A Gardener of Delight

Karishma, my 6 year old neighbor at Bridge Meadows, was delighted when The Little Gardner by Emily Hughes was published.  Hughes’ book Wild is one of Karishma’s favorite and she helped me review it here.  Now she has another favorite book.

The Little Gardneris different from Wild on the surface, but it still shows the affinity children have with nature and wild things. It features a very small boy who lives in a very big garden.  He works and works in the garden.  
It’s his home and from the garden he gets everything he needs.  He is friends with worms and snails.  He tries to tend to his beloved plants and they depend on him, but he can’t manage on his own. 
The one thing he seems to have the most success with is a flower, a magnificent zinnia, which isn’t something he can eat, but it brings him happiness and gives him hope.  It means everything to the little gardener.
A big girl notices this flower.  She lives on the edge of the garden and she sees that the garden needs help.  Inspired by the beauty of the zinnia, she begins to tend to the garden, too.  This help is the bit of magic that the garden needs to flourish.   
Children are often faced with tasks that are too difficult for them, no matter how hard they try.  This story subtly validates the experience of failure while keeping a sense of hope blooming.  I’m very impressed at how Hughes addresses the deep feelings of insecurity children have.  In The Little Gardner, she shows how the efforts little ones make, even if they don’t entirely succeed, inspire those bigger than they are. 
In her book Wild, Hughes brought out the idea that keeping a bit of wildness in your soul may not be such a bad thing.  In The Little Gardner, she shows how befriending nature and tending to a garden keeps hope in your heart. 
Karishma and I both loved this book.  The illustrations are of dense and we notice something new each time we read it.  We like that the girl who helps save the garden has dark skin.  As in Wild, Karishma likes to read the last line of the book first, and see how important a little gardener, or any little person can be.  It helps her navigate a sometimes confusing world.  It’s also inspired her to water and talk to plants during this hot summer.   She can’t wait to see the next book by Emily Hughes.
This book was published by Flying Eye Books and is beautifully bound, with a flower printed in white on the red binding.  You can see more of their books here.  
Here’s a video about my community Bridge Meadows in Portland, Oregon, which is set up to help children get adopted out of foster care: 
Thanks for reading my blog.  Now go read a book – in a garden if at all possible.

A Carnival Book

I love it when I find a book that pushes the book form in a new direction.  I love pop-up, accordion, lift-the-flap, die cut and all manner of interactive books.  I also love books that introduce different cultures.  Visit the Bhil Carnival by Subhash Amaliyar and Gita Wolf satisfy both loves and is a pure delight.    My pictures do it no justice, but you can get an idea of how much fun it is.
The book opens to a folded page.

We’re in invited in.
When I read it to one of my 6 year old foster grandkids, she was amazed that so much story and so many illustrations could be found in the one fold out page.  It sparked conversation about when she went to a fair and helped her remember all the fun she had.  We also talked about the many ways stories can be presented.
This fold out ferris wheel pops out when you lift the top part of the page.
The distinct nature of the illustrations are bright and inviting.  Everyone is lit up like a carnival ride.
The exuberant art by Subhash Amaliyar is created in the style of the Bhil people of central India.  The Bhils live on the edge of the forest and work hard at farming, fishing, and gathering firewood.  The Bhagoria carnival takes place in July.  It’s a time to celebrate, connect with friends and family from other villages, and have fun.  Two children, Neela and Peela, are at the fair on their own for the first time.  Everything tempts them, they buy balloons, ice cream, and ride the ferris wheel. 
Tara Books has always been a stellar book publisher, introducing the world to the traditional art of India.  Many of their books use handmade papers, traditional printing techniques and hand sewn bindings. 
This book combines the features of a map, a pop-up and a secret story book, with the text in a little book in the corner of the fold-out adventure. 

You can read more about Tara books on a post I wrote on them here.  Their books are like art galleries that fit on the bookshelf.  You can visit their website here
This book is a delight in every way both for children and adults, for anyone who celebrates life, stories, and books.  Join the fun!

Draw What You See: Benny Andrews

I got to hear the artist Benny Andrews speak in the 1980s in Memphis, when the Brooks Museum of Art had an exhibition of his work.  His art is so vibrant and unique, the elongated characters practically walked off the canvas, shook your hand, and told you their story.  
I’d first seen his drawings when I read books written by his brother Raymond Andrews.  Raymond was the author of a series of books about Black communities in central Georgia, and their close but dangerous relationship with the White community.  Benny’s line work was amazing — simple but expressive with a narrative all it’s own.  

Benny and Raymond were from a family of 10.  Their father was a sharecropper but also a painter who sparked a creative fire in his children.  Benny told a story about his father painting practically everything in the house.  His mother had to hide her Sunday shoes to keep him from painting them.
Kathleen Benson, Project Director at the Museum of the City of New York. has written a wonderful picture book  Draw What You See: The Life and Art of Benny Andrews, (Clarion Books, 2015).
As a child, Benny drew his family members and the life around him.  He went on to become a major influence in American art.  
The book opens with a story of Benny as an adult teaching art to children who lived in camps in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.  The story then moves back to his childhood.

“In grade school, Benny was always the class artist.  He copied the comics from the daily newspaper.  He drew the stories he heard on the radio and the stars in the movies he went to see in town on Saturdays. 
“After school, Benny worked carrying water to the laborers in the fields. At planting and harvest time, he didn’t go to school at all.  None of the black children in Plainview did, because they were needed on the farms.  Their school year was only about five months long.”

Though most of his friends left school to work in the fields full time, Benny longed to go to high school.  His mother prevailed upon the farm’s White boss to allow Benny to go. 
After high school, he joined the air force.  When he got out, he had the means to go to art school.  He’d traveled all over the world, learned new ways of looking at things, but, “Home was always in his heart.”  He was inspired by the people around him.  “With lots of practice, he became a master at capturing movement on the still canvas.”

I love that he emphasized that you draw what you see because his vision was uniquely his own.  He couldn’t stay confined to absolute realism.  He saw things with imagination and style.  He saw the vibrancy of open spaces.  He added texture to his work by sticking paper and cloth on to the canvas.  
He was a “people’s painter.”  He taught.  He shared art.  He illustrated children’s books.  He opened doors for other underrepresented artists.    

 Draw What You Seeis a gorgeous book.  Without being didactic, the story makes it clear how difficult it’s been for Black people to get an education and to pursue art.  Benny wanted to make it easier for all people to become artists.

Unlike many pictures books about artists, this one uses Andrews’ own art work.  Kathleen Benson and Benny Andrews worked together before.  He illustrated her book John Lewis in the Lead: A Story of the Civil Rights Movement, which won the NCSS Carter Ge Woodson Award. 
This is a great picture book to introduce kids and aspiring artists to the work of Benny Andrews.  
It’s a delight to look through no matter what your age.  It’s like having a little gallery of Andrews work at hand, work that welcomes you in to the beauty and mystery of his vision.  There’s excellent additional information and a time line of his life in the back pages.
If you’d like to learn more about Benny Andrew, The School Library Journal has an excellent interview with Kathleen Benson here
You can learn a bit about his brother, writer Raymond Andrews, and life in Plainview for their family here.

Follow your vision and thanks for reading my blog!   

What’s Your Superpower?

I had the most wonderful conversation recently with two 7 year-old girls about what a superpower is.  The conversation was inspired by the picture book The Day I Lost My Superpowers by Michael Escoffier and Kris Di Giacmo.  In it, a masked girl tries to explain her secret superpowers.  Like many children, she wants to be able to make magic.  Rather than stay grounded in dull reality, she creates a secret identity and lives in a world where she has the control every child craves.
Our narrator is not quite reliable, though, and her story and the pictures are at odds with one another.  
It’s a delight to see how far she goes to make her imagined powers a reality. 

 Inevitably, she finds she can’t fly when one of her contraptions fails and she get grounded in reality with a dramatic SPLAT.
At the end of the book, my 7 year old friends and I agreed that moms had true superpowers that were more important than any superhero they’d ever seen.  We discussed exactly what a superpower is.  Of course, both girls talked about superhero powers, but then we got back down to reality where things like helping friends and family seemed a bit more important than walking through walls or becoming invisible.
One of the girls decided her superpower was make her little sister laugh when she was grumpy, and setting the table before her mom even asked.  The other girl decided her power were being able to find her brother’s missing toys and drawing ponies.  I decided mine was being able to find great stories almost every day and sharing them with my friends.  We all thought we had the superpower of imagination and this book gave us lots of new ways to imagine things. 
It was wonderful how the interplay of fantasy and reality sparked our appreciation of both.  The illustrations made us all want to get out our crayons and draw some of the magic in our lives. 
The Day I Lost My Superpowers is a big beautiful book.  It’s well bound and has thick pages.  Since I read and share books with kids in the Bridge Meadows community, I always love it when the book seems capable of being read over and over by dozens of little story lovers.  Enchanted Lion, the book’s publisher, consistently does a great job of making books that will stand up over generations.  They’ll be treasures passed down when kids grow up and have kids of their own.
Michael Escoffier says he was raised by a family of triceratops and discovered his love for stories as a child.  He lives in Lyon, France.  He’s the author of Brief Thief and Me First.  Kris Di Giacomo has lived in France since childhood.  She’s illustrated over 25 books, including My Dad is Big and Strong, BUT…, Brief Thiefand Me First. These two are a great team and I hope they use their super story powers for many more books. 
Here’s links to other Enchanted Lion Books I’ve reviewed:  The Hole by Oyvind Torseter and The Jacket by Kirsten Hall and Dasha Tolstikova.
Thanks for reading my blog.  May you find books that refill your sense of wonder.