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)