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Books on Parade

Picture Books and Easy Readers

Avi -- Author Study
Evaluating Books
Picture Books and Easy Readers
Traditional Literature and Poetry
Nonfiction and Biography
Realistic Fiction

Section 2: Picture Books and Easy Readers

The Twins and the Bird of Darkness: A Hero Tale From the Caribbean by Robert D. San Souci and Illustrated by Terry Widener.


San Souci, Robert D. 2002. The Twins and the Bird of Darkness: A Hero Tale From the Caribbean. Illustrated by Terry Widener. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN: 0-689-83343-1



This is a tale of two brothers, one who is honest and brave and one who is lazy and cowardly.  The two boys go on a quest to save their princess who has been captured by the bird of darkness.  Soliday goes for the good of his island and for generally noble reasons, Salacota goes only to receive the reward while his brother does all of the work.  Once Soliday has slain the bird of darkness and is on his way to release the princess, Salacota pushes him in a hole and leaves him there to claim the prize on his own.  The princess has an inkling that not everything is right with Salacota and persuades her father to postpone awarding the reward for one year and a day.  On the very last day, Soliday finally makes it back home to the island and sets the record straight and Salacota becomes truly remorseful for his actions when he is shown mercy by Soliday. 


The plot of this story flows very naturally and does provide a moral of good triumphing over evil as well as graciousness and forgiveness.  The setting is on a pretty island in the Caribbean which is appropriate since this story is a conglomerate of thirteen variants of an island folktale.  The illustrations also support the island setting.


The writing style is very fluid and paints a great picture for readers.  San Souci never talks down to his readers and allows less experienced readers to gain understanding through context rather than spelling everything out for them.  This is great for growing the vocabularies of younger readers.  The artistic style utilized by Terry Widener is on the expressionistic side which I believe serves the story well.  His chosen medium for this work is acrylic paints, which blend very nicely with the expressionistic style.  A review from Publishers Weekly really captures the essence of the illustrations in this book when they stated, “Widener’s stylized perspectives heighten the sinister aspects of the plot, but his vivid acrylics create a subtle, disquieting tension that intensifies the story’s suspense…”   Even the characterization is much more complete through the illustrations.  The text characterizes Salacota as whiney and selfish but the illustrations really show his sour expressions and really hammer that point home.


Overall I enjoyed this story, it is a nice change of pace from the typical fluffy stories that are common in picture books (not that a fluffy story isn’t nice sometimes too).  It also provides a multicultural perspective of the Caribbean islands folklore.  The only recommendation I would suggest is that this book is probably more appropriate for slightly older children as the very young would probably get a little board with its wordiness. 



There’s A Zoo in Room 22 by Judy Sierra and illustrated by Barney Saltzberg


Sierra, Judy. 2000. There’s A Zoo in Room 22. Illustrated by Barney Saltzberg. New York: Gulliver Books Harcourt, Inc. ISBN:0-15-202033-0


There’s A Zoo in Room 22 is a book of poetry that goes from A to Z with types of animals that the teacher Ms. Darling is allowing her students to keep as class pets.  Each letter of the alphabet gets its own animal and each animal gets its own poem.  Room 22 certainly has a large variety of very strange pets for their classroom.  This book is also somewhat educational in the effect that it introduces new animals that most readers probably are not familiar with and also teaches alternate names for animals that most kids do know.  For example, another name for skunk is a zorilla, Ms. Darling learns this fact along with most readers (or listeners) in a rather comedic last page of this book.  I even had to look that one up to make sure since I was not familiar with this name either.


Sierra’s poetic style is a lot of fun and is very engaging.  She mixes interesting facts with pure silliness which is a sure winner when presenting poetry to children.  The illustrations in this book really do add an incredible amount of interest.  Saltzberg does a great job of capturing the text in pictures.  One thing that he does that will no doubt keep children interested is that there are always more than just the animal being featured portrayed somewhere in the illustration.  Sometimes the other classroom pets are more obvious than others, but adding the dimension of searching the pictures makes this book even more attractive to children.  Saltzberg’s style for these illustrations is very cartoonish.  He used mixed mediums of pencil, watercolor and prisma colors for his art in this book.  This style and chosen mediums really complement the poetry very well and were a very good choice. 


While there are many subtle additions to the illustrations such as the words on the chalkboard and titles of books lying around, there are flaws as well.  The Kirkus review noted, “…the illustrations do not convey personalities. Facial features vary only slightly and expressions of emotion do not vary at all. In each illustration all characters display the same bland smiles, frowns, or looks of mild surprise.”  While admittedly this is true, the overall effect of the pictures is good and does achieve the desired purpose.


I personally enjoyed this book a good deal and even laughed out loud on several of the poems.  This would be a great accessory to a unit on animals, poetry or even for a zoo fieldtrip.



Rise the Moon by Eileen Spinelli and illustrated by Raul Colon


Spinelli, Eileen. 2003. Rise the Moon. Illustrated by Raul Colon. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 0-8037-2601-5


Rise the Moon is a soothing book with very rhythmic verses that tell about all that goes on by the light of the moon.  The dreamy imagery and the soft rhythm of the text make this a very natural lullaby.


The only real setting for this book is nighttime.  All over the world the people and animals that are drawn by the moon’s magnetism are portrayed in very positive and serene verses.  There is a sense of diversity although that is not reinforced through the illustrations.  Spinelli’s style is very whimsical and light which creates the atmosphere of a dreamy moonlit world.  The beautiful verses are mesmerizing and not at all cumbersome.  What really makes this book great though is the illustrations.  Readers will be immediately captivated by the pictures that you do not even want to tear your eyes away from the art to read the four or five lines on the opposite page.  This may be the reason for placing the text in the center of an all white page, to keep it from being swallowed by the pictures.


Raul Colon’s technique of using watercolors then distressing the picture and following up with colored pencils is very unique and beautifully done.  This style creates a texture to the pictures that is intriguing.  It is this texture and richness that draws the eye to these wonderful illustrations.  Colon’s style is somewhat reminiscent of impressionism but may have other influences as well.  These illustrations certainly complement the text as they are as soothing as the words being read.


Gillian Engberg called this book “A beautiful, reassuring celebration of night” in Booklist’s January 2003 issue.  That is certainly an apt description of this sweet lullaby.  I will certainly remember this book to read to my children and nieces at bedtime since that is the most natural time for this particular story.



Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock retold by Eric A. Kimmel and illustrated by Janet Stevens


Kimmel, Eric A. 1988. Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock. Illustrated by Janet Stevens. New York: Holiday House. ISBN: 0-8234-0689-X


Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock originated as a folk tale from West Africa.  It is the story of a very lazy and sneaky spider named Anansi who tricks all of the animals in the jungle and steals all of their hard-earned food.  Little Bush Dear after watching Anansi trick all of the other animals decides that he will teach him a lesson.  So Little Bush Dear beats Anansi at his own game and he and all of the other jungle animals go to reclaim their property.  Unfortunatly, Anansi does not learn his lesson and he continues to play tricks to this very day.


The theme of this story is that hard work pays of and cheaters get what they deserve in the end.  Anansi was very lazy and would never put forth the effort to collect food for himself so he would steal the other animals food that they worked hard for.  In the end Anansi ended up with nothing, which is exactly what he started with, a sort of justice is shown through this.  Another sub theme which is important to mention is that sometime people do not learn their lesson.  They continue to do mean things even if they get in trouble.  This is an important lesson in reality for kids.  Too often children’s books paint an unrealistic picture of the world by suggesting that the bad guy always sees the error of his ways and becomes a good guy in the end.  This is obviously not always true in real life.


The style of writing employed by Kimmel is very fluid.  The story flows along very naturally and there is an element of predictability and repetition that tend to engage young readers and listeners.  Although, Kimmel does use controlled vocabulary, the story is not forced or unnatural.  The reader does not get a sense of being talked down to.


The illustrations by Janet Stevens are a bit cartoonish, however, they are very detailed.  She appears to have used the mixed mediums of watercolor and colored markers.  The rich colors and detailed characters enhance the text of the story very well.  Since this story originated from the oral tradition, it must have been difficult to create illustrations that would add very much to the story at all.  Stevens accomplished this goal wonderfully with the lovely art she created for this book.  Maria B. Salvadore’s review in School Library Journal agrees stating that, “Stevens’ complementary, colorful illustrations add detail, humor and movement to the text.”


This is a very enjoyable trickster tale that is sure to be enjoyed by children and lends itself well to those children just learning to read as well as for reading out loud to classes or small groups.  This book provides a realistic view of the world without being too harsh, a delicate balance that has been achieved beautifully.