I took a class with Nancy Willard when I was in college, and I learned very early on in that semester that there is no one quite like her. Her whimsical worldview is very apparent in this collection of poems, all about a fictitious inn owned by William Blake and inhabited by various creatures. I had a hard time understanding this book at first, but once I realized it was literally about an inn and the characters who work there and stay there, I felt like I had unlocked the secret to appreciating the story. I think kids might not know who William Blake is right off the bat, but reading this book might encourage them to look for some of his work. Kids who have learned some of Blake’s poems already might also enjoy this unique and creative approach to his personality.
A River of Words. by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Published 2008. Caldecott Honor 2009. Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9780802853028
I enjoyed Melissa Sweet’s illustrations in Balloons Over Broadway but didn’t make the connection that she is also the illustrator of A River of Words. She employs a similar technique in both books - combining images from the subject’s life along with a collage of documents and other significant words and pictures in the life of her subject. I absolutely love the way she uses William Carlos Williams’s poetry not just in the end papers, but throughout the book. My favorite is the page about the moon, where the poem is written on the outside of Williams’s house, and the sky is made entirely of a star chart. Since William Carlos Williams writes such simple, salient poetry, his work is perfect to share with elementary school kids, and this book is a great companion to such studies.
Harlem by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Christopher Myers. Published 1997. Caldecott Honor 1998. Scholastic. ISBN: 9780590543408
This is a book I think is actually most appropriate for older children. The text is a poem, which requires some analysis to truly understand, and even the illustrations are works of art in their own right, without necessarily helping the reader to decode the text. I had a hard time relating to the book, and I’m having trouble coming up with things to say about it, but it does a nice job of capturing the sights and sounds of Harlem, and Christopher Myers has a unique and interesting style of illustration which suits his father’s writing perfectly.
You Can Write Chinese. by Kurt Wiese. Published 1945. Caldecott Honor 1946. Dutton Books ISBN: 9780670050772
This book begins as a story about a young American boy learning Chinese, but really focuses mostly on how to draw and pronounce basic Chinese characters. The whole thing is sort of couched in this touchy-feely idea about the relationship between America and China, which felt strange, but the information itself is valuable and well-presented. I especially liked learning how the different characters relate to one another and to their meanings.
See other Caldecott Challenge participants' blogs on the challenge page at LibLaura5. Follow my challenge progress here.