Category Archives: General

What Do You Do With an Idea?

What Do You Do With an Idea

Kobi Yamada (author)
Mae Besom (illustrator)
Compendium, 2013

Kobi Yamada’s story follow a little kid who gets an idea. His first reaction is curiosity, “Where did it come from? Why is it here?”  What follows is an exploration of the emotional landscape any kid or adult might travel as an idea grows within.

Yamada explores the “strange and fragile” nature of an idea and the vulnerability a person of any age might feel when contemplating owning something truly original.   As the story progresses, the child character moves from a place of reticence to an embrace of the ability to “change the world” with an idea.

The illustrations move from winsome and subdued charcoal or pencil and slowly grow to winsome and celebratory full watercolor.  The illustrations are engaging but never overwhelming.

Themes: Vulnerability, Transformation, Change, Hope, Power, Ownership, Discovery, Judgment, Disbelief, Confidence

Motifs: Idea, Egg, Crown, Child.

The Other Side

The Other SideTheOtherSide
Woodson, Jacqueline.
New York: Putnam, 2001.

This classic picture book tells the tale of two little girls, one African American, one European American, who live on either side of a long fence. The fence does more than divide their yards; it divides their whole town.  It is the kind of fence that grown-ups build, but doesn’t make sense to kids.  So they are told, “Don’t climb over that fence.  It isn’t safe.” But, no one tells them they can’t sit on that fence.  As they do, a friendship begins.

This book is beautiful, both visually and textually.  The language is spare, straightforward and leaves the reader a sense of having experienced the world through a child’s eyes.  The water color illustrations are gorgeous and compelling.  This book is one worth keeping in your personal library.  You will use it again and again.  It would fit easily with a sermon exploring the present day fences we encounter in our world and the ways in which we might venture to and beyond those fences.

Themes: Friendship, Difference, Racism, Anti-oppression, Segregation, Freedom, Acceptance, Courage,

Motifs: Fence, Friend, Jump Rope, Rain, Summer,

Martina the Beautiful Cockroach

Martina the Beautiful Cockroach: A Cuban FolktaleMartina the Beautiful
Carmen Agra Deedy (author), Michael Austin (illustrator)
Peachtree, 2007

Martina Josefina Catalina Cucaracha has reached the age when  a cockroach looks for a spouse. Martina’s grandmother gives her some very surprising advice for meeting her suitors – spill coffee on their shoes. Young and old  alike will be terribly curious about happens when she follows her grandmothers advice.

While some might look at you askance for bringing cucarachas into a sanctuary, even cute ones in story form, this Cuban folktale holds some powerful truths worthy of entering a worship space. The story affirms that the most important thing in a relationship is being understanding and kind even when someone spills coffee on our shoes.

Every religious tradition worth its salt calls us to treat other human beings with compassion and kindness – and this story encourages our children (perhaps especially our girls) to expect kind treatment even when they might spill a little coffee. When recent study tells us that 1 in 10 adolescents report experiencing violence in a dating relationship, its time to make sure this lesson is taught in our worship communities.

Fortunately, the lesson is wrapped in a folk tale with a strong narrative structure that lends itself particularly well to telling. There is a nice pattern of repetition that will make learning the tale easier, and distinct characters that the teller can have fun with. If the story is being read rather than told, the illustrations are bright and lively. They tend to be a little over-caricaturized, and my preference is for telling rather than reading, but it is a good picture book to share as well.

Themes: Kindness, Forgiveness, Respect, Mistakes, Difference, Dating, Anti-Violence,

Motifs: Animals, Cockroaches, Rooster, Pig, Mouse, Grandmother, Coffee, Spill, Spanish, Cuba

Mr. Brown’s Fantastic Hat

Mr. Brown’s Fantastic Hat
Ayano Imai
2013, Minedition

Mr. Brown's Fantastic Hat CoverMr. Brown prefers to be alone, at least that’s what he says. Then one day, a woodpecker takes up residence in his hat – and then another and another. Soon, Mr. Brown’s hat is full of birds. When they all fly away for the winter, Mr. Brown says he doesn’t care, but even he doesn’t believe that. Will the birds return when Mr. Brown wakes from his own hibernation?  What other surprises are in store?

Mr. Brown’s Fantastic Hat is a gorgeous book with a solid message about the power of community and connectedness. The author and illustrator, Ayanao Imai, joins a gentle narrative style with highly engaging yet equally gentle illustrations. The result is a book that children will want to return to again and again.

Imai’s illustrations are spare with subtle variations in color that provide an overall sense of harmony.  Her use of light is strong, but never overpowering.  So many picture books today rush toward the reader with jarring color and over-the-top perspective.  Sometimes that works, but what a delight to encounter Imai’s visual invitation to the reader.  Her work is lively but spare and makes room for a child to enter the picture, and thus the story as a whole.

What will delight young readers most is the placement of small, surprising objects in each scene.  The laundry hanging up to dry includes socks, dish towels and two mushrooms.  A tree branch grows out of the wall.  The objects are so skillfully drawn and carefully composed that it isn’t until after some observation that the objects appear.

The story speaks to loneliness, community, and the power of connection. Those themes will speak to both children and adults and they underscore exactly why we gather in religious community. The story could certainly be adapted for telling, yet the artwork is so perfect it seems a shame not to share it as a book. The details are fine and colors subtle, so you will want the children close to see it.

Themes: Community, Loneliness, Connection, Happiness

Motifs: Bear, Hat, Bird, Migration, Hibernation, Change of Season, Fall, Winter, Spring, Tree, Birdhouse

Reviewer:  Kristin Maier
author, A Good Telling: Bringing Worship to Life with Story

Apple Days: A Rosh Hashanah Story

Apple Days: A Rosh Hashanah Story
Allison Sarnoff Soffer (author), Bob McMahon (illustrator)
2014, Kar-Ben Publishing

Apple Days A Rosh Hashanah Story

Every year Katy and her mom go apple picking before Rosh Hashanah. They carefully pick enough apples to make delicious apple sauce for their family’s celebration.  At the last minute, her mom gets a call from Katy’s aunt.  Katy’s new baby cousin is coming early and her mom won’t be able to go apple picking this year.

Katy is very disappointed and tells each friend and neighbor she sees.  The next day, she is surprised as each of those friends and neighbors hands her an apple as consolation.  Might Katy still end up with enough apples to make her special apple sauce anyway?

This is a sweet little story about the power of community.  The story is geared toward young children (ages 2-7), but the message can be appreciated by any age.  Small acts of kindness in response to a disappointment make a big difference for one child.

Bob McMahon’s illustrations are brightly colored and lively.  The cartoon-like style that he uses will appeal most to younger children.  The story could also be told rather than read.  It would likely take a little adaptation to make it work from the voice of a storyteller, but there is so much potential for a good telling of this gentle little tale.

Religious educators could have some serious fun with the apple sauce recipe in the back.  For congregations outside of the Jewish tradition, this little book could be an opportunity to engage in a bit of respectful interfaith education – a very needed thing in our world.

Reviewer:  Kristin Maier
author, A Good Telling: Bringing Worship to Life with Story