I’ve had the odd experience this past week of reading three picture books that I can recommend where the author is also the illustrator. Ralph Tells a Story is the first one up.
Ralph Tells a Story speaks to the frustrated writer/storyteller in all of us. Ralph, the hero of the story, is always stumped when it comes to writing stories in class. Everyone else, especially his friend Daisy, writes stories with ease, but Ralph just can’t come up with any ideas. Nothing ever seems to happen to him. When Daisy points out that many of her stories are actually about Ralph’s experiences, Ralph is amazed at how great a writer Daisy is. He is also filled with renewed determination to find something to write about. Eventually, a daydream about an inch worm leads to a story. Once Ralph’s creative floodgates are opened, the stories come pouring out.
Everyone—adults and children alike—can relate to Ralph. After all, who hasn’t been stumped for an idea at one time or another? And I think we can also all take heart in his ultimate success. Sometimes you just have to keep plugging away until the creative switch clicks on.
The illustrations in Ralph Tells a Story are fairly simple, but quite expressive of the emotions of Ralph and the other children as they try, with varying degrees of success, to come up with stories to tell.
This book is both an amusing story about a boy named Ralph and an effective, light-hearted note of encouragement to all of us, young and old alike, who find ourselves struggling to come up with ideas for our own stories.
—Steve Mudd, author
Reading. Being read to. Author Amy Hest shows all the delights a book can offer in The Reader.
A child and best-friend dog decide to enjoy a winter day on a sled. Their destination is “the top of the world.”
Not until page 4 does Hest unleash a “his” clue in her spare, sweet story. The bundled-up main character, the “reader,” could be boy or girl.
Suddenly, the story picks up steam, much like the sled’s downhill descent. A double-page spread proclaims “it’s time.” A suitcase is opened.
Grown-up readers might expect Hest, a three-time winner of the Christopher Award, to produce a magic lamp or other surprise. Instead, she unveils something just as powerful—a book. As the reader reads, children may be taken aback.
Prepare for the sensation of looking deep into the multi-mirrored department store dressing room. That‘s the lure of the featured book, titled “Two Good Friends.” We never see those pages, only the reactions that the pages bring. This is a tribute to the read-aloud experience. A dog, child plus their book. You could call it “Three Good Friends.”
Illustrator Lauren Castillo shines with her ink-and-watercolor depictions of the story. Anyone who liked the illustrations from What Happens on Wednesdays needs to check out Castillo’s versatility. Swoon over her double-page spread showing white letters fluttering down amidst snowflakes while the boy reads to the dog. Somewhere, Ezra Jack Keats (The Snowy Day) is smiling down over this visual storytelling.
Fretting parents may protest a bit over the storyline. What if every child experiencing The Reader drags his or her complete library out into a blizzard? Books might get ruined.
This is not a how-to primer for kids. It’s a fantasy. That hilltop might not be the top of the world to most adults. However, it’s high enough to please the two stars of this tale.
Here is a wonderful imagining of the feeling one gets from reading the right book at the right time. This is a tale about the joy of sharing books. Any young reader will want to be The Reader.
—Tom Owens, author
Hooray for U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis. His title could be a burden to some, seen like a crown to be knocked off one’s head.
The responsibility hasn’t stopped Lewis from remaining a working poet. He’s kept creating, and creating well. His latest is a series of 14 interconnected poems, allowing young readers to ponder the characteristics of different creatures. Other riddles let us appreciate the relationships nature offers.
Lewis rhymes with effortless joy. To comment on dragonflies, he avoids the obvious. His take is anything but medieval:
Skimming ponds and county lanes,
Whizzing wings of windowpanes.
Look, a pair of fairy planes.
The perfect end to the book comes in speculating on humans being animals, too. Are the stars of the book reading about themselves or us?
Renee Graef paints personable illustrations for each poem, allowing children to both recognize and like each featured animal. The typography for each two-page spread becomes a co-star for Graef’s art. Words curve, dip and move to complement the antics of each animal.
Best of all, Lewis offers a welcoming read-aloud for adults to share with young listeners. No multi-syllabic tongue twisters to derail a reader. Sound like a star when you’re reading this effort from one of our starring poets.