August 18, 2014
by Dan Yaccarino
Alfred A. Knopf
Every day, a young bot named Doug is plugged in by his parents. They plug him to fill him up with facts. On the day he learns about the city, he learns about the number of people, trash cans, man holes, pigeons and more. As these facts flow into his brain, something grabs Doug’s attention…
He instantly recognizes the bird on the windowsill as a pigeon but no where in the download did Doug hear the funny noise the pigeon makes. What else is he missing?
With that question in mind, Doug unplugs.
On the surface, this is a fun story about a boy who ventures out into the city and makes a friend, learns more about the city than ever before and even learns a bit about a whole new topic — family.
On a deeper level, this is a story about the modern age, a time when we can learn more than ever before without ever interacting with another human being or feeling the sun on our faces. We can learn a lot, but we fail to learn just as much.
Yaccarino’s illustrations are, appropriately enough, composed with a brush and ink as well as finishing touches on Photoshop. Bold bright colors give a cartoon-feel to a topic that could easily become to weighty and serious. The vintage 1960s look of the artwork compliments the “here-and-now” feel of the story.
At only 555 words, this is a quick read. It has a cozy enough feel for a bed time story. The topic lends itself to discussion, but it doesn’t have the lively chorus of many story time books. That said, it would make a good lead into a talk about learning, technology or experience.
Plug into this one with the young reader in your life.
August 14, 2014
The Castle Behind the Thorns
by Merrie Haskell
Katherine Tegan Books
Middle Grade Novel
Sand doesn’t immediately know where he is when he wakes up in an ashy fireplace. Eventually, he ventures out amid a jumble of broken tables and shattered benches into a room torn apart.
He is in the Sundered Castle.
The castle, battered, broken and desserted, stands above the valley where Sand lives with his blacksmith father, his step-mother and his two younger sisters. As a child, he asked questions about it — what happened? why does no one live there? But the answers (earthquake, fled) where given only grugdingly. For some reason, most people in the valley neither saw it nor thought about it. Even Sand eventually quit asking, but now he needs to find a way out and that presents a problem. The castle is surrounded by a murderous raspberry bramble.
Murderous. These thorns don’t just wait until you snag yourself. If you get too close, they come and get you.
As if all of that isn’t enough, the girl in the crypt comes back to life.
This is clearly a work of fantasy, a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, but it is fantasy steeped in history.
As always, Haskell’s story drew me in and refused to let me get anything else done until the last page was turned. Yes, I read most of this in 1 day although I had other things to do.
As is so often the case, the best lessons are taught through story and not through a lecture. This is a strong story about the destructive power of hate and anger and greed. It shows clearly that it may take more than one person to create the problem but not everyone has to cooperate for healing to begin. And healing, even imperfect partial healing, is a powerful thing.
Don’t let the above paragraph make you think this is a dark story. It is also a story of family, intention, understanding and strong friendship.
This is probably my favorite of Haskell’s books (The Castle Behind the Thorns, The Princess Curse, and The Handbook for Dragon Slayers). Pick it up for your young fantasy lover, but don’t be suprised if you find yourself pulled in my this tale of brambles and sleep and vengence.
August 11, 2014
A Super Chicken
by Sarah Dillard
Warren wasn’t the only chicken on the farm. In fact, he was one of many. The chickens spent all day, every day, pecking for chicken feed.
The tedium was more than Warren could stand. It had to stop.
He wasn’t sure why it bored him silly when all of the other chickens were happy, but Warren understood one thing. He was no ordinary chicken.
Warren is off exploring the farm when he comes across Willard monologuing about special chicken. Unfortunately, Willard is a rat so when he says “special chicken” he means something completely different from what Warren.
Willard is looking for an amazing meal. Thanks to Warren, he spots the other chickens.
Warren starts thinking of himself as a special chicken, a super chicken . . . Chicken Supreme! But will he be super enough to save the day?
From the cover, you might assume this is a picture book but it is a graphic novel hybrid — approximately 64 pages to a picture book’s 32. I say hybrid because the book combines blocks of text with the cells (art and text blocks) of the graphic novel. The illustrations are color and simply but also surprisingly expressive. There will be no doubt in the young reader’s mind that Willard is devious or when Warren is conflicted.
Dillard uses the graphic novel format to its fullest to explore Warren’s world, his developing friendship with egg, and what it means to be a super chicken.
At almost 64 pages, the book might be long for your picture book fan but it is an excellent choice for a reluctant reader who dreads large blocks of text. Yes, there are blocks of text but they are not overwhelming. It would be a fun shared read with you reading one spread and your young reader taking the other.
If you have a young book lover who is drawn to the graphic novel format, this is a perfect compromise. Written for ages 6-9, it is serious and has tension but they are age appropriate and won’t overwhelm a younger reader.
Share this one for an eggstraordinaryly quirky super hero and his up-and-coming sidekick.
August 8, 2014
The Three Ninja Pigs
by Corey Rosen Schwartz
illustrated by Dan Santat
Once upon a time, or so the story goes, times were dangerous and a wolf went around blowing down houses until three pigs decided that they had had enough. They enrolled in the local ninja school.
Suffice it to say that all three pigs were not equally good students. The first little pig quickly grew bored. He could say he studied and that might have been enough if his house wasn’t made out of straw.
The second little pig could put on a good show but that wasn’t enough to save his bamboo house.
Fortunately, their sister, the third pig, had dedicated herself to her studies, emerging from the school with her final belt.
Whether your young reader loves fractured fairy tales, studies tae kwan do or is a fan of martial arts movies, there is a lot to love in this tale. Schwartz’s story is fast-paced with humorous dialogue, just like in the movies, and Santat’s illustrations pack a humorous punch. I especially love the “power lines” that radiate out whenever our porcine heroine strikes a victorious blow.
In terms of book design think graphic novel with panels and flamboyant action.
And if you read this at bed time, don’t be surprised when your little pig ends up standing on the bed practicing kicks and punches.
August 4, 2014
Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook for Young Readers and Eaters
by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple
illustrated by Philippe Beha
Do you have a young reader who likes hands on involvement in the stories? Or maybe a bit of background information? Then check out Fairy Tale Feasts.
This book is a collection of traditional fairy tales and one original tale by Yolen. The stories range from the well-known, such as Cinderella and Red Riding Hood, to the less known, The Stolen Bread Smells and the Magic Pear Tree. Each story is accompanied by side bars with notes on the tales, including where they come from and variations on the tale as presented.
The language of these tales has a modern feel and some of the tales include modern details, such as calling 911. Before you object, realize that these stories would originally have been told, not written, with details massaged and adjusted for time and place. Even as she makes these modernizations, Yolen stays true to the original tales like the folklorist she is.
Stemples contribution spans the recipes that accompany each story. They range from a simple porridge (oatmeal) recipe to like stuffed shells and pear grumble. Although older children might be able to cook many of the recipes on their own, younger children will need assistance which is perfect because these types of stories are a community effort. Why not follow a similar path with the recipes.
Philippe Beha’s full page illustrations contribute to the modern feel of this book with cartoony, slightly abstract images that keep the tone lively.
This is the perfect book for sharing with short pieces that can easily be read aloud at one sitting followed by recipes that beg for hands on fun. Pick it up and spend some times with your young story teller or chef.
August 1, 2014
The Fourteenth Goldfish
by Jennifer Holm
When Ellie is in preschool, her teacher gives each child in the class a gold fish. The explanation that she gives the parents is simple. Goldfish don’t last very long and owning one will teach your child about life and death and loss. To her amazement, Goldie lives for 7 years until one morning Ellie finds her fishing floating bellie up in its bowl.
Not only is this the day that Ellie finds her fish floating, it is also the day that she discovers that her mother has been replacing dead fish with live fish for 7 long years. Goldie the First only lived for 2 weeks. This was Goldie Unlucky 13.
Ellie is waiting for her mother to get home when she gets the news. Mom might be a while. She’s at the police station getting Ellie’s grandfather. Ellie can’t imagine what kind of trouble her grandfather might have caused. After all, he’s old. What she isn’t expecting is her mother to return home with a thirteen year-old boy, a thirteen-year old boy who seems vaguely familiar, has out of control curly hair just like hers and dresses like an old man.
Apparently, her grandfather’s lastest science experiment was a success. Based on the regenerative properities of a certain jelly fish, he is once again a teenager and was caught entering his own labs.
As a teen, he is forced to attend middle school, a fate he bemoans. Ellie finds herself drawn to him as he teachers her about the scientific method and the scientists who plied it to unlock the secrets of the universe and a world of possibilities.
While definitely science fiction, this book contains healthy doses of truth in both the realities of middle school (old frienships wane, while new are born) as well as the importance of love, family and being true to each other. Ellie also learns that there are two sides to every story, including stories of scientific discover and the “good” of any invention.
This book may be a quick read, but it isn’t all light and air. It will make you think and pop back into your mind as you read about the latest and greatest finds, guarenteed to improve the world and solve all our problems.
July 24, 2014
The Scorpio Races
by Maggie Stiefvater
On the island of Thisby, cool temperatures bring a nip to the air and the ocean water. But that isn’t all it brings.
Farmers count their stock every morning. Mothers keep their children close to home. And any business that takes a person to the beach is a bit more dangerous than usual. The water horses emerge from the sea, sometimes hungry for a run. Other times hungry for blood and flesh.
Riding a water horse is like nothing else — fast, breath taking and potentially deadly. Sean Kendrick has won the race but if he can win it again this year, he will be the owner of the water horse that he himself trained. Not bad for a poor orphan who owns little more than his boots and his coat.
But Puck Connolly needs to win the race. The money is the only way that she can save her parent’s home and, if the rides, her older brother will stay on the island a few more weeks before he leaves to find a job on the mainland.
I’m not going to say much more about the plot. Sean and Puck can’t both win but they strike up a friendship that builds into something more. Sean is driven to win, it is the only way he will ever own this amazing horse, but he’s equally driven to keep Puck safe even if it means putting himself in harms way — more so than usually happens when you are riding a man eating beast of bone and magic.
As always, Stiefvater has pulled together an amazingly complex story with characters you will love and characters you will loathe. The story is based loosely on the myths of the Celtic water horses but Stiefvater admits to discarding the parts that just don’t work for her story, or any story she could imagine.
The plot runs fast, tensions run high as the water horses pound their way down the beach of Thisby.
July 21, 2014
The Year of Billy Miller
by Kevin Henkes
On vacation with his family, Billy makes a hasty decision. When the wind blows his new Black Hills baseball cap off his head, he steps onto the middle rung of the guard rail to make a brilliant save. Only, his save isn’t so brilliant and Billy falls. He wakes up in the hospital with a lump on his head. The doctor says he’s lucky not to have been hurt much worse, but Billy doesn’t feel lucky. What kind of kid falls like that and lands on his head? Then he hears his parents talking about how the blow might make him forget things.
Now Billy is worried about starting second grade. What if the lump on his head means that he won’t be smart enough? What if it changes him in some crucial way?
From day 1 of second grade, Billy examines his interactions with his teacher and with his new classmates. Did the teacher misunderstand what he said? Maybe she thinks he’s mean, or not so smart, or both. Mom and Dad do their best to reassure him but Billy needs to figure it out for himself.
The school year is divided into quarters and this book is as well — Teacher, Father, Sister, Mother. Each story is about Billy maturing in how he deals with one of these people. I know, that sounds pretty ho hum, but Henkes story is light and humorous and touching all at the same time. Billy learns to relate to a knew teacher, helps his father through an artistic slump, comforts his sister and shows his mother just how much he cares. With each mini-story, he gains a bit of confidence until he is sure that his mother was right — this is indeed The Year of Billy Miller.
The book as a whole may intimidate some less confident readers; it is after all a chunky 230 pages. While each section builds on the one that preceeds it, they can be read individually with a healthy break in between. This book is an excellent choice for competent readers who, like Billy, lack confidence in what they can achieve.
A light, fun, touching story.
July 17, 2014
by Melissa Stewart
Need an enticing summer read for a reluctant reader? Or a young reader who is simply too busy to read more than a page or two at a time? Then pick up Grossapedia.
From animals who roll poop (dung beetles) to animals that eat poop (baby elephants) this book is a store house of animal things icky. Poop, pee, saliva, vomit and blood — they’re all covered within this 110 page book.
Animal nut that I am, I still learned a lot including the fact that a desert tortoise pees on anything that picks it up as a defense mechanism and that the saliva of the short-tailed shrew is toxic and paralyzes potential meals with one bite. Chomp!
The animals in the book range from been there (dogs) to little known (giant petrels) and everything in between.
Some animals get a full two pages while others get only a page. This means that there isn’t any in-depth coverage but it does make fora book that is easy to pick up and put down — great for reluctant readers.
Is this book too gross? Not by a long shot — it is a strictly factual look at the biology of a wide variety of animals. I didn’t think that some of it was gross at all (limpid mucus) but would also get a little gaggy if I spend too much time thinking about baby animals eating poop.
Whether your young reader loves to learn odd ball facts about animals or just likes reading about things that are a big icky, pick this one up. It really is a quick read and would be great for a few moments here and there throughout the summer. That said, you will probably have to listen as he reads about jackals or pigs or parrot fish.