Tuesday, December 10, 2013

LiterariTea in the Slow Lane

Greetings, Faithful Few...

Megan and I wanted to announce that LiterariTea will be living life in the slow lane, cyber-speaking, for the foreseeable future.

I still have picture books to review, we both still read avidly, and we're still critiquing novels as well. But various life events in our personal lives* plus a very exciting site re-vamp at our more professional site (RedeemedReader) mean that we will be putting LiterariTea on the back burner for a while. We may post here and there, but it might be quite a while.

As we mentioned back when we joined RedeemedReader in March, we view LiterariTea as a hobby blog and RedeemedReader as our professional outlet. And that professional outlet is booming! So, if you've not stopped by RedeemedReader to check it out, we encourage you to do so. We're both reviewing Christmas-themed picture books as well as looking at some audio book options for those traveling days ahead over on RedeemedReader this week and next.

And, in the meantime, we will both continue drinking copious quantities of tea (and chai!). We encourage you to do the same--to get offline for a bit, pour a cup of tea, and sit just quietly, sipping your tea.

*we won't bore you with the details of our lives, but there are two exciting big things coming for us: one of us is having a baby in January (her 4th) and the other of us is scheduled to graduate with her MSIS in May. Good things, but both will be bringing their fare share of added responsibilities and time management strain :-).

Image credit

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Battle Bunny

A Picture Book of the Week (PBOW) Feature

Battle Bunny
John Scieszka and Mac Barnett, authors
Matthew Myers, illustrator
Simon & Schuster, 2013

  1. If you haven't gotten your hands on this hilarious book, put that on your to do list ASAP. (If you're reading this and don't have the book in hand, take a look at the spread on the publisher's website.)
  2. Did you know there's an e-book version of this book? WHAT?? How does THIS book translate to e-book land? The whole point of the book is that a book has been defaced, not a screen. But I digress.
 I'll confess that this book intrigued me when I first saw the cover this summer, but at the same time I didn't see how it could be so funny. And thankfully, I was wrong. Because funny it is. I guffawed the first time I read it (good thing I waited until I was home from the library!). And then I started showing it to other adults--who also chortled. My kids, though? They don't quite get it. Which makes me wonder who the real target audience is. Maybe my kids aren't quite old enough to really get why it's so funny? (They're first and second graders; maybe third and fourth would be perfect.) Or maybe my kids are too aghast that someone "wrote" in a book to find it funny :-). Any thoughts here? Regardless of the audience question, the book is sheer genius.

Concept: I don't usually do this, but Battle Bunny merits a little 'splainin'. Let's pretend that we're, oh, an 8- or 9-year old boy whose loving grandmother has just given another cherubic, dippy picture book about a saccharine little bunny and his forest friends--who all forget that it's his special day. The heartache, the grief, as little Birthday Bunny hops along and watches Crow save "shiny pebbles for [his] Sparkly Nest." Well, what would you do if you, as a frustrated kid, received such schmarm? You might, um, edit said story to make it more appealing. The creators of Battle Bunny first wrote a vintage looking "sweet" story complete with cuddly forest creatures and talk of Bunny's "special day." Then, they went back over the story of Birthday Bunny and created Battle Bunny. The whole thing is so clever and well done--you just have to see this one, folks. But let's walk through and look at some of those clever tricks.

Cover: You must examine both front and back covers of this one. Trust me. Even down to adding in ridiculous years of "birth" for the authors'/illustrator's "special days," the edited titles of other books about Bunny, and the slightly grainy feel to the images--not to mention the "erased" marks in the title and the new penciled in title. Complete package. Look at all the details.

Endpapers: Oh, that second set of endpapers made me laugh. I may have snorted.

Title Page: You guys are so funny! There's even a loving inscription to "Alexander" (when he clearly wants to be called "Alex") from his Gran Gran. (cackling ensues)

Palette: Suitably vintage looking: colors are a bit muted compared to today's.

Layout: Those circular illustrations with the text placed firmly on the white space and very boring font: it takes me back to picture books I remember (*coughs* Little Golden Books).

Details: Here we could spend some serious time. But explaining a joke takes all the fun away, doesn't it? It's important to read/look at the "original" story to get just how convincing a job these guys did. And then read the new-and-improved words/images on each page and enjoy. Oh, I can just see a kid gleefully making the shiny pebbles into "megatron bombs." And let's face it: "Shaolin Bear" and "Ninja Turtle" are way cooler sounding than "Bear" and "Turtle." And, if you do want to try your hand at re-writing Birthday Bunny, you can: check out MyBirthdayBunny.com where you can download the "unedited" version of Birthday Bunny.

What did I miss? What was your favorite part of this book? (Anyone out there?) 
In case you're wondering why I discuss this book during the Christmas season, 
let me remind all you fellow book-gifters out there: 
pick out good books, not dippy ones, for your little sweethearts.

Next week's Picture Book of the Week is a Christmas title: The Night Before Christmas illustrated by Holly Hobbie (quite a change from Battle Bunny!)

Book from local library; cover image from Simon and Schuster

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Aaron Becker
Candlewick, 2013

A Picture Book of the Week Feature (PBOW)

I first saw this book weeks ago, but with the other books I had lined up (and waiting for this one to come through the library channels and Thanksgiving and real life), I'm just now getting to focus on it. It's amazing. I like it more each time I read it. Since I first saw this, I've read several reviews of the book. It also made the New York Times Best Illustrated Books of 2013 List. The most interesting work was Julie Danielson's interview with Becker over at Seven Imp--check it out! But let's dive into the book itself, starting with... the cover, of course!  

[I did this walk through with my children and they were fascinated--even to the frame/bleed discussion; they also started noticing way more details. Do this with your kids! Teach them visual literacy and just plain ol' observation and art appreciation. Soap box over.]

Cover: Wow--I totally want to visit that castle, don't you? I mean, it's super cool. On a more professional note, let's talk about the palette: cool blues and greens and that eye-popping red. While our eyes are drawn to the castle since it's placed to the right, is large, and the lines lead to it, we can't help but notice the red immediately out of the corner of our eye. Did you notice that the title is also in red? Hmm... might be an important color. One more note: the image I pulled from Candlewick is a bit blurry; if you don't have the book in front of you, let me point out the purple bird up in the sky--it almost looks like one of the pennants flying from the castle. We'll meet this bird again.

Endpapers: Red! Look closely: there are all kinds of modes of transportation drawn. Hmm... The book is about a journey; perhaps the journey will involve several types of transportation?

Title Page: If you've not read this gem, you won't know that this is the last page with words...but it is. The title is prominent, but our eye notes that bright red scooter and the strange turquoise lantern. The girl on the scooter is traveling to the right and is almost at the end of the page. We want to turn that page. But before you do, note the drab colors, the sepia tones of everything else on this page. Quite a change from that brilliant cover image.

Opening Pages: What a contrast to the castle scene!! A muted, sepia world is pictured; the girl's red scooter is parked this time and she's sitting glumly on the stoop of her house (we assume). It's easy to pass over this picture. But note that the cutaway of her house shows her family members all busily engaged in solo activities. There are also other kids opposite the girl who are engaged in some sort of game. And there's a boy holding a purple crayon (this is a subtle detail I didn't pick up on until I'd read this book several times!). He's kind of alone, too....

Frame v. Full Bleed: Let's get a touch more technical here. Before we leave the big, sepia double-spread, note that it's a full bleed picture: the image covers the entire two pages. When you turn the page, you will see the girl on her bed in a frame: a stark contrast. There is lots of white space on this page, and it reinforces the alone-ness of the girl. In fact, in that framed picture, we don't see any red. On the lefthand page, you see the girl presumably asking her family members to do something. The red objects are the activity of choice. The little vignettes echo that lonely little feeling. There is nothing to do....

Layout: This book has all kinds of teaching moments, doesn't it?! The next two pages are a mirror layout of the two previous. This time, the lefthand page holds the framed picture of the girl and the righthand side shows some sequential action happening. Note that she spies a red crayon on her floor. In a move reminiscent of Harold, she begins to draw an escape route. And what do we see through that red door (red = action!)? Some green space...this is a different world than her sepia one.

Palette: I won't continue examining every page. (sigh) Wouldn't that be fun? But do note the palette throughout the book: that red is always eye-catching, even when it's not prominently positioned. It points to what's happening--or about to happen. [There's a particularly striking image where the red crayon is in midair--if your children are paying attention, this will give them pause...] And when you spy the purple bird, take note! There will also be a purple door. Note that it's different than her red door.

Details: This is a book to look at again and again and again. There are so many intricate scenes and details. When you share this with children, give them time to look closely at each page. Ask questions: what's going to happen next? What's red in this picture? What is she making? Where is she going (particularly effective when she's on the flying carpet on the far, high left, and there's a small, open door in the bottom right)? Ask them how they know the answers to these questions.

Last Pages: When you reach the spread where the girl and boy meet for the first time, take some time to go back and look at that first double spread in the beginning. And don't miss the final page. What adventure awaits!

I've heard some compare this book to Harold and the Purple Crayon and there's a similarity in theme, no doubt. But this book feels very different to me. It's much more elaborate in illustration and scope. Perhaps it could be construed as an homage to Harold, but I think it's a well done book fully in its own right.

How about you? What did I miss? 
What do you like/not like about this book?

Next PBOW: Battle Bunny by John Scieszka and Mac Barnett (should be in libraries now)

Book from local library; cover image from Candlewick

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Real Boy

The Real Boy
Anne Ursu
Walden Pond Press, 2013

I haven't had the privilege of reading Ursu's highly regarded Breadcrumbs, but I'm going to make sure I track that one down soon! The Real Boy was a delight to read, pure and simple. I went into it one idea and one only: a particular legendary children's story, the title of which shouldn't be hard to figure out if you ponder the title of this book long. I also knew folks liked this book; in addition to appearing on mock Newberys (like that on Heavy Medal), it also made the National Book Award long list.

Ursu's writing itself is sheer pleasure to read. I'm a words girl, and I love to read well crafted sentences and the like. Nerdy, huh? I enjoy a well plotted novel, good characters endear themselves to me like real life friends, and musing over a deep theme with a good (real life) friend--lovely. But the words themselves are first and foremost what I notice. I'd wager that it's folks like me who enjoy the likes of Hokey Pokey and other titles that play with language. One of my favorite lines in The Real Boy reads, "And the people were the same way: gilded with plenty, unsullied by suffering." Ursu packs a punch with a succinct prose that will be just as easily read and relished by her target audience (middle grades) as it is by the likes of me. It's not perfect throughout, but there are moments of brilliance.

Thankfully, though, Ursu's prose isn't the only great thing about this novel. I hesitate to write too much about the characters and the plot because so much of the pleasure of reading this book is in the discovery of all that lies beneath the surface. Ursu gives us a wonderful character in Oscar, the real boy, and his friend Callie. I love their growing relationship, the ways they learn to read each other like any two people who are growing closer. Ursu does a great job of showing us this process, not telling. And she does a great job of showing us, not telling us, some of the quirks that any person has--but which Oscar seems to possess in greater abundance. There's no need to label him (finally!) because so many of us have strange little quirks. I'd bet there are lots of (unlabeled) kids who find elements of Oscar's character resonate within their own selves, even if they aren't as extreme in any given area. Callie is a born nurturer, but she's never saccharine about it. I love that. One important note: because the book is told from Oscar's perspective (although in 3rd person), there is lots that the reader must infer. I think this worked well although not everyone agrees with me.

The plot: it's well paced for the most part. Solid world building in the background informs lots of key decisions and moments, and it all hangs together. But the best part: the open ending! Enough is resolved for readers to close the book happily, but there are enough what ifs that we will spend the rest of the day (week) thinking on and musing over them.

Go get a copy and read it for yourself! Do NOT read my questions below unless you have read the book or don't care if you find out "stuff" before reading....

This book brings up great thematic material which would be worth discussing. The biggest issue is greed--and not just greed for more money or material goods. The parents in the Shining City want perfect children because they don't want to see their children suffer. Interesting, isn't it? Sort of a twisted desire to make everything in life perfect--so perfect for your children that, though they look and feel and sound real, they're actually artificial in an attempt to protect them. And don't we want that, too? Don't we go to great lengths to avoid suffering? Aren't we greedy for an easy life, an untroubled one, one that's "unsullied by suffering"?

My biggest question from this book, though: I totally thought the trees being cut down were the reason the children made from them were suddenly failing. I guess I get the idea of a "hole" in the world where Magic used to bind it together, but to me it made more sense to directly connect each particular tree with the children who were made from its wood. Anyone else?

Book from local library; cover image from publisher's site

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Take Me Out to the Yakyu (PBOW)

A Picture Book of the Week (PBOW) feature

Take Me Out to the Yakyu
Aaron Meshon
Atheneum, 2013

This was one of my favorite new reads this summer. Such a fun little book and one that works equally well as a baseball story as it does an informational text on cultural differences between the U.S. and Japan--not to mention a sweet reflection of a terrific grandpa/kid relationship! So let's unpack this gem a bit.

Cover/Endpapers: The astute viewer will notice right away that the cover image is symmetrical with the boy smack in the center. He's the star of our show, to be sure, but the background shows us the world he straddles--literally. Everything on the left is U.S.A. Everything on the right is Japan. The jaunty colors and simple, bold images tell us this book is for younger folks--ages 4-6 or so (and that's pretty accurate, although I think the book can go up or down a bit). What is a "Yakyu"? Glad you asked--the cover tells us that, too, with lots of baseball imagery. This is definitely going to have some baseball game action in it, even if we still don't know exactly what a Yakyu is. Endpapers: baseball again!

Title Page: More of the same left/right juxtaposition of U.S.A. and Japan--and this will continue on most pages that have both countries/cultures represented simultaneously. American scenes are first, followed by Japanese.

Design: This book is wonderfully designed. Without spelling out, "this is a book about American baseball and culture compared to Japanese baseball and culture," it shows us this comparison quite clearly. Even young children will pick up on it as the boy goes to a baseball game with his American grandfather and with his Japanese grandfather. Most double spreads are mirror images of each other, reflecting both cultures. The similarities in layout and composition of each spread help the reader see right away what is different between the two countries. Since this book is being published in America, to an American audience, it makes sense that American scenes are the touchpoint--we know these images. The Japanese reflections stand out in stark contrast sometimes (such as sleeping on the floor in Japan) while others images show us just how similar we really are (celebrating the seventh inning, even if we do it differently).

Palette: Bright, bold, saturated colors fill this book. But there is more to it than just "fun" colors. The American side is consistently blue--background, player jerseys, shades of blue. The Japanese side is consistently red in the same way. This starts on the cover with the foam hand and plastic horn the boy is holding up, and even his clothes reflect both main colors. I used this book to introduce the concept of palette to my children (twin boys, aged 6, and a daughter, age 8). THEY pointed out to me that on the cover, the American (English) words are in blue and the Japanese word is in red!

Text: Picture books aren't just about the pictures! The text in this book nicely mirrors the symmetry of the illustrations which helps the reader know what Ji Ji means or that kilometers-per-hour is similar to miles-per-hour as a measurement tool. Just enough information given to us in the text so that we know what is going on but aren't overwhelmed with commentary on the two cultures.

End Matter: But wait! There's more! The final pages of the book have all sorts of information about baseball in the two countries. Incidentally, the informational pages continue the same blue/red palette. There's a glossary complete with the Japanese characters for words (one page of baseball-related words and one of "other fun words"). The next two pages give a short history of baseball in both countries and some other information related to baseball in both countries. And don't miss the final yin-yang illustration!

Have you seen this book? What did you think? 
What did I miss?

Next week's PBOW: Journey (I'd said I wouldn't do one the week of T'giving, but I couldn't resist!)
Cover image from publisher's website; book from local library

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11

A Picture Book of the Week (PBOW) feature

Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11
Brian Floca
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2009
Sibert Honor Book, ALA Notable Book

This book is great on so, so many levels. I keep finding ways to include it on various lists, such as our recent RedeemedReader Science Book Favorites and my RedeemedReader post on notable science picture book creators. It's applied science, after all. So, what makes this book so great? Let's take a closer look.

Cartoon style is not one we usually think of for outstanding information/nonfiction picture books, is it? Sure, cartoon illustrations can be helpful (i.e. Gail Gibbons or Joanna Cole's Magic Schoolbus books), but I think most folks think photography (such as Nic Bishop's usual offerings) are more "accurate" or "scientific." Well, Floca's Moonshot is just the book to prove that assumption wrong.

Cover: I love this cover. It's simple and bold and yet still has an amazing amount of detail when seen up close. It's more effective without those award stickers, but that does happen frequently to great books....

Endpapers: Now, these are endpapers to study. The front endpapers contain detailed drawings of various parts and stages of space shuttles. Drawings are clear, text is concise, and a whopping amount of information is presented. The back endpapers provide a detailed note on the history and events covered in brief in the book. This is also an excellent example of smart book design. This summer, Julie (of Seven Imp., and my professor this summer) had Robin Smith (of Calling Caldecott) come share about her experience on the Caldecott Committee and Robin's husband Dean share about his experience on the Sibert Committee. And you know what they told us?! The endpapers can make or break a close race in these award committees: if the endpapers feature valuable information that ends up being covered up by a library dustjacket, then the book is deemed poorly designed. Wow. Who knew? Well, these Moonshot endpapers are clearly well designed, clearly planned with a library dustjacket in mind! Good job, book designers!

Opening/Closing Pages: We start on the ground looking up at the moon...far, far away in the sky. And we end playing firmly on planet earth, the moon a faint shape in the sky. And in the middle, Floca wows the reader with all the intricacies of planning a trip to that far away moon.

Perspective: One of the things that stands out to me in this book is Floca's use of perspective. Whether the moon (or earth!) is far away and distant, whether the astronauts are floating around right in front of us, whether we have a front seat to the lift off or are looking at the shuttle flying through space, he nails it every time. The double spread when the shuttle lifts off right after the last sequential art scene with the astronauts' faces close up: perfect.

Details: Floca knows how to capture details, both in illustration and in text. And not just any ol' details, but details that are truly worth knowing and which are interesting. We learn about the food astronauts eat, how they use the bathroom in space, what their training is like. We see all the cars at the blastoff! site, the control center with all the computers, the inside of the shuttle up close. We see an earth-bound family cheering on the mission as the footage comes back from their journey. It's all here.

As usual, a short blog post will only scratch the surface of a book like this. I highly recommend getting your hands on this one and looking through it with your children. It's a great example of a picture book that works for older kids, too--those 2nd-5th graders who might think they've put picture books behind now that they can "read." Well, this one will still have lots of appeal (in fact, it's going to be above most preschoolers' heads). Floca's Racecar Alphabet is another great "applied science" book for this age group as is his latest Locomotive. (which I hope to review here soon...)

If you've read it, what did you think? What do you like about this one? What did I miss?

Next up: Take Me Out to the Yakyu (a 2013 publication that should be in libraries by now)

Book from local library; cover image from publisher

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Tortois and the Hare (PBOW)

A Picture Book of the Week (PBOW) Feature

The Tortoise and the Hare
Jerry Pinkney
Little, Brown, and Co., 2013

I adored Pinkney's 2010 Caldecott winning The Lion and the Mouse. I'm also a big fan of his Noah's Ark, The Ugly Duckling, and others. So I could hardly wait to get my hands on this latest Pinkney treasure. And I wasn't disappointed!

Cover: WOW. Pinkney fills his covers and spreads with images--we are there with the characters, in this case, the tortoise and the hare (fitting!). To get the full effect, though, you should open the book and look at the cover along with the back of the book all at the same time. It's one big double spread.

Endpapers: Pinkney wastes no space, and his endpapers are some of the best there are. One of the reasons I was hooked on his Noah's Ark were the gorgeous endpapers; the back set show rainbows all around the globe. So. cool. In similar fashion here, we have two totally different scenes. The first is a pre-story image; the back is a post-story image. The bookends, if you will.

Palette: I love noticing what colors an illustrator uses and trying to ascertain why, or what their signature style is, or what their favorite color combinations might be. In Pinkney's books, (The Lion and the Mouse being a possible exception), there are little bursts of red and blue against a predominantly earth-toned palette. But his earth tones still manage to be bright and colorful even as they blend together. Our hero--the tortoise--carries the spots of red and blue in this story.

Text: There is very little text in this story; I think of it as a wordless book. However, notice the letters themselves: on the title page, in particular, the words "The Tortoise" and "The Hare" are colored like the animals they mention. Throughout the book, the words "Slow and steady" that appear over time are colored with the same blues and reds that the Tortoise is wearing. Coincidence? I think not!

Movement: Pinkney is one of those artists who captures such movement in his watercolors. These animals are frozen in time, but we get the sense that it's merely a snapshot--they've long since hopped or crawled out of the frame. Somehow, he manages to capture the Tortoise's laborious climb in and out of the water while simultaneously showing the Hare frolicking onward.

All in all, this is one of my favorite picture books of the year--lots of details to look at in these pages!

If you've read this book, what did you think? 
What have I missed? 

Next Picture Book of the Week is:

Cover image from publisher's website; book from local library