Sunday, April 30, 2006

Stars Beneath Your Bed: The Surprising Story of Dust

Stars Beneath Your Bed: The Surprising Story of Dust
by April Pulley Sayre
Illustrated by Ann Jonas
Ages: 4-8
Topics: dust, earth science, history

Stars Beneath Your Bed takes the potentially mundane subject of dust and cleverly connects it to the color of sunrise and sunsets, King Tut, the dinosaurs, the solar system, butterfly wings, and rolling zebras, to name just a few. The narrative is written in simple free verse:
Old dust stays around.
Dust that made King Tut sneeze is still on Earth.
It might be on your floor.
That dusty film on your computer screen
might have muddied a dinosaur.

Sayre has done an excellent job of choosing informative dust examples that will strongly appeal to children and combine the familiar with the dramatic, "the smoke of burning toast,/ ash from an erupting volcano", a dog shaking off dirt and meerkats digging in the savanna. The brief text is boldly illustrated with double-spread watercolors that are full of (dusty) action. The vibrant colors will draw children in and the familiar and exotic elements provide plenty for children to comment on. Of course, the title dust example, of stars or bits of Mars or comets making up the dust under the bed, is perhaps the most appealing and visually dazzling! The book follows the timeline of a day, starting with sunrise and ending with sunset, the sun is present in each double-spread and moves across the sky, providing a nice visual unity to the geographically varied landscapes.

The concept of dust scattering light is gently touched on in the free verse narrative and there's a two page detailed explanation of Dust and Sunsets for older children (and adults) at the end of the book. An inspired introduction to earth sciences for the very young, this wonderful book will trigger a whole new series of connections between a child's daily life and the world and universe around us.

April Pulley Sayre has written over 50 children's books about science and nature including Dig, Wait, Listen: A Desert Toad's Tale, an Outstanding Science Trade Book for Children and Our Amazing Continent books.

Ann Jonas has written and illustrated children's books including Color Dance and Round Trip, an ALA Notable Book and New York Times Best Illustrated Book.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Jack and the Night Visitors by Pat Schories

Jack and the Night Visitors
by Pat Schories
Ages: 2-5
Topics: dogs, aliens, robots

In this wordless picture book, Jack, a little white dog with orange spots and an attentive manner, and his purple p.j. -clad companion, the boy, are visited one night by a spacebus of tiny aliens. The aliens, who look like tiny robots with antenna, are friendly and scamper into the bedroom and immediately set to playing with all the little toy cars, trucks, and superheroes. But the visitors have arrived hungry, and Jack and the boy get them a large bowl of dry cereal, which really delights the aliens and builds trust between them and the boy. Alas, the boy wants to keep one of the visitors and captures him in a large glass jar, which causes a horrible commotion. Happily, Jack is there to rescue the little guy and send the travelers off on their way.

The illustrations clearly tell this simple story, making it a great "independent" book for young children, while having plenty of details for older children to point out. Below is the illustration where the alien communicates hunger.
As you can see, Jack and the boy are visually connected: they are together in every scene, the boy's orange hair is the same color as Jack's orange spots, and the two often share the same expression. The illustrations are mostly double page spreads, but there are also some vingettes (for example, getting the cereal). Children will delight in the bright illustrations, strong sense of pace and action, the familiar and appealing characters.

While I think this is an excellent picture book, I do have a peeve about the front cover. As you can see, the illustrations and characters are darling, but the cover completely fails to communicate this. Also, unless you're familiar with the previous Jack books or carefully read the front jacket, you might easily think that the boy is Jack, rather than the dog. There are two previous Jack books, Breakfast for Jack and Jack and the Missing Piece. Pat Schories is also the illustrator of the Biscuit books by Alyssa Satin Capucilli.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Third Carnival of Childrens' Literature at Semicolon

It's the Third Carnival of Childrens' Literature, hosted by Semicolon. As April is National Poetry month, this carnival has poetry as its theme.
BookCarousel submitted The Snail and the Whale.
Many thanks to Sherry for putting this carnival together. Enjoy!