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Early/Young Readers, Picture Books, STAR OF THE NORTH NOMINEE

2021 MN STAR OF THE NORTH Nominees (Part 2)

I read fewer picture books than I did when my own children were in the target age group. However, I LOVE good picture books and I use them often when teaching theatre to students from pre-school through 12th grade. They are a fantastic tool for developing character, for discovering and building basic story structure and experimenting with language and vocal character choices.

The MN Star of the North Award is the younger counterpart to the Maud Hart Lovelace Award for students in grades 3-8.

Nominees are chosen with students K-Grade 2 in mind.  If a student PreK-2nd Grade reads (or has someone read nominees TO them) 8 of the 10 nominated books then he/she is eligible to vote for the Award!  All the nominees are backlist–although usually only by 1 – 3 years. Online voting takes place in March.

I always find diversity in the Star of the North nominees, which I am constantly looking for both as a reader and a teacher. I also find gems from authors I wasn’t familiar with as well as books from some of my favorite authors that I have missed. (I get ridiculously excited when a book I love shows up on the nominee list!)

This is the second of two posts. Below are the remaining 5 nominees for the 2021 Star of the North Award that I did not share in my last post.

FRY BREAD by Kevin Noble Maillard; Illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal

A beautiful exploration of Native American culture–connectedness–using Fry Bread as a conduit. Maillard’s use of language and imagery engages all the reader’s senses. Martinez-Neal’s illustrations are gentle and joyful with lots of round-edged shapes and accurate representations of the multitude of hair color, style and skin color that make up the Native American population.

Fry Bread introduces the idea of Fry Bread as FOOD, SHAPE, SOUND, COLOR, FLAVOR, TIME, ART, HISTORY, NATION, and LIFE. Maillard shows how this one particular food item is related to Native American culture and identity.

The interactive element of Maillard’s own Fry Bread recipe adds an opportunity for deeper connection to the content–and to each other. I highly recommend reading Maillard’s more in-depth exploration and information about each aspect of Fry Bread he touches on BEFORE reading it at home or in the classroom so you are better equipped to expand on the content of the book if the opportunity presents itself.

BEAR CAME ALONG by Richard T. Morris; Illustrated by LeUyen Pham

First of all, I read this one as an ebook and I do not recommend that format. Typically, I am disappointed in picture books as ebooks but, during the current limitations on libraries it was the only format in which I could immediately check out the book. (I also did a separate post on this one by itself if you want more information about it–as opposed to the shorter summary here.)

Bear is curious about the river, dips his paw in, loses his balance and falls in. Successive animals find themselves thrown into the adventure/mishap (depending on your perception) as they are all carried along on the current toward a waterfall. The author describes the story by saying:

So many different animals living their separate lives, but they didn’t know they were in it together…until…the river came along.

A particularly appropriate and helpful message at this time in our world. I highly recommend reading both the Author’s and the Artist’s Note at the end of the book. They provide an enlightening premise from which to experience the story, itself.

BE KIND by Pat Zietlow Miller; Illustrated by Jen Hill

A little girl sees her classmate, Tanisha, spill grape juice all over herself. Everyone laughs and Tanisha is clearly upset. Our main character feels badly for Tanisha, remembers her mother saying to always “be kind,” and so she tries to make Tanisha feel better. As she searches for a way to extend kindness to Tanisha in a way that will help her feel less distressed, she wonders what, exactly, kindness is:

What does it mean to be kind anyway?

She reflects on some examples: teaching someone else how to do something you’re good at, bringing cookies to someone who lives alone, passing on toys/clothes you’ve outgrown, helping with chores at home or school without being asked, offering to be the new kid’s partner, greeting people by name and sticking up for someone who’s being picked on. She muses on how her own small gesture of kindness might not fix everything, but when joined with small kindnesses of others has the potential to create for ourselves a world “tipped toward love.”

Watercolor illustrations complement the story, progressing from close-ups to larger scale depictions of local, national and international communities, effectively mirroring the ‘big picture’ effect our narrator imagines growing from her single gesture of kindness.

The story and illustrations circle back around to close-ups of the narrator giving Tanisha a special picture she’s drawn for her. In the final layout we see Tanisha hanging that picture on the wall by her bed.

Be Kind beautifully captures both the power of kindness and offers tangible ideas to enact it in our lives.

A MAP INTO THE WORLD by Kao Kalia Yang; Illustrated by Sen Kim

Paj Ntaub and her family move into the green house. Her twin brothers are born. They wave every day to Bob & Ruth next door (who are older than her grandmother). In the Minnesota winter she doesn’t see Bob & Ruth outside as much because it’s too cold. Then one day there are a lot of cars on their street and Paj Ntaub finds out Ruth has died. When spring returns and Bob comes outside again to sit in his yard, Paj Ntaub draws the many things she has found beautiful here in this place over the seasons on the ground between them and tells Bob she has drawn him a Map Into the World–in case he needs it.

A lovely story about the expansive power of human compassion and connection. I see both my children in Paj Ntaub–a lot of children, actually. Paj Ntaub’s family is Hmong and Bob is not. This lovely story is a brilliant representation of the openness in a child’s heart and the inability of superficial differences to stand between a child’s compassion and another human being.

A DOG NAMED DOUG by Karma Wilson; Illustrated by Matt Myers

The entire story is the ‘Dog named Doug’ of the title, digging. He digs so deeply that he encounters animals in their burrows and an old mining cave complete with a crotchety miner. He digs to the White House (and is followed into his tunnel by Secret Service when he leaves). He digs to China, then digs back to his own home, snuggles in with his people to sleep…and dreams of digging.

I enjoy Karma Wilson’s work and A Dog Name Doug is no exception. The text varies from standard print to large block letters which participate in the text like concrete (shape) poems. This technique is actively engaging without distracting from the story. The illustrations visually detail Doug’s path through the country–then the world–with humorous detail and depth of expression. The earth-based tones of brown and orange underground juxtapose brilliantly with the green, blue and white of Doug’s blaze and his above-ground adventures. (I found the White House sequence particularly funny!)

The text rhymes mostly work–there’s just one spot I felt the rhythm broke down. The last illustration of Doug digging in his dream didn’t fit with the rest of the story style-wise. Because it was the last page, it left me a little confused and caused a minor disconnect from the story that went before.

My children and I have enjoyed many Karma Wilson read-alouds and A Dog Named Doug is a perfect choice at home or in the classroom–particularly for young readers who love dogs!


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