Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth

Summary: This moving picture book offers a shining testament to the ability of human beings to find "something beautiful" in even the most unlikely places. An African American girl initially sees only the ugliness of her neighborhood. There is "trash in the courtyard and a broken bottle that looks like fallen stars." On her front door, someone has scrawled the word "DIE," and a homeless lady "sleeps on the sidewalk, wrapped in plastic." Searching for something beautiful?"something that when you have it, your heart is happy"?she polls various neighbors. For an old man it is the touch of a smooth stone; for Miss Delphine, it's the taste of the fried fish sandwich in her diner; for Aunt Carolyn, it's the sound of her baby's laugh. When the girl decides to create her own "something beautiful," she picks up the trash, scrubs her door clean and realizes, "I feel powerful." Wyeth's (Always My Dad) restrained text is thoughtful without being didactic. She creates a city landscape that is neither too dark nor too sweet; and her ending is just right, with the heroine's mother saying that her daughter is her "something beautiful." Soentpiet's (Peacebound Trains) paintings are luminously lifelike. Whether depicting the girl running past a chain-link fence in a dark alley or Miss Delphine's patrons sitting beneath the rows of glinting glasses, the paintings focus on a community with characters so real, readers can almost feel the sunlight on their faces. All ages. Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Classroom Implications
: This book resonates with urban community members and echos the salient point of community action. It offers a different perspective to preserving our environment by marking the importance of preserving ALL environments. It combines concepts of community organizing, social action and environmentalism. I also like the cover because it implies finding beauty in personal identities, as well as communities. This is an important image for our students to see, view and discuss, especially in regards to how community identity mirrors personal identity.


Black and White by David Macaulay

Summary: Publishers Weekly: At first glance, this is a collection of four unrelated stories, each occupying a quarter of every two-page spread, and each a slight enough tale to seem barely worth a book--a boy on a train, parents in a funny mood, a convict's escape and a late commuter train. The magic of Black and White comes not from each story, however, but from the mysterious interactions between them that creates a fifth story. Several motifs linking the tales are immediately apparent, such as trains--real and toy--and newspapers. A second or third reading reveals suggestions of the title theme: Holstein cows, prison uniform stripes. Eventually, the stories begin to merge into a surrealistic tale spanning several levels of reality, e.g.: Are characters in one story traveling on the toy train in another? Answers are never provided--this is not a mystery or puzzle book. Instead, Black and White challenges the reader to use text and pictures in unexpected other writer for adults or children explores this unusual territory the way Macaulay does. All ages. Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Classroom Implications: This post modern text requires sophisticated reading strategies for students to synthesize the information presented in the text. Multiple plotlines interweave simultaneously and blend together using the actual text and the illustrations. One suggested teaching point is to assign groups of students one plot to follow, therefore kids can jigsaw the story together (this aids with synthesizing).


Just a Dream by Chris Van Allsberg

Summary: Two-time Caldecott Medalist Van Allsburg reaches a new pinnacle of excellence in both illustration and storytelling in his latest work. Since his first book, The Garden of Abdul Gasazi, appeared just over a decade ago, he has spun many strange and fantastic modern fairy tales, all of which spill over the edge of reality into magnificent dreamscapes. Here Van Allsburg introduces Walter, a boy who imagines the future as a marvelous time, with tiny airplanes that can be parked on the roof of your house and robots that take care of all your work for you. In the present, however, Walter is a litterbug who can't be bothered to sort the trash for recycling and laughs at Rose, the girl next door, because she receives a sapling for her birthday. One night, when Walter goes to sleep, his bed travels to the future. But he finds neither tiny airplanes nor robots, only piles of trash covering the street where he used to live, acres and acres of stumps where forests used to stand, rows and rows of great smokestacks belching out acrid smoke, and many other environmental nightmares. Van Allsburg renders each of these chilling scenarios in elaborate, superbly executed two-page spreads that echo the best work of M. C. Escher and Winsor McKay (creator of the Little Nemo comic strips). Walter and his bed land right in the middle of the action in each of these hallucinatory paintings, heightening the visual impact and forcing a hard look at the devastation surrounding Van Allsburg's protagonist. An awakened Walter, jolted by his dream, changes his ways: he begins to sort the trash and, like Rose, plants a tree for his birthday. Then his bed takes him to a different future, one where people tend their lawns with powerless mowers and where the trees he and Rose have planted stand tall and strong beneath a blue sky. Not only are Just a Dream 's illustrations some of the most striking Van Allsburg has ever created, but the text is his best yet. Van Allsburg has sacrificed none of the powerful, otherworldly spirit that suffuses his earlier works, and he has taken a step forward by bringing this spirit to bear on a vitally important issue. His fable builds to an urgent plea for action as it sends a rousing message of hope. All ages. Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Cross Curricular Connections: This is really a book with an environmental twist. This fantasy picture book would make a nice pair with Home or Window by Jeannie Baker.


The Sweetest Fig by Chris Van Allsberg

Summary: Grade 3 Up-Another quietly bizarre and stunning picture book from Van Allsburg. In this modern fairy tale, a Parisian dentist (a prissy and sadistic man who even hates his own dog) is given two magic figs by an old woman who tells him, "'They can make your dreams come true.'" Bibot scoffs. However, after the first fig proves to do exactly that (in a scene in which the dentist walks down the street in his underwear, and then the Eiffel Tower droops over), he realizes how precious they are. Night after night, he hypnotizes himself into dreaming that he is the richest man on earth. Finally, he prepares to eat the second fig. But his dog, Marcel, beats him to it, and the following morning, the dentist wakes up as the helpless pup under a bed, with his own face calling to him, "'Time for your walk. Come to Marcel.'" The Sweetest Fig is a superb blend of theme, language, and illustration, with a very grabbing plot as well. The writing is formal yet direct, using simple, deliberate vocabulary to match the elegant setting and mood. The shades of gray, cream, and brown and the calm, stable design enhance this mood. The angle at which readers view scenes is always intriguing and heightens their involvement. Most children old enough to read this complex book on their own will be fascinated and will return to it again and again. Van Allsburg at his best.
Lauralyn Persson, Wilmette Public Library, IL
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Classroom Implications: This text is great to teach point of view and perspective due to the sudden shift at the end of the book. It also lends itself well to characterization and cause and effect concepts.


The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsberg

Summary: This book is a collection of illustrations that resemble old photographs of surreal events and images. Each illustration has an accompanying title and quote that entice the reader to image a plot for the picture. The premise of the book is that a man named Harris Burdick dropped off a sample of his work to a publisher to consider publishing. The sample only includes illustrations with these enticing titles and quotes. The publisher discloses that the artist never returned again. The publisher finds this so compelling, he ends up making a book out of this mystery.

Classroom Implications: The book is set up with a long author's note to the reader, thereby creating a very "real" feeling for this fictitious book. I've used this book over and over when teaching short stories and have ALWAYS led on that the story is "real" with my middle schoolers. They instantly become intrigued with the mystery and look forward to writing stories that accompany the illustration and the quotes. This text is a fantastic wordless fantasy book that serves as inspiration for writing projects in the classroom!


Text Excerpts:

Home by Jeannie Baker

Summary: K-Gr. 3. This wordless picture book with exquisitely detailed collage illustrations speaks eloquently about urban conservation. Every double-page spread is a view through the same window, a view that changes over a generation, beginning with a couple expecting a baby and continuing as the baby grows up, is courted, and is married in the neighborhood street. At first the sprawl and smog nearly smother the view, but gradually the place changes. The community brings back a variety of local plants, and by the time the young woman's own baby is born, trees block the billboards, there are birds on the roof and in the sky, and cyclists and a bus can be seen on the roadway. Suddenly, there's a glimpse of the river in the distance, a dragonfly on the windowsill, and the full moon shines at night. Unlike some collage art, the technique here never gets in the way. The details show and tell a story about the small things in one neighborhood--their fragility, strength, and connection--and their power to make a difference. With each look at the pictures, there's more to see in the crowded neighborhood that is transformed into a wild and beautiful place. Hazel Rochman Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Classroom Implications
: This is a great companion piece with Baker's other book, Window. It takes the opposite look at development and the environment. It starts with an urban decay of a scene. With time, care, and community effort, the city-scape transforms into something beautiful. It would also be a picture book to support Paul Fleishman's book Seedfolks, which is based on social action, community and gardening.


Zoom by Istvan Banyai

Summary: From Booklist:Grades 3-8. Beginning with a close-up of a rooster's comb, each picture zooms out to give a more distant perspective; for example, the "camera" zooms out to show increasingly distant figures of children watching the rooster. Then, a large hand appears, showing that the scene was not depicting a real farm, but a toy farm set. But zoom out a few more times, and the scene reveals that the picture of the girl playing with the farm set is really on the magazine held by a boy, who's sleeping in a chair, which is by a pool, which is on an ocean liner, which is out at sea--no, wait--that picture is on a cruise-line poster on the side of a city bus, but that picture is on a television screen in the Arizona desert . . . and so on until the earth is shown from above, growing smaller with each turn of the page. The final scene is one white dot on a black page. Clear-cut paintings outlined in ink appear on each right-hand page; the left-hand pages are black. Not a story, but an "idea" book, it makes the viewer ask, "What am I really seeing here?" This clever picture book could be intriguing..., depending on the viewer's frame of mind, but children will find it worth a look. Once, anyway. Carolyn Phelan

Sequel Information: Re-Zoom
Summary: From Publishers Weekly:Re-Zoom resumes, or more accurately, reprises, the layout and nothing-is-as-it-seems perspective of last season's Zoom. Featuring detailed drawings backpainted on animation cels, this text-free volume opens with a red-on-blue cave painting that, with the turn of a page, becomes a detail on a wristwatch. The next spread reveals that the watch belongs to a young man doing a rubbing of carved hieroglyphs... and so on. To surprise his audience, which may already expect the sequence of pictures to expand to infinity, as in Zoom, Banyai toys not only with spatial relations but with time and with cultural referents: people in 19th-century garb, admiring an image of Napoleon, turn out to be on a movie set; a woman in traditional Japanese dress sports a yellow Walkman. There are nods to the arts as well. A black-and-white Alfred Hitchcock and a blue bodhisattva sit astride a thundering elephant, and a dejected-looking Picasso rides the New York City subway. The finale-which leaves readers in a subway tunnel as the train's red taillights recede-may not be as mindbending as Zoom's outer-space flight, but is nonetheless a clever solution. All ages. Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.