March 23, 2017
Little Louie isn’t really such a little kid. It isn’t like he needs his Mom every single second of the day. But when he comes down with a head cold it sure would be nice to be able to call her. Unfortunately, with his stopped up nose, instead of calling for Mom, he ends up calling for Bob.
For some people this might not be a big issue. You call out Bob and your Mom, knowing your head is stopped up, would check on you. Unfortunately, Little Louie has a dog named Bob. Every time he calls for his mom, along comes slobbery, overly-enthusiastic Bob.
His sister looks at him likes he’s loosing his mind when along comes Bob and Louie points out that he wants “Bob, not Bob.” Before long, Little Louie is still sick but he’s also frustrated. But so is Bob (he keeps coming like a good dog but Louie is super crabby) and Mom (what’s with this kid and this dog?).
Fortunately Mom knows that a cuddle can solve all manner of problems and soon Mom, Louie and even Bob have settled in for a nice nap.
Pretty soon Louie is feeling fit and when he can call Mom or Bob and get the one that he wants. The problem is that now when he calls Bob, he ends up with his mother too.
The subtitle for this book says it all. “To be read as though you have the worst cold ever!”
Anyone who has ever had a cold knows the problem — you try to speak oh so clearly only to have your stopped up nose botch something so badly that no one can understand you. Reading this book aloud to a group turns it into a fun game so be ready for your class to chip in with carefully mispronounced words that make it sound like dare hed id all topped up.
The story is silly (and something both parents and kids will identify with) and Matthew Cordell’s illustrations just notch it up. Bob (the dog, not the parent) is goofy and energetic and just as expressive as little Louie.
Share this book with your young reader today!
March 21, 2017
Cammie O’Reilly doesn’t get it. How can she miss someone she doesn’t even remember? But her mother died when Cammie was just a baby. That’s bad enough but she died pushing the baby buggy from in front of a milk truck. Twelve-year-old Cammie knows she doesn’t remember it but the rattle of milk bottles still bothers her.
The fact that Cammie doesn’t have a mother is only the first thing that sets her off from the other kids at school. She’s also the only kid living at the prison. No, she isn’t a convict. She’s the warden’s daughter and they live in an apartment where she can look out and see the women’s yard. It limits your prospects when you’re trying to find a new mom.
Cammie’s life revolves around the prison so much that she’s convinced that she’s good for the inmates. After reading an article about letting inmates have pets, she talks her father into letting her enter the women’s yard every morning throughout summer vacation.
Cammie’s access to the inmates boosts her status with her classmates but it puts her at odds with her best friend. Reggie wants the autograph of a notorious killer who murdered a girl from their very own town. She not only wants that signature, she wants Cammie to get it for her. Cammie doesn’t get it. This isn’t someone who shoplifted or set a fire like the women she knows. This is someone who killed a girl. A girl whose mother still misses her.
I’m not going to go into anything else as far as the plot goes. I want you to experience the twists and turns for yourself.
This wasn’t an easy book to read. Cammie is so angry that there are times I had troubles sympathising with her. But that’s okay. I wasn’t this kid and as a Mom it was hard to read. But there are kids who are going to need to experience Cammie’s story and see that it really is okay to be angry. Things can still work out.
March 15, 2017
Pour me a cup.
Water is water
So begins Water is Water, a most excellent picture book about the water cycle. It seems like such a complicated subject would require a complicated text but Paul’s text is poetic and brief, perfect for reading aloud. Drinking water, steam, clouds, fog, rain, snow and ice, flowing streams and more all have a place in this amazing complex book.
Jason Chin’s watercolor and gouache paintings expand on the story as we follow a pair of siblings through the school year and back into summer break. His art provides a glorious setting for this story, subtly emphasizing the importance and wonders of water without turning it into a sermon. His art will also be of interest to suburban and urban students who may not have seen a house above a lake, surrounded by gardens and orchards and the natural world. His work is soft and watery and oh so perfect for this tale.
Chin’s artwork also adds a subtle note of diversity with a biracial siblings as the main characters. Again, this is done so subtly that it doesn’t come across as “a valuable lesson” but it will help a wider range of readers see themselves in children’s literature.
Because although the text is brief, it covers all four seasons as well as the many forms that water can take in the natural world. Back matter offers more complete information for an older learner or the adult teacher. My favorite thing in the back matter? What percentage of a turtle is water vs a cat. Yeah, I’m a number geek that way.
Share this with your students who are studying water, the water cycle and the natural world.
March 10, 2017
Panda isn’t going to let it rest. He wants a pair of pants to wear and nothing Papa Panda says is going to dissuade him. It doesn’t matter that panda don’t need pants because they have fur. Pants might be itchy? Who cares! Panda is going to be the first.
So when they come upon a garden complete with a pants wearing scarecrow, Panda puts the pants on and sets off once again after his father.
Spoiler Alert!! The next line is going to give away the climax!
Throughout their conversation, Panda and papa have been trailed by a leopard, its tail visible as it stalks them through the bamboo and tall grasses. When it pounces, Panda uses the pants to save the day. That done, the pants are no longer interesting. Why can’t he have shoes?
This is one of those books where the animals are stand-ins for people. Every parent has had this conversation as their child begs and begs for something that is of no use to them whatsoever. So what! They want it more than anything else in the world. And once they get it? Pfft. Who cares? Their mind-bending fascination has moved on to something new.
That’s the part that is going to keep a parent going reading this book. But what about the young reader?
These pandas are too cute to bear. Sydney Hanson’s mixed-media illustration have yielded pandas that look soft, fluffy and cuddly and also very expressive. Young readers will also love the fact that they see the leopard’s tail when even Papa Panda is oblivious. Another selling point for an animal loving kid are the various animals that really would live near each other. In addition to the giant panda and leopard (clouded or snow?) are a red panda and a pangolin.
This book would be a fun choice for story time with your young reader. Don’t be surprised when you spend as much time looking for the leopard as reading the story. And you’re going to have some fun conversations too — why wouldn’t his father get him the pants he wanted, Mom!?
March 6, 2017
by Jacob Grant
Feiwel and Friends
“Cat and Girl has always been good friends.”
“One day, Girl brought home a colorful new guest.
His name was yarn.”
So opens Cat Knit. The text may seem simple but the story is many-layered. On the surface it is a story about a very expressive cat who has scads of fun playing with the ball of yarn that Girl brings home. At least fun is had until she knits yarn into a clingy, itchy sweater.
That’s the surface interpretation. Then there is the underlying story about change and perhaps even growth. From the outset Cat is unhappy about the changes in Yarn. Yarn is all wrong and Cat pulls off the new sweater only then realizing just how cold the snow is. He grudgingly admits that “warming up” to something new takes time.
All of this comes through the story without Grant preaching about the benefits of change and growth and giving new things a chance. Instead, it all comes through organically.
Grant initially drew the illustrations with charcoal and crayon before coloring them digitally. Like the text, the illustrations are deceptively simple. They look cartoony but both Cat’s facial features and gestures are wonderfully expressive and communicate a world of emotion.
Because the text is so brief, this would make an excellent read aloud. That said, young boys who aren’t familiar with knitting men may not be willing to give the story a chance. Yes, I see that as a problem but not necessarily one that you can address in the middle of story time.
Fortunately the book would also be top-notch for one-on-one reading or early reading. Finding good books for new readers can be tough and this story is well-developed without vocabulary that feels like it has been kept too simple.
Share this with the young reader in your life and be ready for a varied and far-ranging discussion that may encompass change and growth as well as unwanted and unwelcome gifts.
March 2, 2017
You’ve heard of unreliable narrators who intentionally try to mislead the reader, but what about a narrator that is super forgetful? That’s what you find in The Forgetful Knight.
From the beginning it is clear that the narrator is having one horrible time trying to keep this story straight. He knows it is a story about a knight. But did he ride away or walk? Was he carrying a sandwich or a sword?And why did he have to fight that dragon again? Something about a missing friend, Sir Clopalot.
Apparently Sir Clopalot and a whole host of beasties were devoured by the dragon. It is up to the knight to stage a rescue. Not to worry, it isn’t a bloody rescue although it is a wee bit gross.
Seriously, do not read on if you are going to get grumpy if I give this away. That said, it shouldn’t be a total spoiler because you’ve read the title of the book. It isn’t until the very last page that the reader discovers that the narrator of the book is none other than the knight himself.
Hmm. Is your young reader going to want to read the book a second or third time once this secret is out. You bet! Because now they know something that this goof of a narrator has forgotten. It will give the young reader a great sense of power to correct the narrator as the story moves along – no, it isn’t a sandwich. He’s carrying a sword!
Fred Blunt created the art work for this book using pencil and computer. His pictures are incredibly silly which is perfect for this story. It also helps keep the gross and would-be scary parts from being really gross or scary. In his world, things are simply much too silly.
This story will make an excellent read aloud since it is tight and written in rhyme. Still, it might be best to read it with smaller groups because the illustrations are so detailed that a child at the back of a large group wouldn’t get the full effect.
Pick this up and share it with your young reader today, whether they are a knight or dragon in training.
March 1, 2017
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked this book up from the library. I knew it was about slavery. I knew it was written in poems. I knew it had won numerous awards from the American Library Association. Now I know why.
On the first spread, readers learn that Cado Fairchilds, the owner of 11 slaves, has recently died. His widow is afraid to manage their estate alone because she has heard about slave revolts. Instead, she will sell them and move home to England were she will feel safe among her own people.
Wow. As I type this I realize how powerfully Bryan set up this book. From the widows worries and words, we move on to the lives of the slaves people who are once again being offered for sale which will surely mean that they will lose the families they have built. And this will happen after losing their African families.
Each slave gets two poems. One is about the work that they do that benefits the Fairchilds estate. The second is about how they see themselves, how they maintain their African roots, for those who had them, and how they benefit their fellow slaves. This format makes it clear that there is a person that the master and his family knows and benefits from. Then there is another person, a person who has dreams and desires and hopes for a better, safer future.
The author based this book on a slave document. It is an appraisement of the property of one Mrs. Fairchilds. It includes:
1 Negro woman named Peggy …… $150.00
One women Charlotte and child …. $400.00
One Man Qush ………………….$100.00
21 Large Steers …………………$189.00
One Bay Mare……………………$100.00
One Negro Man named Bacus….$250.00
I’m not retyping the entire document but what was most chilling to me was that these people, people, human beings, were listed amongst livestock and farming equipment. They weren’t even sectioned off as special or different but were any old property.
This isn’t going to be an easy book to share but it is essential as part of the reality of our national history. It doesn’t matter if your family were brought over as slaves, owned slaves or worked on the Underground Railroad. It doesn’t really even matter if you’ve only been here for one generation. This is part of our national heritage. A part that we have to look in the eye if we ever hope to move past it.
I wouldnt’ read this to a kindergartener but a third grader? Definitely. Just be ready for some really tough discussions.
February 23, 2017
Pirates? Polite or not?
I have to admit that my first inclination was to answer NO and I’m betting that authors Demas and Roehrig are counting on that. I say this because although the pirates in this book do all kinds of pirate things, from fighting to feasting, they always use their manners saying please and thank you and waiting their turn. This surprising twist is sure to pull readers into the story.
Demas, Roehrig and Catrow have populated their book with honest to goodness pirates. They are scruffy and they sure do look smelly, but they definitely have manners. They chew with their mouths closed. They don’t interrupt. They share.
My favorite? They don’t make fun of someone who is a little bit different. In this case, the captain takes a bath which flies in the face of stinky pirate tradition. Although they notice how clean he is, no one says a word. The point isn’t belabored but it will make a great jumping off point on other ways someone might be different in behavior or appearance.
As I read this book through the first time, I kept thinking how familiar the illustrations looked. I definitely recognized the artist’s work. Then I realized why. He has 8 pages of hard cover picture books on Amazon including Little Pierre, I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More and the Molly Lou Melon books. You’ll likely recognize his work as well. It’s cartoony and quirky and perfect for a silly pirate book.
This book will make a great read-aloud. Kids love texts that rhyme and this one is short and swift, moving along at a good clip. It will definitely hold the attention of restless and rambunctious listeners who may be itching to act out some pirate play. Be prepared to discuss how polite pirates would do a wide variety of pirate-y things. This is going to be something about which there are many opinions so you may have to encourage your pirate fans to use their indoor voices.
Just be sure to say please and thank you! It would be a pity if you were less polite than a pirate.
February 21, 2017
Freedom in Congo Square
by Carole Boston Weatherford
illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
Little Bee Books
Before Louisiana became a part of the United States, it was a French colony and then a Spanish colony. The Catholic Church mandated that Sundays be a day of rest for everyone, free and slave alike.
Weatherford has created a spare text that tells of the realities of slave life — feeding livestock, chopping firewood, plow, planting and tending to household chores as well. But every day holds a bit of hope as they are able to visit Congo Square on Sunday afternoons.
In New Orlean’s Congo Square, enslaved and free blacks would gather on Sunday afternoons. In addition to sharing the news, often speaking their own languages, they also played music on bells, fiddles, flutes, and more. They danced and they chanted.
Congo Square also gave these people a chance to buy and sell. Some sold herbs they had grown or wild foods they had gathered. Others sold items they had made.
This text doesn’t downplay the agony of slavery, making it clear that Congo Square gave them only a small taste of the freedom they were missing. But it was a taste that they would not have when New Orleans and the Louisiana Territory became a part of the United States.
In other parts of the US, and in Congo Square once it was part of the US, slaves were not allowed to gather together without white supervision. African music was against the law.
Christie’s brightly colored artwork is as full of life as the text. The colors sing and the bold lines suggest movement.
Given the brevity of the text, this book would be good as a read aloud even with short attention spans. The Author’s Note and a foreword give a wealth of additional information.
At a glance this book appears simple but it tells a meaningful story that may take some time for readers to absorb. It is no wonder that in 2017 the American Library Association named it a Caldecott Honor and a Coretta Scott King Honor and also gave it the Charlotte Zolotow Award.
February 16, 2017
“Does a fiddler crab fiddle?”
This is the first line of the book. Of course, we already know that the answer is NO, but then why is it called a fiddler crab? Young readers have to turn the page to find out.
Spread follows spread in the same form. One asks a silly question, complete with a silly painting, and the next provides the oh-so factual nonfiction answer, teaching young readers about fiddler crab claws and fiddler crab food. Read on to find out where they live, what they eat and how they survive when the tide comes in. The text is brief, the pace is fast and you take in a lot more information than you initially realize.
But for those of you who want your facts dense and no-nonsense, turn to the fact-filled author’s note. There you’ll learn about how many species of fiddler crabs there are, the differences between males and females and much, much more.
When I picked up this book, I came into it knowing that it was nonfiction with a silly side. I had interviewed the authors for an article so I knew something about their research and eye for detail. And the cover had prepared me for the silly. At least, it has prepared me to a point. Then I opened the book to see a top-hatted fiddler crab fiddling away across the sand.
Artist John Sandford pulled off a difficult task. His paintings and bright and lively, invigorating the nonfiction while still being realistic. But they are also fun and fanciful enough to make the fictional spreads believable.
This is an excellent book for reading aloud in the classroom, at story time, or simply with your own young reader. The text is super brief and moves fast, but there’s just enough silly to hold the attention of the squirmy set as they anticipate what will happen next. Read this to your young readers to spark their interest in fiddler crabs and sea life and be ready for a few silly, side-stepping dances.