I've fallen hopelessly behind on my picture book reviews of late. So I've decided to try something new. I'm going to do small round-up posts featuring my favorites of the titles that I've received from various publishers. First up was Kane Miller. Today I am featuring three titles from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. The first two are fiction, and the third is a biography.
1. Roger Is Reading a Book by Koen Van Biesen. Roger Is Reading a Book is the story of a man who just wants to read his book. But his other-side-of-the-wall neighbor, Emily, keeps undertaking loud, disruptive activities (bouncing a basketball, singing, etc.). Roger keeps knocking on the wall, and Emily understands that he's annoyed, but she's not able to find a quiet activity on her own, until Roger finally offers a solution.
Roger Is Reading a Book is very fun read-aloud for younger kids. There's a lot of repeated sound, like "LA LA LA", "BOOM BOOM BOOM" "KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCKITY KNOCK", etc. These sounds are conveyed in bold fonts, often at interesting angles. I think this would be a very fun books for new readers to read, with help. Van Biesen's spare illustrations, rendered in mixed media, are unusual, amusing at times, and frequently visually surprising. While there is an underlying message about the joy of immersing oneself in a book, Roger Is Reading a Book is mainly an enjoyable romp. I think it will work best for early elementary age readers, though I quite enjoyed it myself.
2. Red by Jan De Kinder. Red is a story about standing up to bullying. While it's a bit more message-driven than I normally favor, I liked Red because it stays entirely within the first-person viewpoint of a girl who unwittingly starts something, and then (eventually) stands up for the boy who is bullied.
There's no over-riding narration about what should happen - we just see this little girl who points out something funny about a boy (his red cheeks), and then watches the consequences. She is afraid to help Tommy, and the reader understands why. But then she does. I think that Red will be validating for young readers in early elementary school. It would make a fine classroom read-aloud.
Also, De Kinder's illustrations are simply gorgeous. They're a mix of pencil, charcoal, ink, aqurrelle, acrylic, and collage, but the charcoal particularly stands out to me. De Kinder uses a fairly limited palette, with lots of black against a sepia background. The color Red is used to denote important things, and to how mood. It's masterful. The mix of kids shown is also highly diverse, adding to this book's value as a classroom read. I look forward to reading and discussing this one with my daughter.
3. The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch by Chris Barton and Don Tate. John Roy Lynch was a young slave who became, during the Reconstruction period after the Civil War, a U.S. Congressman. His story, told by Chris Barton, and brought to life visually by Don Tate, is remarkable and inspiring.
Barton's prose is unflinching regarding Lynch's suffering as a slave, without going into unnecessary detail. For instance, he notes that Lynch's father, a white overseer, "may have loved these slaves, (but) he mostly likely took the whip to others." He keeps the story moving at a rapid clip, while providing enough detail to give young readers a window into what may be an unfamiliar time. There is a wealth of information here. Don Tate's illustrations show Lynch's suffering and his joy, and convey his personality, too (look at that little smile on the cover image). The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch is a book that belongs on library shelves everywhere. It is beautifully executed, interesting, and not to be missed.
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