Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Shout! Shout it Out!

I love Denise Fleming's exuberant style.  Her colors are always rich and saturated.  Her unique style of pulp painting gives so much texture to the illustrations that you can almost rub your hand across them.  Many of the books she creates on her own are perfect preschool books - she tackles topics simply, but creates a lot of excitement, too.  Some of my favorites are In a Small, Small Pond and The First Day of Winter.  I've blogged about Denise Fleming in a guest post here because I love her books so much.

I have always loved her book The Everything Book.  It is a compendium of lots of different information (the names of objects we use everyday, shapes, etc.), rhymes, poems and other fun things.  It is a great book for moms to use with their very young children (maybe 12-18 months), as they begin to learn language and how it connects to them.  There is even a board book version, but I prefer the larger format picture book because there's more space to pore over everything.  Unfortunately for me, Frances and Gloria never connected with The Everything Book.  Every once in a while, I will sneak it back into our book pile, but it often goes unread.
So when I saw Fleming's newest picture book, Shout! Shout it Out!, I wasn't sure what the reaction would be.  It is similar to The Everything Book in that it is pages of concepts every preschooler should know - numbers, letters, colors among others.  However, there is a dynamic framing device for these concepts that really drew my girls in.
On the first page, there is a teacher telling a group of preschoolers that if they know it, they should "shout it out"!  So the teacher is encouraging not only the participation of the preschoolers in the book, but also the preschoolers who are reading and listening to the book.  On each subsequent page, one of the group of children is clearly shouting out what is pictured on the page, their mouths agape.  Except for the teacher's encouragement each time a new concept is introduced "Shout! Shout it out!", there is very little additional text.  This makes the book very accessible to young children, as they don't need an adult reader to help them after the first time they go through the book.  Frances enjoyed this book several times by herself (at the top of her lungs, much like the kids in the book).

There is one tiny mouse (a trademark of Fleming's) who appears on each page to make a comment.  You can incorporate the mouse's remarks into your reading of the story, but young readers will more than likely skip over them.  At the end of the recitation of facts and concepts, the mouse is asked what he knows, and he has been paying attention on the previous pages.  He shouts out what he knows, again, with his mouth opened as wide as possible.

The concepts included in this book are basic, so all young children will be able to participate in this book.  The energy you feel when reading is so contagious - all the letters and numbers are dancing on the pages, full of color and movement.  It's really fun!  It would work very well on the first day of preschool or kindergarten, to help draw out shy children with something they already know.  It would help encourage them to connect with other students over their shared knowledge while showing teachers what students do and do not know.  But there was just as much shouting in my living room, so don't hesitate to use it one on one, either.

One final note - I highly recommend Denise Fleming's website which has lots of color, energy, activities and fun.  I also follow Denise on Facebook to get sneak peeks of art she's working on or which schools she's visiting.  Go check her out!  You won't be sorry you did!

Shout! Shout it Out!  Denise Fleming.  Henry Holt and Company, 2011.
borrowed from Lewis & Clark Library

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Princess Who Had Almost Everything

Alicia is a princess who is doted on by the king and queen.  But because she's given everything she's ever wanted, she is always BORED.  Alicia goes from whim to whim, without really spending any time trying that activity.  That's because as soon as she gets frustrated, or the activity isn't all she thought it would be, she's (say it with me) BORED.  Until the day Alicia decides the one thing that will keep her from being bored is a prince.  After all, she's never had a prince before.  This prince has something new in his bag of tricks, and maybe Alicia's boredom is about to end.

Frances and Gloria picked this book out at our local library because it has a princess on the cover.  I found the story didactic - after all, the solution to Alicia's boredom is creativity, which the prince introduces to her.  The girls loved to whine along with Alicia "I'm BORED!", so they obviously engaged with the story more than I did.

What I loved about this book are Josee Masse's illustrations.  They are whimsical without being too quirky.  The illustrations have a fairy-tale quality with a modern twist.  The colors are mostly ice cream pastels with pops of maroon and gold.  Her style was reminiscent to me of Alison Jay, whose illustrations I also love.  Does this give you any visual idea of her illustrative style?  Let me see if I can describe it a little more thoroughly.

In one of the first double-page spreads, Alicia is having her own castle built by a famous architect.  The castle spills over both pages, tilting askew.  While it is shaped like the fairy-tale castles we all imagine, there are wide stairs leading to an oval entry instead of a drawbridge, moat and wall.  The oval entry is lined with maroon and embellished with scrolls.  The turrets have a roller coaster weaving through them, and there is a red swing for Princess Alicia in an archway.  Alicia herself has a maroon umbrella, shaped like a mushroom, which draws a reader's attention to her crotchety face.  All of this stands out against the blue sky and expanse of green lawns surrounding her own private castle (topped with an iron A, of course).  There is a timeless quality to the royals gathered around the castle - they, too, could fit into any fairy tale.

As the story progresses, Masse is given plenty of room for her creativity to soar.  She creates a maze full of exotic topiaries in mossy greens.  Then a circular train track with animal-shaped cars surrounds text on another page.  And there's a whole page of delicious, mouth-watering cakes and desserts.  Everything looks so interesting and fun that it's hard to envision someone being as bored as Alicia is.

But when she begins to become creative, the illustrations are even quirkier - with castles that are made out of paper so Alicia and her prince Connor can snip and change them at will.  Masse's illustrations really bring the theme of creativity to life. If Alicia had only appreciated the creativity around her from the very beginning...well, then there wouldn't be much of a story, would there?  At least kids might focus on the exciting creativity presented in the illustrations and not connect so much with Alicia's annoying whine "I'm BORED!"

The Princess Who Had Almost Everything. Mireille Levert; illustrated by Josee Masse.  Tundra Books, 2006.
borroowed from Lewis & Clark Library