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.
April 16, 2015
In June, the tiny long-legged chick hatches out in Alaska. Who could believe, looking at this wee bit of fluff, that by October she will be ready to migrate to New Zealand. But that’s exactly what these birds do. While we in the US look for robins as the first sign of spring, the people in New Zealand look for the godwits to arrive from Alaska.
When they hatch, they stay close to the nest, pecking up spiders, crane fly larvae and more. Any tiny insect can become a godwit snack. Peck! Gulp!
Godwit chicks blend with the tawny grasses, an excellent disguise as fox will gobble them up. But the chicks don’t rely entirely on their coloration, mom and dad and other adults swoop and dive until the fox runs away.
For a month the chicks eat and grow and hop, exercising their wings. When they are big enough to follow their fathers down the coast their diet changes to tunneling worms and tiny clams. They are still eating as much as they can because they’re going to need plenty of fat to fuel their flight.
First the adult godwit leave. Finally the young birds take off. They’ve never made the journey before but somehow they know where to go. For eight days the birds flap and flap until they spy brown and green. Then they land on the beaches of New Zealand and immediately go to sleep. In only eight days, they have flown over 7,000 miles.
I love books like this that go into detail about the life of a particular animal. I didn’t know anything about godwits, or even the word, when I picked the book up but I loved the collage illustrating the cover.
Mia Posada’s cut and torn paper collage gives depth and texture to this amazing story. When the godwit fly through clouds, the images are soft. When they are hunted by fox, the sharp colors reflect the danger.
Backmatter gives a few more facts about the godwit and also shares the author’s inspiration for writing this story. It is one you will want to share with the budding scientist or nature lover in your life.
April 13, 2015
On the Move: Mass Migrations
by Scotti Cohn
Sylvan Dell Publishing
Do you have a young animal nut in your life? Than pick up a copy of On the Move.
Animals migrate — even young readers often know this fact. What they may not know is the wide variety of animals that move from place to place but they’ll have a clue after they read this book. Each two-page spread covers a particular animals, ranging from the small (chimney swifts) to the slithery (cottonmouth snakes) and everything in between.
I knew about salmon and monarchs but not about the snakes or the bats. Young readers, who have read fewer picture books about animals than I have, will be surprised by even more.
Each spread covers the where and when and why for each animal. Each is expanded on by Susan Detwiler’s illustrations that bring a sense of texture and depth to the discussion as well as the importance and weight of each mass migration.
In addition to the text on each spread, there is a lengthy section in the back that gives additional information on each type of animal and also includes a set of discussion questions and a quiz. These books are meant to teach and the publisher takes that task seriously. They even have animals experts review the text for accuracy, going to as many experts as needed to cover the variety of animals found in a particular book.
I wouldn’t choose this one for bedtime reading but it is an excellent introduction to migration and a wide variety of animals and ecosystems. I would also consider it as encouragement for a child who is getting ready to move. With each spread covering a different animals, restless readers could easily take a break every few spreads while those who so desire could read the book cover to cover.
Pick it up and share it with the young animal lover in your life today.
April 9, 2015
I See Kitty
by Yasmine Surovec
Roaring Brook Press
Chloe loves kitties. She loves their purrs, their fur, their bellies and their paws. In fact she loves them so much that she sees them everywhere she goes. She sees them in the clouds and the stars, the water from a sprinkler and even in the shrubs growing up over a fence. When she goes to bed at night, Chloe dreams about kitties — I especially loved the cat fish swimming in the milk stream. They are just too cute.
As is so often the case, I’m not going to give away the ending of this sweet simple story.
The illustrations, also by Yasmine Surovec, make this story. black lines drawings are filled with bold colors and prints and the images are cartoony and simple, but expressive. In short, they are just as sweet as the story.
Preschool aged readers, for whom this book is intended, will love finding the kitties in each and every spread. Be prepared for discussions about favorite kitties, which kitty looks just like which other kitty and more.
I probably wouldn’t choose this for story time or group reading but it would be the perfect book to snuggle together and read. The text is short so it won’t tax brief attention spans. The book would be an excellent choice to share with a young cat lover who likes to draw, creating pictures of her favorite kitties in a wealth of imaginative places.
April 6, 2015
Scaly Spotted Feathered Frilled: How do we know what dinosaurs really looked like? by Catherine Thimmesh
Scaly Spotted Feathered Frilled:
How do we know what dinosaurs really looked like?
by Catherine Thimmesh
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Have you ever wondered how on earth we know what dinosaurs looked like? Catherine Thimmesh takes us from the early days when there were few fossils to modern times. She discusses the wide variety of things that paleoartists study ranging from the fossils themselves to modern animals and how they have to stay up on the latest finds. She also points out details in the various pieces of art work including:
- how do we know the dinosaurs traveled in groups (fossil foot prints)
- how do we know that they ran with their tails up off the ground (again with the foot prints)
- how do we know what facial expressions dino’s made (muscle evidence)
She also takes us through the history of dino knowledge and how that played into the art. You’ll note that I don’t list an illustrator above but that’s because there isn’t one illustrator in the book. Thimmesh has included the art work of many so that she can show us how the artwork has changed as our knowledge changed.
She includes historic images including Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins Iguanodon sketches. His dinosaurs look nothing like ours but that’s because of the scarce number of bones he had to study. Still, his sketches and other early art work fed into the popular enthusiasm for dinosaurs which funded additional discoveries which further educated the art work and so on.
She also explains why some early dinosaurs (remember the Brontosaurus) have disappeared.
From scale patterns to feathers and even coloration, Thimmesh demonstrates what we know and what is speculation on the part of the artist. This is the beauty of featuring the work of so many individuals. The reader gets to see how, using what we know right now, several artists have come up with different looks for the T. rex.
The book uses a picture book format combining words and texts. While preschoolers would appreciate the illustrations, the book is intended for readers aged 9 to 12. Young artists, scientists and dinosaur fans would all enjoy the in-depth look at this topic and in the classroom it would make a good jumping off point for discussions on science and how what we know changes over time.
April 2, 2015
A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat written by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Sophie Blackall
In honor of April Fool’s Day which was yesterday, a book about a dessert with fool in the name.
A Fine Dessert:
Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat
written by Emily Jenkins
illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Schwartz and Wade
In 1710 in England, a girl and her mother pick the blackberries that they need to make a fine dessert for their family. They whip the cream with a bundle of clean twigs and chill the blackberry fool in a hillside ice pit.
In 1810 in New World, a girl and her mother pick the blackberries needed to make a fine dessert for Master and his family. They whip the cream with a wire whisk made by the local smith and chill the blackberry fool in a box of ice in the cellar.
By 1910, the girl and her mother buy the berries from a fruit vendor. They use a rotary whisk. The dessert is chilled in an ice box in their kitchen.
In 2010, a boy and his father pick up berries at the local supermarket. They use an electric mixer and chill the dessert in their refrigerator. Later they serve it to a group of their friends.
This book is so much more than a book about food. In the simplest way it shows how customs traveled from England to the Americas. Although how the families gather the ingredients and prepare them changes, the sense of family remains much the same. I also have to say that I appreciate the fact that Jenkins didn’t shrink away from historic reality, including the slave and her daughter in the narrative.
Blackall did a wide variety of research into clothing, furnishings and kitchen craft for her illustrations. Readers who look carefully may even spot where in the book she painted with blackberry juice.
Readers are invited to take part in this story by following the recipe at the end of the book to make their own find dessert of blackberries, sugar and cream that they can then share with family and friends.
March 30, 2015
Lulu’s Mysterious Mission
by Judith Viorst
illustrated by Kevin Cornell
If you’re looking for a chapter book with a spunky heroine, Lulu is the character for you. In fact, she’s spunky to the point that she’s a spoiled brat, or, in the words of her babysitter, “an especially difficult child.”
Lulu’s parents decide to take a much-needed break from their little darling but don’t tell her until the day before they plan to leave on vacation. Lulu is insulted that they have planned to go without her and immediately sets out to ruin their plans.
Fortunately, they have hired the very best. Lulu has met her match and then some in combat boot wearing Sonia Sofia Solinsky, known by the code name of Triple S. Not only does Ms. Solinsky keep Lulu from spoiling her parents’ vacation, she actually gets Lulu to cooperate. Only by cooperating does Lulu get lessons on spy craft.
Lulu learns to repair, to infiltrate and to disguise. She also gets a mysterious mission complete with a trail of rhyming clues and a prize at the end. Lulu has such a great time with Ms. Solinsky that she’s actually looking forward to being baby-sat again and getting to go on more missions. But when Mom and Dad get home, they’ve missed her so much that they swear they will never again leave without her.
Lulu’s next mission? To convince them that they can and they will.
I’ll admit it — it took me a while to warm up to this story. Lulu is, in short, a huge brat. That said, the story is both fun and funny. Lulu is disguised as a teen boy, a middle-aged woman and even a cow. She has to see through Ms. Solinsky’s disguises and her mistakes in this area are too funny.
Readers will also enjoy hearing directly from the author. In this series, Viorst makes a habit of speaking directly to the reader, peppering the reader with both warnings and encouragement to go on.
Cornell’s pencil and water color illustrations do a great job of bringing the characters to life and building on the humor. I especially enjoyed the reunion scene at the end, between Lulu and her parents.
This book is an excellent format for a reluctant reader. It is hard cover like a “big kids book” but the font size is fairly large which limits the amount of text per page. Each page and each chapter becomes something they can easily conquer. This book would also make a fun read aloud leading to discussions of what might happen next.
March 26, 2015
Separate is Never Equal:
Sylvia Mendez and her Family’s Fight for Desegregation
Written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh
Abrams Books for Young Readers
The first day of school doesn’t go as Sylvia hoped. Instead of being greeted by new friends, she is told to go away. “Go back to the Mexican school where you belong!”
When we discuss race and segregation in the US, we think of it as a black vs white issue. We tend to forget that there were a lot of different people here all experiencing similar things and fighting similar fights.
Sylvia and her family move to Santa Ana. When time comes to start school, they are in for a surprise. Her light-skinned cousins are welcome to enroll in the school closest to home, but not Sylvia and her siblings. They are too dark, too Mexican.
Unlike the spacious, clean school near home, the Mexican school is in the middle of a cow-filled pasture. The teachers weren’t very concerned about educating their young charges. Why bother? They’d all drop out by the 8th grade to join their parents in the fields.
But Sylvia’s family demands more and they go to court to get it.
I have to admit that this is a story I didn’t know. I suspected it was out there but I didn’t know the when or the who. I’m in debt to Duncan Tonatiuh for bringing it to my attention.
This isn’t a book for preschoolers but early grade school with a slightly older, fact-filled text. The illustrations were hand drawn before being digitally colored and collaged. The detail that grabbed me? The characters’ ears. It is clear that Tonatiuh draws inspiration from ancient Mexican art. And why not? This is an amazing Mexican-American story, a story that needs to be told.
Add this to your classroom library and bring it out when discussing desegregation with older readers.