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  • 2009 Comstock Read Aloud Honor Books

    Willow by Denise Brennan-Nelson and Rosemarie Brennan, illustrated by Cyd Moore, and published by Sleeping Bear Press, 2008.

    WillowMiss Hawthorn teaches art in the strictest, most orderly way possible.She meets her match in Willow, a free-spirited student, who closes her eyes and sees pink trees and blue apples!When Willow paints the pictures she sees in her mind, she is reprimanded by her teacher. No matter how creative Willow’s drawings, paintings, or doodles are, Miss Hawthorn disapproves and even calls Willow a “horrid little girl” for not following the rigid rules of her classroom.Willow’s love for art is not crushed, however, and she even brings her art book to school in order to prove that pink trees and blue apples do exist in the minds of artists. Time passes, and when the students leave for winter vacation, the only present that the lonely Miss Hawthorn receives is from her most troublesome student, Willow.It is Willow’s well-loved art book. This kind gesture inspires Miss Hawthorn to sketch and paint and doodle, in a matter worthy of her imaginative student. When the students return from winter break, they discover that their classroom has transformed into a colorful, imaginative place and that their teacher has finally allowed her creativity to flourish. The story ends with a pleasing transformation—of the art teacher and her classroom.

    Cyd Moore’s attention to detail and use of vibrant hues in her watercolor illustrations mirror Willow’s innovative approach to art. The expressions on the characters’ faces help bring the story to life.

    Students in grades one through four were especially captivated by this story. They enjoyed the colorful illustrations, the art teacher’s attitude change, and the satisfying ending to the story. The children appreciated that Willow was always unique and “thought her own thoughts” about art.

    This is the first book that sisters Denise Brennan-Nelson and Rosemarie Brennan have written together. Denise lives in Howell, MI with her husband Bob and their two daughters. Rosemarie is also a writing teacher and lives in Brighton, MI with her three children.

    The illustrator, Cyd Moore, resides in Sylvan Lake, MI. An activity guide for teachers is available on her website. (Katie Hoffbeck)
    A Taste of Colored Water written and illustrated by Matt Faulkner and published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2008.

    Taste of Colored WaterTwo best friends and cousins, LuLu and Jelly, confront the reality of the Civil Rights Movement through the eyes of innocence. After hearing about a colored “water bubbler,” LuLu and Jelly have to see and taste this magical water. The pen and ink and watercolor illustrations depict the hopeful curiosity of the cousins as they imagine what the colored water will be. They have just such an opportunity on a trip to the “big city” of Eden with LuLu’s Uncle Jack. When they finally reach the colored water bubbler at Eden’s City Hall, they become witnesses to a Civil Rights march.Jelly is about to taste the water when a policeman with his furious dog scares the children: “That water ain’t for you. It’s for coloreds!” The story ends with the children safely heading home in Uncle Jack’s truck and asking “what color does a person have to be to get a taste of colored water?” The opening and closing endpapers add another dimension to this thought-provoking story.

    Appealing to second through sixth graders, this book inspired conversations on what exactly colored water was and why the cousins weren’t allowed to drink it. After reading the book, students liked “expressing what they learned in school,” about the Civil Rights Movement, “in addition to learning new information.” The illustrations pulled the readers in, helping them to pick up clues that something bad was going to happen. The first person point of view also involved the students and kept them attentive.

    Matt Faulkner both wrote and illustrated the book. His afterword provides insights into his personal connections to this story: “It’s my wish that we take strength from the courageous ones who came before us and learn to question oppression, racism, segregation . . . and begin to promote compassion to all.” Matt Falkner lives in Oakland, Ca where he teaches illustration at the Art Academy University in San Francisco.(Kelleen O’Brion)
    Elizabeth Leads the Way: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Right to Vote by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon, and published by Henry Holt and Company, 2008.

    Elizabeth Leads the WayWhat would you do if you were told you couldn’t do something because you are a girl? “Would you ask why? Would you talk back? Would you fight . . . for your rights? Elizabeth did.” In this slice-of-life biography with delicate, folk-art illustrations, created with gouache and colored pencils, readers quickly learn about the brave woman Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Set in a time in history when only men are allowed to change laws and married women cannot own property, thirteen-year-old Elizabeth decides it is “preposterous!” With determination, Elizabeth sets out to do the things that boys do, including riding horseback, rafting in the river, and even studying Greek and science. Elizabeth’s strong-willed personality continues as an adult and after being married to an abolitionist and having seven children, Elizabeth gathers together with other women to discuss the things they would do if they only had the right. Elizabeth soon discovers that there is one solution to all of their dismays, and that is for women to have the right to vote. “Many said Elizabeth must be stopped. But she was unstoppable. She changed America forever.” An “Author Note” at the end of the book provides more detail about Stanton’s life and includes a list of sources.

    With just the right amount of facts, Elizabeth Leads the Way is a wonderful read aloud for third and fourth graders when introducing the women’s rights movement. Many teachers thought this story fit in nicely with their units on elections, providing an appropriate history lesson. Third grade students thought the pictures were very colorful and realistic, representing the clothing and furniture of the “old times.” Students also liked Elizabeth’s character and the way she kept trying to change things, even when she was a young girl. They thought she was very brave for standing up for herself. Third and fourth grade teachers found this story led to a lot of discussion about equal rights, voting, and fairness.

    Author Tanya Lee Stone has enjoyed creating stories ever since she was a child. She currently lives in Vermont.
    Illustrator Rebecca Gibbon attended the Royal College of Art to study illustration and now resides in South London, England with her husband and two young children. (Ashley Roemer)