May 5, 2016
Now You See Them, Now You Don’t: Poems about Creatures that Hide by David Harrison, illustrated by Giles Laroche
Now You See Them, Now You Don’t:
Poems about Creatures that Hide
by David Harrison
illustrated by Giles Laroche
When I picked this up, I thought it was a book about camouflage — animals that use specialized coloration to hide. It is about camouflage but it is about more including animals that hide in their dens to seek safety from predators.
This isn’t a straight narrative text. Harrison also writes poetry and this book is a fun, informative collection of poems. Some rhyme, some don’t. They all teach but they do so in a way that makes it fun.
Some of the animals in the book rely on camouflage — the polar bear, the tiger and the copperhead. Others, such as the bumblebee moth, are mimics disguising themselves as a more threatening animal. Others, namely the hawk, rely on keen eyesight to spot their prey from afar. The hawk can see the mouse but does the mouse even realize that the hawk is there.
Laroche’s cut paper artwork gives texture and color to illustrations that could easily be flat and lifeless. But his art and Harrison’s words combine to create spreads that draw the reader in to explore the world of these animals.
I think my favorite poem in the book is “Copperhead.” My family spends a great deal of time in Southern Missouri. If the area had a representative snake, it would definitely be the copperhead, bold, brassy and master of remaining hidden from sight.
This would be a fun story time book as well as an inspirational text for students learning about animals or habitat as well as those who might want to try their hand at collage. Harrison’s books always have multiple layers and, in part because of this, are an excellent addition to the classroom bookcase. Use this book to teach about the natural world or writing poetry.
May 2, 2016
Lowriders in Space
by Cathy Camper
illustrated by Raul the Third
Book One in this series introduces young readers to Lupe Impala, El Chavo Flapjack the Octopus, and Elirio Malaria, a trio of anthropomorphic characters who are passionate about lowriders and dream of having their own garage. When they hear about a car contest, they see their chance to make it happen. After all, the prize is a gold steering wheel and a car load of cash.
Spotting an opportunity only solves one problem. First they have to find a car and they locate a junker but need to find the parts to fix it up. Fortunately, they find some unclaimed boxes at an abandoned rocket factory and get to work on their lowrider. Fixing up the car is just the beginning.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I saw the title. Obviously, lowriders feature but in such a way that readers who don’t know what a lowrider is will still be pulled into the story.
I was thrilled at the amount of Mexican-American culture and the fact that the illustrator grew up in El Paso-Juarez. Readers will want to spend some serious time with his art work which is colored pencil and marker. His use of full page spreads and panels of various sizes and shapes keeps the story moving along.
In addition to the cultural aspect, the story is also strongly flavored with astronomy terms as the characters blast into space in their rockets enhanced low rider. The story is vaguely “Magic School Bus” although it isn’t nearly as sciency as the original.
I would definitely recommend this for middle schoolers whether or not they are into going bajito y suavecito (low and slow).
April 28, 2016
by Darrin Lunde
illustrated by Adam Gustavson
It probably come as no secret to you — many people hate rats. They try to trap them, poison them and generally do them harm.
For those of you who are willing to learn a thing or twelve about rats, this is an excellent book. Lunde talks about the different types of rats found all over the world including the long-tailed marmoset rat which, like the well-known and much adored panda, eats only bamboo. He also wrote about the bushy-tailed cloud rat which actually has a fluffy tail. If you had just shown me a photo, I would have guessed porcupine. These “little” guys are cute! One of the wild rats he covered is my favorite, the kangaroo rat. Yes, I have a favorite rat.
Lunde also wrote about the many ways that rats are good. He discussed lab rats (poor rats!) and the fact that rats are a vital part of the food chain.
The backmatter included more types of rats. I do wish that the African giant pouched rat had made it into the main text. They’re pretty fantastic too. Also in the back matter was the crested rat which is toxic/poisonous because of a particular kind of plant sap that permeates their fur. Crazy!
I’m a bit of a casual rat nut. I say casual because I’ve never kept rats. My son’s godmother has rats and I know a thing or two thanks to her. I know that even rats who find food in garbage are not dirty. They spend a great deal of time grooming. I wish Lunde had pointed that particular fact out. But this is a picture book and because of the limited number of pages and limited number of words, there is only so much he can say. I get that.
Adam Gustavson’s paintings sometimes reminded me of Mark Teague’s work. I think it has something to do with the people’s faces. Teague illustrated the “How do Dinosaurs” books. Gustavson’s pictures aren’t encyclopedic but they are definitely realistic and his rats truly look like rats. It doesn’t take much imagination to picture one sniffing or scampering off the page.
I would definitely add this one to my bookshelf. It is a great jumping off point for discussions on diversity, urban wildlife and our misconceptions about same.
April 25, 2016
Louis I: King of the Sheep
by Olivier Tallec
Enchanged Lion Books
Louis is just an ordinary sheep until a paper crown blows onto this head. Then he is Louis I, King of the Sheep. As the King, he immediately starts making plans.
At first, his plans seem harmless enough. A king needs to be easy to recognize, so he needs a scepter. It should be easy for his people to see him when he speaks to them, so he should sit up high . . . and on and on it goes.
Soon he has plans for dignitaries and sheep marching. Before long, he’s thinking about all those sheep who don’t look like him and maybe should find someplace else to live.
And, then, fortunately for those around him, his crown blows away. And Louis is once again just a sheep.
I have to admit that in reading several of Tallec’s books, I like those best that he both writes and illustrates (this one and Who Done It?). His messages are fairly subtle and leave the reader space to mull things over and work things out. He doesn’t preach about power corrupting. He doesn’t say a word about tolerance or humility. He simply tells a story about Louis, a sheep.
Tallec’s art work isn’t particularly realistic but the cartoony nature of his paintings make them a little silly and fun – suitable for a book about the Sheep Who Would Be King. I love that when Louis is just a sheep, browns dominate. There are pastoral scenes full of green grass and blue skies but also palace scenes with rich, red draperies. But it isn’t just the use of color that makes his paintings worthwhile, there are also details in the art work that aren’t in the text and these details tell part of the story. Take note especially of the wordless final spread.
Add this book to your classroom shelf and use it as a jumping off point for discussions about privilege, authority and entitlement. Your students will definitely have quite a bit to say.
April 21, 2016
by Alex Gino
When people look at George, they see a boy. But George knows that she is a girl.
She decides that if she can only get to play Charlotte in the 4th grade play, everyone will see her for who she really is. Everyone who wants a part gets a chance to audition with boys reading the part of Wilbur and girls reading Charlotte. George and her best friend Kelly practice all weekend and with Kelly’s encouragement, George reads Charlotte’s part.
But when George delivers Charlotte’s lines at school, the teacher things he’s playing a joke. Even when she realizes that George really wants the part, she explains that too many girls want the part. “He” can’t have it. She gives the part to Kelly.
For a week, Kelly and George don’t speak. Kelly is afraid that George is mad at her for getting the part. George is mad and sad and so much more. Will anyone see her for who she truly is inside? But Kelly is a true friend and, after doing some reading and a lot of thinking, realizes that having George as a best friend means accepting her for who she truly is. Together, Kelly and George cook up a plan so that George can show herself as Charlotte.
I don’t want to give away any more of the plot. Suffice it to say that this is an utterly amazing book. Admittedly, parts of it were hard to read simply because I hated to see people being so blind and mean and awful to anyone, but especially to such a gentle soul. Not that it was all gloom and doom. Clearly Alex Gino believes that people can be surprising and it’s George’s brother who shines as George starts to tell everyone who she is. “I’m not gay. I’m a girl.” “Oh.” Back to eating dinner. “Ohhh.” More to eat. “Ohhhhhhhhh.” It takes a bit for the light to dawn in big brother’s mind but when it does, he has to admit that an awful lot about George now makes sense. And that is, as they say, that.
There really is so much to love about this book. My one concern is that people will judge it just as they would judge George. In truth, we would all be much better off if they would take the time to read it, digest what they’ve read, and let the truth of the words fall into place.
April 18, 2016
Stars Above (A Lunar Chronicles Collection)
by Marissa Meyer
If you are anything like me, you hate to finish the latest book that features your favorite characters. The good news is that author’s frequently have ideas for additional stories and Meyer has created a group of short stories that tell us more about our favorite characters in the Lunar Chronicles. The stories are in more or less chronological order and I have to admit that I had my favorites.
“The Keeper” tells how Michelle (Scarlet’s grandmother) came to shelter young Cinder.
“Glitches” reveals the life that waited Cinder when she went to live with her foster family.
“The Queen’s Army” tells about how Ze’ev became Z (Zed), a genetically altered soldier in the Queen’s Army. This was one of my favorites but also one of the hardest because, although Z is one of my favorite characters, you know his young life was tough. Loved this story.
“Carswell’s Guide to Being Luck” is the story of young Carswell. I’d love to say that I truly appreciated the glimpse into Carswell’s life but as child that it as smarmy as the early version of Adult Carswell (before hardship removes some of the smarm) was just a bit much. But that could just be me. I do have firm opinions on smarm. I really do come to appreciate him once his story crosses with that of Cress.
“After Sunshine Passes By” tells how Cress ended up in the satellite. This was another tough one because, seriously, some of the villains are just so . . . ugh!
“The Princess and the Guard” tells about Winter, the Lunar Princess, and Jacin, her guard and friend. Another toughy, again because of the bad guys.
“The Mechanic” describes the first meeting between Cinder and Prince Kai.
“The Little Android” is a sad story about an android who loves a human.
“Something Old, Something New” tells about what happens after the end of the series when the friend reunite at Scarlet’s farm. I really appreciated this one because of the comic, light-hearted look at this group of characters who has suffered through so much together.
I know that I’ve said some of the stories are tough but really, the tough ones are great. They’re just tough because I like these characters too much.
Would I start with this? No. I would definitely begin my exploration of the Lunar Chronicles with the novels. There are just too many plot twists that are given away in this collection if you haven’t already read the novels. That’s said, I seem to have missed Fairest which is Queen Levana’s story. In all truth, I’m not a real fan of the anti-hero so I may simply have ignored this one. I am a bit of a fickle pickle that way. But I would definitely recommend this book to fans of the series.
April 14, 2016
Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon
by Kate DiCamillo
illustrated by Chris Van Dusen
Francine Poulet may very well be the greatest animal control officer that Gizzford county has ever seen. She’s stared down a bear and won forty-seven trophies. One day she even helped locate a certain porcine wonder (for those of you who remember her from the Mercy Watson books).
One day she gets a call about a super, scary raccoon. This isn’t an ordinary raccoon and the caller, Mrs. Bissingers is convinced that this raccoon is something else. It might even be a ghost. How else can you explain the fact that it screamed out her name.
Francine is on edge when she takes her place on the Bissinger’s steep roof. Mrs. Bissinger has told her time and time again just how scary and tricky this particular raccoon is. When the scary screaming raccoon jumps on Francine, they tumble to the ground and the animal control officer ends up with a broken leg and a broken arm.
Even when she is out of the casts, Francine assures herself that no one can expect an animal control officer who walks with a cane to take on this super scary raccoon.
But the crazy raccoon is still on Deckawoo Drive and it’s up to the residents to help Francine rediscover her purpose and her gumption. As sometimes happens, I’m not going to tell you exactly who manages to do this or how. You will . . . I’m sure you know what I’m going to say . . . have to read the book.
“Tales from Deckawoo Drive” is a series of chapter books that focus on some of the secondary characters from Kate DiCamillo’s Mercy Watson series. Unlike the Mercy Watson books, these are traditional chapter books with more text and illustrations, black and white, on only a few pages. Like the Mercy Watson books, readers will still be treated to DiCamillo’s top-notch story telling and wit.
Share this particular book with a newly independent reader who loved Mercy Watson. It would also be a great choice for readers who love comedy, stories with animals, or any one who needs a story about someone who has lost her way and is unsure of her identity. Rest assured, in the end Francine Poulet is once again sure of who she is.
April 11, 2016
by Lori Mortensen
illustrated by Nina Victor Crittenden
Henry Holt and Company
Lily was a lot of things. She was super careful when she colored. And super good and putting together puzzles. And super quiet when she played hide-and-seek. She was also a little chicken.
Hey! I’m not being mean. That’s Lily at the center of the cover.
The problem was that she was also afraid to try new things from new foods to riding without her training wheels. And then Miss Lop put up a poster. The class was going to participate in a poetry slam. The entire class.
Lily tried to come up with excuses but Miss Lop wasn’t having any part of it. Neither were Lily’s friends. With so many other people believing in her, Lily came to believe in herself.
In some picture books with animals characters, the animals act like what they are. Bunnies hop, sheep baa and cats chase mice. In this book, the bunny is the school teacher and the other animals are stand-ins for real kids. That can be helpful when you’re talking about fear and things that worry people. Young readers who may identify with the character have a bit more distance from the story. It gives them a bit of wiggle room to appreciate what is going on instead of just worrying about what their alter ego is experiencing.
Crittenden’s watercolor, pen and ink illustrations are engaging but also cartoony enough to make the readers smile. That said, they characters are still plenty expressive so readers will know when Lily is standing firm and when she’s at least a little bit worried.
Share this book with your class and use it as a jumping off point for discussing encouraging classmates who may have reservations about a particular activity. Share it with the young reader in your life who takes a moment or ten to warm up to something new. And be sure to share it with readers who simply enjoy sweet stories about characters who are finding their way in the world.
April 7, 2016
Who Done It?
by Olivier Tallec
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I requested Who Done It? from the library catalogue. The trim size of the book itself is unconventional — my guess is roughly 6 inches by 11 inches. It is a horizontal format, bound along the top edge. When I had the book in hand, I still wasn’t sure what to expect. The cover is heavy cardboard trimmed like a board book but the pages aren’t board book stock although they are heavy paper.
What the heck. I decided the best way to figure out what is what was to read it.
“Who didn’t get enough sleep?”
“Whose pulling a prank?”
The text on each spread asks the young reader a question. Who is doing . . . whatever? The reader then scans the 8 to 10 characters to discover who is doing what.
They all take a bit of reasoning. Is the sleepy character the one leaning on the sofa or the one leaning against a friend, eyes closed? What is a prank? Does a prankster wear a Viking helmet? Or might he be the one making bunny ears behind a friend’s head.
Tallec is primarilly an illustrator and his books reflect that. The text is extremely simple while the illustrations are what pulls the reader into the story. His work is done in acryllic paint and pencil with silly, big-headed characters that are cartoony while expressing a full range of emotions from worry to glee.
This is a an excellent book to share with a young reader who is learning to make her way in a world full of new people and lot’s of confusing emotions and social cues. No, that isn’t what it’s about. The book itself is a lot more fun that that but it will also lead to some great discussions about what each character is doing and who is “it.” Hint: There may be more than one.
And, just in case you can’t agree? Tallec has provided an “answer key” at the end.
April 5, 2016
by Holly Black
Margaret K. McElderry Book
Sixteen year-old Kay is used to living a semi-nomadic life. After all, Mom is a musician and when things with a band, or a boyfriend, go South, it can mean hitting the road. Still, no boyfriend has ever pulled a knife on her Mom before but that’s what happens after the gig. The problem is that this time Kay and her mother have nowhere to go. They end up leaving New York City for New Jersey to stay with Kay’s grandmother.
They lived her when Kay was a child and she’s eager to return to the shore and the ocean and the wind and the trees. It is all just too perfect except that it no longer fits.
Her bedroom is pink and frilly and cute. In fact, it is perfect for the 8 year-old girl she was but much less so for the teen she is. Her best friend Janet begs her not to act to weird and Kay tries. She really and truly does. But sometimes when she loses herself in her thoughts things happen — like the evening she bewitches a defunct merry-go-round horse to come to life and enchants Janet’s boy friend who suddenly wants her and no one else.
At first Kay blames the attraction on her exotic looks — blonde and Asian. But then she meets Roiben, a beautiful warrior shot by an arrow. It is clear he isn’t human but can he truly be an elf like he claims? And that’s when Kay’s world begins to unravel and she finds herself underground in the beautiful, wicked world of the faery court. Slowly Kay unravels who, and what, she really is. The reality that she uncovers reveals a plot long in the making, a plot designed to bring a kingdom tumbling down.
If I’m not mistaken, this is one of Black’s earlier novels. In it, readers will find a delicious blend and fantasy and reality, dark and decadent. The voices of her teen characters are unflinchingly real even when an adult reader wishes they would chill . . . just a little. Hint: Beware listening to this as an audiobook without earphones, especially the first 1/3 of the book. Yes, it was just my husband who overheard but still.
In this “Modern Faerie Tale,” Black blends fantasy and mystery and romance for an enticing read for your teen fantasy fan.