November 20, 2014

A Life in the Wild: George Schaller’s Struggle to Save the Last Great Beasts by Pamela S. Turner

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:05 am by suebe2

A Life in the Wild:
George Schaller’s Struggle to Save the Last Great Beasts
by Pamela S. Turner
Melanie Kroupa Books

For those not familiar with Schaller’s name, he is a pioneer in animal studies and conservation.  Schaller was among the earliest scientists to study a variety of wild animals without shooting and skinning them.  Instead, he observed them closely and studied their environment.  He got to know the other animals that shared their world and noted how a balance kept them and the countryside healthier.

The first great beast that Schaller studied was the gorilla.  Sitting near the animals, watching them interact and feed, Schaller discovered that they weren’t the dangerous, violent monsters people believed them to be.

Next he studied tigers in India, even coming face-to-face with a tigress and sitting up in a tree while several young tigers lounged around the base.  He learned how much game tigers took and how they supplemented this with livestock.  He studied how much land each animal needed and how these creatures, called loners, crossed paths and interacted.

From lions to snow leopards and pandas to wild antelope and asses, he learned that to ensure that these animals would exist for future observers to study, he had to devote time to conservation, encouraging people and governments to set land aside for the use of animals alone.

Turner’s book tells a lot about Schaller’s science but the tone is conversational and easy to digest.  The book comes in at just under 100 pages.  Less able readers could easily focus on one chapter while rabid readers will find themselves turning page after page and reading the entire book.  This would make an excellent gift for your future scientist or your wild life lover.

–SueBE

November 17, 2014

Handle with Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey by Loree Griffin Burns

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:34 am by suebe2

Handle with Care:
An Unusual Butterfly Journey
by Loree Griffin Burns
photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz
Millbrook Press

A package arrives at the museum.  Inside a rectangle of foam cushions a wealth of chrysalis.

Your typical butterfly life cycle book takes the reader from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly.  Loree Griffin Burns handles things differently.  She shows how farmers in Costa Rica raise butterflies, keeping them and their young safe from predators,  and ship some of the chrysalis to museums and butterfly houses world wide.

While many readers may know something about the monarch, this book focuses on the blue morpho butterfly but also explains that it isn’t the only butterfly raised for shipment.  It should be noted that some of the butterflies are also released back into the wild.

I especially like the spread where Burns shows that the appearance of the blue morpho caterpillar changes as it grows, shedding its skin and growing some more.  Workers use the appearance of the caterpillars to age them and tell when they will likely turn into a chyrsalis.

Adding to the book are Ellen Harasimowicz’s photos.  She shows a variety of scenes at the farm in Costa Rica as well as the musuem where the butterflies eventually break out of their chrysalis.  The photos on the end papers, just inside the front and back cover of the book, took my breath away.  In the front are photos of various chrysalis. Some are plump, green and shiny.  Others looks like folded leaves or sticks.  My favorites are a glistening metallic gold.  Inside the back cover are a variey of butterflies including the familiar monarch.

Make sure this book is on your classroom shelf.  Share it with the young natural lover or read it before you study life cycles or conservation topics.

–SueBE

November 13, 2014

Mr. Ferries and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis, illustrated by Gilbert Ford

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:03 am by suebe2

Mr. Ferries and His Wheel
by Kathryn Gibbs Davis
illustrated by Gilbert Ford
Houghton Mifflin

Ten months before the Chicago World’s Fair (1893), planners still didn’t know how they were going to top the Eiffel Tower.  Taller than even the Washington Monument, the tower eclipsed everything beneath it.  Desperate to do even better, the planners announced a contest.  Entries poured in from all over the country but the majority were simply bigger variations on the Eiffel Tower.  This fair needed something new.

George Washington Gale Ferris, a young mechanical engineer, considered the challenge a matter of national pride.  That French tower couldn’t outdo the US fair.  George and his engineering partner William Gronau got to work at their drawing boards.  They wanted to create a soaring structure that moved.  They worked carefully because even the smallest error could bring their dreams crashing down to the ground in a twist of metal.

The Fair’s construciton chief, an architect, didn’t think it looked sturdy enough.  Without his okay, the judges couldn’t decide.  Finally four months before the fair, they gave their okay but with one hitch – they refused to foot the bill.

Davis has done a wonderful job of condensing the struggle to build an engineering marvel, an 834 foot tall steel ferris wheel.  She goes into his inspiration, the struggles to get the plans approved, find the funding and overcome construction problems.  Once it was built, people still questioned if it was safe.

Ford’s illustrations combine digital mixed media with ink and watercolor to create pictures that combine an old time pen-and-ink feel with contemporary colors and a slightly cartoony feel.  The festive feel lightens up the story and help keep it moving along.

This book isn’t suitbable for preschoolers but grade school aged inventors, young readers interested in history and kids who just won’t give up will appreciate this story of an inventor with a can-do spirit.  Although it isn’t the scientific method, teachers will like this book for the lessons it teaches about modifying a plan as needed to achieve success.  A must for the classroom.

–SueBE

 

November 10, 2014

The Kite that Bridged Two Nations by Alexis O’Neill, illustrated by Terry Widener

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 5:14 am by suebe2

The Kite that Bridged Two Nations
by Alexis O’Neill
illustrated by Terry Widener
Calkins Creek

Homan’s father doesn’t understand what it is about flying kites that attracts his son.  Instead of wasting so much time with toys, Homan should focus on his studies.

But Homan does study.  He studies the wind and how it lifts a kite into the air.  He studies how much line to play out and what materials make the best kites.  And when he finds the handbill advertising the contest, the studies that too.

Ten dollare to the first boy to fly a kite from one side of the river to the other, the first boy whose kite string stretches between the United States and Canada.  The string will be used to pull a heavier line across the river, which will pull across a heavier line, which will pull across a slender rope and so on.  Eventually a rope will haul across a cable and a bridge will be built.

Unlike the others, Homan knows the wind.  As they try to fly their kites from the US to Canada, he takes the ferry across the river.  He flies his kite higher and higher.  He watches and waits.  Just when he thinks he has won, the string snaps.

But that isn’t his only problem, now the river has iced up and the boy can’t get home again, home to his family, home where he can make another attempt at winning.

I’m not going to tell you how the story ends, you’re going to have to read the book to find out!

O’Neill has created a fictional story of a true event.  She chose fiction because, in spite of all of her research, she had no way of knowing what was in Homan’s head as he made his plans.  To write from his point of view, she had to write fiction.  Author’s notes at the back of the book reveal what parts of the story are true and what parts are fictionalized.

Terry Widener’s acryllic paintings bring the story to life, somehow even depicting the still and cold of a winter’s day on the river bank, the play of a kite string feeding out, and the sudden collapse as it goes slack.

This is a picture book but will appeal more to first through third graders than to preschoolers.  Share it with the kite flyer in your life as fall nights grow cold.

–SueBE

November 6, 2014

At Home in Her Tomb: Lady Dai and the Ancient Chinese Treasure of Mawangdui by Christine Liu-Perkins

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:13 am by suebe2

At Home in Her Tomb:
Lady Dai and the Ancient Chinese Treasure of Mawangdui
by Christine Liu-Perkins

The mummy of this Chinese noble woman is an unusual sight.  Well preserved like the very best mummies, the isn’t the least bit dried out.  All of her soft tissue, including her internal organs, were preserved in a pliable state.  Scientists don’t know why or how this type of preservation took place although they have found several more of these lifelike Chinese mummies.

In the 1970s, workers uncovered a tomb covered in a layer of white clay over one of charcoal.  When they broke the seal, methane gas escaped and they knew they had something special.  This tomb had remained sealed and from the construction and artifacts they knew it was from the Han Dynasty (206 BCE to 220 CE).

Eventually they discovered a series of three tombs.  The central tomb, the first discovered, was the best preserved.  They weren’t sure who the nobel woman was until they explored the tomb of the older man.  A series of seals inside his tomb revealed that he was the Marquis of Dai, Li Cang, a high ranking Han official.  The woman was his wife, Lady Dai.  The third tomb belonged to one of their sons who, based on the artifacts, had probably been a Han General.

Between the three tombs, archaeologists found a wealth of material unknown to modern scientists and scholars.  In addition to the mummy, other early surprised included food preserved as perfectly as Lady Dai.

In the son’s tombs they found a map and a series of books writte on bamboo strips.  Scholars knew that some of these books existed, because other ancient writers talked about them, but the books themselves had been lost — burned by critical emperors or simply rotted away.  These were the first copies seen in over a 1000 years.  Games, ancient musical instruments and more emerged from the tombs.

Every excavation is like a mystery as archaeologists work to piece together the story of what had happened.  This particular excavation revealed not only the lives of these three people but also the time in which they lived.

Although heavily illustrated, this book isn’t a picture book.  Add it to your shelf if you have a young reader who is interested in China, history or the science of archaeology. Author Christine Liu-Perkins gives a strong introduction to the Han Dynasty and also explains how this find expanded on what is known about this vital period of Chinese history.

–SueBE

 

November 3, 2014

Chee-Lin: A Giraffe’s Journey by James Rumford

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:27 am by suebe2

Chee-Lin:
A Giraffe’s Journey
by James Rumford
Houghton Mifflin and Company

If you didn’t know what a giraffe was and couldn’t look it up online, what would you think the first time you saw the towering, spotted beast?  The first Chinese to see a giraffe thought that it was the mythical chee-lin.  This rare and amazing horned creature, with  the body of a deer, the tail of an ox and the hooves of a horse was considered a sign of good luck.  Given the description of a chee-lin, it isn’t surprising that when a giraffe was given to the Emperor, he and his people believed the animal was their mythical sign of good luck.

How did a giraffe make it all the way to China?  No one knows for certain except that it arrived on a treasure ship.  During the Ming Dynasty, a fleet of treasure ships led by admiral Zheng He, roamed the seas.  They traded with various rulers and returned with a wide variety of treasures for the emperor.  One of these treasures was a giraffe.

From a surviving painting and a few historical references, James Rumford has imagined this story.  He populates it with a variety of people some of whom do a good job caring for the chee-lin and others who don’t do nearly as well.  Still, near the beginning of his life and again near the end, he is fortunate enough to have young people who care for him, whispering in his ear and bringing him treats. Rumford works in a variety of details about life at this time, including the manual labor of the poor, the life of luxury of the wealthy and the building projects of a thriving dynasty.

I especially enjoyed Rumford’s art work.  The backgrounds of each spread contain designs from textiles from the countries in which this story takes place — Malawi, India and China.  The paintings themselves are made with a type of milk based poster paint that yield bright, vibrant colors.

Although this book is too long for a very young reader, the details will interest children who love animals as well as those interested in China and ancient exploration.

–SueBE

October 30, 2014

Fifty Cents and a Dream by Jabari Asim

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:02 am by suebe2

Fifty Cents and a Dream:
Young Booker T. Washington
by Jabari Asim
Little Brown and Company

When Booker walks the master’s daughter to school, he fingers the covers of the books he carries.  No slave is taught to read but he longs to know what the strange symbols on the page mean.  He listens at the schoolhouse window, memorizing what the teacher says and dreaming that one day he too will be allowed to attend school.

When slavery is abolished, Booker doesn’t go to school.  He goes to work at the salt furnace.  The work is hot and dangerous and Booker dreams of something better.

Then Mama buys him a speller.  Slowly, slowly, Booker unlocks the secrets and attends the school for Negroes in the evening.  During the day he still has to work.

As a teenager, he hears about the Hampton Institute, a school of higher learning for Negroes.  His parents and his neighbors don’t have much but Booker saves his money and they give him what they can.  To make the best use of his funds, Booker sets out to walk the 500 miles to school.  With 82 miles to go, his funds run out.  Booker is tired and cold and hungry but he doesn’t give up.

I knew about Booker T. Washington as the founder of the Tuskegee Institute but I knew nothing about his early life.  This book is a solid introduction to this important historical figure.

Bryan Collier created the illustrations for this book with watercolor  and collage.  The effect is often dark and sombre but appropriate for this time and tale of struggle.

That said, this isn’t a downer of a book.  This is the story of a man who struggled and worked to gain an education and to build a school where other struggling people could study.  Add it to your classroom shelf today.

–SueBE

October 27, 2014

Extraordinary Warren Saves the Day by Sarah Dillard

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:46 am by suebe2

Extraordinary Warren Saves the Day
by Sarah Dillard
Aladdin

Life is changing on the farm as Coach Stanley works Warren and the other chicks at a variety of stretches and exercises.  Then there’s singing, nap time and hide-and-seek. Warren also has a new friend.  If you’ve read Extraordinary Warren, you may recall that at the end of the story Egg hatches.  Egg is now out and about with Warren, learning all he can and asking tons of questions.

Eventually, Egg’s curiosity gets him in trouble when this little chicken crosses the road, encounters a grumpy cow and then gets lost in a corn field.  Warren realizes that his friend is missing when Egg is the only chick he can’t find during hide-and-seek.  He sets of to find his friend and get them both home.

If you aren’t familiar with Dillard’s Warren books, these early readers are part graphic novel and part standard text.  She has a playful approach to the graphic novel element.  Some panels are neatly boxed in while others run free across the page.  When one of the chicks is hanging upside, his speech is upside down as well.

Willard the Rat makes another appearance although he’s slightly less villainous than in Extraordinary Warren.  Yes, he’s snarky.  No, he can’t entirely be trusted.  But guess who sets out to find Warren and Egg when they’ve been gone to long?  Sure, the other chicks organize a search party but it is nothing like the search parties that actually find people . . . or chicks.  Think lights and music for a start. The humor in this book is light and silly.

Warren and Egg have a big brother/little brother kind of relationship that is sure to appeal to young readers.  The comic book style illustrations provide plenty of clues to what is happening in the story if a reader stalls out on a particular word.

Share this book with the young dreamer in your life who is just learning to read independently.

–SueBE

October 23, 2014

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:16 am by suebe2

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing
by Sheila Turnage
Kathy Dawson Books

When Mo and Dale attend an auction they’re just there to help Miss Lana with the umbrella stand she plans to buy.  After all, who in their right mind would buy The Tupelo Inn, a sprawling run down structure that’s been empty for some 70 plus years?

Then Miss Lana does buy it with the help of Grandmother Miss Lacy Thornton.  And, they buy it on purpose, not at all like when Dale waved at a friend and almost made an outrageous buy.

The two women don’t want the inn.  They just want to stop another bidder — a nasty, harsh woman that Mo nicknames Rat Face.  They plan to buy the inn and then sell it to someone nicer than Rat Face.  What they aren’t counting on is the Ghost in the contract.

Mo and Dale (aka the Desperado Detective Agency) quickly open a paranormal division. It is up to them to identify the ghost who trails the scent of rosemary, often sounds like footsteps and seems attracted to the new boy in town, Harm.

The new boy comes across as arrogant but Mo and Dale can’t help but feel sorry for him when the discover where he is living, with a notorious local moonshiner who just happens to be Harm’s grandfather.  He is the only family Harm has but the cops are on his trail.  Harm hires the Desperados to find the still first and shut it down.

With more mysteries then they know how to handle, the kids must learn how to track down a ghost, unearth long held secrets and learn how rum runners hide a still.

I loved this, the sequel to Three Times Lucky, even more than the original.  Turnage’s characters are well-drawn and three dimensional.  The good guys all have flaws — Mo is a bit to curious, strong willed and outspoken, Dale is a bit of a chicken and has truly limited social skills.  But even the bad guys often have good traits.  The moon shiner gives up his still to keep from loosing the grandson he’s only just met.

As always, Turnage’s plot is full of twists and turns, enough to keep you guessing until the very end.

Although there’s a touch of romance, this is a middle grade novel, perfect for young readers who aren’t ready for teen experiences.  Share this with a mystery lover or any other reader who likes stories that are hard to predict.

–SueBE

 

 

October 20, 2014

Telephone by Mac Barnett

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:18 am by suebe2

Telephone
by Mac Barnett
illustrated by Jen Corace
Chronicle Books

The message starts with a mother pigeon, complete with apron and hot dish, asking a young cardinal to tell Peter that he needs to fly home for dinner.  The cardinal repeats the message to a goose who repeats it to an ostrich and so on until it gets to a wise old owl.  The problem is that with each repetition, a whole new message is created ranging from “Tell Peter: put your wet socks in the dryer” to “Tell Peter: Something smells like fire.”

The adult reading this story won’t be surprised when the message is garbled.  Obviously, this is a game of telephone.  With our vast experience, we know that it will only get worse and worse.  What we don’t see coming is the surprise ending when the message gets to Owl.

Jen Corace’s illustrations are watercolor, ink, gouache, and pencil on paper.  Her birds are easily recognizable — the owl is clearly an owl and no one would mistake the turkey for anything but a turkey.  But she also anthropomorphizes them, creating a great sense of fun.  Mom Pigeon, in her apron and with dinner in wing, is clearly Mom.  In all black and white, the ostrich is a French maid.  The mallard is a bit of a good ol’ boy.  Each bird transforms the message into something that reflects his or her own interests.

As always Barnett’s text is a little wacky and a lot fun.  All of the birds relaying this message are perched on top of the telephone lines.

This story would make a great read aloud for story time or a group.  Expect young listeners to call out the original message, or at least their version of the original message, as the birds venture farther and farther from the truth.  You could also use this in the classroom for a not-so-subtle lesson on repeating what you hear, or think you heard, but it won’t help that in the end Owl gets the message right – yet another topic for discussion.  How could owl get it right when every-bird else got it wrong?

–SueBE

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