April 30, 2012
Calpurnia is a bit of a tomboy and its no wonder. She’s one of seven children and the only girl. Not that she’s into what we consider tomboy activities, but she isn’t a girly girl and this a big deal. Why? Because it is 1899 and the Tate’s are a well-to-do Texas cotton growing family. There are expectations.
For the most part, Calpurnia’s tom boy interests come through in her relationship with her grandfather. Grandfather no longer runs the farm, having handed that over to Daddy, but spends his time in scientific pursuits. He is a naturalists who walks the countryside for hours every day, observing everything from the local deer to the smallest micro-organisms in the water. His ambition is to find a new species.
Having made a few observations of her own, Calpurnia needs help to take her knowledge any farther and the only person she can turn to is Grandfather, but none of the children know him particularly well and he, in turn, can only distinguish Calpurnia from the crowd. Not only does he answer her questions, she is soon trailing him and helping him collect specimen from insects to plant life. Upon closer examination at home, one plant seems to have an unusual leaf pattern. Is this vetch a new species? To be sure, they need to find a second specimen but Callie failed to note the location. Can she find it again?
Even as Callie discovers the wonders of her grandfather’s scientific mind and the world around her, the twelve year old discovers just how narrow her world may become. As the only daughter, she is the focus of her mother’s ambitions from “coming out” in society to cooking and the other womanly arts.
To her credit, Jacqueline Kelly doesn’t make things easy for Callie. Her mother is horrified by Callie’s lack of skill in cooking and sewing and blocks some of the girl’s time with Grandfather. But her oldest brother, knowing that his own plans don’t coincide with what his parents want for him, agrees to support her even if neither one of them know what this might entail.
Kelly doesn’t limit herself to exploring society’s expectations of Callie but also shows the struggle that one of her brother’s has with what is expected of a farm boy.
I don’t want to give away any more of the plot but suffice it to say that this book really pulled me in. The character’s voice is strong and compelling — she’s a curious girl who wants more out of life.
Boy readers who are interested in nature and science will find something to like in this character although they may be put off by the cover which shows Callie’s cut paper silhouette against a colored background. True to her time, the cover (which I actually like) is attractive but doesn’t hint at the fire in this character’s heart.
April 26, 2012
All that Tess can think about when her sister drags her to a party is getting out. After all, her sister Kristina is the wildly popular gorgeous one that everyone wants to be around. In fact, the only guys that talk to Tess all evening want to talk about Kristina. Simply put, Tess is sick and tired of being in Kristina’s shadow. She doesn’t begrudge Kristina her life, at least not much, but she’s sick of simply being Kristina’s little sister.
Then the unthinkable happens. The pain in Kristina’s leg is much more than a strain or a bruise. Its cancer. As treatments begin, first Kristina gets violently sick, then her beautiful hair falls out.
As one procedure follows another, Tess must spend each day in school misleading those around her. The problem is that her Kristina doesn’t want anyone’s sympathy. She doesn’t want teary visitors or half-baked sympathy. But what can Tess say when people ask her how Kristina is doing, especially as her sister’s absence stretches into long weeks. Now she isn’t just Kristina’s sister, she’s Kristina’s alibi.
The stress that Tess is under stresses her friendships even as she gets to know a new circle of teens who first want to know how Kristina is doing but later come to worry about Tess as well.
Throughout it all, Tess has to find a way to stay true to who she is, to make people see her for what she values and to help her sister stay strong and true.
In spite of the lower reading level, this book is definitely young adult. There is alcohol and sexual situations and many, many dark moments.
In spite of this, I give this book two thumbs up. It is an amazing story about self-discovery, the human spirit, and true friendship. You may need a few tissues at various key moments but you will come out of it with a feeling of hope for Tess and the future of strong young women like her.
April 23, 2012
So opens this deceptively simply book. Following this spread, Salas works her way through a variety of the roles that leaves play. Arranged in rhyming pairs, the emphasis is on the role of leaves in the natural world but human uses for leaves are not neglected.
Structuring this kind of text is always tricky since even nonfiction requires some kind of story arc. Much of this arc comes through Dabija’s dreamy illustrations. From spring to full summer, autumn and the winter, the illustrations move through a full year, bringing us back to green leaves in one final spread for a satisfying circular structure.
This would be a great read for a preschool class, an excellent introduction to nature, leaves and trees. The spare text gives young readers information to play with and whets their appetites for more. The rhyming words also allow for fun word play. This gentle text paired with dreamy illustrations are also quiet enough to make an excellent bed time book.
Fortunately, there is an author’s note that provided not only more text but also a list for further reading as well as a glossary.
Pick this one up to share with a curious young nature lover today.
April 19, 2012
When Ace and John went to Harrods to see what the amazing department store had for sale, they got a surprise. Sitting in a cage beneath a flowering tree was a small lion cub. Wanting to get the cub out of the cage, the two bought him and took him home.
Christian took to his new home, sitting on the sofa between the two men, watching birds through the window and chasing his toys under the furniture.
He also did something that wild lions never do — he would put his paws on Ace or John’s shoulders and give a big hug.
They took him for walks, they took him to play ball in the churchyard and they even took him to the local pub — where he would hug his fellow patrons. They even took him on sea side picnics.
After they had had Christian for about a year, things weren’t quite as comfortable. Christian, after all, still wanted to cuddle on the sofa but he was a much bigger bundle to cuddle. They debated getting a bigger apartment and maybe a bigger sofa. They even considered the zoo, but then they came to a difficult decision. Lions belong in the wild.
In Kenya, they found someone who would introduce Christian to life in the wild.
Back in London, Ace and John did all of the things that they used to do with Christian. A year later, they called to see how he was doing. Very well. Would it be okay to visit? They were told that he had cubs of his own and probably wouldn’t remember them. They decided to make the trip anyway.
Bates watercolor, gauche and colored pencil illustrations show not only the joy of love in unexpected places but also the golden wonder of the African savannah. Lines and colors are soft and there is wonder in every page.
Share this book one on one or in story time. It is definitely one that your readers will want to discuss.
Check out the video below to learn more about Christian and the reunion.
April 16, 2012
First things first — this book is one that everyone should read. It teaches so much about U.S. history but it is also an astonishing lesson, without being preachy, about how to work together.
From childhood on, John Adams did things. The wrestled, he boxed, he swam and few kites. He was your quintessential rowdy boy. Like many boys today, his favorite class would have been recess.
Thomas Jefferson on the other hand skipped recess to study Greek grammar. He did things too but the things he loved were very different — reading, studying, dancing and playing the violin. He was a gentleman through and through.
Both became lawyers but even there they had very different styles. Adams loved arguing cases in the courtroom and would do so for hours at a time. Jefferson hated speaking in public and, when forced to do so, was so quiet that people had a hard time hearing him.
But they were both passionate about the American colonies. They saw a world of possibilities being held down by King George.
At first, the two man only noticed how different they were. One short and outspoken. The other tall and oh-so quiet. But as they came to know each other they recognized their common patriotism. They also came to believe that they could accomplish much more working together then they could working alone. In the end, they convinced the delegates to sign the Declaration of Independence.
This is truly an amazing story. Many of us tend to think if the delegates en mass, one group working together and with many things in common. This helped me to see the many differences that would have existed between the delegates — differences in their families, their economic backgrounds and even their personalities. And, most of all, it was a lesson in how very different people could be and still succeed in reaching a common goal.
With a sixth grade reading level, it should be no surprise that this text is long — just over 2000 words. But, as should be clear from the subject matter, it isn’t for preschoolers and it in no way feels long.
Fotheringham’s striking illustrations reminded me vaguely of the School House Rock cartoons. The style isn’t the same but both are colorful and expressive.
Pick this one up and see where the discussion that follows takes you.
April 12, 2012
In addition to his numerous picture books and his novels, Kevin Henkes has branched out into beginning readers.
When Penny comes home from school, she is more than ready to share. After all, she has a song and a song requires an audience. But Mama isn’t ready to listen. She doesn’t want Penny to wake up the babies. Papa compliments the song but, like Mama, wants to make sure the babies get their nap.
Penny tries singing to herself but a song requires an audience.
By dinner time, she’s ready to try again but she is assured, once again by Mama and Papa, that the dinner table isn’t the place for a song. It is only after dinner that Penny finds a willing audience.
As always, I’m left wondering if Henkes bugged my house. Ok, my son may not be a huge singer but seriously? This kid is a driven performer when it comes to getting Mom and Dad’s attention. Definitely a true to life story.
And he tells it in such a way that newer readers will be able to puzzle through the text using his illustrations for visual cues.
Be sure to share this with the new reader in your life but don’t be surprised if someone doesn’t feel the need to show you her own talents either in reading it to you again or in putting on a performance.
April 9, 2012
Sophie isn’t sure what to think when Wendell comes to visit for the weekend. Wendell brags about how much better, and more numerous, his toys are than Sophie’s and he’ll only play what she suggests if he gets to be the boss.
When they play house, Sophie gets to be the dog.
When they play hospital, Sophie gets to be the desk clerk.
When they pretend bakery, Sophie is a sweet roll.
Throughout it all, Sophie has one quiet question for her parents. “When is Wendell leaving?” Their answer? “Soon.”
By Sunday, Sophie has had enough but she’s learned a few things too. When they play fire fighter, she’s in charge of the hose although she eventually decides to share.
By the time Wendell’s parents pick him up, Sophie has only one question. “When is Wendell coming back?”
If you’ve ever had two kids who simultaneously adore each other and can’t get along for 5 minutes, you will completely understand this book. You’ll also appreciate the expressions on the adults faces as they answer Sophie’s questions and try to minimize the damage.
As always, Henkes displays an acute understanding of kids and what makes them tick. Not a new title, but this oldie is definitely worth granting space on your shelves!
April 6, 2012
From snails to fern and snakes to gopher, swirls are everywhere in nature. Animals coil up tight to conserve body heat in cold weather. A nautilus adds onto its curving shell one compartment at a time. Plants send out new tendrils in graceful curves.
As always, Sidman’s text is simple and straightforward without being ho hum boring. The poetry in this book makes it an excellent read aloud and one that youngsters will want to hear again and again.
Adding to this desire for repeated readings are Krommes’ illustrations. Krommes works in scratchboard that she then copies before coloring in the copies. This results in illustrations with the bold black lines of wood engravings but also bright expanses of color. Krommes has worked in so much detail that readers are sure to find something new every time they view an illustration.
Pick this book up for your young nature lover. Pull it out again for a child who loves poetry. And don’t forget to get it out one more time just to share it with a youngster who loves books.
April 2, 2012
Balloons over Broadway:
The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade
written and illustrated by Melissa Sweet
If you’re like me, you’ve watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and wondered at the balloons. I always assumed that the inspiration for these works of wonder came from hot air balloons. After all, many of the ones you see today are shaped like something such as the Energizer Bunny.
But before he created the Macy’s balloons, Tony Sarg (rhymes with aargh) was a puppeteer. He was a marionette man at only six years-old. As an adult, he moved to London and then to New York. When Macy’s heard about Tony’s puppets, they asked him to design a puppet parade for their holiday window display. Tony’s mechanical marionettes were the talk of the town.
In 1924, Macy’s hosted their first Thanksgiving Day parade. It was such a success, that they decided to do it annually. Could tony help them make it spectacular?
I’m not going to tell you any more of the plot, because I want you to read the story of how and why this puppet master created the amazing balloons we have today.
Sweet uses a combination of collage and water color paintings to illustrate the book. Before she began painting, she took the time to make a variety of toys and puppets. She wanted to get a feel for Sarg’s world. And feel it, Sweet did. That fact is obvious from the detailed, fun-filled illustrations throughout the book.
Share this story with the creative genius in your life. Inspire a young reader and it can lead to something great.