Posted in Early Reader, Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Intermediate

The power of stories: The Storyteller

storyteller-1The Storyteller, by Evan Turk (June 2016, Athenum), $18.99, ISBN: 9781481435185

Recommended for ages 5-10

Every now and then, you get an epic in storybook form. The Storyteller is such a tale. We sit down and listen to the storyteller: the narrator of the book, who tells us how the Kingdom of Morocco formed at the edge of the great, dry Sahara desert; how there were fountains of cool water, and storytellers to bring the people together. We also learn that as people forgot the perils of the desert, they forgot about the storytellers, too – except for a single boy, who happened upon a storyteller while in search of a drink of water. The storyteller spun tales for the boy, always leaving him thirsty for more stories.

Once a sacred duty to preserve a culture’s collective memory, the advent of television, movies, and the Internet whittled away at the practice of storytelling. What The Storyteller gives us is a beautifully complex, layered tale that illustrates the power of storytelling, an art that – according to the author’s note at the end of the book – is at long last making a comeback.

Mr. Turk’s art has an ancient feel to it, capturing the story’s spirit using a variety of instruments: water-soluble crayon, colored drawing pencils, inks, indigo, sugared green tea, a heat gun, and fire. The final product made me feel like I was holding a revered story scroll, reading tale straight from history.

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Evan Turk received the New Illustrator Honor from the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation for Grandfather Gandhi. Find more of his artwork at his author website. The Storyteller has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal.

This is a picture book more for school-age kids than little ones. The publisher suggests ages 4-8, but I’d bump it up to ages 5-10, because I feel like Kindergarteners would be better able to sit through the story and lose themselves in this tale. I also feel like this would be a great book to skew a little older with; for instance, upper elementary grades that have storytelling/fairy tales units would have great success introducing this book to classrooms.

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Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Humor, Preschool Reads

There’s a Sword in the Stove! But who left it there?

sword1The Sword in the Stove, by Frank W. Dormer (May 2016, Atheneum Books for Young Readers), $17.99, ISBN: 9781481431675

Recommended for ages 4-8

Harold the Knight runs off to the bathroom as his buddy heads to the kitchen for some dinner. He peeks into the stove, only to find – HOLY HADDOCK! There’s a sword in the stove! Who would put a sword in the stove? The knight and the chef run through questions and scenarios as they uncover more armor hidden in the stove, leading up to an answer that is as hilarious as it is morbid. This lends itself to a wonderfully loud screwball storytime with knights, dragons, and cookery. Bonus points for introducing kids to words like “rapscallion” and phrases like “Holy Haddock!” and “Wobbling Wizards!”

Watercolor cartoony art and a nice large font, with illuminated manuscript-type emphasis on the first letter in each exclamation makes this a fun read-aloud for readers and audiences alike. Make it silly, make it fun!

Frank W. Dormer has an author website where you can take a look at more of his art, check out his Tumblr, and get in touch. Take a look at some more of the art from The Sword in the Stove, below.

 

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Posted in Early Reader, Fantasy, Fiction, Preschool Reads

Suite for Human Nature is a musical folktale made art

suite for human natureSuite for Human Nature, by Diane Charlotte Lampert/Illustrated by Eric Puybaret (May 2016, Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books)$17.99, ISBN: 9781416953739

Recommended for ages 4-10

A musical collaboration between legendary songwriter Diane Lampert and Jazz legend Wynton Marsalis becomes a beautifully illustrated parable on humanity in this gentle story about Mother Nature and her challenging children.

Mother Nature is busy. She’s got seasons to change, flowers to wake up and put to bed, and all of Earth’s creatures to care for. But she really longs for children of her own, so using bits and pieces of nature – sticks, stones, seeds, leaves – she ends up making five children: Fear, Envy, Hate, Greed, and Fickle. Each time, she’s taken aback when she realizes how tough it is to raise a child, and asks humans – the creatures that can’t fly, swim, roar, or gallop – to keep an eye on her unruly children once she buzzes off to tend to another season. Each time she returns, she creates another child, hoping to even things out, and each time, things get a little more complicated, especially when the children’s personalities start rubbing off on the humans. When she takes some advice from the Winds, and creates Twins, though, things change.

Suite for Human Nature is told in old folktale tradition, telling the story of human nature; its strengths and its weak spots, and the one thing that conquers all. Breathtaking acrylic and linen illustrations by Eric Puybaret make this a joy to read and gaze at. This is a better read-aloud for slightly older listeners, who can sit for a little longer and use their imaginations to fly away with this story. Ask your listeners to draw their feelings – what materials would they use? What colors would they give them? Older kids doing a unit on fairy tales and mythology could compare this story to the myth of Pandora’s Box.

Absolute must for collections. I would love to get hold of the actual music.

Diane Lampert (1924­–2013) was a renowned songwriter who contributed to lyrics for artists from The Beatles to Brenda Lee and over twenty movie title tracks such as The Snow Queen, I’ll Take Sweden, Billie, and Silent Running, as well as songs for The Wild and the Innocent, and Trees Lounge, and for Bob Hope, Gary Grant, and Buster Keaton, among others. Suite for Human Nature first debuted at a concert at Jazz at Lincoln Center, with the world-famous Boys Choir of Harlem.

Eric Puybaret has illustrated many children’s books, including Suite for Human Nature; the bestselling Puff, the Magic Dragon; The Night Before Christmas; Over the Rainbow, as well as many others in his native country, France. Eric’s critically acclaimed work was praised by The New York Times as “elegantly rendered” and Publishers Weekly calls it “graceful [and] whimsical.”

Have a look at some of Eric Puybaret’s beautiful art:

 

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