Stuck

By Oliver Jeffers

I adore Oliver Jeffers. The librarian in my post before me ordered a ton of his books, and they were the best thing she could have left me. The most recent Jeffers book I read to my students was, of course, Stuck.

Stuck is about (hold onto your socks!) things getting stuck in a tree. It all starts when Floyd gets his kite stuck in a tree. The trouble really begins when Floyd throws his favorite shoe to knock down the kite, and that gets stuck as well… and it goes on from there, getting larger and more ridiculous as time goes on. It’s so much fun when they pull back to show the full tree, stuffed with everything from kites to whales to cats and shoes. It looks so absurd you can’t help but laugh. It also made one of the teachers laugh out loud at one page – that’s the mark of a good book; it appeals to a huge range of ages.

The artwork is typical of all Jeffers books: simple lines that border on stick-figure-ness, but with lovely colour work. The simplicity means that students don’t get too distracted by unnecessary lines, and they can focus on the tons of things getting tossed up a tree to knock down a kite. Rather than details, Jeffers shows his emphasis on size – things grow bigger and bigger and more impossible. There’s still lots of white space to ensure that there’s space to give the kids a breath, again allowing them to focus on the pictures. The font might pose a small problem to encouraging kids to read – it’s done in a large, semi-cursive, pencil-esque font that might be difficult for children that haven’t learned cursive yet. But they’ll love watching the pictures while you read to them.

I enjoy playing a game with my students, getting them to count the number of times the tree changes colour, or how many items Floyd throws up. There are so many things to do with Jeffers’ books – so many things to look at and explore in his artwork. The story itself as simple – but don’t think of it as simple. There is so much hidden in the images, things to make you laugh and appreciate it more.

Pick this book up – and maybe a few others! Your kids will thank you, and you will enjoy them just as much.

Suggested Ages: 6-9

(Please note that he does not read all the pages in this video; some of the best parts are missing. Go buy that book!!)

Nothing

By  Mick Inkpen

There aren’t many books I’ll cry at, but they exist. Love You Forever is one (even with the mildly creepy tones). Bridge to Tarabithia. The Diary of a Young Girl. Parts of Harry Potter andThe Hunger Games series. Note most of these are not picture books.
Sitting on my cart one day I found this little book called Nothing. On the cover it had this cat and a raggedly little doll. Intrigued, I sat down to read it. And all I can say is I’m glad I didn’t have a class coming in, or I might have actually been in tears (which I would have blamed on the dust).
The story starts in the attic, with a little thing pinned beneath tons of stuff. Rugs, boxes – normal things you might find in the attic. It’s been there so long he doesn’t remember his name, or what he is. Then one day, the family who lives below moves out. They find him lying there, but decide to leave him, since he’s “Nothing”. Little thing adopts Nothing as his name and leaves the attic, still trying to figure out what and who he once was. He sees a few animals, each time remembering “I used to have a tail”, or “I used to have whiskers”. But he still can’t remember who he is. A cat, who belongs to the family who just moved out, finds Nothing and carries him away, back to the original family, giving him to the old Grandpa. Grandpa remembers Nothing, and there’s a big reveal of who and what he was.
This just ripped at my heartstrings. Poor little nothing, trapped in the attic all that time, only to be left behind. He reminds me of stuffed animals my sister and I still have: raggedy little things that we’ve loved and slept with and held onto so long they’ve gone that dirty white, with matted fur and lost noses or rubbed-off colour. I can easily imagine my favorite old toy being lost and buried, so that makes it a touching story for me. Most children too, I think, would relate to little Nothing, especially if you read this to them while they’re holding their favorite toy.
The illustrations are simple and effective. The colouring is incredible, and the sense of loss evoked is superb. We have quite a few of Inkpen’s works, and they all share that cartoony style that speaks straight to kids.
Go pick up this work and see if it tugs at your heart – or if you’re a soulless monster. It’s a good barometer either way.
Suggested ages: 6-9

Mmm, Cookies!

By Robert Munsch

Who doesn’t love cookies?
Christopher certainly loves cookies – but not nearly as much as pranking people! He discovers a conveniently left pile of play clay (I think it was made by the mice – pay careful attention to the picture), and decides to make something with it. That something, as it turns out,is a giant red cookie covered in sugar, icing and raisins (ick). Then he gives it to his mother. This goes over as you might thing – with her gagging and planning revenge on her son. Meanwhile, he’s back in the basement, planning prank number two, this time on his father. He gets his comeuppance in the end, when his teacher pranks him back. And then everyone makes real cookies.
Cookies! Yum.
Munsch books are very popular in my library; I currently have one left on my shelf. But I’ve started to notice a pattern – parents never do anything in these books. It’s always the student, and then maybe another authority figure (eg. a teacher) who helps solve the problem. Otherwise, the children are the stars and the mischievous protagonists. No wonder I liked these so much as a kid.
I also love telling the kids that he’s Canadian. Because, of course, I am very proud of my home country and the few celebrities we produce.
Mmm, Cookies! is a really fun Munsch book. It’s no Love You Forever, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s about a kid pranking his parents, but with a payback in the end, so you don’t need to worry about your kids thinking they can get away without consequences.
Michael Martchenko is present on illustrations, like he is for the majority of Munsch books. His illustrations add a love of movement and colour to the book, even when the scene is still. It’s this movement that I really like. For example, in one picture, Christopher is presenting his father with a “cookie” bigger than he is tall. His father is putting his coffee mug down while the dog is trying to rip his sock off. Most artists would have a picture with much less life, and the life of these pictures are always my favorite.
There is also movement in the words. The sound effects are large and have a life of their own. Often they’re in a different font, and will grow in size, or go up and down on the page. Great visual cues for kids following along, or reading on their own for the first time. Even better – make up little hand motions and get them to do it with you. It works amazing well with my group of grade twos.
Go pick up this book if you have a little boy or girl who loves a good, silly story about cookies and play clay! (Added bonus: the book includes the play clay recipe)
Suggested ages: 6-9

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