Tuesday, March 25, 2014

My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood by Tameka Fryer Brown

The other day, Sprout came home in a mood that was way out of sorts. He's usually pretty easy going, but this particular night he was grouchy in the extreme. Right from the get-go, he made it clear that life wasn't going his way -- by complaining about dinner, throwing his coat, stomping down the hall (because right off the bat, we advised him to spend some cooling-off time in his room).

The whole evening got me thinking about moods, and how outside circumstances can influence our outlook on life. Who among us hasn't had their whole day lifted by some unexpected good news, or ended up in a terrible frame of mind after being stuck in traffic? It happens to little guys too, let's not forget. . . I had to remind myself of that, once Sprout calmed down and was able to verbalize what was going on with him (a falling-out with one of his best buddies had put him in an instant funk). We've all been there.

Tameka Fryer Brown examines the changeability of moods within one single day in her recent picture book My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood. I'd seen this one being talked about on the blogosphere, and was anxious to review it, though I thought it would be pretty similar to this title that I reviewed just a couple of months ago. Happily, though the mood/color connection was reminiscent, Brown's book is a stand-out all on its own. And it features illustrations by Shane Evans, whose artistic style we really love, making Cold Plum all the more distinct in its own right.

Jamie, the main character in Cold Plum, is having an up-and-down day. It starts off pretty good, in a "cold-plum eating / grape-juice drinking" purple kind of way. Then he runs into some trouble with his older brothers, and Jamie's day swings over to a stormy gray. It's better when he colors with his little sister ("Jell-O green"), worse when his brothers make fun of him ("brooding black mood"), and ends up being pretty okay, "cool, blue okay" as Jamie does the dishes after a really awesome dinner with his family.

Evans plays with Brown's vivid, snappy words -- poems really -- by creating spreads that are color-drenched and deep with tone and texture. Each page stands on its own as a representation of the specific mood Brown's getting at. I really like brown, the color that the author uses for Jamie's determination to stop being pushed around by his big brothers. "Planted. . . fierce. . ./ Not backing down -- Grrrrrrrr! / Big, strong brown / I win!". Love, love, love this image of brown as a strong, determined boy standing up for what he believes in. This is a terrific, subtle reinforcement for kiddos like Sprout, who not only have shared Jamie's feelings, but also share the same skin color.

Read My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood and enjoy the rhythm of the text as well as the images it evokes. Then take a break to talk with your kiddo about feelings, moods and the ways we choose to react to the happenings of our day. There's a lot of opportunity here, for discussion as well as expression.

My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood by Tameka Fryer Brown, published by Viking
Ages 3-6
Source: Library

Monday, March 17, 2014

Yes, Let's by Galen Goodwin Longstreth

One of the tasks that's been drawing my attention away from the blog these days is planning for our first family road trip. Travel is pretty important to our family life, and in fact we've figured out that we Kinsers get a bit itchy when we don't have a trip on the horizon. Hubs and I have been wanting to do a road trip for a while, but while Sprout was still pretty little it seemed like it would be more of a headache than anything. (Let's face it -- when your kiddo is potty training, even a trip to the grocery store can require an unplanned stop!) But now that he's almost five (FIVE??!??), it seems much more doable. And so we're planning to hit the road in early summer for a road trip to Utah to see (what else?) dinosaurs. :)

But though our summer trip is going to be several days, there's no substitution for a day heading off into the wilds to have an adventure. Living in the Pacific Northwest, there's a bounty of natural wilderness all around us, and we love to get out and explore. A recent read of ours -- Galen Goodwin Longstreth's Yes, Let's -- introduces kids to just how thrilling it can be to see what nature has in store. (I didn't know until I read her bio that Galen Longstreth is from Seattle, but it totally makes sense!) Right from the get-go, you know this is going to be a fun title; the endpapers are styled like the family's refrigerator, complete with trail map, photos from past outings, lists ("animals to look for") and a grocery list, helpfully amended by one of the young members of the party to include basic staples -- like chocolate chips.

And that's just the beginning of the delightful illustrations by Maris Wicks, who definitely knows how to capture family life. Here we have a family of seven: Mom, Dad and four children, plus their adorable scruffy puppy, and they are out for a day of exploration. "Let's wake up extra early, before the day gets hot. / Let's pack a picnic, hurry up -- ready or not." So begins the adventure, where we see the family cajoling Mom and Dad out of bed, then the whole crew packing lunch (the youngest pouring extra extra chocolate chips into the trail mix. . . hence the grocery list addition!).

The tone Longstreth strikes throughout this one-of-a-kind picture book is spot on. Yes, Let's is all happy excitement, the anticipation of the events buoying the family through. Even though some small mishaps do occur, nothing can deter from the pure delight of experience. The joy of dropping backpacks and shedding layers down to swimsuits, then jumping into the possibly-too-cold-at-first water; the hopefulness of making boats out of sticks and leaves; the laziness of lounging with a book on the riverbank -- it's all here, evoking memories of encounters past for parents, and building the thrill of future outings in the minds of kids. The day winds down as the book does, with a stop for dinner and then a parent toting in a sleeping child. It's a classic summer adventure, the kind captured in photos to remember afterward. Who among us hasn't had days much like this, and long for the same for our own children?

Yes, Let's is a terrific book that deserves a wide audience, because it's about nothing more than enjoying time together in nature, as a family. Read this one now, if you're itching for spring, and start to plan your own summer escapades. It's fun to have adventures together -- so let's!

Yes, Let's by Galen Goodwin Longstreth, published by Tanglewood Books
Ages 3-6
Source: Library
Sample: "Let's hike the trail, hop the stream, and duck the fallen logs. / Let's go this way, we've got all day -- someone call the dog."

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

I Am Latino: The Beauty in Me by Sandra L. & Myles C. Pinkney

Well hello again! Seems I took a bit of a blogging break the last couple of weeks, however unintentional. I've had a few other projects that have been taking up my attention. But no matter what, we're still reading, so I've got plenty of books to share.

Increasingly we're finding chapter books really capture Sprout's attention -- and yet, we still manage to check out the same huge load of picture books from the library, which thrills me no end. I honestly don't want to be one of those parents who pushes their child toward "serious" reading or toward one format of books over another. As I've shared before, Hubs grew up being not much of a reader, until he discovered graphic novels, and those have been his "gateway drug" into other forms of literature. So I happily check out whatever random pile of books catches Sprout's fancy on any given day, being sure to include a few of my own picks, however surreptitiously.

One thing I always try to do with our library selections is inject a good mix of diversity into our choices. No surprise there, right? But it does take work to make your bookshelves reflective of the world we live in -- because of course the titles that get the most press are those that make up the prevailing bulk of mainstream publishing, and that means white, white, white. So we all have to dig a little deeper and see what we can find to add some color to our reading selections. Fortunately, if you do look, it's possible to be rewarded with some excellent diverse kidlit without much effort.

One tip I like to share with parents and teachers is to find an author you like and then explore his/her catalog -- often writers who choose diverse subject matter or who populate their books with characters of color do so intentionally and thoughtfully, and their body of work usually demonstrates that. Today's book is one I came across because we've loved the previous collaborations by Sandra and Myles Pinkney. I Am Latino: The Beauty in Me doesn't disappoint, either -- it's every bit as stunning as their book Shades of Black, which is one of our all-time favorite titles.

In I Am Latino, the Pinkneys again turn their attention to a specific part of the population with a joyful celebration of the uniqueness of Latino people and culture. Framed around the concept of the senses, Sandra's poetic verse calls out ways to "sense the beauty", from the melody of language to the rhythm of music to the richness of foods. Myles again illustrates this title with his evocative photography, showing a diverse section of Latino boys and girls in situations that accent the story. Sprout's favorite photo is toward the end, where a young boy is smelling a plate of empanadas. "I bet those taste so so good, Mom!" he exclaimed the first time we read this (Hubs and I assured him he was right on the money there!).

I love I Am Latino not only because it introduces kids who aren't familiar with Latino culture to some basic traditions, but also because it's an affirmation for kids who see themselves in these pages.  Maybe they see the food their grandmother makes or have a family photo that resembles one in the book. Maybe they've never thought about what makes their heritage special, or maybe they've grown up with family members who keep them closely tied to their roots. It doesn't matter, really, because this title works on many levels for whoever is reading it. Ultimately, the Pinkneys' message through I Am Latino and their other books is that there's pride in heritage and being connected to your history. And also, that there's power in affirming the beauty we see around us.

You may not find I Am Latino readily available on your bookstore or library shelves. But take a little extra time to look for this one, regardless of your family background -- it's simple, strong and a great celebration of Latino heritage. This is a terrific title for even the youngest readers.

I Am Latino: The Beauty in Me by Sandra L. & Myles C. Pinkney, published by Little, Brown
All ages
Source: Library
Sample: "Use your senses. / You will see Beauty -- Magnificently / I am Latino. I am the Beauty!!!"