September 30, 2016
I have to admit that I was initially confused when I saw this one. I had seen it advertised as a Mo Willems book but here was a different author’s name. Now that the last book in the Elephant and Piggie series has been published (last as in there will be no more), the two characters will continue to appear at the beginning and ending of books in the Elephant and Piggie Like Reading series. These parts of each book are written by Willems. The main story is written by someone else.
This time around, Laurie Keller has written a story about eight friends. They are growing fast and changing every moment. One is the tallest. Another the curliest. Then there’s the one who is the silliest. Each spread challenges children knew to reading to decipher a pair of words, tall and tallest, curly and curliest, etc.
But the last friend can’t figure out where he excels. Everyone else is the best at something. What is his special skill?
Now, you’ve probably looked at the top right and seen the cover of the book. Yep. The eight friends are indeed blades of grass. Well, seven of them are. The second from the right end has a surprise in store for everyone.
As is always the case with early readers, the illustrations help new readers decipher the text. The illustrations are simple enough not to distract from the text but still loads of fun. Obviously there has to be plenty of humor to get readers to watch grass grow.
The book design is also clever. SPOILER ALERT. SKIP THE REST OF THE PARAGRAPH IF MY REVEALING THE ENDING WILL FREAK YOU OUT. By the time the story ends, the last blade of grass has figured out that he is the neatest. He proves it by sweeping things up – including the page numbers.
This book is silly and fun and will keep your young reader turning the pages as they seek to find out what is so special about that last blade of grass. Pick this one up for your young reader today.
September 26, 2016
Emma loved the ocean. More than anything, she liked to sit in the dark on the beach and listen to the waves. She had to sit on the beach because one of her four pesky brothers would usually crawl into bed with her. Whichever one it was, his snores were usually enough to drown out the surf.
One night, Emma was on the beach when she spotted a glowing bottle. When she opens it, out rolls a blue smoke that resolves into a genie scarcely bigger than Emma herself. Karim is so small, and has so little power, because a yellow genie has stolen his nose ring. He can’t even grant Emma three wishes.
Before long Emma and her noodle-tailed dog Tristan are off to take Karim home to Barakash. Once there, they are captured by the yellow genie who is stripping the city of everything of value. He carries them to his ruin of a palace, half-buried in hot desert sand. It doesn’t take Emma long to realize that life in a golden cage isn’t much of a life at all. Fortunately, her new friend is determined to rescue her and get his nose ring back.
At only 90 pages this is a super quick read whether you consider it a chapter book or young middle grade. It is a light-hearted fast-moving story full of Funke’s wacky trademark wit.
I loved the colors and details in Meyer’s paintings. Her artwork reflected the descriptions in the text much more than did the cover art.
This would not be an incredibly easy book to read. The names alone (Karim, Barakash, or Maimun) would make it a little tricky. But the art work breaks up the text and the book as a whole is short enough to appeal to a reader who has skill but lacks confidence. This would also make an excellent choice for a cozy, family read-aloud.
Share the magic with your young reader today.
September 23, 2016
Nothing about the move to the island of Vale makes sense. The time is Victorian England and Faith Sunderly’s father is both a pastor and a naturalist. Like many others, he struggles to reconcile the scientific findings of the age (fossils and clues of evolution) with his Bible and his God. Then she finds her father dead, draped across a tree beneath the edge of the cliff that overlooks the beach.
The local magistrate is convinced it was suicide. But Faith had been with her father the night before. They had moved to a botanical specimen to a hidden cave before he met with someone in the dark of the night. Whoever it was was the last person to see her father alive.
Picking through her father’s papers, Faith discovers that the specimen was a Lie Tree. It thrives in darkness and dank air, growing when it is fed a lie. The more people who come to believe the lie, the larger the fruit it produces. The bitter, vile fruit grants who ever eats it a vision. Her father believed it revealed a hidden truth. Faith wonders about this even as she spreads lies so that she can eat the fruit and solve the murder.
I don’t want to go deeper into the plot because there are so many delightful twists. Personally, I appreciated the thoughtful look at the men and women who struggled to study science in an age ruled by religious fear and chauvinism.
At the beginning of the books, Harginge’s characters seem straightforward but as the story progresses Faith and the reader discover their hidden agendas and reasons for distrust and manipulation. By the end, Faith, like her father, suspects that the tree may be almost as old as time itself.
This book is a must for fans who live historic fiction as well as fantasy. My one complaint is the cover. The tree’s fruit was described as a type of citrus, looking like a small lime. The cover image depicts an apple. Inaccurate on one level, it does give a clue as to the possible identify of this mysterious, malevolent tree.
September 19, 2016
When Alice Burke and Nell Richardson set off to drive around America, they were doing it to draw attention to a cause. They wanted women to have the vote.
No one had driven 10,000 miles before — no man and no woman either. They hoped that by doing what no one had done before that they would show people that women could do more than anyone believed possible.
They set off on April 6, 1916 from New York City. They drove a runabout, a small car built by the Saxon Motor Car Company. Cars were quite popular but they weren’t used for long distance travel. You still have to buy gasoline at country stores or farms. The roads had yet to be mapped so the pair had to rely on instructions published in the “Blue Book.” Unfortunately, these instructions might no longer be accurate if a barn had been painted a new color.
Alice and Nell drove all day, every day, pausing to give speeches and attend events such as parties and picnics. They even won a medal at the World’s Fair in California because they had traveled farther than anyone else to get there.
It wasn’t until 1920 that women across the United States would win the right to vote. Until that happened, women like Alice and Nell worked to draw attention and earn the vote. These women were called Suffragists.
Hadley Hooper’s illustrations started out as drawings and then were recreated using print making techniques. Digital scans of these prints were colored but the images still have an old-time feel appropriate for the story.
Although this picture book wouldn’t hold the interest of preschoolers, early grade schoolers would latch onto the travel aspect. They’ll also spend some time looking for the kitten in every illustration. Expect the book to spark discussions on how the women worked to draw attention and what the young book lovers would do in their place.
September 15, 2016
Halloween is here and Peep is all set to go Trick-or-Treating. Egg, on the other hand, isn’t ready. It isn’t because he doesn’t have a costume. Egg comes out and says it like it is. Halloween is just too scary.
Peep tries to encourage his friend, telling him about the places that they will go trick-or-treat but Egg isn’t looking forward to seeing the scary costumes. Peep tells some jokes and thinks that Egg is changing his mind — after all, his friend laughs at the jokes. In spite of all of Peep’s encouraging words, Egg refuses to go so finally Peep runs off, worried that he’s about to miss out on the fun.
Egg realizes that there is something worse than the scary costumes. Being alone. So he takes off after his friend. Without taking you step-by-bootiful-step through the plot, all is well that ends well.
I have to admit that I hadn’t read the first Peep and Egg book. This fact aside, I was immediately drawn in by Joyce Wan’s illustrations. The bold lines and bright colors are a bit cartoony but that worked especially well when writing about a topic that might scare toddler and preschool readers. Walking around in the dark, masks and things that go bump in the night might be scary but these two chicks are definitely silly and fun.
Halloween can be a scary time for young children and Gehl has created a simple, straight forward story about dealing with those fears with the help of a friend. Using chicks as characters gives a child who is frightened a bit of distance from the topic — this isn’t a scared child but a scared chick, how silly!
Read this at story time to spark a conversation about what the audience finds scary. Read it before Halloween if you have a youngster who is apprehensive.
September 9, 2016
It’s the holidays so school is out. Instead of heading home to Hong Kong, Hazel goes home with Daisy. After all, it is also going to be her best friend’s birthday. What fun!
But things don’t go quite as planned. Daisy’s mother has planned a children’s tea for the girls. The adults get into it much more than the tweens, and the girls are only about to get their own tea when one of the men suddenly gets very sick. Pale and in with terrible stomach pains, the other adults take him upstairs.
Daisy and Hazel sneak into the library to research his symptoms. Daisy is sure they sound familiar and soon she has an answer. The violent symptoms he is suffering are consistent with arsenic poisoning. Has someone used rat poison on Mr. Curtis?
As is so often the case when reviewing a mystery, I don’t want to summarize the events and give away “who done it.” There’s no spoiler in telling you that Mr. Curtin ultimately dies so Daisy and Hazel finds themselves investigating another murder. (This much is on the book jacket so I haven’t given anything away.)
The problem is that a storm had isolated Fallingford, the manor where Daisy’s family lives. That means that whoever killed Mr. Curtis is one of Daisy’s friends or family. Unless the butler did it. The problem is that Curtis was disagreeable and dishonest. Almost every adult present had a reason to wish him ill and half of the adults are acting very suspicious.
Daisy’s mother seems to have been very close, ahem, to the dead man.
Her father was seen arguing with him.
The new governess, though an excellent teacher, is obviously hiding something in the handbag she never sits down.
And even beloved, fun Uncle Felix is obviously hiding something.
Can Hazel help Daisy solve the mystery without breaking her best friend’s heart?
This is the second Wells and Wong Mystery. Although it occasionally refers to the first book, readers can easily pick up this one without getting lost. Although this book is primarily a mystery, there is a lot to it as it deals with classism and racism, one of Daisy’s relatives initially makes rude comments about Hazel who is Chinese. Still, the majority of the family doesn’t even blink, quickly accepting the new girl and going on about life.
This isn’t a high action, car chase type of mystery. But it is an excellent story of friendship, human nature and two girls determined to do what is right even when it may not make them happy.
September 6, 2016
Lupe Impala, El Chavo Flapjack and Elirio Malaria are back with their low-riding, star charged car. This time they drive down to the center of the Earth when their gato, Genie, disappears. They think the friendly feline ran away because he was frightened when an earthquake shook their garage.
As they follow his trail, they meet up with a tricky Coyote. They discover that Genie was snatched by Miclantecuhtli, the Aztec god of the Underworld. To save Genie they have to follow the bats to Miclantecuhtli’s realm. It will take the efforts of all three to win their friend back from this conniving Aztec deity.
The Lowrider books are never easy to categorize once you go beyond “graphic novel.” They combine humor with science (types of rocks and layers of the Earth) and more than a bit of Mexican-American culture (from lowriders to wrestling).
My favorite part? The skeletons rocking out ala Day of the Dead. Or maybe it was the fact that the trio cools their car with a swamp cooler. My grandparents in West Texas used a swamp cooler and no one but no one in this part of the country (I’m in Missouri) has a clue what a swamp cooler is.
My least favorite part? El Chavo making fun of Miclantecuhtli’s name, although, admittedly, Aztec names are more than a mouthful. I simply refuse to admit how many tries it takes me to sound out an Aztec name.
I wouldn’t call these books educational in the instructional sense. They do have science and culture but mostly they have story. They are simply a bit of light-hearted fun with more than a little spice.
September 2, 2016
There are all kinds of things that Finley Hart doesn’t want to discuss. Fortunately, Finley is a compulsive list maker (hello, my friend!) so you don’t have to go too far to discover what these things are:
• Her parents, who are having problems. (But they pretend like they’re not.)
• Being sent to her grandparents’ house for the summer.
• Never having met said grandparents.
• Her blue days—when life feels overwhelming, and it’s hard to keep her head up. (This happens a lot.)
Finley can’t believe it is really happening. She’s always known that somewhere her father had a family but she’s also known that they aren’t something you talk about. Try and Dad shuts you down. So she’s understandably a bit apprehensive when her parents announce that they have problems to work out and are taking her to spend the summer with her father’s family.
For a kid with undiagnosed depression and anxiety this is a big deal. A huge deal. An earth shattering deal.
Finley deals with it the same way she deals with everything. She retreats into her journal. But where her parents were busy with their careers, her cousins try to be understanding but they want to get to know her. Soon she connects with fellow 11-year-old Gretchen and pulls her into the world of the Everwood.
But is isn’t just Finley who changes. As Finley notices some odd things and starts to ask questions, she pulls the cousins into this questioning mode. Soon they are hanging out with the Bailey boys, a trio of brothers that the cousins know only as reputed trouble makers. But Finley sees something else and starts to ask why the Bailey family has this reputation.
I’m not going to write any more about the plot because there is too much that I don’t want to give away. This is an excellent book, unless you can’t stand it. A writing buddy demanded that I read it. It was, in her words, the ultimate bummer book with mental illness, cancer, divorce, hidden crimes and more. It was just too much.
My take? Wow. Legrand has worked in mental illness, cancer, divorce, hidden crimes and more. It is just too much but in an amazing way. This isn’t a book you are going to feel half way about.
What did I love?
Legrand has given young readers an accurate portrayal of a peer dealing with mental illness. That’s a huge deal.
This is also an accurate portrayal of what happens when a family is divided by secrets. Another huge deal.
But it is also a story of love and bravery and doing the right thing. It is a hopeful take on the idea that even the most broken among us can make connections with others and find a way to move forward. It is a powerful message for young readers who may need a bit of a hope in a world gone grey with depression, divorce or anxiety.
Wow. Just wow.
August 31, 2016
How It Went Down
by Kekla Magoon
The store owner steps onto the sidewalk and calls for Tariq Johnson, who is hurrying away, to stop. Everyone who was out on the sidewalk is sure that they know what is going on. First is the man who sees another street punk whose surely just robbed the store and tries to stop him. But there were also members of the local gang, some of whom know he was armed while others are just as sure he wasn’t. him a young man who has robbed the store. Then there was the man driving through the neighborhood who sees Tariq tussling with the man who tried to stop him. This man steps out of his car and puts a stop to the nonsense once and for all with two quick shots from the gun he is licensed to carry.
Confused? That’s the point.
When street crime happens, it happens fast. People make snap decisions. Then they are left trying to unravel what happened.
The events that set it all in motion are fairly clear-cut. Tariq went to the store to buy groceries for his mother. He forgot to wait for the change. The store owner knows his mom and dashed out onto the sidewalk to try to catch Tariq and hand over the money. As he called out to Tariq the first assumption was made and things spiraled out of control.
But just what happened? Several characters swear he was armed. Others are equally certain that he wasn’t. Person by person, characters throughout the neighborhood tell their part of the story. We hear from Tariq’s best friend, the shooter, the store owner and even the girl who performed CPR. He is described as a good son, a good brother, an amazing friend, a street punk, a would-be gang member, and more. As the characters talk, they start to question “Did I know the real Tariq?”
While Magoon never comes out and says “Tariq was not a gangster” or “Tariq was a gangster,” I know what I think. That said, I’m sure another reader could come to a different conclusion. And I think that’s a lot of what makes this book essential. There’s just enough space for each reader to bring their own interpretation to the story.
This is definitely a book that deserves a place in the modern classroom. It is sure to spark discussions and, hopefully, more than a little thought. It is a book about today’s headlines, what we know, who we are and what we can be. It isn’t overly optimistic but it does end on a note of hope for Tariq’s friends and family if not his neighborhood. Add this book to your shelf today.
August 25, 2016
Digoy swims across the reef. He uses no scuba tank or snorkel. The only light comes from the kerosene lantern on his boat. He is looking for sea horses.
For years fisherman in the Philipines have searched out hard-to-find sea horses. While people don’t eat these curious animals, they want them for other reasons. Some people want to keep them in home aquariums, gathering round to gaze at the prehistoric looking animals. Others wear them in jewelry and display them in decorations. Still others grind them up and use them in medicines.
But Digoy doesn’t keep the seahorse. He is one of the fisherman working to preserve the world’s reefs and the many fish these habitats support.
Turner shares a wealth of seahorse information for curious young readers (males are the ones that carry the unborn fish) but the book is so much more. It describes Project Seahorse a conservation effort that encourages local people to preserve reefs. Coral reefs provide shelter for many ocean fish. Save the reef and the fish that live around it in one area and soon nearby areas also benefit.
But Amanda Vincent and Heather Koldeway, the scientists working on this project aren’t naive. They know that the people need to support their families. They don’t want them to stop fishing altogether but instead help develop guidelines that allow the people to make a living while also preserving the wildlife. Through this project, local people replant mangrove trees which provide shelter for young fish.
Most of the books in this series, Scientists in the Field, focus on the animal in question. While Turners book gives plenty of information about sea horses, it also gives information on the complex web of environments and natural resources that impact the lives of the sea horses, other marine life and even the people who live in the Philippines.
This books makes an excellent stepping off point for conversations about ecology and preservation as well as the animals themselves. Be prepared for some lengthy conversations.