Drops of Life, by Esko-Pekka Tiitinen, illustrated by Nikolai Tiitinen

May 23, 2012

Drops of Life“The strong give the weak the power to do more when the wind is behind them!”

This is a story cooperation, collaboration, and love of life on Earth.

The Book

This picture book is intended for children ages 5-8. It comes from Finland, adapted from a play created by Esko-Pekka Tiitinen for the Environment Online (ENO) Programme, which is a “global virtual school and network for sustainable development”. The play has been performed in over 70 different countries and publisher Cuento de Luz has made this picture book adaptation available in English and Spanish (titled Gotas de Vida).

The Story

A lonely owl reminisces about the seemingly care-free days of his youth. A dove, desperate to reach Africa, asks him for help. The two embark on a journey where they face death but are rescued by an unlikely new friend: a whale. From then on they reach a home different from what the dove remembers. What was once a dense forest is now desert. It is up to them, along with the sun, a gust of wind, and other animals from around the world, to plant the seed of life back into the desert. It is not easy and it takes a lot of help, including help from the humans.

This book is appealing for those who enjoy the theater arts and animal stories. It can also appeal to those who enjoy a good mystery. The story never clearly explains how the dove’s home got destroyed, nor why the owl is bogged down by the memories of his youth. Readers are free to fill in these empty spaces by looking for clues in the dialogue-rich narrative, where they can make connections between the desert landscape and humanity’s progress coupled with indifference for others and the environment. The book, however, never points a finger of blame. Instead, the focus is on how we can all cooperate and collaborate to bring back the rich forests to now sandy terrain.

The Art

Nikolai Tiitinen combines bright and vibrant colors with rich, earthy tones. The blended backgrounds emphasize the fantastic nature of the characters and plot. The illustrator pays careful attention to each animal’s face, casting them in brighter colors, which helps draw the eye to them and encourages the reader to acknowledge them and empathize with their plight.

What questions might you ask to get kids talking about the book?

  1. If you were the dove, would you have asked the owl for help? Why?
  2. Why do you think the whale’s brothers and sisters risked their lives to deliver a message?
  3. How does planting trees help everyone who lives on this planet?

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Elephants Cannot Dance! by Mo Willems

September 21, 2011

Elephants Cannot DanceEver been told you can’t do something?

This is the story of someone who tried anyway!

The Story

In this picture book for ages 4-8, a little pig in a tutu tries to get Gerald the elephant to dance. Despite Gerald’s insistence that even books say elephants cannot dance, he is convinced to at least try. Can he do it? What happens when he tries?

Kids who love music, the theater arts, and animal stories will be attracted to this book.

Boys in particular might relate to the idea of giving up on something they enjoy, such as dancing, because others say it’s something only girls should do. By seeing Gerald’s trials, kids might feel hopeful and encouraged to try something outside of what a boy supposedly should or should not do. Gerald and Piggie let the reader know it’s ok to try.

What questions might you ask to get kids talking about the book?

  1. Why do you think Piggie insisted that Gerald try to dance?
  2. What are some of the things you have not tried because you think you can’t?
  3. Why is it important to try to do something, even if you think you can’t?

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The Unknowns, by Benedict Carey

July 3, 2009
Rating: 4.5/5

Rating: 4.5/5

I never imagined I would like this story as much as I did!

In this story for children 10 and up, two unlikely heroes living in a trailer park community on an island find themselves desperately trying to solve mathematical clues that their friend and tutor, Mrs. Clark, left behind before being kidnapped. Something strange is happening in nearby Folsom Energy plant, and in a community where adults do nothing and expect nothing from anyone even after three of their own have gone missing, it is up to the kids to rescue their only positive role model and figure out what the administrators at Folsom are up to, before it’s too late.

This story has a little bit of everything: adventure, diversity, courage, confidence, sense of community, perseverance, and math! It is an adventure where nothing is what it seems and the most unlikely group is the one to solve this multifaceted problem. The two main characters, Lady Di and Tom Jones are not your usual characters. Di is a chubby red-head and Tom is a skinny, painfully introverted boy from another country with a “disability” that lets him see patterns and sends him on “crazy” trips inside his mind.

Regardless, none of the characters let their shortcomings, (or what at first might appear as a shortcoming), get in the way, and instead live their lives as normally as possible in Adjacent, an island community surrounded by the sea, an array of odd characters, and the dinginess and putrefaction of one section of the island aptly named Mount Trashmore.

Another positive characteristic of this story, (and possibly its biggest problem), is that readers who love to solve puzzles and appreciate mathematics will find it hard to put this book down. The story begins and ends with puzzles that are relevant to real life and present the only way to rescue their friend and save the island. Unfortunately, reluctant readers might not like this book because of its increasing mathematical difficulty. Even those of us who love to read but have a healthy respect for mathematics, might not be too thrilled at how much math is incorporated into the story. As for myself, I didn’t let my math…erm…”respect”… get in the way of a truly wonderful story.

However, those who read to the end will find characters who, though they have terrible role models and situations, are able to succeed through perseverance and growing more confident in their abilities. Readers in difficult situations might find hope in this and realize that it is OK to depend on and believe in yourself, even if it seems people around them hold no such belief.

What I liked most about the story was the feeling of a united and loving community. In the end, the people of Adjacent were a force to be reckoned with, especially the younger members of the island. Though I wish the ending would have been longer and explained a few things in detail, (I would mention what I mean here, except I would give away the end, sorry!), I was still thoroughly satisfied with the story.

I can’t wait for this author’s next book!
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