Good luck explaining to children about how a silent movie works. Instead of trying to tell kids about the cinematic art form, let Mo Willems show them.
Subtle illustrations allow older readers to spot dialog set off in white lettering in a box with black background. Classic silent movie details, to be sure.
The story begins with one hungry fox meeting one tasty-looking goose.
Make that one hungry and shifty wolf charming a tasty-looking, smitten goose.
Suddenly, hatched baby geese appear. They object. (Hence the title line.)
Young readers may not soak up the details of the cover, hinting that the goslings could be in the front row of a movie theater. Willems, a former Sesame Street animator, is recreating the idea of audience and characters interacting, a scene performers from Bugs Bunny to Popeye excelled at.
In the book’s case, the youngest geese may not be addressing the reader, like the over-enthusiastic theater goers of today speaking to the movie screen as the action progresses.
Never to fear (as a silent movie might announce)!
Mother Goose wasn’t as naïve as the wolf hoped. In fact, the youthful fowl may have been warning the wolf about her possible reaction.
Gleeful giggles are sure to erupt from readers who figure out just what the goose family is eating in their final-page celebration.
Likewise, the ending should provide some added flavor for adult readers.
Those same adults will spot that Willems dedicates the book “To Norton Juster — You Get the Idea.”
The Dot and The Line and The Phantom Tollbooth each could be likely inspirations.
Fairy tale retellers will be able to take their own inspiration from Willems’ creation. Neither the wolf, the mama goose nor her offspring bother with names. Readers seem to know them, or OF them. In fact, Willems’ goose is in a class of her own. Forget Henny Penny and the fairy-tale sufferers who need to learn their lessons. In That Is NOT a Good Idea, Ms. Goose is the one doing the teaching.
While this wolf got himself in a literal stew, it’s possible that the goose and her babies could have more adventures. If anyone’s capable of keeping these silent-screen stars shining, it’s Willems.
—Tom Owens, author
Author-illustrator Dan Yaccarino has some stiff competition in children’s literature: himself.
His distinctive art has overshadowed his writing in past titles. He’s a fine storyteller, too. He’s at his balancing-act best in Doug Unplugged.
In the ultimate twist on home schooling, robot parents head to work and leave their little boy alone for his day of downloading.
A double-page spread is a trivia lover’s delight. We see the various stats and historical footnotes that Doug is inputting.
All that’s missing from Doug’s education is experience. When he sees a pigeon outside his window, that temptation causes him to unplug from his computer and go get some first-person lessons.
Yaccarino lights up the senses of his readers, detailing how Doug smells, hears, sees and feels the city.
When Doug discovers a playmate in the park, Yaccarino has the ultimate explanation: “Then Doug came across something that wasn’t in any of his downloads.”
The pair teach each other in a mutual adventure showcasing the joys of learning by doing.
When Doug returns home, he’s ready to greet his robot mom and dad just like his human companion demonstrated.
Young listeners will embrace the author’s message that learning is fun. Meanwhile, adults may see some subtext in Doug Unplugged. As our young hero enjoyed socializing, the narrator remarked, “Doug found out that there were all sorts of different ways to play.”
Children will know Yaccarino’s visual talents from his creation of the TV series Oswald or Willa’s Wild Life. In Doug Unplugged, Yaccarino uses brush and ink on vellum for the perfect color-bursting blend of present and space-age future.
Yaccarino has produced more than 30 picture books in his signature style. Doug Unplugged is a delight to see and hear, ranking among his greatest hits.
—Tom Owens, author
I have never seen less threatening monsters than in Monsters Love Colors. That’s a plus, because this book is really a celebration of color and sound, with the monsters just cute actors in the play. Every page is filled with blinding primary colors, swirling shapes and lines, and exuberant words that demand to be read aloud—“mish, mash, squish, squash, splash!” Color is splattered across every page, the words are in wildly different sizes and degrees of boldness, and even the monsters are in varied sizes, shapes and colors. The monsters also have extremely expressive faces, showing excitement, curiosity, joy and wonder at all the marvelous colors they can create.
As an adult, I found the book entertaining. It made my day a little brighter, figuratively and literally. Younger children, especially when read to aloud or encouraged to read it aloud themselves, will get the same burst of energy, I would imagine, magnified by their own natural exuberance. This is a book to read after nap time, not before. You learn a little about how colors combine to make other colors, but beyond that this is just a book to ENJOY, visually and verbally.
—Steve Mudd, author
At last, Oliver Jeffers has created a picture book that addresses children with too much, instead of not enough.
Previously, “problem” or “issue” books have shown children needing additional character. More courage or related virtue. In This Moose Belongs to Me, Jeffers introduces readers to Wilfred, a boy of excess.
As in excess confidence. Some might say bossiness, even arrogance.
Wilfred has met a moose. By divine right, eminent domain or maybe even calling dibbies, somehow, Wilfred insists he’s owner of the antlered animal.
“The moose came to him a while ago and he knew, just KNEW that it was meant to be his,” Jeffers writes.
Of course, Wilfred employs one of the first rules of kid-dom. Name your find. He dubs the moose “Marcel.” No thought is given to whether this moose has a previously-existing name.
Wilfred’s overconfidence faces a crossroads upon a long walk with Marcel. A blue-haired “old lady” appears. She greets the moose, calling him by a different name!
Ultimately, Wilfred learns that his moose acquaintance views their relationship differently. Nonetheless, the boy comes up with a face-saving compromise that saved the friendship and Wilfred’s pride.
On a surface level, author Jeffers addresses the issues of respecting the wild nature of any creature. Young listeners might recall how they overdid taking charge of a relationship with a sibling or first friend, setting endless ground rules. In case a certain moose forgot, Wilfred even numbers his demands.
Look deeper at what illustrator Jeffers offers. On the dedication page, he adds: ”The art for this book was made from a mishmash of oil painting onto old linotype and painted landscapes, and a bit of technical wizardry thrown in the mix here and there.”
On most pages, Jeffers inserts his characters into vintage artworks. We see that Wilfred and “Marcel” have invited themselves into other scenes where they might not really belong. Jeffers makes it work beautifully, contrasting the behavior of moose and boy in such incongruity.
Then again, it’s clear that Wilfred’s imagination is hitting on all cylinders. Why not imagine a blissful (if one-sided) life with a pet moose taking place in someone else’s vintage paintings?
Don’t miss the last page. An unnamed clergyman stakes claim to the moose, insisting the animal is a third, different personality.
This Moose Belongs to Me would entertain and inspire any age reader suffering from a case of well-meaning self-centeredness.
—Tom Owens, 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
Perhaps I’m suffering from the curse of primacy: the tendency to cling to, even love, what one knows first.
I first experienced The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore in its form as an Academy Award-winning animated short. It is, in fact, a silent film—with no sub-titles—doubling the paradox that a paean to books avoids not only pages, but words themselves, right down to the sound of them.
And this is why the film so stunningly succeeds.
The incarnation of Morris Lessmore as a book—which seems so very logical—is, in fact, less effective. And why? Irony of ironies, because it has words.
William Joyce, a virtually undisputed master, is still himself. He chooses words, edits, interprets the world as William Joyce—he has no choice. When we read his words, we see William Joyce’s world.
Ah, but when we see the film, we can think our own words—or not. Maybe we can just feel.
I can’t help but wish that this book had no words, so that we might do the same.
For books with words are a paradox, too. The point of a book is to go beyond words. Every author is him-or herself. Every reader must look past the writer to get to the story, look past words to get to their meaning. Words are like trees that fall in the woods; they don’t make a sound if no one’s there to hear them.
An image is more like a flower. It just blooms, and minds its own glorious business.
Many images in the book seem to be taken directly from the film. Some delightful examples are people shown in black and white, till open books light their now-colorful faces. The books in the story are live characters, behaving like birds—or people. The volumes can walk, fly—and empathize.
Some images appear to have been created for the book: their lines are more sharply defined. Those familiar with Joyce’s past work may see a potential and poignant passing of the baton. Artist Joyce has struggled of late with his eyes.
Ah, but the artist still sees.
And still gives so much to the world of story, such as the book’s perfect finish:
“And so our story ends as it began . . . with the opening of a book.”
See the film at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLlOB1X72rc
—Diana Star Helmer, author
Imagine a community where families can’t have more than two kids. Luke is the third kid in his family. Illegally. He is a shadow child. He has never been to school, never made friends or even talked to his neighbors. When Luke sees a girl’s face in the window of a new house where two kids already live, he makes a plan to find her. Will he become involved in Jen’s dangerous plan to come out of the shadows?
I really enjoyed Among The Hidden. It is a great start to the Shadow Children series. Anybody any age will keep turning the pages to this action-packed book, begging for more.
—Megan Zamow, 6th grader
Three books unravel in front of your eyes. The Giver and Gathering Blue come together to create the fascinating Messenger. Many twists take you throughout the amazing book. Lois Lowry allows readers to use their imaginations to guide themselves through Messenger.
Messenger takes place in a futuristic community called Village. Matty, Leader, Mentor, Jean, and Seer are the characters that are focused on most. Matty lives with Seer, a blind man, who has a daughter in another community. Matty starts noticing strange changes in Village and the people who live in it. Suddenly a huge change is made and Matty needs to find Seer’s daughter before it is too late. Lois Lowry makes it seem as if her theme is friendship and what you will do for those close to you.
I really enjoyed Messenger. It kept me interested and wanting to read more. It is that kind of book that many people would enjoy, child to adult. Lowry includes many turns in the plot and characters that many people could relate to.
Lois Lowry’s Messenger left me wondering and interested. Children and adults, boys and girls with an active imagination would like it. What will Matty find out about Village?