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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
Born to Read
Born to Read
by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Marc Brown
Knopf/Random House,(August 2008)
In the town of Sunny Skies,
A tiny baby blinked his eyes
At dragons dancing overhead
And letters painted on his bed.
"That's me!" he thought. "My name is Sam.
I'm born to read. I know I am."
--Born to Read by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Marc Brown, p. 4-5.
Sam knows he loves to read, even as a baby. He starts out with his mom reading to him, and as he grows, begins reading every moment he can--reading road signs, grocery items, notes, and of course books. He reads everywhere he can, and every chance he gets. His reading helps him succeed; he reads books about cycling and training, which help him win a bike race, and he saves saves his town from a baby giant by distracting him with books while he calls for backup. Born to Read is a celebration of readers.
Born to Read is a fun and funny story that's affirming for book lovers--a kid who loves to read and who succeeds because of it. However, it packs the moral that readers can succeed, telling us this multiple times. Now, I love to read, but being told that reading helps me (instead of just showing me this through story) turns me off. That reading will help you is an important message, but it would have worked better for me if it had been shown in the story. Story events also felt disconnected to me; the bike race and the giant, particularly, seemed spliced into the story, and, for me, interrupted the story flow.
Sierra's ( Mind Your Manners, B.B. Wolf; The Secret Science Project That Almost Ate the School; Wild About Books) rhyming text has an upbeat, lively rhythm, which makes the story fun to read. Sierra promotes a love of reading; she shows many uses for reading, as well as for pleasure, and she mentions a few well-known picture books through their plots, which many readers will recognize (the Cat In the Hat; the Very Hungry Caterpillar, etc). Readers will have fun matching the book descriptions to the covers.
Brown's gouache-on-wood illustrations are cheerful and bright, and will appeal to young readers with their cartoon style. You can often see the grain of wood beneath the illustrations, bringing a pleasing texture. The illustrations have a sweetness to them, from the round, smiling faces, to the blue-star pajamas, to the rounded, comfortable-looking furniture, greenery, and array of patterns.
Brown uses bright colors. A lot of oranges and greens are repeated throughout the story, from the bright orange of Sam's hair, to orange and green floors, furniture, clothing, and more. This repetition of colors brings a nice visual continuity.
Brown makes generous use of pattern throughout the illustrations; pattern is everywhere--on clothing, furniture, hair, wallpaper, the ground, backgrounds, and more. It could be overwhelming, but it's not; Brown has a good sense of what visually works. The colors go together well, and the patterns often help the main character or the action stand out more. Brown also uses pattern to tie together a bunch of small, related scenes within a spread or page. Brown uses one of the most creative uses of pattern I've seen; it's visually pleasing.
I also love how Brown incorporated covers of some real picture books, such as Pat the Bunny, The Cat In the Hat, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom into the illustrations. Young readers who know some of those books will enjoy spotting them, and their inclusion may even entice some readers to pick up those books if they haven't already. Adults may have a chuckle about how Brown included in an illustration one of his most well-known characters from his own books on a book cover.
Born to Read celebrates reading and reinforces its importance. It's got a wonderful message, though the message is laid on a bit too thick for me. Still, it's got a message that both kids and parents really need to hear--that reading can help you. It may hit the spot for some young book lovers, and might even encourage children who don't like to read, to read.
-Added July 11, 2008
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