Friday, November 11, 2011

Chip’s Picks for Kids: Three Picture Books for the Family

By Chip Schrader
Staff Book Critic


The first book is “Mirror,” by Jeannie Baker. “Mirror” begins with a paragraph about two boys, one from a city in Australia, and the other who lives in Morocco. The book is actually constructed like a mirror as the pages to the Australian boy’s story are bound on the left, and the Moroccan boy’s life is depicted on the pages bound on the right.

As the reader flips through these pages simultaneously, they can compare each story. There are no words, but illustrations show how each boy’s life has the same situations, and they have different ways to fulfill similar needs. In Australia, the family works in the day, driving through the heavy traffic and the young boy goes through the bedtime ritual of being tucked in by his mother. On those same pages on the right side, the Moroccan child kneels upon his prayer rug and rides a camel through dirt pathways that weave between mountains that might resemble Australian skyscrapers. The agricultural and bartering culture of Morocco intersects with the Australian family as they go to a store to find “Magic Carpets.”

“Mirror” shows that what we might consider primitive culture runs parallel to Western civilization, and there is room for adult observers to even pick up on the inequities of modern commerce. Meanwhile, the point would not be lost on children. Being wordless, it invites conversation rather than straight ahead teaching, and opens up the age range of readers.

The illustrations are imaginative and innovative, constructed mostly of cloth and woodcarvings. The last page explains this process. “Mirror” is a deep, conscientious story presented in an amazing book that collectors will want to buy.

Reading level: Ages 5 and up. Hardcover: 48 pages. Publisher: Candlewick; Bilingual edition. (Courtesy book cover image)

“Blue Chameleon”

On the lighter side, “Blue Chameleon” by Emily Gravett will entice young readers with its simple illustrations and single word per page structure to encourage beginning readers. Words like “yellow,” “swirl” and “gray” correspond with creatures that wear these colors or shapes. The simple setup builds not only reading skills, but helps develop the logical skills children will need for comprehension.

As children learn to read the word on the page, there is an interactive step left for children to point out the yellow color on the banana, or the swirl on the snail’s shell. Patterns and snippets of dialog in balloons are also scattered throughout to add a little fun and friendliness to readers.

“Blue Chameleon” is beautifully sparse in illustration, at least until the end. But, its deceptive simplicity invites and engages readers into the puzzle of pattern recognition and builds cognitive skills for children in a playful, non-instructive way.

Hardcover: 32 pages. Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers. (Courtesy book cover image)

“Interrupting Chicken”

Finally, on the silly side is David Ezra Stein’s “Interrupting Chicken.” This story depicts the timeless ritual of bedtime stories, but this time it is a father and daughter chicken. Promising not to interrupt, the father goes through three fairytales, and as we can expect, Little Chicken does not keep her promise. Just as each fairy tale is about to take a dangerous turn, Little Chicken interrupts and warns the characters of the impending danger.

When it comes to these fairy tales – Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood and Chicken Little – every reader, big and small, was a little chicken at one time or another, and thus is the brilliance of this book. Being a perfect bedtime story, the littlest readers will learn about the fairy tales, but get a shortened version that will bring a laugh instead of a fright. For the bigger readers, the humor and layers of cleverness are engaging, and will not make them lose sleep either.

The illustrations are a lush pastel like old oil paintings, the characters are cute, at least as cute as chickens can be, and Stein’s use of framing for the images to fit the story are well thought. “Interrupting Chicken” is a classic read-aloud story ideal for bedtime, and doesn’t require any interactive participation from the little chickens.

Reading level: Ages 4 and up. Hardcover: 40 pages. Publisher: Candlewick. (Courtesy book cover image)