A Tree is Nice by Janice May Udry, illustrated by Marc Simont. Published 1956. Caldecott Medal 1957. HarperTrophy. ISBN: 9780064431477
This book always catches my eye because of how tall and slender it is. I always thought that was the perfect shape for a book about trees. The illustrations, some of which remind me vaguely of some of Syd Hoff's pictures, portray in lush shades of green the many uses human beings have for trees. In text similar to that of Ruth Krauss in I'll Be You and You Be Me and Margaret Wise Brown in The Important Book, the childlike narrative voice describes everything from burning Fall leaves in bonfires to hanging a swing from the tree, to placing a baby buggy in the shade to rest. Alternating images are in black and white, which makes the color illustrations that much more appealing. It's hard to believe this book was published in 1956 - it feels much more contemporary than that, and still perfectly relevant today.
Paddle-to-the-Sea by Holling Clancy Holling. Published 1941. Caldecott Honor 1942. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN: 9780395150825
I never read this book, or even heard of it, during childhood, and even as an adult, I wasn’t readily drawn to it. I’m surprised, therefore, by how much I liked it, and how much I took away from reading it. In the Canadian wilderness a boy carves a Paddle Person and sets him on a snowbank, hoping when the snow melts, the small boat will find its way to sea. The story then follows the boat on its journey through the Great Lakes and eventually to the Atlantic. What I liked most was the fact that so many people were willing to help Paddle on his way. He was plucked from the water several times, but always returned to continue his journey. This fact gave me a warm feeling about humanity, and made me wonder if something like this could actually happen in real life. I had some difficulty believing in the ending, where the young boy spots Paddle again at the end of his journey, but I do think it was the best ending for this particular tale. The book is beautifully illustrated, with lots of attention to detail, and lovely naturalistic colors. It would be a great book for teaching geography, and will appeal easily to any kid who has ever pondered where his nearest river leads.
Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrated by Mary Azarian. Published 1998. Caldecott Medal 1999. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN: 9780395861622
This picture book biography tells of a scientist so obsessed with snowflakes that he made photographing them his life’s work. Though the book is non-fiction, the text is very readable and approachable, presenting information as a story, rather than a dry litany of facts. Occasional additional details are printed in the snowflake-filled borders of certain pages, but even these are quick, and to the point, making them easy for kids to digest. I was disappointed that a book about a photographer shows so few of his own actual photographs, but there is one page at the back showing some examples. All in all, I thought this was an interesting topic for a children’s book, and it fulfills a growing need my library has for biographies for kindergartners and first graders.
Working Cotton by Sherley Anne Williams. Published 1992. Caldecott Honor 1993. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN: 9780152014827
This book provides a glimpse into the life of a family of migrant workers, as they spend a day working in a cotton field. Though there isn’t much text, the illustrations help give the reader a sense of what the family’s day is like - including the participation of the children in the day’s activities, and what the family eats when they take a break for lunch. There is so much personality in the face of each character, and the depiction of the cotton plants is just beautiful. Unfortunately, though, the abrupt ending left me feeling unsatisfied, as though I’d only been taken on half a journey.
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