Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Many Faces of Peter Pan

 The Many Faces of Peter Pan: An Illustrated Retelling of the Classic Children's Tale is a fresh take on an old favourite! The book is the brain child of Ayrin Witijono, a Classical Animation Teaching Assistant who wanted to help charities with a creative project.

The Many Faces of Peter Pan: An Illustrated Retelling of the Classic Children's Tale
Story re-told by Natasha Cowie
Copyright 2011
ISBN: 978-0-9877518-0-5

I have to say, I couldn't put the book down. Even after I finished reading the story, I had to go back to the beginning just to look at each of the pages again and marvel at the art, linger over the rhyme and  enjoy the text features. It is one of those books that is so exciting to look at - you just don't want to stop!

The picture book is based on  J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, but it has been approached in an original manner. The story is cleverly retold by Natasha Cowie, in rhyme. The verses are well-created and she manages to tell the story while avoiding the pitfall of convoluted wording for the sake of rhyme that makes the story difficult to follow.

The real joy of this book, however, is in the illustrations. The illustrations are a combined effort of 12 professional animators, graduates of Vancouver Film School, who specialize in different types of animation. Each animator has two separate pages in the book and each has a unique approach and style to her art. The pages are not side-by-side either, and for fun you can try to identify which pairs of illustrations were done by the same artist. It's a great opportunity to really study the art and techniques and try to find similarities and differences while deciding which style you enjoy most. The artists have a wide range of styles, and it makes the story even more exciting.

Another aspect of the story which I enjoyed was the layout of the text. Not your typical straight font, but an art form in its own right.  The book design is by graphic designer Keiko Furukawa, and I found it interesting to look at her choices for words and phrases in different fonts, something I think older students might also enjoy discussing. 

The Many Faces of Peter Pan is a wonderfully creative retelling of a familiar story. This book is a feast for the senses though. As lovely as the rhyme and pattern of the story are, the art work is exciting to explore. I couldn't help but think about how inspired my older students would be to try their own hand at re-envisioning a classic tale and collaborating on the artwork as these animators did, but also how much pleasure my younger students would receive listening to the tale in rhythm and just relishing the pictures. 

Additionally, 20 percent of the proceeds of this book are being donated to Oxfam America to aid in their fight to help those living in poverty and struggling to survive.

The cost of the book is $20. It can be ordered by emailing

Sunday, March 27, 2011

L is for Land of Living Skies: A Saskatchewan Alphabet

L is for Land of Living Skies
A Saskatchewan Alphabet
Written by Linda Aksomitis
Illustrated by Lorna Bennett
ISBN: 978-1-58536-460-9

I've lived in Saskatchewan for more than 40 years. I know a thing or two about this province, but Linda Aksomitis' picture book L is for Land of Living Skies: A Saskatchewan Alphabet taught me a few things I didn't know.

Did you know there used to be more than 3,300 grain elevators in Saskatchewan? Have you heard of the "great white combine"? Do you know where the first Kimberlite in Saskatchewan was discovered? I know what you're thinking - "No, no and what the heck is Kimberlite?" Whether you are from Saskatchewan or just want to learn more about the most beautiful of prairie provinces, L is for Land of Living Skies is a wonderful way to do it.

Each page is devoted to one letter of the alphabet. It features a rhyme about the topic for that letter. Along the page is a sidebar with more detailed information.

N is for Northern Lakes Naming Project

Near four thousand northern lakes
bear the names of those who fell,
gave their lives up for our land -
listen and remember well.

In the sidebar you will read that "Saskatchewan is home to more than 100,000 lakes, with the majority of them in the north. Between 1950 and 1970, about 3,800 geographic features were named for the men and women who gave their lives for their country during wartime."

The organization of this book makes it more than your typical alphabet book. It is a good read aloud for kids, but the sidebar information makes it more interesting for readers of all ages.

For some added interest, Aksomitis includes a "Birds to Spy" feature. When you spot a bird, try and name it. Hint: its name will begin with the letter of the alphabet pictured on that page. There is a key at the back of the book. Also on the "A Flock of Facts" page at the back of the book are 13 trivia questions and their answers.

Illustrator Lorna Bennett is no stranger to illustrating alphabet books. She has also illustrated C is for Chinook and M is for Mountie also published by Sleeping Bear Press. Her illustrations are beautiful and full of life, particularly the pages of prairie landscapes.

Linda Askomitis has written many travel books, books for older students including Adeline's Dream of the From Many People series and Run, a Nitty Gritty novel published by Pearson. This is her first children's picture book and with it she has brought Saskatchewan to life for those who have not had the good fortune to live here and to remind those of us who do about the beauty we are so blessed to have surrounding us every day!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Little Chief and Mighty Gopher: The Pemmican Frenzy

Not long ago, I had the good fortune to attend a conference called Telling Stories: Representing Difference/Different Representations at the University of Saskatchewan. I was introduced to the works of some wonderful Canadian authors and had an opportunity meet them, hear their stories and preview their work. One of the books I picked up was Little Chief and Mighty Gopher: The Pemmican Frenzy by Victor Lethbridge. 
Little Chief and Mighty Gopher: The Pemmican Frenzy
Author: Victor Lethbridge
Illustrator: Ben Crane
Storyteller Media and Tatanka Productions
ISBN: 978-0-9866738-0-1

This is the story of a lonely aboriginal boy named Snow Cloud who has no friends. Snow Cloud limps and he struggles to keep up with the other kids who sometimes make fun of him.  Snow Cloud finds a friend in Mighty Gopher; however, unbeknownst to Snow Cloud, Mighty Gopher follows him home, and that is where he has the chance to taste pemmican made by Snow Cloud's mother. The combination of gophers and pemmican soon leads to chaos in the tipi camp, and it is Snow Cloud who helps to restore harmony, balance and tranquility to the camp.

I liked this story for numerous reasons. I am always searching for good picture books with Aboriginal content. This is a story that reflects Aboriginal values and has a loveable Aboriginal hero. Children will be able to relate to the main character. They will enjoy the relationship he has with the animals, and they will also enjoy the humour in the story. Adults will enjoy the opportunity to talk about the big ideas and  the values present in the story. While I think the book will find its greatest audience with the K-3 crowd, it's a good book to send to any class studying Plains Indians as the book includes information about the Lakota Sioux, Lakota traditions, pemmican and a list of Cree, Blackfoot and Lakota Sioux words with their translations.

Illustrator Ben Crane is an Albertan who is both a musician and an artist. His illustrations for this book have a comic quality to them which makes the characters, particularly Snow Cloud, even more loveable. However, it is important to note that some have questioned the caricature nature of the pictures and wondered whether they were appropriate. Personally, I feel it would be different if this were the only image of aboriginal people that students had. Those of Aboriginal descent to whom I have shown the book, agree.

Author Victor Lethbridge is multi-talented. A descendent of Chief Sitting Bull's original band and a member of Wood Mountain Lakota First Nation, Lethbridge is a musician, storyteller and motivational speaker. This book was written and produced to help support prevention workshops done through Victor's Tatanka Productions. Included with this picture book is a CD with a narrated version of the story as well as an accompanying song written by the author and his wife. As I listen to the song, I think it will appeal most to the younger Pre-K-1 students.
Little Chief and Mighty Gopher: The Pemmican Frenzy is ato any library.

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Purple Kangaroo

          The Purple Kangaroo
The Purple Kangaroo
Written by Michael Ian Black
Illustrated by Peter Brown
Simon & Schuster's Children Publishing
ISBN-10: 141695771
ISBN-13: 9781416957713

"Hey, kid. Guess what? I've got a supersecret, hghly unusual, incredible and amazing magical power. I can read minds. It's true. In fact, I can read YOUR mind."

So begins The Purple Kangaroo written by Michael Ian Black and illustrated by Peter Brown. Of course, with an opening like that, it grabs childrens' interest! "No way," they say. "Impossible." But the narrator, a very zany monkey, goes on to show just how he is able to accomplish such a feat in a wild story that includes a "banana-juggling, roller-skating, hula-hooping, rainbow-bubble-gum-nose-blowing, purple kangaroo searching for his wild-eyed-chinchilla friend Senor Ernesto de Pantolones!" "No way," you say. "Impossible," you think. But it's true!

I loved this book. This book is fun and silly and makes kids laugh right from the tips of their toes. I read a lot of beautiful, thoughtful, enlightening stories, but this is not one of them. This book is just plain crazy-town fun! At first I thought maybe it was just my sense of humour. I wondered what kids would think of it. Would they call it "lame"? So, I put it to the test. I read it to students from Kindergarten to Grade 3, and they all enjoyed it. But I have to say, when it comes to from the tip-of-your-toes laughs, the Grade 2 and 3 students had it covered. It is hard to read this book slowly and gently. It has its own pace and is a bit of a tongue-twister in places. I think the older students were better able to keep up with the pace and understand the humour in the very silly story.

You might recognize the name of the author, Michael Ian Black. Black has written another children's story called Chicken Cheeks, but you might also know him as an actor and comedian. He brings his comic sense and timing to this book. I feel this book is unique. It's not a predictable story. In fact, it's one of the most unpredictable stories I have read, and that is its charm. You can check out the video clip below of Black reading bits from his book.

The illustrations by Peter Brown are silly, like the story. But they are eye catching, and, in fact, they are what caught my attention and made me pick up the book. Brown drew the story in cloud bubbles, in a style that is very simple, but engaging.

Hey, guess what? I've got a supersecret, highly unusual, incredible and amazing magical power. I can make you laugh. It's true. In fact, I can make you laugh right down to the tips of your toes. Just sit down and listen to me read The Purple Kangaroo.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Welcome to the Reading Pit!

Most people start the new year with a resolution. I didn't make one this year. After a few decades of not ever keeping a single resolution, I gave it up. This year, I brought in the new year with a challenge. Find the best new picture books for my library. After five years in a high school, I am now the teacher-librarian at a K-5 school. I want the best books to inspire children's imaginations and spark conversation. I love seeing them excited as they learn something new, make a connection, or just simply enjoy and love a story!
Mirror by Jeannie Baker
*A Most Highly Recommended Title
I was wandering through the bookstore looking at children's books and I was drawn to a book called Mirror by Jeannie Baker. It wasn't really the cover of the book, although it's a lovely cover; it was the sticker that said "Two Cultures, Two Stories." I'm always interested in books that tell stories about different cultures. I think it is so important to learn about many cultures and the lives of people in other parts of the world. I am always fascinated by the traditions and customs of others!

Mirror is a unique book. It is two stories told side-by-side in a wordless picture book. One family lives in a city in Australia and one lives in Morocco, North Africa. The book is designed to have the pages on each side turned simultaneously, so readers can look at the lives of two families; lives that seem so very different. Yet as you look at the illustrations (more about them in a bit), you can also see many similarities between the two families as well!

Part of the reason Mirror is so engaging is the design of the book, but the illustrations are the other reason. The illustrations begin as drawings, but are built into collages using all kinds of materials: sand, fabric, tin, paper and lots of other things. I found that I was looking at the illustrations to see the story, but then I kept staring to see what the collages were made of. They are so beautiful.

This is a book that can foster so much discussion. Talking to children about the similarities and differences of the lives of the two boys and about how they intertwine should make for interesting conversation. I haven't read this to students yet, as I just picked it up, but I am certain they will really be thrilled discovering the story. And I know without a doubt that there will be a lot of excitement as they explore the illustrations too.

Although there are no words, Mirror speaks volumes.

Curriculum Connections:
  • Grade 2 English Language Arts - Social, Cultural and Historical
  • Grade 3 Social Studies - Community Connections
Best Lists:
  • New York Public Library Children's Books (2010)
  • Horn Book Fanfare (2010)

Starred Reviews
  • Kirkus Reviews (October 1, 2010)
  • Publisher's Weekly (October 25, 2010)