Bob Seeney on Books

Three Treasures

March/April, 2016

Just a day or so ago, I received a box from a certain online bookstore and upon opening it, I found three absolute treasures. These three books have been popping up in conversations with book friends, on award lists, in articles, and in reviews. Obviously, I had to have them!

The first is The Farmer and the Clown (2014, Beach Lane Books), a delightful textless book written and illustrated by Marla Frazee. Her illustrations, in black Prismacolor, pencil, and gouache, feature bold figures against full-page subtle landscapes. In this straightforward story, named an ALA Notable Book in 2015, a farmer rescues a baby clown and, after caring for him overnight, gets him back to his family. But that certainly doesn’t do justice to this delightful story of a growing and wonderful relationship between the two characters. Look carefully at the last two pages and your heart will be touched.

I readily admit that the genre of textless books is probably my favorite type of picture book. Not only do we see the creativity of the author/artist but we, the readers, are caught up in the action. Textless books are certainly vehicles to unleash our 2e learners’ creativity as they tell and create multiple stories without struggling over printed words. The Farmer and the Clown is very special.

The next one is Matt De La Peña’s Last Stop on Market Street (2015, G.P. Putnam). Illustrated by Christian Robinson, this delightful tale is the recipient of a rare honor — three prestigious awards: 2016 Newbery Medal, 2016 Caldecott Honor Book, and a 2016 Coretta Scott King Honor Book. Even a quick read confirms that the judges got it right!

In this story, C. J. and his Nana ride the bus each Sunday to the last stop on Market Street. We don’t know their destination until the very end of the book. Along the way, C. J. questions his Nana: Why are they doing this? Why are they waiting in the rain to catch the bus? Why don’t they have a car like his best friend, Colby?
Nana gently teachers her grandson about the beauty of the world around them, the beauty of friends, the beauty of relationships, and the wonder of life itself. Finally, Mr. Dennis, the bus driver, calls out “Last stop on Market Street,” and C.J. and Nana have arrived at their destination — a food kitchen where they help out each Sunday. C. J.’s final comment is “I’m glad we came.” What a delightful book so full of so many lessons. This one is sure to captivate.

Our third treasure is: Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear, by Lindsay Mattick (2015, Little, Brown and Co.). This book, illustrated by Sophie Blackall, is the 2016 Caldecott Medal Winner. At first glance, you think “I have found the perfect goodnight story!” and you have.

It begins with a mother telling her son the true story of a real bear. As her story unfolds, we realize this is the story of Winnie-the-Pooh and the storyteller is the great-granddaughter of Captain Harry Colebourn, who found the original orphaned Winnie on a train station platform as he was off to serve as a veterinarian in World War 1. The story of the relationship between Winnie, Captain Colebourn, and the Second Canadian Infantry Brigade develops with humor, love, and historical facts. But what makes this book so important are the thematic issues that abound. The major one, I think, is that we must follow our hearts. Also important, as our storyteller reminds us, is that “Sometimes…you have to let one story end so the next one can begin.”

At the end of the book is a section entitled, Album. Here we have copies of photos, documents, and the connection with A. A. Milne and his son, the real Christopher Robin. The writing, the story, the themes, and the historical elements make Finding Winne much, much more than just a goodnight story. What a great book to use to introduce readers at home or in the classroom to an investigation of the original Winnie-the-Pooh, but not too early so that your readers will be old enough to appreciate the language and humor that Milne uses in telling his beloved story.

I have long championed the idea, in fact here in this column among other places, that the growing sophistication of picture books makes this an important genre that should be read and used at all grade levels, especially in high school. A study of the interaction of the elements of fiction and the elements of art in picture books leads to a truly advanced study/discussion with serious analysis and problem solving. But perhaps the last word is that “picture books are just plain fun!”

Happy Reading!

Bob Seney

Professor Emeritus Bob Seney is retired from teaching in the Masters of Gifted Studies Program at Mississippi University for Women. At conferences, he often presents a session titled “What’s New in Young Adult Literature.” Reach him at bseney@muw.edu.

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