BEAUTIFUL BLACKBIRD

Blackbird shares his gifts with the birds of Africa in this colorful read-aloud. This adaptation of an Ila story tells of long ago, when all the birds have solid colored, unpatterned feathers, and only Blackbird has any black at all. The other birds agree that Blackbird is the most beautiful, as his black feathers “gleam all colors in the sun.” Blackbird mixes up a little something in his medicine gourd, and presents each bird with some black patterns of its own. The birds are happy with their new designs, and chorus, “Black is beautiful, UH-HUH.” This telling, by the master storyteller, just aches to be read aloud; the lively rhythms keep the simple folktale rollicking along. The cut-paper collage illustrations are full of color, but it’s of blandly similar intensity until Blackbird arrives with his blackening brew. Then the newly patterned birds, gleaming in high-contrast images with their new designs, make for visual excitement as they praise Blackbird for their new look. A good start at challenging learned ways of reading color that reserve black for scary or dull images, the text implies a racial metaphor (unless the refrain “black is beautiful” is focused only on rethinking artistic codes), yet whatever message of tolerance or self-love the text might hold is obscure. Blackbird talks of the difference a little black can make, but he also emphasizes that external appearances do not reflect the inner self. Which of the two is more important is never clarified. Still, the rolling language and appealing illustrations make this a must. (Picture book/folktale. 4-7)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-689-84731-9

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2002

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A sweet, soft conversation starter and a charming gift.

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BECAUSE I HAD A TEACHER

A paean to teachers and their surrogates everywhere.

This gentle ode to a teacher’s skill at inspiring, encouraging, and being a role model is spoken, presumably, from a child’s viewpoint. However, the voice could equally be that of an adult, because who can’t look back upon teachers or other early mentors who gave of themselves and offered their pupils so much? Indeed, some of the self-aware, self-assured expressions herein seem perhaps more realistic as uttered from one who’s already grown. Alternatively, readers won’t fail to note that this small book, illustrated with gentle soy-ink drawings and featuring an adult-child bear duo engaged in various sedentary and lively pursuits, could just as easily be about human parent- (or grandparent-) child pairs: some of the softly colored illustrations depict scenarios that are more likely to occur within a home and/or other family-oriented setting. Makes sense: aren’t parents and other close family members children’s first teachers? This duality suggests that the book might be best shared one-on-one between a nostalgic adult and a child who’s developed some self-confidence, having learned a thing or two from a parent, grandparent, older relative, or classroom instructor.

A sweet, soft conversation starter and a charming gift. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: March 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-943200-08-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Compendium

Review Posted Online: Dec. 14, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

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Clever verse coupled with bold primary-colored images is sure to attract and hone the attention of fun-seeking children...

TOYS GALORE

A fizzy yet revealing romp through the toy world.

Though of standard picture-book size, Stein and illustrator Staake’s latest collaboration (Bugs Galore, 2012, etc.) presents a sweeping compendium of diversions for the young. From fairies and gnomes, race cars and jacks, tin cans and socks, to pots ’n’ pans and a cardboard box, Stein combs the toy kingdom for equally thrilling sources of fun. These light, tightly rhymed quatrains focus nicely on the functions characterizing various objects, such as “Floaty, bubbly, / while-you-wash toys” or “Sharing-secrets- / with-tin-cans toys,” rather than flatly stating their names. Such ambiguity at once offers Staake free artistic rein to depict copious items capable of performing those tasks and provides pre-readers ample freedom to draw from the experiences of their own toy chests as they scan Staake’s vibrant spreads brimming with chunky, digitally rendered objects and children at play. The sense of community and sharing suggested by most of the spreads contributes well to Stein’s ultimate theme, which he frames by asking: “But which toy is / the best toy ever? / The one most fun? / Most cool and clever?” Faced with three concluding pages filled with all sorts of indoor and outside toys to choose from, youngsters may be shocked to learn, on turning to the final spread, that the greatest one of all—“a toy SENSATION!”—proves to be “[y]our very own / imagination.”

Clever verse coupled with bold primary-colored images is sure to attract and hone the attention of fun-seeking children everywhere. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-7636-6254-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2013

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