative. 

Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger includes a few words, to describe the bountiful shades of green that she showcases in the book, but the larger narrative goes unstated. A parent-child relationship that centers around a tree, which begins as a sapling and grows to be the anchor of their home, suggests the cycle of life. Her greens go from the concrete and literal ("lime green" / "pea green") to the more abstract ("all green" / "never green"). She uses die-cuts in the pages to train children's eyes on the details she wants to reveal to them. It's an ingenious way to demonstrate ways to inspect artwork carefully and unlock its secrets.

Jerry Pinkney's Caldecott Medal–winning The Lion and the Mouse, with its breathtaking landscapes of the Serengeti teeming with hidden treasures, invites children to pore over the pictures for flowers and creatures, large and small. Pinkney's gorgeous spreads of grandeur composed from the tiniest details echo Aesop's overriding theme of the interconnectedness and interdependence of nature's plants and species. 

Open any one of these books (and hopefully all four) to unlock how much your youngster has to say about what he or she sees.