Sunday, December 30, 2012

Favorite Books from 2012

Because the experience of reading involves what the author puts in a book and what a reader brings to the book, there is a small but important difference between a "Best of List" and a "Favorites List."  For our final post of the year, we are each posting a list of our favorite books from 2012.  We know that we will not include many wonderful books written this year, but we happily and wholeheartedly recommend our favorites.

danyelle's list:  (I had a difficult time narrowing my list down my ten favorites, so I finally admitted failure and decided on eleven.  I've listed my top five first.)

Extra Yarn written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen
A Home for Bird by Philip Stead
Penny and Her Doll by Kevin Henkes
Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead
Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World's Most Dangerous Weapon  by Steve Sheinkin

Boy + Bot written by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
Sleep Like a Tiger written by Mary Logue, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski
Mice written by Rose Fyleman, illustrated by Lois Ehlert
Nic Bishop Snakes by Nic Bishop
Crow by Barbara Wright
The Impossible Rescue: The True Story of an Amazing Arctic Adventure by Martin W. Sandler

diane's list: (I read quite a few books this year--even though I was busy at school--and am pleased to post my top ten recommendations.)
  1. Mice written by Rose Fyleman, illustrated by Lois Ehlert
  2. The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielson
  3. Boy + Bot written by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
  4. Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage
  5. The Obstinate Pen by Frank W. Dormer
  6. Bink and Gollie: Two for One written by Kate DiCamillo & Alison McGhee, illistrated by Tony Fucile
  7. Reached by Allie Condie
  8. Bird and Squirrel on the Run by James Burks
  9. The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight  by Jennifer E. Smith
  10. Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin

tara's list:  While these books may not be my top "award winners," they are books that I enjoyed reading and that will stay on my shelf for future reads.

Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz
A Home for Bird by Philip Stead
Penny and Her Doll by Kevin Henkes
Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead
The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielson
Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World's Most Dangerous Weapon  by Steve Sheinkin
Nic Bishop Snakes by Nic Bishop
Step Gently Out by Helen Frost
What Came From the Stars by Gary D. Schmidt
Z is for Moose by Kelly Bingham, Illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Books and Tradition

When you have 37 grandchildren, trying to find Christmas gifts for each of them can be a daunting task, but my mom started a tradition back when she only had a few grandkids, that simplifies that task a bit -- she gives picture books.  She buys books throughout the year, matches books to specific children, and includes a personal note in the front of each book.  My children, from my youngest to my oldest, love getting Grandma Books.  They read them over and over and even have a special shelf to keep them on.  Years ago when my family was moving from California to Virginia, the movers required that we list items of  "extraordinary value."  My oldest son, who was twelve at the time, begged me to include his Grandma Books on the list so the movers would be extremely careful with them.  My kids love watching their special shelves fill with books, and I love that they never outgrow picture books.

Here are three of our favorite Grandma Books:

King Bidgood's in the Bathtub by Audrey Wood is the story of a king, who despite the efforts of his court, refuses to get out of the bathtub.  Repetition and humor in the text illustrated with Don Wood's detailed oil painting make this a terrific read-aloud book.

Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! by Candace Fleming uses repetition and onomatopoeia to tell the story of some hungry bunnies and Mr. McGreely who is trying to protect his garden.  Illustrations by Brian Karas give life to the busy bunnies.

Bob Shea uses bold black lines and vibrant color in Dinosaur vs. Bedtime to illustrate the Dinosaur who conquers the world around him, but finally succumbs to sleep.

When I become a Grandma, I think I'll adopt this tradition if only to have an excuse to visit the bookstore more often.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

diane recommends Where Did They Hide My Presents: Silly Dilly Christmas Songs by Alan Katz

I was always excited when my mom took the Christmas books out from the closet and set them on our bookshelves, and I was always even more happy when she--on occasion--would let me read them. The one book that I always went for first was Where Did They Hide My Presents: Silly Dilly Christmas Songs. I read this every season, and still, never got bored of it. I even started to memorize it, still pulling the book out to look at the pictures, and remember some of the songs I was missing. One of the songs that I still remember today was about a kid and his parents who were shopping.

"At the malls
No parking spaces
Ma Ma Ma Ma Ma
Can't we go home?
Millions cars
Ten parking places
Ma Ma Ma Ma Ma
Can't we go home?"
When he finds out that they are shopping for him, the poem continues as he begs to stay.

The poems are really fun and easy enough for little kids to sing. The pictures contribute to the hilarity of the book with exaggerated proportions and general silliness.

Where Did They Hide My Presents: Silly Dilly Christmas Songs
by Alan Katz
Illustrated by David Catrow
published by Margaret K. McElderry Books

Sunday, December 9, 2012

tara recommends The Elves and the Shoemaker by Jim LaMarche

It is a magical thing to pick up a picture book and share a story.  Some picture books rely on a funny joke or unexpected turn of events to draw you in.  While others, like this retelling of a Brother’s Grimm story, is all about the story.  I love all kinds of picture books, but sometimes it is really nice to feel like you are relating something that could have possibly happened in true storyteller form.  This is one of those stories that you could tell without the book - but why would you want to when the pictures are so wonderful?

If you have never heard the story of The Elves and the Shoemaker, it may seem a little unconventional.  You have a poor shoemaker and his wife, who are down to their last piece of leather for their last pair of shoes, when something unexpected happens.  The leather, cut and prepared by the cobbler the night before, is magically turned into a beautiful pair of shoes – all while the cobbler and his wife are asleep.  They can’t believe their eyes, and fortune continues to smile on them when a wealthy man comes in and buys the shoes for double their price - allowing them to buy leather for 2 more pairs of shoes.

Each night, the shoemaker cuts new leather and the shoes are finished and waiting the next morning - and because of the excellent quality, there is no shortage of eager customers ready to buy them.  Soon, the couple is wealthy and has a prosperous business again.  They start to wonder who is sewing all of these shoes for them, night after night, and they decide to hide and discover the identities of their midnight visitors. ( Strange this doesn't occur to them before - after all, somebody has been breaking into their house every night . . . but, any story about elves makes it easy to suspend reality a little bit.)

Jim LaMarche fills this book with delightfully warm and richly detailed pictures that completely bring the story to life.  Just as this tale is perfect for reading out loud, the pictures form a story on their own and you can’t take your eyes away from them.  Seeing the shoemaker cut the leather with his extra-large scissors or catching a glimpse of the elf peeking through the snowy window add extra dimension and thoughtful character to the story.

I always pull this story out with our Christmas books, not just because it has a few elves in it, but also because it is a story about giving and helping each other.  It feels like the perfect reminder of how a little kindness can go a long way and how we all just need to look out for each other.

The Elves and the Shoemaker
by Jim LaMarche
published by Chronicle Books

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Best of 2012 -- Horn Book

I love this list from Horn Book, especially since it includes many of my favorites from this year:  Horn Book Fanfare 2012.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

danyelle recommends Truce: The Day the Soldiers Stopped Fighting by Jim Murphy

For many people, day-after-Thanksgiving activities include shopping, enjoying leftover turkey, and hanging Christmas lights.  At our house, we pack away the autumn, Halloween, and Thanksgiving books and pull out the Christmas books.  Most of these are picture books, but a couple of them are nonfiction books that center around Christmas.  One of my favorites is Jim Murphy's Truce: The Day the Soldiers Stopped Fighting.

Murphy begins his account by briefly outlining the political complications and ambitions that started World War I and describing the propaganda from both sides.  He tells about weapons and battles, giving just enough detail to help the reader understand the horrors of the war, describing particularly the realities of war in the trenches.  Then with the soldiers in trenches, facing each other on either side of No Man's Land, he explains how on Christmas Day 1914, defying orders from their commanders, tens of thousands of soldiers, in a series of impromptu truces, stopped fighting.  Many met on No Man's Land; some exchanging gifts, others burying their dead and holding services, and still others, taking pictures.

First-hand accounts give insight into motivations of the soldiers and show a shift in their feelings toward each other.  At the onset of the war a young British lieutenant expressed his enthusiasm for joining the fighting, "Our major anxiety was by hook or crook not to miss it" (17).  And just a few months later a German officer reported, "When the order to fire was given, the men struck  . . . the officers . . . stormed up and down, and got as the only result, the answer, 'We can't -- they are good fellows, and we can't'" (86-87).  These moments fill the story with humanity, making it personal and real.

Murphy also incorporates sentiments of those who didn't want the Christmas truce, including a young Adolph  Hitler ("Such a thing should never happen in wartime.  Have you no German sense of honor left at all?") and German and British commanders who threatened those who were friendly with the enemy ("Commander Second Army directs that informal understandings with enemy are to cease.  Officers . . . allowing them are to be brought before a court-martial.").  But above all the story is of the men who had the courage to step out of the trenches and take a chance on peace.

What makes this feel like a Christmas book to me is not the fact that the informal truce occurred on Christmas, but the miracle of the truce itself -- the spirit of forgiveness and brotherhood that triumphed over hatred at least for one day -- as expressed by a British soldier, "This experience has been the most practical demonstration I have seen of 'peace on earth and goodwill towards men'" (81).

Plenty of photographs and illustrations depict the fighting and the friendliness.  I especially enjoyed the photograph of the German soldiers singing Christmas carols in the trenches on Christmas Eve.  A timeline, notes and sources, and index are appended.

Truce: The Day the Soldiers Stopped Fighting
by Jim Murphy
published by Scholastic

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Best of 2012 -- School Library Journal

Another best of list:  School Library Journal Best Books 2012.  I'm so glad to see Extra Yarn, Penny and Her Doll, Liar & Spy, and Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon on the list.  And there's lots of nonfiction.  Lots of really good nonfiction.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Time for Picture Books

Well . . . I left town for a few days, and when I returned, I ran straight into the Thanksgiving holiday which pleasantly gobbled up my time, so I didn't write about as many picture books as I had originally planned this month.  Today I'll share a few pictures of the clocks we made this year.  I made them for my kids, but they turned out so well that I kept one for my workroom.

Sand a pre-cut clock face purchased from your local craft store, then cut a page from a picture book  and use a spray adhesive to attach it to the clock face.  [Tip: Make sure the spray adhesive goes to the edges of the picture and press the edges firmly to ensure there are no gaps.]  Spread a drop cloth or plastic sheet over your work surface and place the clock face up on wooden blocks or some other support so the clock does not touch the drop cloth.  [Tip: Be careful not to block the hole in the center of the clock face.  A used masking tape ring will work well as a support.] Pour high-gloss EnviroTex Lite over the clock face after stirring the resin and hardener according to the directions.  Breathing slowly over the surface immediately after you pour the EnviroTex Lite will help remove bubbles from the surface.  Place a large plastic container over your clock to let it dry without getting dust on the surface.  After the clock is dry, sand the drips from the back of the clock, insert a clockwork and hands from your local craft store.  Voila!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Best of 2012 -- Kirkus Reviews

We are seeing more "best of" lists as the year comes to an end, and I love it!  It gives me a chance to cheer for my favorites and check out books I missed throughout the year. Kirkus published their Best Children's Books of 2012.  Check it out--cheer, wonder, and read.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

diane recomends Three Times Lucky by Shelia Turnage

This book took me a while to get around to reading, but once I started reading it, all of my homework was pushed aside so I could finish it. I read it in two days. So, ok. You could say it was good.

Mo--a soon-to-be sixth grader--has an abnormal upbringing. But, Dale, her best friend is having some trouble himself. They decide to open a detective company, but before long, they get caught up in some mysteries that they weren't expecting to have to solve.

First, I loved the characters. They were so unlike anything that I had ever imagined--while they were still believable. 
"How did I wind up short a mother? Good question. I was born eleven years ago, during one of the meanest hurricanes in history. That night as people slept, they say, the rivers rose like a mutiny and pushed ashore, shouldering houses off foundations, lifting the dead from graves, gulping down lives like fresh-shucked oysters. Some say I was born unlucky that night. Not me. I say I was three times lucky. Lucky once when my Upstream Mother tied me to a makeshift raft and sent me swirling downstream to safety. Lucky twice when the Colonel crashed his car and stumbled to the creek just in time to snatch me from the flood. Lucky three times when Miss Lana took me in like I was her own, and kept me."  (29-30)
Second, I loved the mystery. I am not a huge fan of mysteries, and when it comes to scary, I melt. But this book caught just enough mystery and scariness for me to be captivated, without giving me nightmares.

Lastly, I loved the very realistic situations and the way the characters reacted to them. The characters acted their age the entire book. As an almost-sixth-grader, Mo thinks that she knows everything. Who she wants to marry, and what she wants to do.
"'Hey, Lavender,' I said after a while. 'That new girlfriend of yours--what's her name? Candy? Taffy? You may not know it, but a girl like that will rot your teeth out. How about you marry me?'  ' You? You're a baby.'  He grinned . . . I haven't mentioned it to Lavender yet, but if we adopt children after we're married, I'll want to name them myself. Naming good runs scarce in the Johnston family." (45)
Overall, this book was great! I couldn't come up with anything bad about it--except for the cover maybe--but other than that, it was a great book.

Three Times Lucky
by Shelia Turnage
published by Dial
May 2012
Recommended for 9-13 year olds

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Picture Books -- Day 11

Today I read This Moose Belongs to Me--a funny and thoughtful book by Oliver Jeffers.  (But then isn't that what we expect of Oliver Jeffers?)  When a moose comes to him, Wilfred knows that the moose belongs to him.  So, Wilfred names him and follows him around reading him "the rules of how to be a good pet" which the moose follows (like "not making too much noise while Wilfred plays his record collection") except when he doesn't.  But does Wilfred really own the moose?  When the moose doesn't respond to his name, Wilfred becomes angry, but after an accident with some string, the moose "perform[s] rule 73 brilliantly," all is forgiven, and the two reach a happy compromise.

The cartoon illustrations juxtaposed against painted backdrops create unusual and delightful scenes.  And I love the texture on the moose. According to the copyright page, "The art for this book was made from a mishmash of oil painting onto old linotype and painted landscapes, and a bit of technical wizardry thrown in the mix here and there."

Visit Oliver Jeffer's website to see more pictures of Wilfred and said moose.

This Moose Belongs to Me
by Oliver Jeffers
published by Philomel Books
November 2012

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Picture Books -- Day 11

You know how it is when you have loved a picture book and find yourself needing a new copy of the book, and you try to buy one, but you can't because the book is no longer in print?  Sad, sad, sad.  That is how I felt when I tried to get a new copy of Milo's Hat Trick a couple of weeks ago.

Milo's Hat Trick is a sure-fire read-aloud hit.  Milo is a terrible magician with a pathetic hat trick.  When the theater manager threatens to fire him, Milo needs to find a way to fix his act -- fast.

The story is full of surprises, including a talking bear who can jump in and out of hats.  The bear's explanation of how he accomplishes that, together with the illustration of him jumping into the hat are hilarious.  The exaggerated pictures support the exaggerated story, especially the final picture that shows Milos' new act without unnecessary explanation.

Now the big question is why, oh why, is it out of print?

Milo's Hat Trick
by Jon Agee
published by Michael Di Capua Books
April 2001

Monday, November 12, 2012

Picture Books -- Day 10

After a weekend of knitting socks and hats while watching the snow fall outside, I had to read The Extra Yarn today.  Written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen, this book has a text and illustrations that work seamlessly together for one of the best picture's this year.

Annabelle finds a box filled with colorful yarn and knits herself a sweater.  With the yarn she has leftover, she knits a sweater for her dog.  "But there was still extra yarn."  So Annabelle knits sweaters for her neighbors, her parents,  her friends, and her teacher.  When the yarn doesn't run out, she dresses up her dreary town by knitting sweaters for houses and trucks.  Of course, this special box of yarn draws attention from around the world, and soon an evil archduke who is determined to get the box for himself creates a problem for Annabelle.

Extra Yarn is fun to read to kids who join in repeating "extra yarn" once they catch on to the magic of the box.  Annabelle's spunky voice is consistently cheerful--a perfect fit for someone who is brightening her town.  When at the story's resolution, the pictures tell the story, the spare text allows readers' imaginations to fill in the details.  I love it when a story doesn't say too much!

Rainbows of knit sweaters stand out against the black and white of Annabelle's "cold little town."  I'm hoping this one makes the Caldecott list this year.  (And yes, I realize she is holding her knitting needles wrong, and it doesn't really bug me.)

You can read more about how the author and illustrator worked together and how Jon Klassen made the pictures here.

And if you haven't seen it yet, take a look inside.

Extra Yarn
by Mac Barnett
illustrated by Jon Klassen
published by Balzer + Bray
January 2012

Sunday, November 11, 2012

tara recommends Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson

I have always considered myself to be pretty independent. I had a job at 16, worked my way through college and lived on my own. I can put things together and will even unclog a sink or hang a light fixture if the need arises. Overall, I am pretty confident I can tackle most problems that may come up - but after reading Hattie Big Sky, my confidence was put in check.

Hattie Big Sky was inspired by the author’s great-grandmother, who independently ran a Montana homestead as a young woman. Knowing the story was based on true experiences makes this book even more inspirational and fun to read.

Hattie was orphaned “before [she’d] lost [her] baby teeth” and was passed around between poor relatives until Aunt Ivy and Uncle Holt (a distant cousin) took her in when she was 13. Aunt Ivy was not a loving influence and delighted in telling Hattie that she had “nothing and no one” and that she should “count [her] blessings.” Luckily, Hattie had a sometimes ally in her reserved Uncle Holt, and just when Aunt Ivy was ready to send her to work at a boardinghouse, he produced a letter. The letter was from her recently deceased Uncle Chester, who had a 320-acre claim staked in Montana and has left it to her. If she is able to meet the remaining requirements, the land would be hers.

So, as a 16-year old girl, she sets off to Montana where she finds a rundown house, (“Aunt Ivy’s chicken’s had better accommodations”), an ornery milk cow, an old horse, and a lot of work. To top it all off, there is unrest everywhere because of the war and she finds herself caught between perceived loyalty to her country and loyalty to her new friends.

Hattie is spunky and her letters to Uncle Holt and to her best friend Charlie (who is fighting the war in France) show off her humorous side. Uncle Holt even shares her letters with a local newspaper where they print her unique insights and experiences.

The rest of the story is almost unbelievable, but becomes remarkable because of her resourcefulness, hard work, stubbornness, kindness and integrity. It is hard to believe that a young girl should ever have that kind of pressure, but through it all she becomes stronger and she finally finds a family.

The title doesn’t do this book any favors, but the story is a great one and I look forward to reading the sequel, Hattie Ever After, coming out February 12, 2013.

Hattie Big Sky
by Kirby Larson
2007 Newbery Honor book
Recommended for ages 9 and up

Paperback:  304 pages
Publisher:  Yearling; Reissue edition (December 23, 2008)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Picture Books -- Day 9

Since Diane posted about one of her favorite Kevin Henkes books yesterday, I thought I would share my favorite today.  Let me start by saying, Kevin Henkes is a genius.  I've never met him, but I have proof:  Kitten's First Full Moon, Chrysanthemum, Little White Rabbit, My Garden, Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse, Penny and Her Doll.  Genius.  But, of all  his books, my favorite is Owen.

Owen has a fuzzy yellow blanket that he takes everywhere with him until his nosy neighbor, Mrs. Tweezers, interferes.  She thinks he is "getting a little old be carrying that thing around," and so, on her advice, Owen's parents try to get him to give the fuzzy yellow blanket up.  After several failed attempts -- the blanket fairy, the vinegar trick, saying "no" -- his mother comes up with a solution that makes everyone happy.

Henkes uses single and multi-panel illustrations to show action and to capture Owen's personality, creating a perfectly-paced story.  Family dynamics are spot-on, both in the text and the pictures.  Owen is at the center of the story with the adults seen from his point-of-view.  His parents are clearly on his side as seen in the hint of worry on his mother's face when she has to say, "no" and the look of horror from his dad as Owen's mother cuts the blanket.  Even Mrs. Tweezers, seen peeking around and whispering over the fence, is redeemed when at the end of the story, Owen happily waves to her, letting the reader know that all is well.

Owen was a Caldecott Honor book as well as a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor book.

by Kevin Henkes
published by Greenwillow Books
September 1993

Friday, November 9, 2012

Picture Books -- Day 8

For my early childhood education class, we had to pick our favorite children's picture book and read it to the class. So, in order to pick the perfect book, I found myself re-reading some of my favorites. After much debate, and some shed tears, I finally settled on this book. Now, I don't actually know if it is my favorite book, but it sure is cute, and it's fun to read aloud. Julius the Baby of the World is another one of the cute books that Kevin Henkes wrote and illustrated
Lily has a new baby brother, and like all little girls, she is jealous. "'I am the queen,' said Lily. 'And I hate Julius.'"  And during the book, she is not very nice to Julius. "'Julius was really a germ. Julius was like dust under your bed. If he was a number, he would be zero. If he was a food, he would be a raisin. Zero is nothing. A raisin tastes like dirt.'" But her parents still try to make amends with Lily by giving her extra privileges, but Lily will not be persuaded. That is, until Cousin Garland shows up, and says the same things that Lily was saying about her brother. But Lily was not ok with this coming out of someone else's mouth. And she soon set Cousin Garland to rights. The story ends with, "Julius is the baby of the world. And from then on, he was. In everyone's opinion. Especially in Lily's."

Kevin Henkes does a great job of having a little kid's mindset. And the pictures add a lot to the story. All of Kevin Henkes' books are amazing, and I love to read, and reread them again and again. I also really love Lily, and I have read most of--if not all of her books. Lily is constantly making me laugh with her funny quirks and her very childlike ways of thinking and doing things.

Julius the Baby of the World
by Kevin Henkes
published by Harper Collins
September 1990
Recommended for 5-7 year olds

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Picture Books -- Day 7

I read I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen to my first-grader's class today.  I fell in love with this book last year -- actually, a whole lot of people did (except for the ones who hated it) -- and my kids thought it was the funniest book of the year, but I was a little nervous to read it to the first-graders because I wasn't sure how they would react.  I needn't have worried.

Bear's hat is missing, so he asks each animal he encounters if they have seen it.  Instead of using "bear said" or "he said" to show who is speaking, dialogue is colored -- black for the bear, brown for the fox, green for the frog, red for the rabbit, and so forth.  As a read-aloud, this book needs different voices to distinguish the characters, but that also makes it really entertaining for kids.  After bear has asked several animals if they know where his hat is, he realizes (with the help of deer) that he actually DOES know where it is.  And that's where the funny part comes in.  I love books that are funny without having to hit kids over the head with the joke.  This books lets readers (or listeners) discover the joke on their own, making it that much funnier.

Digital and ink illustrations with plenty of white space keep the focus the characters.  Klassen does an amazing job of expressing emotion with subtle differences to the eyes.  The bear generally keeps a deadpan stare, but a little widening of his eyes show the realization that he knows where his hat is.  Then the eyes narrow as determination to get it back sets in.

I Want My Hat Back won the E.B White Read-Aloud Award for Picture Books last year and was a Geisel Award Honor book.

When I turned to the final page in the book today, the first-graders had a range of reactions:  some quietly gasped, others giggled, and (SPOILER ALERT) one boy burst out, "He ATE the rabbit!"

Yep, they got it.

I Want My Hat Back
by Jon Klassen
published by Candlewick Press
September 2011

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Picture Books -- Day 6

When my son came home from school a couple of weeks ago and told me that he needed a book to give to his class for his birthday, I had no idea the anxiety that would go into deciding which book to give.  A birthday book, apparently, has to be the perfect book -- something the entire class will not just enjoy, but will adore.  So I made suggestions, we looked through our shelves, and after many false starts, he finally found a book to give to his class -- Papagayo by Gerald McDermott.

Papagayo the parrot is noisy and mischievous   He disturbs the night creatures who sleep during the day with all his squawking.  When the "ghost of an ancient monster dog" awakens "beneath the stones of the Great Ruined City," the night creatures are too frightened to stop him from devouring the moon.  Just as things seem hopeless, Papagayo helps his friends find the courage they need to stop the moon-dog.

McDermott's tale is flavored with rich vocabulary:  the parrot's noise is "raucous"; the creatures "venture forth"; the moon-dog "scurrie[s] across the starry fields of the sky."  The vivid pencil and gouache paintings set on white backgrounds show the parrot in eye-popping color during the daytime.  Blue backgrounds for the night scenes subdue the color slightly, while still showing all the glorious variety of the rain forest.  And the moon-dog is just the right amount of scary (which is what finally helped my son come to a decision).

The book must have been a success because the day after his birthday my son jumped in the car and said, "They wanted to read it again!"

by Gerald McDermott
published by Voyager Books (paperback)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Picture Books -- Day 5

Step Gently Out is another of my favorite books from 2012. This poem by Helen Frost invites readers to "Step gently out, be still, and watch a single blade of grass."  It asks you to look at the little things: an ant, a honeybee, a moth, and a spider.  And as you contemplate those little things, breathtaking photography by Rick Lieder grabs your attention.  A pink and yellow moth, a spider dropping from a web highlighted with droplets of dew, and a brightly patterned yellow jacket all take on a quiet importance in full-bleed photos that bring nature up-close.

Everything about this book works in harmony, from a perfectly-chosen font to end papers that feel like the beginning and ending of day.  Even the dark green metallic lettering on the pale green spine is beautiful.  More information about each of the insect featured is included at the end.

Step Gently Out
by Helen Frost
photographs by Rick Lieder
published by Candlewick Press
March 2012

Monday, November 5, 2012

Picture Books -- Day 4

Boy + Bot by Ame Dyckman is one of my kids' favorite picture books from this year.  I think that its popularity at our house may have something to do with the corny voice I use for the robot, but really, when a character says things like, "Affirmative!" and "Did-you-malfunction?" his voice begs to be read in "robotspeak".

When a boy and a robot meet, they become instant friends and spend the day playing outdoors until a rock bumps the robot's power switch and he shuts down.  Concerned, the boy takes his new friend home and tries to help him.  Another accidental bump turns the robot on in the middle of the night, but now the boy is asleep, so roles are reversed as the robot takes the boy home to fix him.  All is put right in the end, and we see a joyful double-page spread filled with scenes of the two together.

Dan Yaccarino's bright gouache paintings bring the robot to life, giving depth to the friendship.  And I love the humor in the details: the boy sipping his soda, while the robot sips his oil; and the robot trying to oil the boy's ear.

With short snappy sentences and only a handful of words per page, this energetic picture book can be enjoyed by early independent readers as well.

Boy + Bot
by Ame Dyckman
illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
published by Alfred A. Knopf
April 2012

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Picture Books -- Day 3

I didn't get around to reading Can We Save the Tiger? last year when it was published, so I picked it up today.  I thought it was going to be about . . . well, saving tigers, so I was surprised that tigers were not even mentioned until page 10.  While author Martin Jenkins does discuss tigers, the book is actually a broader look at animal conservation.  With an engaging text, Jenkins addresses extinct animals (dodos, Stellar's sea cows), endangered species (tigers, partula snails), and those that have recovered from the brink of extinction (American bison).  He concludes with the efforts being made to protect endangered species.

I had seen interiors shots of the book in reviews last year, but  I didn't appreciate the artistry of the illustrations by Vicky White until I saw them full-size in the book.  The predominately black-and-white pencil pictures capture the majesty of the animals, and where White uses oils to add color, the pictures glow.

This is a great book, so if you missed it last year, read it today.

Can We Save the Tiger?
by Martin Jenkins
illustrated by Vicky White
published by Candlewick Press
February 2011

Best of 2012 -- Publisher's Weekly

I love this time of the year when everyone is compiling lists of their favorite books.  Publisher's Weekly has announced their lists for 2012.

PW Best of 2012 Picture Books

PW Best of 2012 Children's Fiction

PW Best of 2012 Children's Nonfiction

What's on your list?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Picture Books -- Day 2

Today I read No Bears written by Meg McKinlay and illustrated by Leila Rudge.  Ella, the narrator, is tired of bears, but she is in charge of this book, and so, there will be no bears in it.  Instead, Ella wants pretty things, funny things, exciting things, and scary things in her book.  She creates a book about a princess, a monster, and a fairy godmother and NO BEARS.  But (mostly) outside the frame of her book, watching the story -- and participating in it -- is a bear.

After reading this with my very literal-minded kindergartner, I asked, "Was there a bear?"  She was quick to respond, "No, she said there were no bears."  But my preschooler pointed out the bear in the book, and we looked back through the pages to get the real story.

The stylized illustrations are playful, and even the monster isn't really scary.  There are plenty of details to look at in Ella's book-within-a-book, including fairy-tale elements throughout (Red Riding Hood, a wolf, a gingerbread man), but the real fun is outside the main picture frames.  Rudge bends frames, makes creative use of the gutter, and sends her characters off the pages.  You have to stop and look at the illustrations to understand the story -- the key points being played out in the margins.  But just in case you miss it, the bear wordlessly retells it on the last page.

No Bears
by Meg McKinlay
illustrated by Leila Rudge
published by Candlewick Press
March 2012 (US edition)

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Picture Books -- Day 1

To celebrate Picture Book Month, I'll be reading a picture book every day in November, and if all goes according to plan, I'll post every day to let you know what I've read.  Feel free to chime in with what you are reading and loving this month.

I start with Unspoken: A Story From the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole.  This wordless book tells the story of a young girl's brief encounter with a runaway slave in beautiful pencil  illustrations.  (Some might quibble that you can't technically read a wordless book, but anyone who has watched a toddler read a book, knows better.)  The frightened girl bravely sneaks out of her house to take food to the hiding fugitive.  I especially liked the scene where slave hunters confront the adults in the house as the girls hide.  A great story filled with tension, courage, and hope.

Unspoken received starred reviews from Kirkus, Publisher's Weekly, and School Library Journal, but far more interesting to me was the blog post from Horn Book editor, Roger Sutton.  Read it at Read Roger.  (By the way, I think some of the reviewers got it wrong -- it seems to me that those adults knew exactly what was going on, and they were giving the gifts as well.  What do you think?)

You can read more about this and other books by Henry Cole at his website.

Unspoken: A Story From the Underground Railroad
by Henry Cole
published by Scholastic Press
November 2012

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Celebrate Picture Books

November is picture book month and at Picture Book Month you can read a new essay about picture books every day in November.  Contributors include Doreen Cronin, Brett Helquist, Tom Lichtenheld,  Chris Raschka, John Rocco, Jon Scieszka, and Karma Wilson.  So check it out and read a picture book every day.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Little White Duck: A Childhood in China

After reading the graphic novel, Little White Duck, I wondered how someone who knew more about Chinese history than I do would react to it. I asked my husband to take a look and give me his opinion.  And boy, did I get his opinion.  I liked it so much I am posting it here.  (While he has a B.A. in Chinese and an M.A. in Chinese History, Eric points out that he knows little-to-nothing about children's literature.)

“I think my life in China was pretty ordinary.”  So begins a series of personal reflections from Na Liu, as told to her husband, award-winning graphic novelist Andrés Vera Martínez.  Little White Duck: A Childhood in China, captures a range of childhood emotions in a historical context and perspective that seem at once authentic and--to an American audience, at least--anything but ordinary.

After a brief intro, the authors relate Liu’s recollections of Chairman Mao’s death.  Sentimental and moving, the grief of her parents at the passing of Mao Ye Ye (Grandpa Mao) is palpable and genuine.  Even the frame in which the parents announce the sad news communicates a sense of fracture, as the revolutionary photo of Mao hanging on the wall behind them is placed between the speakers, making it impossible to miss Mao’s face as you scan left-to-right from the daughter’s perplexed look to her parent’s sad expressions.

But this is no gushing paean to Chairman Mao or the Chinese Communist Party.  Little White Duck offsets sentimental reflections on the People’s Liberation Army treating her mother’s childhood polio with bitingly frank reminders of the excesses of Communist zeal (such as the Party’s call to exterminate pests such as sparrows, which precipitated a famine as locusts and other insects devoured the crops).
My favorite chapter deals with the heroic--and largely mythical--character of Lei Feng, a model soldier lionized by the Party as an example of selfless service.  The Lei Feng episode is as hilarious as it is illustrative of the book’s keen sense of conflict between the idealism of the CCP and the tragic shortcomings of a revolutionary zeal that was all-too-often naïve.
Eager to follow Lei’s good example, Da Qin (Liu's childhood nickname) and her sister notice that a neighbor’s baby chicks seem thirsty in the hot, hot sun (how does a baby chick look when it’s thirsty?) and decide to perform a good deed worthy of the model soldier’s example--they force feed the baby chicks water from a drinking glass.  The eyes of Martinez’s chicks capture both action and emotion, as chick after chick is lovingly drowned by the girls’ good intentions.  Both girls strike a heroic pose as one says to the other, “Nice work” and “Thanks! You too.”  The last frame shows the girls staring down at a cardboard box containing a half dozen moribund chicks, looking somewhat like yellow tennis balls with tiny feet pointing upward.  Da Qin exclaims, “Uh-oh. What’s happening?” as her sister, still wearing a Lei Feng army hat, suggests that they hide.  A page turn reveals a full-page spread of Martinez’s stylized reproductions of vintage posters proclaiming (in Chinese) “Learn from Lei Feng’s Good Example” (习雷锋好榜样) and other such slogans, designed to strike a wry humor somewhere between idealism and cynicism.  (At least, it did for me.)

Martinez’s bold lines and muted tones set a mood of quiet reflection; one that fits perfectly the bittersweet nature of these stories.  Though the narratives seem a bit disjointed to me (two of the stories are out of chronological order, which sent me flipping back through the book just to re-orient myself), the chapters dealing with Mao’s death, the Lei Feng chapter I described above, and the final chapter (I won’t give this one away) provide enough of a framework to hold the other seemingly random recollections together. 

All in all, though, I would say that Little White Duck will speak to anyone who has ever been a child--even if you don’t know much about China--and will give you more to think about than you might expect from a graphic novel intended for a young audience.

Little White Duck: A Childhood in China
by Na Liu and Andrés Vera Martínez
published by Graphic Universe
August 2012

Recommended for ages 10 and up

Sunday, October 21, 2012

danyelle recommends Nic Bishop Snakes

At our house we divide responsibilities:  I help my children with any and all math homework, and my husband helps with the assignments that involve art.  Always.  So when my first-grader brought home a school project that involved clay, I happily got out of the way and let them work on it together.  I suppose it was a very serious project because they worked mostly in silence, but at one point my son broke the silence by saying, "I like to read nonfiction."

Quickly picking up this unexpected conversation, his dad replied, "Oh, I do, too.  I like to read books about history."

My son said, "I don't read much history.  I like to read books about animals."  And then after another interval of silence he added, "I get most of my information from books."

And that is probably why my sons and I were so excited when Nic Bishop Snakes came out this year.  Nic Bishop combines fascinating information about animals and stunning photography to make books that we love to read again and again.

Not attempting an exhaustive overview, Bishop instead gives readers a glimpse into the world of snakes, discussing physical attributes (the green anaconda "may weigh more than 400 pounds"), feeding habits ("eight big meals a year are enough for many snakes"), and defenses ("a viper can strike  . . .as fast as you can blink").  He highlights specific snakes, including the handsome fellow on the cover -- the parrot snake.

But the thing that makes this book stand out is the spectacular, full-page photography.  Whether close-up or actual size, each photograph shows not only a different snake, but subtly directs the reader's attention to a particular snake characteristic.  The green tree python shows off gorgeous green coils.  The venomous feathered bush viper's scales are prominent in a photo that is 3 times actual size. The Asian sand viper and the Gaboon viper demonstrate camouflage dramatically.  The emerald tree boa sticks out his tongue, and the eyelash viper displays some really scary fangs.  Bishop gives readers a you-are-there experience with pictures that feel impossibly real.  (Actually, since I wouldn't linger to examine any snake I came across in the wild, I got a better-than-you-are-there experience.)  And each photo is one you'll want to linger over, except perhaps the one of the garter snakes -- that'll give you nightmares.

Now, a quick word about the book's design. The colored text pages complement the photographs, particularly the brilliant yellow that picks up the pattern on the Mandarin rat snake.  The smaller type used to spotlight the specific snakes helps pacing.  But the larger, bold type used to highlight a sentence on each page of text is disturbingly random.  While some of the sentences seem like main ideas for the page, others do not.  Why would, "That is why many snakes ambush their victims" be emphasized?  Also, certain paragraphs felt out of place and would have made more sense on a previous page.

But these are small quibbles that shouldn't keep you from picking up the book.  Who else but Nic Bishop could make a feathered bush viper look adorable?  In the end notes, Bishop said he wanted to "show how beautiful snakes are" and he did it!

Nic Bishop Snakes
by Nic Bishop
published by Scholastic
October 2012

Recommended for ages 5 and up

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

diane recommends Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

I was so excited to read Keeping the Castle, and when it had finally reached the top of my to-read stack, I was thrilled. I read it quickly, and decided I liked it almost right away. While reading reviews about this book, I noticed that many of them referred to this book as another Jane Austen. I had never read any of Jane Austen's books, and so I decided to pick up the "dreaded" Pride and Prejudice. What I found was first, Pride and Prejudice should never be dreaded, and second, Keeping the Castle was very unimpressive. Keeping the Castle is a bad imitation. In the book, Mr. Frederick, a substitute for Mr. Darcy, says, "I hate to see things poorly made, cheap copies of good pieces and so on,"  I feel like this is one of those "cheap copies".

At first I liked this book a lot. It had a great plot, it was a romance, and it was funny.
"'When I first came here, they told me you were one of the most beautiful women in Europe. Quite frankly?' he said, 'I could never see it.' 'I beg your pardon!' 'I won't be marrying you for your much-vaunted beauty, Miss Crawly.' 'You say it is not for my beauty and it cannot be for my fortune. Once again, therefore, I ask: why do you want to marry me?' In truth, I would have married him whatever the reason, but still, I wished to understand. He looked uncomfortable. 'Really, I suppose it is because I like quarreling with you. When I went away to London I meant to forget about you in my head. I couldn't concentrate on my work. In the end, I wrote to my mother. She's a clever woman, my mother. She explained that I was so miserable because I was in love with you. So I thought I would [come back] just to see if she was right.' 'And was she?' I asked. His eyes searched my face. 'I expect so; my mother is generally right. And you like quarreling with me as well, you know you do. Oh, please, Althea, look at me. Do say yes.'  I relinquished any attempt to control my amusement at this unconventional declaration of devotion, and laughed out aloud. 'Oh very well then, yes! I accept. Yes, sir, I will marry you.'"
I really liked this part, and many other parts. But, compared to Pride and Prejudice, This is nothing.
"'Let me thank you again and again, in the name of all my family, for that generous compassion which induces you to take so much trouble and bear so many mortifications, for the sake of discovering them [Lydia and Mr. Wickham].' 'If you WILL thank me,' he replied, 'let it before yourself alone. That the wish of giving happiness to you might add force to the other inducements which led me on, I shall not attempt to deny. But your FAMILY owes me nothing. Much as I respect them, I believe I thought only of YOU.' Elizabeth was too much embarrassed to say a word. After a short pause, her companion added, 'You are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. MY affections and wishes are unchanged  but one word from you will silence me on this subject for ever.' Elizabeth, feeling all the more than common awkwardness and anxiety of his situation, now forced herself to speak . . . 'I do, I do like [you].' She replied with tears in her eyes, 'I love [you].' The happiness which this reply produced, was such as he had probably never felt before; and he expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do."
Keeping the Castle is just a simplified, more boring, not as well written, and not as well thought-out Pride and Prejudice. So, I would advise to not waste your money and time reading and buying Keeping the Castle, go buy Pride and Prejudice.

I loved Pride and Prejudice, and would definitely recommend this book. It was cleverly written, and has almost the same plot as Keeping the Castle, but a little better.

Keeping the Castle
by Patrice Kindl
published by Viking Juvenile 
June 2012
Recommended for 12-16 year olds

Pride and Prejudice
by Jane Austen
published by Viking Juvenile 
January 1813
Recommended for young adult readers

Sunday, October 14, 2012

diane recommends The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

When my mom first mentioned this book, I rolled my eyes.  I asked if it was non-fiction, (which I am not a huge fan of . . .) and then I asked if it was the stupidest book she had ever read.  After I got the answer that, no, it was not nonfiction, and no, it was not the stupidest book ever, I still wasn't satisfied.  I think I might have mumbled something about not reading it.  But, when my "to-read" book list dwindled down to nothing, I got desperate.  I picked up the book and almost put it down again.  I like romance, but not the really, cheesy romance that no one can even believe would ever happen.  But, I decided to give it a try--for the first two chapters.

I found out that not only is this book decent, it is AMAZING!!!  I have already read it three times, and have recommended it to many of my friends.  A seventeen year old girl named Hadley Sullivan is making a plane trip to see her dad get re-married.  She just barely misses her flight, and ends up on the next flight to London.  While waiting, she meets a really nice guy.  He has a "crooked smile" and, "her heart dips unexpectedly when he looks at her."  They end up on the same flight together, sitting right next to each other.  Oliver flirts with her on the plane ride, and then they separate their own ways when they get off the plane.  Throughout the book, Hadley tries to find a way to cope with her father getting remarried.  My favorite part of the book is near the end:
"She can hear the smile in his voice. 'I'm doing my summer research project on different styles of dancing.' 'So does that mean we'll be doing the tango next?' 'Only if you're up for it.' 'What are you really studying?' He leans back to look at her. 'The statistical probability of love at first sight.' 'Very funny,' she says. 'What is it really?' 'I'm serious.' 'I don't believe you.' He laughs then lowers his mouth so that it's close to her ear. 'People who meet in airports are seventy-two percent more likely to fall for each other than people who meet anywhere else.' 'You're ridiculous,' she says, resting her head on his shoulder.  'Has anyone ever told you that?' 'Yes,' he says, laughing. 'You actually.  About a thousand times today.'"
He is so sweet to her throughout the book--even when she does some dumb things.  My friends all laughed when they heard what I was reading, it sounds really weird, but it is really, really, really, good!

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight
by Jennifer E. Smith
published by Poppy 
January 2012
Recommended for young adult readers

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

National Books Awards Finalists 2012

National Book Awards Finalists were announced this morning.  Here is a list of the Young People's Literature Finalists:
  • Goblin Secrets by William Alexander (ages 8 and up)
  • Out of Reach by Carrie Arcos (ages 14 and up)
  • Never Fall Down by Patirica McCormick (ages 14 and up)
  • Endangered by Eliot Schrefer (ages 12 and up)
  • Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin (ages 10 and up)
I'm cheering for Bomb, and I'm going to try to get my hands on a copy of Endangered before the winner is announced in mid-November.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Poetry -- A Summer Tradition

It all started many years ago on my oldest son’s last day of first grade when he brought home a collection of poems that his class had memorized during the year.  He was so adorable reciting, “Thumbs in the thumb-place, Fingers all together!” and “Paddle once, Paddle twice, Paddle chicken soup with rice” that I decided to spend more time with the poetry he had learned by having him illustrate each poem.  We used paint, glitter, fabric, stickers, colored paper, and colored pencils to illustrate those poems, and I found that as we did, we came to love them even more.  Over the years my children and I have repeated this activity -- gathering poems and trying to find creative ways to express how they make us feel (particularly challenging for non-artist me) -- and in the process, we have increased our appreciation of the poetry.  We have read, memorized, and illustrated poems by Judith Viorst, X.J. Kennedy, Emily Dickenson, Aileen Fisher, Eve Merriam, Carl Sandburg, Marchette Chute, Bobbi Katz, and many others.

My oldest is now at college, but my younger children enjoyed gathering and illustrating poems this summer.  Here are just a few of the pictures they made to illustrate the poems we love:

"Umbrellas" by Barbara Juster Esbensen
We cut index cards into pieces and glued the pieces onto a separate piece of paper.  Then the kids placed a blank sheet of paper on top of the index-card covered page and colored over it with crayon.  They cut their colorful umbrellas from the colored sheets.

"The Chorus" by Eileen Sheridan

The word bubbles are embossed with musical notes.  The bird bodies are cut from scrapbook paper, and the kids used colored pencil to draw the detail.

"Bees" by Jack Prelutsky

Each child made bees from their yellow-inked fingerprints.  The detail was added with color pencil.  This picture was fun to make and super easy.  I especially liked seeing all the personality my kids put into "every bee that ever was."

"Silvery" by Dennis Lee

I lightly taped a piece of cardstock in a flat box, and let the children roll paint-covered marbles across the page to create "dreams".  We then glued a moon cut from mirrorboard to each picture.

I just wish summer could have lasted longer.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Link to It: Dewey Decimal Debate

I find my feelings divided over the disappearance of the Dewey Decimal System.  On the one hand, I can see children checking out more nonfiction books if they can browse them easily by topic.  And, at our library, folktales and poetry seem to be overlooked because they are stuck with the "numbered books" that parents and children don't browse through as often.  However, when we go to the library, we aren't usually looking for books about a certain topic,  but we do regularly go in search of books by an author whose other books we have enjoyed.  I sure would like to visit the Ethical Cultural Fieldston School and see their new system in action.  You can read an article from School Library Journal about it here.

I love Kevin Henkes' new easy reader, Penny and Her Doll, and was happy to read that he has a new Penny book coming out next year.  Read about it here.  (Thanks to PW Children's Bookshelf for the link.)