Swashby & The Sea by Beth Ferry & Juana Martinez-Neal (picture book)
Ferry, Beth. and Juana Martinez-Neal, illustrator. Swashby & The Sea. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: 2020.
Swashby is a seemingly grumpy recluse who has retired to the sea for peace and serenity, and especially to keep to his salty self. The sea, who features heavily as a character, gives him everything he needs, when he needs and life is as calm as can be on the shore. Until … one day, granny and the girl show up next door… The pacing and predictability of the text, which follows a clear arc, is impeccable, with page turns coming at exactly the right moments, to find what has been written in the sand and how the sea has, repeatedly, “fiddled” with it, “just a little bit.
Children could imagine and draw what messages they would like to write in the sand, or could imagine their perfect day at the beach. With the theme of unintentional and intergenerational friendship, kids could also discuss the qualities of a good friend. The text, for added humor, includes some pirate-speak. The illustrations evoke the calm of a sea shore, with muted tan beaches and blue hues, with just a splash of yellow here and there. In addition to the sea who is personified as a character, children might delight in finding the seagull on almost every page watching carefully over Swashby and his new friends.
How to Find a Fox by Nilah Magruder (picture book)
Magruder, Nilah. How to Find a Fox. New York: Feiwel and Friends, 2016.
A determined little girl, with camera in hand, is off to find a fox! Adventure ensues! Almost! The book takes us step by step through how to find a fox but readers and the girl will find that foxes are sneaky, and always just out of sight. Kids will delight in finding the fox on every page, hiding in plain sight from the girl. What to do when the fox can’t be found? Kick rocks? Take a nap? Go home? The illustrations are rendered digitally and feature a large part of the narrative arc. At one point, when the girl climbs the tree for a new perspective (vocab!), the book must be turned vertically to see the illustration from her vantage point. At some points, the text is a bit sparse yet the plot remains predictable and engaging. Perhaps it would have benefited from even more repetitious language. While the pacing on each page doesn’t always flow naturally, the page turns usually allow for that dramatic effect and will have kids eager to find out if she finds the fox. It’s wonderful that How to Find a Fox provides representation of a girl of color exploring the wild.
Children can guess the ending, practice making predictions, and talk about the theme of the story (not to give up! be patient! Sometimes what you’re looking for finds you instead!?). Students can imagine they are looking for their own creature (be it a real live or mythological animal) and illustrate a short book of their own about how to find them.
Saturday by Oge Mora (Picture Book)
Mora, Oge. Saturday. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2019.
Saturday is the second book from Providence resident Oge Mora. Previously recognized as a Caldecott Honor for Thank You, Omu. This delightful picture book won the 2020 Boston Globe—Horn Book Picture Book Award. Saturday is supposed to be special and splendid for characters Ava and her mom. While the book surely is splendid, this particular Saturday, mom’s only day off work, keeps getting ruined. With visual emphasis on the word Saturday, offering a golden opportunity for children to time in, the book is a collaged sequence of mishaps at every regular Saturday outing. At every turn, of events and the page, after every ZOOM! we are reminded to pause, breathe deeply, and keep going because “today will be special. Today will be splendid. Today is Saturday!” The refrain has been stuck in my head since I read it with classes a few weeks ago, owing to the fact that this lovely little story will most certainly become a classic.
The illustrations are vibrant with contrasting compositions made from collage shapes. At each step in the sequence, there is a new vista, a zoom out of one of the places they’ll go on Saturdays, and then, as they encounter misfortunes, an up close highlight of the two characters focusing on how to get through. Children delight in finding text in the images from the collaged pieces. The plot becomes predictable and the repetition allows for deep engagement and enjoyment. In the end, we find a clear wrap up of the theme conveyed throughout, the best part of Saturdays is spending them together. The text can be used with children to model coping strategies when things don’t go as planned, as well as to make connections to self by writing or drawing about a favorite day spent with loved ones. When reading to a group I would try to be sure that there are no iffy mother-child situations that could cause the book to be a trigger.
Use Your Imagination by Nicola O’Byrne (picture book)
O’Byrne, Nicola. Use Your Imagination. Somerville, MA: Nosy Crow, 2014.
Rabbit and wolf take readers through a silly retelling of a classic fairy tale or two. Rabbit is bored, alone on a blank white page but for a wolf’s giant shadow (foreshadowing!) overcasting him and looking like it’s going to gobble him up. Wolf shows up claiming to be a librarian ready to take Rabbit on an adventure through a story. Together they plot out the elements of the story in order to imagine a delicious fairy tale. Unfortunately for the wolf, the rabbit realizes he can use his imagination to escape becoming dinner.
The text is bold on the page, playing with fonts in order to call attention to different elements as well as be large enough for listeners in a group to be able to read when reading in chorus. Textual patterns evoke Little Red Riding while listeners can chime in to answer the wolf’s questions and use their own imaginations to create story possibilities and predict the ending – which changes with a simple twist. The illustrations, which feature the characters on a stark white background for the majority of the story, allow young children to pinpoint the story elements – characters, setting, etc. – while also keeping them engaged through the animal’s facial expressions and the occasional parrot appearance. When the plot twist occurs, the abrupt change is illustrated by leaving behind the white background for a bright red rocket ship taking off against a blue gradated background that opens up to a full four block page.
The story can be used to help teach young learners the basic elements of the story (character, setting, problem, resolution) as well as to work as a springboard for them to use their own imaginations and create a new story, perhaps also featuring Rabbit and Wolf… and parrot!