January 27, 2010
by Eric A. Kimmel
illustrated by Andea U’Ren
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Engineer Stormy Kromer knew that somewhere there had to be the right hat for a railroad man. Cowboys had hats. Firemen had hats. Printers, ditto. But where was the perfect hat for him?
Each time Storm tries a different kind of hat, he finds a different problem. Maybe the brim is too wide and gets in the way, or it is too light weight and blows away, or, the worst in my opinion, it is too flammable. After each failure, he tells his wife, Ida, all about the problems. Eventually, Ida takes the problem in hand and works out a solution using her skills as a seamstress.
When I picked up this book, I thought I was reading straight fiction. The problems Stormy has with the various hats are somewhat comical and the set up is just too perfect. The story may be fictionalized, but the inspiration is pure fact. Ida Kromer designed and sewed the first engineers hat, the hat that train loving adults and kids still where today.
There was only one thing that bothered me about this story. Initially, when Ida tries to help, Stormy brushes her off. Feminists take heart! Ida is made of stern stuff and puts her foot down when he does it one too many times.
With a strong, humorous male character and an equally strong but stern female character, this is an excellent choice for both boys and girls. It would also make a good book for discussion as you invite young readers to guess what will be the problem with each hat that Stormy tries.
Chug on down to your local bookstore or library and pick this one up.
January 22, 2010
by Melissa Stewart
In this case, you can judge a book by its cover which is no great surprise when the cover says National Geographic Kids. Vibrant photos and fascinating facts fill this early reader.
Readers will learn all about snake anatomy, where they live, snake babies, how they get around, what they eat and snakes as pets. My son thinks snakes are beyond cool so I know a lot of snake trivia, but I still learned some new facts:
- Snakes that give birth to live young live in cooler climates and the puff adder can give birth to up to 150 babies at a time!
- Snakes with round pupils hunt in the day time and those with slitted pupils hunt at night. My son was not surprised by this. “Like a cat’s eye, mom.” Uh, yeah. Just like that.
- The long belly scales that grip the ground and move the snake forward are called scutes.
This book is a Level 2, for children who are reading independently. The font is large and the text is broken up enough that it shouldn’t intimidate — but any kid who is fascinated by snakes will be drawn in by the photos. I’m a little iffy on snakes myself — they’re compelling and totally creepy at the same time — but I couldn’t put the book down. Even in a paper back, the photo quality lets you see the texture of the scales and the amazing range of colors.
The one spread that might not be for the faint of heart is “Snake Snacks.” It is one thing to read about a snake chowing down on a frog or an antelope but it is quite another to see it in glorious color.
If you’ve got a boy who is reluctant to pick up a book, give him this. You might even leave it open to “Snake Snacks” or “Snakes All Around,” which shows a pile of hibernating garter snakes. The creep factor is high enough to get his attention and would have definitely pulled my son in.
This is one of the best beginning readers I’ve ever read. Slither on out and get it for the young reader in your life.
January 12, 2010
by Sharon Shinn
If you have a daughter or granddaughter who reads at an advanced level and is a fantasy fan, consider this collection of four novellas. Each one has a different setting and cast of characters from worlds that Shinn had written about in the past so they are a good introduction to her work.
Of the four stories, “Blood” is my favorite. Nope, it isn’t a vampire story. In this novella a young man named Kerk discovers that there really are connections thicker than blood and that love and acceptance can come from unexpected places.
Because it is set in the same world as her angel novels, I latched onto “Flight” and read the piece in one sitting. Salome works as kitchen help but she knows the allure of the lofty angels’ keeps. When her niece accompanies the angels home, Salome launches a rescue mission that brings her face to face with her own checkered past.
All four stories deal with the relationships people create with one another, relationships that are often not completely as they seem because of the lies that people tell themselves to make life just a little easier. Shinn’s characters are always powerfully drawn and will pull young readers in, but these stories are written for adults. There are implications made about sexual situations but nothing happens on-screen. Suitable for teens.