Berry Song (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
Written & Illustrated by Michaela Goade
For ages: 4-8
The Earth is a generous planet full of food for all the life that lives on it. In Berry Song, we follow a grandmother and her granddaughter foraging on an island near their home in Alaska. Nature is also dangerous, so grandmother teaches her little one the Berry Song, which is meant to alert any bears nearby and scare them off. It also introduces the girl to the names of the berries they pick: “Salmonberry, Cloudberry, Blueberry, Nagoonberry. Huckleberry, Soapberry, Strawberry, Crowberry.” The lesson from grandmother is one of communication and balance with the planet. The pair take in every detail they can: the sound of insect wings, the feel of moss on the branches, the scent of the cedar trees.
It doesn’t surprise me that Michaela Goade won the Caldecott for this picture book. The illustrations and prose mesh together so wonderfully, and if you have spent time in the Pacific Northwest, you will feel transported back there through the descriptive language and imagery. Goade also acknowledges her indigenous Tlingit roots through symbolism that is used throughout her art. We see the land through the changes in the seasons and learn about what it provides despite the weather going through dramatic shifts. The end note from the author sums it all up by talking about the Tlingit principles of harmony with the Earth that the grandmother shared.
- A perfect activity before or after reading Berry Song would be a quiet nature walk near your school. Paying attention to the sensations of life around you activates parts of your brain that often deaden by staying inside all day.
- A long-term project that would reap great rewards by the end of a school year would be to have students journal and/or sketch what they see in the same spot as each season changes. Particular attention should be paid to how plant life changes and what animals we see or don’t see at different points in the year.
- A research project on these berries would be a lot of fun. Most of them are ones you don’t find in the grocery store, and with such evocative names, students will want to know more. Bonus if you can get some at your school for the kids to try.
Endlessly Ever After (Chronicle Books)
Written by Laurel Snyder
Illustrated by Dan Santat
For ages: 5-9
I loved Choose Your Own Adventure books growing up because of the interactivity. Laurel Snyder & Dan Santat agree with me and have managed to create a picture book version of that structure. You begin by choosing to wear a red cape or a wolfskin as the fairy tale protagonist; each clothing option tells the readers something about the character. From there, you come across familiar characters and situations, being given choices and pages to turn to, trying to create a happy ending for your fairy tale. Of course, there are plenty of endings, both happy and otherwise.
If you’re familiar with Santat’s art, you know what a treat you are in for. Having honed his skills in animation, his work is incredibly expressive, and there’s never any doubt about his characters’ feelings. Laurel Snyder has given herself a challenge as anyone who has analyzed the structure of a CYA book knows it can turn your brain into spaghetti. If you read them as much as I did, you also know how easily they can be duds, but this duo delivers a perfect book. Experimental picture books like this one are always great fodder for reluctant readers. Giving them some autonomy in the story’s direction will throw them for a loop and pull them in to want to read more.
- Students can create a cover for the specific story path they made in their read-through, comparing each other’s covers to see how differently their narratives went.
- Have students vote on which read-through the class does is their favorite, including evidence to support their opinion.
- The most challenging (and the most fun, imo) would be to make your own CYA picture book. This would involve students spending a lot of time planning and building their structure. When the writing happens, it is a great way to teach the rarely used 2nd person perspective.