What Color is the Wind?

What Color Is the Wind?What Color Is the Wind? by Anne Herbauts

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is built around the premise that sometimes when we want to define something that is abstract, we can’t always find just one definition that gives us a true understanding. Instead, sometimes it’s an experience or the journey to understand the abstract that gives us a better idea of what it is.

The child in this book is wanting to know the color of the wind. He travels around asking different people and objects what color is the wind. Of course, there’s a different answer from each person he asks. This frustrates him until an adult explains to him that the wind can be all these colors; that the sum of all these colors IS the color of the wind.

Children tend to see the world as very binary. I think this book is a good challenge for a child’s way of thinking in that it gets to see that many things in life are complicated and have many nuances. Sometimes the sum of its parts is what defines something.

I also think this is a great book for adolescents and adults in that it reminds them/us that even when we think we’ve figured out a concept like love and acceptance, there may be more to learn and maybe what we understand now isn’t the “true” understanding.

Along with the great message, there’s beautiful artwork that is fun to appreciate while you’re reading the book.

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What Do You Do With a Chance?

What Do You Do With a Chance?What Do You Do With a Chance? by Kobi Yamada

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Just like the other books by Yamada, this book does a brilliant job of taking an abstract idea like a chance, and making it something concrete for readers to analyze. While this is aimed at children, I think adolescents and adults could benefit from this book. Especially since chances don’t stop coming into your life just because you’re an adult.

The basic premise of this book is that a boy comes across a “chance” or a shiny gold thing. He tries to pursue it and is never able to catch it. Instead, he embarrasses himself in front of his family and decides to never try to catch a chance again. During this period, he notices that chances stop coming. Then one day there’s a big chance on the horizon. He reflects on what happened in previously and decides that he doesn’t have to be perfect at catching a chance everytime, just at this one time. If he’s going to succeed, he knows that he’s going to have to give it all he can in order to succeed that this chance.

It’s a great message, this idea that sometimes when we take a chance we will fail. But it’s not about being successful everytime we take a chance. It’s about committing to act of taking a chance and giving it our all. There’s also this idea that we have to be evaluating and analyzing what made us successful, or not, in the past and how we can learn from these experiences without letting them define us.

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Folktales & Funnies

Fairy tales have intrigued me due to the fact that they’re aimed at children yet carry very adult themes. If you’ve read Grimm’s you know that they almost always end in the maiming or death of someone.  I find the fairy tale/folk tale genre is a short lefolksson that older generations pass on to the younger one.  It’s dramatic enough to capture the young imagination, the lesson is clear enough, and there’s just enough fear to keep the young ones on the right path.  Since I started reading them as an adult and looking at their structure and artistry, I’ve noticed that we don’t still use this style of imparting wisdom to young ones.  You might say Disney, but isn’t Disney just repackaging previous folktales?  I might argue that Pixar would be a good example of how our folktales have become kids’ films.

You can’t argue with the lessons of folktales, but we could debate their method. The “Little Lit: Folktales & Funny” collection of tales is a graphic novelized versions of classic fairy tales, but with alternate endings or comedic changes to their plot. I didn’t feel like the overall message was different, but I thought that the comedy didn’t make the tale have such a gothic flavor to it. As an adult, the comedy even seemed aimed more for me than the kids. “Little Lit” is an anthology of authors including Art Spiegelman. Each of their unique storytelling and drawings kept the tales fresh and unique. It’s a quick enjoyable read.

The Princess and the Goblin

princessI had decided this summer to re-tool my sophomore English class and teach genres that don’t always get taught in small, private schools.  One of those genres, and one of my favorites, is Fantasy.  So I’ve been trying to read as much YA Fantasy as I can, looking for contemporary and classic works.  One of the classics that I’ve stumbled across is George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin. Interestingly, C.S. Lewis saw Mr. MacDonald as an inspiration for writing.

Mr. MacDonald’s style is very Victorian and the story is way too juvenile for high school Sophomores.  Not only are the characters not even in their teens but they act very childish.  This seems very much like a contemporary of Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan. The story reads very quickly, which helps it not wear on my patience.  I shocked at how fast I tore threw it.

This is a simple story of a princess who makes friends with a young miner (apparently there’s no child labor laws in this kingdom). The young miner, Curdie, ends up spoiling a plot by the goblins who live under the mountain to capture the princess, Irene and marry her to the goblin prince. There’s a fairly god-mother figure who aids Irene and Curdie. Some of the lessons she teaches them are interpreted by some to be the author’s Christian philosophy, but this is a superficial interpretation at best.  For parents who read to their kids at night, this would be a book I would highly recommend.  Even though there’s chapters, the plots not too complex that if you only read several chapters a night, kids won’t loose the thread of the story.

What Do You Do With A Problem?

Previously, I related that I had read a book given to me during a meeting by colleague, the 1st grade teacher.  Just after reading, What Do You Do With an Idea?, while I was still amazed by how good it was, she pulled What Do You Do With a Problem? from her bag and told me if I liked the former, I’d really like the latter.

Just as with the first book, this second one personifies “problem” by making it a shape withProblem legs.  The same boy from the first book is in the second, and he encounters the problem without looking for it.  The problem won’t leave him and as his frustration with the problem grows, the illustrations become darker until there’s no color, it’s just black and white.

Once again, the illustrations not only add to the telling of the story, but almost tell a story of their own.  Because so much of children’s literature blends illustration with print, I think that Kobi Yamada should be considered a stable in classroom libraries.

Sometimes the toughest thing about a children’s book is how to convey abstract ideas about life. The author and illustrator for this book have figured out a powerful formula for achieving that goal. Giving the “problem” a body and having it interact with the protagonist gives readers a visual understanding of the characters’ relationship that accompanies the writing. The use of color adds a layer of depth that again cues the visual sense into what the underlying idea is.

What Do You Do With an Idea?

IdeaOne advantage of working in a Pre K-12th school is that I get to hear about good books at all levels.  As the meetings began at the beginning of our pre-week began (all you teachers out there know the drudgery of such meetings), I ended up next to the 1st grade teacher.  She was really excited about a new book. She pulled it out of her bag and told me I had to read it right then.

This wasn’t a hard choice because the leader of the meeting was doing the “so tell me about your summer” shtick, so I cracked the cover and dove in.  What a good choice I made.

This is a great book to not only capture the reader’s interest and get his/her mind thinking about their relationship with ideas, it also creates a rich environment within which to discuss the the readers’ responses.The premise of the story is that there’s a boy who finds an idea.  Except that unlike in our world, an idea in his is a real thing.  In fact, it looks like an egg with legs.  He doesn’t know what to do with this idea that keeps following.  Ultimately he works out what to do with the idea.

What is exceptional about the book is the illustrations.  The art not only reflects the abstract world of ideas and the mind of a child, but they mirror the mode of each section of the story.  Those kids who may not be able to read well or independently will be able to follow the story using what sight words they may know and the illustrations together.

As a teacher, this book is a great way to spark students’ interest in what their thoughts are for what to do with ideas and specifically their ideas.

Thunder Boy Jr.

I hadn’t read anything by Sherman Alexie until this book.  My wife is a huge fan of his and had picked this up from the library.  It looked interesting and based on her recommendation, I had been wanting to read from his oeuvre.  Thunder

Thunder Boy Jr  is about a boy, about 7, who’s starting to realize his place in his family. In particular, he’s realizing that having the same name as your Dad isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.  The narration of the book is done in Thunder Boy Jr’s voice.  It’s done well in conveying the tone and diction of a young boy.  Mr. Alexie is brilliant in using the child’s voice in order to get at the bigger issue here. The kid knows what questions to ask!  Even though he’s not using complicated syntax or vocabulary, the questions are hard-hitting and get right to the issue.

What I noticed as I reflected on my read of this tome, was that not only did the theme stand out, but a secondary idea was stuck in my head. Do kids understand more than we give them credit? I’m saying this boy would be self-aware enough to solve the problem on his own, but the fact that he could identify the problem and ponder it shocked me. And yet there was a feeling that this wasn’t unusual.  Something to consider.

This book is a superb example of how to say a lot, without actually saying a lot. Names are very important especially to children as they become more self-aware and create an identity for themselves. I’ve never thought naming a son after his father was a good idea, and I think Mr. Alexie is forwarding the same idea.  I recommend this as a read aloud to your child or maybe just a personal read for you adults out there.