Tag Archives: picture books for older readers
lucy by randy cecil + juggling
Lucy by Randy Cecil (2016).
This book reads like an old-timey movie, in a very good way. Spotlighted moments. Text that accompanies the illustrations, but feels like captions, almost like the title cards of silent films. Just look at that lamppost on the cover and the illustrations—grainy black and white.
And then there are threes. A girl. A stray dog who was not always a stray. A juggling father. Three mornings. Three flashbacks to life before. Three times on stage. Three characters who come together in the end in the most wonderful way.
“About six years ago I adopted a little dog I named Lucy. I soon found that she was funnier, more energetic, and more mischievous than just about any dog I had ever known.”
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First, we follow Lucy the dog through town, all the way to the girl, Eleanor Wische’s house. Eleanor attaches sausage to a piece of string and lowers it through the window to where Lucy waits. This feels like a magic trick and relates to the father, Sam, who is a juggler, its own kind of magic. The dog is the girl’s secret. Juggling is the father’s—every time he unveils it, his hands don’t work. Lucy the dog has secrets too: her sneaks into the butcher shop to steal a snack, her untold memories of her former life.
As for how juggling made its way into the book, it definitely has nothing to do with my ability to juggle, because I can’t juggle at all.
I probably had the idea of a vaudeville environment first, because I thought it would be visually interesting, and because of all the fun acts I could potentially come up with. So I wanted a character that aspired to be a part of that world.
And I naturally have a lot of empathy for anyone trying to make a career in the arts, and felt very comfortable writing about that. Juggling is just a lot more fun to look at than images of someone writing or drawing!
There is also a great deal of searching in this book. A dog searches for a girl. A girl searches for a dog. Sam searches for a way to perform in front of people without fright. And in the end, they find what they are looking for at The Palace Theater in a show that brings all the story strands together. And then they all go home. They find home.
Big thanks to Candlewick for images and Randy Cecil for quotes!
LUCY. Copyright © 2016 by Randy Cecil. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
I thought it would be fun to watch some juggling in the spirit of Cecil’s Lucy and then, perhaps to try some ourselves. Sounds like a pretty good summer activity for kids.
Francis Brunn was a regular on the Ed Sullivan show and his performance incorporates dazzling gymnastics and dance and other feats of marvel and precision. (This clip has a whole lot of humor as well.) Adequately describing his juggling has been compared to “trying to describe the flight of a swallow.”
Francis Brunn’s sister Lottie was also a wonderful juggler (as showcased in this dreamy video)! I find this one mesmerizing.
Anthony Gatto, retired, is one of the world’s best jugglers and performed in Cirque du Soleil. The skill and excitement of this performance is extraordinary.
Now your turn.
voice of freedom: fannie lou hamer, spirit of the civil rights movement
Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (2015).
A remarkable book for a remarkable woman. Just look at that cover! It so beautifully captures her spirit with vivid yet textured collage. Fannie Lou— sunlight, voice, and beacon for the other voting rights activists silhouetted behind her. She wears yellow almost every time she’s pictured throughout this gorgeously-illustrated book.
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VOICE OF FREEDOM. Text copyright © 2015 by Carole Boston Weatherford. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Ekua Holmes. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
Each spread is an illustration accompanied by a first person poem telling Fannie’s story from her own (imagined combined with quoted) point of view. Every one will move you.
“My mother taught me years ago that black is beautiful.”
Beginning. 1917. Mississippi. The youngest of twenty children. Her parents, sharecroppers. Soon, her dragging cotton in the fields too. “Sharecropping was just slavery by a gentler name. The same folks still had us, had in chains.” But she had a strong, loving mother who gave her a black doll to help her feel proud of who she was.
“When you read…you know—
and you can help yourself and others.”
Middle. Marriage. Hard work. Motherhood. Fannie Lou adopted two children and then was tricked into an operation to prevent her from having any biologically.
She was introduced to her right to vote, a right not honored by any stretch. Fired. Fired at. Beat up. Still, she sang for freedom and civil rights. Fannie Lou ran for congress. She spoke to student volunteers and to lawmakers. She made a televised speech to the Democratic convention about her experience.
“The only thing they could do was kill me
and it seemed like they’d been trying to do that a little bit
at a time ever since I could remember.”
End. 1977. Fannie Lou left a legacy of fighting for justice, helping others, and making a difference by being committed and courageous.
This is a book for the older set of picture book readers (and for everyone) to learn about this important story of civil rights, in the details not just the big moments. To get a glimpse into that struggle and to see how any progress ever made is made by people like Fannie Lou. In fits and starts and setbacks and fierce determination, despite powerful opposition, to see small steps accomplished so all benefit.
You can read Hamer’s testimony about being arrested and beaten when trying to register to vote in Mississippi here.
And Candlewick has a brief video about the book, including an appearance from its author here.
Big thanks to Candlewick for images of the book!
the enemy & the tomato patch: picture books on peace
Not only do these two share some similarities in look—subdued colors, line drawings, strangely-shaped figures—but they also share two young men as main characters. They also share theme. In different ways, they’re both about peace. Individuals not entities. Food not weapons. Come see…
The Enemy by Davide Cali and Serge Bloch (2007).
Not an easy book. After all, the setting is a hole, well two holes, in the middle of a desert in the middle of a war. We follow one of the soldiers in one of the holes.
The two soldiers are hiding from each other. Sometimes shooting at each other. They both light fires to cook. They both get hungry. They both are alone. They both have families back home. They both suffer.
They’ve both been told the other is the enemy. But if the the other guy thinks he’s the enemy, how can the other guy be the enemy too? It’s a conundrum of war seen up close in this story. (That, if it’s not already clear, is not for very young children.)
As our soldier begins to think about the other soldier and even ventures over to his hole, he realizes they are the same. They read the same manuals about the enemy, the only difference is which side the manual targets.
“Maybe he has a family?
I wasn’t expecting this.
They didn’t tell us anything about this.”
At the end, we know the two soldiers have been on the same journey. And we know they’ll stop fighting one another because now, even though they don’t actually know each other, they really do.
The Tomato Patch by William Wondriska (that’s Wondriska of A Long Piece of String design fame) (1964).
This one is less overtly about war, but about fighting tools and what they create. It tells of two kingdoms separated only by a forest. Both kingdoms are full of weapons. They eat food out of cans and they make weapons. That’s it.
Spears and arrows until there isn’t any room for any more. But still, more weapons anyway. Bows, daggers, slingshots.
Then the prince from each kingdom wanders into the forbidden forest. They meet and, together, find a tomato patch. It’s a strange, wondrous, unbelievable thing, especially since their food comes from cans. They laugh, for the first time.
(Aren’t you grateful for that pop of orange-red after all the bleakness?! I am.)
And of course, the girl who tends the tomatoes sends each prince home with a tomato plant. And everything changes. The kingdoms go from weapons to tomatoes. From tomatoes to corn. And instead of wearing armor, they wear the clothes of farmers and weavers. There are no more weapons. They grow food and play games. Sounds great, right?
Two books about war and weapons, but ultimately about empathy and change and hope. About peace.
bird: picture book for the older set
Bird by Zetta Elliott and Shadra Strickland.
This is a book where the illustrations and text go so perfectly together I assumed it was by an author/illustrator. But no, it’s a beautiful collaboration.
Bird is the title of the book, but not just because it’s the nickname of the main character who narrates it.
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Bird draws a pigeon outside his window. He and his Uncle Son go the park and feed pigeons. His Uncle Son and Grandfather flew planes in the war, flew like birds. Uncle Son plays Charlie Parker, “the other bird,” in his apartment. The boy watches birds flying from his rooftop and, one important time, his older brother gives him a book of birds.
“You just remember,
everybody got their somethin’.
And that includes you.”
But there’s also the idea of a bird. Of freedom, of flying.
And even flying away, as in death.
They boy’s older brother, Marcus, is in trouble. With drugs. He only flies away like a bird after struggle and death.
Bird is a book about drug addiction and losing someone you love and who loved you. But it’s also a book about growing up and, thankfully, hope.
Strickland’s illustrations are apropos. Dark, then light. Layered. Imaginative, then realistic. Line drawings like the one Bird makes. Watercolors of city scenes.
“You can fix a broken wing with a splint,
and a bird can fly again,” he said.
“But you can’t fix a broken soul.”
And when you’re lucky enough to get your hands on this book, do take a long look at the spread on which Uncle Son and the narrator discuss their favorite birds. Look for the red specks in the trees, each a cardinal that “looks like a fiery spark blowing through the trees.” Just like a fiery spark of hope in the gloom.
Thanks to Lee and Low Books for images!