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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
The Best Book to Read
The Best Book to Read
by Debbie Bertram and Susan Bloom, illustrated by Michael Garland
Random House,(June 2008)
"Hello, boys and girls," the librarian says,
"I see faces I've seen here before.
Finding books can be fun!
You may choose more than one,
And my job is to help you explore--
Picture books, chapter books, books that pop up,
nonfiction, and fairy tales, too.
You may look by yourselves.
Take some books from the shelves.
Then check out the best book for you."
--The Best Book to Read by Debbie Bertram and Susan Bloom, illustrated by Michael Garland, p. 3-4.
What book is best to read? Why, the book that appeals to you the most at the time, of course. A young boy and his class visit the library, where the librarian introduces them to many book possibilities, and suggests they get a library card to take out books. This is a feel-good book for book lovers, and a great reminder to young readers that there are books to suit every interest and topic, and that libraries are good places to visit.
Bertram and Bloom's (The Best Place to Read, The Best Time to Read) text is written in flowing rhyme that has a nice rhythm and beat to it; it's pleasing to read. There were only a few brief places where the rhyme felt like it had an extra beat; most rhymes were a pleasure to read. Because most of the text is dialogue, the text moves quickly, imparting information in an entertaining way, almost without the reader realizing they're learning.
The young protagonist appears in the text mostly in the opening and closing, like book ends; almost everything in between is the librarian's dialogue. This works, though at times I would have liked to hear more from the young protagonist; he feels a bit like a device to show what books are available, and not a character. When the young protagonist suddenly appeared in the text close to the end, I was startled. Still, the librarian's dialogue is fun and punchy, and introduces ideas about books and libraries in an entertaining way.
The Best Book to Read lets kids know that there's no one best book--that the best book is the one that appeals to you the most. The text suggests books about topics that will interest many kids, especially boys--outer space, insects, knights and dragons, dinosaurs, and magic. The focus seems to be on boy readers, with some topics that will also interest girls, or that are thrown in specifically for them.
Word usage is carefully chosen to reflect the positive associations--the librarian "welcoming" the kids, or "helping" them "explore" books. The text is well crafted. The Best Book to Read is a positive book about books, librarians, and libraries, encouraging readers to see the fun in books and libraries, in the ability to choose books themselves, take them out, and enjoy them.
Garland's (The Best Place to Read, I'd Be Your Hero: A Royal Tale Of Godly Character, SantaKid) illustrations are sweet and fun. The characters all have smiling, happy, rounded faces, with little pug noses and rosy cheeks. The faces are slightly bigger and wider in proportion to their bodies than they'd be in real life, which makes them a big part of the visual focus, and they have a youngness and cuteness to them. The characters have an almost 3-D quality, which is accentuated in the faces, and through highlights on the cheeks, noses, and foreheads. Children from different ethnic backgrounds are represented, which is nice to see.
The colors are bright and cheerful; all the children wear bright shirts, and the librarian's dress was, for me, a delight to look at, with vivid turquoises, pinks, and purples in a floral design. The floral design also brings some visual interest to the pages. Most objects and characters have a smoothness to them, though Garland makes selective use of texture, found in characters' hair, in the dog, in the dragon.
Garland clearly had fun with the book covers that the children read; the vivid covers or interior pages look as if they're real books, and the authors' names tie in with the book title--such as Ricky Rocket who "wrote" Blast Off! a book about outer space, and Lance O'Lot who "wrote" The Days of the Knights. I enjoyed that touch. It would have been even more fun to me, though, if the book covers had been of real books that I could then go look up in the library or book store, to see if I enjoyed them. Still, since the books aren't real, they give readers more room to make their own decisions about what books appeal to them. Because the covers and interior pages of the books look so real, they stand out in the illustrations, which have a more cartoonish feel to them. Most or all of the books shown in the illustrations look as if they are non-fiction books--though the text made me think that some, if not most, were fiction. Fiction is so much fun; I would have liked to see more book covers that looked like fictional stories--but that's my bias.
In most spreads, the left-hand page shows a particular book topic being discussed by the kids and the librarian, with white space around them in lieu of background details, bringing a lightness to the illustrations and contrasting with the illustrations on the opposing page. Most illustrations on the right page are full-bleed illustrations with detailed backgrounds that show the book's topic coming alive, the kids taking part in most adventures. This makes makes the book topics seem vivid and magical, as if they've been transported off the page and into readers' imaginations.
If you're looking for a book that celebrates reading, books, and libraries, or that encourages children to read books, choose their own, and visit libraries, then check out this book. I can see this book being used in schools and libraries, especially, as well as at home with loved ones. Recommended!
-Added June 04, 2008
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