Will You Remember You Once Were a Child?-Review: Once Upon a Memory (2013)

“Does a book remember it once was a word?”

Once-Upon-a-Memory-cover

Once Upon a Memory (2013) by Nina Laden, illustrated by

Renata Liwska

Suggested age range: 4 and up

(Little, Brown, & Company, 40 pages)

Rating: 5/5 stars

Genre: Picturebook, Fantasy

Source: Library

The Book: A feather floating through a window sets in motion a boy’s curiosity about the world. He wonders whether a cakes, book, garden, and island remember their beginnings. One page opens with a question, such as “Does a statue remember it once was… and the opposite page reads the answer: “stone?”  Laden’s verses leave gaps for the pictures to fill, and a sense of childlike wonder is reflected in both the text and images of Once Upon a Memory.

Liwska’s beautiful hand sketchings were inspired by her observation of animals in the natural world, and their antics throughout the story are enchanting and delightful. A textured feather graces one of the endpapers, and Liwska’s bears are expressive and perfect for the story. Here is a story that reminds us to step into childlike wonder and awe, and to reflect on love’s beginnings and the beauty of the natural world.

Spirituality in Once Upon a Memory: Maintaining a sense of wonder and awe at the world is a characteristic of spirituality, and the picturebook celebrates this attribute. Sometimes, marveling at the beauty of the natural world, or even pondering our origins can connect us to the Creator, and this story leaves open such possibility. It doesn’t matter that a young boy and bears are telling us this story visually; the book invites readers to consider a spiritual aspect of life—the importance of maintaining and nurturing a sense of wonder and awe at the world around us, as well as ourselves and our loved ones.

Exploring this Book with Readers: The book ends with a list of favorite things the author and illustrator remember. Items from the list include “eating grandma’s chocolate chip cookies,” “learning to speak French,” “sitting by the bonfire and listening to stories” and “getting letters and postcards from the mailbox.” The list ends with a question for the reader: “What are some of your favorite things to remember?” In addition to talking about these favorite things, readers might also draw some of their favorite memories. They could sing, dramatize, or dance their memories. In this way, readers have the opportunity to explore different literacies for expressing what is important to them. Even the part of the book asking, “Does an ocean remember it once was…rain?” represents an entire dance or drama that readers could create. A whole discussion could center on this notion of origins of the natural world. The book certainly reflects potential for a diversity of activities and curriculum to help readers enjoy and draw meaning from it.

The Final Word: I appreciated the rhyming verse in this story as well as the humorous and fantasy-filled pictures with their expressive bears, birds, and ducks. The cover of the book with the boy perched, reading in the tree with the owl and squirrel drew me to the story, as well as its title, reminiscent of fairy-tale beginnings. There are dinosaurs and even a raccoon. This is a delightful, warm, and reflective fantasy picturebook, perfect for a read-aloud, and perfect as a discussion starter for sharing memories and creating new ones. I love the double-page spread at the conclusion of the book, and think Liwska’s style is a fantastic match for Laden’s text.

 

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Picturebook Review: Anthony Browne’s Me and You

Me and You (2010) by Anthony Browne,

Suggested age range: 7 and up

(Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 32 pages)

Rating: 5/5 stars

Source: Library

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“The girl leaped out of bed and ran downstairs and out the door.

I wonder what happened to her.”

The Book: Anthony Browne has done it again! He has written and illustrated a thought-provoking picturebook that leaves multiple gaps for readers, and manages to open up profound and spiritual discussion about how people treat and perceive one another. He accomplishes this all with the well-known fairy tale, Goldilocks and the Three Bears. But that’s not the title of this story; this one is called Me and You. The book follows the story of the original fairy tale, but includes the perspective of both the girl, who becomes lost after chasing a balloon and finds her way into the bear’s unlocked house, as well as the bears. One page includes the text and more muted illustrations of the girl’s view and the opposite page features the colorful and pastel world of the bears.

Spirituality in Me & You: One attribute of spirituality in texts for young readers is a capacity to increase social sensitivity in readers. For example, does a reader walk away from a book with a desire to understand and reach out to others more? The concluding text in Me and You portrays the child of the bear household, gazing out the window at the girl, wondering where she is going. We, the readers, get to see the barbed wire and the graffiti on the wall the girl walks by. We know that she was separated from her mother early in the story, and that she may go hungry some days. Having this perspective of her character allow the reader to more fully understand the why behind her going into the bears’ sunny yellow house. Encouraging such open-mindedness is a characteristic of Browne’s books.

Exploring this Book with Readers: This picturebook might make its way into the classroom and serve as a whole class read aloud, a book for an individual reader, or even a book for several readers. Two readers might switch off “telling” the story aloud—one reader can take the girl’s story and one reader can tell the bears’ story. Students could add several pages to the end of the story, and communicate through the written word as well as the visual what happens after that last page. Finally, this book would pair nicely with Browne’s Voices in the Park as many themes are similar. This book should be shared with children who might be familiar with the Goldilocks tale, and basically, every reader should be exposed to Browne’s picturebooks!

The Final Word: I have never been disappointed with any of British illustrator, Anthony Browne’s books, and this one was no exception. Browne has taken what can be a sensitive issue, and has framed it within the pages of a story about a lonely girl who is trespassing on another family’s property. Like his Voices in the Park, this story highlights a child (baby bear) who wonders about another child (the girl), even though the parents might be disapproving. Both books position the child characters as (potentially) the more sensitive ones, who are not as quick to judge others based on their appearance.

Can you think of other re-visioned fairy tale picturebooks (recently published or older) that encourage social sensitivity in readers?

Review: The Third Gift by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

The Third Gift (2011) by Linda Sue Park, Illustrations by Bagram Ibatouilline

Suggested age range: 7 and up

(Clarion Books, 32 pages)

Rating: 4/5 stars

Source: Library

3rd gift

The Book: A boy accompanies his father as he collects resin from tree bark, the “tears” that become the valuable essential oil of myrrh. This is the father’s craft, and the story highlights the bond between father and son as well as the transferring of a craft from one generation to another. You may recognize the style of Ibatouilline’s illustrations—he produced the pictures for Kate DiCamillo’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.

The text includes information related to how the essential oil of myrrh was used in the past, and based on the allusion to the event of Jesus’ birth at the end of the story, the reader can guess the time period and place of the story. The realistic illustrations are acrylic-gouache, and include beautiful details of the Middle Eastern landscape and clothing.

The father’s product is pursued by a spice merchant in the marketplace one day, and the boy and father discover three richly dressed men who have traveled far and are seeking a valuable gift for a baby. The men decide to purchase the large tear the boy recently acquired, and the story concludes with the boy gazing after the men as they ride off into the desert towards the baby.

Spirituality in The Third Gift: The significant spiritual and religious event of the birth of Jesus Chris is alluded to in the conclusion of the story. However, the Father/Son relationship is another area of spirituality in the text; this father/son bond is unique in that the Father is imparting knowledge about a skill to his son. There is a significant connection forged between them. At the same time, he is also giving him more responsibility; the father allows his son to share his “tear” with the three visitors who are seeking a “third gift” for this baby they will visit.

A spirituality of wonder and awe is subtly hinted at in the closing illustration and text. The boy does not know all the details of these three visitors or the nature of their future visit to the baby, but he senses (communicated by the both the picture and text) that this is significant. Perhaps the boy will never know to whom his gift was given. What the text does communicate is that even the very young can play an important role in globally significant events.

Exploring this Book with Readers: This is perfect for a read aloud, and introducing this book during the Christmas season would be brilliant, but this is also a book that would work anytime of the year. Discussion with young reader could focus on several areas: Crafts and abilities we have that can bring joy to others, Middle Eastern culture, the gaps and mystery in the story that are left open for the reader to fill.

The content related to the essential oils and spices is another brilliant road into the story. Essential oils as natural healthcare is discussed in the story—historically, myrrh was used for “headaches…stomachaches…to soothe rashes.” In our own time, essential oils can still be used for these ailments, and I was especially interested in this picturebook due to my recent introduction to essential oils. I have found they have amazing properties and can answer many health concern questions, including sleeplessness, anxiety, headaches, and allergies. How excited I was to discover this beautiful picturebook that highlights an essential oil, myrrh, and frames it within the background of an event over 2,000 years ago.

The Final Word: I would definitely recommended sharing this with both elementary classes and even middle school classes. The age of the students could determine the depth of analysis and discussion, but certainly, this book has something to offer every reader. Its allusion to the Biblical event of the birth of Christ would make it especially appropriate for religious classrooms. However, this book would appeal, I believe, to readers of all backgrounds.

A Carousel Picturebook

The Carousel by Liz Rosenberg, Illustrations by Jim LaMarche

Suggested age range: 6 and up

(HMH Books for Young Readers, 32 pages)

Rating: 4/5 stars

Source: Borrowed from a family member

carousel

The Book: One magical, snowy evening, a girl and her sister are walking home, and they happen to pass by a tent covering a broken carousel. They hear noises, and realize the horses are very much alive. Thus begins a fantastic journey for the two sisters in which they fly through the air on these beautiful carousel creatures. When it is apparent the horses are a little wilder than normal, the protagonist’s sister says, “ ‘They’re wild because they are broken.’” The girls then use their mother’s toolkit in an attempt to fix what is broken in the carousel itself.

The illustrations are beautiful, “acrylic washes with colored pencil on Arches watercolor paper.” The result is a stunning landscape picturebook featuring many “almost” double-page spreads with text in a column on either the left or right page.

Spirituality in The Carousel: The fantasy in The Carousel plays a role in one of the spiritual layers of the story. For example, the reader is not explicitly told what makes the carousel horses come alive for the girls, but perhaps it is the faith and the girls’ openness to wonder that engineers the magic of their evening. The first few pages (in both illustration and text) position the girls as those who have expectation and hope for surprises.

The author does not explicitly go into the fact that the girls’ mother is either passed away or absent, but there are enough hints to assume this. The girls’ meeting with their father at the end of the book portrays a close family unit, in spite of the missing mother. In this way, there is a spirituality of connectedness that is reflected in the story. The mother plays a role in the narrative, even though she is absent, for it is her toolbox that allows the girls to fix the carousel.

Hope, magic, and restoration are three words I would use the describe the spirituality of the tale.

Exploring this Book with Readers: As a read aloud, this book is perfect for elementary or even middle school. If teachers wanted to incorporate a nonfiction aspect to the reading experience, students could research famous carousels and share their own experience riding them. Teachers and parents could invite readers to search the pictures for details undetected at first glance. A cool art activity: Each student draws a picture of his/her ideal carousel horse. This could be done with actual paper or on an iPad/laptop. Students must think of two abilities a rider of that particular horse would have.

The Final Word: I appreciated the magic of this story and the atmospheric illustrations—especially the way the pictures spread across the pages in a landscape format. However, there were quite a few gaps in the story that I wanted to see filled. On the other hand, the intent was that this book included such wide open opportunities for readers to make speculations.

Storying Compassion: Bambert’s Book of Missing Stories (2008) by Reinhardt Jung

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Bambert’s Book of Missing Stories by Reinhardt Jung, illustr. Emma Chichester Clark (2008) [First published, 1998]

Suggested age range: 9 and up

(Egmont Press, 107 pages)

“A deep sigh stopped him in his tracks, a sigh which seemed to come from the rock itself” (p. 20).

Some books for young people have the potential to stir in readers a greater sense of compassion for others. A contemporary illustrated edition of Bambert’s Book of Missing Stories (2008) by Reinhardt Jung beautiful demonstrates how stories can generate social sensitivity and alert readers to the importance of noticing the unnoticed. Based on my own experience reading this incandescent collection of short illustrated stories, I can attest to the way in which the book can elicit a deep response from the reader. Each story illuminated a deep idea or truth that was implicit within the tale, but became clear and real to me, the reader.

Emma Chichester Clark’s illustrations add an important dimension to the stories by depicting these multi-layered moments visually. The sometimes odd Bambert, a writer who “saw the world through the eyes of poets and writers,” lives alone. He enjoys looking out his attic window at night, “holding quiet conversations with the moon, for the moon, which seemed to know as many stories as Bambert himself, acted as a mirror in which he could see the world.” It is through writing his stories that he finds joy.  He ultimately decides to send the eleven stories from his Book of Wishes, via paper hot-air balloons out into the world, so that they can become true in a sense:

“Making a story come true would mean letting it out of the book to go off into the world and look for its own setting, searching for cities, riverbanks, sea shores: places where it could come to life in real human beings, against real landscapes and within real walls.”

Though Bambert keeps his characters the same in the stories, he allows the settings to be shaped by the location where they land. He sends the tales in hopes that those who discover them will situate the stories within a unique setting and return them to Bambert. There is space for a twelfth story, but Bambert is waiting for this story’s shape to emerge. When the cold weather finally sets in, Bambert releases the stories and “was happier than he had ever been in his whole life.” It is several seasons later, however, before Bambert receives the first story back from another country—and at this point Reinhardt Jung’s book delivers Bambert’s rich tales to the reader.

Certainly, Jung’s characterization of Bambert invites readers to consider this melancholy man’s point of view, a perspective we might not normally take the time to consider in the busyness of our own lives. Bambert’s sense of humanity is finely tuned; it is an awareness deep with concern, compassion, and at many times, hope.

His first story returns from Ireland, and focuses on a whale returning to the bay to thank the grandson of the man who rescued him as a young whale from certain death. It is a beautiful event when the boy sees “an ancient eye” staring at him out of what he think is a huge rock. The boy takes water from the sea, and pours it “carefully over the open eye like salty tears, to keep it from drying up in the wind blowing off the land.” The whale then begins to communicate with the boy through his thoughts, and the boy hears, “I was looking for you—you who are different from the others, my friend—and now I’ve found you.” It was a hundred years earlier that the boy’s grandfather rescued the whale in the middle of the night, and returned him to the sea, to safety, from his hunters. Now old, the whale assumes the grandson is the grandfather and says,

“I have looked for you ever since that day. You haven’t changed at all, but I have grown old. I wanted to see you once again, to thank you and say goodbye.”

It is a beautiful story—the tale of how a child reached out to a creature in its childlike state, and saved it from those who only valued the life of a whale for what it could give. It is the heart of the grandfather as a child that we applaud, and we discover his compassion through his grandson’s interaction with the whale. Interestingly, the character of the grandfather does not appear directly; his character emerges indirectly through the memory of the whale and the boy’s father’s description at the conclusion of the story.

This first tale of Bambert’s reminds us of the importance of respecting and caring for those creatures with which we live on the earth. My own spirituality has generated in me a love for animals and for the natural world—a love that urges me to treat them with respect. Though children, like adults, can be cruel towards the natural world and its creatures, many children seem to have a clear sense that we must act with love. This is how the boy in “The Eye in the Sea” operates, and how his grandfather before him responded. In this way, the tale reflects another important idea—that adults can transfer their own love and concern for the earth to their children. And this is powerful.