Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Wild & Wonderful Wednesday: Tales from Around the World

Today I'm highlighting two great picture books about people and places outside of the United States.  This is my favorite kind of book because it gives me a glimpse of worlds beyond my own.  They also show that despite the many differences between people from other countries, there is much that we have in common as well.

The Boy Who Wanted to Cook
written by Gloria Whelan, illustrated by Steve Adams
Sleeping Bear Press, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-58536-534-0
Grades K-5
Reviewed from purchased copy. 

La Bonne Vache (The Good Cow) is a little restaurant in the south of France. It takes its name from and is famous for its boeuf a la mode, a delicious beef stew. Ten-year-old Pierre longs to follow in the culinary footsteps of his father. Pierre spends as much time as possible in the restaurant's kitchen, hoping for a chance to demonstrate his cooking skills. But his parents shoo him away and he is not allowed to cook.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  First, I am a big fan of Gloria Whelan, who somehow manages to tell complicated stories in a surprisingly few words.  Her chapter books are among my favorite historical/geographical fiction.  Books such as Homeless Bird, Chu Ju's House, and Angel on the Square, open up worlds for the world.  Yet these books read like adventure novels.  This is the first picture book by her that I have read.

The story of Pierre and his dream remind me that many kids have dreams.  Sometimes the dreams are realistic and sometimes not, but they are always worth listening too.  I have a good friend to thank for helping me realize the importance of listening to what other people have to say, especially children.  The story also reminded me that just because an idea comes from a child doesn't mean it isn't a good idea.

The writing of this book is smooth and flowing and the illustrations are gorgeous.  I also greatly appreciated the glossary and pronunciation guide for the French words used in the text.  This will allow me to practice pronouncing those words before I read it out loud.  Sleeping Bear Press also has a fun website that has more information about the country and activities related to the book. A fun book that I plan to share with my students during our round the world journey (in books).  Check here for more books I plan to use relating to the theme of One World, Many Stories. Be sure to check back for more great books about the world.

Chirchir is Singing
written by Kelly Cunnane, illustrated by Jude Daly
Schwartz & Wade Books, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-375-86198-7
Grades K-5
Reviewed from purchased copy.

Chirchir just wants to make herself useful like all her other family members. But she drops Mama's water bucket, spills Kogo's tea, and sends Baba's potatoes tumbling down the hill. Isn't there something that Chirchir does best?
 Many books about Africa focus on the many existing conflicts, either between people or between people and the environment.  This book provides a refreshingly simple story about a girl and her family.  While the book provides a look at a Kenyan farm and what for many Americans would be considered a hard life, to Chirchir, it's home and what she knows.
Unfortunately, Chirchir like many children, finds herself causing problems rather than helping the way she intends.  This made me think of my little nephew and how he always wants to help, but usually just complicates things.  I have to admire my sister's patience and how she lets him help as much as he can.  It is a universal need, the need to make a difference, and this book illustrates that need beautifully.  The soft colors used in the illustrations soften the discouragement that Chirchir feels as she is encouraged to move on to help someone else. I highly recommend this book for sharing, not just for learning about Africa, but for realizing that there is a place for all to find belonging.

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