The Reading Chair: Spring 2021
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By Shelley Rotner and Anne Woodhull. Photographs by Shelley Rotner. 2019.
New York: Holiday House. 32 pp. Ages 2 to 7.
This book on shapes is so well done that it can be your new go-to on the subject! It presents shapes one by one, offering numerous examples of each. The photographs are clear and artful–not mysterious and obscure–showing shapes in everyday life: in food, in music, in nature, in play, and in motion. There are balls, games of hopscotch, an owl’s eyes, and kites. Bright colors pop off the page, such as yellow lemons and blue-colored eggs. Page turns build anticipation. This excellent nonfiction book includes children of various racial backgrounds and has numerous extension possibilities.
Federico and the Wolf
By Rebecca J. Gomez. Illus. by Elisa Chavarri. 2020.
New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 40 pp. Ages 3 to 7.
This new spin on “Little Red Riding Hood” features a Mexican American boy named Rico who sets off for his Abuelo’s shop with market-fresh veggies to make pico de gallo. You can guess whom Rico meets along the way—el lobo, the wolf! We can skip over a few predictable encounters and jump ahead to the standoff between the wolf and Rico in Abuelo’s shop. Rico knocks the wolf off his feet by feeding him a spicy habanero that Rico has brought for the pico. Abuelo is saved.
This take on the classic story is well told, with lots of tension. The illustrations are full of feeling. It’s not too scary, which is nice for young readers. (For example, the wolf’s demise is simply that he flees for a distant stream to soothe his mouth. And Abuelo hasn’t been eaten; rather, he was hiding in a chest.) The text is peppered with Spanish words and phrases, which are collected in a glossary in the back. A recipe is included as well. This is a stand-out and satisfying addition to the ever-popular reimaginations of the “Little Red Riding Hood” story.
Three Little Kittens
By Barbara McClintock. 2020.
New York: Scholastic Press. 32 pp. Ages birth to 6.
Barbara McClintock, who has written and illustrated children’s books for over 35 years, is beloved for her work depicting children and animals in period-wear costume. Of late, her books have featured a new style of more modern, color-block illustrations that are full of expression and geared toward a younger audience.
On the heels of Vroom! comes Three Little Kittens. McClintock unpacks this classic nursery rhyme into a full story with dialogue, speech bubbles, and emotional suspense as readers follow the three kittens who lost their mittens. The rhyme is rich with themes of childhood that one could easily overlook, such as children’s messy and mischievous ways contrasted with their desire to please the adults who love them.
The book is written for young children but offers plenty of interest for older children as well. Despite the trouble and tears in the story, everything is set right in the end. Even the mouse in a house of cats is invited to the table for another slice of pie.
Looking for Smile
By Ellen Tarlow. Illus. by Lauren Stringer. 2020.
New York: Beach Lane Books. 48 pp. Ages 3 to 5.
Smile is a constant companion to Bear, always spreading itself wide across Bear’s face. They both like nuts and berries and playing in waterfalls. And even when Smile hesitates (such as when Bear sticks his hand in a beehive), Smile gets there eventually, beaming across Bear’s face. With a friend like Smile, it can be easy for Bear—and many of us—to take our everyday happiness for granted.
One day, Bear can’t find Smile in any of their usual places. Smile doesn’t appear during their favorite activities, nor when Bear eats their favorite foods. Where has Smile gone? A bird friend comforts Bear, sitting quietly with him for a long time. They sing and hum together while they wait for Smile, who eventually returns.
Tarlow’s profound story doesn’t name Bear’s affliction directly, but children will relate to riding the ups and downs of everyday moods, which Stringer has expertly captured in the illustrations. In contrast to the colorful pages where Smile can be found, the pages with Bear’s Smile-less moments are rendered in shades of blue. This is a stunning and powerful book.
Sometimes People March
By Tessa Allen. 2020.
New York: Blazer + Bray. 32 pp. Ages 5 and up.
What does it mean to march? This book warms readers up with pictures of ants marching for food and bands marching to the beat of music. But quickly, it shifts to something more serious: People march for change. They march against injustice. They march to protect things they care about and people they love. They find power in coming together. The text gets right to the point, and the illustrations showcase famous moments of activism throughout recent and not-so-recent history, including protests about the environment, child labor, worker protections, women’s rights, civil rights, immigration rights, and disability rights. Back matter gives detail about specific movements and figures depicted in the book. Despite the simple text, the book is rich with historical information that elementary school readers will appreciate.
In each issue we feature a classic book to (re)introduce teachers to old favorites.
By Lois Lenski. 1949. New York: Random House, Inc.
56 pp. Ages birth to 3.
This enduring, classic cowboy story was published over 70 years ago. It tells the tale of a cowboy who cares for his horse, rounds up the cows, and lives on the range with the other cowboys. He tends to his responsibilities diligently and enjoys the camaraderie of his cowboy community. His work ethic and cheerful outlook make him eminently appealing still today. The sentences are short and straightforward, but don’t be fooled by the deceptive simplicity of this story. It paints a picture of a full life of hard work, community, and fulfillment. Lenski includes a glossary and detailed illustrations identifying all the gear that he and his horse wear and use each day (lasso, bridle, chaps, and much more).
Copyright © 2021 by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. See Permissions and Reprints online at NAEYC.org/resources/permissions.
Isabel Baker, MAT, MLS, is president of The Book Vine for Children, a national company dedicated to getting good books into the hands of preschool children and their teachers. Isabel has worked as a children’s librarian and is currently a presenter on early literacy and book selection.
Miriam Baker Schiffer, MFA, is a writer in Brooklyn, New York. She consults on book selections for The Book Vine, in McHenry, Illinois. Miriam’s children’s book, Stella Brings the Family, was published by Chronicle Books in 2015.