May 21, 2015
Here Come the Humpbacks
by April Pulley Sayre
illustrated by Jamie Hogan
In every ocean on Earth, humpback whales swim through the waters. Here comes a humpback — a baby whale being born. The reader follows this calf and its mother from the quiet waters of the Caribbean where a male escort whale accompanies the pair.
First the escort whales and the other adults with no calves leave. then finally the mother and her calf swim north. Past Delaware and New York they swim toward Canada where they find the feeding grounds as well as hungry orca.
I can’t really tell you everything without simply summarizing the book spread by spread. Sayre’s does a great job detailing the lives of the giant sea creatures. She tells how they are born, what they eat, how they feed, and what is dangerous to them.
I like to read about whales but this book still included information I didn’t know. The whales that scientists once thought were aunts and grandmothers helping raise the calf are actually male escorts waiting for the female to be ready to mate.
If you have a younger reader, stick with the main text on each spread. It will tell you a complete humpback story. If you have an older reader or one who is major whale enthusiast, you can also read the sidebars — details about the whales written in smaller script. That said, you could also read the sidebars without the main text. Either way, your young reader will learn quite a bit about whales.
Jamie Hogan used charcoal and pastels on sanded paper to create illustrations that combine soft, slightly blurred lines with saturated color.
Share this book with your class if you are studying ecosystems or whales. Share it if you are learning about animal babies or migration. This is definitely a top choice to share with eager, young minds.
May 18, 2015
The Graham Cracker Plot
by Shelley Tougas
Roaring Brook Press
Judge Henry told Daisy to write everything that she thinks and feels about her attempt to break The Chemist out of Club-Fed (prison). Mom thinks Daisy should be able to have it done it just a few nights but not-quite-twelve year old Daisy (she refuses to go by Aurora Dawn) has been keeping things in and she has a lot to say.
But she’s sure of one thing above all else – the whole thing is her friend Graham’s fault. After all, the break out was his idea.
Life isn’t easy when your dad is a resident of Club-Fed. But Daisy gets to see him once a month and reassures herself with the fact that the one-time college turned minimum security prison isn’t all that bad. There aren’t any serious criminals there and she’s sure The Chemist is innocent.
Then one Saturday she finds him with half his face swollen and a missing tooth. Apparently he had a disagreement with some of his fellow prisoners. Daisy is so upset that she ignores the “no touching” rule and climbs into his lap. This earns her a six-month ban and a belly full of anger. This anger feeds into the plan to spring the Chemist from Club-Fed.
As an adult reader I immediately realized that the Chemist didn’t accidentally set the house on fire doing a science experiment. He was most likely cooking up some product for sale and distribution. Daisy finds this out late in the took. She’s also realized that Graham is often a better friend to her than she is to him and that Judge Henry may be strict but he knows a thing or two about truth and about people and even about her.
This book covers a lot of touch topics but it is still solidly middle grade. The author moves the story along quickly and Daisy’s sassy, energetic voice keeps things from going to the dark side.
Don’t hold this book back from your young reader because it deals with these topics. They will love it for the same reason that they love The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. They’ll love it because Tougas is willing to tell them tough truths about the world.
May 14, 2015
A Nest Is Noisy
by Dianna Hutts Aston
illustrated by Sylvia Long
“A nest is noisy.
It is a nursery of chirp-chirping…”
And so it begins. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is just a book about chirping birds. When Aston talks about noisy nests, she isn’t just talking birds. She’s talking bees, alligators and squirrels as well.
It isn’t just the animals that are suprising but also the nesting material, including the everything goes nest of the blue jay complete with leaves and twigs and bits of cloth but also a snake skin.
In addition to the surprises, Aston sets up a series of contrasts with great big nests and teeny tiny nests. Then there are the textured nests that are pappery, pebbly and even bubbly. A frogs bubbly nest high up in a tree? You’ll read about it here.
There’s even a spread about army ants and the nests that they make from their own bodies. I’m still trying to decide if that is cool or more than a little creepy.
Detailed watercolor illustrations bring the details in this book to life. Long’s pictures are so vibrant and full that a child who sees one of these animals in the book would be able to recognize it in life.
With the quiet, comfy ending, this book could work as a birthday book but it would also make a great group book as you discuss animal home and animal babies. Share this one with the young nature lover in your life but then be ready to go out and explore the world.
May 11, 2015
by Raina Telgemeier
When I started reading this, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to review it here. You may not have noticed, but I only review books that I like. I’m not interested in panning anything. I want to help readers find good books. Why was I so uncertain about this one? I requested this from the library because it is one of the American Library Associations most banned books of 2014. Don’t get me wrong – I love many banned books. But in this case I was requesting a graphic novel. I should admit up front that I’m not a huge graphic novel fan. That said, Drama may help change that.
Drama is a story about — drama. Callie is on the stage crew for her middle school’s production of Moon over Mississippi. As befits a story that takes place in middle school, this one is an emotional roller coaster.
Callie loves theater. Truly, it is her passion. Some day, she wants to design sets for Broadway shows. Until then, she is limited by the constraints of middle school.
That said, Callie is a girl who pushes the limits. She’s convinced that what Moon over Mississippi needs more than anything else is a cannon and not just a ho-hum painting of a cannon. This has to be a honest-to-goodness functioning cannon. Mr. Madera isn’t sure about the wisdom of pyrotechnics on stage but he sets a few limits and then let’s Callie go. She is definitely the girl for the job.
Threaded throughout the story of the play itself are the emotional ups and downs of being a young teen. Callie is desperate to fall in love and targets three different boys throughout the course of the story. No, she isn’t shallow. She truly likes two of them, but this is early teen love at it’s most fleet. It doesn’t help that more than once her love interest doesn’t return her interest because he’s got a thing for someone else, someone male.
If I remember correctly, that’s what got the book banned. There are gay characters. There’s even a character who may be bi. Don’t let that panic you. As with all matters romantic or sexual in this book, it is strictly rated PG. I say PG instead of G because there is some kissing — both boy/girl and boy/boy.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in theater. The characters are well-developed and three dimensional. The story is fast paced and there are enough sub-plots to make this full-length book interesting. Share it with the Drama Queen or theater geek in your life.
May 7, 2015
Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France
by Mara Rockliff
illustrated by Jacopo Bruno
During the American Revolution, Ben Franklin traveled to France. His goal was to convince the King and Queen to send money and soldiers to help fight the British.
The French were all abuzz about the wonders of science. They knew all about Franlin’s work with electricity. The only thing more exciting might be Dr. Mesmer. Dr. Mesmer claimed that a natural force that streamed from the stars flowed into his iron wand. He could then direct the force into his patients and cure what ailed them – whatever ailed them.
What would science come up with next?
The King asked Franklin to investigate. What was this amazing force that had his court all abuzz? Franklin agreed to look into it but Mesmer refused to meet with the American scientist. Fortunately, Mesmer’s assistant agreed to the meeting.
Franklin invited the assistant to use the wand on him. He felt . . . nothing. Mesmer told everyone that the force didn’t work on Franklin but Franklin thought otherwise. He believed that people felt a burning in their limbs because that was what they expected to happen. It was their minds at work and not some amazing force.
I don’t want to tell you the whole story but suffice it to say that Franklin used the scientific method to investigate Dr. Mesmer’s invisible force.
Whether you have a young reader who is interested in history or science or even hypnotism, pick this book up. Rockliff’s story flies and is complimented perfectly by hand drawn and digitially colored illustrations. The details in the illustrations pull the reader into the story without bogging it down and they are just cartoony enough to make Mesmer compelling and perhaps just a bit creepy.
This book is long enough that it wouldn’t be the best introduction for preschoolers to Franklin but older children who are learneing about the scientific method would benefit greatly from this book. Be ready for a busy discussion on how they would have tricked Mesmer into giving himself away.
Share this book with the young historian or science lover in your life.
May 4, 2015
by Kenneth Oppel
Simon and Schuster
It isn’t quite steam punk although steam is at the center of this adventure that centers on the Canadian railroads. From avalanches to Sasquatch and circuses to the Fountain of Youth, this story is rich and complex and magical.
It takes place in the Gilded Age, a time when the wealthy consume without apology, taking what they want from the land and from their workers. Will knows he’s fortunate to have a place on the maiden voyage of the Boundless, the most massive locomotive to chug across Canada. Maybe this will be his chance to have an adventure of his very own instead of getting by with the stories his father tells.
Then he sees a security guard murdered and finds himself hiding from the killer, one of the train’s brakemen. He knows the man isn’t working alone but how can he find out who is scheming against his father and the railroad? In a desperate attempt to escape, Will runs the roofs of the train cars in the dark and makes his way to the center of the train. As he runs the circus cars, he is grabbed and pulled through a hole in the roof, captured by the circus elephant.
The circus performers take Will in, offering to hide him until he can get back to his father but can Will really trust the strong man, the high wire walker or the knife thrower?
This book is so complex that it is almost impossible to describe. This is seriously my fifth attempt to write a coherent review.
Oppel’s characters are complex and multidimensional. The “good guys” are beautifully flawed and it is almost impossible to be sure who to trust.
The setting is 100% Gilded Age with the wealth dripping perfume and jewels even while the poor scrabble to survive. Conspicuous consumption abounds and few people have the nerve to question the morality of breaking men to build an empire.
I have to admit that it took me a while to warm up to this book. I love Sasquatch stories and did not appreciate that the Sasquatch in this book are . . . malevolent? Vengeful? But I did like the way that two different plot lines explored the idea of immortalizing one man at the expense of the lives of others.
History buffs who also enjoy fantasy and steam punk will find a new book to love in The Boundless.
April 30, 2015
Whenever and wherever frogs and toads have enough water to keep themselves and their eggs alive, they can be heard croaking and ribbeting and buzz out a song. Each song is as unique as the creature that makes it.
From the strawberry poisoon dart frog in the rain forests of Costa Rica to Spain’s midwife toad, Guiberson introduces young readers to a whole host of frogs and toads. Each spread is devoted to a different animal with information on its ecosystem, its call and how the creature prepares for its young.
Because our local zoo has an excellent herpaterium, I was familiar with the leaf-like Surinam toad as well as the strawberry poison dark frog, but Chile’s Darwin frog and the Archey’s frog from New Zealand were brand new. No matter how well your child knows frogs and toads, there will be something to learn about in this book including one frog that carries the tadpoles in its vocal sack to keep them safe and a toad that shares its burrow with a tarantula.
Spirin combined tempera, watercolor and pencil to create richly colored illustrations full of depth and detail that bring these creatures to life. Don’t be surprised when your young reader wants to page through the book just to study the amazing amount of detail in each of these illustrations.
Share this book with your class before you study ecosystems or ecology. It is also a must for frog and toad lovers of all ages. Hop on out and grab a copy today.
April 27, 2015
He was Red but he wasn’t very good at it. When he drew a fire enging, it was an enormous blue truck. Strawberries? They were the right shape, more or less, but they too were blue.
All of the other crayons had theories about what was wrong. His teacher thought he needed more practice. His mother thought he needed to mix with other colors. Some thought he was lazy; he needed to press harder. If only he would apply himself! With a little time, surely all would be right. My favorite crayon comment? “He came that way from the factory.”
It didn’t matter. No matter how hard he worked at being red, he failed.
Then one day he met a new friend and everything changed. I’m not going to describe the individual scenes for you but suffice it to say that his friend looked at him and saw who he was and . . . it was good.
I have to admit — I was tempted to read other reviews before I wrote my own but I didn’t. I’m curious about how other adults identify the theme of this story. I’m certain many will call it an LGBT story, but that’s not broad enough. This is a story about struggling to be who you are even when everyone wants you to be someone else. This is a story that shows that the majority isn’t always right and that what matters is finding one person who sees you as you truly are.
I love the illustrations for this book. Each crayon character is cut paper collage with a clearly printed label. For the art work created by the various characters, Hall made crayon drawings which he digitally combined with the cut paper collage.
This would be an excellent read-aloud book but be careful about telling the children what it’s about. Why be careful? Because I’d be more interested in hearing their thoughts on the matter. But with the nice cozy ending it would also make a good bed time book.
Just be sure to share it with a young reader.
April 23, 2015
I Got the Rhythm
by Connie Schofield-Morrison
illustrated by Frank Morrison
A young girl walks along with her mother taking in the rhythms all around her. She hears a drummer drumming, sees a butterfly opening and closing its wings, and sings along with a group of kids listening to music at the playground. From their front stoop where they enter the sidewalk to the playground, more and more people join in the joyous dance that is this young girl’s life. As the kids stomp and beat their way across the playground, it reminded me of an impromptu dance number in a piece of musical theater.
The text for this picture book is super simple with short sentences followed by rhythmic pairs of words like snap snap and shake shake.
For me, it was Frank Morrison’s oil paintings that brought the story to life with the rich color of life on a busy city block. I loved the combination of street musicians, ice cream cart and urban playground brought to life through the textured color of oil paints — nothing else would have been this rich or alive.
Notice that the author and illustrator have the similar names? That’s because they are a husband and wife team. This book is also an excellent example of what both text and illustration bring to the picture book story telling process.
Technically this is the story of one small girl and her lively approach to the world but it is a story that will appeal to a wide range of children who love to move. This definitely is not a bed time book; there’s just too much going on. Use this book as a launching point for discussions on sound, rhythm, movement and neighborhoods. Add this to the library shelf if you are looking for books that represent a diversity of characters. If you read it as story hour, don’t be surprised if an impromptu chorus lines wends its way through the library.
April 20, 2015
Eat Like a Bear
by April Pulley Sayre
illustrated by Steve Jenkins
Henry Holt and Company
I have to admit that I’m a huge fan of both April Pulley Sayre and Steve Jenkins. When I saw both their names on the cover of a book, I snatched it up.
“Can you eat like a bear?”
Immediately, Sayre poses a challenge to her reader. Can you do it? Huh, can you? If you’re reading this at story time, you’ll probably get more than a few answers and a roar or two. But before readers really know if they can eat like a bear, they need to know what that means.
A bear breakfast begins in April when bears emerge from their dens. There’s still snow on the ground but the bear hasn’t eaten for four months. Four months with no food! Still, not much is available and the bear has to make do with a long drink from the stream and some horsetail shoots.
Yes, the bear is eating shoots. I knew that bears are omnivores eating whatever and whenever but I didn’t really understand what that meant for a bear who has emerged when very little has started growing.
Sayre follows the bear through the year commenting as it eats a variety of plants, insects and a bite of game here and there. Honestly, it was surprising that the bear could bulk up on what, to me, looks like a meager diet. But bulk up the bear does although some scientists argue about whether or not it truly hibernates as discussed in Sayre’s author’s note.
As much as my discussion focuses on Sayre’s contributions to the book, don’t discount Jenkins work. His cut and torn paper collage bring the bear and her environment to life. I loved the way the torn edges revealed the fibers of the brown bear paper, yielding a furry look for the beast. For the most part, Jenkins backgrounds are sparse but that helps the reader to focus on the bear and all the information in Sayre’s text.
Share this one with young nature lovers or someone with a favorite teddy bear. Readers young and old are almost certain to learn a little something about that bear out there.