TRAVEL TO ENGLAND & SCOTLAND
A Picture Book Roundup
Maisy Goes to London
Written and illustrated by Lucy Cousins
(Candlewick Press; $15.99; ages 2-5)
An English Year: Twelve Months in the Life of England’s Kids
A Scottish Year: Twelve Months in the Life of Scotland’s Kids
Written by Tania McCartney and illustrated by Tina Snerling
(EK Books; $17.99; ages 6-10)
Travels through England and Scotland
I was raised in England, so I’m partial to books about the British Isles. Luckily, there are so many of them! We begin with Lucy Cousins’ Maisy Goes to London, which is a perfect introduction to the fabulous city for children ages three to seven. Maisy and her friends are sightseeing in one of the most exciting cities in the world, and there’s so much to see and do! They climb the lions in Trafalgar Square and see Nelson’s Column. Right across the street is the National Gallery, home to “so many amazing paintings. Maisy likes the sunflowers best.” Of course, no trip to London is complete without seeing Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, and Big Ben. With stops at a park and the Tower of London—“Cyril and Charley love the Beefeater’s colorful uniform”—Maisy and company cover a lot of the most recognizable sites. As always, Lucy Cousins’ delightful artwork and easy-to-understand word choice hit the mark for younger readers.
For a broader look at modern England, older readers can check out An English Year: Twelve Months in the Life of England’s Kids written by Tania McCartney and illustrated by Tina Snerling. Five children, Victoria, Aman, Tandi, George, and Ameli, are our guides to festivals, games, traditions, sites, animals, and foods from different parts of England. Each month has a double page spread and is filled with delightful pictures that depict the text. Each spread features about 12 facts for the month. The books is chock full of information! I personally loved seeing the hot, roasted chestnuts in a paper bag for January and the Punch and Judy puppet show for June. The references to lesser-known facets of living, such as “we gobble Jaffa Cakes and Jammie Dodgers” (June) and BBC’s Children in Need fundraiser (November), add to the sense of discovery. Details such as these, in addition to the more mainstream items like Stonehenge and Royal Ascot, go a long way in creating a real sense of life in England.
McCartney and Snerling have also created the series’ companion book, A Scottish Year: Twelve Months in the Life of Scotland’s Kids. In similar fashion to the England book, Scotland’s heritage is presented via five children—Rashida, Sophie, Dominik, Isla, and James. We learn that on Twelfth Night, people “take down our Christmas Tree to avoid bad luck” (January) and that “Tartan Day celebrates everything good about Scotland” (April). We’re introduced to blaeberry picking (July) and “redding the house, to bring in a fresh new year” (December). The use of Scottish vernacular (for example, dreich, meaning dull, depressing, dreary weather) and inclusion of celebrations (the Braemar Gathering and the Royal Highland Show) produce a vivid feel for the pride that the Scottish feel for their country.
Readers may realize that more context or detail is needed to explain some of the information in the books. For example, English Year states, “At birthday parties, we play lots of games. Dad tries to give us The Bumps!” We did this when I was a child, so let me explain. The Bumps is when the birthday child is lifted by the arms and legs, and his/her bottom is bumped on the ground the number of years he/she is turning. It’s fun. Scottish Year mentions that in November “we put on our coats and play conkers outdoors.” I have fond memories of playing conkers with my classmates. A conker is a horse chestnut with a shoelace strung through it. Children then aim and hit their conkers at each other’s. Whichever conker outlasts the other, wins. Even though some research may be needed if a reader wants to dig deeper, the basic information doesn’t distract from the charm of the books.
The artwork is adorable. Each book’s characters show features of life at home, school, play, festivals, and so on. Illustrations introduce the months. In Scottish Year, March has a rain cloud hovering over it and rain sprinkling from the M, and September has leaves swirling around it. The text incorporates different colors and line shapes. For example, the text weaves around illustrations, some words are colored, some letters have their circles filled in, and some are in different sizes. The visuals, including the endpages, are appealing and encourage readers to follow the text.
Each book ends with a list of counties/regions and a map of the country filled with fun facts. I had no clue that Scotland has over 790 islands! I did know, however, that England consumes more tea per person than anywhere else in the world. Tea is such a large part of the culture. I appreciated the multicultural aspect that reflects the reality of these countries today. It begins with the inclusion of the children’s characters from Pakistan, India, Jamaica, and Poland, as well as England and Scotland, of course. While plenty of traditional aspects are presented, so are the more contemporary contributions from the various “introduced cultures” that have become a part of the fabric of England and Scotland. For example, in English Year, we learn that “Holi is the Spring Festival of Colours. We cover each other in coloured paint” and that “Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan. No more fasting!” To ensure authenticity, the books have been produced in consultation with native English and Scottish advisors, school teachers, and school children.
If you aren’t traveling to the British Isles this year, or even if you are, these three books are a wonderful introduction to London, England, and Scotland.
Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold
Written by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Rick Allen
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; November 2014, $17.99; ages 6-10)
Living in southern California, my children and I can only imagine winters with the landscape covered in snow and animals nestling against the cold. Luckily, we have Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold, a new picture book by Joyce Sidman. Twelve poems capture how animals and nature manage during the north’s long and often freezing season. Some subjects, such as tundra swans and snowflakes, are cute and others like springtails (also known as “snow fleas”) and skunk cabbage, not so much. Cute or not, all topics are fascinating. Here is the first stanza of Chickadee’s Song:
From dawn to dusk in darkling air
we glean and gulp and pick and snare,
then find a roost that’s snug and tight
to brave the long and frozen night.
Facts accompany the various poetic forms. For instance, for chickadees, we learn that “weighing less than a handful of paperclips…spending every waking moment searching for food…chickadees hunt for seeds, berries, and hidden insects to build up a thin layer of fat, which must last them all night.” That is just a little tidbit of the plentiful information given. The book also includes a glossary. This makes for a wonderful way to teach poetry, science, and vocabulary from one source.
The artwork by Rick Allen adds to the feeling of a frosty winter. The book’s description states, “The individual elements of each picture… were cut, inked, and printed from linoleum blocks… and then hand-colored. Those prints were then digitally scanned, composed, and layered to create the illustrations.” Keep your eye out for the beautiful red fox that guides the reader through most of the pages.
Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold gives us a glimpse into the natural wonders of winter.
– Reviewed by Rita Zobayan
NOW A 2015 CALDECOTT HONOR BOOK!
The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus, written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, (Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers, $17.50, Ages 6-10) is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.
✩Starred Reviews – Publishers Weekly & Kirkus Reviews
Junior Library Guild Selection
The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus by Jen Bryant with illustrations by Melissa Sweet, Eerdmans 2014.
List: index, inventory, agenda, series, menu, outline, docket. If you like to make lists, be sure to put this wonderful book about Peter Mark Roget on the top of your next one. A marvelous new nonfiction collaboration from the terrific team of Bryant and Sweet, here is the story of a man whose book resides in countless homes, schools, and libraries. The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus will boost your appreciation for this indispensable reading and writing reference tool as well as for the man who created it.
Young Peter’s early life was challenging. His family moved often following his father’s death in 1783, but Peter found that books were always plentiful, faithful friends that he did not have to leave behind. He began writing his own book, a list of Latin words and their English meanings. The list helped him study and gave him a sense of comfort and order while his mother fretted and worried.
Bryant’s lovely, lyrical text walks a well-balanced route through Peter’s shy teen years, medical school, marriage and family. While practicing medicine, Peter continued amassing words until his book of lists was completed. Always collecting, revising and perfecting, Roget’s lifelong dedication eventually created an organized, easy to use tool. In 1852, the first thousand copies of Roget’s Thesaurus flew off the shelves.
Sweet’s collage style illustrations are jaw-droppingly gorgeous, drawing fine threads of Roget’s story into focus with richness and clarity. I have studied the pages of this book for days, and still discover unique text samples and detailed subtleties in the pictures that amaze me. This is truly a book to savor over and over, noting fresh gems each time.
Indeed, in The Right Word we learn that thesaurus comes from the Latin and Greek roots meaning treasury. I cannot imagine a more apt description of this spectacular picture book biography. Be sure to note the extensive author and illustrator notes, timeline, bibliography and endpapers that will make this treasure an indispensable resource.
- Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
- Where Obtained: I borrowed a The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus from my local library and received no compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
Download discussion guide here.
Read our review of Bryant’s and Sweet’s book A Splash of Red here.
Janeczko, the 2011 CYBIL winner for Requiem: Poems of the Terezin Ghetto, has selected a collection of short poems about the seasons written by well-known children’s and adult poets. Included here are lesser known poems by Charlotte Zolotow and J. Patrick Lewis (children’s) and Emily Dickinson and Richard Wright (adult). Each wonderfully illustrates the point that poets are artists who paint with words and only needs a few carefully chosen words to convey powerful images.
Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems selected by Paul B. Janeczko with illustrations by Melissa Sweet, Candlewick Press, 2014.
The mood of the poems is reflective and evocative. Some are resplendent with metaphors or similes such as “In the Field Forever” by Robert Wallace (p. 21):
Sun’s a roaring dandelion, hour by hour.
Sometimes the moon’s a scythe, sometimes a silver flower.
But the stars! all night long the stars are clover.
Over, and over, and over!
Illustrator Melissa Sweet received a Caldecott honor for River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams. Her full page, mixed media illustrations (water color, gouache, and collage) are uplifting and enhance the poem without overshadowing it. My students admired Sweet’s illustrations for the interesting details she added that are not necessarily a part of the poem, but are reasonable inclusions. In the illustration for “Water Lily” a frog’s eyes peer out of the pond, following a nearby fly (p. 10).
The publisher recommends this for ages 6-9, but I read it to older students to demonstrate poetry techniques such as metaphors, word choice, etc. My 4th/5th grade class found the word choice so vivid that the readings evoked personal memories or made them feel like they were in the poem.
This breath-taking collection has deservedly received starred reviews Horn Book, Kirkus, Booklist, and School Library Journal and is highly recommended for all libraries (public, school, and home!).
This review first posted in in 2012 (hence the different date of Presidents Day), but I felt it was worth reposting again today.
Tomorrow, February 22nd, is our founding father’s birthday. Since I probably learned about America’s first president over 40 years ago, I decided to revisit some children’s books and found George: George Washington, Our Founding Father by Frank Keating with paintings by Mike Wimmer ($16.99, Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, ages 6 and up), to be one worth noting.
George: George Washington, Our Founding Father by Frank Keating with illustrations by Mike Wimmer, Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2012.
The author, former Oklahoma governor Frank Keating, shares this story, part of the Mount Rushmore series, in first person so readers will feel an immediate connection to Washington’s life in Virginia. The fifth of ten children, Washington was expected to leave school at 15 years old to assist his widowed mother; his father having died four years earlier. From an early age young Washington displayed strong moral fiber, writing a list called The Rules of Civility originally taught to him by teachers, the principles of which would guide him throughout his life. I had not remembered that Martha, whom he married at age 27 was already a widow with two children although it’s not surprising considering the average life span then was around 37 years old. I liked that the author chose to include various rules from Washington’s list helping me to learn more about what shaped this influential man even prior to becoming commander in chief of the armies or our nation’s first leader.
The award-winning artist, Mike Wimmer, has brought Washington to life through his use of oils painted on canvas in this wonderful picture book. To capture the president in the 18th century so accurately, Wimmer used models, period costumes and a lot of research. He has succeeded in portraying Washington’s life in an engaging, almost photographic-like way and his paintings truly complement Keating’s succinct narrative . This book would make a great addition to any school or local library’s American History section as its message is timeless.
Rule 1: Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.
Rule 73: Think before you speak. Pronounce not imperfectly nor bring out your words too hastily, but orderly and distinctly.
Now these are great rules to live by!
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
The Matchbox Diary ($16.99, Candlewick Press, Ages 6-11) is a beautifully written tale about a Kindergarten-aged girl who spends time with her great-grandfather in his home library, where he shares with her his life story through his special collection of matchboxes. Author and Newberry Medalist, Paul Fleischman, was inspired to write this story after meeting an artist who saved matchboxes from his travels, housing trinkets inside from each destination. It wasn’t until 15 years after that meeting that Fleischman came up with the story for this book; it was well worth the wait.
The boxes and their contents reveal the details of the great grandfather’s journey emigrating from Italy to America. From an olive pit and a bottle cap to a baseball ticket stub, each one of these boxes’ treasures represents an important event in the great grandfather’s life. Even an empty matchbox helps reveal a memorable tale.
This book reminds me of the special relationship I had with my own grandfather and the many hours I spent listening to stories about his life. There’s magic in a small child learning that his or her parent, grandparent or great-grandparent had a fascinating life – challenges and triumphs included. I admire the fact that the book teaches young readers about the hardships of many people who came to our country from places far away.
The Matchbox Diary author: Paul Fleischman
illustrator: Bagram Ibatoulline
The extraordinary illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline are of award-winning quality. The pictures of present day when the great-grandfather is talking to his great-granddaughter are in full color, while the illustrations depicting the past are in black and white. The illustrations, printed on paper with a gold hue, are rendered in incredible detail and are perfect for conveying the historic era of the great-grandfather’s journey to America.
The Matchbox Diary reminds us that despite this age of information accessibility and modern technology, nothing can take the place of a story told by someone you love.
– Reviewed by Debbie Glade