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!!)

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The Little Crooked Christmas Tree

By Michael Cutting & Ron Broda

Most of the stories that are written around Christmas do not, ironically, focus on “Christmas”. When I say this, I mean they do not talk about the religious message behind Christmas: the birth of Jesus, the story of the manger or the three wise men, Mary and Joseph, and so on. The books I primarily see now are more secular in tone, to reflect the secular nature of our society.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to condone or applaud this change. It is what it is. A lot of my old books, I have come to realize, either told the story of the origins (so called) of Christmas, or focused on Santa. I would almost like to argue that Santa is the new, secular Jesus: he has become the spokesperson of the holiday.

This does not remove the message of the holidays. The spirit of giving, love, and belief should transcend religion and encompass the holiday as a whole. The Little Crooked Christmas Tree goes there.

This is one of those rare books that focuses neither on Santa nor on Jesus (though Jesus’ name is mentioned). The hero of this story is a kind Christmas tree, growing in a Christmas Tree lot. “What is Christmas?” He wants to know, and asks the animals he comes across, but none of them know. One night, during a storm, a dove is blown into his branches. About to lay her eggs, the little Christmas Tree bunches his branches, making her a little nest for her and her eggs. As a result of his act, the Christmas Tree develops a hump in his trunk and grows crooked. When the dove’s children are old enough, they leave for the winter, but promise to return.

Finally it’s Christmas, and people descend on the Christmas tree lot, but the little Christmas Tree is left behind because of his hump. Thus begins a very lonely year, where he is the only tree left in the lot. Then, abruptly, he is dug up and moved to someone’s backyard. Rejected by the other trees, he spends another lonely year, until Christmas arrives a second time. Then, to his surprise, the family comes out and decorates him as a Christmas tree. Everyone in the neighbourhood comes out to admire him, and Mrs Dove once again appears to him, explaining that this was his reward for sheltering her and her brood, even though it meant giving up his entire purpose as he saw it. Now, instead of bringing joy to children for only one year, he will serve as a Christmas Tree for years to come.

This is an incredibly touching story for one about a tree. He is a very dedicated tree – first, to his career path as a Christmas tree; and second, to the dove and her family. You feel for him and his simple desire just to know what he is and to fulfill his destiny as an object of happiness to children.

The artwork is stunning. Done in a collage style, using carefully constructed cut-outs, the artwork is amazingly emotive. The little tree goes from straight to crooked to gorgeous. The details are extraordinary, and the feel is 3D. Even the text boxes get the same collage 3D treatment, looking like they’re each on a small raised platform of heavy paper. It’s just beautiful.

This is one of those books that shares the meaning of Christmas in a subtler, touching way. It was one of my favorites as a kid, and it still is now. It’s not overly preachy, not religious, but still deals with the heart of what Christmas is and what it means. I highly recommend you pick up this book, at least to look at, if not to add for your Christmas collection.

Suggested Ages: 3-6

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