12 May 2010

Picture Books on a Sick Day

Nothing like being wiped out by a bad head cold. I took advantage of the unexpected extra time today to plow through my to-be-read pile of picture books. Lucky me--I came across a trio of winners.

Testing the Ice by Sharon Robinson, illus. by Kadir Nelson
Sharon Robinson, whose famous dad Jackie should need no introduction, tells a story from her childhood that focuses on her father's courage--but doesn't involve baseball. Jackie Robinson has moved his young family to the Connecticut countryside. The children pass the summer playing with their neighbors and swimming in the lake on their property. When winter comes, and the children want to ice skate on the frozen lake, Jackie Robinson, now gray-haired and retired, tests the ice. The significance of the anecdote, which astute readers will have realized, is that Jackie Robinson cannot swim. He has methodically stayed out of the water throughout the summer, but now ventures onto the frozen surface ahead of the children. The bravery and self-sacrifice of this act is equated by Sharon Robinson with his initial breaking of the color barrier--tesing the social ice and leading the way for those who would follow behind him. And for the most part, the analogy works. The point is unnecessarily hammered home by a coda at the end of the story, even though the words, "All I could think was: My dad is the bravest man alive," which wraps up the narrative part of the book, would have sufficed. Illustrations by the inimitable Kadir Nelson, whose work is so richly rendered that he really could grace any project (as is evidenced by his contributions to the Spike Lee books) compliment this touching, personal story.

Big Rabbit's Bad Moon by Ramona Badescu, illus by Delphne Durand
Big Rabbit's bad mood is, quite literally, following him everywhere. Personified by a rather friendly looking gray fuzzy monster,  the bad mood is unshakable. No matter what Big Rabbit does--call a friend, listen to some music, turn on the tv--he cannot shake the bad mood. He speaks for all of us who have been plagued by unnameable, lingering moods when he shouts, "Make it stop!" Nearly stymied by obsession with his bad mood, Big Rabbit is finally relieved of it by a surprise birthday party. Which is actually a cop out ending for what was developing into a wise, child-appropriate examination of being in a funk. At no point does the author imply that Rabbit's bad mood is because he fears his birthday has been forgotten; it is the unexplainable nature of the bad mood which makes the story ring true. But be that as it may, there is much to recommend this French import, if only to tell kids that its okay to have a bad mood, because eventually something will come along to chase it away.

Here Comes the Garbage Barge! by Jonah Winter, illus. by Red Nose Studio
Like the Sharon Robinson book, this is a story based on an actual event. Jonah Winter, who has penned many non-fiction gems, tells this factual tale with fictional flair. The sorry saga of the barge Mobro 4000, which set sail from Islip, NY on March 22, 1987, hauling nearly 32,000 tons of garbage, would be comical if it wasn't so disgusting. And Winter does, indeed, use a good deal of humor in the telling of the story. Curt dismissals by outraged residents at each port, regional accents, and an increasingly frazzled barge captain keep the mood of the story light and not at all heavy handed. That humor is also reflected in the hand-built 3D sets used to illustrate the book. Sets, incidentally, which were made out of recycled materials. And they made them, like this:

All in all,  a rewarding way to spend a sick day.

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