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by Steve Mitchell

It’s Chris Raschka Week here at Unruled Paper. Raschka is the illustrator and author of a wide range of children’s picture books. His drawings are exuberant and colorful, their style shifting with the subject matter and the text from minimalist line drawings to hallucinatory washes of color and motion, always with an element of joy. One of my favorite illustrators working today, I’m showcasing five books below with links to videos so you can see inside the books and get a feel for the way they sing and dance, because they all sing and dance.Raschka is the recipient of two Caldecott Medals from the American Library Association for Hello, Goodbye Window in 2006 and A Ball for Daisy (video link below) in 2012. While writing many of his books himself, he’s also illustrated text by bell hooks, Nikki Giovanni, Margaret Wise Brown, and a host of others.If you’ve never read to toddlers or young children, or haven’t in a while, take a few minutes to check out the books below. They’ll definitely give you a sense of the thrill of great children’s books.The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra: The Sound of Joy is EnlighteningBy Chris Raschka”Sun Ra always said that he came from Saturn. / Now, you know and I know that this is silly. / And yet. / If he did come from Saturn, it would explain so much. / Let’s say he did come from Saturn.” So begins this bright and bouncy biography of avant-garde jazz musician, Sun Ra.Born Herman Blount in 1914, from the 1950’s until his death, Sun Ra led The Arkestra, an ever-changing ensemble whose music constantly transformed over the years they played. Sun Ra built an entire cosmology around his life and his music, fundamentally based in his assertion that he was an alien sent from Saturn with a message. Grades 1-4.Here’s Sun Ra. The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 ObjectsBy Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Chris RaschkaCovering poetry from the Middle Ages to the present day, this book is divided by time period and the common threads tying the poems together are everyday objects, from hats to candles and manhole covers. The poems include Rumi, Pablo Neruda, Emily Dickinson, Wordsworth, and many others. Vibrant watercolors flow around the words and across the pages. Grades 3 and up.Clammy ClamBy Chris RaschkaClammy Clam doesn’t want to say hello, no matter how many times you ask him. He keeps his shell closed just like, well, a clam. Raschka’s Thingy Thing series of board book introduce us to Clammy Clam, Crabby Crab, Moosey Moose, Whaley Whale and other eccentric animals who all have their own ideas about things. They’re great for beginning readers, both in the simple wording and the emotions embodied by each creature. It’s a series about accepting people for who they are and if Clammy Clam doesn’t want to say hello, that’s just fine. Beginning Readers.Foot in the Mouth: Poems to Speak, Sing, and ShoutBy Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Chris RaschkaCollage mixed with watercolor is the medium Raschka uses for the second anthology of poetry from Janeczko. The focus here is just what the title says: Speaking, Singing, Shouting. More whimsical material, chosen for its sound and the way the words bounce around in your mouth, this book is great for exploring poetry as sound with young readers. Grades 2-6.

Chris Raschka on Why Picture Books matter:

John Coltrane’s Giant StepsBy Chris RaschkaOne of John Coltrane’s most famous works explored and embodied by a box, a snowflake, some raindrops and a kitten. Painted in variations on primary colors with sheets of color layering others, this book is an exciting introduction to some of the ways jazz works. Always playful, rhythmic and absorbing while remaining very simple, Raschka’s books on jazz musicians are among my favorites. In addition to Sun Ra and Coltrane, he’s done books on Thelonius Monk (Mysterious Thelonius), and Charlie Parker (Charlie Parker Played Be Bop) as well as Simple Gifts, based on a Shaker hymn.A Singer and a Beatboxer read Charlie Parker Played Be Bop.

EventsPublic Library Story Times

Greensboro Public Libraries offer numerous storytimes for children, both at the Central Library and at the branches. Check their calendar for scheduling. Here’s a link to the Central Branch calendar. Children’s author Sands Hetherington, Night BuddiesScuppernong BooksSaturday, December 5, 11amJoin the Night Buddies as they embark on another Program, this time taking them all the way into the stratosphere in their racing blimp.Children’s author Douglas Gibson, Tales of a Fifth Grade KnightScuppernong BooksSaturday, December 12, 11amOne day, Isaac Thompson is just your average fifth grader playing the part of a porcupine in the school play. The next, he has strayed into a mysterious subterranean realm that has been lurking beneath his school Castle Elementary and launches his quest to knighthood. Can Isaac and his crew escape the Underground before it’s too late for them to ever return home?And, Mister Rogers Remixed!

Please send any announcements of writerly or bookish events in the Triad area or beyond to: neuralarts@triad.rr.comSteve Mitchell’s short story collection, The Naming of Ghosts, is published by Press 53. He has a deep belief in the primacy of doubt and an abiding conviction that great wisdom informs very bad movies. He’s co-owner of Scuppernong Books in Greensboro, NC.

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