A Picture Book A Day: Day 14 Something Beautiful

Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth. Illustrated by Chris K. Soentpiet

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Published by: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. New York, New York. 1998

Borrowed from: South End branch of The Boston Public Library.

At first, I hesitated about the decision, but finally decided that I would keep this book in the classroom. My hesitation came from my ultra-sensitivity to children’s emotions and thoughts. I am so sensitive to children’s literature, these days. I find myself critiquing every corner of a page, in every picture book I open. Asking myself questions like, ‘Will they be able to process this image in a healthy, constructive way? Are they resilient enough to deal with any kind of reality this book presents in this moment? ‘. (‘They‘ meaning my students).

As their teacher, it is my duty to protect the mind of a child. Protect their mind against oppressive language, uncomfortable images, or anything else that blocks their healthy desire to be their best. I cannot foster an environment of education with images that do not foster a student’s understanding of life, leadership, and longevity.  This book does not oppress. I think. But what do I know really? So much of a child’s thoughts are scarred. Not all children, and maybe not even most, but some.

When I was in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade, I was chubby. Yes, chubby. I hated it. I was so embarrassed anytime the word ‘fat’, or ‘big’, was said in a picture book. If the word ‘fat’ was said in my childhood classrooms, I thought that everyone must be picturing me in their heads at that moment. I wasn’t obese. There were larger kids in my grade, but still my self perception, and self worth were already oppressed at a young age. I don’t recall feeling oppressed by literature or by my teacher, but I still felt less than beautiful, or not beautiful at all really.  So even if the word ‘fat’ was used to describe someone beautiful, it still made me incredibly uncomfortable. “Even though the other girls called her ‘fat’, she would ignore them, and was eventually chosen to be the ballerina queen. She was beautiful.”   This is not a real quote. It is a hypothetical quote from a hypothetical children’s book. If a line like this was read, in one of my childhood classrooms, it wouldn’t have made a difference in my self worth. I wouldn’t have magically believed that yes, I am beautiful and everyone thinks that now, and they don’t look at me as if I’m chubby. No. I was not resilient enough as a child, to process such a mantra, in a way that would have made a positive impact. Even if the book’s message was to show that ‘fat’ is beautiful, it would have done more damage to me than good. I would literally think in my head ‘doesn’t the teacher know how uncomfortable this is for me? She must not care, if other people think I’m fat.’  Even though just in 2nd grade, I recall having  of issues that the majority of children (two-parent household, affluent children that is) I knew did not have to deal with. Because of the added challenges I faced, compared to my peers, I was less resilient than other children; making my classroom needs different than the rest. If our needs are different, then our educational needs are different. If our educational needs are different, then so are our literary needs.

So with all this being said, Something Beautiful is a beautiful book. My hesitation came from imagining some of my students being too sensitive to the main character living in a neighborhood with lots of trash and neglected spaces. At what point in the story would my students ingest the positive  message of the story? How many negative feelings will pass through them first? Will any of my students think, ‘Why is my teacher reading a story about the bad parts of my neighborhood? Is she going to tell everyone that I live in a neighborhood like this? Will the other kids not want to be my friend?’.

Anxiety, fear, sadness –  are all feelings that block a child’s reception to educational information (a.k.a their ability to learn).

This is a book that I will read to children individually, not as a whole group read aloud.

There is nothing negative about this book. It is beautiful.  A child just must be emotionally strong and healthy before they can process, and then benefit, from it’s message – … within the classroom time allotted.  Read-alouds ought always proceed with mindfulness of the whole child. Thank you for reading The Picture Book Pusher

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A Picture Book A Day: Day 13 Savitri: A Tale of Ancient India

Savitri: A Tale of Ancient India retold by Aaron Shepard, Illustrated by Vera Rosenberry

Published by: Albert Whitman & Company. Morton Grove, Illinois. 1992

Purchased: Free from the give-away shelf, at the South End branch of the Boston Public Library. The book is in practically new condition. I asked the librarian how they decide which books to give away, as there were several other wonderful books that I got for free that day including Chicken Sunday, The Chocolate Touch, and The Stories Julian Tells. The librarian said it is based on their check-out rate, or they were donated by patrons. If the books that a patron donates are not in excellent condition, or the library already has a sufficient number of copies of a title, then the books go onto the give-away shelf.

Back to Savitri

I enjoyed reading this story. The pictures are beautiful and captivating. However, as I am a progressive teacher, I am still contemplating how I can use this book in my classroom. Two aspects of the story contradict my pedagogy: 1. – the reference to character Yama, god of death, as “his skin was darker than the darkest night.”  I don’t use the word dark to represent anything negative, in my classroom. Dark is beautiful, and a coveted quality. Period. Any other use of the word, I hesitate to embrace.  A god of death, is not something positive in the minds of 6 year olds. So associating a god of death with dark skin is contradicting to how I teach.

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Yes, I could still use this book, and transform the words the way I want, but I’m not sure if it’s worth the effort, when there are other stories I can read. But there is something so beautiful about this book.

2. – I don’t view this story as a tale about independent women, even though it is a tale “of women far more independent than later Indian culture allowed.”  In the story, the men have many wives, etc. There is reference to his “favorite wife” as being chosen to bare children.  All these things are a part of history, and I don’t like to shelter my students from historical facts and historical perspectives, as long as they are introduced to them in a way that is empowering. At this time, I don’t know if I can invest the time to retell this story with the necessary insights and perspectives to empower my young students living in the 21st century.

Still, I give it an all around 5 out of 5 stars. I will not be keeping it on the shelves for my students to grab at their leisure. I will keep it in the classroom, however, in case there is a need for it, at a later time.

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Thank you for reading The Picture Book Pusher.

A Picture Book A Day: Day 12 Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco

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Pink and Say Written and Illustrated by Patricia Polacco

Published: Philomel Books, Penguin Young Readers Group, NY. for Babushka, Inc. 1994

I borrowed this book from the South End branch of Boston Public Library. The librarian recommended it to me. She said it was a must read. She was correct.

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This is a necessary piece of non-fiction for any age classroom. Although I have to be wise on how I present it to my young audience. It has a couple of gruesome deaths in it. I look forward to using it to raise consciousness in my young students on the concepts of  ‘privilege’ and ‘social blindness’, and ‘oppression’. I shall blog in depth at a later date. I look forward to adding main character Pinkus to my American History curriculum, so my students “will always remember Pinkus Aylee.”

Thank you for reading The Picture Book Pusher

A Picture Book A Day: Day 11 The Greedy Triangle

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Love this book! I need it for my first-grade classroom. I saw it in another teacher’s classroom. I borrowed it, and read it while walking through the hallway, in between classes, today. Then I returned the book to the teacher’s classroom. 🙂

The Greedy Triangle by Marilyn Burns. Illustrated by Gordon Silveria

Copyrighted by: Marilyn Burns Education Associates. A Brainy Day Book 1994.

Published by: Scholastic, Inc.

I give the writing 5 out of 5 stars.

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I give the drawings 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

I would definitely keep it in my classroom, as a read aloud, and in the classroom math library.

Thanks for reading The Picture Book Pusher

Thanks

A Picture Book A Day: Day 10 One by Kathryn Otoshi

I had a meeting today with Dr. Carroll Blake, Executive Director for the Achievement Gap in Boston Public Schools. We spoke for over an hour. It was a mutual consultation to discuss the achievement of our black boys in Boston.  I was so incredibly grateful that he made time in his schedule to meet with me.

And guess what?  He gave me a brand new picture book. I told him about my blog.   He gave me the book,

One by Kathryn Otoshi

Published by: Ko Kids Books 2008.

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I plan to read it after I cook dinner.  I am looking forward to it. It is a book that brings a new approach to dealing with bullies.

Two things are cool:

1. ) We actually exchanged picture books, Dr. Blake and I.  He gave me the book, One, to promote what should be being read in the classroom. I gave him a secondhand copy of Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes to expose what SHOULDN’T be read in the classroom.

2.) I found this picture on the web of my governor, Deval Patrick, reading One, to some school children.

That’s all for now. Thank you for reading The Picture Book Pusher

A Picture Book A Day: Day 7 Da Goodie Monsta

At night, it swooped down into the village where all the young brothers and all the young sisters lived. It entered the dreams of people who dare to dream and stood at the gateway to the sleeping mind like a sentinel and chased dem nightmares away.

Da Goodie Monsta by Robert Peters

Published by Wiggles Press. Cambridge, MA. 2009.

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Purchased at: The Piano Factory. Boston, MA.

I had the serendipitous joy of purchasing a signed copy with a personal dedication to my first-grade class, from the author and illustrator himself, Robert Peters.  He was at a gallery event at The Piano Factory in Boston, MA. The event was a tribute to the late, and talented, Theresa-India Young.

Along with two of Theresa’s tassels being sold at the Young table, I bought Da Goodie Monsta and one of Robert Peter’s paintings at the Peter’s table. Mr. Peter’s also gave me a second painting. Yes. Gave. The painting was of a turtle – a symbol from the Wampanoag tribe, who live on Turtle Island.

This book is so engaging, and dream inspiring.  It is a read-aloud in my classroom, as well as being kept on the shelves for students to read at their leisure.

I give it 5 out of 5 stars.

Thanks for reading.

– The Picture Book Pusher

A Picture Book A Day: Day 6 Lil’ Man Makes a Name for Himself

LILMAN MAKES a NAME for HIMSELF by Caleb Neelon a.k.a Sonik
Published by Cantab publishing, Cambridge, MA. 2004
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Purchased at: ?? I know that I got it at a second hand store. It was several  months ago. It was either the Goodwill on Melnea Cass in Boston, or Back Pages books in Waltham, MA., or Brookline Booksmith’s basement used book store (although I no longer shop at Brookline Booksmith because they are a HUGE supporter of the book Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes. Blech.)
Rating: 6 out of 5 stars. For it’s writing, ability to engage children, ability to ignite production and creativity in children, and for it’s illustrations. This is a definite favorite of mine.
This was not my first time reading this story. The first time I read it to my students was last month, during the last week of school.
I now know that this story will most definitely be part of my Fall curriculum beginning in the 2012-2013 school year, when we are building classroom community and learning about each other. This book is a must have, for elementary school teachers. It is all about self expression, and identity. The concept of the book is spot-on ingeniousness.  The protagonist, Lilman, doesn’t think his name looks right, it’s not ‘him’ enough. So he sets out to create his name the way it should look.  He then inspires all his school friends to become individuals and make a name for themselves too. The moral of the story is: You too can make a name for yourself.
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This book is hard to find, but you can buy it straight from the author 1 of 2 ways: Either through his personal website (by emailing him and asking him to purchase a copy), or through his amazon.com account, you can get a signed copy. His amazon.com seller name is Calebfunk. The links are below:
Author Caleb Neelon is better known as SONIK. SONIK is an extremely successful street artist, with murals and projects on several continents. Check out a little bit of what he does here: http://calebneelon.com/projects/
Thanks for reading.
– The Picture Book Pusher