#IMWAYR: Picture Book Pandemonium, Part 8!
Well, it happened again—I didn't have time to cram in a full book, so I'm doing another picture book post! I will say, finals are happening, and I don't have any actual exams, but I do have several projects and general chaos going on, so I have a little bit of an excuse here. (On Saturday, I actually finished two of my five classes—hooray!) Anyway, let's dive into some picture book reviews!
Written by Linda Sue Park and illustrated by Robert Sae-Heng
This is less of a picture book and more of an illustrated book of poems, but since it's such a short read and has a single plot like most picture books do, I'm including it in this post! I've seen this book recommended by Cheriee Weichel at Library Matters, Sierra Dertinger at Books. Iced Lattes. Blessed, Linda Baie at TeacherDance, and possibly others who I unfortunately cannot recall. I wasn't thinking I'd have a chance to cram it in, but I ended up borrowing it from Libby and reading it from my phone at the barbershop (between this book and my conversation with the hairstylist about Animal Crossing, that was an unusually fun haircut). And considering the amount of acclaim (and awards such as the Newbery) that Linda Sue Park has received, this book definitely lived up to my expectations of her!
One day in class, Ms. Chang asks her students a question: if there was a fire, and they could only save one thing (not that you would actually attempt to save anything in an emergency), then what's the one thing they'd save? This simple question spurs the students to look into their memories, to communicate and debate, to share parts of themselves with others, and to ultimately be accepted for who they are. We move from one student's point of view to the next through many short poems, ultimately getting to hear from Ms. Chang and how her students' answers influenced her too.
This is an excellent book! What is brilliant, if unsurprising, about this story is how Linda Sue Park uses poems ostensibly about different objects as a way of exploring so many elements of these characters’ lives. A program from a baseball game becomes an exploration of two kids’ friendship across two different poems. A kid wants to save a pair of shoes not because they’re particularly cool (although they are), but because he’s proud of what it took to buy them in the first place. Kids’ intelligence and initiative, their responsibility to parents and reverence for relatives, their persnickety banter and meaningful relationships, their painful experiences and the hope emanating from Ms. Chang and her classroom—all of it is on full display in this collection. Park uses the traditional Korean poetry form sijo to tell this story, and her words are complemented by lighthearted, impactful, and detailed black-and-white illustrations by Robert Sae-Heng. As one example of how the illustrations complement the text, a student in one poem plans to save the rug from their room so they can use it to heroically smother out any flames on people, and after we see a spread of the rug itself, we see a sketch of it wrapped around the student like a superhero cape! My only quibbles are with the ebook I ended up reading on Libby—rather than including the text within the images so you can see the actual page spreads, the publisher just has the images inline with the text, which means you have to zoom in on the images a lot, and you don't get to see the actual placement of the text (or the original font, for that matter). Also, I read this on my phone, and because the lines in sijo tend to be longer than the width of my screen, it kept breaking the lines up automatically. So I most likely read this with all the wrong line breaks, which is...an issue! But ignoring my qualms with the ebook, The One Thing You'd Save is a meaningful story that shows us how objects can stand in for entire experiences; how children have minds that are sometimes silly, sometimes serious, and always wonderfully complex; and how one thoughtful teacher can create an atmosphere of gratefulness, hope, and togetherness by asking as simple a question as "What's the one thing you'd save?"
Written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
It always comes back to Linda Baie at TeacherDance—I haven't intended for virtually all of the picture books I've read lately to be recommended by her, but when she finds such cool books and writes such thoughtful reviews of them, I'm really not sure how you can expect me to resist! And as always, this one was well worth the read!
Written and illustrated by the apparently-prolific Dan Yaccarino (who I just learned created Oswald, one of the beloved little-kid cartoons of my childhood, though I digress), The Longest Storm follows a single father, his three children, and their dog as they end up stuck inside during a major storm. Things start out OK, but soon things go awry, chaos reigns, and tempers flare as the members of the family start driving one another crazy. They try to keep away from one another just to get through the storm...but when the storm intensifies, the members of the family realize that sometimes it's easier to go through hard times together, rather than alone.
Something that I've noticed myself doing in my recent picture book adventures is distinguishing between the beautifully-illustrated deep stories aimed at slightly older readers (which tend to be the ones I love) and the more-whimsical lighthearted stories aimed at slightly younger readers (which don't tend to click with me as much). The funny thing about The Longest Storm is that it's really both—it's deep and meaningful but fun and relatable to young readers, it has illustrations that are simple and timeless but quite pleasing to the eye, and it has a timeless feel to it that will appeal to readers of all ages. I think it's no secret at all that families don't tend to get along all the time, especially when they're in super-close proximity to one another—as other reviewers have pointed out, there's definitely parallels in this book to lockdown and families being stuck inside with one another (although the storm hardly needs to be a parallel considering what went down in Texas this year). Yaccarino plots out such a natural story, as members of a family stuck inside drift further and further apart to stay sane, and get angrier and angrier at each other, before the storm itself forces them to slowly overcome their differences and be there for one another. The narration in this story is so concise (and sometimes absent entirely) that you barely notice it—it basically just frames the story and lets the illustrations do the work. And boy, do they work. This book has a fascinating art style—the illustrations are flat in a modern kind of way, the layouts switch between full-page spreads and montages quite frequently, and the colors are bold and eye-catching. Yaccarino uses all of these tools to create some incredibly evocative spreads—the scene in the middle with the big lightning strike (probably the story's climax) has page after page after page of illustrations I'm practically ready to frame (the first of them, with the four members of the family illuminated in cyan by a booklight, an alarm clock, a night light, and a lamp is just brilliant). I don't want to give too much away about The Longest Storm, but let it be known that this book is soothing, relatable, eye-catching, and valuable for all ages—I already thought it sounded good, but even I was surprised by just how good it was, and I think you will be too!
Written by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Julie Morstad
I've been trying to cram some of Kyo Maclear's picture books in this year (click here to see some of my reviews), and this one, another biography with illustrations by Julie Morstad in the same vein as It Began With a Page, is absolutely phenomenal!
This book tells the story of 20th-century fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli, and intriguingly, it does so in first-person narration. As a young child in Italy, Elsa faced scorn from her parents, who considered her ugly (or brutta) in comparison to her older sister. Facing this judgment, Elsa begins to consider what she finds beautiful in the world, and she soon discovers that she can express her brilliant, unconventional conceptions of beauty in the form of clothes! And as she does so, she just might give other women around the world permission to express themselves...and to have fun with who they are.
This book is absolutely brilliant, and I want to take a minute to discuss the numerous reasons why! First of all, I definitely came into this book with preconceived notions of fashion designers as pretentious, out of reach, and attention-seeking. But Maclear and Morstad show how Schiaparelli's designs, while just as wild (if not more wild) than what comes out of fashion companies today, were actually liberating at the time, in that they expanded people's perceptions of beauty and contradicted the narrow standards of the time. The following quote in italics does a particularly good job of exemplifying this:
The new world is buzzing. Women don't want to just sit around looking pretty. They want to dream and do bold things.
My unique clothes invite women to express their imaginations fully.
The story does an excellent job of tying back Schiaparelli's broader conception of beauty with her own experiences as a child, rejected for her appearance—for a story set in the late 1800s/early 1900s, there's a surprisingly generous body-positive sentiment that threads its way through the whole book and interacts with Schiaparelli's career in intriguing ways. In terms of writing, Kyo Maclear definitely has guts writing this in first-person, but she completely nails it, writing poetic narration that makes sense coming out of Elsa's mouth even as it discreetly conveys numerous biographical details that makes this story informative. (Again, the above quote is a great example of how Maclear does that, although practically the whole story is worth quoting!) There's also two pages of back matter that convey extra information about Schiaparelli that couldn't naturally be included in the text. And then there's Julie Morstad's illustrations—and just like in It Began With a Page, she completely nails those too! The colors are evocative, with some faded, some glamorous, and some eye-catching, as in the case of Schiaparelli's "shocking pink" or the flowers that implicitly inspired it in the story. The mostly-full-page illustrations use a mix of white and solid-color backgrounds that prevents the illustrations from feeling oppressive—and the white backgrounds have a bit of an old-school feel to them (it reminds me a little of books like Eloise—although really, everything reminds me of Eloise because I LOVE Eloise!). And Morstad packs tons and tons and tons of emotion and detail into the illustrations—I will tell you in advance that the last full-page spread deserves a few minutes of your attention, because it is packed chock-full with brilliant and creative Easter eggs that made me practically want to yell with excitement. All in all, Bloom is a meaningful tale of a woman who draws from her childhood struggles to broaden perceptions of beauty and of fashion, and Maclear and Morstad's craft and attention to detail elevate what could be a vague picture-book biography into an informative, beautiful tale that both kids and adults will want to read again and again!
That's all I have for today—I hope some of these books stand out to you, and I'll be back next week hopefully with a full-length book instead of yet another picture-book post!
My favorite book of the week (ack—this is a tough choice!): Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli