February 28, 2013
Becoming Naomi Leon
by Pam Munoz Ryan
Naomi Soledad Leon Outlaw has a lot to cope with and her name is just part of it. The first half of her name reflects her Mexican heritage, as do her looks. Gram shared her last name, Outlaw, and while Naomi loves having a part of Gram with her all the time, she wish the punk boys at school had less to laugh about. They make fun of her name every day. A good number of the girls snicker about her clothes — polyester and hand made by Gram.
The only place at school that feels safe is the library. She goes there for lunch every day, eating and reading. The librarian knows the kids are breaking a rule but he realizes the importance of giving them a safe haven and unconditional acceptance.
Owen, Naomi’s kid brother, doesn’t feel the same insecurities. Naomi doesn’t get it but he never hears the taunts of the bullies quite the same way that she does. It just doesn’t phase him because he sure they don’t mean to be so bad.
At home, Naomi finds solace in her carvings. Their neighbor is a wood carver and he has taught Naomi to carve soap. She has a gift and her soap carvings are every bit as moving as his painted wood carvings.
Then someone shows up at the trailer they share with Gram. This woman claims to be their mother. She’s just there for a visit to get to know her two kids but it soon becomes clear that she only wants to know Naomi. Owen’s handicaps freak her out and she’d rather not even look at him. Naomi enjoys having someone with the time to dote on her — braiding her hair and shopping for her. But she doesn’t like the way her mother brushes Owen aside.
Then Mom insists that Naomi come to Las Vegas with her and leave Gram and Owen behind. If Naomi doesn’t agree, something bad is going to happen. Can Naomi find the courage to keep her family together? And just who is family and who isn’t?
I don’t want to say much more about the plot because I don’t want to give all the best bits away. This is an amazing book and I’m not sure how I managed not to read it for so long. It was first published in 2005. Pam Munoz Ryan has created a completely lovable character who is secure in her strengths, insecure about her faults and unsure where she fits into the world — otherwise a typical kid.
Yes, she happens to be half Mexican and discovering who she is eventually means finding out about that half of her family background. And what an amazing, wondrous journey it is.
I hope you will take part in that journey and share this book with the young reader in your life. There are parts of the story that are scary — no one wants to think that a parent could cast a child aside — but there is so much to love about this story. It is a story about strength and beauty and hardship and love but most of all it is a story about family.
February 25, 2013
A Tale Dark and Grimm
by Adam Gidwitz
Dutton Children’s Books
Tell the kids to leave the room.
That may not be it word for word but that’s the warning that Adam Gidwitz gives his readers. These are the Grimm fairy tales that have been sanitized for common consumption. These are edgy and bloody and mean.
Hansel and Gretel may be little kids but this book is meant for readers who are just a bit older — 10 and up would be my estimate.
Unlike the stand alone tales we are used to, these tales are woven together by the adventures of two remarkable children, Hansel and Gretel. Hansel and Gretel encounter not only the old woman who tries to gobble them up, but also parents who turned their children into birds, and an enchanted wood. It is in this wood that they go their separate ways for a time. Gretel must defeat a warlock who turns the souls of girls into doves and Hansel outwits the devil himself.
I know this is sketchy but there’s really no way to describe the stories without giving too much away. Gidwitz version is true to the originals in that they are edgy. People make awful, greedy decisions and sometimes horrible things must be done to stop a greater evil. They’re a lot like real life that way.
But it isn’t all selfishness and blood and gore.
Hansel and Gretel do love each other and they learn a lot about humanity in the course of their tales. Like most life lessons, some of what they learn is good and some is much less good though no less essential. There is also a lot to laugh about but the humor isn’t always what your mother, or at least my mother, would have considered appropriate.
But isn’t that a lot like life.
And I think that is what young readers will like most about this book — the fact that Gidwitz has created a story for them that is dark and bloody and real even if people can turn into animals, spells chain people to one place and a piece of string can mend any broken thing.
February 21, 2013
Sophie Simon Solves Them All
by Lisa Graff,
illustrations by Jason Beene
Farrar Straus Giroux
Sophie Simon is a third grader who would rather read calculus than watch television. Her parents wish she was well-adjusted and that she has a few really good friends. Maybe they really aren’t her parents after all. Wouldn’t her own parents “get” what is important to her. Unfortunately, she looks too much like her father for Sophie to hope that a nice, brilliant family is out looking for their long lost child.
Things get even more awkward when she asks for a graphing calculator. After all, there’s no way she can study calculus without one. Her parents, not surprisingly, refuse. After all, they just don’t get it.
One day, Owen Luu sits down next to Sophie on the bus. She knows who he is, she is a genius, but she doesn’t understand why he keeps talking to her. It has something to do with his upcoming birthday and a rabbit. Apparently, Owen really wants a rabbit. His mother has bigger plans, wild, exotic plans. Owen is certain that Sophie could find a way to solve his problem.
For her part, Sophie doesn’t get why she should care. She’s sure she could find a way to use psychology to get Own that rabbit, but she’d rather use it to get that calculator. The Owen mentions his birthday money. It isn’t enough for the calculator but he will give it all to Sophie if she will just help him out.
Soon Sophie finds herself solving problems for not only Owen but also Daisy Pete who, more than anything, wants to avoid the humiliation of her ballet recital and Julia McGreevy who wants to be a famous journalist. Unfortunately, Daisy’s parents think that ballet will help their accident prone daughter and Julia’s father is a mathematics professor who can think of nothing else. Both of these girls agrees to pay Sophie for helping them out. Can she do it?
Readers may have a bit more trouble identifying with Sophie since, presumably, anyone reading this book is not going to also be studying calculus. What they will get is the feeling that each of these children has that certainly these clueless adults are not actually there parents. I suspect this is something all tween and teens contemplate at some time — my sister and I were convinced that we belonged to some distant Kennedy cousins.
Readers will also love the idea of using civil disobedience to unveil I vile teacher as well as psychology to get the grown ups in line.
Give this one to the young reader in your life. Maybe you actually have the guts to read it together and have a laugh at just how clueless an adult can be.
February 18, 2013
or, How Jodie O’Rodeo and Her Wonder Horse (and Some Nerdy Guy) Saved the World
by Tom Angleberger
What do you do when your best friend buys the best, most realistic fake mustache ever and then goes on a crime wave so that he can rig the election and become President of the United States?
Our hero, none other than Lenny Flem, Jr., dresses as a cow girl, but not just any cow girl. He dresses up like Jodie O’Rodeo, teen cowgirl queen. Imagine his surprise when, while wearing his fake cow-girl hair and pink cow-girl outfit, he runs into none-other-than Jodie O’Rodeo herself?
Unbelievable but true.
As much as I liked Angleberger’s The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, I adored Fake Mustache. A big part of this may be because I read Fake Mustache before I heard much about it. I didn’t got into it with any expectations so I could dive in and experience it for myself.
Like Origami Yoda, the setting is clearly recognizable as “here and now.” But Fake Mustache is even more fanciful and wild — no, there aren’t unicorns and elves but the things that take place aren’t entirely believable. Casper, starts out the book as your average 12-year-old best friend. Add one super deluxe fake mustache, made from real (ick) mustache hair, and adults see him very differently. He is clearly a man about town, a fellow adult, someone of great purpose and authority. The only person who seems to realize that something is going on is Lenny. Where did Casper suddenly get all that cash? Gold bars are even more suspicious.
Lenny may not have the ultimate mustache, but he does have a super sticky hand and just enough money to buy a discounted cow girl costume. Can the two get him close enough to find out what is going on and how to save his very best friend? The only other person who seems to see through the disguise is the real Jodie O’Rodeo who has her own bag of tricks, and a stunt horse too. It is up to them to save the day.
This book is a quick read and would be a good choice for a reluctant reader. It is longer than Origami Yoda and has fewer illustrations but the chapters are very short, many no more than 2 or 3 pages. Between the wacky things they encounter and the goofy costumes Lenny has to wear, there is plenty for readers to enjoy. Furthermore, Lenny is such a real kid that it will be easy for readers to identify with and actually imagine themselves in the shoes of this hero.
February 15, 2013
Emily and Carlo
by Marty Rhodes Figley,
illustrated by Catherine Stock
“…I am all alone.”
When Emily wrote this to a friend, her sister was going to school in another town and her brother was at college. Shy and smart, she probably found it difficult to connect with new people.
Her father saw how sad she was and bought her a puppy that Emily quickly named Carlo after a character in a favorite book.
By the time he was grown, Carlo was as big as Emily and he was her constant friend. She wrote about him to her friends, she fed him heart shaped cakes as special treats, and she took him next door to visit her brother and his growing family. Emily spent her days exploring the countryside, brushing Carlo and writing poetry.
The only times that Emily left Carlo were when she had to stay in the city for medical care. Other than these two journeys, they were constant companions for 16 years.
Although this book is thoroughly researched and the story it tells is based on the author’s findings, it is not classified as nonfiction so is not a biography. Italicized quotes, like the one above, pepper the story. These quotes are Emily’s own words, taken from her poems and letters. In the Author’s Note, Figley explains that the primary events in this story are true but she had to use her imagination to fill in some details.
Catherine Stock’s watercolor paintings perfectly compliment this quiet, gentle story. Not all are bright, but they always match the tone of the passage.
Consider this book for anyone who loves Emily Dickenson, dogs or poetry. Given the importance that Carlo had in Emily’s life, it would also be a kind, loving gift for anyone who has recently lost a beloved pet or is sharing their days with a furred, feathered or scaly companion.
February 11, 2013
Miss Moore Thought Otherwise:
How Anne Carroll Moore Created Libraries for Children
by Jan Pinborough,
illustrated by Debby Atwell
Imaging growing up with seven older brothers!
In the 1870s, girls were expected to be quiet and do things like embroidery. Maybe it was because of all of those older brothers, but Annie preferred wild sled rides. That isn’t to say she didn’t like anything that was quiet. Annie loved the stories and poems her papa read out loud after dinner. On rainy days in Limerick, Maine she sat up in the family attack and read.
Annie was a young woman when she heard that librarians were actually hiring women. She packed her things and moved to Brooklyn, New York to study at the Pratt Institute’s library school. We’re lucky she did.
When Annie graduated, libraries were very different from how they are today. Children were not allowed inside most libraries. Librarians worried that the children would ruin the books and many libraries had no children’s books. Others had only a few. The ones that had children’s books kept them locked up where they would be safe.
The books were safe but no one got to enjoy them.
Annie remembered how much she had loved books as a child. Others children should have this opportunity as well.
Annie’s first job as a librarian was at the Pratt Free Library — most libraries only allowed paid members to read their books. Not Annie’s library. She also opened it up to children. There was a room full of children’s books that they could take down and read. In the evenings, Annie read to them just like her father had read to her.
Word about Annie’s amazing library spread and soon she was invited to be in charge of the children’s sections in all 36 New York Public libraries. Instead of telling children to leave, librarians now had them sign a pledge to care for the books and then invited them inside. Silence signs came down. Librarians were encouraged to talk about books with their patrons, especially the children.
I just saw my word count and I don’t want to retell the entire book. We owe Pinborough our thanks for bringing this amazing woman’s story to life just as we owe Annie’ our thanks for opening up libraries to us all. We should also thank all those brothers who most likely helped her become the woman who stood up against tradition for the children of today. Atwell’s has a welcoming folky feel that makes this story even more accessible.
If you are a book lover, this book is for you. Share it with a child or librarian in your life.
February 7, 2013
The Camping Trip that Changed America:
Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and our National Parks
by Barb Rosenstock
illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein
Dial Books for Young Readers
Teedie Roosevelt was already president when he read John Muir’s adventures in California. The President thought it was strange when Muir asked for help saving our wild forests. He explained that they were vanishing and he called on the government to take the lead in saving them.
The experts that helped him make government decisions told a different tale. The resources were vast. There was no danger of using up all of our wilderness.
How could both Muir and the experts be right? Roosevelt had heard directly from the experts, so he wrote Muir a letter. The President was planning a trip out west and he invited Muir to take him camping.
Muir didn’t like crowds and listening to the President give speech after speech was tedious but he new this might be his best chance to get the help he needed.
Finally he and Roosevelt rode of cross country and entered the sequoia forest. He explained to Roosevelt that these trees had been alive when the Egyptian pyramids were being built. They were the largest living things on earth and would only quit growing if someone chopped them down.
At night, they told stories by the campfire. They saw rocks smoothed by glaciers. They saw vast open spaces but Muir explained to the President how ranchers and prospectors damaged the land. He told about how companies planned to build hotels and shops throughout the valley. All of this building would wipe out the wilderness Roosevelt had just explored.
Back in Washington, Roosevelt had to push Congress and then push some more. In the end, he succeeded in establishing national parks, wilderness sanctuaries and forests.
He and Muir never saw each other again but they wrote to each other for the rest of their lives.
When we think of Roosevelt, we tend to think of a rough and tumble man of action. Rosenstock’s Roosevelt loves a good adventure but he is also a thoughtful man who can weigh what is popular against the latest information available.
Gerstein’s give life not only to the vast crowds of people gathered to hear from Roosevelt but the vast spaces stretching before him in Yosemite. It is easy to see how people thought the wilderness would last and thus all that much more impressive that Roosevelt heard the truth in what Muir had to say and was able to show him.
This book is an excellent choice for young readers interested in Roosevelt as well as young environmentalists and nature lovers.
February 4, 2013
Bill: The Boy Wonder, the Secret Co-Creator of Batman
by Marc Tyler Nobleman
illustrated by Ty Templeton
Ask people who created Batman and comic book fans seldom hesitate. “Bob Kane,” they say.
But that isn’t the whole story. Another writer played a major role from conception to drafting the individual stories. His name is Bill Finger.
Bill and Bob met at a party. Bob was a cartoonist and Bill loved literature. They bounced ideas off each other and collaborated on several projects. When an editor asked Bill to create a superhero to rival Superman, he came up with Batman. Or a version of Batman.
Bob took his idea to Bill who immediately went to work. Bob’s idea was too much like Superman and by the time Bill was done, all that remained of Bob’s idea was the name. Bob dealt with the editor and even hired a string of cartoonists to help with the art, but they all agreed that only Bob’s name would go on the finished product.
Secret identities were nothing new to Bill Finger. In reality, his name was Milton but it was hard to find work as a Jew in 1933. His family needed his income so he changed his name and went to work. He was used to hiding who he was. Maybe that’s why he agreed to work on the Batman comic as a silent partner. And work he did.
My husband loves comic books and when I held up this picture book, he took it and sat down for an immediate read. Let’s say that he’ll glance through just about any book I hand him but only a few get the cover to cover treatment that Nobleman’s book received.
This piece wouldn’t have the impact it does without Ty Templeton’s art. Multiple panels per page and black line that is then colored in gives the piece a comic book feel that perfectly compliments the subject matter.
Whether you are a new comic lover or someone who has been reading them for years, this book will pull you in as you root for The Boy Wonder, Bill Finger.