Monday, May 18, 2009

Community Helpers: Where Do We Get It?

Daily, we eat. We buy groceries - canned goods, produce, baking supplies, and more. We cook them, often keeping children busy in another room, though we occasionally involve them. the whole business is a little removed from them. We sometimes go to restaurants, where someone else cooks behind closed doors, food appearing even more mysteriously than at home. So how to lead them to understanding and appreciating all the hard work behind these meals they eat (or refuse)? How to explain the logisitics, the late-night shelf-stocking, the care and pride that goes into supplying food for us?

Here are a handful of books of community helpers that illuminate the goings-on in stores, groceries, and restaurants, a great way to show kids what it takes to get a dinner on their table. Not only will you bring them to greater understanding of the world around them, but you will expand their vocabulary and maybe - just maybe - even get a little appreciation at mealtime. Maybe.


The Candystore Man, by Jonathan London, ill. Kevin O'Malley

This book is more ode to a superpopular neighbourhood character than it is a look at how the man runs his store, but part of what makes him so special is his engagement with his community. He treats the winning football team to milkshakes and pinball, takes a blind boy to a basketball game, and shells out on Hallowe'en, not to mention being on cool cat. The story is written in a be-bop beat, as if in tribute to the candy store man's obvious love for all things jazzy, and O'Mally's illustrations would add fun to a funeral, so while a bit slight on the actual job involved, it's a winner for sharing at storytime.

A Fruit & Vegetable Man, by Roni Schotter, ill. Jeanette Winter

Ruby is a greengrocder who takes great pride in his work, choosing the best produce, stacking it artistically, and serving his customers well. New arrival Sun Ho soon becomes a young admirer of Ruby, who is much beloved in the neighbourhood, and asks Ruby to show him how he does it. Ruby takes him along on a day, teaching him how to choose, haggle, stack, and serve, all of which pays off when he for the first time becomes to sick to open the store for a few days. When he returns, he finds that Sun Ho and his family have been taking care of business for him, and decides that he can at last retire, leaving the community in good hands. This is a nice bok about taking pride in your work and serving your customers with integrity, and it really shows the dedication in some of those mainstays of the world around us.

The Storekeeper, by Tracey Campbell Pearson

This homey book follows the day of a general store proprieter who opens early, orders new stock, sorts mail, shelves product, and serves donuts while she helps out pretty much everyone in town wanting one thing or another. It is simply told, with some detail added in the cute drawings, but shows how busy it is to keep a small business running. There may not be too many small general stores left in the world, but I think it can translate to many a small business owner!


Market Day, by Lois Ehlert

This book shows a farming family loading up and going into town for market day, and is told in rhyme. The illustrations are a bit strange, but really interesting - a collage of folk art items that give the whole thing a sort of Central or South American feel. While this is not how a lot of North America has ben typically buying its food, the farmer's market is on the rise, and families who frequent them might really enjoy this relatable glimpse into their food's suppliers.

Feast For 10, by Cathryn Falwell

A family gets ready for a big family dinner in this cute counting book, starting with a trip to the grocery store, and continuing with the preparation of the meal. The paper-and-cloth collage illustrations are terrific, and I love the level of detail. It feels jut like any family outing to the grocer's, with one of the five children riding on the cart, others helping gather the ingredients for dinner. I also love it when a picture book features of family of colour without the story being about that, and this family is a good-looking one, to be sure.

The Little Red Hen (Makes a Pizza), by Philemon Sturges, ill. Amy Walrod

This urban take on the familiar tale of the little red hen is a winner. In it, the hen decides to make a pizza, and as she discovers the many things she will need and doesn't have, she is, as expected, given no help by her friends, who are out playing in the street. Instead, she runs out to the hardware store, the supermarkt, and the delicatessen to get what she neds, cooks it up herself, and in the end, breaks with th traditional tale and shares it with her shiftless friends. They repay her kindness by helping with th dishes, showing that they are no complete do-nothings after all. The story is definitely a fun retelling, but what pushes it into fantastic trritory is the comedic details in the paper collage illustrations - the selections and labels of the food in her pantry alone make it worth taking this treat home to share.


Piggy's Pancake Parlour, by David McPhail

This is found in the picture book section, but it is sort of a picture-early chapter hybrid, as it is much more text-heavy than you average picture, and divided into chapters for easily reading it over a few nights of storytime, if you wish. In it we meet piggy, and discover how he learned to cook pancakes, how he met fox, and how the two of them went on to open a pancake restaurant together, including the story of how they experimented with having a model train deliver the pancakes to customers, but found it easier to do by hand in the end. It's a lovely book, a tale of friendship and work paying off in something wonderful, and a good story overall. McPhail's typically beautiful and finely detailed illustrations make the whole thing sing.

Big Jimmy's Kum Kau Chinese Take Out, by Ted Lewin

A young boy takes us with him as he spends the day helping out at his dad's chinese takeout restaurant. We see the ingredients delivered, the kitchen cleaned and the cooking stations prepared, the meat and vegetables chopped, and huge bowls of rice and noodles made ready. The boy folds menus while he waits for opening time, and once they do open up, the rush begins. Phones ring and woks sizzle as the boy helps stuff bags with orders, bringing them out to customers, and taking a moment to eat after the lunch rush. At the end of the day, though, he eats his favourite - pizza! Lewin's incredibly gorgeous watercolours bring this work to life, and in an artis's note at the end he notes that the restaurant is a real place in Brooklyn, and that the paintings were done from photographs he took, though the people are fictional and added in from other sources. It is, in a word, a prfect look into the running of a busy chinese restaurant.

Originally posted on Better Than a Playdate.

Monday, May 4, 2009

National Treasure: Barbara Reid

Barbara Reid is another one of Canada's great children's authors, and may be familiar to many of you, whether you know of her full range of books or not. Many of her books are favourites, but only one small and lesser-known set have gone into a series, making her somewhat less well-known than she ought to be. She is an illustrator of other people's books as well as an author/illustrator, so you may even have seen her art without ever having read what she has written herself. Either way, you should just make sure you know she has a good handful of wonderful books to be discovered.

What's so special about her, that I should call her a national treasure? I first became aware of her for her illustrations, which are phenomenal. A master of plastiscine, she shapes, blends, and texturizes with more detail than anyone I have seen in this medium, and even, sometimes, incorporates little bits of found stuff into the images, giving them an extra dimension of real life. Not only are her details incredible, but she has a gift for faces, something I always appreciate in an artist. So after enjoying her work on Jo Ellen Bogart's Gifts and Beverley Allinson's Effie, most notably, I began to notice her own work, and loved it even more. It turns out that as great as her genius for the image, her skill as a storyteller matches it. She uses lovely storytellerly details that give her stories a feel of modern fairy tales, and when she uses rhyme, she does it with skill and a nice, readable metre. Treasure, indeed. Here are some of my favourites:

Subway Mouse

This is one of her tales that is at once thoroughly modern, taking place in a subway system inhabited by a gang of tattooed mice, yet retains something of the air of a classic tale in its journey and its delightfully satisfying ending. Toronto readers will recognize a lot of details, and this work is an example of her incorporating lots of scraps of real objects that work perfectly to bring her already nicely detailed world that much closer to perfection.

The Golden Goose

I adore this twist on fairy tales and their often-spoiled princesses. Here, a pragmatic and earth-loving girl is completely misunderstood by her loving but status-conscious father, who wants to buy her some happiness and in his attempts, destroys the very things that she loves. In the end, her story fortunately intersects with that of a young man who has found a golden goose and is being tailed by a gaggle of greedy townspeople. The two hit it off perfectly, and are able to return her favourite places to the little patch of what they consider heaven. Her father may be left scratching his head, but he's happy she's happy, and all is well with a nice, modest couple. Sweet, full of great values without talking about them, and charming in its execution, I have given this as a gift more than once.

The Party

Anyone who has attended a big family party will appreciate how well she picks up on what goes on, from an aunt's big smooch to chasing around with cousins to the sleepy ride home later than usual. it's note perfect, and the rhyming works nicely, something I always watch for.

Zoe's Sunny Day / Rainy Day / Windy Day / Snowy Day

This set of simple books tells about what Zoe gets up to in different types of weather, and make a great introduction to talking about weather. Perfect for toddlers and early preschoolers, they are short and capture what it's like to be a young kid at the mercy of the outdoors and your mother's dictates.

Sing a Song of Mother Goose

She may not be an author in the truest sense of the word here, but she has put together one of my favourite collections of nursery rhymes, right up there with those illustrated by Rosemary Wells and by Kady MacDonald Denton, some illustrious (ha!) company, if ever there was.

Fox Walked Alone and Two By Two

These stories are both about Noah's Ark, but the Fox version is told from the point of view of the fox. Reid has said that she wrote it partly to try to answer some of the many questions the story had raised for her. If you are planning to introduce a child to this tale, one or both of these would be a wonderful way to do it.

Fun With Modeling Clay

In this how-to art book, Reid shares some of her tips and tricks to teach kids how to play with clay. Imagine, lessons from the master... A great way to extend her stories, to bring the concept of illustration home more fully to children, or add an extra dimension to an author study.

Originally posted on Better Than a Playdate.