Monday, July 22, 2013

Waiting for Wuffles

I am eagerly looking forward to David Wiesner's new fall release, Mr. Wuffles.  If you want a sneak preview, check out this video.  (Mr. Wiesner even explains the unusual title.)

Friday, July 19, 2013

You'd Be Surprised How Much I Can Cram into 14 Minutes

I spent Thursday and Friday at the Provo Library attending BYU's Symposium on Books for Young Readers.  Karen Cushman, Jennifer Nielson, Steve Jenkins, Erin and Philip Stead, Sara Pennypacker and Tony DiTerlizzi all gave thoughtful and entertaining presentations.  (I'm still thinking about the importance of teaching kids to love writing and the magic of page turns.)

This year I was thrilled to be part of the Spotlight on Books and to be able to talk about some of my favorite books from the past year.  Unfortunately, I couldn't talk about all my favorite new books because I had only 14 minutes to present, and while I talk quickly, I can't talk that quickly.  Besides, some of the books I would have loved to include were already spoken for by one of the other three presenters.  Having said that, here is my list of 14 fantastic books along with links to brief booktalks.

Barbara DaCosta
Ed Young
Eva Moore
Nancy Carpenter
Julie Middleton
Russell Ayto
Paul Schmid
ill. by author
Jennifer Berne
Vladimir Radunsky
Kevin Henkes
ill. by author
Frank Viva
ill. by author
J. Patrick Lewis (compiler)

Margi Preus

Grace Lin
 ill. by author

Sage Blackwood
tara's post
Amy Timberlake

Adina Rishe Gewirtz

  Martin W. Sandler

Spotlight on Picture Books

Nighttime Ninja
by Barbara DaCosta
illustrated by Ed Young

When the clock strikes midnight, the ninja sets out on a mission.  He sneaks through the house, climbing, balancing, leaping, until . . . . a light flips on.  He is caught.  The fun of the story is in discovering just who the ninja is and what his mission is.  This is a ninja that every kid can relate to.

Ed Young uses cut paper, fabric, string, and colored pencil to create collage illustrations that convey stealth and mystery with a silhouette of the ninja who climbs hand over hand up his rope and creeps down the hallway.  With restrained energy he balances, ready to spring, and breaks out of the pictures’ frames.

I admit it, I am not a ninja fan, but I fell in love with this book when I first read it.  And the first-grade class I read it to loved it just as much.  Kid friendly, beautiful art, and great for ninja and non-ninja fans alike.

Lucky Ducklings: A True Rescue Story 
by Eva Moore
illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

When Mama Duck takes her five ducklings for a walk, the ducklings fall into a storm drain in their path.  People in the town come to the rescue and work together to get Mama Duck and her ducklings safely home.

Moore’s rhythmic text repeats the ducklings’ names, “Pippin, Bippin, Tippin, Dippin . . . and last of all, Little Joe” and Mama Duck’s forceful, “Whack! Whack!”  She sets up suspense before the page turns and pulls listeners along with “that could have been the end of the story.  But it wasn’t because  . . .”

Realistic illustrations by Nancy Carpenter give the ducks personality and are reminiscent of Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings.

Perfect preschooler read-aloud.

Are the Dinosaurs Dead, Dad?
by Julie Middleton
illustrated by Russell Ayto

When Dave and his dad visit the dinosaur exhibition, Dave asks, “Are the dinosaurs dead, Dad?”  “Yes” is the answer, and Dad begins sharing his considerable knowledge of dinosaurs as they visit each exhibit.  “You see . . . that dinosaur there is the Deinocheirus.  It has some of the longest arms of all the dinosaurs.”  “You see this one with the very l-o-n-g neck, Dave? That’s a Diplodocus.”

But Dave is more interested in the fact that the dinosaurs are winking at him, trying to tickle him, and eating his hamburger.  Is it just Dave’s imagination?  I don’t want to give away the ending, but I will say this . . . “Run, Dave! Run!”

The stylized and uncluttered illustrations by Russell Ayto are hilarious.  Details inject humor and encourage a second visit.  And the dinosaurs are wickedly funny.

Oliver and His Alligator
by Paul Schmid

Oliver is nervous about his first day of school, so he stops by the swamp to pick up an alligator -- “Just in case.”  (Because, of course, who wouldn’t want an alligator “just in case”?)  At school when a lady who is not his mom asks, “What might your name be?” he suddenly can’t remember his name, but he can say “Munch, munch!”  And that takes care of the problem as his alligator swallows the lady.  In the classroom a little girl tries to talk to him and “Munch, munch!” the alligator swallows her, too.  And so it goes with the alligator swallowing all Oliver’s problems until Oliver is sitting alone in an empty classroom, thinking that maybe school is a little boring.  And that is a problem . . . (and if you want to know how he solves it, you’ll have to read the book.)

This is a funny, offbeat look at first-day-of-school jitters.

On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein
by Jennifer Berne
illustrated by Vladmir Radunsky

“Over 100 years ago, as the stars swirled in the sky, as the Earth circled the sun, as the March winds blew through a little town by the river, a baby boy was born.”

With this opening sentence, author Jennifer Berne introduces readers to a boy who was different -- a boy named Albert Einstein.  As a young child Albert took so long to start speaking that his parents worried that something might be wrong.  Later when he went to school, he asked so many questions that his teacher told him he was a disruption to the class, but he continued to ask questions -- continued to wonder about the world around him.  An insatiable curiosity drove him to read and study and ask even more questions.  Whether he was playing his violin, sailing in his boat, or wandering around town, he was wondering and trying to figure things out.

Berne doesn’t attempt an overview of Einstein’s entire life -- or even to touch upon major events -- instead, she celebrates his curiosity and his ideas.

Personality-filled ink and gouache illustrations by Vladimir Radunsky convey the essence (perhaps more effectively than photographs) of who Albert Einstein was.  Pages crowded with thoughts and ideas reflect his continually-engaged mind.  Loose line work communicates Einstein’s nonconformity and unbounded imagination.  Radunsky even manages to express concepts like atomic theory and time dilation in pictures.

Even in you are not interested in reading the book, pick it up and look at the double-page spread of Einstein in his sailboat.  Nearly blended paint and fading outlines suggest boundaries and create a dream-like scene that is perfectly suited to this man with visionary ideas.

Spotlight on Easy Readers

Penny and Her Marble
by Kevin Henkes

This is the third book in Kevin Henkes’s new series of easy readers featuring Penny.  Each successive book in the series is a little longer than the previous one (the first book with two chapters, the second with three chapters, and this one with four short chapters).  And each book widens the view of Penny’s world -- starting with her home, then her garden, and now in Penny and Her Marble, she goes out into her neighborhood.

Penny is walking with her doll, Rose, when she spots a marble that looks just “like a piece of the sky” in Mrs. Goodwin’s yard.  The marble seems to say, “Take me home,” so Penny picks it up, puts it in her pocket, and rushes home.  But once she gets home, she starts to feel guilty.  Really guilty.  And she has to decide what to do about it.  While her parents are concerned, they are never intrusive, leaving Penny to solve the problem on her own.

Henkes is a genius at capturing childhood imagination and concerns.  We see that here as Penny turns a walk in her neighborhood into a trip to the city and a stroll in the forest, and her worry about the blue marble spoils her dinner and invades her dreams.

Watercolor and pen illustrations show Penny’s range of emotions from excitement and happiness to worry and fear.

Penny is a delightful character -- one that young readers will love.

A Trip to the Bottom of the World with Mouse
by Frank Viva

Mouse and a boy take an ocean voyage to Antarctica that is filled with grand views and animal sightings in this easy reader.  In the middle of all the adventure, Mouse, like the quintessential travel-weary child, wants to know, “Can we go home now?”  His repeated question, “Can we go home now?” adds giggle-inducing humor and a comforting predictability to the text.

Full pages alternate with pages broken into four panels where short questions and quick, silly answers keep the pace brisk.  The story is told entirely in dialogue, and pictures in many of the speech bubbles will aid new readers with unfamiliar words.

We know the trip has been a success when as the travelers sail homeward across the final endpapers, Mouse changes his question: “Can we go back there soon?”

Spotlight on Poetry

National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry
compiled by J. Patrick Lewis

This collection of poetry is filled with full-color photographs of animals large and small: a luminescent weedy sea dragon, a snowy owl with spread wings flying straight out of the book, a grasshopper photographed mid-leap, and a close-up of the green eyes of a fly.  (Penguins, orangutans, lizards -- all captured in beautiful photography.)

With poems by Ogden Nash, Robert Frost, Rudyard Kipling, Bobbi Katz, Aileen Fisher, X.J. Kennedy, J. Patrick Lewis, himself, and others, there is something for everyone.

And for those inclined to try writing animal poems, the final two pages have ideas to get you started.

Spotlight on Middle Grade Books

Starry River of the Sky
by Grace Lin

The moon has disappeared but only Rendi seems to notice, and only he seems to hear the plaintive moaning of the sky each night.  After running away from home, Rendi ended up in the Village of Clear Sky where he is working as a chore boy at the inn.  Rendi wants desperately to forget his past, ignore the “sobbing sky” and get away from this “poor, pitiful” village.  But when the mysterious Madame Chang arrives and begins telling stories, Rendi finds he is soon telling his own story and figuring out what he really wants.

Lin weaves her own versions of Chinese folktales and myths into the story -- “Foolish Old Man Moves the Mountain,” “Why Rooster Calls the Sun,” “Chang’e and Houyi the Archer,” and others -- flavoring it with the traditional while making it her own.  Similar in style to her Newbery Honor book, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Starry River of the Sky is a companion book (not a sequel) to that novel.

Framed, full-color, Chinese-style illustrations are interspersed throughout.

Flowing language and stories within a story make this a wonderful choice to read aloud.  Use it as an introduction to Chinese culture or just something different from the more familiar Western tales.

by Sage Blackwood

Life in the Urwald is dangerous, and no one knows that better than Jinx whose father was killed by werewolves and whose mother was carried off by elves.  In the Urwald just getting enough food to eat is rare, so when the harvest is poor and there’s a new baby in the hut, Jinx’s stepfather takes him into the woods to abandon him.  Luckily for Jinx, a wizard named Simon finds him, saves him from trolls, and takes him in.  Although Simon is cranky and neglectful, at least he doesn’t hit Jinx (“not even once”) and he bakes pumpkin pies.  It’s a better life than what Jinx had before, that is until the day Simon performs a spell that takes away some of his deep Urwald magic.  Before Simon’s spell, Jinx had the ability to see inside people’s thoughts -- not actually to see what they were thinking, but to see colors and shapes that helped him understand what they were feeling.  When Simon takes this sixth sense, Jinx feels angry and lost, and determined to find a way to get it back, he sets off into the Urwald where he meets two others who are working to undo their own curses.  Together they travel to the very place Simon told him to avoid -- the home of the Bonemaster.

Dialogue, particularly between these three, is smart and funny, and I think it’s the best part of the book.  Fantasy readers will enjoy much that is familiar -- witches, wizards, trolls, werewolves -- and plenty that is fresh in this imaginative tale.  My guess is they’ll be eagerly looking forward to the next book about Jinx due out in January.

One Came Home
by Amy Timberlake

13-year-old Georgie Burkhardt has a head for numbers; she can shoot just about anything with her Springfield single-shot rifle; she’s stubborn, claustrophobic, and smart.  And even though she watched as the town buried the body, she is doggedly determined to prove that her sister is alive, because, as she points out, “My sister would never die and then lie there.  It made no sense.” (6)

The search for her sister brings Georgie more adventure than she bargains for: she faces down a cougar, stumbles upon counterfeiters, and ends up in a shootout.

This story takes place in Wisconsin in 1871 during the largest nesting of passenger pigeons ever recorded.  It’s hard to imagine these large birds filling the sky and, as Georgie describes it, drawing “a shade on the sun” (13) so that in the middle of the day darkness falls.  And it’s hard to imagine a nesting that encompasses 850 square miles.  You won’t see it in your lifetime, but you can see it through Georgie’s eyes.

Zebra Forest
by Adina Rishe Gewirtz

Sixth-grader Annie doesn’t have much adventure in her life.  She lives on the outskirts of the small town of Sunshine with her brother, Rew, and her mentally unstable Gran, who lately has had more bad days than good.  The only excitement Annie has had in the past year is when she watched The Iran Crisis: Americans Held Hostage with Ted Koppel on TV at her friend’s house.  Now it is summer, her friend is at camp, and the most exciting thing Annie has to look forward to is spending the summer afternoons reading and making up stories with her brother in the Zebra Forest -- a stand of white birch and chocolate oaks behind their house.  Then one night, Annie hears a rattling at the back door.  An escaped prisoner comes out of the Zebra Forest, forces his way into their kitchen, and holds Annie and Rew hostage.

What happens next changes not just their summer, but their lives.  Family secrets are exposed and each member must find a way to deal with those revelations.  At times suspenseful, always thoughtful, this story explores anger, mistakes, responsibility, and forgiveness in a way that is both emotionally honest and powerful.

Spotlight on Young Adult Books

Shadow on the Mountain
by Margi Preus

Within two weeks of the German invasion of Norway in 1940, Norway’s military had disbanded and the king and other government leaders had fled to England.  Germany’s military controlled Norway with ruthless tactics and a strong presence -- one German soldier for every eight Norwegian citizens.  Still, many Norwegians resisted the occupation and formed underground groups to fight the Nazis.
This is a fictional account of teenagers involved in that Resistance.

Fourteen-year-old Espen first works delivering underground newspapers, then acts as a courier, and eventually takes on more dangerous assignments and more responsibility.  While this is certainly a spy story, filled with adventure, it is also a story of friendship and trust as Espen and his best friend, each in an attempt to “put the world right” choose opposite sides.

Many of Espen’s experiences are based on the real-life experiences of Erling Storrusten.  Photographs and details about Storrusten are included in the back of the book.

My favorite book from last year was Bomb by Steve Sheinkin which tells of the sabotage of the heavy water plant in Norway.  Shadow on the Mountain dovetails with that story and makes a great companion book.

The Impossible Rescue: The True Story of an Amazing Arctic Adventure
by Martin Sandler

In September of 1897, nine ships were whaling near Point Barrow, Alaska (the northernmost point of the United States) when temperatures suddenly plummeted and heavy ice swept in from the sea, forcing the ships to drop anchor.  One of the ships (the Alexander) was able to break free of the ice and head for home, but four ships remained ice locked and four other sips were unaccounted for.  The captain of the Alexander sped to his home port (San Francisco) and spread the news: there were eight ships and 256 men trapped in the Arctic where the weather was brutal, conditions were treacherous, and the food would not last through the winter.

The news traveled up the coast.  Newspapers in San Francisco and Seattle reported the story.  The San Francisco Whaling Company and family member sent telegrams to President McKinley pleading with him to send a rescue party no matter how unlikely its success seemed.

President McKinley ordered that a rescue be attempted.  First a United States Revenue Cutter Service ship (the Bear) would travel as far north as possible.  From there, three men would go ashore and travel by dog sled overland more than 1500 miles.  In the dead of winter.  With temperatures 40E below zero.  Without accurate maps.  Along the way, they were to convince two men to give up their reindeer herds and then persuade them to drive the two reindeer herds (more than 400 deer) to Point Barrow, so the stranded men would have food.  They would then wait for the Bear to rescue them as soon as conditions were safe -- hopefully in July.

The rescue seemed impossible, and yet the men volunteered to make the attempt.  This is their story.  Journal excerpts tell the story in the men’s own words.  Photographs from the expedition are included.  This is an exciting adventure of men fighting against all odds that is even better because it is true.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

diane recommends P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia

This is the sequel to One Crazy Summer, which came out in December of 2011. It is about three black sisters going through their lives. I would highly recommend reading One Crazy Summer first, before reading this book, or it will be a little confusing.

Three sisters, Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern, have been staying at their mother's house over the summer. They were just starting to build a relationship with their mom, when they had to go back home. At home, their life is a little different. Their black grandma is in total control, except when their dad decides to disagree with her, which is a very rare occasion. As they are picked up at the airport, they are painfully reminded how old-fashioned their grandma is, as she scolds them for making a, "grand negro spectacle" and expects them to apologize to rude white girls.

Delphine, the oldest of the three sisters, has a huge responsibility to take care of her sisters, but she has other problems of her own. Her sisters are growing up, and that is hard for her, but what is even harder, is she is growing up with them. As the story goes on these sisters try to maintain, or maybe improve, their fragile relationship with their mom by writing her letters. But, hard times always come, and Delphine is in sixth grade, which means she will have to worry about the upcoming dance, and her dad getting remarried to a woman that is the opposite of her mom. As Delphine works out all of these problems, her luck doesn't get better. Thing after thing goes wrong, including her teacher not being the groovy lady she thought she would have, but an out of country weird man.

My favorite parts of this book were the letters to and from their mom.
Dear Cecile,
 . . . Did you love my father? Did he love you? . . .
Yours truly,
Dear Delphine,
 . . . Don't concern yourself with old things. Concern yourself with finding you own thing. But don't rush. Listen to Billie sing, "God bless the child who has her own." Enjoy the time it takes you to find your own. Study hard.
Your Mother.
P.S. Be eleven.
Because Delphine is eleven, she can't figure out why her mom continually puts, "P.S. Be eleven." at the end of almost every letter. But, later in the story, she starts to figure out what that really means.

This is a good book because you discover yourself in Delphine as she figures out her life. Overall, I was satisfied with P.S. Be Eleven, and I am looking forward to the next book.

Review copy received from the publisher.

P.S. Be Eleven
by Rita Williams-Garcia
published by Amistad
June 2013
Recommended for ages 9-11