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picture book


the book of mistakes corinna luyken

Looking for a stunningly creative picture book to help reinforce growth mindset with your little humans? The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken has been gracing us with its deceptively minimalistic text and playful illustrations for awhile now, challenging its readers to remember that progress is both normal and beautiful. It’s one of my favorites, and I can’t wait for the day my daughter is old enough to appreciate it as much as I do.

From the first endpaper readers are challenged with with a single floating splotch in a clean, white space - a simple message reminding us that mistakes are often a catalyst for new beginnings. The story continues along this theme as new mistakes are encountered and deliberately chosen to be embraced as building blocks rather than set-backs. It’s a simple message: mistakes hold weight - weight that can pull us down, or weight that can lift us up.

With a whimsical blend of pencil, dark ink, yellows, mints, and soft pinks against a magical use of white negative space, these brilliant illustrations have been known to capture young and old minds alike. Younger students will enjoy predicting, questioning, and inferring their way through the story while allowing their imaginations to explore possibilities. I would recommend reading it in smaller groups or under a projector, however, for some of the illustrations must be looked at closely to appreciate their meaning. Older students, on the other hand, can analyze the literary and artistic techniques while discussing the importance and/or meaning of the phrase, “Set your imagination free”.

This dreamy celebration of embracing our mistakes and exploring new perspectives is a must for those of you who appreciate the marriage of strong literary techniques and relatable themes in a beautifully designed, age-appropriate package.

extra yarn mac barnett & jon klassen

Before passing almost 6 years ago, my grandmother had begun crocheting the beige part of this afghan to be gifted to us at our wedding. We received the unfinished afghan after her passing and held it close until my mother in law suggested that my husband’s Oma in Austria (who has also since passed) finish the work my grandmother had started. She chose a deep blue.

I thought of this afghan when first reading the endearing pages of Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen‘s modern tale of kindness and generosity (sprinkled with a little magic), Extra Yarn.  This award-winning gem, seeping with warmth and charm, follows the ingenuity of a young girl on a transformative mission fueled by a quiet determination. The illustrations and prose are woven as lovingly as the heroine’s knitted sweaters, capturing the imagination in an understated, albeit powerful way.  The perfect read aloud, Extra Yarn emphasizes the power of kindness, generosity, persistence, and humility, especially in the face of skepticism and ridicule.

I’ve been taught to knit numerous times (and have the partially finished scarves to prove it), but have never stuck with it to the completion of a project. I’m so thankful that our grandmothers did what they could, when the could, for our family to be able to pass on something so precious through the years. Extra Yarn embodies this for me, as it’s a beautiful reminder of the power of doing for others, creating with our hands, and dedicating our time to acts of kindness.  I imagine someday reading Extra Yarn with my daughter, watching her find her own enchanted box of yarn, and helping her create gifts for others before we gift her the afghan made by her great-grandmothers who, despite speaking different languages, living continents apart, and never meeting, loved our little family dearly.

Oh, my heart. If you haven’t already read Extra Yarn, I hope you do so soon!

the purloining of prince oleomargarine philip & erin stead

Teaching content involving fairy tales, American Literature, Mark Twain, or delightfully eccentric vocabulary? Looking for an addictive multi-day read aloud with your lower elementary students or a rich study in literary history with your pre-teens?  This treasure, brimming with timeless humor and truth, contains 152 dreamy pages that are just as accessible to the great beyond as they are to their intended audience: children. 

A true meta-fictional collaboration across time, this quirky tale was born as an elaborate bedtime story spontaneously told by Mr. Twain to his daughters. Scribbled notes were written, later protected in the depths of a university library, and forgotten. Over a century later, Twain’s unfinished manuscript was lovingly given new life by the most perfect husband and wife team for the job.

With illustrations that eloquently reflect the layered depth of a tale spoken in a whimsical, yet soft voice, “The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine” is a catalyst for the imagination.  Younger students would likely grasp and enjoy the story best without the imagined conversations between Mr. Twain and Mr. Stead (meta-fictional genius, but a bit advanced for the littlest audience). Older students would benefit from a contextual understanding of Mark Twain, the time period, and the circumstances surrounding the creation and publication of the tale.  It’s a picture book, a chapter book, a fairy tale, and a melding of three of America’s most important literary minds. Plus, just imagine the vocabulary connections - the protagonist’s only true friend is a “melancholic chicken with a peculiar name...Pestilence and Famine”. I mean, COME ON!

a different pond bao phi & thi bui

Confession: I judged this book by its cover, and I’M SO GLAD I DID.

“A Different Pond” written by Bao Phi and illustrated by Thi Bui, both born in Vietnam and raised in the states, is a relevant, poignant portrayal of a family navigating the challenges of the immigrant experience in America. Through language that deceptively packs a punch and wistful illustrations, the story follows a young boy who discovers the depths of his family’s endurance on an early-morning fishing trip to the pond with his father. This refugee narrative is a stunning documentation of love and sacrifice. Seriously, breathtakingly good.

This story is not meant to be read quickly or lightly, but rather thoughtfully and with cautious eyes. Every element of the piece, from cover to cover, is intricately woven together to tell the story in a way that is both unexpected and resonating. It reminds me so much of Thanhha Lai’s “Inside Out and Back Again” - the two would pair wonderfully together.

The next time you’re aimlessly browsing bookshelves, see if you can find this gem (that’s how I did!)

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