Caldecott Medal Review (1957)


The Randolph Caldecott Medal is an annual award that honors the best illustrations in a book or novel (usually books, novels are rarely honored). I have decided to start a project where I attempt to review the honorees in a given year and give my opinion as to whether the right book won or not. 

This year I am going to review the SIX books that were recognized in 1957.

Gillespie and the Guards (by Benjamin Elkin, illustrated by James Daugherty)

This is a cute little book about a little boy who tricks royal guards who supposedly have really supersonic eyesight. Not gonna lie, I had never heard this legend before so the “big reveal” at the end caught me by surprise (a little bit. I am 23 after all). I also really liked this book because it pays homage to the oral tradition with the use of repetition throughout the book. I read some sections of this book aloud and I was entertained, and I think little kids would be. The illustrations definitely show effort. The pictures are mostly lifelike (yet statuesque) with a lot of motion (sort of like a Stephen Gammell illustration). I’m not sure if modern kids would enjoy the pictures but I think they’re OK. I definitely enjoyed this more than I thought I would.

7/10

Lion (by William Pene du Bois)

I have to say, I really enjoyed this book as well. The story takes place in a factory above the clouds where angelic artists create animals by drawing them and naming them. The head artist is named Foreman. With the help of the other artists, he creates a lion. The funny part is that the design goes from a small feathery, colorful bird-like creature that goes “PEEP PEEP” to the standard, golden big lion that roars. It’s a very clever and humorous books that has great dialogue and very nice drawings that skillfully uses color. A nice spin on the “Adam and Eve” story if I do say so myself!

8/10

Mister Penny’s Race Horse (by Marie Hall Ets)

Something I appreciate about older picture books is that they have a lot of text and tell really satisfying stories that children can read over and over again. Sometimes I think modern picture books are a bit too simplistic. However, this book could have benefitted from some editing. This book is about Mr. Penny and his old horse named “Limpy,” and how he becomes the talk of the fair by becoming a race horse (so, yeah, like the title said.) This book is so unnecessarily long. Literally 57% of the text could have been cut. The story itself is fairly simple…it’s just filled with too many unnecessary and uninteresting details…and I was kind of bored reading it. The pictures are OK. They look like wood cuts. I think the horse racing pictures towards the end are the best (along with the panel where Mr. Penny is trying to clean his stubborn pig). Overall, I don’t think this book would excite too many kids today.

4/10

Anatole (by Eve Titus, illustrated by Paul Galdone)

This book is about a mouse who, in order to support his family and help the human community, decides to become a cheese taste tester. His “deeds” allow the cheese shop to become successful and the mouse is able to have a better life. First, I really really liked the illustrations and the fact that Galdone only used “bleu, blanc, rouge.” It was really well done. Did I like the story itself? After trudging through Mister Penny’s Race Horse, I really appreciated the simplicity and restraint in the text…but a mouse becomes a cheese tester? That somehow helps the business? No one is concerned that some random person is coming into the shop, taking free cheese and rating it? I guess the 50’s in Paris was a simpler time than now if this didn’t bother anyone. I don’t know. I’m overthinking it. This is a very popular series of books, but I wasn’t digging the storyline. Ratatouille is better.

6/10

1 is One (by Tasha Tudor)

This is a very simple book that I think effectively teachers very early readers how to count and how to use those numbers (along with how to read). There are more modern books with jazzier illustrations that would probably interest children more…so I’m not sure how modern children would respond to the book. But, for the 50’s, it’s good. The illustrations are gentle, calm and old-fashioned. It was almost like watching an early Road to Avonlea episode. I didn’t understand why every other picture was in black and white (besides for the publisher to save money on colored ink). But, otherwise, the book is what it is.

5/10

A Tree is Nice (by Janice May Udry, illustrated by Marc Simont) – CALDECOTT WINNER

This is an environmentally conscious book about why trees…are nice. Udry lists all the fun things one can do with trees and how trees make the world beautiful. In the end, she subtly encourages her readers to plant trees of their own. It’s a nice, gentle book that definitely holds some relevance today. Once again, the illustrator/publisher does that thing when every other illustration is black and white – which seems more random (money saver) than conscious. The pictures are overall lovely, but they didn’t wow me and are sort of forgettable. But again, it’s a timeless book…even if it’s not much of a “Dr. Seuss-sized” classic in 2014.

5/10

I can confidently say that A Tree is Nice did not deserve the Caldecott in 1957. The illustrations in Lion and Anatole were stronger, while the illustrations in Gillespie were more daring and interesting. The full sized tree drawings probably really impressed the judges that year but…Lion and Anatole used colors in more interesting ways. Oh well!

Thanks for reading. The next year I will be uncovering is…1997! Can’t wait!

 

Saturday Night Live Review (Jim Carrey and Iggy Iggs – HEH!!!)


jim carrey chandelier snl

Watch Bart Baker’s Iggy Azalea parodies on Youtube if you don’t get the title.

Anyway, SNL is back! And it’s nice to see the show back with a host who’s funny and naturally dominates everything and everyone because he’s so funny. I’m generally a big fan of Jim Carrey. I haven’t seen a lot of his newer movies, but I am president of the “Jim Carrey should have been Nominated for an Oscar” fan club (seriously, he legit should have won for Truman Show). And I thought Carrey did a swell job the last time he hosted. So I was excited for this episode. This episode wasn’t the best. It started slow with another singing monologue about Elvis and pecan pie that was apparently connected to a short film he made earlier or something. However, the last run of sketches (including one involving dancing) were really great. The show picked up. Anyway, unlike last week (but like the first 2 episodes) I will be highlighting some of the sketches that I felt stood out last night. So we can skip the decent cold open and the singing monologue right off the gate…

Matthew McConnaughey for Lincoln: OK. These three commercial spots livened up the first half of the episode. Ever since McConnaughey won that Oscar earlier this year (when he was clearly third in that category), I’ve been irrationally resentful of him and his success. So, yeah, you probably know how I feel about those pretentious, needlessly meta, car commercials. South Park already did a great job parodying those spots; but it was nice that SNL did a more straight forward spoof. The first two spots were funny, but the third spot was hilarious because it took me by surprise. It starts off as an All State commercial with Kenan playing Dennis Haysbert (if you listen closely, you notice that Kenan is pretty much saying nonsense in that beginning). I nearly lost it when a dazed and confused McConnaughey (played by Carrey) runs him over. Good stuff. Good stuff.

HEH!!!

Weekend Update: Look at Jost with his slightly jousled hair. Yes, he is usually so straight-laced that one piece of hair hanging over his forehead slightly is, like, really noticeable. Anyway, Jost and Che continue to do good work, with Che really solidifying his spot on Update. The funniest part of Update this week was Vanessa Bayer as a “romantic comedy expert” who is brought on because of all the recent rom com TV shows that sprouted up during this season (very noticeably, Che left off Manhattan Love Story in his introduction as it has just been cancelled). Although, it doesn’t reach the highs of Kristen Wiig’s “flirting expert,” the back and forth between a lovestruck Bayer who is trying to force rom com cliches and a confused Che worked so well. It’s probably Michael Che’s best work on the show. As for Drunk Uncle…after, maybe, his third appearance, I haven’t liked him as much as everyone else. I think he’s sort of run his course. But the bit with him switching from Che to Jost in the beginning was fresh. But…it’s interesting…the three big recurring characters that have made an appearance this season (Cecily Strong’s “Girl,” Stefon, Drunk Uncle) have all made a reference to Che’s race. I wonder how long this will continue…

Secret Billionaire: I think this was the first live sketch to really make me laugh. I’m surprised this game show doesn’t exist (yet), but it’s essentially about a woman (played by Cecily Strong) seeking to marry a billionaire; however, only one of the suitors she’s given is one. Jim Carrey plays one of the suitors: a strange, old man with weird interests and fetishes. I don’t know how Carrey was able to keep a straight face during the hot air balloon story but props to him and his robotic hand.

Ghosts Fact of Fiction: A funny sketch involving a group of ghost hunters who search an abandoned house for paranormal activity with scientist and resident skeptic Ronda Banks (played by Leslie Jones). I could have watched Ronda freak out for at least an hour. So funny.

We should also discuss the fact that Leslie Jones is now officially a featured cast member. Now, I was very happy about this news because Jones, in the little screen time she’s had, has been so funny. However…I’m also a little surprised because…I guess I’m not sure how versatile she can be. So far, she’s played the same sort of loud, highly emotional character (even her small appearance in the Carrey family reunion sketch was essentially that). SNL cast members need a certain amount of malleability (even limited cast members like Andy Samberg and Vanessa Bayer can play different roles when need be). I’m just not sure if Jones will ever be trusted with a “straight woman” role. Even Emmy nominee Kate McKinnon is only given “crazy, wide-eyed” characters…but she’s skinny and white so it would be easier for her to fit into the SNL cast. I really hope Lorne doesn’t marginalize Jones the same way he has with Sasheer (who definitely does not benefit from this news for obvious reasons).

But, so far, Leslie Jones has had a 100% success rate in her appearances.

Costume Party Contest: I actually quite enjoyed the Zombie sketchy (featuring some great Pete Davidson physicality) but I can’t wait any longer to discuss easily the night’s best sketch. The sketch starts out funny with Bayer wrongly guessing everyone’s costumes (mistaking Kyle Mooney’s peach costume for a “butt or vagina” and Sasheer’s Vanna White costume for “Beyonce or Rihanna”). She guesses that Aidy Bryant is dressed as a meatball or a red marble, but is actually just “a woman trying her best” (easily the funniest line reading of the night). And then, since both McKinnon and Carrey dressed up as “the little girl dancer” from Sia’s “Chandelier,” they must have a “Chandelier dance off.” This evolves into the two of them doing signature moves from the video before dancing out into the audience and then to the other sets. At one point, Iggy Iggs (HEH!) joins them. It is marvelous and beautiful and even Sia, via Twitter, approved of it. The sketch ends with Bryant declared the costume contest winner (“What???”) An all-around perfect sketch and a homage to one of the best music videos of this year. I’ve stopped watching Dance Moms, but I am so proud of Maddie Ziegler (the little girl dancer from the video). Once you’ve been parodied on SNL, you’re set.

So, overall, a good episode. I wasn’t crazy about the first few sketches, but the show picked up after the first musical performance. Jim Carrey is a great host because he’s the funniest thing about every sketch he’s in. He should host more often!

MVP: It has to go to Kate McKinnon. She’s earned another Emmy nomination for her one performance this week. But, seriously, she deserves an episode to herself one of these days.

Next week(?) – Chris Rock and Prince. I’m kinda loving how all the hosts so far have been, like, comedians. It’s comforting having hosts that actually know how to nail a punch line. Also…Prince.

HEH!!!

Caldecott Medal Review (2006)


The Randolph Caldecott Medal is an annual award that honors the best illustrations in a book or novel (usually books, novels are rarely honored). I have decided to start a project where I attempt to review the honorees in a given year and give my opinion as to whether the right book won or not. 

This year I am going to review the FIVE books that were recognized in 2006.

Rosa (by Nikki Giovanni, illustrated by Bryan Collier)

This book is essentially about Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. It’s a surprisingly short book – taking place from a little before the bus incident to a year later when the Supreme Court declared segregation unconstitutional. There is so much more to the story (unfortunately the real full story isn’t as uplifting. Just do a quick Wikipedia search), but this is an effective way to introduce 4th and 5th graders to the subject. The Emmett Till paragraph should have either been left out completely or developed more. But Collier’s illustrations are wonderful – particular the marching scenes that requires a two page extension using flaps. The pictures are gentle, yet bold and striking. There are probably hundreds of picture books on Rosa Parks…and I haven’t read them all. But I was perfectly pleased with this one.

7/10

Zen Shorts (by Jon J. Muth)

A very gentle and calm book about a panda who teaches kids life lessons through zen philosophies. The watercolors are beautiful and soothing. I like how Muth transitions into a more inky and jagged illustration for the individual stories. Clearly Muth has a strong appreciation for “zen culture” and he might have converted a few kids with this book. I liked this a lot!

8/10

Song of the Water Boatman & Other Pond Poems (by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Beckie Prange)

This book is part poetry anthology/part encyclopedia. This book highlights different pond dweller insects and animals with a poem and a short paragraph about each of them. I actually found the non-fiction elements more engaging than the actual poems (but I’m a 23 year old English graduate student so maybe I have a higher standard for poetry). Anyway, kids who are into science and animals would like this book, especially since this book talks about different species I personally had never heard of. However, I found most of it boring. It’s just not my style. And even the watercolor woodblock artwork didn’t excite me much. These are subjective reviews and ratings. I could see others loving this, but not me.

4/10

Hot Air: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Hot-Air Balloon Ride (by Marjorie Priceman)

What an adorable book! This book tells the story of the first hot-air balloon launch in 18th century France. However, the first passengers in that balloon was a duck, a sheep, and a rooster. While the story has a textual prologue and an epilogue, the bulk of this picture book is without text. Instead we get to see the crazy hijinks between the animals as opposed to having it said to us with text. The artwork is detailed, elaborate and “fun.” The beginning text is engaging and funny. And I like how the author responsibly tells a more accurate and non-fiction version of the story in the last couple of pages. This book is perfect. I only reserve “10’s” for the elite few, but I give this book a very strong…

9/10

The Hello, Goodbye Window (by Norton Juster, illustrated by Chris Raschka) – CALDECOTT WINNER

Interesting. First…I have to point out that this book (told from the point of view of a little girl) showcases both interracial grandparents and parents, which, as far as I know, is unique in children’s literature. I think that choice by the author and illustrator is so cool. And it’s never mentioned. There’s no section where the little girl awkwardly says, “Some bad people don’t approve of our family.” The book handles race the same way  Ezra Jack Keats does in The Snowy Day – by not making it the main focus. The artwork is probably polarizing. I’m not confident all children would dig it…but I certainly appreciated the childlike and enthusiastic pictures. Raschka took some major risks with his drawings and I commend him for that.

8/10

I think Hot Air was the best book overall, but either Priceman or Raschka would have been worthy of this honor. I don’t begrudge Raschka’s win at all. However, I do commend Zen Shorts for having great text and some engaging stories overall.

Thanks for reading. I will reviewing another year soon (don’t know which one yet!)

 

Caldecott Medal Review (1986)


The Randolph Caldecott Medal is an annual award that honors the best illustrations in a book or novel (usually books, novels are rarely honored). I have decided to start a project where I attempt to review the honorees in a given year and give my opinion as to whether the right book won or not. 

This year I am going to review the THREE books that were recognized in 1986.

The Relatives Came (by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Stephen Gammell)

This is a simple story about relatives from Virginia driving up north to meet their extended family. I am a huge fan of Stephen Gammell. Old Henry is one of my favorite children’s books. His colored pencil artwork is so so beautiful, so full of movement, and so realistic and lifelike. I could look at these pictures for hours. The story is sweet and (as someone whose childhood was filled with relatives from another country visiting us) relatable. It’s not really much of a “story” to be honest. But it’s a fun, lazy day book that very young readers would understand. But, yeah, the artwork is great.

8/10

King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub (by Audrey Wood, illustrated by Don Wood)

This story is about a King who refuses to get out of a bathtub; he does all his business from the tub, until the young page finally figures out what to do. He pulls the plug. What a charming, funny story. It uses “repetitive” text that would engage young readers. However, the illustrations are B-E-A-utiful. The oil paintings have so much detail. They are elaborate. If I were young, this book would last me months, maybe even years. The artwork is simply exquisite and full of action. I honestly wish it had been a little longer…and that is really my only “complaint.”

8/10

The Polar Express (by Chris Van Allsburg) – CALDECOTT WINNER

The Polar Express is simply a classic. It’s one of the most beloved picture books, at least in the United States. The scenery is lovely and bold. The story is akin to a classic Christmas tale (a young boy meets Santa Claus). I would have liked a couple more panels that had humans in them (there’s a long stretch where its all just scenery which is nice, but a bit boring). But, overall, this is a book that can warm even the saltiest of cockles. The double -paged photos are just lovely.

8/10

These are three very strong books. I think I was more impressed with Don Wood’s quirky, yet elaborate illustrations. But, considering how popular The Polar Express still is (it wasn’t made into a movie for nothing), the committee might have made the right choice. And I’ll always have a strong sweet spot for Gammell…even if he’s essentially third here.

Thanks for reading! 2006 is coming up next!

 

Caldecott Medal Review (1951)


The Randolph Caldecott Medal is an annual award that honors the best illustrations in a book or novel (usually books, novels are rarely honored). I have decided to start a project where I attempt to review the honorees in a given year and give my opinion as to whether the right book won or not. 

This year I am going to review the SIX books that were recognized in 1951.

Dick Whittington and His Cat (by Marcia Brown)

Based on an English legend, this “rags to riches” story revolves around a boy who grows up to become a wealthy lord thanks to his rodent killing cat. I had never heard of this story before reading this book. I’m assuming that this legend isn’t completely well-known to the American population. Nonetheless, Brown tells the story well and I was rarely ever confused. The pictures are elaborate but the color scheme is artfully simple (mostly black and white and yellow). I dont have any real problems with the book. It’s not extraordinary, but it’s a nice way to introduce children to this legend (although I’m not sure why they would need to be!)

6/10

The Two Reds (by Will and Nicolas, aka William Lipkind and Nicholas Mordvinoff)

Another book! Another boy! Another cat! This book, written by Lipkind, is about a red-haired boy and a red cat who (spoiler alert!) become friends in the end after a series of misadventures. Apparently, this book attracted some minor controversy because, well, between the “red scare” that was occurring during the 50’s and the Russian illustrator, a book titled “The Two Reds” might be promoting communism. But, I don’t see a message in this book outside “cats love fish.” This is fun book with a good deal of action. The artwork is really cool and distinct with the random uses of red and occasional splashes of yellow.

5/10

T-Bone: The Baby-Sitter (by Clare Turlay Newberry)

More cats! This book is about an obedient cat named T-Bone who would watch the baby while the mother did house chores. One day, the cat decides to be bad and cause havoc. So he is sent to the country. However, the baby is miserable because she loved the cat (my favorite page in this book is the one where the baby is crying her face out while she’s surrounded by all her toys) and the cat is miserable because he doesn’t belong in the farm. In the end, they are reunited and it’s happily ever after. Compared to what I’ve seen so far, I’m not loving the artwork. It just looks smudgy and unimpressive. The story is cute but I don’t think it’s the kind of book a kid could read over and over again. Newberry was honored for three other books. Clearly, she was respected during her time. And I should probably read those other books before I come to a conclusion about her.

4/10

If I Ran The Zoo (by Dr. Seuss)

There’s a reason this book isn’t given much recognition anymore (as opposed to Seuss’s later works The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, the Grinch, and so on…) And that’s because, from a contemporary viewpoint, there are passages in this book that are offensive and racist. He describes Asians as having slanty eyes. He stereotypes Africans, Russians, and Persians. There are a lot of other moments that are carefree, funny and creative. But those drops of insensitivity are sprinkled throughout. So I can see why, let’s say, librarians don’t recommend this book. I certainly don’t remember reading this book when I was little. But, at the same time, the artwork in this book is SO GOOD. It’s interesting. It’s imaginative. It’s fun and funny. The rhymes are cute. I couldn’t help but read this aloud. It has a great long length. This is the kind of picture book kids would want to keep and read everyday. Dr. Seuss made better, more sensitive books later in his career. But, for 1950, Dr. Seuss was a beast in children’s lit.

7/10

The Most Wonderful Doll in the World (by Phyllis McGinley, illustrated by Helen Stone)

This is a surprisingly long story about a girl who is never satisfied with anything, including her very large doll collection. In the end, she learns that just because she has dreams and an imagination, doesn’t mean she can’t appreciate the things that are real in life. It’s a nice message. And this story very well written. Stone’s hand drawn watercolors are gentle and pretty, but not terribly distinct or memorable. I think girls would probably remember the story more than the drawings. I’m not sure if a modern girl would like this book because it’s essentially about a very privileged girl who…I guess…wishes she was more privileged? It’s a book that would be more relatable to upper class girls…but I’m not sure if this is a book that would truly benefit them. If there had been an added message about how there are some girls in the world who can’t even afford one doll and that Dulcy (the main character) should be more grateful for what she has, then maybe it would be better. But, right now, this book is akin to Paris Hilton complaining about her limo service

5/10

The Egg Tree (by Katherine Milhous) – CALDECOTT WINNER

This book takes place during Easter. With the help of their grandmother, a bunch of kids take their painted eggs and create an “Egg Tree” (ie, a Christmas tree with painted eggs on them). The egg tree becomes a hit and more people start making their own egg trees. I don’t think this whole “egg tree” idea has caught on since then…but maybe I’m wrong. My church never did that. Anyway, the illustrations are very nice. It’s a colorful book (obviously) but Milhous uses her colors economically (like most picture books from before the 70’s.) The story isn’t, well, much of a story. There wasn’t really much of a conflict…and the text wasn’t interesting and fun like a Dr. Seuss book. It seemed like a plug for egg trees than anything else. But Milhous won for her artwork, not the story, so she’s not completely undeserving of the award.

5/10

Overall, I enjoyed reading these stories, but most of them weren’t particularly captivating. I think Dr. Seuss’s pictures were the most illuminating and intriguing. I would have given him the Caldecott this year (especially considering he never one of these which is nuts). And I think The Two Reds probably took more risks than the perfectly pleasant The Egg Tree. However, even though I found the story problematic, I appreciate Wonderful Doll‘s long, original story with a beginning, middle, and end, a semi-fleshed out lead character, and some stakes involved. Unfortunately, only illustrators are honored in these awards. (Dick Whittington also gave us a long story, but it wasn’t really original.)

Thanks for reading! Stick around for more years! All these books should be available on Amazon or in your local library.

 

My Working Mom by Peter Glassman (illustrated by Tedd Arnold)


my working mom

Naturally, as Tina Fey’s biggest fan, I have read her memoir Bossypants at least three times (and listened to her audiobook at least twice). In the book she discusses the subtle criticism and judgement working mothers are given. She uses the 1994 picture book My Working Mom as an example. While she admits that the book was probably written with good intentions, it may not be a big step forward for feminism or even women’s rights. You can read this portion of the book here. In a nutshell, the book is narrated by a young girl who discusses how hard it is having a working mom because, sometimes, she comes home late and sometimes she doesn’t spend a whole lot of time with her family. However, the girl counters these complaints with happy moments – like her mother throwing her birthday parties and cheering the loudest at her soccer games. The little girl also has some strong admiration for her mother’s work. The little girl concludes her story with “Even though I don’t always like having a working mom, I just can’t picture mine any other way. So I guess if I had to choose, I’d keep my mom the way she is.”

I can understand this fictional little girl’s struggle. Thinking back to when I was little, I have memories of seeing my father in the home as much as I saw my mother. My father worked while my mother was student. By elementary school, both my parents worked while my older siblings were there to watch over me. By middle school, my mother was working more hours than my father. She’d leave home early in the morning and come home late. Sometimes, unfortunately, there were full weeks where I just wouldn’t see my mom because of her work. And I was obviously sad about that. However…I was sad because I loved both my parents equally and I wanted to see them both equally…not necessarily because I believed that mothers should be like the “stay-at-home” mothers on television. For as long as I could remember, I’ve never thought a woman’s place was in the home. If my mother had stayed home and depended on my father to earn our family’s income, neither me nor my older siblings would have the opportunities we were given growing up. And I think that’s one of the main complaints about the book. Although we have to keep in mind that the book was published during the mid nineties, the book is “outdated” that it portrays the working mother as a strong, yet inconvenient anomaly because…well…this isn’t how mothers are supposed to act.

Just think…would this book had worked if it had been entitled “My Working Dad?” Yes, there has been plenty of children’s media that has portrayed fathers as being neglectful workaholics. But those media don’t necessarily criticize (and I realize that “criticize” may be too strong of a word but you get the point) fathers for the simple act of being “working fathers.” Fathers are allowed to work…as long as they don’t take it too far. However, idea of a mother working? That’s already going too far! I’m not trying to put thoughts into the author’s head. Like Fey almost passive aggressively points out, Glassman and Arnold probably had the best intentions in writing this book…but the book still highlights a problem we as a society have with women who dare decide to support their families financially. One part of the book that bugs me is the part where the girl laments her mother’s bad cooking which makes me ask…why isn’t the father doing the cooking then?

It also doesn’t help that the mother in the book is a witch. Her occupation is literally that of a witch. And I can understand how that can throw some people off. But, here’s the kicker: despite my own personal feminist leanings, I would still recommend this book. I still think this book has more good things going for it than bad. From a technical standpoint, it is a well made picture book. Glassman’s text itself isn’t extraordinary…but what I find fascinating about the text is that it never makes reference to the fact that the mother is a witch. That part of the story is portrayed through the illustrations. So while the text talks about the mother thinking her meetings are boring, the illustration shows the mother at some sort of witch’s gathering. Or when the girl excitedly talks about how everyone in class thinks her’s mother’s job is cool…it’s essentially because, well duh, she’s a witch! The point is…it’s as if the Glassman is trying to be neutral and grounded in his text while Arnold’s illustrations (which were apparently conceived by Glassman) tells a fantastical story. It’s a very clever technique that allows kids to create their own stories with the pictures.

In terms of the message – again, I understand the complaints from Fey and others. And hopefully books published in the 21st century would deal with the reality of working mothers better. However, I still think the sweet ending by a tolerant and understanding and loving daughter saves the book. It’s not like the girl is saying “Oh well! I guess having a working mom isn’t so bad. I can deal.” She’s ending by saying that she wouldn’t want any other type of mom. And as someone who grew up with a working mom (a working mom who was so busy one night that she forgot my birthday), I wouldn’t want any other type of mom either. And not only because I love her, obviously. Because I had first hand experience at how malleable gender roles could be. And that having a father that drove me to soccer and cooked me dinner wasn’t weird or undesirable at all. I learned I could be anything I wanted to be because of my working mom. And I’d like to think the fictional girl realizes this when she’s older (because it seems like she’s already getting to that point of realization).

It looks like this book is still striking a chord with young readers by the fact that the book is unusually checked out of my local library (or it could be checked out by another curious Tina Fey fan who knows?) But, regardless, I would recommend this book because it has a positive message (even if it doesn’t hit a home run) and the pictures are really cute. It can be a semi-appropriate book for Halloween as well. I think the negative reviews are from people who let Fey’s glowing recommendation affect their viewpoint. I don’t think they’re fair assessments. However, in between reading this book to your child and watching Frozen for millionth time, be sure to let him or her know that they can be anything they want.

8/10

Mei Li by Thomas Handforth


mei li

In 1939, Thomas Handforth became the second illustrator to win the Caldecott Medal. However, he was not only the first illustrator to win for a book he also wrote, but Mei Li is technically the first winner to have its own “original story” (while the very first winner, Animals of the Bible is simply a bunch of so-so pictures with bible verses attached to them). Mei Li is set in China. Handforth lived in China for a while before publishing the book and his passion for the culture certainly shows in his illustrations. For a book set in the 1930’s, the pictures are surprisingly detailed and inoffensive. He uses a lot of “white space” (that is, he rarely sketches overwhelming scenery or background), but the people, the costumes/clothes and even the animals are drawn well throughout.

While the pictures are great, the story itself is interesting, yet conflicting. The story revolves around  young girl named Mei Li who decides to sneak out to the fair with his brother – something she’s otherwise prohibited from doing because of her gender. After her seemingly exciting misadventures, she is relieved to be back home, where she is told by “The Kitchen God” that, essentially, her kingdom is the home she lives in. This book seemingly has a “Home is where the heart is” message which (particularly considering that she is a girl) might seem a bit outdated. However, I have to remember that this was the 30’s…and it was China! And that it’s not really fair to read this book through such a rigid contemporary lens. Also, after the Kitchen God makes his declaration, Mei Lei ends the book by saying “It will do for a while anyway” with a happy sigh, signifying that she plans on breaking free and finding more outside adventures when she is older. So, I guess, in that sense, Handforth is playing with traditional gender roles. Mei Li is a spunky, resourceful girl who is independent for most of the book. This is definitely fine for the 30’s. I just hope any modern children reading the book won’t get the wrong idea (although…I’d be surprised if children were still reading this!)

The text isn’t as “illuminating” as the pictures. With sentences like “Inside the house on the morning before New Year’s Day, everyone was very busy,” Handforth wasn’t much of a writer. The text never really pulled me in; and I doubt it will do the same for today’s youth. But as an adult, I appreciate the illustrations and the history behind them.

6/10 (4 for the illustrations, 2 for the writing)

Check this book out on Amazon, Open Library, and your local library!