September 24, 2012

The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Amanda Hall

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:47 am by suebe2

The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau
by Michelle Markel  and
illustrated by Amanda Hall

No one told Henri Rousseau that he could paint.  In fact, he already had a job as a toll booth operator.  But the forty year-old had a dream.  He bought canvases, paints and brushes and started to paint.

He painted because he loved nature. Because he couldn’t afford lessons, he studied on his own.  He studied the paintings of other artists.  He studied photographs to learn anatomy.  He didn’t study the rules about painting, he simply painted.

But the art critics hated his work.

Not to worry, Rousseau simply had to paint and that’s what he kept right on doing.  Eventually, his work caught the attention of several very young artists.  These young artists were also rule breakers and they disagreed with the critics.  In fact, one of them, Pablo Picasso, holds a banquet in Rousseau’s honor.

Markel’s straightforward text brings Henri Rousseau to life for a new band of young art and nature lovers, and isn’t that appropriate since that it what Rousseau himself was?  A lover of art and nature.

Amanda Hall’s watercolor and acrylic paintings duplicate the simplicity and vigor of Rousseau’s art. In fact, she does it so well that they immediately brought to mind several of Rousseau’s paintings that I had seen long ago.

Not sure this book is right for your young reader?  It is amazing just how inspirational Rousseau’s story is.   Here is a man who did not give up on his dreams even when the critics told him to stop.  They asked him if he painted with his feet.  They compared his work to that of cavemen.  This is definitely a man that children will identify with and, who knows, he may click with you, the adult reader, as well.

A vibrant, engaging read about a great artist.


September 17, 2012

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 1:58 am by suebe2


by Rachel Harman
Random House
AR 6.0

In Seraphina’s world, dragons are seen as cold intellectuals, incapable of music or any other art, because they lack emotion.

But they can take on human form and when they do, things happen because they often take on human emotion as well.  When this happens, the censors take the offending dragon back home for a surgical procedure that removes not only the emotion but many of the memories connected to it as well.  Dragons, after all, see human emotion as a disease.

For their part, humans are certain that dragons are no more than animals.  When in their human forms, they must wear a bell that warns all around of their presence.  In some parts of town, it isn’t safe for such a dragon to walk the streets.

This leaves Seraphina desperate to guard a secret.  Why?  Because she is half dragon.  Her mother was a beautiful musician who hid her true identity until she died giving birth.  Only then did her husband know he had broken the law.  Seraphina too is a gifted musician who joys in sharing her love of music with those around her.  Her joy is damped by the need for caution.  Attract too much attention and someone might suspect.  Draw too many eyes and someone might see the scales that circle her lower arm.  And it isn’t just hatred that could come down on her but also a death sentence.  How do you keep out of sight when you are the second ranking musician in the Queen’s court?

She gives up hiding her identity when she must help guard a dragon diplomat.  If something should happen to him or her own queen, the peace between dragon and human will be shattered.  But who can Seraphina trust?  She assembles a surprising band of accomplices in this fascinating fantasy tale.

While there is a lot of action in a few places, this is definitely what my son calls a “girl book.”  A lot happens but there is also lots of pondering.  What can I say?  The thirteen year-old isn’t much given to pondering.

The reading level may be 6th grade, but the themes felt mature to me.  An advanced younger reader might not connect with it and there are definitely tasteless “ribald” jokes that you might have to explain.

I can see this book appealing to musicians.  There were several places when she was working with the court orchestra or choir that I swear I could hear my own choir director.  “Commit yourself to the note!   Even if it isn’t THE note, it will sound fine if you commit!”

In addition to the pure enjoyment, this book could definitely provide a discussion point concerning prejudice and fear and religion and how they move society.   As I made my way through the book, I caught myself wondering if this was intentional on Hartman’s part.  Let’s just say it seemed very newsworthy.

Part fantasy, part mystery and full of intrigue.  Put this one on your reading list today!


September 10, 2012

Timeless Thomas: How Thomas Edison Changed Our Lives by Gene Barretta

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 1:06 am by suebe2

by Gene Barretta
Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt and Company
AR 5.5

Thomas Edison.  When you hear his name, what do you think of?  The light bulb, and while he did invent the first incandescent light bulb he invented much, much more than that alone.

Author/illustrator Gene Barretta’s cartoony illustrations pull readers into the world of Thomas Edison.  He does this by first stressing how young Edison was when he started experimenting which lead to his operating the very first research and development lab in the entire world.  In this society that puts so much emphasis on success and achievement, Barretta also emphasizes something else that is vital.  Edison viewed each and every failure as an opportunity to learn.  If nothing else, he learned what wouldn’t work, moving him one step closer to discovering what would.

Barretta moves on the contrast the world of his readers (full of music, recordings, film and electricity) with the world of Edison and his inventive mind that created a tin foil phonograph, batteries and more.  Again, he emphasizes failures (an iron ore processing facility) that led to other successes (an improved cement mixture) as well as inventions that are no longer used (an electric pen) but led to things we see every day (you’ll have to read to find this one out!).

As always, Barretta teaches in a fun, accessible way and young readers will be pulled in as they learn more about the world around them as well as the world of the past.  Hats off to Gene Barretta for making learning so much fun!  To gain a feel for the book, check out the book trailer below.



September 3, 2012

Hanging off Jefferson’s Nose by Tina Nichols Coury, illustrated by Sally Wern Comport

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:27 am by suebe2

Hanging off Jefferson’s Nose:
Growing Up on Mount Rushmore
by Tina Nichols Coury
illustrated by Sally Wern Comport
Dial Books for Young Readers
AR 5.8

Did you know that mountain carver was a profession?  I’d never thought about it until I read this book and discovered that sculptor Gutzon Borglum, the man who created Mount Rushmore, was the only mountain carver in the world.

When he was contacted to create a mountain sculpture in the Dakotas, his potential clients wanted a sculpture of Wild West figures, something they were sure would bring in tourists.  Borglum convinced them to go with Presidents.

But this isn’t just the story of Gutzon Borglum.  It is the story of his son, Lincoln.  What a perfect name for this tale!

Lincoln was a shy boy who traveled all over the world with his family, moving from place to place along with his father’s work.  Lincoln was with his father in Rapid City when the older Gutzon met with the businessmen who started the ball rolling on Mt. Rushmore.  He watched as his father sketched his vision out, right there on the table cloth.

I had never considered what went into creating a sculpture as vast as Mount Rushmore but Coury covers the planning, the set backs and the various stages.  She describes the bunkhouses and workshops constructed near the mountain as well as the various jobs that Lincoln learned.  Lincoln was determined to help in every way he could.  He worked as a pointer, learned to use a jackhammer as a driller and even how to set charges as a powder man.  It isn’t surprising that Lincoln earned the respect of the men on his father’s crew.

Although Sally Wern Comport’s final images were acrylic and pastel, her work, like the mountain she depicts, passed through several stages including drawings, mixed media digital and then the paintings.  How appropriate!

History buffs, kids who like to create things and artists will find something to love in this close up look at one national treasure.

For those of you interested in the steps an author goes through in creating a book manuscript, I’ve included an interview with the author below.  Tina Nichols Coury was interviewed by author Lee Wind at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference in LA (August, 2012).


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