Review: Stephen and the Beetle by Jorge Lujan

stephen and the beetle

Stephen and the Beetle by Jorge Lujan, illustrated by Chiara Carrer

This very simple story explores philosophical areas while still remaining a picture book that is accessible to very young children.  Stephen was walking in the garden and sees a beetle.  He took off his shoe and was about to smack the beetle.  The beetle continued on its way, unaware of the threat.  Stephen raised his shoe higher, but then started to wonder about what the beetle was doing and where it was walking to.  So Stephen set down his shoe and put his head on the ground.  The beetle came closer, reared back on its back legs and seemed about to attack, but then seemed to think about it and instead just continued on its way.  The parallel pieces of this story make it all the more thought provoking and should get children thinking in a new way about even their smallest decisions during their day.

Lujan’s writing is simple and pure.  He tells the story and what is happening with a straight-forward tone and allows the story itself to create the points of discussion.   The only point where the writing gets complex and lush is when the beetle is about to attack.  Suddenly the tone changes and the rhythm gets wild.  But then, it is back to the simple tone to finish the story.

Carrer’s art is done in mixed media that includes collage, paint, pen, chalk and ink.  She very successfully plays with dark and light images that mirror one another.  The beetle is shown to be just as complex a creature as Stephen himself. 

This is a book that will certainly generate discussion.  There are etchical implications here, the question of impact of our decisions, and the aspect of choice.  And yet, there is also a small boy playing in a yard with a beetle.  It is a perfect example of a small scene that speaks to much larger issues.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Twelve Kinds of Ice by Ellen Bryan Obed

twelve kinds of ice

Twelve Kinds of Ice by Ellen Bryan Obed, illustrated by Barbara McClintock

Oh my.  There are few books that leave me with tears standing in my eyes at the end, especially books of a spare 64 pages.  This one did. 

I suppose I could leave my review at that, but here are some details for those who need more.  This tightly written and beautifully illustrated small book looks at the twelve kinds of ice that happen in the course of a winter.  It all starts with the first ice which is the thin ice on top of a bucket in the barn that breaks when you touch it.  From there excitement builds as slowly the ice gets thicker and more able to be skated on.  Some ice like field ice and stream ice can be skated on, but it’s tricky.  Garden ice is the ice rink that the Bryan family created in their garden, made by packing the snow very firm and then spraying it with the garden hose.  It is that family skating rink that is really celebrated in the book, showing a strong family and their mutual connection through ice skating.  Even the ice skaters and hockey players get along.  Most of the time!

Obed is telling the story of her own family and their love of skating.  Her writing is so beautiful and strong.  She tells a story with depth and feeling, celebrating winter, ice and the thrill of skating.  Seeing how short the book is, one wonders how she managed to tell so much in so few pages.  Her prose invites us into her family and onto ice skates.  Alongside her, we don’t so much as wobble but instead skim across the ice at her side.  It’s an exhilarating and intensely personal read.

McClintock’s illustrations are entirely black and white in the book.  She captures a timelessness in her images, celebrating the family and natural surroundings.  She also shows the movement of skating and its thrill.

This is a quiet book, one that will need some push to get it into children’s hands.  I can see it being part of anyone’s holiday and also a great gateway to talking about your own memories of childhood and special things your family does together.  Quiet but powerful and immensely satisfying.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.