As a writer, surrounding oneself with books, poems, articles, and pieces of literature that inspire is always a good thing to do. On this page, I'll review some books and such that really touch me!
The Three Ninja Pigs
Yes. The Three Ninja Pigs. What a title, right? It certainly grabbed my attention!
Where to start with this book? Well, in October, I attended a SCBWI conference and during one of the workshops, an editor mentioned this book. She ranted and raved about it. Then, a completely different editor mentioned it in a later session. Of course, my attention was peaked. , I am always interested in reading things that others speak highly of so I can form my own opinions and then learn while in the process. But those editors were right! This book is great!
The Three Ninja Pigs, written by Corey Rosen Schwartz and illustrated by Dan Santat is a re-write of the well known fairy tale The Three Little Pigs. Except, it has a little more “kick” to it! The three pigs in this book decide to take matters into their own hooves, and begin taking martial arts classes to prepare themselves just in case they ever have to come face to face with that mean ol’ wolf. And it was a good thing they did, because shortly after, the wolf comes knocking. The pigs show the wolf their moves, some a little more successfully than others, and soon, that wolf is history!
There are several things I really like about this book. First, since it’s a fairy tale, The Three Ninja Pigs still has a moral. However, this story’s moral “practice makes perfect” doesn’t feel clichéd or didactic since it’s done in a clever way. It still comes across but without going overboard. Plus, the book written in rhyme, and the rhymes are done well and are witty and comical too (anyone who can find a rhyme for dojo is okay in my book). The rhymes carry the story in a fun and lively way while still allowing the moral to come across clearly.
I also really appreciate that the third pig, our hero of the story, is a girl who put a lot of effort into learning her craft while her brothers lost interest and gave up. It’s nice to see a female holding her own, especially in something like martial arts which can sometimes be considered “for boys.”
Lastly, this book has some educational content that informs children without being preachy. For example, there is a short glossary at the end that defines some of the martial arts related words used in the book including “gi” and “kiya.” Additionally, the three pigs learn three different types of martial arts: aikido, jujitsu, and karate. I enjoyed this since karate is a relatively well known form, yet the other two forms will probably be new to young readers, teaching them something novel.
Not only does this book include a fresh take on an age-old tale with fun, rhyming words, but the pictures are beautifully done as well. Santat captures movement and emotion incredibly well, and incorporates some Japanese-related pictures that are very relevant to the book. I’d certainly recommend this book to story-lovers everywhere!
If you’d like to check out some more of Corey Rosen Schwartz or Dan Santat’s work, visit their websites below:
Corey Rosen Schwartz: http://coreyrosenschwartz.com/Home.html
Dan Santat: http://dansantat.tumblr.com/
Whenever I go to a bookstore, I like to peruse book covers and titles to see if any peak my interest. If they do, I’ll grab them and read them for fun, as well as for study. Sometimes, I find books that are so great, that I can’t bear to leave them behind and I end up purchasing them before I leave (even when I did not intend to purchase anything during my visit). Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein is one of those diamonds that I found. Funny enough, the title stuck out to me because I thought “What an odd name for a book. Why would someone name their book that?” But after reading it, I couldn’t think of a better book name for it.
As the front cover of the book and the title imply, it’s a book about a little chicken who interrupts her Papa as he attempts to read bedtime stories to help her wind down for bed. However, no matter what book he reads, she ends up interrupting the story and adding her own twist to how it should end, even though Papa asks her not to. This hilarious book is simple, fun, and relatable. And better still is how this charming story ends.
As anyone who has ever tried to put a young child to bed knows, it isn’t always the easiest thing to do. But, Interrupting Chicken is such an entertaining book for adults and children alike, I could certainly see a squirmy listener sitting still to see to what will happen next. Here, both the reader and the adult can relate to the characters within the story.
Stein does an amazing job illustrating the text, and the text within the text. I enjoyed looking at the different styles of illustration between Little Red Chicken’s world, the bedtime stories, and Little Red Chicken’s own illustrations. It is easy to see why this book was selected as a Caldecott Honor book for 2011 as well as making the New York Times Bestseller list!
Here’s David Ezra Stein’s website if you’d like to peruse some of his other work: http://www.davidezra.com/
My Name is Not Isabella
Recently, I took a basic children’s writing workshop with JoAnne Stewart Wetzel. At the end of her class, JoAnne shared books by students she taught in the past, that are now published children’s book authors. One of the books she shared was My Name is Not Isabella written by Jennifer Fosberry (JoAnne’s past student) and illustrated by Mike Litwin. Although JoAnne only read a few pages to us, I was hooked. I went right home and ordered it from Amazon! Then, due to my impatience and eagerness to know how the book finished, I found it at Barnes and Nobel and read it as I waited for my own copy to come in the mail.
My Name is Not Isabella is about a young girl who transforms herself into historical women figures as she goes through her day. First, she becomes Sally Ride the astronaut as she “blasts” herself from her bed, later she becomes Rosa Parks on her ride to school on the school bus, and finally, she becomes a number of other great women as she finishes her day. The story is engaging, the pictures are captivating, and Fosberry’s use of describing words that relate to each of the historical woman being referenced is witty and fresh! Last but not least, the very end of the book includes a short biographical blub about each of the women described in the story, as well as a work cited so that interested readers can find out more about these great women who changed the world.
With all this said, I also really appreciate how vividly Fosberry shows that children can be whatever they want to be with the use of knowledge and creativity. As writers, we learn to “show, don’t tell” and I feel that Fosberry nailed it with this book! I truly love this book (so much so that I read it to my critique group during our holiday gathering) and I recommend it to anyone and everyone, especially those who want to inspire ambition in little girls everywhere. And of course, I am not the only person to love this book. Isabella hit #10 on the New York Times Best Seller list in 2010.
Fosberry and Litwin also have another version for boys called My Name is Not Alexander.
You can check out Jennifer Fosberry’s website at: http://www.jfosberry.com/
The Story of Ferdinand
For the longest time, I had heard of the books The Story of Ferdinand, but never had much of an interest in reading it, even though I always try to read as many books as I can (ones that interest me and ones that don’t) since I understand how important it is to become well versed in the children’s book market. Then, I purchased a book of classic children’s stories, including Corduroy, Madeline, Winnie-the-Pooh, and of course The Story of Ferdinand, to name a few. Finally, I opened the book up to the page with a black and white bull holding a flower in his mouth. Upon reading the story, I was in love.
The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf, and illustrated by Robert Lawson, is a story about a young bull who was perfectly happy spending his life sitting in the meadow, sniffing flowers, even though it was out of the norm for what all the other bulls did. Once day, a turn of events led Ferdinand to the bull fights of Madrid where he was up against some major foes who had preconceived notions of how Ferdinand should be. However, Ferdinand was a simple bull with simple wants in life, and allowing his personality to show even against Banderilleros, Picadores, Matadores, Ladies with flowers in their hair, and a stadium packed with watchers, Ferdinand’s true-to-self actions led him right back where he always wanted to be.
I really enjoyed the simplicity of this book. Its pictures are in black in white ink drawings, and the words are simple and match the tone of the book and Ferdinand’s personality. I can certainly see why this book is considered a classic. Lastly, I especially love how Leaf shows that even when faced with adversity, Ferdinand stayed to true to himself and all ended well. That is definitely a great message for anyone to hear, young and old alike.
In a Blue Room
In a Blue Room is 32-paged picture book written by Jim Averbeck and illustrated by Tricia Tusa. This lyrical book explores Alice's journey from wide-eyed wakefulness to a peaceful night's sleep. Not only is this story wonderful as a bedtime story, but it does a fantastic job of tying in two concepts (colors and the five senses) in a fresh and fun way. Teachers could use this book in the classroom to introduce the five senses, but also to talk about colors.
I truly enjoy this book because Jim's word choice is impeccable, and the combination of his words and Tricia's illustrations create such an engaging book. I especially enjoy how poetic this story is, even though it is not written in rhyme. AND, Jim does all of this beautifully with less than 220 words.
This book is a great read-aloud story, and I would recommend it to everyone!
Not to mention, I had the pleasure of meeting Jim Averbeck when I attended his book release event for In a Blue Room a few years ago. He even signed and stamped my book for me, and offered some publishing advice. He was such a nice person, and I hope our paths cross again on my Publishing Journey.
You can check out his blog at: http://www.jimaverbeckbooks.com/