October 5, 2015
Me . . . Jane
by Patrick McDonnell
Little, Brown and Company
When Jane was a little girl, she has a stuffed animal named Jubilee. Jane took this toy chimp everywhere she went and, for Jane, that was most often someplace outside. She watched birds and spiders and squirrels. She read books about alligators and other animals from all over the world. She and Jubilee even hid in the hen-house to find out where eggs come from.
Jane felt very connected with this magical world, from the trees to the wind. She read about Tarzan of the Apes and dreamed of a life in Africa. And eventually, her dream came true.
For those of you who haven’t guessed, this is a picture book about primatologist Jane Goodall. The last spread is simply amazing with a photo of Jane reaching out to be touched by a baby chimpanzee. Goodall was sent to study chimpanzees by paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey. She didn’t know exactly how to be a primatologist so she adapted the practices of the naturalists that she had read about. She went out into the wild and she watched.
This book doesn’t really get into that, except in the author’s note, but it does tell the story of a young girl who loves the natural world as well as her stuffed buddy, Jubilee. This isn’t a wild, rowdy picture book as much as it is a touching story about hopes and dreams and heart. Lots and lots of heart.
The funniest thing about writing this up is that I wanted to point out that Patrick McDonnell’s art work reminded me of the art work in the comic strip Mutts. Guess what? He’s the creator of the comic strip too. As it is in the comic strip, his artwork in the book is both simple and expressive. I especially love when Jane and Jubilee discover the origin of eggs.
This book won’t be your best choice for a high energy story time but it is definitely an excellent choice for cuddle-time reading, indoors or out.
October 1, 2015
(Book 1 of The Zodiac Legacy)
written by Stan Lee and Stuart Moore
illustrated by Andie Tong
Steven Lee is on a field trip with his class when he realizes that something just isn’t right. They are touring a Hong Kong history museum but the guide seems clueless. No matter what she says, Steven is certain the ancient Chinese never wrote on plastic.
He keeps an eye on her and follows her through a basement entrance into what looks like a high tech cavern. They are definitely underground but the covern is strung with cables and wires and odd green lights periodically shine down onto liquid pools in the floor.
When one of these lights draws near, Steven sees a long line of Chinese people — peasants, farmers and royalty. Just as the light strikes him, he spots his grandfather smiling at him. Stephen has been struck by the power of the Tiger, his life changed forever as he now has the strength, the stealth and the bravery of this great cat.
Two people have captured the power of the Dragon, one working for Good, the other Evil. Each of them hurries to find the newest Zodiac recruits and recruit them to their way of thinking.
Steven joins Jasmine and works to recruit the Rabbit, The Ram and the Pig to work for good. Maxwell, the evil dragon is a former mercenary with very deep pockets and firm belief that whatever he wants is right. And he wants all 12 Zodiac powers for himself. He has already recruited the Horse, the Rat, the Monkey, the Dog and the Snake. A few more recruits and no one will be able to stand in his way.
Lee and Moore bring readers a true comic book style story in this struggle between good and evil. Young people find themselves in posession of super powers that the struggle to understand even as they try to learn to work together. Tong’s art work pulls the story together, giving it energy and power.
In truth, it is an over-simplification to say that Maxwell and his side represent evil. As always Stan Lee’s baddies work believing that their cause is rightous and the end for which they work both desirable and just. Share this with the young comic book fan in your life today. Book 2 is due out in January.
September 28, 2015
A Weed Is a Flower:
The Life of George Washington Carver
Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
When George Washington Carver was born, no one looked at that sickly little baby and thought “He’s going to be a great scientist.” Why would they? He was small, he was sick and he was born a slave.
When he was still a baby, men stole him and his mother away from the Carvers. Moses Carver, the man who owned George and his mother, sent someone to look for them. He found the baby, but not the baby’s mother. Moses and Susan, his wife, took care of George and his siblings.
They noticed that George wansn’t like the other children and it wasn’t just because he was small or sick. He asked questions about absolutely everything that he saw. He wanted to know about rain and flowers and even insects. He planted a garden. When plants didn’t thrive, George worked to find out why. Before long, the neighbors were asking this boy that they called the Plant Doctor about their own plants.
Although slaves had been freed, there were no schools nearby for their freed children. When he was 10 George left everything behind in search of a school. He could have been a painter but George wanted to help people so he studied agriculture, he worked with plants.
I have to admit that when I requested this from my local library, I was expecting a picture book. Maybe it was the cover. I don’t know. Then I picked it up and saw that it was small for a picture book, basically early reader sized. Did I run the text through an analyzer? No, because I don’t have time to type it out. Suffice it to say that it is long for a picture book and, unlike many of the youngest early readers, it isn’t divided into chapters.
That said if you have a young reader who is fascinated by science or plants or George Washington Carver, share this fact filled book with them. You’ll both be glad that you did.
September 21, 2015
Most of us have seen the iconic photo of Ruby Bridges, the little girl being led by marshalls through the hate-filled crowd. I always shudder when I see the distorted faces of the women screaming at her. All she wanted to do was go to a good school.
Every day Ruby came to school. Every day she sat alone in the classroom. The only student in attendance. The sole focus of her teacher, Mrs. Henry. Henry marvelled that Ruby appeared so calm. As the days wore on she expected this to change but every day the little girl settled into her desk, ready to learn.
Then one day, Mrs. Henry saw Ruby stop in the middle of the crowd. The marshalls were obviously worried but the little girl stood there. Was she trying to talk to these people? Finally she passed through the crowd and into the school. When Mrs. Henry questioned her, Ruby said that she wasn’t talking to them. She was praying for them. She did this every day, twice a day, and had forgotten to say her morning prayer until she was almost to the school.
Eventually other parents sent their children back to school. Why deprive them of an education? Their parents just couldn’t see the logic. But that’s the thing about hate. It isn’t logical. It’s all about fear. This is an amazingly powerful story of one girl working to battle that fear with the strongest weapon she had — prayer.
This book was originally published in 1995. But the message is so powerful that a new edition came out in 2010. Goerge Ford’s realistic illustrations show not only the hatred and rage on the faces of the adults but also Ruby’s quiet strength. Share this amazing faith-filled Civil Rights story with your young reader today.
September 17, 2015
The Day the Crayons Came Home
by Drew Daywalt
illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
One day Duncan and his crayons are coloring when a stack of odd post cards arrives. To Duncan, Duncan’s Bedroom, Upstairs.
From Maroon to Estaban, the crayons write to him with tales of woe. Some have been lost in the house, waiting in the oh so scary dark. Others have been dropped on vacation. Estaban just thinks that the name pea green is unappealing an insists an exotic, adventuresome change. Yellow and Orange have melted together; they no longer argue about who is the color of the sun. Duncan even gets a postcard from one of his baby brother’s crayons; it is a call for help.
The one thing that the postcards all have in common is that these crayons are ready to come home and be a part of Duncan’s life. But how do you house a group of crayons that are now misshapen, enlarged and no longer fit into your standard crayon box? You’ll have to read the book to find out.
This book may actually be more funny than Daywalt and Jeffers’ first creation, The Day the Crayons Quit. I was reading The Day the Crayons Came Home while waiting for my high school aged son to get out of swim practice. I read part of it aloud to him before I would start the car.
Jeffers art work combines crayon drawings with photos of a cardboard box and what look to be real post cards. The post cards, especially those from Neon Red, definitely add another layer to the story. Hint: Neon Red is walking home and on the way visiting the Great Wall, the Pyramids and the rainforest. Looking at the images on Neon Red’s postcards, it is pretty clear that, although he’s having a great time, he really isn’t sure where he is.
Pick this up for your young artist and share in the fun as you read this book out loud again and again.
September 14, 2015
She Loved Baseball:
The Effa Manley Story
by Audrey Vernick
illustrated by Don Tate
Even when she was still a girl in school, Effa hated being told “how things are.” The principal told her not to play with those “Negroes” on the playground. Never mind that those children were her brothers and sisters. Lighter skinned children were often told not to play with darker children.
When the moved to Harlem as an adult, she couldn’t believe that even the department store in Harlem refused to employ black clerks. Many of the businesses in Harlem were white-owned. Effa organized a civic organization. They boycotted the store and encouraged other Harlem residents to do the same. “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work!” Eventually the stores hired over 100 clerks from the area.
Effa married Abe Manley. The couple started a team, the Brooklyn Eagles, in the new Negro National League. Effa discovered how much she enjoyed arranging schedules and transportation and buying equipment. Over time, she took on more and more responsibility for the team and her players who called her “mother hen.”
When Effa attended league meetings, the other owners would complain that baseball was no place for a woman. When they saw that she understood not only the game but the business, she won their respect.
Time and time again, Effa acknowledged a barrier by treating it as her next challenge, even conducting a letter writing campaign to get Negro League players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. It came as no surprise to those who had worked with her when the Hall of Fame inducted her as its first woman member.
I have to admit that I had never heard of Effa Manley when I picked up this book. Or, if I had heard of her, I didn’t remember. But one of my son’s friends is a major league baseball fan. Thank you, dear friend!
Tate’s illustrations are realistic without being “text booky” but also very expressive. When you turn the page and see Effa peeking through her fingers while another baseball fan stares with his mouth open wide, you want to read on and find out what is happening.
Whether someone is a baseball fan or interested in either sports history, women’s history, or African-American history, this book is a must. It doesn’t gloss over any of the problems faced by Effa Manley but it is very matter-of-fact in describing how again and again she rose to meet a new challenge. This is definitely a women that our young people need to study both for the many elements of history that come together in her life but also for her heroic can-do attitude.
September 10, 2015
Ask Paul Fisher why he’s afraid of his older brother and he can’t really say. He just knows that it is better to stay out of Eric’s way, especially when it comes to the Eric Fisher Football Dream. Their father has it all plotted out complete with the best position for his brother to play, what records he needs to set and what universities offer the best opportunities.
What his parents fail to notice is that Paul is as much an athlete in his own right. In spite of thick glasses and special sports goggles, Paul is a top-notch middle school soccer player. He was the starting goalie at his old school and looks forward to playing in Tangerine County.
His dreams are almost shattered with the coach refuses to let him on the field. He claims that because of Paul’s vision and his IEP he is ineligible.
When a sinkhole swallows several of the middle school’s outdoor class rooms, Paul takes advantage of the opportunity to attended middle school across the county on “the wrong side of the tracks,” or in this case on the wrong side of the citrus groves.
Yes, it’s rougher than his local school. Yes, the school is more diverse. But there are honors classes and Paul has the chance to play soccer if he is willing to give up his position in the goal and play on a team that includes girls.
Bloor does an amazing job of weaving together the two stories — Paul’s desire to play soccer and his relationship with his brother and his whole family. Slowly Paul starts to remember what happened to his eyes and he finally understands why he’s afraid of his brother. The question remains — can he overcome his fears to do what is right by his new team and the friends in his neighborhood?
This is a book that I’ve loved for years and was shocked to realize I haven’t reviewed. Bloor does a top-notch job dropping tiny bits of information regarding what happened in Paul’s past. But this isn’t just a story of family dynamics. It shows how beliefs that we have influence how we see people both in our families but also in our communities. This book is an excellent jumping off point for discussions about trust, truth and integrity as well as community and diversity.
September 7, 2015
Sojourner Truth’s Step-Stomp Stride
by Andrea Davis Pinkney
illustrated by Brian Pinkney
Disney/Jump at the Sun Books
I’m a little embarrased to admit that this book came out in 2009 and I’m only now discovering it. For shame!
Born as Belle, Sojourner Truth was also born a slave. And she was a slave of note. As a child, she was almost 6 feet tall. She wore a size 12 shoe. Because she was so big and strong she could do a hard-day’s work when she was still a child. She was onl 9 years old when she was sold away from her parents.
Eventually she was owned by a man named John Dumont. Dumont promised to free her if she worked extra hard for him. For years, Belle worked at any job he gave her but there was one thing he refused to give her and that was her promised freedom.
Belle had had enough she ran away. She made her way to a Quaker farm. When Dumont caught up with her there, the Quakers paid for her but they didn’t want human property. They set her free.
She changed her name to Sojourner Truth. She wanted people to know as soon as they met her that she was a traveler who spoke the truth. And that is what she did. She spoke against slavery. When she heard men speak out against women’s right, she spoke up for this cause as well.
Andrea Pinkney’s text gives enough information to hook and inform young readers without overwhelming them. Brian Pinkney’s illustrations aren’t so realistic as to be overwhelming. I comment on this because he includes the emotionally powerful scene where Belle is taken from her parents. He doesn’t reduce the scene but it is distant enough that it isn’t too much to bear. Don’t think that he can’t portray emotion. When Sojourner speaks at the women’s rights convention, her anger comes through loud and clear.
This book is excellent not only as a biography but also in introducing young readers to the historically significant issues of slavery and women’s rights. Add this to both your classroom library and your home bookself today.
September 3, 2015
Piggie has just arrived when Gerald starts sneezing. Gerald comes to the conclusion that he’s sneezes, big, bold and unavoidable, are caused by none other than his best friend. The only way to stop sneezing is to avoid Piggie.
When Gerald storms off, he encounters Dr. Cat. As he’s explaining his problem to the good doctor, he once again starts sneezing. He jumps to the conclusion that he must be allergic to both pigs and cats.
Fortunately, Dr. Cat is less likely to jump to conclusions. After he examines Gerald, he diagnosis the sneezy pachyderm with nothing more than a simple head cold. Gerald runs off to tell Piggie the good news. Because this is Mo Willems there’s a bit of a surprise at the end but I refuse to spoil it for you.
As always Willems’ simple line art is both expressive and hilarious. Gerald sneezes as only an elephant can (big and bold) creating many opportunities for humor.
But first and foremost this is a beginning reader. Your new reader will have to take some time puzzling through the text. Fortunately repeated words and simple phrasing, complimented by art work that illustrates while expanding on the story, make it possible.
That said, this book would also work well for story time (be ready for a snout full of fake sneezes) or reading one on one with your little one. I wouldn’t pick this for bed time reading because the sneezing is way too physical and much more likely to wind someone up than to calm them down.
As an adult, I appreciated the adult level humor. Admit it, we’ve all worked with someone who jumps to immediate, and generally incorrect, conclusions about why the sneezes, who gave them the sneezes and how to get rid of the sneezes.
Share this one with non-readers and new readers but be ready for plenty of additional sneeze-filled sound effects.
August 31, 2015
Lumpito and the Painter from Spain
by Monica Kulling
illustrated by Dean Griffiths
Lump, pronounced LOOMP, lived in Rome with a photographer named David. Unfortunately, Lump was not an only dog. He also lived with Big Dog. Big Dog made Lump nervous so Lump never slept well, ate fast and kept an eye open for trouble.
One day David packed up the car for a trip. There was only room in the car for one small dog — Lump.
Lump loved riding in the car and at the end of their destination he met a man who was happy to see him. Unfortunately, the man, Pablo Picasso, had a dog. A big dog.
Lump was determined to stick up for himself but he didn’t have to. Yan, a big, silly dog, just wanted to be friends. Soon Lump and Yan were running in the garden where Lump met a playful goat — the subject of one of Picasso’s sculptures. Lump accompanied Picasso to the dinner table, back to the garden and even to watch the night time stars. Like the goat, he found his way into Picasso’s art work.
Monica Kullings story is simple and straightforward, keeping the reader with Lump/Lumpito from the first page to the last. Griffiths’ art work ads color and depth to the story, giving expression to the dogs and the people alike. Readers who know a thing or two about art will even catch glimpses of some of Picasso’s paintings in the background.
The one thing that I wish this book had included was an author’s note or some other form of back matter. Yes, it is a small thing, but I sure would like to know how much of this story is true. Parts are obviously fictionalized – we do after all spend the entire story in Lumpito’s head and, to my knowledge, no dachsund named Lumpito left a diary of his live with Picasso.
Regardless, this is an excellent book about belonging and a great jumping off point for a discussion on art and inspiration and friendship.