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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

Lolly Robinson is a freelance designer and consultant with degrees in studio art and children’s literature. She is the former creative director for The Horn Book, Inc., and has taught 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 blogged for Calling Caldecott and Lolly's Classroom on this site.


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Nezile Mthembu

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.

Posted : Sep 19, 2017 09:02


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.

Posted : Sep 19, 2017 07:07

Summer Xia

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.

Posted : Sep 19, 2017 04:54

Lin Zhao

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.

Posted : Sep 19, 2017 04:33

Jen Curtis

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.

Posted : Sep 19, 2017 03:39

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