The Everyday Extraordinary by Lauren Strohecker
Sometimes, all it takes is one person to change your world. As educators, we live by this idea, and we see examples of it, both large and small, in our classrooms and libraries every day. It’s in the word of encouragement one student offers to another. It’s in the book placed into the hands of the right child at just the right moment. It’s in the face of a student who realizes, perhaps for the first time, that she is successful, smart, talented, important. Our ordinary lives are full of extraordinary things, but sometimes, we all need to be reminded they are there—both in the world, and in ourselves.
Two recent picture books have been that reminder for me, and have charmed me with their warmth, gentle humor, and winning illustrations. Both by debut author/illustrators: Rosy Lamb’s Paul Meets Bernadette and Hannah E. Harrison’s Extraordinary Jane are absolute must-haves for your school, classroom, or personal library.
Paul spends all of his time circling his fish bowl, until the day Bernadette arrives and shows him that there is a wide and wonderful world beyond the glass. Through her imaginative eyes, Paul sees a boat (really a banana), a dress (newspaper), an elephant feeding her babies (a teapot and teacups), and more. With each turn of the page, Bernadette challenges Paul to notice something new—and young readers to guess how she might re-imagine the ordinary. She offers Paul (and readers!) a fresh perspective and a new way of seeing things, and reminds us that there are as many ways to see the world as there are people swimming in it.
Rosy Lamb’s exquisite illustrations, rendered in oil paint, are rich and textured; I couldn’t help running my fingers over the pages as I read. I was as captivated by this story as Paul is with Bernadette. You can view the book trailer here.
It’s no secret that I am a dog person, and I have to admit, I was first drawn to Extraordinary Jane by its cover, especially sweet Jane, who reminds me of one of my own four-legged family members, Gracie (pictured here with Buster). But she soon won me over in her own right!
Jane is the only ordinary member of an extraordinary family. Her parents, brothers, and sisters all star, with a number of other remarkable animals, in Barnaby Beluchi’s circus. Try as she might, she’s just not as strong, brave, graceful, or talented as they are—and try she does, often with disastrously adorable or funny results. One memorable wordless spread, for example, depicts the consequences of an unfortunate incident involving a very large and out-of-control balancing ball. With Barnaby’s help, however, Jane realizes that she doesn’t need to be anything more than herself to be special. She is, after all, a really good dog, thoughtful and loyal and caring, and well loved by Barnaby.
Hannah E. Harrison’s illustrations are expressive beyond words, which is fitting considering the sparse text. She manages to capture in bright acrylics a vast range of wild characters and sensitive emotions, while at the same time infusing the story with action, movement, and humor that will encourage readers to engage with the art again and again.
Each of these books is beautifully and lovingly crafted, and both of these stories remind us, with an abundance of heart, to see the extraordinary in the everyday, in ourselves, and in each other.
Lauren Strohecker is a K-6 librarian just outside of Philadelphia. Because there’s no such thing as too many books, she also works at an independent bookstore. She has been a proud book nerd since childhood, and when she’s not reading she tweets at @lkstrohecker.