My Grandfather’s Coat by Jim Aylesworth, illustrated by Barbara McClintock
Based on a Yiddish folksong, this picture book celebrates the thrift, hard work and skills of immigrants to the United States. Told in the first person by the grandchild, this book looks at one man who came to the US and worked hard as a tailor. He met a woman and they got married and he made his own coat for the wedding. He wore it everywhere until finally, it was worn it. So then what did he do? He made it into a jacket. He wore that everywhere and eventually wore it out too. So then he made it into a vest. He then wore that until it was frayed. The book progresses through a necktie and finally a stuffed mouse made from the last of the old fabric and even when that is eventually torn apart, a mouse finds it to be perfect for her nest.
Aylesworth uses a repeating structure throughout this book, first introducing his character of the grandfather and then having him make a garment, wear it out, make another, and start the cycle again. He uses just the right amount of rhythm and rhyme to hold the story together, making the repetition clear and rollicking. It reads like a folk tale, filled with a celebration of one man and his skills at reusing things.
McClintock’s illustrations suit this subject matter perfectly. Her artwork’s vintage feel is right at home here, creating repeating tableaus on the page that reflect the changing time as children grow up and also the process and time of recreating garments from the scraps. Her art shows the loving family, the shrinking deep blue fabric, and the passage of time.
This story of reuse and recycling takes that modern movement and translates it directly into the frugality of our American ancestors. Cleverly written, striking illustrated and a great read aloud, this book is appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic Press.
The Patchwork Torah by Allison Ofanansky, illustrated by Elsa Oriol
David’s grandfather was a scribe. He had been asked by the rabbi to write a new Torah for their synagogue because the old one was fading. David watched his grandfather work for a year on the new Torah and then store it away, explaining that a Torah is not something to be thrown out. Years later, as David was learning to be a scribe from his grandfather, a couple came to them bringing a Torah that they had hidden from the Nazis. It was badly water damaged and his grandfather tucked that Torah away too in the hopes of working on it someday. David grew up to be a scribe and inherited his grandfather’s cabinet with the two scrolls inside. One day, the rabbi called and told him that there had been a fire in the synagogue and the Torah was damaged. That scroll too was put away. Finally, Katrina hit New Orleans and a Torah was rescued but damaged too. David suddenly had an idea and worked for months to take the four scrolls and patch them together into one complete Torah that would be unlike any other.
Ofanansky builds this story slowly and steadily. Each Torah comes into the book with a full story and history. Each is unique and ruined in some way, but worthy of being rescued and reused. It is the ultimate in recycling. The book also pays homage to the long history of scribes who care for and create Torah, showing the dedication that it takes to learn the art and skill.
The art by Oriol has a quiet nature too. The paintings are suffused in yellow light and warmth. Even the days of the tragedies that happen to the people and the Torah are light-filled and hope filled.
A quiet and powerful story about renewal and reuse, this book speaks across religions to the importance of hard work and resilience. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
I Like Old Clothes by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Patrice Barton
Celebrate reusing clothes along with this book’s radiant narrator. She’s a little girl who simply loves old clothes, especially those that come from other people. She wears them for dress-up, but also on just regular days. She loves clothes with patches that used to be too-good for play and are now just right. There are also some clothes that she changes a bit to make them her own. It’s the faded, broken-in and comfortable clothes she loves. Don’t you too?
Hoberman’s rhyming verse has a sweet playfulness to it that keeps the book from becoming heavy handed. Instead it is about this girl and the reasons she loves to wear old clothes. It’s persuasive and kindly done. This book is perfect for children who wear hand-me-downs from relatives or siblings, but also for families who are buying used clothes to be more environmentally conscious.
Barton’s illustrations are filled with soft colors and textures. The entire book speaks to the ease and comfort of used fabrics. On some pages there are buildings made from blue jeans, rules that run through the pages, and a general homage to reuse.
This book is as comfortable and cozy as my favorite old sweatshirt that I got from someone else when it didn’t fit them and I’ve had for 15 years. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Alfred A. Knopf.
Subway Story by Julia Sarcone-Roach
Based on a true story, this picture book follows Jessie, a subway car, from her “birth” until her unusual ending. Jessie was a New York City subway car that carried people and things around the city. At first, she was new and shiny, but eventually she was covered in graffiti and then painted red. She kept on working, running on tracks around the city. Then she was used only in the winter because her fans could not keep up with the heat, and finally she wasn’t used any more. But Jessie’s travels and adventures were far from over! Whatever will happen to her when she is shipped by barge and taken far from land!
Sarcone-Roach has created a picture book that seems to be quiet and then takes a turn into the unexpected. She begins with a true story and then personalizes it through the eyes of one specific subway car. It works really well as a technique to make the subject very child friendly and to invite readers in to experience the story. The writing is clear and Jessie’s perspective is strong and active.
Her art is also very successful. The colors are deep and jewel-like, showing the beauty of the city as well as the subway lines. She plays with perspective throughout, stacking the subway lines like shelves, showing both the outside and inside of the subway cars, and always showing Jessie with her smiling headlights and chains.
This is a lovely book that works well on many levels. Use it for an unexpected take on recycling, add to your transportation stories, or just share it to see the children guessing where Jessie is headed on that barge. They are sure to be entranced by the answer. I certainly was! Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Alfred A. Knopf.
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Here Comes the Garbage Barge! by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Red Nose Studio
This is the true story of what happened in 1987 when the town of Islip had 3,168 tons of garbage that they had no room for. So it was placed on a barge to be taken to North Carolina. Captain Duffy St. Pierre used his small tugboat to pull the barge down to North Carolina, but it wasn’t that simple. North Carolina refused to take the garbage! Captain Duffy was then sent to New Orleans. Nope, they didn’t want it either. Mexico? No. Belize? No. Texas? No. Florida? No. The garbage was getting older, smellier and more horrid by the day. Finally Brooklyn agreed to take the garbage and incinerate it. It was 162 days after the barge first set out.
This book could have been a dry look at recycling, garbage and waste, but it definitely is not. Instead Winter and Red Nose Studio have created a book filled with humor and character that tells the garbage story with more style than the facts could have offered. Winter’s writing is ideal for reading aloud. There are plenty of accents, lots of exclamations that fill the book with energy and fun. Red Nose Studio’s art is three-dimensional, witty and filled with found objects. His art is humorous, detailed and a delight to look at. It is a testament to Winters’ writing that it is a great match to this art.
A perfect book for Earth Day or any eco-friendly event, this book will get children thinking about how many pounds of garbage they create and exactly what happens to it. Even if it’s not headed for a garbage barge. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Check out the video below of the making of the art for the book:
Reviewed from copy received from Random House.
My Forever Dress by Harriet Ziefert, illustrated by Liz Murphy.
A little girl has a grandmother who is very good at sewing. Each year, the grandmother makes her a special dress. The little girl gets to pick the fabric and help in other ways like pressing the pedal on the sewing machine. The next year, the grandmother and the little girl discuss being more eco-friendly. So they reuse the dress and add pink leggings to make it more of a smock. The year after that, the dress is too small to wear any more, so they take it apart and reuse the material. Adding a knitted cardigan, the dress is once again reinvented. In the end, there is just no way for her to keep on using the dress, so she gives it to her younger cousin and start again with a new outfit.
This is a great tangible way for children to see greener living at work. There is no drumming of the reduce, reuse, recycle mantra though it is obviously the theme of the book. Ziefert never lapses into didacticism, rather letting the story itself make the point. The excitement of the story is seeing each reinvention of the dress as the years pass. Illustrator Murphy has used collage to great effect here, creating great patterns for the dress, but also throughout the story as wallpaper, tablecloths, and backgrounds. She has an eye for colors and patterns that really shows here.
A very nice green choice for story times. For any child who enjoys clothes and fabrics, this is a treat of a book as well. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from library copy.