Monday, October 27, 2014

Anticipation and hard-earned dreams

Saving up for something special can be very difficult especially when you’re a child with limited options for making money.  But, in The Girl and the Bicycle by Mark Pett our heroine has the moxie and perseverance to do just that.

 While out walking with her little brother one day, she sees the best green bicycle in the whole-wide-world sitting in a store window.  She races home to see what she has in her piggy bank and quickly starts looking for ways to generate the cash she needs to purchase her dream.  She searches high and low, from under couch cushions and in pant pockets, running a lemonade stand, to raking leaves for a neighbour. Our enterprising protagonist  won’t be daunted.

The one neighbor who initially employs her raking leaves turns into a seemingly regular gig over several months and helping with a multitude of chores allows the young girl to save up enough money for her bike. 

Eventually, when girl has the money she dashes back to the bike shop only to discover the bike has been sold.   Overcoming her disappointment, she decides to buy her little brother a tricycle instead.  On the way home, the kindly neighbor who the girl has been working for gives her a wonderful surprise: the green bicycle is waiting for her in her yard.

A happily-ever-after story if there ever was one.

The book has a very old-fashion feel to it with sepia colouring throughout, and retro-looking clothes and hairstyles for the children, plus the fact the girl is doing chores to earn money.

Being a wordless book, the illustrations do all the work and they are a treat to read through.  The illustration style is fairly simplistic with few details to distract from the characters and their actions.  A couple of pages do include a few bits of information about the neighbour .  Here we see objects that allude to her dreams of flying.  Watch for a red airplane, the only other coloured object (besides the bike) in the book.

An enjoyable read for the primary grades.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Presto Change-o!

What a great title!  Presto Change-o: a book of animal magic by Edouard Manceau is a fun, interactive book for the primary grades.

This is an oversized board book that presents an initial image that can be manipulated with a few turns of various flaps to become an animal.  For example, a black pot (think caldron) over a fire bubbles as it cooks a stew. By swinging the flap over, the pot becomes the top part of the head of a raccoon with a bandit face peering out at us.  Two pieces of wood (part of the fire) turn up and the raccoon has arms and paws.  The accompanying text on the preceding page states’ POT’ with several rhyming lines  that almost sound like a spell, playing into the idea of a magical transformation that ends with our RACCOON friend appearing. (See the cover above.)

The text itself may be a little challenging for the youngest children but the rotating flaps will keep them engaged.  The bright colours and fairly simple, stylized illustrations have an unassuming charm that is appealing.  The first and last words are bold and easily read by earlier readers with the other text read by an older reader.  Great for playing a game of prediction, “Presto change-o! What will this become?”

This may be a book to get kids to model their own art work, coming up with two different things and figuring out how to get one object to transform into the other with just a few flaps.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Things we’re thankful for

Toy stories : photos of children from around the world and their favorite things by Gabriele Galimberti offers an unusual way to enter into the lives of children from around the world (58 countries) giving us insights into their lives, interests and those of their parents too, as it turns out.

The compositions are fairly straight forward.  Typically the child is centred in the photo with their toys (or toy, as the case may be) splayed out around them.  The preceding page offers their first name, age and the country they live in.  Sometimes there are lots of objects, sometimes only one.  It’s fascinating to see what is deemed a ‘toy’.  The ones you’d expect are there:  animal stuffies, all manner of vehicles, dolls and Barbies, a myriad of plastic figures and animals, a few bikes, a few games (both board and video).

 But the picture with Maudy (3, from Zambia) standing in front of a few dozen pairs of sunglasses is definitely unusual.  Apparently, a box of sunglasses fell from a passing truck and became toys, the only toys in this village.  They like to play pretend market. Or there’s Callum, 4 from Alaska, standing with a couple of shovels and sleds in a wintery landscape that also speaks to a very specific kind of interest in a particular kind of environment. 
A few children seemed keen on guns (a little scary), and I found only three photos where books were included (a little distressing).

You do see what you would expect to in terms of differences between affluent and poor families (more and less, literally).  But the introduction offers a couple of interesting perspectives about this observation:

“The fewer toys a child had the less possessive he or she was about them.  Galimberti describes having to spend several hours winning the trust of Western children before they would consent to let him touch their planes, cars, or dolls.  ‘In poorer countries, they don’t care as much.  They play in a different way, running around, sharing one ball between them all.’ … Likewise, children who enjoy a free-roaming existence in the countryside seemed to place less value on their toys than children living in busy cities, confined and isolated.  ‘City children mostly stay inside, and mostly play alone, ’he says.  ‘They tend to have a lot more toys and to be a lot more possessive.’”
The short introduction is well worth reading.

Using this book with Material World by Peter Menzel and/or Much Loved by Mark Nixon would make an interesting threesome.  Though all three don’t have to be used together, pairing at least two of them offers a classroom teacher a visual way to explore material culture on a level that kids could easily relate to.  Looking at their toys and finding out what they mean to them and then looking at how other children live might make the conversation about quality of life more comprehensible.  

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

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