In the Half Room, by Carson Ellis, (Oct. 2020, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536214567
Caldecott Honor Award winner Carson Ellis (Du Iz Tak, 2017) is back with more delightfully surreal storytelling. In the Half Room is a playful rhyming study on halves, with a half room full of half things: a half chair, half shoes, half a rug and half a door. Half a woman sits on a half a chair, reading half a book, when a half-knock sends her on an adventure. Gouache illustrations create a warm atmosphere, with colorful images contrasting with the ivory page background. It’s surreal, it’s fun, it’s great for introducing concepts like halves. You can hand out circles and ask kiddos and caregivers to fold the circle in half, or invite them to decorate the circle and half it, making a yummy cake or cookie to “eat” half of by folding it! Pair with Good Night Moon for storytime; In the Half Room reads like an homage to the classic bedtime story.
In the Half Room has a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Candlewick offers a free, downloadable page of teacher tips for introducing the book to readers.
Adele in Sandland, by Claude Ponti, (June 2017, TOON Books), $12.95, ISBN: 978-1-943145-16-4
Recommended for readers 3-7
Little Adele’s mother takes her to the park. While Mama chats with a friend, Adele begins to dig and sets off on an adventure with her doll, Stuffy, and Sandy – a creature from her sand pail – where they’re eaten by a sand dragon, she meets a tree of hot dogs, a king who likes to walk, barefoot, on his subjects’ heads, and ventures forth to a tasty dessert island.
Adele in Sand Land is surreal fun for readers who’ve become more comfortable with slightly longer sentences than those introduced in early readers. The book is TOON Level 1, which is about a Kindergarten reading level and corresponds to Guided Reading Levels E-J. TOON includes all of this information in the back of each book, and on their website, which is a great resources for parents and educators alike. The story is a fun storytime selection for younger audiences, too: kids will easily envision themselves on a magical adventure while playing at the park.
The surreal art makes this a great choice when introducing young readers to graphic novels, too. While the overall story is sequential, the dreamlike quality of the art allows kids to let their imaginations run wild. Let your kids draw their own surreal adventure for a fun accompanying activity, or introduce stories like Alice in Wonderland or Harold and the Purple Crayon for more adventures with a touch of the surrealistic. Teacher’s Resources are forthcoming for this title.
Adele in Sand Land received a starred review from Kirkus. An early Adele story, Adele’s Album (1988), is out of print but can be found for varying prices through third party sellers online.
I Crawl Through It, by A.S. King (Sept. 2015, Little Brown), $18, ISBN: 9780316334099
Recommended for ages 14+
This surrealist novel follows the lives of four teens under pressure, ready to explode. School and testing stress, past trauma, and loss have taken them all to their limits and no one seems to see them. One turns herself inside out; one splits in two; one tells lies, and one builds an invisible helicopter that will fly far away.
Using four narratives, we get the story, piece by piece, slowly gaining clarity but never quite fully grasping it. I Crawl Through It is an indictment of the society we’ve left to our kids; focusing on ourselves, testing, and our children’s accomplishments and how they’re perceived more than seeing them for who they are and what they need.
This isn’t an easy novel to read, but it is an important one. Who hasn’t wanted to become something – someone else to deal with high school? Who hasn’t wanted to fly away from all the stress in life? When teens, who are supposed to be enjoying themselves at this stage of life want to run away and disappear, though, we need a book like I Crawl Through It to give us a sense of the disjointed, upended feelings we may be missing.
Many teens will see themselves in this novel. More adults should be reading this book to get a handle on what our adolescents are up against.
Author A.S. King received a Printz Honor for Please Ignore Vera Dietz. Her “official hideout” on the web offers educator resources, links to her blog, information about her books and author visits, and links to social media.
iBooks has selected I Crawl Through It as one of their 25 Best Books of September!