Jenny's Library

Reading Round-up 2014: week 4

Posted on: June 10, 2014

cover image for Diego Rivera: His World and OursDiego Rivera: His World and Ours by Duncan Tonatiuh

Born in Mexico, Diego Rivera traveled to far off places, like Madrid and Paris, to learn to paint.  But it was back home in Mexico where he made his most celebrated paintings – murals that depicted the lives of the citizens of Mexico.  Ordinary people as well as rulers, workers and warriors, all from both the world around him and from his country’s past.  If Rivera were alive today, what parts of your life do you think would be in his murals?

Diego Rivera does a wonderful job of explaining this artist’s work to children.  While it does include some biographical information in order to give context to his work, that isn’t the focus.  Instead, the book talks about Rivera’s artistic choices and the history and culture that his work brought attention to.  Tonatiuh’s own art is one of the highlight’s of the book; while clearly different from Rivera’s in style, the same influences of history and culture are evident, making it perfect for this topic.  The strong outlines, rich colors, consistent posing, and symmetry make the illustrations easy for children to read, while the depth of textures, the range of expressions, and variety of settings, actions, and clothing styles invite them to look deeper. Tonatiuh also ends the book by asking children to think about what kinds of murals Rivera might paint today, comparing and contrasting luchadores with Aztec warriors, students with factory workers, and malls with street vendors.*  In doing so he emphasizes the impact that Rivera’s work had on ordinary, everyday people, and encourages children to see their own lives through new eyes.

* Also science fiction movies with Aztec gods? I don’t know what that was about, and it came across as rather disrespectful to me, alas.

cover image for Hot Hot Roti for Dada-jiHot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji by F. Zia, illustrated by Ken Min

Aneel love having his grandparents around. Especially when Dada-ji tells him stories about the village he used to live in when he was a boy, and the hot, hot roti he would eat to build up his strength. How else could he wrestle water buffalo or make the earth rumble beneath him? Soon, both Aneel and Dada-ji are both hungry for some hot, hot roti.  But no one will help Aneel make any!  So he decides to make some himself.

There’s a lot to love in this book.  The writing is solid – it works well as a read-aloud and incorporates Hindu words and phrases without breaking the flow of the story or making it seem like we are getting a language lesson.  The plot is complicated for such a short book (with flashbacks and tales within tales and going back and forth between the real and the fantastic) but it’s never confusing or distracting.  The pictures match the story perfectly as well, and Min does a wonderful job of illustrating in such a way as to help younger readers distinguish between the here and now and the tall tales Aneel’s grandfather tells him.

Overall, it’s a sweet story about family, home, and spending time with loved ones.

cover image for The Christmas CoatThe Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve, illustrated by Ellen Beier

Winter has arrived, and Christmas is on it’s way.  Virginia longs for a new coat to keep her warm, one that fits just right.  Especially when she has to walk through  wind and rain to get to school.  As her community prepares for holidays, Virginia does her best to think of others, but that doesn’t stop her from longing for a coat that’s just right for her.

I’m going to take the fact that this book won an American Indian Youth Literature Award as further proof of just how few books include native american children in them, and how even fewer of those do so respectfully.  This is not a bad book, and would make a good addition to any Christmas display, but it’s not really an example of great children’s literature either.  What it does do, however, is show native american children in true and realistic settings, and that’s depressingly rare.  (Debbie Reese has a review of the book at American Indians in Children’s Literature, and I strongly recommend reading that for a better understanding of what the book does well.)

cover image for Hide and Seekcover image for Wiggle

Hide and Seek by Taro Gomi

A cute and different type of “can you spot the difference?” book.  Can you spot the candles on the giraffe? Very small children may need help finding the objects listed in the rhymes, but the visual repetition and adorable animals will delight children of all ages.

Wiggle! by Taro Gomi

With a little imagination, and Gomi’s delightful illustrations, your finger can help make a cat’s tail wiggle, a chameleon’s tongue stick out, or an elephant’s trunk swing.  Not all of the actions quite work (the crocodile flashes his fang?) but all are sure to amuse.

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