Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Chicken Thief and Other Wordless (or nearly wordless) Picture Books

In Beatrice Rodriguez’s The Chicken Thief, a fox runs off with a plump white hen, and is pursued by the chicken’s friends: a bear, a rabbit, and a rooster. Expressive, detail-rich illustrations fill the panoramic pages as the animals chase through the forest, up and through a mountain, and across a stormy sea. A surprise develops gradually over the course of the story – a gentle romance between fox and chicken. Other surprises lend a little humor: how did the chicken get those sunglasses for the boat ride, for example? The furious and jilted rooster's expressions throughout the book are also pretty funny - Rodriguez has a cartoonist's knack for conveying a lot of emotion and information in a deft ink stroke. Readers who enjoy this book might also like to find out what happens next in Rodriguez's sequel, Fox and Hen Together, such as what creature hatches from the egg (!!).

Wordless picture books are a great choice for many readers and situations! They are perfect for parents to engage in dialogic reading with their children – asking questions and discussing the illustrations in order to tell the story. Young almost-readers can find fun and encouragement in being able to read wordless stories independently, and develop their reading comprehension and narrative skills along the way. Confident readers can enjoy wordless picture books, too, applying their own creativity in telling the story and exploring the details in the illustrations.

Most importantly, wordless picture books are fun and engaging. With the illustrations providing the entirety of the narrative, character, and setting, many wordless books are also quite beautiful.

Other wordless picture books:
The Tree House by Marije Tolman & Ronald Tolman
Ice by Arthur Geisert
The Red Book and other titles by Barbara Lehman
Chalk by Bill Thomson
Flotsam by David Wiesner
Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann
Truck by Donald Crews

Friday, July 1, 2011

Picture Book Biographies About Modern Art and Artists

"Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude.
And Alice is Alice.
And Gertrude and Alice are Gertrude and Alice."

In this playful picture book biography of Modernist poet Gertrude Stein, author Jonah Winter adopts a style similar to Stein’s repetitive, declarative, grammar-bending writing, playing up the elements of humor and fun. Gertrude and Alice’s world is revealed in scenes from their life in Paris in the nineteen-teens, including a party with their artist friends:

“It’s Pablo Picasso the Spanish artist.
 Pablo Picasso looks so angry but no.
Pablo Picasso is Pablo Picasso.
He just invented Modern art
which is not the same as being angry
but then again maybe it is.
Maybe it is
and maybe it isn’t.
Then again maybe it is.
It’s so hard to invent
Modern art.
Maybe it is
maybe it isn’t.

Gertrude writes, Alice types, they go for a walk with Basket the dog, they drive in the countryside and have a dinner party. Colorful, painterly illustrations by Calef Brown fill the pages, and the bold text marches around the page in varying sizes. Modern art is the underlying subject of this biography, but one of its principles seems to apply just as readily to its primary subject: “A picture is a picture. It can be whatever it wants to be.” In Winter's biography, Gertrude Stein is happy and confident being her idiosyncratic self.

This book is a welcoming introduction to Modern art and Modernism – it would be a great choice for teachers working on relevant arts or history units. Its breezy, cheerful tone would also make it equally fun for a family read-aloud. Kids who are excited about art, or adults interested in the characters populating the art world of Paris in the early 20th century, will enjoy this unusual biography.

Other picture book biographies of modern artists:
Ballet for Martha: the Making of Appalachian Spring by Jan Greenburg
Action Jackson by Jan Greenburg and Sandra Jordan
Frida by Jonah Winter
Picasso and the Girl With a Ponytail by Laurence Anholt