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The Swing Board book – Nov 5 2012
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Review of When I Was Small:
Quill and Quire Review:
Ever curious Henry, whose enquiries about the recent past formed the basis of Sara O’Leary and Julie Morstad’s previous collaborations, When You Were Small and Where You Came From, has another question for his mother, this time asking her for a story about when she was small. Henry’s mother answers with a series of very short, beautifully bizarre anecdotes delivered at the pace of one per page.
The book takes the idea of Henry’s mother being “small” literally – she is pictured skipping rope with a ball of yarn, swimming in a birdbath, and standing on a spool of thread. The dreamy quality of both text and image gives the book a slightly low-energy feel, but it may be the perfect thing for a kid who is just a little quiet, a little shy, but still inquisitive – a child not unlike Henry. The result is a perfect antidote for parents whose retinas have been scorched by too much Dora the Explorer.
Small visual details, such as the frequent hand-lettering and the spot illustrations, add to the book’s quiet impact. The framing of the narrative, with Henry’s question at the beginning and his mother’s comments at the end, gives kids something concrete to hang onto throughout.
When I Was Small is not only a charming picture book, but by focusing on the parent’s past instead of the child’s, it also has the potential to be a great conversation starter.
Reviews and Awards for Singing Away the Dark
Finalist for the 2011-2012 Chocolate Lily Awards
Finalist for the 2011 Marilyn Baillie Award, Canadian Children's Book Centre!
Finalist for the 2011 Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Award Shortlist
Finalist for the 2011 Shortlist for the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children's Book Awards
Kirkus ReviewIn the back of beyond, a girl sets out for the schoolbus stop, a good long cross-country hike away. It’s winter. The snow nearly tops her boots; the fog of her breath streams behind her. It’s still dark, artfully evoked by the deep inkiness of Morstad’s night sky (played off against luminescent birch trunks and dazzled by a pair of red mittens and a yellow lunchbox) and Woodward’s verse: “I don’t allow myself to stop / to look between the trees, / to peer at shapes that shift and hide / where it’s too dark to see.” The pictures and text follow her as she wends over hill and hollow, breaking into song to keep the specters at bay and stave off cold. The tingly spookiness of the rural dark is slowly, gently beveled as the story takes on the dawn, as the girl passes a farm getting its day under way in the early hours, the lights of the bus cutting through the remnants of night. Night can be a very alien world, but this beckoning book is like an invitation to come walk there. (Picture book. 4-8
About the Author
Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94), was a Scottish novelist, essayist and poet who contributed several classics to the world of children’s literature. He is best known for A Children's Garden of Verses, Treasure Island, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Kidnapped.
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"How do you like to go up in a swing / Up in the air so blue?" I should think you'd like it very much if you were one of the children in Julie Morstad's clever little book. Adapting Robert Louis Stevenson's words, Ms. Morstad fills her pages with kids on their way up, their way down, and everywhere in-between. They glide under cherry blossoms, observe the even rows of plants and vegetables, and swing like superheroes on their bellies. The result is a haunting but thoroughly enjoyable update to a poem that feels as fresh and fun as it was the day it was first published in the late 1800s.
Etsy has been a simultaneous boon and problem for the children's picture book world. On the one hand, there is no better place for editors to find up and coming artists. Never before has a public forum of this scope yielded such rich artistic talent. On the other hand, there is a kind of Etsy "look" that typifies the people found there. It's what allows reviewers like myself to view certain kinds of children's books and sniff "Etsy" when we want to put them down. Now at a first glance Morstad's work on The Swing might strike you as falling in the Etsy vein. An unfair assumption since as far as I can tell Ms. Morstad sells her art herself and not through Etsy. More to the point, this book is better than that. Granted I wouldn't mind taking some of the images found in the book and framing them on my wall (particularly that cover image with the black background and white haired girl swinging through a field of vibrant blossoms). But there's a quality to Ms. Morstad's art that feels more than merely trendy. There's a lot of beauty here, and it ties in directly to the subject matter.
Books about swinging for children are the one-act plays of children's literature. Tied entirely to a single place where the vertical is exchanged for the horizontal, it's hard to make a narrative around swinging. Indeed that's probably why books like Higher! Higher! by Leslie Patricelli have been for the very young set while Tricia Tusa's Follow Me has looked at other aspects of swinging entirely (colors, etc.). The best attempt at the genre was probably Joe Cepeda's Swing which had a kind of Calvin & Hobbes type of plot. Morstad's adaptation of Stevenson's poem is smart because rather than show a single kid just going up and down and down and up she shows a wide range of children swinging in all kinds of different settings.
Looking at the book itself I was impressed by the design of the thing. It fools you for the first few pages, allowing you to think that you're reading yet another book where the text is on one page and the images on the other. Yet when you reach the lines "Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing / Ever a child can do!" the words curve and dive around two tow-headed children, swinging against a verdant green background. Each image carries with it a distinctive mood and feel. There's one scene of a child swinging over "River and trees and cattle and all" while a midday sun sinks red towards the horizon. Of course I've already mentioned my favorite image in the book, which is the one on the cover. Happily Ms. Morstad comes full circle with that girl. She appears at first on the cover, and then once again at the end of the book with the final lines "Up in the air and down!" There you see her white hair, little pink shoes, and jet black background in place. This time, however, her swinging has definitely slowed down and she regards the reader with a small smile and a sense of complacency you can't help but envy. Plus the fluorescent flowers are cool. Like those.
I am pleased to report that while I dislike it when folks use their own children as control groups, determining whether or not a book works, in this particular case I feel no guilt in reporting that my one-year-old is a fan. I'm not sure if it's the engrossing images, the way the sentences are split up on the pages, or the way the poem sounds on my tongue, but whatever the case Morstad's The Swing is definitely doing something right. Evocative and mesmerizing all at once, this is one book that is sure to engage kids right from the get-go. With its new packaging, Stevenson's classic feels as fresh and new as anything you'll find on your bookstore and library shelves today. Beautiful. There's no other word for it.
For ages 1-5.