The Rich Beauty of The Crystal Mirror by Tim Malnick & Katie Green

The Crystal Mirror by Tim Malnick & Katie Green (2013)

Suggested age range: 6 and up (Vala Publishing, 96 pages)

Rating: 4/5 stars

Source: I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Genre: Fantasy, Illustrated, Story Collection

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The Book: This is a delightful and thought provoking collection of beautifully illustrated stories that will keep readers thinking long after the last word is read. Just the kind of book we at Spirit of Children’s Literature appreciate! Not only are the textual parables enchanting and rich, but the visual stories provide a true feast of saturated colors, gorgeous backgrounds and borders, and fantastic details.

Here are just a few of my notes about several of the stories.

The collection opens with “The Cuddliest Monster in the World,” which might seem silly at first, but illuminates rich themes about getting lost on our way, compassion, and the strength of loving others. I adored the ending of this one! “The Master Painter” lauds the power of creativity and the endless beauty of the world around us. What happens when that is hidden from us? “Polly, the Girl Who Was Always Changing” reminds readers of just how tricky it can be to navigate the intricacies our own developing identity, and this quest to “finding oneself.” There are intriguing ideas in these tales.

Spirituality in The Crystal Mirror: Rich, spiritual themes abound in this collection! This isn’t a religious set of stories, however; these tales cross cultural and religious boundaries, reflecting the beauty of ideas that are relevant across people groups and countries. Malnick and Green showcase themes that young and old readers alike can understand such as searching for one’s identity, longing for the unknown and unexplored, or approaching the world with the freshness and vision of a child.

Who Should Read This Book: Both young and older readers alike would appreciate and find delight and wisdom in the pages of these stories. I think this book would especially be fabulous as a shared book or as a read aloud with a class. The stories beg to be discussed, and I could even see extension and arts-based response activities revolving around the text.

The Final Word: The Crystal Mirror is a book I’ll be returning to again. There were some stories that I though, “Wait! I want more!”, but at the same time, the gaps left open could generate interesting discussion. I see myself sharing it with young readers of all ages, and it would work well as a read aloud. Its visual aspect opens up the potential for all kinds of arts-based activities, and let me tell you—these illustrations are amazing! Tim Malnick and Katie Green have put together a gorgeous book with stories that don’t always get tied up neatly, but still work. I’d have to say my favorite story is “The Story of Oswald Bat.” Go check it out. Thank you, Vala Publishing, for sharing this book with me!

You can check out the website, www.thecrystalmirror.co.uk

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Cat vs. Aliens: Mr. Wuffles (2013) by David Wiesner

Mr. Wuffles by David Wiesner (2013)

Suggested age range: All ages! (Clarion Books, 32 pages)

Rating: 5/5 stars

Source: Library

Genre: Fantasy, Picturebook, Wordless

Awards: Caldecott Honor

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The Book: Sporting a black fur coat and white “boots,” the feline, Mr. Wuffles, is picky about his toys. He only likes one toy, and it just happens to be a spaceship manned by real aliens. When Wuffles plays a little too rough with the ship, the aliens have to journey outside of it in order to make repairs. Fleeing from the fearful and monstrous Mr. Wuffles, they slip into the wall and meet other foreign creatures. However, these creatures also fear and battle the cat, and with their help, the aliens may just be able to outsmart Wuffles and make their ship ready for the trip back to space.

Spirituality in Mr. Wuffles: Could this story carry an alternate title? Could it also be called “How People Who Are Different Unite to Battle a Common Enemy”? I love the part in the story when the aliens encounter “cave paintings” that convince them there are others here who have had to escape Mr. Wuffles and his “violence.” As a result, different groups are able to connect and even forge friendships in the midst of not speaking one another’s language. There is an interesting thread of community, connection, and helping out those in need in that adds richness and depth to this picturebook.

Exploring This Book With Readers: “Reading” this book may actually take a little longer because it doesn’t have words. Wordless picturebooks sometime require the reader to work a little harder, because readers have to follow the visual text so closely to keep up with the story. Wiesner has created many amazing and award-winning wordless picturebooks, and Mr. Wuffles is no exception. This is another detailed and multi-layered story that will invite multiple re-readings and sharings with others. Readers could create their own written text to accompany the pictures in this story, and the speech bubbles of the aliens and their ant and ladybug friends could also be filled in with English phrases. There are definitely some brilliant activities that could accompany this journey with Mr. Wuffles.

The Final Word: This is a clever and humorous wordless picturebook that I find myself returning to again and again! Mr. Wuffles may not seem like a scary cat, based on the cover, but if you look a little longer and more closely, think about it. His head is covering the bottom half of the cover, and those yellow eyes are staring at…YOU! Are we (the readers) invited to consider the perspective of someone smaller, someone who might be an alien whose ship needs repairs? It’s something to consider. Regardless, Mr. Wuffles is a new picturebook certain to delight and inspire all ages!

Are you familiar with Wiesner’s wordless picturebooks? What did you think of Mr. Wuffles?

 

#AtoZchallenge: “V” is for Voices in the Park (2001) by Anthony Browne

Four voices.

Four different perspectives of the same walk in the park.

A mother. A son. A father. A daughter. Two different families from two very different socio-economic backgrounds. Both families are walking their dogs.

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The dogs meet and begin to play together. The children meet and begin to play together. What happens between the adults? Do they meet?

This story is a fantastic for showing young readers how we can see the same events and experience the same event, but yet have completely different responses. Our worldview and background shape how we respond to what happens around us, and even how we view other people.

Browne has illustrated and written a wonderful story illuminating the importance of looking beyond the surface, and appreciating a child-like way of viewing the world.

If you aren’t familiar with Browne’s visual style, you simple must get a hold of this book! I have used it with 3rd grade readers, among upper grades as well, and children have so many brilliant things to say about this story.

Are you familiar with Browne’s work? What is your favorite picturebook of his?

#AtoZchallenge: “S” is for Starry Messenger (1996) by Peter Sis

starry_messengerHe dared to speak up and challenge the traditional way of thinking about the world.

He spent his time gazing at the stars.

By so doing, he realized that the earth was not the center of the universe. Rather, the earth and other planets revolved around the sun–a suggestion in opposition to the accepted truth of the day.

Like so many other visionaries in history, Galileo’s revelation (with evidence) was not entirely embraced by the leading authority of the day.

In this beautifully illustrated and luminous picturebook, Peter Sis tells the story of Galileo Galilei and his discovery that changed the world as well as the way we see ourselves and our place in the universe. The book affirms the courage and vision of Galileo and provides an important portrait of a man for young readers through Sis’s detailed written and visual text.

Here’s the GoodReads summary:

“In every age there are courageous people who break with tradition to explore new ideas and challenge accepted truths. Galileo Galilei was just such a man–a genius–and the first to turn the telescope to the skies to map the heavens. In doing so, he offered objective evidence that the earth was not the fixed center of the universe but that it and all the other planets revolved around the sun. Galileo kept careful notes and made beautiful drawings of all that he observed. Through his telescope he brought the starts down to earth for everyone to see.

By changing the way people saw the galaxy, Galileo was also changing the way they saw themselves and their place in the universe. This was very exciting, but to some to some it was deeply disturbing. Galileo has upset the harmonious view of heaven and earth that had been accepted since ancient times. He had turned the world upside down.

In this amazing new book, Peter Sís employs the artist’s lens to give us an extraordinary view of the life of Galileo Galilei. Sís tells his story in language as simple as a fairy tale, in pictures as rich and tightly woven as a tapestry, and in Galileo’s own words, written more than 350 years ago and still resonant with truth.  Starry Messenger is a 1997 Caldecott Honor Book.”

#AtoZchallenge: “R” is for The Red Tree (2001) by Shaun Tan

If your day is particularly grey and colorless and you are in need of some bright color, I urge you to open up the book, The Red Tree, by Shaun Tan.

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Here’s the GoodReads summary:

“When a child awakens with dark leaves drifting into her bedroom, she feels that ‘sometimes the day begins with nothing to look forward to, and things go from bad to worse.’

Feelings too complex for words are rendered into an imaginary landscape where the child wanders, oblivious to the glimmer of promise in the shape of a tiny red leaf.

Everything seems hopeless until the child returns to her room and sees the red tree. At that perfect moment of beauty and purity, the child smiles and her world stirs anew.

With sensitivity and wonder, Shaun Tan’s evocative images in The Red Tree open a window to our inexplicable emotions and tell a story about the power of hope, renewal and inspiration.”

This beautiful picturebook, though somber at first, and dark at times, illuminates hope and trusting in the promise of something good to come.

The text is simple and clear—the story alludes to a journey from insecurity, hope, and depression, to one of hope and expectation. Even a shred of hope can illuminate a dark story.

Like the protagonist in the story, you may find yourself searching for a red leaf in your own story, believing that a vibrant dream of hope is waiting for you. Somewhere, at one point, you’ll find it.