Published: Penquin, New York 2007
Ages: 5 years and up
Themes: Trust, Courage, Adventure,
Opening Lines: Ma says Pa and Swift were out hunting on the day I was born – and that I have wanted to go with them ever since. This year I passed the gun course. This year pa said, “Johnnie, get the dog. We’re goin’ huntin’.”
Synopsis: Since he can remember Johnnie had wanted to go hunting with his Pa. Finally the day came. He was ready to brave the cold Alaskan elements to help his Pa, along with their dog Swift, hunt for winter food. What he didn’t anticipate on their very first outing together was coming face to face with a grizzly. When his Pa’s leg is mangled by the grizzly it is up to Johnnie and Swift to make their way through the forest and down the river and mountain to bring back help in time. His father told him to “listen to the dog”. Swift leads Johnnie on their rescue mission and he must do as his father told him if either of them are to survive.
Why I like it: Look at that cover, isn’t it gorgeous? The illustrations are big, full-page and dramatic. As I followed the story I could see and feel the dog willing Johnnie to keep going, showing natural doglike attitudes and his natural instinct in protecting him against the grizzly. Illustrations like the one where he is licking Johnnie’s face and the one where he is curled up beside Johnnie in the boat. His face has such an expression, guarding, yet tenderness. The story itself is moving and anyone interested in an adventure will enjoy it. It not only gave us an insight into life in Alaska but also how trusting and respectful one is of living off the land and the animals one owns. I loved this and if it wasn’t for the fact it belongs at the library I would keep it.
“Painter and Ugly”
Published: Penquin, New York
Ages: 5 years and up
Themes: glory ,power of friendship, separation, best friends
Opening Lines: After every sled-racing season, the boy called Jake always left his dog team to run free on an island on the Yukon River. He was good to the team and every day returned with fresh water, food, and hugs for each dog.
Synopsis: Painter and Ugly are best friends and do everything together. They talk to each other and even eat out of the same dinner bowls. They are inseparable. One day they are sold to different owners and our hearts break as we follow Painter’s life without his best friend, Ugly. Painter and Ugly eventually meet up again during a Junior Iditarod race. I will leave it for you to find out what happens and who won the race.
Why I like it: When I saw there were other books on Robert’s list I immediately booked this one from the library. The cover sold me completely. The beautiful illustrations are breath-taking. Not only the cover picture but from the anxious features when they are torn apart, to the look on Painter’s face when he first hears that familiar call from his best friend, to the gorgeous last page at the end of the race, the obvious joy and devotion these two friends have for each other is clear on their faces and in their eyes. Robert is first and foremost a beautiful illustrator. This is a wonderfully told story of not only a quest for glory but above all a story of great friendship and what it takes to be together.
What I love about both these books is the included Author’s Note telling us how he came to write the stories. He explains his trips to Alaska and staying with families who own sled dogs, mucking in and working with them. As a writer one sentence stood out in his note which said… Whenever I write a story, I think, What if… What if Ugly wound up on another sled-dog team?… What if?
Roberts research is meticulous and his books have won many awards. He resides in Nashville, Tennessee.
Resources/Findings: When I went checking out resources for this book I came across Robert’s website showing how the illustrations transition from pencil drawing to colourful dramatic completion. The story of how he came to write his stories and detailed sketches is a wonderful find here for readers, and writers young and old. http://robertjblake.com/
I also found a website of fun things to learn about Alaska and artwork and games to interest kids in the life and people of Alaska… http://www.alaskakids.org/
Here is also a website on how to help young children create friendships. A good tool for teachers and parents about knowing and understanding if your child has friends or not. The tell, tell signs…. http://pediatrics.about.com/od/growthanddevelopment/a/0807_mk_friends.htm
I just had to Post two picture books today, and who can blame me .. For more books with resources please head on over and visit the lovely author Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog and find the tab for Perfect Picture Books. Her blog is full of resources links and activities associated with the books reviewed by many authors.