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Picture books & easy readers | class #2, fall 2017

During our first class, we started to look at picture books. For our second class on September 20, we are adding easy readers into the mix. Here’s what we are reading and discussing:

  • Three more picture books
    • That New Animal by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Pierre Pratt
    • School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex, illustrated by Christian Robinson
    • The Journey by Francesca Sanna
  • Two easy readers
    • There Is a Bird On Your Head! by Mo Willems
    • Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same by Grace Lin
  • Picture This by Molly Bang

That New Animal and School’s First Day of School tackle situations that are familiar to many children. There are lots of pictures books about sibling rivalry or the first day of school. Maybe too many. But these two add a twist that allows a child who is feeling jealousy or fear to step back and look at the situation differently. In The Journey, two children and their mother leave home and take a perilous journey in search of a safer place. Expect more books about refugees in the next few years as US authors and illustrators deal with current events. Each of these picture books deals with fear of change. How do you think their different approaches could affect a child’s reaction to each subject?

Our two easy readers show situations that have less built-in tension and use plenty of humor to help new readers begin to enjoy books and reading. Their texts are simpler and the art provides clues for readers who are struggling with the text. In contrast, the picture books we are reading have more characters, more complex plots, and the art sometimes depicts a situation that is not described in the text.

Molly Bang had already created several picture books when she decided to explore how pictures work. The result was Picture This, which just celebrated its 25th anniversary with a new hardcover edition. Molly says she began to understand art and composition better through this exploration. While Picture This was originally written for adults, I know some teachers in later elementary and middle school who use the exercises in the second half of this book with their students. Note that Molly Bang will be one of our guest speakers on October 18.

We hope you will join our online pre-class discussion of all these books.

Note: Students have been asked to research specific book creators and websites and add their findings in the comments.

  • Casey C. will comment on Emily Jenkins
  • Cleo L. will comment on Pierre Pratt
  • Michelle F. will comment on Adam Rex
  • Janisa H. will comment on Christian Robinson
  • Jennah M. will comment on Francesca Sanna
  • Andy R. will comment on Mo Willems
  • Helen L. will comment on Grace Lin
  • Gabrielle A. will comment on Molly Bang
  • Dima M. will comment on the Seven Impossible Things blog
  • Amy N. will comment on the Calling Caldecott blog
  • Robyn B. will comment on the Caldecott Medal
  • Mahima B. will comment on the Geisel Awards
Lolly Robinson About Lolly Robinson

Lolly Robinson is the creative director for The Horn Book, Inc. She has degrees in studio art and children's literature and teaches children's literature at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. She has served on the Caldecott and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committees and blogs for Calling Caldecott and Lolly's Classroom on this site.



  1. Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast is a children’s literature blog that focuses on book illustrations. The blog is made easy to navigate through the categories of reviewed books ranging from adult fiction to picture books and young adult. Visitors can also view an archive from this month’s posts all the way back to the first posts from August 2006. In addition, the blog also provides links to children’s book sites and other children’s book blogs. What makes this blog unique is that Julia interviews illustrators and authors about their books. Her blog posts also include some pages of the books being reviewed so readers can see a visual example of the illustrations. The blog is rich with content on children’s books (as well as other genres) and Julia’s writing style is very entertaining as well.

    Click on these links to learn more about the blog and view more of Julia Danielson’s posts on books.

  2. With regards to this week’s readings I found School’s First Day of School very enjoyable to read, particularly because it’s a story from the perspective of a school building’s first day of school which we don’t typically see or think of. When thinking of a story about school I automatically think of a plot where the main characters are teachers and students. Here the protagonist is the school and its first friend and the first human we meet is the janitor, who is also rarely given the spotlight as a lead character. I found it especially fun to see how the school was brought to life and had a character of its own through the rollercoaster of emotions it experienced leading up to and during the first day of school. The emotions mirror many children’s emotions on the first day of school: fear, anger, and happiness. I thought the book is very clever and the illustration style very fitting for the topic as it gives the impression of children’s drawings.

  3. Casey Carlson says:

    Emily Jenkins is an American author of both children’s literature and young-adult/adult novels. Her children’s books focus on science, history, and math through humor and real world observation. She writes her young-adult novels, most notably the Ruby Oliver series, under the pen name, E Lockhart, a family name. Both her children’s books and young-adult novels have been recognized by a slew of awards and prizes, including the Boston Globe Horn Book Award. Despite her many accolades, Jenkins received criticism in 2015 for her depiction of a smiling slave girl in 1810 Charleston in her book, A Fine Dessert. She apologized for her insensitivity, and asserted that her intention was to fairly depict a part of American history that is often left out of children’s literature.

    Her newest book, Brave Red, Smart Frog: A New Book of Old Tales, was released this month. Jenkins cleverly retells some of the most well-known and loved fairytales with a modern twist. Click below to learn more and check it out!

  4. Nimah Gobir says:

    Francesca Sanna’s The Journey is moving not only because it focuses on the increasingly relevant plight of refugees, but also because of the beautiful illustrations that accompany the text. As America gains more first generation Americans, immigrants, and refugees, I can foresee books like this becoming impactful teaching tools in classrooms. Sanna personifies war in her text and illustrations to make war as a concept more accessible to her young readers. Additionally, her drawings are fantastical and help children empathize with the characters’ experiences. Sanna also uses color to convey feelings (Molly Bang would be proud). For example, when the family is turned away at the wall the entire page is red and jarring. Sanna’s decision to create a book based on an amalgam of stories generalizes the experiences of refugees without trivializing the real dangers that come with crossing borders.

  5. Here’s what I found about Christian Robinson:
    Christian Robinson, a 2016 Caldecott Honoree, is an illustrator who enjoys using pictures to tell stories. One of the distinctive features in his works is the cut paper style, and he likes to experiment different kinds of mediums and techniques in his work, for example, he used a mix of paint and collage for Leo: a ghost story. He illustrated some award-winning books such as Gaston and Last Stop on Market, and he believes that many children see their first representation of the world through picture books. It is interesting to point out that many of Christian Robinson’s book covers said “pictures by” instead of “illustrations by”. He made this choice because he thinks the stories are created by both the author and the illustration in picture books. Robinson is also an animator who worked with the Sesame Street Workshop and the Pixar Animation Studio.

    More information can be found here:

  6. Arlyn Madsen-Bond says:

    I agree with Dima that School’s First Day of School was very enjoyable because it’s written from the perspective of the school building. Not only did the story represent the rollercoaster of emotions of fear, anger, and happiness about the first day of school like Dima says, but it also shows the relationship between the janitor and the school and how that relationship helps the school start to feel comfortable with itself. The school starts to feel self-conscious (“the school sagged a little” and “I must be awful”) because of what the other kids are saying (“this place stinks” and “I hate school”). At the end of the day, the janitor helps the school change its self-perception (“you get to be a school, that’s lucky”). The school is excited about the next day.

    Another first day of school book I really like is First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg. You can find a read aloud of the book here:

  7. Reading Picture This was so interesting! I loved how she talked about how different colors, shapes, and lines can affect the readers emotion. I had read the other picture books first, and then read Picture This. After reading it, I was interested in the way different illustrations in the other texts were constructed, so I looked through them and noticed some of the art components that Bang talked about. I was particularly struck by the illustrations in The Journey. The illustrator used color to portray the family’s emotion in very drastic ways. For example, when the family wast traveling through the woods, the background is all black. This makes the reader feel fear for the family. On the page where the guards are looking for the family. The illustrator depicts them above the family much larger than the trees. This size choice really makes them stick out and shows the reader how dangerous this journey is. On the last three pages of the story, the illustrator uses a much lighter color palette. This makes the reader feel relieved and calm knowing that the family has made it safely through. Looking at only the background colors throughout the book takes the reader on a journey and tells a story of the characters’ emotions. I am so grateful to have read Picture This, because it has added a much deeper understanding of illustrator choice in children’s books.

    Francesca Sanna is an illustrator and children’s book author from Italy who has won a number of awards and honors (national and international) for her work, including a 2017 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award Honor, American Illustration Winner, and gold medal for Parents’ Choice Awards (among many others!). Her work is whimsical and playful, with a mix of clear and textured lines, specific color palettes, and scale manipulation to create a composition that evokes a particular emotion within each illustration.

    In an interview with blogger Greg McIndoe (, she describes her process: “I always start with a very ugly sketch and I try to make the composition of the page work. Then I move to the computer and painting digitally and using some self-made textures and some collage I make the final illustrations”, going on to say that her process is messy so she tries to give herself parameters, such as color palette, before she begins so she can remain consistent throughout the book.

    Fun fact: “The Journey” started as a project for one of her classes in her Master’s program.

    Fun fact #2: her distinctive style of work has also been used as packing for CHOCOLATE BARS (worth checking out the link to these:

    Fun fact #3 (making Fun Fact #1 all the more impressive): Canadian PM Justin Trudeau wrote a letter to Sanna personally thanking her for writing “Journey”, particularly for its positivity and relatability during trying times. (

    Other links of interest:
    Her personal website:
    A video of Sanna talking about “The Journey” (she’s adorable and you get to see it in this!):

  9. Sedef Seker says:

    My favorite book this week (and now one of my all time favorites!) was the Journey. The topic of immigration and refugees are very important to discuss with students of all ages, and I’m very interested to look at different representations of immigrant and refugee journeys. The Arrival by Shaun Tan was another great book similar to the Journey – if anyone is interested in exploring more! One of the things that affected me the most in the Journey was the use of point of view. The Journey tells the story from the child’s point of view through the words and the art. While the words take on a first person narrative, the art depicts how a child would perceive and react to the big changes they are going through. The way the artwork matches children’s imagination and mental perception of the situation was very effective in reinforcing empathy. For example, the man who didn’t let the family through the border was depicted as a huge man looking down on the very small depiction of the family. This choice in artwork captures the child’s perspective and his emotions really well and invokes empathy in readers. In the middle of the book, the author writes “but mother is with us and she is never scared, We close our eyes and finally fall asleep,” and the artist depicts the mother crying as her kids are asleep in her arms. For me, this was the most striking page of the whole book. Throughout the book, we stick to the child’s perspective and experience everything through his eyes. However, when the children fall asleep, we shift to the mother’s perspective and realize that although she stays strong for her children and appears fearless, she is also tired and scared.

  10. About: Adam Rex
    Adam Rex is an American writer and illustrator for children’s books. He studied in University of Arizona, where he met her lovely physicist wife Marie. Adam is known for his excellent fantasy drawings. These imaginative illustrations also once prevented him from entering the market for children’s books. His frist picture book is The Dirty Cowboy by Amy Timberlak which was published in 2003. Then Tree-Ring Circus and Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich in which Adam is both the writer and illustrator came out in 2006. Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich turned out to become a New York Times best seller at that time. Adam not only puts humor in his stories and illustrations, but also his own thinking and heart.

    “Because having a well-developed sense of visual literacy is important too.”
    Adam believes that picture books are not solely for children. Some parents may get their children “graduate” from picture books when the children reach a certain age. However, Adam considers that picture books can also be challenging and inspiring. Moreover, books are for enjoyment. If we can get joy and pleasurement from picture books, why not?

    “I do like being able to add something that isn’t actually in the original text whenever possible.”
    Adam likes to add something that is sometimes not written in the original manuscript as long as it fits the topic. Once he added a snail in Neil Gaiman’s Chu’s Day only for his own amusement. In the second book, unexpectedly, Neil gave this snail a name!

    “Maybe every girl character is my sister.”
    Some people notice that most of the main characters in Adam’s books are girsl. Adam explains that this is because he watched her little sister grow up and the prototype of these herorines tend to be his sister. He likes to make his passive characters boys and assertive characters girls, because “assertive girls are awesome and I think assertive boys can be mistaken for bullies” (Adam, 2014).

  11. Arienne L. Calingo says:

    I found “The Journey” by Francesca Sanna imbued with many symbolic visual elements, particularly in two ways. First, the prevalence of nature and animals (especially birds) is visible throughout the story and even on the jacket and endpapers of the book. The binding includes white birds flying up, which perhaps symbolizes a journey to safety and protection. The beginning and final endpapers are filled with many blue and green trees. In the part when the mother and her friend converse, even the wallpaper of the home is printed with leaves. As the mother’s friend describes escaping to a “country far away with high mountains,” her speech bubble is uniquely designed as high mountains.

    Secondly, the prevalence of arms and hands stands out. A shadow of black hands destroys the family unit, as the mother and children hold each other tight. On this page, in the photo in the picture frame, the daughter is reaching toward either her mother’s hair or her father. One powerful image is when the huge mysterious-looking creature lifts up the mother, who is lifting up her child. These recurring images of nature, birds, arms, and hands hold important meaning and contribute to themes of the story.

  12. Adam Rex is an American writer and illustrator for children’s books. He studied in University of Arizona, where he met her lovely physicist wife Marie. Adam is known for his excellent fantasy drawings. These imaginative illustrations also once prevented him from entering the market for children’s books. His frist picture book is The Dirty Cowboy by Amy Timberlak which was published in 2003. Then Tree-Ring Circus and Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich in which Adam is both the writer and illustrator came out in 2006. Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich turned out to become a New York Times best seller at that time. Adam not only puts humor in his stories and illustrations, but also his own thinking and heart.

    “Because having a well-developed sense of visual literacy is important too.”
    Adam believes that picture books are not solely for children. Some parents may get their children “graduate” from picture books when the children reach a certain age. However, Adam considers that picture books can also be challenging and inspiring. Moreover, books are for enjoyment. If we can get joy and pleasurement from picture books, why not?

    “I do like being able to add something that isn’t actually in the original text whenever possible.”
    Adam likes to add something that is sometimes not written in the original manuscript as long as it fits the topic. Once he added a snail in Neil Gaiman’s Chu’s Day only for his own amusement. In the second book, unexpectedly, Neil gave this snail a name!

    “Maybe every girl character is my sister.”
    Some people notice that most of the main characters in Adam’s books are girsl. Adam explains that this is because he watched her little sister grow up and the prototype of these herorines tend to be his sister. He likes to make his passive characters boys and assertive characters girls, because “assertive girls are awesome and I think assertive boys can be mistaken for bullies” (Adam, 2014).

  13. Pierre Pratt is a children’s book author and illustrator. He creates exuberant, distinctive illustrations for children’s books. Using oil pastel and acrylic paint in his works and incorporating heavy black lines, he often plays with perspective and draws on influences from Matisse to Edward Hopper to give his works an absurdist or sometimes merely silly slant.

    In addition to producing images for the texts of predominately French-language authors, he has also paired his brightly colored illustrations with his own stories, and has produced a series of board books focusing on the adventures of Olaf the elephant and Venus the mouse. Since 1990, he has illustrated (and also written) close to fifty books for children.

    An interesting fact about Pierre Pratt: He likes music and enjoys playing instruments, and often incorporates musical interludes into his working day. While waiting for a painting to dry, he has fun playing the accordion, or the double bass, or the piano, or the guitar.

    Find more information on Pierre Pratt at:

  14. Gabrielle Abramow says:

    The Information below is about Molly Bang.

    Molly Bang, born in 1943, is an author and illustrator mostly for children’s books. She is one out of three children and grew up in New Jersey. She majored in French at her undergraduate institution and upon graduation she traveled to Japan to teach English. She then went to two universities in the US and received two Master degrees in “Far Eastern Language and Literatures”. After getting fired from one of her jobs, she decided to make her dream come true in becoming an illustrator. Therefore, she researched and studied how pictures work. She worked in an elementary school to practice this question and finally created the book,”Picture This”. “Picture This” teaches the reader how specific illustrations can change one’s emotions and feelings. She mainly focuses on writing and illustrating for children’s books but has also created books for adults. She is now working on books to incorporate content areas like Science, for children to learn from. Some of her children’s books include: “When Sophie Get’s Angry…Really,Really, Angry”, “Ocean Sunlight”, “Little Rat Sets Sail”, and “The Paper Crane.” Some pictures from her books are for sale. Molly Bang is an inspirational illustrator who took a new approach in this field of work.

    You can find more information using the links below. (initial source)

  15. Getting to know Grace Lin
    Grace Lin grew up in a Chinese-American family in upstate New York. Her childhood dream was to become a book writer for children. After graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design, she went on to pursue that dream and indeed became a beloved children’s book author and illustrator covering picturebooks, novels and early readers. Her most popular books are The Ugly Vegetables and Lissy’s Friends. As a multicultural author, Grace writes books from two lens. First as a mirror of her life growing up as a Chinese-American, hoping that Asian kids who read them won’t feel so alone; second as a window to non-Asian children, hoping that they would embrace the similarity rather than difference of their identities.

    Grace’s book to read for the next class is Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same. In this book, Ling and Ting are illustrated as twin sisters with Asian faces. They use chopsticks, make dumplings, play magic tricks together but they can be very different, which is culminated in a dramatic haircut accident, when everybody can now tell they are not exactly the same. I like how Grace uses simple text , rich picture plus a sense of humor to give the story. More importantly, I enjoy the book a lot because it relates to my background so much. I have a Chinese sister and we are almost like twins with similar face, height and haircut. Friends and neighbours would always marvel at how we look alike but deep in our heart, we know that we have very different characters and personalities. But that does not stop us from loving each other.

    Find more about Grace Lin at:

  16. Mahima Bhalla says:

    “Children want the same things we want: to laugh, to be challenged, to be entertained and delighted”, said the famous children’s author Theodor Seuss Geisel, a.k.a Dr. Seuss. In his honour, the American Library Association recognises the most distinguished book for early readers every year. The Theodor Seuss Geisel award is given annually to the authors and illustrators of a book aimed at readers from preK- grade 2. The winners are awarded a bronze medal for their literary and artistic achievements, while certain other honor book authors and illustrators receive certificates. This award was established in 2004, and the first award was given out in 2006. In order to be eligible, books must be in English, published in the US, and the authors and illustrators must be citizens of the US. All categories- fiction, non-fiction and poetry are accepted. The books must have simple and straightforward sentences with illustrations that support the story being told. The stories should be intriguing and engaging, creating a stimulating reading experience for the young reader. The plot should advance from one page to another creating a ‘page-turning’ dynamic. This year, the medal winner was ‘We Are Growing!’ written and illustrated by Laurie Keller. Honor books included ‘Good Night Owl’, ‘Oops, Pounce, Quick, Run! An Alphabet Caper’, ‘Go Otto Go!’ and ‘The Infamous Ratsos’.

    For more information, check out the following links-

  17. Katie Torrisi says:

    That New Animal tells the story of two dogs adapting to a new baby in their house. I think this would be a great story to read with a child adjusting to life with a new sibling. This is true firstly because the illustrations show the parents from a dog/child’s eye view: the reader is looking up at them throughout the text. The child can therefore automatically relate physically to the dogs’ point of view. However, what I appreciated most about That New Animal is that it allows the child-reader space to feel anger toward the new baby in their house. Even though the dogs defend the “new animal” at the book’s climax, the book addresses that their feelings about the baby remain complex: “It is our new animal to hate as much as we want to.” All those emotions can be difficult for children to navigate, and That New Animal sends the message that it’s okay for children to feel anger and hurt when a new baby comes along. These feelings can coexist with familial love.

  18. The book that really stood out for me this week is ‘There is a Bird on Your Head!’ by Mo Willems – it made me laugh out loud on many occasions (which was a bit awkward as I was on the second floor at Gutman Library). It was great fun to experience a book that is so simple and yet so expressive, as the two characters react to one situation in two very different ways (until the end….:)). On several pages the elephant appears to be looking right at the reader so that the reader feels like she is in on the ‘joke’ as well; the page when the birds are falling in love is my favourite.
    I like the way elephant and pig contrast sharply to the stark white background, ensuring an almost spotlight effect on the two characters (which made it more funny to me, like a double act). I’m keen read Molly Bang’s books to understand more about the techniques used.

  19. Mo Willem has had a unique journey, which has lead him from stand-up, sketch comedian to three-time Caldecott winner. In high school and college, he enjoyed being a comedian and brought that with him to NYU’s Tisch school where he studied film and animation. He enjoyed being able to create characters and bring humor by himself through animation. Then, somewhat unexpectedly, he was hired by Sesame Street to be an animator and writer, where he learned how to write for children and that this was what he loved to do.
    At Sesame Street, he learned that in order to write for children he had to give the kids, as consumers of his work, the agency they deserved. That is to say that kids don’t know about pop-culture references or anything else that a lot of adult-focused humor focuses on, so instead “you’re just stuck with fundamental, core, philosophical, emotional things…not basic, it’s truer than that. It’s about things that are more universal,” as he said in a recent NPR interview. In a different NPR interview he expands on that idea by saying that “the age of 5 is the most philosophical age you can be, you are useless (you aren’t paying rent), but you’re asking questions like ‘why are people mean?’, ‘what is death?’, ‘can I drive a bus?’…the core Greek fundamental, existential questions.”
    In addition to discussing these ‘fundamental questions of emotion’, his humor makes adults laugh-out-loud (see Sally’s comment above). He says, “I write for illiterates, so I need you (my orchestra) I need you to be my conduate, you’re my performer for the books…so if you’re bored, and believe me when my kid was little I read some books and I was bored…but if you’re reading something that is a little bit weird or a little bit rock-n-roll, you’ll read it in a more fun way, then the book becomes more fun, then the kid enjoys it, which allows you to be more of a ham, and leads to a feedback loop of people being together and being willing to be silly.” These parent-child interactions are highlighted in a story in the New Yorker where a boy shared with Mo Willem that his book, “We Are in A Book!”, was one of the first books the boy could read as he struggled with dyslexia, but was motivated by the humor he shared with his father when they read the book together. Some parents, however, dislike his writing saying that his characters are ‘too snarky’ or ‘too mean’ (reminiscent of critiques of “Where the Wild Things Are”).
    As an illustrator, he doesn’t use clean lines, he likes triangles more than circles, even his circles aren’t really circles, and he’s even meta in his drawings (breaking the fourth wall on more than one occasion). His messiness and circles-that-kind-of-look-like-triangles comes from his distaste in the “realness” and “fullness” he sees in Disney’s “imitations of life”. Instead he wants his work to look unreal, which is probably why he spends part of every day doodling – not drawing, doodling. He tries to let his mind wander as he doodles just to see what happens and what ideas might come from the mess.

  20. I really enjoyed comparing “That New Animal” and “School’s First Day of School”. Both use other characters to voice the fears and jealousies of children (the first book has dogs with silly names like “FudgeFudge” and the second centres around an animated school building). All of these characters get off to a rough start (the school even gets covered in “nose milk”!) and all express dislike of their new situation. However, in both books, this rough start gives way to gradual acceptance and even enjoyment of the changes. As is appropriate for picture books, both contain colourful illustrations that lend further detail to the stories — I loved how the father in “That New Animal” has a T-shirt with a baby’s face printed on it, and the playground scene in “School’s First Day” includes many objects that could hold children’s attention.

    One difference between the books is the role of the third party. In “That New Animal”, a shared experience against a visitor (the grandfather) is the catalyst for the dogs’ realisation that the new baby is part of their lives. In “School’s First Day”, the Janitor plays more of a parental role, gently preparing the school for the students’ arrival and reflecting at the end of the day.

    Given the delightful and novel way that these books examine children’s experiences of change, children might enjoy having both books read to them at around the same time.

  21. Marion Cunningham says:

    After reading Picture This, I decided to “re-read” the books visually and I made some discoveries:

    • That New Animal. The title page shows a picture of a naked baby which lets the reader in on who or what the new animal is, and the last page has a picture of the two dogs, a child, and a woman who is pregnant suggesting that a second child is coming.
    • School’s First Day of School. Circles suggest motion so when the kids are sitting on the rug in the kindergarten class, the notion of going around in a circle is reinforced.
    • The Journey. The inside covers traced the path of the family and their different modes of transportation – car, truck, bike, boat, train. It never states that the father died (he was “taken”), but I realized after seeing the pictures that this was the implication because only his glasses and pieces of shirt, etched in red, are shown.
    • There is a Bird on Your Head. When the elephant is most off balance, which is when he asks if something is on his head, he is “tilted.”
    Ling and Ting, Not Exactly the Same. Each internal chapter image is set as a rectangular picture frame. The only “irregular” frame is when Ting is telling the story and is more like a thought or text bubble.

  22. Hey all, here’s some information about the Caldecott Medal:

    First awarded in 1938, the Randolph Caldecott Medal annually recognizes the preceding year’s “most distinguished American picture book for children.” It is awarded to the illustrator by a division of the American Library Association. The Caldecott, along with the Newbery, are the most prestigious American children’s book awards. The award is named for Randolph Caldecott, a nineteenth-century English illustrator. The design of the medal itself is derived from Caldecott’s front cover illustration for “The Diverting History of John Gilpin” (an 1878 version of an older poem), which depicts Gilpin astride a runaway horse.

    To be eligible for the award, the artist must be a US citizen or resident and the illustrations must be original to the book. Picture books for any audience up to age 14 should be considered.The book must also be self-contained, independent of other media. (AKA not a Sesame Street tie-in.) The committee that decides on the Caldecott Award winner comprises fifteen members. The 2017 winner was “Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat” by Javaka Steptoe.

  23. I really had a ball with these week’s readings!

    Like many other commenters, my favorites were That New Animal and School’s First Day of School – so much so that I plan to buy copies of both for my friend’s daughter’s third birthday next month. What struck me about both was the incredible humor and humanity of their central metaphors: FudgeFudge and Marshmallow as stand-ins for an older sibling displaced by a new baby and School as metaphor for a child nervous in its new surroundings. Both also, notably, use the word “hate” in the text, which I don’t see often in children’s books. That New Animal is also thematically similar to King Baby by Kate Beaton, another humorous take on the havoc newborns can wreak. (And of course, the Beverly Cleary classic Socks). A friend once remarked to me that before her kids were born, she used to marvel at her cats – so much so that she once cried thinking about beautiful they are. She said after her son was born she then basically forgot about the cats and that they became nuisances. At least this book had a happy ending!

    The Journey felt like a child’s version of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (both the graphic novel and the film.) Thematically, both are about young people in the middle east seeking haven during war. Even the visual design seemed like pastiche – the bold, expressionist art with a muted palette that almost looks like a medieval tapestry. It reminded me of the visual of Richard Williams’ unfinished animated opus The Thief and the Cobbler –

    What I loved about There Is a Bird on Your Head was the classic straight man/banana man dynamic of the characters. I mean, this was straight up “Who’s On First” vaudevillian comedy of repetition and progression. I was not at all surprised to learn Willems has a background in comedy, because the book plays out like a class “Harold” improv game. The absurdism is delightful.

    Picture This is informative – Bang knows how to turn her own stream-of-consciousness writing into an accessible Semiotics 101 handbook. This would also be a GREAT book to read for an Intro to Film course, as it breaks down exactly how an image can tell a story. (It wasn’t until college that I learned my beloved movies weren’t being told me to as moving texts, but as images cut and pieced together into flowing montage. Really blew my mind that people weren’t on the screen, but IMAGES of people.) Bang also illustrated for me why Dutch angles in movies make me laugh (as angles in images imply motion/tension, so flipping your camera basically makes the scene overwrought.) I do wonder if these “universal principles” are really universal, of a western perception of imagery, i.e. Shakespeare in the Bush (

    I didn’t find Ling and Ting quite as engaging, mostly because I wasn’t sure these vignettes added up to little stories that told me anything about their characters. Things happen, but I didn’t quite get a sense that the girls are as different as the conceit suggests. I’m curious how the other books further develop them.

  24. This week, I was absolutely delighted to read Molly Bang’s “Picture This.” I loved her discussion of the elements of design (horizontal lines = stabilizing; red = stimulating; diagonal lines = movement), but I think what I most enjoyed were her insights into how she arrived at them.

    Throughout the book, Bang alludes to her lack of formal training as an artist. Rather than learn about design principals from a book or a professor, she learns through experimentation and intuition. In other words, curiosity. She plays around with color, shape, pattern, space, and form and through what is essentially playing, discerns rules, which she then outlines explaining her own thought process.

    Bang’s insights were very interesting in the context of my T550 class, Designing for Learning by Creating, which details the importance of Constructivism in learning. The class is concerned with how doing and experimenting are the most meaningful ways to learn. Reading Bang’s discoveries, this seemed very much to be the case for her as well.

  25. Amy Ng Tsz Ying says:

    Reading the Calling Caldecott blog, I feel like any story about the blog will not be complete without first introducing Ms. Robin Smith. Reviewer and founding co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog, Robin has been contributing to the blog since 2011 until she passed away recently. Reading the tributes to her reflects how much she has influenced people with her dedication to children’s books. Ms. Julie Danielson even wrote that her professional motto is WWRD – What would Robin do? With her dedication and passion, Robin established a successful blog which sparks active conversations regarding the Caldecott award. Robin worked at The Horn Book and the American Library Association, and Calling Caldecott blog is a hub where the two paths meet. It is where the award faces the general public.

    On the blog you can find discussions regarding the Caldecott. There is introduction to awarding criteria of Caldecott, invitation to nominate of recommended books for the award, and voting for mock Caldecott. This blog is, as one of the posts describes, “series of behind-the-scenes of the Caldecott committee”, revealing to readers the process of choosing picture books for the Caldecott medal. Although the blog centers around one award, it in effect facilitates discussion of a variety of picture books between the committee and readers, and increases transparency of the award procedures. Hence, the committee is rewarded with credibility to recommend specific picture books. It is therefore an ideal place to engage in conversations regarding the Caldecott Book Award as well as participating indirectly in selecting winner of the award.

    Calling Caldecott Blog:
    Ms. Robin Smith:

  26. Sophie Mortner says:

    I agree with everyone’s point so far about School’s First Day of School, that it is interesting because it offers a different perspective to the first day. Another valuable aspect of this book, that I found, was the description of emotions that came up throughout the school day. I particularly liked the way the author used many words to describe different feelings, (i.e. “the school sagged a little”. I think this makes the book useful in an elementary classroom because it gives children language to talk about feelings and it also shows that our feelings can change throughout the day. This is a great lesson to share with young students who may begin the day feeling a certain way and end the day feeling differently.

    This book reminded me of a book I usually use in my classroom during the first week of school called, ‘First Day Jitter’s’. It tells the story of feeling scared on the first day of school and all of the emotions that arise in anticipation. In the end the readers learn that the story is actually about a teaching feeling nervous and not a student.

  27. Medina Roshan says:

    I LOVE Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie series and “There is a Bird on Your Head” is one of the best. Despite the illustrations being rather two-dimensional and the use of a lot of negative space, the expressions on the faces of Elephant and Piggie, as well as their body movements, are very revealing. I use these books a lot while reading with my 4-year-old nephew, as the humor, repetition and use of speech balloons with large text are great for an emergent reader. I love the unlikely pairing of the elephant and pig. I also love how polite they are to one another, despite the fact that they tease each other. I think it is a great book for early readers because it is fun and palatable.

  28. Sanya Sagar says:

    That New Animal and School’s First Day of School, both, talk about common feelings of anxiety and insecurity that children have. It was wonderful to read about those feelings from the point of view of unexpected characters. While reading both these stories, I was wondering – does readings about such feelings from the point of view of an ‘unrelatable’ character help children think about those emotions more objectively? For example, if That New Animal had been from the perspective of an older sibling, maybe it would have been too easy to relate to the feelings of possessiveness that the character was feeling. But seeing that from the point of view of the pets helps us distance ourselves from the emotion and enjoy the story, while also recognizing that there isn’t a reason to feel insecure in the first place.

  29. My favorite book of this week is School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex. Many books of this week are described in a very special aspect, for instance, That New Animal by Emily Jenkins is written from tow dogs’ point of view and The Journey by Francesca Sanna is described in the girl’s perspective with the illustration of a third perspective. Although School’s First Day of School is also described in a third perspective, the feelings of the first day are not about children but the school. In this way, the children who read this book will notice that even school itself has feelings and emotions so it will be helpful to teach children about empathy. In my opinion, it will be easy for children who read this book to feel safe about the first day of school.

    Another detail in this book that will help children to feel safe about the first day of school is the colors used in the whole book. Most of them are three-primary colors of blue, yellow, and red, adding other warm colors like brown and green. The matching of these colors makes feel it’s not dangerous to go to school, and maybe it’s safe and comfortable.

  30. I really loved reading ‘The Journey’ by Francesca Sanna this week. Echoing the other students who posted about this book, it’s such an important topic, and one very close to my heart as I did research with Bhutanese and Iraqi refugees in Nepal and Cairo. My team and I would work with young kids using mapping and storytelling exercises and I think ‘The Journey’ did a great job portraying such a tough subject from the eyes of a child. So many layers were pulled together to give the reader feelings of distraught (the darkness of the background and the creepy hands) to lighter feelings of hope and resilience (lighter colored background towards the end and the many birds who are accompanying them on their journey). What really stood out to me were details such as the size of the characters and how some people, like the man in border control and the guards were so large in the eyes of the child, drawing empathy from readers of how the child felt an overwhelming fear.

  31. Hye Jeong (Lena) Jeong says:

    Although it was one of the easy readers, I really enjoyed reading There Is a Bird On Your Head! by Mo Willems. While it may seemingly lack content, it seemed like a perfect way to ease a science lesson into a story! The story seemed to create a perfect learning experience about how birds make nests, lay eggs, or the eggs hatching. The pig takes on the role of a teacher as the elephant naturally becomes the student – or the younger readers. The clean white background and the repetition of the two characters – especially the elephant’s quizzical expressions and the pig’s explanatory gestures – were effective in helping me focus on comprehending the words/content.

  32. Gaelle Pierre-Louis says:

    Adam Rex’s School’s First Day of School was one of the books that I truly appreciated in this module. I particularly loved it because it caused me to self-reflect on my life and childhoods. I believe that deep reflection is a great part of self- care and I love to look at myself in relation to how far I have come and grow as a person. I really appreciated the fact that this book showed a real perspective of what goes on in public school, especially by highlighting the Unsung Heroes of the school building. It showed a janitor whose job required him to “mop the school” and “buff the floors” and “wash the windows”. It also addresses issues concerning income and race inequalities in America in an honest ways. Most of the janitors in school buildings tend to be black and relatively young, similarly to the young man pictured above. I am incredibly happy that this book portrayed “real images”, but I do worry that this will lead to stereotypes that suggest that the reasons he is there is because he is lazy, not hard-working enough and neglect some of the systemic difficulties that black and brown people face in America. I ended up doing some research on the author Adam Rex and the illustrator Christian Robinson. Based on my research, I was able to understand the reasons why I felt as if the pictures made the story line feel more inclusive. The author is a white man from Arizona who has written many picture books and the illustrator is a black man who lives and works in San Francisco and won the Caldecott Medal. He takes pride in drawing and designing people of color and incorporating them into children’s book. That confirmed that the thoughts in which I had about the book are intentionally there. It is amazing what having diverse and creative talent can do to the portrayals of characters in children’s book. We need more of this in the children literature space.

  33. Camila Garcia Enriquez says:

    That New Animal by Emily Jenkins was my favorite reading of the week. The book was not necessarily more moving than the rest, but it bore special significance for me, a dog and baby lover. Taking from previous experiences of participating in guided reading lessons with kindergarteners, I first dedicated some time to look at the cover and try to predict what the story was about. I speculated it was be the baby’s narrative as it sees dogs for the first time, but was instead delighted to discover that it was a story told by FudgeFudge and Marshmallow, the family pets. This shift of point of view was very telling of the author’s intention to foster empathy for our pets, but it also discretely explored feelings of jealousy. The book is hilarious in general and the dog characters are irresistibly adorable. A smart move on behalf of the author —I found, was to have the dogs think and behave much like an older sibling would after a new baby is born: going from an initial state of denial and reluctance to end in utter acceptance.
    Lastly, the velvety effect of the illustration and the thick paint strokes made for a very stimulating illustration with textures evoking fur and fluffiness, and simple, direct facial expressions that clearly expressed infant and canine reactions.

  34. Stephen MacLellan says:

    As a second grade teacher, I end up reading a number of “beginning-of-the-year” books to my class, and have ones that I love and ones that I read just because they are about this time of year. School’s First Day of School is a funny, engaging story matched with simple and colorful pictures that draw in both me as a teacher and my students sitting in front of me. Pairing the familiar elements of this genre (the mixed and often negative emotions, mean kids, everything turning out good in the end) with a very different main character’s perspective makes for a refreshing read that I will come back to year after year. You don’t have time to read books that you don’t love (or that are essential in some other capacity), and this book fits the bill perfectly.

  35. Hi again,

    I just finished reading Francesca Sanna’s AMAZING “The Journey.” I am seeing a number of posts talking about how moving the story and illustrations are, and I would like to do a some work looking at the design in relation to Molly Bang’s “Picture This.”

    Size and color are the two design elements that stand out the most to me. Color is perhaps the most striking in terms of contrasting the family’s peaceful life before the war. The first page is white and coral with turquoise accents. But the darker colors–black and gray–are already creeping in, spreading across the page until several pages later, everything is black, signaling the totality of war and its destruction. Black and dark green dominant the forest scenes as the family flees, as well as red, which suggests the fear and danger of the guards at the border. The lightest scenes take place when the family finds sanctuary–there are light blues and greens and yellows and whites. But the colors are still muted, peaceful but melancholy. There is hope, but what was lost can’t be recaptured and the palette reflects this.

    Size is played with similarly throughout the book. As the family is increasingly put in danger, they get smaller in relation to the objects and people around them. They are dwarfed by their luggage, pets, the jars they hide behind, but most of all by the towering figures which prevent them from finding safety–the gaurds at the wall. This makes the reader feel frightened for the family, and makes the dangers feel insurmountable. One of the most notable exceptions is the scene in which the mother sees the lighthouse in the soft, lightly colored hills in the distance when the family family approaches safety. This is an image of hope, and aligns us with the mother, whose pain and fears we’ve come to feel. But though at this point she should be feeling more in control, the lighthouse is SO small and indistinct, it seems a distant hope rather than a celebration reaching it. That’s why the final picture with the birds is so welcome. In this scene, one of the book’s most colorful, the family is amongst the birds, about the same size, matching their sense of freedom and possibility.

    Great book.

  36. My favorite book of this week is the Journey. Although I have not experienced immigration and wars in my whole life and it seems it is not a common thing in my country or at least in my life, I am indeed moved by the power of a mom. As a mom, I have sympathy with the mom in the story. No matter how hard it is, I should be tough in order to protect and encourage my son. One of the page does leave me a deep impression. The mom holding two kids, so they are not scared. However, on the next page, I noticed that the mom has tears all over her face while the kids are sleeping. She does not want her kids to see her fragileness and she could only cry when she is alone. I could somewhat imagine her fear and helplessness in such a strange place with on one to depend on. I am here alone with my son and it is hard, but sometimes I have to be strong-minded and stay positive to set him a great example in front of hardship. However, just like the book, new life will finally come to us. I really like this book to let people see the mom’s fragileness instead of a forever positive and strong face.

  37. I love There Is a Bird On Your Head! the most because it is very funny! When I read their conversation, it was so apparent that Piggie and Gerald have totally different personalities, which makes these two protagonists more vivid. This easy-reader has repetitive dialogues but because Piggie and Gerald are talking to each other in the format one asking questions and one answering and one repeating, and because of the funny plot, it is not boring anymore and gives the little readers an opportunity to practice reading. I also love the ending so much. Another book I love is The Journey by Francesca Sanna. It is a stories full of heartbreaking moments and so much struggling. However, the color of the illustration is bright and colorful, which as I interpret stands for the hope the family have.

  38. There is so much great stuff here. A few things resonated for me after reading School’s First Day of School. Like my classmate Gaelle observed, I like how the book recognizes some of the unsung heroes in Public Schools. Also I thought the background that Michelles provided in her comment (way above) helped me think about some of the Alex Rex’s intentions in telling this story. ““I do like being able to add something that isn’t actually in the original text whenever possible.” On second reading, I found myself taking more time to consider each picture or frame and noticing different things.

    I also loved how the School was anthropomorphized to be both defensive, empathetic, . The building’s relationship with the freckled girl illustrated the process by which a student who feels anxious or not included at first can become more comfortable when her thoughts/expressions in this case illustration are included and supported. In addition, the story fit beautifully with the aesthetics of Robinson’s illustrations and the typography mirrored the kind of paper cut out style of the images. It was simple, yet on closer examination the pictures were worth much more than the words. I thought it would actually be an interesting mental exercise to read the book without any text. Another thing I noticed when going through the book a second time was the consistency of the color pallette. The main central colors throughout the book that appear on every page are this muted autumn yellow, the paste royal blue, and the brick red-orange of the building. The shade of blue seems to be the most prescient and central color for me. It is the color of building’s door and window, the color of the school doors and seats, and tables and most importantly also the color of the Janitor’s uniform.

    My favorite scene, althougtthere were many was when “the girl with freckles” finally laughed during lunch.

  39. Nezile Mthembu says:

    I believe that topics about migration in children’s literature are a hit or a miss and The Journey is a hit. The story is well told and beautifully illustrated. I think children would have plenty of follow-up questions about migration, and it’s one of those books that’s a class project starter. That New Animal twists the concept of change and fear. Calling the child the animal and letting two dogs narrate the story, I feel, enables the child to think about change as something inevitable. The story touches on belonging, identity, space, change, fear, family and relationships. It also allows children to see that animals experience change too and that no one is immune to it. Finally, School’s First Day of School is just too cute. The author’s idea to personify the school brings a 3D like lens to fear and change. I believe that this is the type of book that will allow a child/children to genuinely think about the well-being of the school community.

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