Tag Archives: Children’s

Life’s mysteries, from another point of view

October 15, 2014



“God should hang up a mailbox for people to send questions and complaints.”

When your world turns upside down, it may pay to look at it that way.
Young Anna does just that — and takes her grieving father along — in the subtly worded and creatively illustrated “Anna’s Heaven.”
Anna coverTranslated by Don Bartlett from the Norwegian, this picture-heavy and text-terse Eerdman’s Book for Young Readers would make for an interesting parent-child reading time, especially in households dealing with the death of a loved one.
The dialogue between father and daughter mixes the realistic and magical, often terrific role modeling for parents trying to cope with the curveballs life throws.
Stain Hole, both author and illustrator, includes interesting questioning of the role God plays in life’s mysteries.
“Why can’t he who knows everything, who can pull and push and turn over clouds and waves and planets — why can’t he invent something to turn bad into good?” Anna says.
“God should hang up a mailbox for people to send questions and complaints,” Dad answers.
Take this journey to the upside-down world. Oh, and look for Elvis and Pablo Picasso in Anna’s version of the hereafter.

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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


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


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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Don’t look now, but Christmas books are out

October 12, 2010


So you have plenty of time to buy them as gifts, publishers are circulating Christmas titles, and you may find some of these under-the-tree worthy.

“Who’s Hiding?” — for young children

This colorful little book re-tells the Christmas story in words and pictures that  would be enough to keep children and grandchildren on your lap to the end, but the creativity doesn’t stop there.

The little Liguori Publications book features flaps for youngsters to lift open on every two-page spread to find the answer to a who’s hiding question from the text. The thick pages are perfect for tiny hands to turn. What a nice idea by author Vicki Howie and artist Krisztina Kallai Nagy, and just $10.99.

“The Nativity: From the Gospels of Matthew and Luke” — for young readers

Ruth Sanderson depicts the Christmas narrative in classic, traditional illustrations that appear to come from an artist of the Renaissance era rather than the 21st century. Each is Christmas-card beautiful, and framed in the traditional illuminated manuscript style.

The text, however, seems both stilted and unfamiliar to Catholic ears, and appears to be culled from the King James version of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. For example, Joseph and Mary travel to Bethlehem because of “a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.”

Taxed? That may have been the follow-up reason, but my Catholic version of the New American Bible says the whole world would be “enrolled” — and the footnotes call it a census.

There are other examples as well, and knowing the storyline readers may find they’re just skipping the copy altogether and taking in the beauty of the illustrations. “The Nativity” is an Eerdmans Books for Young Readers hardcover.

“A Christmas Carol” — all ages

It’s not what you think. But then again,it is.

Acta Publications has reprinted the Charles Dickens classic in a pretty, easy-to-handle little paperback that’s just 160 pages ($14.95).

As worthwhile reading — and re-reading — as Dickens is, just as valuable is a nine-page introduction by Father John Shea that urges us to rediscover this Christmas-time conversion story.

Father Shea is an accomplished writer and author himself, and he reminds us why “A Christmas Carol” is a classic and why we need to re-read it even though we all know the story of Scrooge and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future.

While looking through a window at Scrooge and his life story, the glass can serve as a mirror, too, reflecting back our own image and pulling us into evaluating our own lives. Dickens would approve. — bz

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