Category: exceptional illustrations

Ta Da!! (2010 Newbery & Caldecott)

By , January 19, 2010 2:06 am

Yesterday morning was the big announcement of this year’s Newbery and Caldecott children’s book award winners. Drum roll please…


John Newbery:

“The Newbery Medal is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.”


2010 WINNER – When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

2010 HONORS –

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip M. Hoose

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin (YIPPEE!! Bought this for my 9 year-old for Christmas!)

Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick


Randolph Caldecott:

“The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.”


2010 WINNER – The Lion & the Mouseby Jerry Pinkney

2010 HONORS –

All the World illustrated by Marla Frazee, written by Liz Garton Scanlon

Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski, written by Joyce Sidman


PS: How well do you know your children’s book awards? If you can’t tell your Theodor Seuss Geisel Award from your Pura Belpré Award, then you can read up on them all here.

Nasreen’s Secret School (Jeanette Winter) – Review

By , October 28, 2009 9:48 pm

If you like multicultural children’s books, then I hope you are familiar with the books published by the Global Fund for Children.  The Global Fund for Children recently discovered my review of their wonderful Global Babies board book and contacted me regarding a review of a brand new book, Nasreen’s Secret School.

I am very picky when it comes to requests to review books, most queries end up in my email trash.   But I just knew that this book would be of great interest to us, and to many of you who read Unplug Your Kids, so I accepted this particular request.  Soon I was sent a free review copy of Nasreen’s Secret School.

Nasreen’s Secret School by Jeanette Winter is subtitled “A True Story from Afghanistan.”  It is published by Simon & Schuster for the Global Fund for Children.  The author based this book on a story told to her by an organization supported by The Global Fund for Children that aided secret schools for girls during the reign of the Taliban (1996-2001).

This is the powerful tale of young Nasreen, a little Afghan girl who has not spoken since her parents’ disappearance.  The narrator, Nasreen’s grandmother, is determined to get her out of the house and into school, but girls are not allowed to attend school in Afghanistan:

“The Taliban soldiers don’t want girls to learn about the world, the way Nasreen’s mama and I learned when we were girls.”

There were “whispers” about a secret school for girls behind a green gate.  Nasreen and her veiled grandmother hurry down alleyways to towards the green gate, hoping not to be seen by soldiers (women were not allowed to leave the home without a male relative):  “Please Allah, open her eyes to the world” prays her grandmother.

My 7 and 9 year-old loved this book and I still often come across them reading it and rereading it in quiet corners of the house.  My daughter (age 9) said she liked that it was a true story and how it showed that not all children have the same life she does.

Although the book is written in a simple picture book format, it is recommended for ages 6 to 9.  On every page you will find a vibrant acrylic illustration (also by Jeanette Winter) and just a few short sentences.

Despite its colorful picture book appearance, I would agree that this is not a book for very young or sensitive children due to the serious subject matter.  Nasreen’s father is taken away by soldiers and her mother never returns home after going off to try and find him.  Although mention of these events is brief, it could be distressing for littler ones.

The ultimate feel of the book though, is very uplifting.  It celebrates the strength of ordinary people (particularly women) to overcome adversity and carry on.  It is a wonderful lesson for older children in the value of education and how an education opens windows to the world, and that knowledge is always with you, “like a good friend.”

We also liked the tidbits of Afghan culture that are sprinkled throughout:  Nasreen’s ancient city Herat was once a beautiful place where music and learning “flourished.”  When a soldier demands to enter the school, he finds only a room full of girls reading the Koran, which is allowed (the girls hid their schoolwork).   The women wear a burqa and are completely covered while out in the streets and the girls wear headscarves.  This book offers lots to discuss and discover about Afghan culture, history and politics.

There is additional interesting information about Afghanistan in an author’s note.  Teachers and parents might find it helpful as a starting point for teaching about modern Afghanistan.

Thumbs up from us for this beautiful and educational multicultural book!


Magical Reads! By Elizabeth Orton Jones

By , July 1, 2009 3:28 pm

While surfing the “What Others Bought” links at Amazon one day last winter, I discovered the wonderful old book Twig, by author and illustrator Elzabeth Orton Jones (1910-2005).  My 8 year-old daughter really likes tales of fairies and magic and this book sounded perfect.  It WAS perfect.  My daughter adored it and read it in one sitting!

She even chose it for her school book report book, complete with a cute diorama (I wish we had saved that to illustrate this post, but alas, it was taken apart and scattered who knows where).

This 1942 story centers around Twig (which was also the author’s nickname), a lonely little girl who decides one day to make a fairy house out of a discarded old tomato can.  I will let you discover the wonderful adventure that ensues.

I am so grateful to Purple House Press, the publisher of our 2002 edition of Twig, for their wonderful work in reprinting this lost treasure!  The mission of Purple House Press is:

“to revive long lost, but well loved children’s books. Today’s children deserve to read wholesome stories from a simpler time and we know grownups want to revisit with old childhood friends too!”

You can still order Twig from the Purple House Press website, but all they have left are more expensive editions autographed by Elizabeth Orton Jones.  We loved the book so much, that I just ordered an autographed copy to have in our collection of very special, keep always, books.

You can also order new (from Amazon affiliate sellers only) or used copies of Twig from Amazon.  Our copy was a used one from an Amazon seller but it was in like-new condition and far less expensive than the Amazon affiliates’ new editions.

After enjoying Twig, my daughter wanted to read more books by Elizabeth Orton Jones. I searched about and found Big Susan, written in 1947 and also published by Purple House Press in 2002.

Big Susan is about a little girl and her dollhouse (the story is based on the actual doll house and dolls that the author played with as a child).  The dollhouse is in complete disarray on Christmas Eve, the one night of the year where the dolls can come to life.

We read this story together as a bedtime book and I laughed out loud at the descriptions of the poor dolls (Nurse was standing on her head in the bathroom wash basin) and the general state of the dollhouse.  It reminded me of our always-messy dollhouse. It also, sadly, somewhat resembles our own house at times (although I have yet to find myself upside down in a wash basin)!

This is a sweet story all about Christmas magic, love, friendship and giving.  My children and I all loved it and were sorry to see it end.  Although it is more of a girl book I suppose, my 7 year-old son adored it and was actually the most eager to keep reading on every night.

Big Susan is easier to find than Twig.  You can order it directly from Purple House, or from Amazon.

Trust me. These are books you’ll love and want to keep to pass down to your grandchildren!

Here are pictures of the text of Twig, to give you some idea of the reading level (it is 152 pages long) – recommended ages 6 to 12:

Here is Big Susan (a slightly easier reading level than Twig with only 83 pages and lots of sweet illustrations by the author) – recommended ages 6 to 10:


1940’s Innocence – Maj Lindman’s Series (Chapter Books Suitable for Extra-Young Readers)

By , October 16, 2008 1:39 pm

I am on a roll with Swedish children’s books after last week’s recommendation of Astrid Lindgren’s The Children of Noisy Village and Happy Times in Noisy Village.  That post reminded me of Maj Lindman’s two lovely series:  Flicka, Ricka, Dicka and Snipp, Snapp, Snurr.

Don’t you love it when you wander into a thrift store and discover something wonderful?  I know I do.  It always brightens my day when that happens.  Snipp, Snapp, Snurr, and the Reindeer and Flicka, Ricka, Dicka and the Three Kittens were that kind of happy thrift store find!

The Snipp, Snap, Snurr series (first published in the U.S. in 1957) is about three adventurous little Swedish boys in, I would estimate, the 1930’s or ’40’s.  Although the books seem to be written with boys in mind, my daughters love them too.

The Flicka, Ricka, Dicka books (first U.S. publication was 1941) are about (you guessed it!) three adventurous little Swedish girls of that era.  Again, although targeted toward girls, my son loves these books as much as his sisters do.

The books are short, about 24 pages each.  Since each two page spread includes one page of text (in very large type) and a wonderful Maj Lindman 1950’s-style illustration on the facing page, there are really only 12 pages of text per book.  There are no chapters, but these are entirely suitable for beginning chapter book readers since they are so short and fairly simple:

Each book involves an innocent adventure with a little bit of minor drama (boys lost in the snow, a missing cat, etc.) that is, of course, always happily resolved.  None of it is too suspenseful or frightening which makes it appropriate for even the youngest new readers.

Also, if you don’t mind buying from Amazon, they are all part of the 4-for-3 promotion so you could get four of these wonderful Maj Lindman books for the price of three!

Our first two:

The others (those that are easily available in the U.S.):

Snipp, Snapp, Snurr

Flicka, Ricka, Dicka

Literary Eye Candy (Beautiful Fairy Tales!)

By , June 18, 2008 7:00 am

Anyone who has paid any attention at all to my children’s book recommendations might have noticed that illustrations are very important to me. In fact, I have an illustration prejudice. Most of the books I review are classified in the “exceptional illustrations” category because that is what I like. I confess that if a children’s book is well written but I find the illustrations unattractive, I usually think less of the book.

Because of this, we have some really lovely books that literally take my breath away every time I open them up. Just like a gorgeous man with a substandard IQ – who cares about literary quality when the pictures are that incredible to look at! (Just kidding of course…)

If you share my prejudice, then read on!

  • Lovely illustration tip number one: Any fairy tale illustrated by K.Y. Craft or Paul O. Zelinsky will be spectacular in an ornate, Renaissance painting type of way (my personal weakness).
  • Lovely illustration tip number two: Find a book you like the look of on Amazon, and then follow the “customers who bought this also bought” and “what do customers ultimately buy after viewing this item” links, or even the Listmanias in the sidebar, to discover other gorgeous books. How does Amazon “know?”
  • Lovely illustration tip number three: Did I mention K.Y. Craft?

In my mind, fairy tales (classic and not so classic) MUST be sumptuously illustrated. If they are not, or worse – if they are “Disneyfied” (another prejudice on my part), then forget it.

Here are some that we have and enjoy. Be advised that I consider these books to be for older children (ages 5 and up?) because they are very “wordy.” However, you could share them with younger children if you paraphrase the text and just focus on the pictures.

Also, I don’t want to spend a lot of time analyzing the literary value, so not a lot of talk about the text this time. The point here is that the stories are fine, but the illustrations are superb:

Sleeping Beauty by K.Y. Craft is a rich feast for the eyes. The story is pretty much as I remember it from my childhood. The illustrations make it spectacular. To see more of the illustrations, please look at K.Y. Craft’s Sleeping Beauty page on his website.


Cinderella by K.Y. Craft. Of course there are many versions of Cinderella around the world, but this is the one I remember from my childhood here in the US. By the way, I WANT Cinderella’s dress. Wouldn’t it look lovely on me as I browse the produce section at Safeway? K.Y. Craft’s Cinderella page.


King Midas and the Golden Touch as told by by Charlotte Craft and illustrated by (you guessed it!), K.Y. Craft. Again, very traditional story which I like, and sumptuous illustrations. In this book I covet Aurelia’s (the daughter’s) hair. Glossy chestnut ringlets of course. Actually, I want all the hair from all of these K.Y. Craft fairy tales. How come no one has straight hair? I guess that’s why they call them “fairy tales” right? If they were real, they’d all have straight hair and bad skin. More King Midas illustrations.


The Twelve Dancing Princesses as told by Marianna Mayer and illustrated by K.Y. Craft. This is a classic fairy tale that was unknown to me before discovering this book. Apart from the dresses and the ringlets, I like the messages of strong women and overcoming class barriers. Be sure to look at the illustrations on K.Y. Craft’s Twelve Dancing Princesses page. I think this is perhaps the best illustrated of all that I have mentioned so far.


Rumpelstiltskin by Paul O. Zelinsky (adapted from The Brothers Grimm). Very true to what I remember, and illustrations “worth their weight in gold!” Visit Paul O. Zelinsky’s Rumpelstiltskin page to see more. A Caldecott Honor Book.


Rapunzel by Paul O. Zelinsky. Lovely, Renaissance-like oil paintings. The classic Rapunzel tale. Boy, do I want HER hair! One potential word of warning for parents here though: there might be an awkward moment if you have to explain why Rapunzel’s dress grows “tight” around the waist after she marries the visiting prince in a secret ceremony in the tower. My kids didn’t notice a thing, but if you fear this is more detail than you want to get into, then be sure to borrow the book from the library first and read it yourself. Visit Paul O. Zelinsky’s Rapunzel page to see more art. A Caldecott Medal Winner.


The Magic Nesting Doll by Jacqueline K. Ogburn and illustrated by Laurel Long. If I had to choose one of these books as my favorite for the illustrations it would have to be this one. There is a level of fine detail and delicateness to these illustrations beyond even what I see in the other books (and those are quite amazing). In an interesting feminist turn around of the normal fairy tale universe, the beautiful girl actually saves the handsome prince! Another plus: The characters have straight hair. No bad skin though. Unfortunately there is no website that I can find for further illustrations, but trust me, they are gorgeous.

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