November 30, 2012
A young girl wonders how she and her best friend can be so very different.
Evelyn is fast moving, loud and outgoing. If there’s adventure to be had, Evelyn is right in the middle of it. “My mom says Evelyn is a jumping bean.”
Our narrator, on the other hand, sometimes tries to be like Evelyn and simply cannot pull it off. No matter how hard she tries, a rubber glove, a plunger and a blanket fail to become a crown, scepter and royal robe.
Fortunately, she’s good at spelling, karate and baking cookies and, most of all, being a fantastic friend to a girl who is fast moving, loud and outgoing.
Every now and again, the young reader in your life will feel eclipsed by a friend who is simply more of just about everything they want to be. Or at least that is how it will seem. This is a perfect book for times like that, times that call for quiet sharing and straightforward caring.
Young readers may be reluctant to discuss feeling inadequate but with Weinstock’s silly alligator girls “peopling” this story, it will give your reader just a little more distance and the little bit of safety needed to approach this topic.
At 305 words, this is a quick read with more than a little humor and although the alligators are girls there is plenty in this book to appeal to boys who also climb trees, have fertile imaginations and jump on the bed.
November 26, 2012
A boy is gathering pine cones in the forest when he runs into a robot. The two have a marvelous afternoon exploring and playing games until they bump Bot’s power switch. Boy doesn’t understand what is wrong with Bot but he knows he needs to help. He takes Bot home, feeds him applesauce, reads him a story and puts him to bed.
Fortunately, the boy’s parents check on their son and bump the robot’s power switch.
Bot wakes up and finds boy out like a light. He doesn’t get what’s wrong but he knows he needs to help. He takes Boy home with him, oils him, reads him an instruction manual and then looks for a spare battery.
The inventor explains to Bot that his new friends isn’t a robot but a boy. Boy wakes up with a start, thrilled to see that everything is well with his new friend. Bot is equally happy to see that somehow Boy too has been all fixed up.
At only 240 words, this tale is both short and simple while simultaneously being wonderfully complex. Not only is this the story of Boy and Bot, it is also the story of anyone who has ever had a friend they didn’t completely understand but loved unconditionally.
Dan Yaccarino’s gauche and watercolor illustrations beautifully expand upon the story as we see Boy and Bot’s friendship continue to grow beyond the book’s final line of text.
In addition to a good bed time read, Boy + Bot would also be an excellent book for launching discussions on blending families, the customs of other people, diversity and acceptance.
November 23, 2012
No one is more important in June Elbus life than her Uncle Finn. Not only is he the 14-year-old’s God father, he is quite simply the one person who gets her through and through.
Finn is an artist and his last project will be a portrait of June and her sister Greta. They’re sure it will be his last because he is dying and in 1987 there is no treatment for AIDS.
June wishes the painting would go on forever, not just because she loves Finn but also because it is now the only time they get to spend together. Once the pair roamed New York City, taking in the art at the Cloisters, music, medieval festivals and more. But as Finn gets sicker and sicker he can do less and less. The one thing that never fades is his love for his niece.
Only after Finn’s death does June meet Toby who misses Finn even more than she does. Through her friendship with Toby, she learns about her Uncle, her parents and sister and, most importantly, about herself.
I can’t tell much more about this story without giving it all away. I listened to it as an audio book and I’m actually not sure which would be better — listening or reading. This is a total tear jerker — not because it is so sad, although it is, but because it is so achingly beautiful in so many ways. Brunt had created a novel that mirrors the haunting qualities of much of the art, musical and plastic, that June and her uncle shared with each other.
This isn’t an AIDS story in spite of the impact that AIDS has on the story line and the characters. It is a story about living and loving, about the self we present to others and the one we keep safe for those we trust most. A moving, meaningful book that teens will love for the emotional honesty Brunt brings to life even as she shows how those we love leave a little bit of themselves in our hearts, souls and minds.
November 19, 2012
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked this book up but I quickly found myself pulled into the story of Minli, a young girl who lives in the village of Fruitless Mountain. There the people work hard, so hard that they are constantly coated by the dirt in which they plant their crops. Their hard works manages to yield just enough to live on and no more. Minli doesn’t mind. Each day she looks forward to the evening when her father will tell her another story.
Spaced throughout the book are a series of stories based in Chinese folklore. They are stories about dragons, an evil magistrate and the Old Man of the Moon.
As much as Minli loves the stories, her mother despises them. She fears that her husband is filling Minli’s head with dreamy nonsense and not the practical thoughts the girl will need to change her fortune.
Practical or not, Minli is determined to change her family’s fortune and she sets of on a quest at the advice of a gold fish. The fish has swum in every river but one and Minli agrees to turn the fish loose into that very river if the fish will tell her how to find the Old Man of the Moon.
The very first friend Minli makes on her journey is a dragon who has been tied up by monkeys. After she frees the dragon, they journey on together and meet a boy with his water buffalo, a pair of daring children dressed in red and a king who pretends to be a beggar.
The things that Minli learns on this trip subtly change her so that by the time she meets the Old Man of the Moon, her question for him has changed as well.
Broken into short chapters and equally short folktales, this is an easy book to read in small pieces which would make it an excellent choice for periodic family reading throughout the holidays or while on a trip. The story that Lin has created has much to say to the hearts of people today, people who hope for more than they have at the expense of what is already there.
Lin’s artwork, both the cut paper and the paintings, bring splashes of color to this sweet, charming tale with a timeless message for one and all.
November 15, 2012
We can’t very well have Merry Christmas Dinosaurs without also having Happy Chanukah Dinosaurs and the Chanukah variety threaten just as much mischief as their Christmas cousins. From a Ichtostega who writes his own name on each and every gift card to the Arizonasaurus who melts the chocolate coins in his hot little hands, these dinosaurs definitely show Jewish children how not to behave.
As everyone knows, the holidays are a tough time for our energetic children who want so badly to behave that they get a little nutty when they fail. Telling this story with dinosaurs instead of children gives the children the distance they need to laugh at behavior that probably seems way too familiar to more than a few of them.
As much as I loved both of these holiday books, I have to say that I actually liked the Chanukah book better.
Consider giving it to the Jewish dinosaur lover on your very own gift list. You’ll have a fun rhyming story that you can read together each of the eight holy days of Chanukah.
November 12, 2012
I know its early to be talking about Christmas but I’m an early shopper. Not that I ever get done early but I do start early so that I can look for great books for the kids in my life. This year I’m especially interested in younger books because one special kindergartner on my list has a brand new baby sister. Oh, the books I will buy! Now, on to the review . . .
“On Christmas Eve, does a dinosaur sleep? Does he go up to bed without making a peep?”
Eventually, yes, but those of you who are familiar with Yolen and Teague’s dinosaur books know that we have to get past some seriously funny bad behavior first. From Gigantoraptor upending the Christmas tree to, my own personal favorite, Erythrosuchus sloppily licking each and every candy cane, we get to see what good dinosaurs do not do in terms of Merry Christmas behavior. Then of course, we get to how they do behave.
For me, half the fun is Teague’s amazing illustrations. I suspect Teague is a dog person and I love looking for the dogs that he slips into his art work — watching, waiting and occasionally letting out a merry yip.
As with all of the Dinosaurs books by Yolen and Teague, this one is short, weighing in at a light 148 words. That said, this book is a fantastically fun read aloud. If you are looking for a fun book to share with a young reader this holiday season, take a look at this one. Young dinosaur lovers adore the variety of creatures worked into the books by Teague and Yolen’s rollicking rhymes make them fun to read out loud.
Be sure to check out my post later in the week for another great gift book!
November 6, 2012
Mimi’s village is like many places throughout the world. There is sadness in this corner of Kenya because one of the babies has died.
Mimi worries about her own mother and the baby she carries. Will this little one grow big and strong or will he too be carried away by disease? Long before the new baby can come, Mimi’s little sister start to throw up. Her stomach hurts and she can’t keep anything down. The little girl had been hot and thirsty earlier and Mimi had given her water to drink from the lake. Yes, it may be where they get their drinking water but unless the water is boiled, it can kill.
The next village has a health clinic and Mimi’s family makes their way there in the dark. In the morning, the nurse is able to help Mimi’s sister. Later, during another night, Mimi dreams of a nurse who chases away the mosquitoes who give the children malaria. What if their village had a clinic?
You may recognize the author’s name from her book the Good Garden. In Mimi’s Village, Milway has created another title that brings the realities of much of the world to life for children in privileged countries. Fortunately, she does so in a non-preachy way that pulls young readers in and has them rooting for a youngster who wants to make life better for her people.
An excellent book on many levels, this will spur discussions on justice, poverty and basic human rights as well as what a group of determined people can accomplish.
November 2, 2012
Everyone has a job to do. Everyone but Puppy, that is. He can’t crow or pull a heavy cart or even catch mice. Just when Puppy is wondering when the day will come that he will be able to help on the farm, he hears the whistle and springs into action. His boy is home from school. The two run and roll and catch until its time to collapse into bed together.
Usually the picture books that pull me in are laugh-out-loud hilarious or super quirky. This one is sweet, much sweeter than what I usually enjoy. Yet, somehow, it pulled me in.
So too it will draw in young readers who see everyone else doing something important and wondering when their day will come. Not to worry! A book with this kind of theme could feel preachy but not The Helpful Puppy. The lesson, gentle and mellow, is woven in beneath the story of a wee, little dog who wants to do what the other animals do. In the end, he finds his place by simply being himself.
Sweet, not preachy, and slow in an almost sleepy way, this gentle story would make an excellent bed time book, ending with Puppy and his boy hitting the hay. Pick it up to share with the little book lover in your life.