January 31, 2013
The Raven Boys (Book one in the Raven Cycle)
by Maggie Stiefvater
It’s that time again. Time to spend the night in a graveyard.
That’s right. A graveyard.
Once each year, Blue spends the night in a graveyard with her mother. She’s there to watch the Corpse Road. This is the night when the road is visited by the souls of the people from her town that will die that year. Blue can’t see or speak to the spirits herself. She’s there as a “booster” for the psychic who can. But this year is different. This year there is one spirit she can see and he won’t speak to anyone but Blue. When she asks his name he answers “Just Gansey.”
It is only days later when her mother is visited by a group of boys. One of them is Gansey.
All of her life, Blue has known that somewhere is a boy she will kill. She knows this because every psychic she meets tells her the same thing. After she kisses him, her true love will die. Blue isn’t the most social person in town, a fact that is probably strengthened by the fact that she lives in a house full of psychic women. She’s odd and she knows it. So what? But this also makes it easy to avoid kissing anyone. There has never been anyone she wanted to kiss.
Until she meets Gansey and his two friends. It isn’t Gansey she’s interested in but her mother has told her to stay away from them all.
Gansey is looking for the Corpse Road although he calls it by another name — a ley line. Somewhere along this line, an ancient king is buried and whoever awakens him will receive a boon.
I can’t say much more about the book without giving way too much away. I listened to this one as an audio book and it took me a while to warm up to it. Most of the problem was with one character Ronan. Ronan is the boy you will love to hate. He is just that abrasive. It’s hard to see why he’s one of Gansey’s best friends.
Yet, as you make your way through the book, you will begin to have some sympathy for Ronan and his miserable past. You will also come to adore Adam who longs to escape his father, Noah who can’t ever seem to get warm and Gansey — the leader who hides behind what he thinks people expect him to be. One of these boys will click with you and you’ll be pulled into the story.
Of course, I also loved Blue and her extended family. I’m using the term family loosely here because the house is full of women who are psychics but not all of them are actually related by blood. They are related by the fact that they can do something that science cannot explain — read Tarot, tell you about a person by touching something they own . . .
This is a strong choice for lovers of dark fantasy. There is humor. There is romance — kind of. And there is mystery. But mostly there is a really good story populated by compelling characters. My son wasn’t interested in it. I think his school librarian had tried to sell him on the book. No go. Then he heard part of the audiobook and is now waiting his turn to read it. I predict that once he reads this one, he will be looking for the next two books.
January 28, 2013
Annie and Helen
by Deborah Hopkinson
illustrated by Raul Colon
Schwartz and Wade
When Annie Sullivan came to the Keller home, young Helen reigned in terror. If someone didn’t give her what she wanted or couldn’t understand, she would throw a tantrum although she was almost 7 years-old.
But Annie understood. Annie had suffered from a painful eye disease and even had to have surgery. She knew what it was like to be limited.
Helen might have been a healthy baby but then she had a terrible fever. Afterwards, she was both blind and deaf. She could nod her head and tug her father’s hand. When she was hungry, she would pretend to butter bread, but that was all. No wonder she was angry.
When Annie came, she set to work. First, she taught Helen how to behave. No more sticking her hands in other people’s plates. No more tantrums. It only took a few weeks for Helen to become a much calmer child but Annie still needed a way to talk to her.
At school, Annie had learned to sign individual letters with one hand. She started spelling out words in the palm of Helen’s hand. She would give Helen her doll and then spell the word. D-O-L-L. Helen learned to copy the letters but she still didn’t understand until one day at the pump. Annie pumped water onto one hand and spelled the word into Helen’s other hand. Something clicked. Helen understood.
Immediately she dropped down and patted the ground. Word after word, Helen added to her vocabulary. Soon Annie was teaching her not only nouns but verbs. Helen could put together crude sentences. For the first time, she could talk to other people.
In just a few months, Helen learned to type on a special type writer that printed the letters in Braille, an alphabet of raised dots used by people who cannot see. The Helen learned to use a special template to write the letters that sighted people could read. Just a few months after Annie came, Helen and Annie went on a trip with Helen’s father. Helen was able to write her mother a letter telling her about all that she had done.
Although this is a fairly long picture book, over 2000 words, it feels much shorter. The story moves along quickly because readers want to know — does Helen learn to speak? Can she tell other people what she wants? What she’s thinking?
Young readers will identify with Helen. They all know the frustration of not being understood.
Writers will love that part of this story is told through the letters that Annie wrote home and also through the letter than Helen wrote her mother. A book about learning to communicate told through letters. Perfect!
Colon’s watercolor paintings will help young readers see and understand when they hear about the typewriter that Helen used or the template that allowed her to write to others.
People who know a lot about Helen Keller or Annie Sullivan probably won’t learn anything knew but this book is an excellent introduction to two brilliant women for young readers who do not know who they are. It will also make an excellent point of discussion concerning how life has changed for those with special needs.
January 24, 2013
You may find it hard to believe, but from 1860 until the 1940s, there were 29 all-brother baseball teams. Twenty-nine! One of these teams was the Acerras and that’s exactly what it said on their jerseys. ACERRAS.
The Acerras lived in New Jersey. There were 12 boys and 4 girls, but apparently only the boys played baseball.
In 1938, the boys ranged in age from 7 to 32 and the oldest nine formed their own semi-pro team to compete against other New Jersey teams. Some of the Acerras were amazing — Jimmy’s knuckleball is still talked about today. It was hard to hit and just as hard to catch. Some of the Acerras were much less amazing; Charlie was such a slow runner that his brothers joked about it. But unlike many ball players today, they always stuck together.
Whether someone made a play or missed a ball, they stuck together. They were, after all, a team.
Wherever they played, they drew big crowds. They were even honored at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York.
But it wasn’t all fun and games. One brother was struck in the face with a ball and lost his eye although he returned to the team and continued to play with his brothers. Then there was World War II.
The team disbanded and 4 Acerras joined the Army. Two became Marines. Amazingly, they all returned home.
They played their last game as team Acerra in 1952 but that wasn’t the end of their life in baseball. In 1997, they were honored by the Baseball Hall of Fame.
I’m not a huge baseball fan but I am a huge history fan. Vernick brings this time period to life just as she helps as see the Acerras as both an amazing family and a group of amazing individuals who just happened to be related.
Salerno’s illustrations, black crayon and water color and pastel, gives a feeling of power and drive to the story, a must read for baseball fans young and old.
January 20, 2013
Because my father is a Mark Twain enthusiast, I picked this one up with high hopes. It wasn’t an easy book to get into because, as we enter the story, Twain is in a very low point in his life. His wife, Livy, who was also his editor, has died some months earlier. One of her daughters, also deeply grieving, had been admitted to a clinic that did not allow pets. She left Bambino, her cat, with her father.
The prickly feline did a pretty good job of mirroring Twain’s own moods. Content to lounge on the bed and bask in sunlight, it hissed at anyone’s attempts to shift it. Yet it accompanied Twain to his billiards table where it batted back his balls, somewhat lightening his mood.
One afternoon, the cat noticed a squirrel outside and leaped out an open window in pursuit.
Twain placed an ad concerning the missing cat in the local paper and fans proceeded to his home with cats of all kinds. One girl even offered to loan him her family pet, so that he would not be lonely, until his own pet could be found.
It sounds like a maudlin tale, and certainly it starts out that way, but the ending is sweet as is Twain’s uncompromising love for his moody companion.
This isn’t nonfiction but a piece of fiction based on true events.
Miyares mixed media and digital illustrations capture the varied moods of the piece. They also help make this story of a historic figure more contemporary and approachable for young readers.
Will young readers identify with this book? Maltbie has done an excellent job of creating a story about the love for a pet and how this animal helps him reconnect with other people and draws him to reenter the world. While specifically about Twain it is also generally and gently about loss and how each of us must find a way to cope.
Additionally, this book would be an excellent gift for a Twain fan. While it is fiction, it is strongly based on his life and as such has a lot to offer.
Why not pick it up and share it with someone who needs a little hope?
January 17, 2013
Obviously, I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction picture books lately and many of the biographies are about artists.
Jose Limon was born in Culiacan, Mexico. When he was only five years-old, civil war broke out in Mexico. His father moved the family to the border town of Nogales where they lived for two years until the family was allowed to emigrate from war torn Mexico into the United States were his father had found work.
In the United States, Jose’s fellow students made fun of his English and he vowed to learn the language well enough that no one would mock him again. In three years, he spoke fluent English and was a star student. He was also popular with his younger brothers and sisters for the drawing that he made for them. They especially loved the trains.
After high school, he moved to New York taking a job as a janitor while he visited museums and made his drawings, but he was disappointed that what he saw in his head never emerged onto the paper. When a friend took him to a dance concert, his love of music was reawakened. Soon he was studying dance and making a name for himself through this type of art.
Reich expertly brings the sounds and movements of Jose’s world alive. When he is at his grandmother’s he hears the trillia-tweet of her canary. His mother sings him to sleep, sora-sora-so. As a teen, he practices the music of two languages. Carmesi. Radiante. Liberacion. Crimson. Radiant. Liberation.
Colon’s water color and colored pencil illustrations bring Jose’s world to life from the bright colors of Mexico to the contrast between the traditional dances he saw there and the modern dances he created in New York.
This book is a great read aloud to share not only with dance lovers but for anyone who needs to hear the song of inspiration.
January 14, 2013
As a boy, Marcel laughed at the antics of Charlie Chaplin. He wanted to be like Chaplin and thrill crowds and make them laugh.
He mimed in front of his friends and made them laugh. These friends knew him as Marcel Mangel. He was only 16 when World War II began and, along with the other residents of Strasbourg, he had to leave his home, walking all the way. Later, Marcel joined the French underground. He led Jewish children to safety and helped hide American soldiers.
When the war ended, he was able to study mime. Sometimes he thought that he chose the silent art form because he was Jewish. Like those who returned from the camps but refused to discuss their experiences, he too would be silent.
As a silent star, he painted his face white and outlined his eyes with heavy black makeup and his mouth with red. Audiences would be able to read his expressions from a distance. He performed entire dramas, trudging into heavy winds no one else could feel. Sometimes he was a tree or a fish. But whatever he did, he did in silence, his actions communicating better than words with audiences of many nationalities and languages.
I didn’t know much about Marceau when I picked this up but I like Schubert’s books. I wasn’t disappointed. She clearly anchored his life in history and also showed the world wide importance of art as a means of communication.
Gerard Dubois’ paintings clearly communicate not only the range of emotions show by Marceau in his performances but also his joy at Chaplin, the grim realities of war and more.
An excellent choice for any child interested in the performing arts and also a good choice for reading aloud.
January 10, 2013
The little polar bear cubs moves onto the spit of land. The cub is all alone and as she moves through the other bears, she is often chased away when she gets too close to a female who isn’t her mother or an adult bear that is feeding.
Food has grown more and more scarce but the can’t leave Wrangle Island. The pack ice is late forming this year and it doesn’t matter how hungry the bears get. Without the ice, they can’t wander off across the ocean.
It doesn’t help that this little cub is all alone. She should be with her mother for at least another year so that she can learn to travel across the ice and how to hunt. Somehow she manages to find enough food — sometimes finding dead animals, sometimes getting part of another bear’s kill.
In simple, straight forward text, Markle tells the story of one real bear cub, named Tuff by scientists. The scientists noted that she was orphaned and were surprised to see her return to the island the following spring. Few cubs survive without the help of their mothers.
Marks watercolor and pencil illustrations bring the world of the polar bear to life, from rocky island to white and blue pack ice.
The very youngest readers might be upset by the fact that this little bear has no mother and none of the other bears are helping her but slightly older readers will learn about this young bear’s resourcefulness and drive to survive. This book would be an excellent jumping off place for discussions about global warming, man’s impact on his fellow animals and habitat. An excellent introduction to life in the Arctic.
January 7, 2013
Skitter, skitter, scratch.
Thunk, thunk, thunk.
Pop, pop, pop.
Desert toad waits, burrowed way down deep in the desert sand. She listens for the sounds of the rain. It will start with a light plip, plop before it pounds across the desert floor. It sounds dangerous but toad needs this rain so that she can lay her eggs.
Sayre’s text is simple, short and poetic as it introduces young readers to Couch’s spadefoot toad. Very few people will see this toad because it spends much of its life underground where, even in the desert, it is cool and damp.
As Sayre’s readers learn about these awesome toads, they are also introduced to a variety of other desert wildlife including giant desert hairy scorpions, ord’s kangaroo rats and gila woodpeckers.
Bash’s watercolors, pencil and ink art work captures the range of vibrant colors found in the desert as well as the subtleties of a world that seasonally feels very monochromatic as plants and animals struggle for survival.
With a brief, lively text, this book makes a great read aloud and will appeal to animal lovers of all ages.
January 3, 2013
We’ve all known a kid like Ariel. She’s the curious one whose always asking why. She doesn’t easily accept limits and because of this decisions can be tough. After all, choosing one thing means ruling out so many other possibilities. That’s the reality that she faces as naming day looms near.
Choose a vocation. Pass the test. Be locked in for the rest of her life.
She supposes that, like her mother, she will opt for healer. She knows the plants and where most of them grow. She can tell you what they’re good for and how to use them. She’s much less good with the sick themselves but knows that it comes with the job. If only she felt truly called like her friend Zeke.
There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that Zeke is a Treetalker. After all, he has his special tree. He sings to it and it answers questions except that lately it has been strangely quiet. At least, its quiet until Zeke brings Ariel to the tree and she climbs up into its branches.
There she finds a strange brass dart — an artifact once sent from one place to another with a message that only one person could read. Who has managed to send out a dart after all of this time and who was supposed to get it?
As Zeke and Ariel try to decide what to do with something so important, two strangers arrive in the village. Ariel doesn’t know why but she immediately distrusts the two men. She doesn’t have much time to think about them though because it is Naming Day. But then the unthinkable happens and Ariel fails her test.
What could be worse than that? She has her answer when she is kidnapped in the night.
I don’t want to say anything more about the plot of this book. Suffice it to say that it will keep you turning the pages as Ariel learns to tell friend from foe and overcomes her squeamishness as she uses her healing skills to stitch up wounds and seek out healing herbs. Zeke too discovers new found skills as the trees seek to speak to him but he hears another set of voices. A slow, ponderous set of voices that speak low and quiet.
This book is hard to categories. It reads like fantasy with the people living in far flung villages and their stories of time past. But many of these stories involve technologies that no longer work including bicycles and lights and so much more.
With a female main character who is strong and adventurous and her male best friend, this book will appeal to both boys and girls. There are some scary bits because the bad guys really are quite bad — thus the need to stitch someone up. But it is an amazing story of strength and courage and not letting the fears and indecision of yourself or others hold you back.