The National Book Foundation has announced that Ursula Le Guin will received their Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014. Le Guin has written many books in many genres. Readers of children’s and teen books will recognize her for her master works of The Left Hand of Darkness and the Earthsea Cycle.
Firebird by Misty Copeland, illustrated by Christopher Myers
Wow! Misty Copeland, soloist at American Ballet Theatre, is only their second African-American soloist in their history and the first in more than 20 years. Here she writes her debut picture book and through it encourages other young dancers of color. Lest you think this is a book just for dancers, it is not. It is for anyone who needs to hear a voice of success speak about how important dedication and hard work is to creating that success. Copeland tells it all in poetry that soars and dances just as she does. This is a beautiful book of inspiration that reaches far beyond dance.
Copeland’s verse is exceptional. It is hard to believe that poetry with this much control and beauty comes from someone who has not written many books. It is shining verse that lifts the reader up and invites them to leap across the page along with Copeland. She weaves lovely metaphors throughout her words, “stitching worn-out slippers, swift as applause” is one of my favorites and it is just as vivid and unique as Copeland herself.
Myers art is a lush mix of media that is just as radiant as the verse. The pages are filled with Copeland and young African-American dancers who fly across the pages. Myers creates motion on the page with his strips of paper that frame as well as enliven the illustrations.
A magnificent picture book for young dancers that will inspire them to see joy in dance and also to understand the dedication it will take to be a success. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Putnam.
Elsa and the Night by Jons Mellgren
This strange and beautiful picture book is translated from the original Swedish. It is the story of Elsa who discovers the Night underneath her sofa one night just as she is counting the raisins in her cereal. So she tucks the Night into a cake tin and gives him some raisins too. Then she hides the cake tin down in the basement. With the Night trapped, day continues on and one without end. Finally, Elsa takes the Night out of his cake tin and starts to talk about how much she misses her best friend, an elephant named Olaf, who she met after a shipwreck. The explains how the two of them lived together and that now he is gone. About how she then moved to a lighthouse and stayed awake in the light night after night and has not slept for 30 years. The Night listens and then goes with her to visit Olaf’s grave and finally to lift her up and take her to her bed to sleep.
Filled with poetry, the text in this book is powerful. The story winds around, moving from the trapping of night into Elsa’s story of loss and finally to resolution. It is not linear, but an exploration of emotions and grief. It is a journey that is glowing, gentle and filled with lovely moments. In particular when the Night goes around and gathers up the sleepy people along with Elsa, there is such tenderness and love in that moment.
Mellgren’s art is modern and filled with bold graphical elements. The cut paper art is complex at times and simple in others, playing with light and dark as well as different shapes. the way that Night changes the page as he enters it is beautifully handled, his darkness spilling around him but able to be seen right through.
This unique story is luminous and impressive and will make a great bedtime story for children and parents who enjoy foreign picture books that aren’t the normal bedtime read. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from library copy.