Tag Archives: Eerdmans

Kids will like zoo founder’s story as much as the zoo

October 5, 2015

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Fur, Fins, and FeathersNext time you take a child to the zoo, thank Abraham Dee Bartlett.

He’s the one who came up with the idea of putting labels on the exhibits with information about the animals such as what part of the world they can be found in, what kind of habitat they thrive in and what they eat.

The story of this boy who loved animals is told in a 34-page children’s book that bursts with color and all kinds of critters, just the thing to corral the interest of its intended audience of youngsters age five to nine.

“Fur, Fins, and Feathers: Abraham Dee Bartlett and the Invention of the Modern Zoo” is a joyful telling of the life of someone few know of yet whose work many enjoy.

Cassandre Maxwell both wrote and illustrated the Eerdmans book, and, if the story of the boy who grew up to be the superintendent of the London Zoo is a bit too historical for the youngest ones, her charming, detail-filled artwork will keep them searching for species from aardvarks to zebras.

Both informative and entertaining, “Fur, Fins, and Feathers” should be in the hands of moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas all over with little ones on their laps. And the vocabulary isn’t so difficult that young readers won’t be able to handle it themselves.

 

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Story of Jesus perfect for 4-to-8 year olds

May 12, 2014

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Jesus coverLittle children run to Jesus on the cover of this Eerdmans Book for Young Readers, a wonderful image to draw the target age group — 4-to-8 years — into the story of Jesus’ life.
Benedictine Anselm Grün’s retelling of Gospel events is true to Catholic teaching, from the visitation through the nativity and more than a half-dozen highlights of New Testament stories up through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The translation by Laura Watkinson keeps the language simple and age-appropriate, and Giuliano Ferri’s colorful artwork adds to the storytelling, bringing to life the calling of the disciples, for example, the stories of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, the Prodigal Son, and the Last Supper.
Parents and teachers will find “Jesus” an excellent choice reading to children in a home schooling setting or early faith formation.

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Quilts, yes, but so much more

January 10, 2012

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A poet and an illustrator patch together history, art and spirituality in boisterous words and blooming color

What it was like to be a Black slave in the American South — the back-breaking work, the pain, the evil masters, the broken hearts and yet the joy, the inner satisfaction, the compassionate masters, the deep faith — all of it comes at readers full bore in “I Lay My Stitches Down: Poems of American Slavery.”

Cynthia Grady has provided the poems — themselves named for quilts and structured like the patchwork craft of the seamstress — and illustrator Michele Wood uses quilt patterns to the max to dress the poet’s stories in form and color that simply can’t be ignored.

A book just of the poetry itself would be worthy. Grady’s storytelling is teacher-like, thought-provoking as all good poetry is, and musical in the dialect of the slaves themselves.

Phrases like “the devil hisself,” “fetch a good price” and “make your skin goose up” grab your senses — and your sensitivity to what Black people went through during those pre-Emancipation Proclamation decades.

Just like a quilt, each poem incorporates three layers — intentionally, Grady explained — with spiritual, musical and sewing references. Even the shape of each poem — 10 lines of 10 syllables — mirrors the squares of quilt blocks.

Each poem is accompanied not only by one of Wood’s creative illustrations but by a paragraph or two or three of historical background that makes each two-page spread even more informative.

Looking for something different yet spiritual and substantial for Black History Month in February? This Eerdmans Book for Young Readers would fill the bill nicely. Order here from the publisher or check at your local bookstore.

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Van Gogh for children? Story and illustrations paint new book into a confusing corner: Who is the audience?

April 19, 2011

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Are young readers ready for the life story of a famous artist who commits suicide?

That question nagged at me upon several passes through “Vincent van Gogh and the Colors of the Wind.”

Author Chiara Lossani’s text – driven by the 19th century artist’s own letters to Theo, his brother and best friend – offers biographical information, of course, but, even better, insight into the creative mind.

It’s a troubled mind, as we know, and I couldn’t help but wonder how many young readers at the lower end of the target age (seven and up) could handle the alcoholism, the insanity, the frank description of the artist’s roommate, Paul Gauguin, waking up to find van Gogh “standing at the foot of his bed, staring at him with cold eyes, a razor in his hands.”

No less slicing off a piece of his own ear and shooting himself.

Age-appropriate for young readers?

It’s content more appropriate for older students, it would seem, but then I wondered if the children’s book size and the illustrations were such that might turn off, say, a junior high reader.

The fact that the illustrations by Octavia Monaco are full-page for the most part points to that lower-age target audience, yet Monaco’s work is hardly childish. In many instances her use of bright colors echoes van Gogh’s famous paintings, but the artistic subtleties are way above my perception of anything a second-grader would appreciate.

As an adult, I really liked the book, yet I couldn’t help but think this effort in the Eerdmans Books for Young Readers series could have benefited from better design.

First, the reproductions of 14 of van Gogh’s paintings are too small. Just from a size comparison, the art of the book’s illustrator overwhelms the art of the renowned subject of the book! Let me see: Do I want to see van Gogh’s work in a book about van Gogh, or Monaco’s?

Secondly, black type overprinted on dark-colored illustrations is simply difficult to read. Lossani packs lots of information into the 34 pages — I didn’t know van Gogh once had been in the ministry, did you? — but the design does her text no favors.

On the plus side: Giving elementary school students an introduction – any introduction – to the creative arts and the cultural heritage of a van Gogh is an admirable project. Just the lesson Vincent shares with Theo – “Painters teach us to see” – is a lesson worth learning at an early age. – bz

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Art-filled book helps kids know God is real

February 25, 2011

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Believing God exists is a trial even for some grown-ups.

Now there’s a book that will help youngsters build a belief system — and it’s a good refresher course for adults, too.

In “Images of God for Young Children,” author Marie-Helene Delval offers dozens of ways to discover God in the world, from simple ideas like breath and light which we can’t see but know are real, to more concrete concepts like justice and covenant.

“God is a path” and “God is a promise” and “God is a mystery” are just some of the mind-pictures Delval’s words make us imagine. Illustrations by Barbara Nascimbeni have the child-like feel that will help young minds better grasp the ideas.

Adults will hear snatches of Holy Scripture in a number of places, and that’s because the Bible is the base for the teaching within the text.

It’s a text that’s not difficult but yet not simple either. The suggested target is ages 4 through 9, but that may be a stretch for the lower end of that group. You’d have to go with the it’s-never-too-young-to-start approach and not expect instant understanding from a preschooler, not so much for the vocabulary but for the concepts of God as, well, beauty, for one, or majesty.

Those of school age, though, are going to easily pick up on just about all the many images of God because Delval takes examples children in elementary school already know of. Take this excerpt:

God is justice.

Before judging others, we should see, know, and understand who they are, and why they did or did not do something. “We should ‘walk a mile in their shoes,’ as the proverb says….

A tip: Don’t try to read the book in one sitting. For younger ones, a page a day is plenty. Older children will be good for three to five pages at a crack. — bz

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Illustrated book for young readers shows how Black America has lived the Beatitudes

May 6, 2010

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beatitudes cover

“The Beatitudes: From Slavery to Civil Rights,”

Written by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Tim Ladwig

What a great tool to counter the cultural stereotyping and racism that is so much a part of American society.

Author Weatherford’s pen is poetic as she walks readers through the history of the Black experience from the ships that carried spiritual-singing slaves through centuries of segregation and bigotry to the hard-fought years of the Civil Rights movement and even up to the glory of the election of the first African-American U.S. President.

The background music for the journey is the Beatitudes, that striking teaching of Jesus that is captured for us in Matthew’s Gospel (Chapter 5: 3-12).

As your read about the heroes and heroines of Black Americans  and see their images in Ladwig’s colorful paintings, you can’t help but recall the phrase “blessed are” for each and every one. Some are their names are well-known to adults —  Booker T. Washington, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. — but may be new to the young readers for whom this Eerdmans title is intended. Other names will be new to adults as well.

Thankfully, a brief biographical paragraph of each individual is included in the back of the book. These short sketches will be educational for young and old alike.

This is a great book to buy for the young readers in your life. Cheat, though. Read it yourself before wrapping it as a gift. Better yet, have that young reader read it aloud to you. You’ll both be blessed. — bz

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Pray the Rosary by turning the pages

March 11, 2010

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Life of Jesus cover

“The Life of Jesus: An Illustrated Rosary,”

by Mary Billingsley

Artist Mary Billingsley has offered a wonderful gift to the world, a unique, new way to pray the Rosary that stirs the senses, touches the heart and renews the soul.

First, for those unfamiliar with the chain of beads or those who need a refresher course, she spells out the words of all the individual prayers, and in beautifully drawn info graphic style labels exactly how to use each portion of a Rosary.

Her clever paintings then accompany beautifully sounding, simple to grasp language for each prayer of each of the five decades of the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary that long have been part of the Catholic tradition, plus the newer Luminous Mysteries added by Pope John Paul II in 2002.

No Rosary needed

One doesn’t even have to have a Rosary to pray the Rosary with this gorgeous 56-page Eerdmans book that’s a lovely combination of art and text. Just read and pray and turn the page.

If you’re the type of person who takes comfort in your Rosary beads, you’ll get new meaning by reading along as you pray as you always have.

Franciscan Friar of the Renewal Father Benedict Groeschel notes in a foreword that Billingsley crafted this work for children, but that “children of all ages” will find value in the rich text and colorful, creative paintings that depict scenes from the Scripture.

Paintings that fill the senses

While the text tells the Bible stories in plain English, the paintings are busy, eclectic works that force readers to scour every corner for the little  details that Billingsley has dropped in to make elaborate scenes.

They are the fruit of a unique process in which Billingsley takes found objects — an old gate, a hand-made crutch, a hunk of ribbon — and creates a shrine of a scene from Jesus’ life — Finding Jesus in the Temple,  the Marriage Feast at Cana, the Last Supper — which she then paints.

Every time you look at one of the scenes you’ll see something you hadn’t seen before.

The whole package of words and pictures makes almost sensory overload, but what it really does it add additional meaning to what can often can become prayer by rote. — bz

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What’s in a name? A lot, if it’s yours!

November 24, 2009

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“My Name is Sangoel,”
written by Karen Lynn Williams
and Khadra Mohammed,
illustrated by Catherine Stock

Shaquille O’Neal was the name that broke the ice.

Across the United States a great angst was fomenting as families with non-traditional ethnic backgrounds named their children what to many “American” ears were strange sounding names.

Remember hearing folks ask “Why can’t they give their kids a ‘normal’ name?”

Recall being stymied in trying to pronounce unique names, those with unique spellings, and especially names from other cultures?

Then came the personable, photogenic and talented basketball player named Shaquille. Our ears started to get used to the sound of a name that wasn’t Tom or Dave, Jennifer or Jane.

The need for open-mindedness about unique names multiplies as refugees from around the world continue to flee war, hunger and oppression in lands where many names offer a test to American ears.

Authors Williams and Mohammed give us a different perspective on the phenomenon. In this colorful children’s book, readers learn what it’s like to be the African boy from Sudan who finds no one in his new country can pronounce his name.

Too different to even try

After his father is killed in war, Sangoel lives in a refugee camp until the day he and his mother and sister can emigrate to the United States.

Everything is new in this new land, and although he is only eight Sangoel is the man of the family, he takes responsibility to help his mother and sister make their way.

As the first-born son who as Dinka tradition has it is named after his father, his grandfather, and his ancestors through the ages, young Sangoel heeds his grandfather’s parting words: “You will be Sangoel. Even in America.”

That proves to be quite the challenge.

Hanging on to his name with pride, the boy despairs that no one in the United States — not the social worker helping his family resettle, not doctors, not teachers, classmates, coaches or soccer teammates — can rightly say his name.

Some don’t even try — an experience with which many an American with an ethnic last name can surely identify and empathize. People see an “ski,” a “wicz,” an accent mark or an apostrophe in a name and they don’t even attempt to sound out a pronunciation.

In this beautifully illustrated work from the collection of Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, Sangoel’s creativity enables him to teach others to say his name correctly — and to be accepted in his new environment without leaving behind the heritage of his native homeland.

Reading “My Name is Sangoel” — pronounced “Sun-Goal” — makes for a teachable moment, an opportunity to address at least one prejudice our nation of immigrants can live without. — bz

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Help for teaching siblings they don’t have to be rivals

November 4, 2009

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“Brown Bear, White Bear,”

written by Svetlana Petrovic,

illustrated by Vincent Hardy

The four-year old and the two-year old sat beside me, their eyes glued to the pages as grandpa read this cute little story.

Neither granddaughter moved a muscle until story’s end.

That’s a good children’s book.

The gist of the tale is that two grandmothers who compete for little Alice’s favor both gift her with bears. The bears, however, don’t get along with one another any better than the grandmas do as they vie to see which one of them Alice likes best.

Their teddy-bear version of sibling rivalry escalates to the point where young Alice needs to give both a time out — something the pre-school set will understand — and some good lessons follow.

‘Adult rivalry’ too

As much as this is a children’s book, adults who pay attention while they are reading it to youngsters have a good chance of picking up on the silliness of their “adult rivalry” for the affection of a child.

And I couldn’t help but wonder if Ellie (age 4) and Sarah (age 2) could transfer the bears’ poor behavior toward one another to the way they themselves sometimes treat each other. That’s going to take some work by adults.

But repeated readings are going to help with that, and sure enough, as soon as we turned the last page of this colorful Eerdmans book the plea came up: “Read it again, grandpa.”

That’s a good children’s book. — bz
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When baby No. 2 comes along…

September 11, 2009

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“Not Yet, Rose,”

written by Susanna Leonard Hill,

illustrated by Nicole Rutten

“Is the baby here yet?”

Every parent who has another baby on the way will empathize with the answer “Not Yet, Rose.”

Better yet, parents will want to read it to their toddlers — and because the story is so right on, they won’t mind reading it over-and-over — fact-of-life for parents of toddlers — because it offers such teachable moments.

Teachable moments for adults are there, too, for those able to get past the exasperation of their child/children and see the book’s parents as role models worth emulating.

Sibling rivalry is most likely going to happen later, for sure, but Hill’s gentle touch is sure to ease the mind of many a first-born as they wonder about their own life after the baby comes out of mommy’s tummy.

Will my life change? Will it be the same?

Do I want a brother? Would a sister be better?

Maybe I don’t want a brother or a sister at all!

Rutten’s illustrations with their soft palate and warm tones create just the right atmosphere for cuddling up with this wonderfully done book from Eerdmans.

Baby No. 2 on the way? Buy this book. — bz

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