Thursday, February 25, 2010

Four Picture Books

Wangari's Trees of Peace: A True Story From Africa, by Jeanette Winter--Wangari Maathai is a real woman, born in Kenya in 1940. She earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in the biological sciences while studying in the United States. Upon returning to Kenya, she discovered that her beloved country had been deforested and was sadly lacking the means to keep itself healthy. This simply and beautifully illustrated picture book chronicles her efforts to re-forest Kenya, beginning by planting nine tree seedlings in her own yard. The text is spare and suitable for kindergartners, although some word choices will require explanation (scholarship, barren, and forester are among them). Ms Winter does not spare the truth for the sake of young ears and eyes. She tells of Wangari's beating at the hands of police, and the accompanying illustration shows Wangari bleeding from a small wound to her head as a policeman threatens her further with a club. It is not gory or grusome or gratuitous. The illustration is as spare and beautiful as the rest; it is simply unflinching. This book will provoke discussion of conservation and fair vs. unfair among even the youngest audience.

Ron's Big Mission, by Rose Blue and Corinne J. Naden--A fictionalized account of an incident in astronaut Ron McNair's childhood, this book has a special place on the SCBAN list as it takes place in Lake City, SC, in Florence County. The year is 1959. Ron, an avid reader, dreams of being a pilot. On this particular day, he has a goal closer to home. He wants to check out books from the Lake City Library. One problem: he is black. The Lake City Library has a policy preventing black people from checking out books. Some white patrons, familiar with Ron, offer to check out his books for him. He declines. In a show of peaceful resistance, he politely asks the circulation clerk to check to books out to him. She pretends not to hear. He jumps up on her desk and politely repeats his request. After the police and his mother are called to the library, the librarian has a choice to make. The story is told in language appropriate even for kindergartners, but like Wangari's story above, the authors are unflinching in their portrayal of segregation in small-town South Carolina. My five-year old cheered when Ron was handed his library card.

Mail Harry to the Moon!, by Robie H. Harris--On a MUCH lighter note... Anyone who's ever felt jealous of a younger sibling will appreciate this tale of a boy who feels his place in the family has been usurped by his baby brother. The unnamed older brother has perpetually drawn-together eyebrows as he contemplates all the recent changes in his life. Harry is in all the pictures; Harry eats big brother's banana; Harry spits up; Harry chews on big brother's toy gorilla. Each disaster is met by a plea from big brother to get rid of Harry somehow. Fed up with Harry screaming in the night, big brother screams back, "Mail Harry to the moon!" the next morning, no Harry. Big brother looks everywhere, but instead of doing a happy dance that his problems are solved, big brother goes looking for Harry. Where he finds him and how he brings him back are two delightful resolutions.

Turtle's Penguin Day, by Valeri Gorbachev--Youngsters love pretending and playing dress-up, and little Turtle is no exception. After his father reads a book about penguins to him at bedtime, Turtle dreams of being a penguin. The next day, Turtle finds an old black jacket and puts it on over his white pajamas and decides he is a penguin for the day. He brings the penguin book to school, and the teacher decides to have a penguin day. She reads the book to the class and they all play at being penguins. Mr. Gorbachev has given us a fun book with a variety of animal characters to accompany Turtle at school. The expressions on all the creature's faes are reminiscent of Richard Scarry, although the actual drawings are very different. A fun exploration of play-acting. Teachers will wish for the freedom to depart from lesson plans with the ease of Ms. Dog!

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