Posted by: jeannineatkins | March 2, 2010

Picture Book Love

A cold rain was falling through gray sky as I headed to class for presentations on picture books, but it was bright inside. Shiny covers and faces glowing, too. Really. Presentations were given in chronological order so we could note changes over time. We began with The Little Engine that Could, which had been a favorite of Willis in childhood, and ended with Samantha grinning over Pinkalicious (2009), which, she reported, uses the word pink “twenty-five times, not counting the eight times the word is used as part of a ‘pinkified’ word like pinktails and Pinkitits.”

Snowy Day was another childhood favorite, and Leigh wrote of the snow day ritual in which after she danced in front of the TV, her mother reaching for this book. Now all these years later, Leigh analyzed the art, noting that the snow was not entirely white, but filled with some colors and shadows, showing both purity and beautiful shadows within. Addressing Ezra Jack Keats’s tone, she wrote: “He shows excitement by revealing words as if they’re snow covered surprises waiting for a stick to smack the snow off.”

Snowy Day won the Caldecott in 1963, while Where the Wild Things Are won the following year. Ryan also enjoyed returning to a childhood favorite. He told us that the word “and” was used 23 times, which “really gave the feeling like a child was telling the story… wanting to tell you everything he or she can within one breath.” He also observed that “terrible” was used nine times, and how this seemed important as the wild things didn’t look so frightening, but left it to the listener’s imagination.

New to me was Crow Boy by Taro Yashima (Viking, 1955 and another Caldecott winner), which Heather had loved as a child and was thrilled to find in the UMass library. I’ll be checking it out next. I was intrigued by the comic strip elements I thought relatively new to picture books, but of course this book heralds from the post-war period, shortly before the author-illustrator came from Japan. Heather writes, “On the double page spreads, Yashima is able to physically show an emotional distance between the characters, and on the single pages, by dividing the page, he is able to fit many illustrations together where there may not otherwise be a lot of action, in order to keep readers/listeners interested.”

The video clip below doesn’t tell the whole story, still it brought tears to my eyes. The tale of a boy who is teased at school and finds some solace in imagination and art reminds me of One Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes, which we’ll be looking at today.

I was glad to be reminded of Smoky Night, the 1995 Caldecott winner by Eve Bunting and illustrated by David Diaz. Jillian pointed out the way the colors brighten as the pages move on, as well as the developments of the layered plots of people and cats. “The theme of the story, coming together in times of need and building friendships, is supported in the end not only by the text but by the last image: Mrs. Kim and Daniel and his mother all standing close together with the two cats, with brightened faces – a sharp contrast from the darkened, bleak beginning images of the riot.”

While I loved Samantha’s enthusiasm for Pinkalicious, and expect the bookstore she used to work more must feel her loss, the plot that turns on eating a whole lot of green? Hmm, not so sure. I was more charmed by Tanya’s look at last year’s Higher! Higher! written and illustrated by Leslie Patricelli. Tanya noted how “the falling action of the plot is mimicked by the child’s actual movements; with the ending action being the request for another push on the swing. I thought this story was a great way to introduce children to the elements of a story, and to show what a typical plot line looks like.”

There was a lot of greatness, including when Jennifer, after falling a bit in love with Mo Willems’s Knuffle Bunny, said, “For the first time in my life, I wanted to find a child or two and read to them.”



  1. Excellent observations by your students! I’ve added Higher and Higher to my list. It sounds like a wonderful title to show arc, literally!

  2. Yes, literally! It’s fun to watch her go higher and higher, until giving a “high” five (and saying Hi, the high-ness being about half the vocabulary) to an alien. My student loved the way the action kicked in before the title page, too.

  3. picture books
    What a great overview, Jeannine. It sounds like a wonderful discussion. I’m going to file away the idea of using chronological order when doing a presentation like this. Love it!

  4. Re: picture books
    Doing it chronology gave the students a chance to write the information on the blackboard (always kind of fun, right?) under dates and gave a certain structure to follow. Some changes over time made some kind of sense, but what doesn’t fall into pattern can be even more interesting.

  5. We read The Snowy Day just about every day for several weeks in December and early January this year, at Sweetpea’s request. I remember it so well and loved seeing it through her eyes. (She, too, was taken by all the colors in the snow.)
    And thank you for flagging “Higher, Higher” — I’ll be adding that to my swing-loving daughter’s list!

  6. Snowy Day is really charming. My student wrote that there are 6 other books about Peter, too.
    Higher, Higher looks like a lot of fun, and I wouldn’t be surprised it’s one that Sweetpea would finding herself reading, or “reading,” if one can tell the difference. Certainly chanting along. And swinging, or flying, what’s not to love?

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