Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

How Lucky Can You Be?

Earlier this week I discovered a title, published in January that I had somehow missed, on the shelves of one of my favorite local bookstores.  It is not the usual size of books for my younger readers, but they are going to like it because it is the perfect size for them.  Nearly eight inches square with a heavy cover and heavy pages, Fortune Cookies by Albert Bitterman with art by Chris Raschka is a true gem.

The narrator of the story, a young girl, going to her mailbox discovers a package.  Inside is a red box decorated with blue Chinese characters; a box of seven fortune cookies.  A small tag pictured beneath the box says: to Fortune from Uncle Albert.

Fortune cookies are like little boxes themselves holding secret predictions of what the future may or may not bring to the recipient.  Beginning with Sunday and continuing throughout the week by means of a pull-tab tucked within each pictured cookie, a unique message is revealed. 

On Sunday my fortune said:  Today you will lose something you don't need.  And guess what?  My tooth came out!

As the week progresses events unfold which either by fate or choice of the child closely connect with the fortunes.  The story flows and follows back to the beginning with no cookies left but the reality that our "luck" remains.

Albert Bitterman is the pen name of the owner of Reading Reptile, an independent children's bookstore with considerable popularity in Kansas City, Missouri, Pete Cowdin.  Fortune Cookies is his first book, but let us hope that it is the first of many.  Whether his fortunes were carefully selected or worded from his life experiences, they present possibilities; outlooks, if you will, on how to respond in a given situation.  In the competent hands of Bitterman, those thoughts, reactions and their outcomes are linked one to the other at the exact pace necessary for the intended audience.  A pace that leads them to a surprisingly, purr-fect conclusion.

Artist, Chris Raschka, is the winner of the Caldecott Medal for his illustrations in Juster Norton's title, Hello, Goodbye Window and a Caldecott Honor winner for his book, Yo! Yes?  This March he was nominated as the United States representative illustrator for the Hans Christian Andersen Award.  It is the highest international award.  Winners will be announced in March 2012.

In Fortune Cookies his watercolor visuals surrounded by large white space are much like the fortunes tucked inside the cookies.  His unique style blends well with the story displaying the character's emotions just as one would expect; readers feel her happiness, disappointment, delight, sadness, thoughtfulness, and glee.  I particularly liked his choice of red for the girl's dress.  In Chinese culture it represents good fortune and joy. 

For readers, parents and educators this book has much to offer.  Children can speculate on what the possible fortune or the next situation will be.  New fortunes can be written by individual readers and tucked into origami cookies.  This can be paired with other Chinese New Year celebrations or studies of the Chinese culture.   It presents a golden opportunity for teaching sequencing or days of the week.  More importantly though, it can be read for the fun of pulling out each fortune again and again.

I will be getting two more copies; another one for school and one just for me.

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