Tag Archives: picture book reviews

Review of Carin Berger’s “The Little Yellow Leaf”

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"Yellow Leaf" Cover

The theme of this story is one we have seen many times, but a very important theme nonetheless.

It is a theme that is hard to put into words, but encompasses many things.

The best way I can describe this theme without giving too much away is:

The Little Yellow Leaf” is a wonderful story for reassuring anyone that doing something you’ve never done before is much easier when you’re not alone. To fit with the theme, this story is told in a very soothing, gentle, somewhat heavy style.
Many of the best picture books are both timeless and unique. The theme of this book is timeless. What makes it unique is both the illustrations and the subject/focus. The subject of this story is the leaves, particularly the “little yellow leaf” of the title. Leaves and their trees being the subject allows for illustrations that are relatively simple compared to those found in other children’s books, where the subject is usually a human or animal character.  This does not at all keep the illustrations from being exciting and beautiful.
Since leaves and trees are the focus of the story, they are the main subjects of the illustrations. Many of the illustrations’ embellishments are highly stylized, such as:

"Yellow Leaf" Illustration 1

The sun, beckoning the leaves to fall

"Yellow Leaf" Illustration 2

The moon and the stars

"Yellow Leaf" Illustration 3

The snowflakes

In some illustrations, trees are stylized, too. A group of trees is made to look circular, making it easier for these subjects to act as the focus.  Here is an example:

"Yellow Leaf" Illustration 4

Embellishments that are not stylized include mushrooms, apples, pumpkins, acorns, and geese flying south. The latter are very simply drawn.
At first I thought the illustrations were painted, but as it turns out, they are all created through collages made with different kinds of paper. This includes magazine paper, hence the unrelated text on some of the illustrations. This makes the illustrations even more unique. What’s more, this book is making me really want to try illustrating some of my stories with collages. I think autumn illustrations lend themselves especially well to collages, but maybe I’m biased since I enjoyed doing autumn collages so much as a child.

All in all, this is a wonderful book.  The story made me cry, and the illustrations made me want to expand my horizons.

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A Review of “Sing a Song of Piglets: A Calendar in Verse”

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Sing a Song of Piglets: A Calendar in Verse, written by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully, and published by Clarion Books, New York, is a charming book that lets us follow two piglets, a boy piglet and a girl piglet, through the months of the year. I love any story about the seasons/months of the year, because books like that help children see the beauty in every season, both in our festivities and in the natural world. This book is no exception.
Sing a Song of Piglets: A Calendar in Verse has beautiful illustrations of holidays and the outdoors during each season. My favorite outdoor illustration is of the two pigs jumping in leaves in September, with beautiful red and yellow trees in the background. My favorite indoor illustration is of the pigs chowing down on a Thanksgiving feast in November (in case you haven’t guessed, my favorite season is autumn).
The remaining autumn month, October, I have issue with, though. The illustration of the pigs trick-or-treating is, literally, way too dark. The full moon and the ghost are white, and everything except the black cat’s yellow trick-or-treat bag is a dark color, black, dark brown, or dark blue. I wish the moon were yellow, and surrounded by bright yellow stars. I would also have liked to see more color variation in the costumes, which may have meant drawing more anthropomorphic animals in costumes, instead of just the pigs and whatever kind of creature is dressed as a ghost.
Speaking of anthropomorphic animals, I love the illustration of the pigs playing softball with bunnies in the month of June. I’m not a sports person, but my love for anthropomorphic animals more than makes up for that. The bunnies are never mentioned in the text, nor are any of the other anthropomorphic animals in the illustrations, like the dog greeting the trick-or-treating pigs or the other animals relaxing on the beach while the pigs surf in July. The illustrations alone make it clear that in this world, the people are all different kinds of animals, not just pigs. I love how many picture books there are that feature either all kinds of anthropomorphic animals, or just one kind, in the picture book’s own world.
I like all three spreads for summer, but I have issue with all three spring spreads. For one thing, I wish the March spread didn’t talk about St. Patrick’s Day. I’m not a fan of that holiday, since it essentially commemorates suppressing and getting rid of a religion. I know that opens a big can of worms, so please feel free to agree or disagree in your comments. Instead of St. Patrick’s Day, I would have liked to see the March spread talk about the beginning of spring.
If March had focused on the beginning of spring, it would have allowed for more drawings of flowers, and maybe other spring images, too, like butterflies and baby birds. That’s my issue with the other two spring spreads; they don’t have very many images of traditional spring items. It would have been fine it if this book represented spring with other, non-traditional images, but it doesn’t. There really isn’t that much imagery for spring. One thing I would have liked is if for April, there was a small drawing of the flowers the pigs planted after they bloomed.
One more thing I like about this book is the friendship between the two pigs. The text doesn’t mention this aspect until the very end, but their friendship is clear from the very beginning through the illustrations. Whether these pigs are helping each other ice skate, working together in the garden, surfing side by side, or sharing a hammock while reading, it is clear that they are either best friends or a brother and sister who love each other very much. I like how the book does not make the pigs actual relationship clear, leaving whether they’re siblings or friends up to the reader’s imagination. This offers the reader two positive messages: siblings can be friends, and: being friends with someone of the opposite gender isn’t gross.
This book taught me two things. I learned that illustrations in the same book do not always need to be done in the same style. While some illustrations in this book are full pictures that take up the whole page or spread, others feature one or more smaller pictures against a white background. I also learned that all a picture book needs to be considered a calendar is the name of the month at the beginning of each spread; it does not need to be formatted like a calendar or in any other particular way. Some books about the months and seasons of the year are calendars; others are more like stories recounting the events of a year. An example of the latter is Over and Over by Charlotte Zolotow, one of my personal favorites.