Supporting Early Literacy Practices with Newly-Published Board Books

By Alena Rivers

The Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, advocates for early childhood literacy in many ways, including the Babies Need Words Every Day project and the Every Child Ready to Read (ECRR) program, which it administers in partnership with the Public Library Association. ECRR stresses the importance of five practices that support early literacy skills in babies and toddlers: talking, singing, reading, writing and playing. Babies and toddlers can learn immense amounts of vocabulary and communication skills when parents and caregivers participate in these activities with their prereaders.

With their sturdy format and exciting visual content, board books support the practice of reading to very young children. Board books offer a wonderful introduction to building a habit of reading together while providing babies and toddlers with a valuable learning experience. Many board books are concept books, or books that present information on ideas such as numbers, colors, shapes or the alphabet. Concepts can be introduced through a variety of subject matter, from the familiar to the novel. The board books below offer three different ways to introduce the concepts of numbers and colors by way of food, animals and trains.

Edible Colors by Jennifer Vogel Bass (Roaring Brook, 2016)

Edible Numbers by Jennifer Vogel Bass (Roaring Brook, 2016)

Jennifer Vogel Bass’ board books provide vibrant, colorful photos of an unusual collection of fruits and vegetables. Babies and adults can find a visual explosion of colorful foods, some common and some unknown varieties, to explore while learning numbers and colors.

Edible Colors features a plethora of fruits and vegetables and provides them in a rainbow of colors. Well-known fruit and vegetable color combinations, such as orange carrots and green cucumbers are followed by a generous selection of additional fruits and vegetables of the same color.

Edible Numbers invites young children to explore numbers from 1-12 while counting the variations on more common fruits and vegetables. A two-page spread at the end of the board book provides a comprehensive view of the numbers and foods used throughout the book.

Picture This: Colors by Marie Vendittelli (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016)

Picture This: Numbers by Judith Nouvion (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016)

The Picture This board books series explores homes, shapes, colors and numbers through images from nature. The full-color photos are close-up, textured depictions of animals in their natural habitats that babies and toddlers will find compelling.

Picture This: Colors features 14 vibrant photos of animals exhibiting each featured color. The text identifies the animal and its environment in a simple, repeating and predictable pattern.

Picture This: Numbers groups animals by numbers 1-10. Each animal featured is identified with a brief one or two sentence fact about the animal.

Steam Train, Dream Train 1-2-3 by Sherri Duskey Rinker, illus. by Tom Lichtenheld (Chronicle, 2016)

Steam Train, Dream Train Colors by Sherri Duskey Rinker, illus. by Tom Lichtenheld (Chronicle, 2016)

These board books were inspired by the Steam Train, Dream Train   picture book. The board book counterparts are illustrated with oil pastel drawings that identify the different types of train cars. Rhyming text offers a predictive pattern of language babies and toddlers will enjoy hearing.

Steam Train, Dream Train 1-2-3 uses half of each two-page spread to identify a number from 1-10 along with rhyming text describing the corresponding scenes of animals interacting with objects such as cars and balloons on each train car.

Steam Train, Dream Train Colors features a train in one of 10 different colors accompanied by rhyming text describing the train car and its animal passengers.

To Grandmother’s House We Go!

by Alena Rivers

Not all of our summer excursions can be tropical vacations. Whether taking time for staycations or logging miles and miles on the road to visit family, for children, time spent in a different place, or traveling to it, can spark imaginations and inspire new adventures. Long road trips and quiet summer days provide great opportunities for children to explore their surroundings and give their brains the freedom to daydream. Here are a group of newly-published picture books in the Butler Center that feature children and the imaginative ways they spend time with grandparents or passing the time on warrior-style road trips to visit them.

Are We There Yet? By Nina Laden, illus. by Adam McCauley (Chronicle, 2016)

A boy and his mother take an extended drive to grandmother’s house. Not long before they are on the road, the boy asks his mother, “Are we there yet?”. The mother simply replies, “No.” This familiar-to-adults exchange is repeated across each two-page spread of the book while readers are taken on an illustrated journey through cities, over bridges past farms and deserts until they reach grandmother’s house. The story is a simple reminder for kids and their adult caregivers of the excitement just outside the car window that can be easily overlooked on long road trips.

Are We There Yet? By Dan Santat (Little, Brown, 2016)

Caldecott medalist, Dan Santat creates a larger-than-life visual voyage when a young boy and his parents embark on what feels like the longest car ride ever to his grandmother’s birthday party. The boy’s initial excitement about the road trip is soon stunted by the bland scenery outside his car window. Santat illustrates imaginative scenes and uses minimal but complimentary text to depict what can happen when you let your brain run wild during the most mind-numbing, tiresome treks to the fun waiting at the end of the road.

The Bell in the Bridge by Ted Kooser, illus. by Barry Root (Candlewick, 2016)

Charlie, a young boy, makes annual, two-week summer visits to his grandparents’ farm. Not much happens during these summer visits so Charlie amuses himself by playing near a stream with tadpoles and turtles. Charlie discovers that by using a rock to hit the railing of a bridge over the stream, the result is a bell-like sound with its faint echo following it. One day after banging the bridge, an extra sound, just like his, is returned in the distance. Who or what is causing this additional sound? The mystery adds just the right amount of excitement to speed up the slow summer days that remain before Charlie’s parents come to pick him up. Soft water color and gouache shades of green, yellow and orange enhance the feeling of quiet warmth indicative of summer mornings and late afternoons.

The Not-So-Faraway Adventure by Andrew Larsen, illus. by Irene Luxbacher (Kids Can, 2016)

Young Theodora, or Theo as her grandfather, Poppa, calls her, decides that a trip on a streetcar to a nearby beach is the perfect birthday present for her adventurous grandfather. The journey takes time but there is much to see along the way. When they finally reach the beach, Theo and Poppa spend the day discovering its many treasures and dreaming up big adventures. Their trip ends with a refreshing meal of gazpacho soup and another surprise waiting for Poppa in his apartment. Colorful, mixed-media artwork provides vivid illustrations of the city, beach and all the places in between.

Young Adult Narratives for the Digital Age

Books

by Hal Patnott

More and more we live on the Web, narrating our days in snaps, tweets, IMs, and status updates. It only makes sense then that we can find books on the shelves that reflect our digital lives. Why not? People thousands of miles away from one another connect, form communities around shared passions, and fall in love (or, at least, fall in love with the idea of having someone to love) online.

Novels in texts and emails invite the reader to participate and explore the story. They offer an immediate narrative and pacing as rapid-fire as key strokes. Like in poetry, every word counts. There’s less room for leisurely description. Messages between two characters need to capture voice and carry the plot.

If you’re looking for an energetic, emotional, and suspenseful read to recommend to a teen, try one of these 2016 titles with a nontraditional narrative style. Come check out the advanced reader’s editions at the Butler Center if you want to see them for yourself!

Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson (Chronicle, April 2016) 

An entire country separates Gena and Finn. Gena attends a boarding school on the east coast. She looks forward to a future at an Ivy League school. Finn, on the other hand, followed her college boyfriend Charlie out to California, where she struggles to find a job. They have nothing in common except their love for the cop drama Up Below. Through fan fiction and fan art, two young women who might never have met form a bond that starts as shared enthusiasm for a television show and develops into love more complicated than friendship.

Fans of the book Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell will recognize a similar affection for the world of online fandom in Gena/Finn. Like Cath in Fangirl, both Gena and Finn cling to the stability of their fan community when they feel isolated and unsatisfied. Far away from her home with no friends to confide in but Gena, Finn fears taking the next step of commitment in her relationship with Charlie, who knows nothing about her obsession with Up Below. Always private about her past, Gena has her own secrets, a fight with mental illness, and unresponsive parents who left to gallivant around the globe. Told through blog posts, emails, text messages, and journal entries, Gena/Finn invites readers into an intimate and fast-paced story of two fans trying to make sense of the real world.

Girls Like Me by Lola StVil (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, October 2016)

Shay Summers doesn’t “fit into the puzzle of high school” and she doesn’t fit in to her step-mother’s narrow-waist-line expectations (12). In class and in the halls, the head cheerleader Kelly torments Shay at every opportunity, while at home Shay is haunted by the memory of her father who died in a car crash. At least her two best friends Dash and Boots stand by her side on the outskirts of social acceptance. As the anniversary of her father’s death looms over her, Shay seeks a distraction online. She meets a boy called Godot on TrashFire.com, a website where everyone at her school shares the latest gossip. Godot falls for Shay’s wit, and he identifies with her feelings of loneliness at home. As their instant message relationship progresses, Godot urges Shay to meet him in real life. However, Shay fears rejection, especially when she learns Godot’s true identity: Blake Harrison, King of the School.  She must decide whether a chance at real-life love is worth the risk of losing Godot.

Girls Like Me alternates between verse and text messages. Short lines and chatspeak convey the urgency and the longing of Shay’s romance with Blake as the story unfolds. Over text message they use fonts to communicate their feelings. A single post carries enough weight to change the status of their relationship. Ultimately, neither Shay nor Blake is satisfied with digital love, but if they want their love to last in the real world, Shay needs to learn to love herself first.

Gemina: The Illuminae Files_02 by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (Alfred A. Knopf/Penguin Random House, October 2016)

The second installment in the Illuminae Files picks up on space station Heimdall. Hanna Donnelly, daughter of the space station’s commander, knows nothing about the BeiTech Corporation’s assault on the illegal mining settlement of Kerenza. Consumed with her social engagements and her perfect love life, she has no idea that in less than two weeks BeiTech will launch a new attack to destroy the Heimdall and all evidence of what happened in Kerenza. When a BeiTech invasion force sneaks on board the Heimdall, Hanna is thrust together with unlikely hero Nik Malikov, a member of a dangerous criminal organization, to save their people before BeiTech destroys the station and a time paradox rips apart the universe.

Like the first book in the series, Gemina unravels through transcripts of video feed, radio transmissions, chat logs, reports, and emails. Kaufman and Kristoff raise the stakes—not only life or death hangs in the balance, but the existence of two entire universes depend on Hanna and Nik for survival. The intricately woven plot takes every detail into account. Frequent shifts in perspective build tension as the story twists and turns in unexpected directions with heart-stopping force. Although Gemina follows a new set of leading characters, readers should start with Illuminae to fully understand the context of the story. For fans of science fiction and thrillers, the Illuminae Files is a series worth exploring.

Cozy Up with a Little One and a Board Book Based on Classic Literature

by Alena Rivers

Busy parents and caregivers of babies and toddlers may not be able to find the time to sit down with a cup of tea and a read a classic piece of literature such as Moby Dick or Pride and Prejudice but there may be another way to share the benefits of reading aloud to young children while also dipping into a literary classic for themselves.

The Butler Center recently received a small collection of Cozy Classics board books by brothers Jack and Holman Wang featuring classic novels told in an abbreviated 12 words and illustrated by hand-crafted felt figures depicting characters from the original stories. The first page in each board book poses felt figures against the backdrop of text from the first chapter of the board book’s original counterpart. The detailed craftwork of the felt figures is admirable and the one-word per two-page spread invites a very selective exploration of themes from the original novels. For example, in the Pride & Prejudice board book, the word “sick” accompanies an image of a character lying in bed with two others kneeling by her bedside.

While there is little doubt babies will miss the connection between many of the featured words and the actions depicted by their corresponding felt images, adults may enjoy the challenge of remembering the context for each literary scene. The unique concept behind these board books could certainly serve as a fun novelty for families that are familiar with the classic stories featured in the Cozy Classics series. These also make great selections for anyone who appreciates a simplified version of a lengthy classic work!

Visit the Butler Center to take a look!

Cozy Classics: Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations by Jack and Holman Wang (Chronicle, 2016).

Cozy Classics: Herman Melville’s Moby Dick by Jack and Holman Wang (Chronicle, 2016).

Cozy Classics: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice by Jack and Holman Wang (Chronicle, 2016).

Cozy Classics: Leo Tolstoy’s War & Peace by Jack and Holman Wang (Chronicle, 2016).

CaldeNott Results!

Yesterday evening twelve dutiful children’s book discussers met to consider a selection of picture books of international provenance, applying the Caldecott Medal terms and criteria to picture books ineligible for the actual award, in hopes of learning about some wonderful books, and the Caldecott Medal itself, in the process. We began with 18 very different books (you can find our complete discussion list here) and ended up with one winner and three honor books.

Our honor books are:

tiny creaturesTiny Creatures: The World of Microbes

illustrated by Emily Sutton (England)

written by Nicola Davies (Wales),

Candlewick Press, 2014

A scientific exploration of microbes explains their natural existence and celebrates the intricacies of their ecological function. Our committee appreciated Sutton’s use of scale, visually explaining the size and amount of the microbes around us; the friendly, approachable tone of her watercolor paintings, reinforcing the book’s even, almost enthusiastic approach to its subject; and the repeated presence of two children, not mentioned in the text, who, in their constant dress and curious attitude, serve as a ready point of access for the young reader.

at the same moment around the worldAt the Same Moment Around the World

illustrated and written by Clotilde Perrin (France)

Chronicle, 2014

This magical book circles the globe, exploring different children’s experiences at a single moment in time. We begin at 6:00am in Senegal, and travel east across time zones, to France, to Bulgaria, to Iraq, as kids of all stripes work, play, eat and dream. Each spread moves from one country to the next, connecting otherwise disparate locales and delivering a powerful message of human continuity. We appreciated the tall trim size, reflecting the longitudinal time zones; the attention to detail, with watery endpapers suggesting the surrounding oceans; and the indelible warmth of the culturally specific depictions. The final, fold-out map, that names the children and fixes them on the globe, adds concrete understanding to the sensitive expression of community.

rules of summerRules of Summer

illustrated and written by Shaun Tan (Australia)

Scholastic, 2014.

Two brothers offer fantastical, superstitious interpretations of a collection of seemingly pedestrian rules, brought to bigger-than-life through Tan’s edgy, immersive, dreamlike paintings. While each of the rules comes to individual life in its own spread, Tan links them together in an emotional arc that traces a bumpy, competitive, and ultimately tender relationship between two brothers who appear together, at the story’s end, surrounded by drawings of their imaginative adventures. We appreciated the painterly precision of the drama; the powerfully depicted relationship; the curious, sometimes impenetrable symbolism of birds and crowns; and the way the sinister undercurrent of the imaginings resolves into dependable comfort.

And our CaldeNott Medal goes to:

foxs gardenFox’s Garden

illustrated by Princess Camcam (Germany)

Enchanted Lion, 2014

A fox seeks shelter for herself and her babies and, when chased from a house on a wintry night, takes refuge in the nearby greenhouse. The house’s boy delivers a basket of sustenance, and the fox repays the kindness, decorating his bedroom with flowers as he sleeps. Princess Camcam creates her illustrations in three dimensions, photographing dioramas of intricately cut and painted paper, carefully arranged and lit. The effect is intimate and tranquil, with hushed colors, soft shadows, and an immediate sense of place. The artist’s careful use of sharp and cloudy focus pulls the viewer into the images, and her supreme command of light conveys the chill of the air, the stillness of the snow, and the arrival of the morning. Simply breathtaking.

It was noted that ours is not a “mock” endeavor but is instead, as the only one of its kind, the CaldeNott. Boom. It was also noted that we have chosen a book about a fox two years in a row. Make of that what you will.

This fall we’ll (re)turn our attention to international picture books, to do this all over again in 2016. Feel free to send any candidate titles my way. In the meantime, I’ll be off to the Bologna International Children’s Book Fair with a group of students in March, in search of our own. We’ll keep you posted.

Mock CaldeNott – January 15, 2015

memory of an elephantJoin us for our second annual Mock CaldeNott discussion on Thursday, January 15, 2015! Once again we’ll investigate a collection of extraordinary picture books from the previous year, using the Caldecott terms and criteria as our guide to illustrative excellence. The special component of our experience is that we’re looking at books that are ineligible for the actual Caldecott Medal due to their international provenance. It’s extra-informative and super-fun. You should really come.

Beginning at 5:00pm we’ll have an opportunity to review the picture books in contention (with light refreshments). Indeed, all of the books are currently available for preview in the Butler Center at any time (any time we’re open, anyway).

Our formal deliberations will begin at 7:00pm. Woohoo.

Here are the books we’re looking at:

Two Tough Crocs by David Bedford, illustrated by Tom Jellett, Holiday House, 2014

Fox’s Garden by Princesse Camcam, Enchanted Lion, 2014

Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Emily Sutton, Candlewick, 2014

Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton, Candlewick, 2014

Anna’s Heaven by Stian Hole, Eerdmans, 2014

Fall Leaves by Loretta Holland, illustrated by Elly MacKay, HMH, 2014

The Dinner that Cooked Itself by J.C. Hsyu and Kenard Pak, Flying Eye Books, 2014

Mr. Brown’s Fantastic Hat by Ayano Imai, minedition, 2014

Midnight Library by Kazuno Kahara, Roaring Brook Press, 2014

Moví la mano / I Moved My Hand by Jorge Luján, illustrated by Mandana Sadat, Groundwood Books, 2014

Children Growing Up in War by Jenny Matthews, Candlewick, 2014

At the Same Moment Around the World by Clotilde Perrin, Chronicle, 2014

Jim Curious by Matthias Picard, Abrams, 2014

The Mouse Mansion by Karina Schaapman, Dial, 2014

The Memory of an Elephant by Sophie Strady, illustrated by Jean-François Martin, Chronicle, 2014

Rules of Summer by Sean Tan, Scholastic, 2015

Goal! by Sean Taylor, illustrated by Caio Vilela, Henry Holt, 2014

The Big Book of Slumber by Giovanna Zoboli, illustrated by Simona Mulazzani, Eerdmans, 2014

children growing up with warRSVP/Questions in the form below!

Mock CaldeNott Results!

This time of year we enjoy handicapping the big children’s and young adult book awards as much as the next literature center. But rather than trying to anticipate the 2014 committees, we decided to go a different way in our own engagement with the process. We used the Caldecott lens to examine some outstanding examples of picture book making from around the world. Yesterday evening a hale and inquisitive group of 22 gathered in the Butler Center to consider extraordinary picture books ineligible for the actual Caldecott Medal due to their international provenance. We pulled out the official Caldecott terms and criteria (leaving behind the bits about the illustrator being American and the book being first published in America) and focused them on a butler’s dozen (that’s 13) of terrific ineligible picture books. It was stimulating and edifying, and, as is always the case with Butler Center book discussions, a real blast. In the end we chose one winner and one honor book. Look at us!

jane the fox and meFor our winner we selected Jane, the Fox & Me by Fanny Britt, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault (Groundwood Books). A young girl, bullied and friendless, finds strength and comfort in the pages of a favorite novel, buoyed by its familiar message and strengthened enough, eventually, to trust someone and take a chance. We were especially taken with Arsenault’s sophisticated use of color to paint an emotional landscape; the distinct styles she used to differentiate the adolescent world of the protagonist and the imaginary world of Jane Eyre into which she retreats; and the illustrations’ almost childlike essence that really enhanced the raw vulnerability of the first-person voice.

my father's arms are a boatOur honor book is My Father’s Arms Are a Boat by Stein Erik Lunde, illustrated by Øyvind Torseter (Enchanted Lion Books). A boy who recently lost his mother steps into the night with his father to process grief, look for comfort, and reconnect with the world that still holds possibility. Here we appreciated the untethered compositions, expressing the amorphous, rudderless nature of grief; the gradual relief that comes with the return of regular boundaries; and the expression of life’s fragility in the delicate three-dimensional paper-work dioramas.

But this was no easy choice. The debate was spirited, intense, and full of insight. And just look at the other distinguished titles we had on the table!:

The Line by Paula Bossio (Kids Can Press)

The Bear’s Song by Benjamin Chaud (Chronicle Books)

A Little Book of Sloth by Lucy Cooke (Margaret K. McElderry Books)

Herman and Rosie by Gus Gordon (Roaring Brook Press)

Opposites by Xavier Deneux (Chronicle Books)

Here I Am by Patti Kim, illustrated by Sonya Sanchez (Capstone)

The Big Wet Balloon by Liniers (Toon Books)

The Tiny King by Taro Miura (Candlewick Press)

Maps by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski (Big Picture Press)

The Voyage by Veronica Salinas, illustrated by Camilla Engman (Groundwood Books)

Nasreddine by Odile Weulersse, illustrated by Rbecca Dautremer (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers)

It was a lot of fun. You should try it.

Mock CaldeNott!

the bear's songOn Thursday, January 16, our regular Butler Center book discussion group, B3, resumes with a bang. This time out we’re conducting a Mock Caldenott Award. Yes, you read that right. CaldeNott. We’ll be using the official Caldecott terms and criteria to evaluate picture books ineligible for the actual award, due to their foreign provenance, and pick a winner.

I am as likely as the next person to get swept up in the drama and intrigue of the ALA Youth Media Awards. I attend the press conference where the winners are announced to the world without fail, and had the great honor of presiding over the festivities in 2010 (the year we announced The Lion and the Mouse as Caldecott winner). And I love all of the handicapping and arm-chair quarterbacking that goes on. But there’s a little part of me (OK, a big part) that feels bad about the incredible books that don’t get their due. We spend so much time searching for the most distinguished American books of the year that books from other countries get lost in the shuffle. And some of those books are fan-freaking-tastic.

mapsSo, we have a short list of a butler’s dozen (that’s 13) extraordinary picture books vying for the Caldenott crown. You can find the titles here. Hey, why don’t you join us?!

As always, we meet on the third Thursday of the month in the Butler Center at 7:00. This time we’re opening up a few hours early. From 5:00-7:00 you’re welcome to drop into the center, enjoy a sandwich and a snack, review the books on the table, and consider the terms and criteria that will guide our discussion. If you can come only be with us for part of the evening, that’s fine. If you haven’t seen any of the books yet, that’s fine. The point is, you should come.

It would be great if you’d RSVP in the form below (but do still please come, even if you don’t get around to it).

the big wet balloonHope to see you there!

Kinship Project

voice from afarThe Butler Center opened in its permanent space two years ago today on September 11th, 2011, the tenth anniversary of that infamous day in world history. To commemorate that occasion we curated an exhibit called the Kinship Project, a collection of books for children and teens that speak to our human kinship. We created a catalog with notes that speak to each of the 29 books connection to the idea of kinship. I link here to the online version. We have some print copies as well (beautiful, actually) and I’d be happy to send some along to you, too. Just fill out the form below with your name and address and I’ll get them in the mail.

How about you? What do you remember of that day? What do your memories have to say to your work with books and young people? Where do you see kinship among the collections we keep?

On a Beam of Light

on a beam of lightOn a Beam of Light

by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky

Chronicle, 2013

I fancy myself a scaredy dad. My son, who has been with us now for approximately 750ish days, has managed to instill a deep rooted paranoia within me concerning every possible aspect of the human condition. “Is he choking or just laughing really hard?” “What was that, a poop or a toot” (please just be a toot!)? And something I’m certain every parent can relate to: “Why isn’t he deciphering complex algebraic proofs yet?” Unreasonable? Absolutely! Whereas I can look past perceived mathematical deficiencies, I worry away over words and speech.

Believe it or not, other parents have shared concerns for their child’s development. Case in point; THE EINSTEINS! Turns out, even the most (arguably) brilliant scientist ever took a while to blossom. Jennifer Berne’s book On a Beam of Light reveals a quiet, curious baby Albert who barely spoke at the age of three. He sort of took his time checking things out. Upon receiving a compass from his father, young Albert became mesmerized by the consistency of its northward pointing needle. This revelation developed a thirst for knowledge within him that would span a lifetime. Far more inquisitive than his classmates, some teachers believed he would be an utter failure in life. Unperturbed, he searched for answers in books on science and math. Tireless thinking and daydreaming led him to discover some of the most important concepts in scientific history.

Berne takes an interesting approach to Einstein’s story by focusing on his difficulties fitting in, his curious nature, and a love of simple pleasures. In a word: his normalcy. For all practical purposes this seemingly super-natural man was little more than a thoughtful boy who loved music, riding his bicycle, eating ice cream, and wearing shoes with no socks. The author’s clever references to activities children adore make Albert all the more appealing to young readers and listeners. Particularly keen observations and significant moments in Albert’s story are written in large, red ink to emphasize their meaning.

Vladimir Radunsky creates a whimsical mood with static pen drawings which are often colored with ink and gouache paints. Some of Albert’s thoughts and questions are drawn as word bubbles. Particularly effective are the freckled, parchment-like pages which are soft on the reader’s eyes. Images frequently portray Albert in a pensive pose. Depictions of his thoughts and dreams bounce across pages as if they were darting through his mind. One particular spread illustrating a scene made of atoms accompanies Albert’s understanding of nature’s building blocks. In another, mathematical formulas and sheet music spew from a violin played by the passionate genius.

On a Beam of Light is a unique middle grade picture book that allows young readers to indulge their inner mathematician and/or scientist without feeling compelled to learn. It feels complete in many ways. The exquisite, diverse artwork complements the energizing text creating broad appeal for a topic some young readers may consider bland. It even gives fretful parents food for thought. I take comfort in the realization that my boy is WAY smarter than Einstein was at his age. Fellow scaredy dads, there’s hope for us all.