Creeping Around the Picture Books #5 (History Lessons)

It’s obviously been a while since I’ve written this type of post. I hadn’t visited the library in months. Actually, I was really busy this fall…busy being depressed over not having a full-time job. I spent a lot of time eating nachos, and lying on my bed, watching episodes of The Wonder Years on my laptop. But now I’m back! And I’m ready to read books that were not technically designed for people my age. Yay! That’s far less depressing.

Anyway, if you’ve stumbled on this site and haven’t read my previous posts: What I do is walk through the “Youth” section of my local library, and pretty much check out any book that catches my eye (so, yes, I’m judging a book by its cover); and then I review them from the comfort of my own home because I’m not going to read a picture book around parents who think I’m a predator.

However, this time I around, I’ll also be reviewing some books I’m able to read via NetGalley. These books have not been released. NetGalley allows writers with blogs or popular Goodreads accounts to read soon-to-be released books and give honest feedback/reviews. My blog isn’t all that. I had to send about ten requests to get even three titles…but I got them! And I’m finally going to get around to reviewing them. So, let’s start with those NetGalley titles!

Helen Thayer's Arctic Adventure

Helen Thayer’s Arctic Adventure (March, 2016) by Sally Isaacs / Illustrated by Iva Sasheva: This book is about Helen Thayer’s exploration to the “magnetic North Pole.” At the age of fifty, in 1988, Thayer became the first woman to reach that height solo. The book also features the Inuit Husky who accompanied her, whom she named Charlie. I think this a really great book for the classroom. It’s informative and very straight-forward…but a bit too straightforward. I appreciate the book’s simplicity, but I would have liked if the book had a little more emotion and a deeper look into Thayer’s mind/psyche (for example, what really motivated her to go on this journey? Why did she keep going?) Maybe some more background on Thayer would help. I think that’s the thing that would elevate this book from being a really great story for the classroom to a really great story for any setting. But I think kids who read this will be impressed with Thayer’s journey (particularly the scene where she’s almost mauled by a polar bear.) The illustrations are big and lifelike, but they probably won’t be winning many awards. Published by Capstone.

Too Many Carrots

Too Many Carrots (Feb, 2016) by Katy Hudson: This one is about a Rabbit who likes to collect carrots. He’s pretty much a hoarder. When his house becomes too crowded for the carrots, he starts looking for other places to sleep, making things tough for his animal friends. It’s a cute story with some very animated (and sometimes clever) visuals. Sometimes, it was hard to enjoy the story because Rabbit acts like a selfish jerk for the majority of it. But, of course, he learns his lesson. In the end, sharing is better than hoarding. It’s the kind of story that could and should be read to the very young. But older kids can at least appreciate the pictures, since they’re so detailed. Published by Capstone.

little red.jpg

Little Red (April, 2016) by Bethan Woollvin: This is pretty much a twist on the classic story of “Little Red Riding Hood.” In the end, Little Red outsmarts the wolf and makes a jacket out of his fur. It’s a very quick read. The illustrations stand out. They’re sparse and simple (mostly black and white except for Little Red’s hood and boots, and a couple other things). I can see kids really liking this, even if the end is a little grim (spoiler alert: the eaten Grandmother apparently stays eaten and dead). However, as someone who grew up with the Roald Dahl telling of this story, there’s nothing about this adaptation that truly surprised me. The “twists” for both stories are pretty much the same. So, I was a little disappointed by the conclusion. But, this is Woollvin’s first published book (I’m guessing she’s around my age, maybe even younger). I think she has a bright future ahead. Her illustrations are great, and I hope she truly excites me with her next book. Published by Peachtree.

OK…now onto some other already published books I swiped from the library.

The Boston Tea Party

The Boston Tea Party (1998) by Steven Kroll / Illustrated by Peter Fiore: I’m not quite sure why I chose this book. Nowadays, the phrase “Tea Party” sends uncomfortable shivers down my spine. But, I suppose there was a time when the actions of a group that referred to themselves as “The Tea Party” were justified. Anyway, this is obviously a book made for the classroom. With the large, blurry, watercolor pictures, this book is a bit more interesting than the standard textbook. The book does its job…but I guess I was hoping the text wouldn’t be so dry. The text is dry, and I feel like so much information is thrust on the reader. On the other hand, I suppose it’s nice that Kroll really acknowledged the complexities of the Boston Tea Party. (It’s not just that a bunch colonists got angry over paying taxes so they threw tea in the ocean…there are more parts to the story). Anyway, the book does what it does, but I wish I was moved more. I know I’m asking too much.

Lillian's Right to Vote

Lillian’s Right to Vote (2015) by Jonah Winter / Illustrated Shane W. Evans: I think this book might end up being one of my favorites from 2015. It tells the history of voting rights in America for African Americans from the early slave days to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to today. It’s from the viewpoint of Lillian, a 100 year old woman who, while walking up a large hill to the voting place, has visions of the difficult past and the hardships black people had to face in order to secure the right to vote. The illustrations are wonderful. They’re bold, and very expressive. I like how the people are shaded all one color in order to make the Lillian character stand out among the illustrations. The prose is beautiful and poetic and straight up inspiring. And, especially considering all the protests that are happening now, this book is very relevant to today’s world. Unfortunately, as the author notes in the very end, a key provision in the Voting Rights Act has been struck down by the Supreme Court that would make it hard for many poor people in rural communities to vote. But this book might give the young reader hope that change and progress can happen, if only slowly.

An A from Miss Keller

An “A” from Miss Keller (2015) by Patricia Polacco: I nearly jumped up in excitement when I saw this book displayed in my library. I’m a huge fan of Patricia Polacco. Pink and Say is probably my favorite picture book of all time; and An A from Miss Keller does not disappoint at all. Inspired Polacco’s own childhood, it is about a girl named Trisha (so I guess “Patricia”) and her relationship with her very strict writing teacher Miss Keller. We also meet her next door neighbor, Pop, who helps her along the way and inspires her to persevere. There are many moments in this story I found funny as a Writing major in college myself. However, like any Polacco book, the ending made me tear up a bit. This story is so beautiful and sentimental (in a good way). And, of course, Polacco creates illustrations with so much character and emotion. This is definitely a book every aspiring writer should read and relate to. And Polacco is a fellow Michigander so of course I love her!

The Little House

The Little House (1942) by Virginia Lee Burton: OK, so I didn’t exactly “find” this book. I remember watching the short film adaptation for this book when I was in elementary school. I guess I wanted to relive my childhood. Burton won a Caldecott for this book in 1943, and it’s not hard to see why. This is one of the greatest picture books ever created. It’s more than a book about “urban sprawl.” Even Burton apparently denied that this book wasn’t necessarily supposed to be a critique of that. It’s a book about change and growing up. I think the years when the little house is in the country represents her innocent childhood. The “city years” represent adulthood. And, in the end, when the house is moved to another untouched countryside…I guess that can represent multiple things. The book is one giant metaphor with gorgeous, detailed, full-color illustrations (somewhat uncommon for the 40’s, even among Caldecott honorees). I only checked this out of the library, but I think I want a copy for my bookshelf. To Amazon!

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