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25/03/2018

April Literature Review

With the vernal equinox in mind, this month’s selection of texts is full of life and colour: all three are beautifully illustrated and all convey a sense of vitality, newness and growth. But the growth element runs deeper too because we are not just thinking literally of the seed-planting, shoot-sprouting and flower-blooming that usually (forgive the pun) springs to mind in April but also growth of mind. Growth-mindset is something that we feel should feature hugely in the literature that our children are exposed to; it really is the only way that we can bring about positive change in our world and ‘grow’ strong, resilient, impassioned and caring young people. And so we bring forth seeds that could be planted with your own seedlings, be they at home or in school: These are Animals by Daniel Egneus; The Digger and the Flower by Joseph Kuefler and Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison. Each beautifully nurtured from germination through to the budding and blooming. Enjoy!

 

Early Years Non-fiction

These Are Animals by Daniel Egneus (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 8th March 2018)

 This is not your average picture book about animals and it is surprisingly uplifting in comparison to Egneus’ typical artwork. If you are familiar with his cover illustrations for Neil Gaiman’s American Gods novellas for adults then you’ll know to what we are referring! What Egneus has done here is quite exceptional: he takes us on a whistle-stop world-tour of animals in their different habitats and uses delightful combinations of verbs, preposition phrases and onomatopoeic words without having any set pattern so that it doesn’t become too-predictable or banal:

 ‘THESE ARE ANIMALS.

Some are wide and some are TALL,

Long and thin, round and small.’

 Then every category – by habitat – is signified by a ‘THESE ARE…’ title:

‘THESE ARE POLAR ANIMALS, THESE ARE RAINFOREST ANIMALS’ and so on.

 The content is factually accurate too as all of the animals featured may indeed do, say, or move in the way that the author suggests:

 ‘Giraffes have looong necks…Crabs scuttle from side to side…And all fish swim beneath the sunlit sky.’

 There is some use of rhyme and repetition but also some stand-alone statements making this such a brilliant text to support the development of phonics phase 1 and beyond whilst also exposing children to a range of sentence types and grammatical forms which, we feel, is rather clever. Would work equally well to support topic-work as a simple reference book as it would a read-aloud text.

 

Key Stage 1 Narrative Non-Fiction Picture Book

The Digger and the Flower by Joseph Kuefler (Balzer + Bray, 8th March 2018)

 

Fans of the iconic ‘The Flower’ by John Light will enjoy this book that is similar in theme: Digger – admittedly an unlikely hero – spends his days with the other machines, Crane and Dozer. They work together to build ‘tall buildings for working…, roads for driving… and bridges for crossing.’ Digger is hard-working and diligent and keeps digging when the others rest. This is when he discovers a small, blue flower in the rubble: The flower was tiny, but it was beautiful’. And from then on, while the other machines work, he visits the flower daily, watering it, shielding it from the wind and singing it a bedtime song. But then all the land has been built upon with the exception of one small space in which grows the tiny, beautiful flower. Dozer becomes angry at Digger’s reluctance to build where the flower stands and cuts the flower down. Digger is devastated and, weeping, cradles the tiny flower in his huge, metallic scoop. But then he spots the little seeds that have fallen from the cut flower. And so he drives far, far out of the city into the countryside:

 

‘There, Digger stopped.

He dug and scooped…

And tucked the seeds

into the warm earth.’

 And there grows not one but several flowers which he waters, shields from the wind and sings a bedtime song to each night.

This is so achingly beautiful with a strong ecological message but also themes of being different and behaving differently from others. But whilst it has depth of theme, it is utterly relatable for young children. Perfect to support topic work on life-cycles of plants but would also work brilliantly for a few sessions as a whole class or group guided reading text in year 1.

 

 Key Stage 2 Non-fiction

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison (Puffin, 1st March 2018)

 Curiously enough, some reviewers have this title listed as suitable for ages 4-7 but we actually feel that the content would be better suited to children aged 7/8-11. Sometimes there is a misconception around illustrated books and that they must only be for younger children but whilst Harrison’s illustrations are undeniably soft, and ‘cutsey’ even, there is grit and steel behind the stories: all of these women are true roses, some with thorns that protected and helped them be shored-up whilst enduring the sticky burrs of others and shadows cast by the sun threatening their growth. All of the women featured have either faced difficulties and overcome obstacles to achieve the extraordinary, or have simply been trail-blazers by being the first to do something that no other African American woman had done before them.

 Vashti Harrison began her career as an artist and filmmaker but then, sneaking into animation and illustration classes whilst studying at the California Institute of the Arts, she developed a cartoon-esque sense of illustrative style and is now ‘crafter’ of stories for children.

 In her introduction, Harrison explains: ‘This book grew out of a project I began during Black History month. It started as a drawing challenge to myself to illustrate one African American woman from history every day for the month of February and post the finished image to social media with a brief summary of the woman’s accomplishments.’ Through this, she felt deeply moved by the stories that she uncovered whilst researching and so decided to turn what had been a social-media project into a book. She reflects upon about how different her life might have been had she ‘known about all these women when (she) was growing up’ citing that if she’d known there were so many people, achieving so many wonderful things who looked like her when she was little then she might have dared to dream different things: ‘To be able to see yourself in someone else’s story can be life changing.’ Harrison is clear that this isn’t in any way a book ‘only for black girls’ and hopes that ‘anyone who reads these biographies – whether or not they look like these Little Leaders – is inspired to go after the things they are passionate about.’

 Amongst those featured are the famous: singers including Ella Fitzgerald and Shirley Bassey; abolitionists, Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman; Florence ‘Flo-Jo’ Joyner the sprinter; but also lesser- known women whose contributions are just as valuable and valued – filmmaker, Julie Dash; Nasa mathematician Katherine Johnson and Zora Neale Hurston, writer, folklorist and anthropologist.

 Each potted biography is so beautifully written that for those Little Leaders who have passed on, they make a fitting tribute and for those who remain on this earth, they give well-deserved recognition of acts of science, genius, performance and courage that have helped mindsets to grow. This would work well as a reference book as the content within each biography is sufficiently detailed. It is a must-have book for any home and should be in every school library and class book corner. 

Posted in: Literature Review

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