April 29, 2013
The House on Dirty-Third Street
by Jo S. Kittinger,
illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez
Our narrator buys into Mom’s little adventure until she sees their new home. It’s small and it’s dirty and the yard is a mess. This isn’t what she has in mind at all even if it’s all they can afford.
As they clean and scrape and rake, Mom tries to share her enthusiasm but soon she two is wondering if this was a big mistake. Even the neighbors are grim in spite of Mom’s attempts at friendliness.
“Remind me,” says the narrator. “How did you see it?”
And only then does the reader get a glimpse at Mom’s dream, a dream that now seems impossible, of a small house with blue shutters, sparkling windows, flowers on the porch and cookies in the oven. In the midst of all the hard work, it seems unreachable.
The next morning our narrator asks for prayers and that’s when the miracles start to happen.
This is more than a “feel-good” book. It is exactly the kind of book that people need today when so much seems dark and grim and negative. This is a story about faith and being a good neighbor. It is a story about good deeds adding up and changing people’s lives.
You don’t find many picture books written with first person narrator’s and they can be a bother to review. Instead of calling our main character by name, I have to call her “the narrator,” which seems so impersonal. But this is a very personal story and the first person narrator makes it all the more real.
Thomas Gonzalez compliments the story with his illustrations created in pastels, colored pencil and airbrush. Early in the story, before the young narrator can “see” the dream, the illustrations are mainly black and white with just a touch of pale color. As the story progresses, Gonzalez adds more and more color, blending it gently put powerfully until we are treated to the effects of a sunset-backed dream home.
This would be an excellent read aloud for Sunday school or youth group or even your own family. Share this story of hope and community with the young reader in your life.
April 25, 2013
Christo and Jeanne-Claude:
Through the Gates and Beyond
by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan
A Neal Porter Book: Roaring Brook Press
When you think of art, you probably tend to think of paintings and sculpture or pottery or glass. And Christo has done collage and other works that are small enough and permanent enough to display in museums and galleries. Most of what he and Jeanne-Claude have done is far to big to be confined indoors or in time.
The Gates were set up in New York’s Central Park, spaced down the paths that are used every day by joggers, people walking their dogs and pushing their children in strollers. For two short weeks, they were also part of an amazing display of art — saffron gates hung with equally vibrant fabric panels.
Nothing that Christo and Jeanne-Claude does is easy. It takes years to get the permissions needed, to prove that they aren’t going to damage anything, and then to have the various components made, yet this is something that they do time and time again all over the world.
I’m not going to get into why. For that, I want you to read Greenberg and Jordan’s book. Why? Christo and Jeanne-Claude insist that the people who walk through and past their creations aren’t simply observing the art, they are part of it. When I read about their lives as children, I will get one thing out of the fact. You will get another. Neither is any more or less correct but both are equally necessary to the experience.
Greenberg and Jordan are known for their biographies that bring art and artists to life for young readers. They’ve done it again with Christo and Jeanne-Claude. They are especially skilled at doing this in terms of modern art because they understand that it is something their readers can truly grasp. This art isn’t just for people in salons and tony galleries. This is art for the people wherever the people happen to be, both in geography and in age.
Thanks to Greenberg and Jordan for making this work accessible to a new group of art lovers.
April 22, 2013
Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus
by Mo Willems
Have you read Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus lately? If not, then its time to pick up a copy to celebrate the book’s 10th anniversary.
This is one of those tongue-in-cheek books where the characters interact not with each other, but with the reader. First on is, not the pigeon, but the bus driver. He’s going on a break and will be right back and you, the reader, are to keep a certain feathered fowl from driving his beloved bus.
Why do you need luck? Because Pigeon is no common fowl. He will beg. He will plead. He will demand. And, if all else fails, he will throw one unholy tantrum.
Young readers are going to have no problem whatsoever identifying with Pigeon. He wants so very badly to drive the bus and no one will let him. These same readers will also be pulled in by Willems’ drawings. Adults — do not be fooled. They look crude and overly simple but Willems is a pro at getting emotion and action from broad black lines and some simple color. Page through the book and you will see what I mean. You don’t have to read one single word and you will still know exactly what emotion Pigeon is feeling and this bird is an emotional powder keg.
It’s hard to believe that this book is already ten years old. Pick up a copy today and prepare to laugh with the young book lover in your life.
April 18, 2013
by Marissa Meyer
Feiwel and Friends
Scarlet is about to make a delivery when a message comes through on her portscreen. Although her grandmother has been missing for two weeks, and someone cut out her identity chip before taking her, the police have decided that there is no evidence of a crime. Her grandmother, according to the police, left on her own.
But Scarlet knows that her grandmother wouldn’t just disappear. She has worked too hard to build up this farm in France where Scarlet has lived since she was a child. Grandmother would not just leave. Something must have happened, but what?
Scarlet makes the vegetable delivery and meets one of the customers of the cafe, a young street fighter known as Wolf. In spite of his good looks, something about him makes her uneasy and she turns down his request for a job.
Eventually, Wolf tells her that he knows something about her grandmother, but at that point Scarlet has seen him fight. There is something about him that is strangely animal as if he was truly predatory. Who is he and what is the Order of the Pack? Can she really trust him?
Meanwhile, Cinder (whom readers met in Book 1 of this series, The Lunar Chronicles) is working to break out of jail. She has been helped by a benefactor who gave her a special new cyborg hand. Unlike the old one, which was merely functional, this one has some special surprises.
But breaking out of prison isn’t as easy as she hoped and she ends up taking another prisoner with her — Thorne is vain but intelligent and just happens to have a space worthy ship, something Cinder will need once she gets out of prison. Can she trust him or should she use her Lunar glamour and just steal the ship?
The two story-lines intertwine with that of Emperor Kai, the young man Cinder encountered and fell for in Book 1. Can he save his kingdom without marrying in evil Lunar queen? She offers him one out. Find the escaped Cinder and turn her over for Lunar justice.
Kai still can’t believe that he didn’t know Cinder was both cyborg and Lunar. How could she trick him so completely?
Although he knows he should be focused on finding her, he simply can’t bring himself to wish for that end.
It takes a strong storyteller to weave together multiple story lines but Meyer does it in Scarlet. Two of the lines merge flawlessly into one and the reader can see the third one coming into sight as the book ends. What will happen in Book 3?
But this isn’t one of those endings that disappoints. By the end of the book, Scarlet has found her grandmother and Cinder has escaped and found the person she was told could help. That said, neither girl finds the resolution she had hoped to find and they both learn shocking things about their pasts.
Meyers characters are fully developed and contain a believable mix of both good and bad, not so much bad that you can’t root for them but enough to make them both believable and interesting.
With a reading level of 5.3, this is a book that older elementary students could tackle. There’s a good bit of romance but nothing sexual, beyond serious kissing, happens on screen although there are several points where you think that it may.
Clearly, this book was inspired by Little Red Riding Hood. The main character is Scarlet and she wears a red hoody. She must save her Grandmother. There is a wolf. But don’t expect more than that. Meyer’s has played freely with the story line which probably makes for a more satisfying whole.
In spite of the book’s size, 452 pages, it is a quick read but that ‘s mostly because you won’t get a whole lot done until you finish. Realize, that is a warning.
April 15, 2013
Mary Walker Wears the Pants: The True Story of the Doctor, Reformer, and Civil War Hero by Cheryl Harness, illustrated by Carlo Molinari
Mary Walker Wears the Pants:
The True Story of the Doctor, Reformer, and Civil War Hero
by Cheryl Harness,
illustrated by Carlo Molinari
Albert A. Whitman
People still make comments like this when they think someone is behaving in an unacceptable way. When Mary Walker was a young woman in the 1800s, she earned these comments because she had the nerve to wear pants. That wasn’t the only thing she did that bothered people. She also campaigned to earn women the vote. And, perhaps most scandalous of all, she went to medical school. In 1855, Mary Walker earned her degree and became one of the first female physicians.
With the Civil War, wounded soldiers were sent back to Washington DC so that’s where Mary went. Not that the army would hire her. Women, like Clara Barton and Louisa May Alcott, were nurses, not doctors. So Mary worked as a hospital volunteer, but writing letters and helping the men find checker boards wasn’t enough for Mary so she made her way to the battlefields.
In battlefield hospitals, Mary did all she could. She showed stretcher bearers how to move men to minimize bleeding. She tried to avoid amputation wherever possible. She passed out medicine and bandages.
In 1863, her devotion and hard work paid off. Major General George H. Thomas made her an assistant surgeon in the U.S. Army. Soon Mary was riding cross country in a cut down army uniform.
To learn the rest of Mary’s story, you’ll have to read Cheryl’s book.
Mary impressed me as a woman who didn’t let the opinions of others stop her. When she wasn’t given the job she wanted, she didn’t fuss, she didn’t write angry letters (or maybe she did, but it wasn’t all she did), she used her talents to better the lives of others, pay or no pay.
Carlo Molinari’s realistic, detailed art work adds to the story by setting up a contrast. Here is Mary. Here is everyone else. She was truly a singular woman.
Celebrate Mary Walker with the young reader in your life and inspire them to meet life head on.
April 11, 2013
Searching for a Sea Monster
by Mary M. Cerullo and Clyde F. E. Roper
It isn’t much of a stretch to call the giant squid a sea monster. With lengthy tentacles, suckers lined with tiny teeth and a hooked beak, they seem to be the stuff of nightmares. That’s probably why sailors told so many stories about them attacking ships and pulling men into a watery grave.
For years, the primary evidence for giant squids were the circular scars on the heads and jaws of 70-ton sperm whales. At first, people assumed they were the result of squid attacks on whales. But then whalers harvesting ambergris from the stomachs of sperm whales found something surprising inside the ambergris — the beaks from giant squid. Ambergris formed a protective coating around the beaks so that they wouldn’t harm the whale before being passed from (aka pooped out of) the whale’s system. A beak in a whale’s belly pretty well told the story of a lost fight for the squid. Eventually whalers realized that the whales were feeding on the squid just like people eating calamari.
Clyde Roper is a scientist who studies giant squid. He has examined numerous specimen that have washed up on shore. He also studies whales knowing that if they feed on the squid, they might lead him to live squid. He’s even tried filming the squid with both unmanned and manned submarine. That said, another scientist has captured these mysterious creatures on film.
Longer than your normal picture book, this book is 48 pages long. Not your best bet for a read aloud. The back matter includes both web sites and books with more information on this hidden creature. In addition to the giant squid, there is also information on numerous other cephalopods including nautilus, octopi and other squid both shy and aggressive.
That said older grade school students and middle school students alike will latch onto this picture-filled text about a mysterious deep sea creature. This book is an excellent choice for kids who love the ocean, love aquatic animals or adore a natural mystery (think Big Foot of the Sea!).
April 8, 2013
What to Expect When You’re Expecting Hatchlings:
A Guide for Crocodilian Parents (and Curious Kids)
by Bridget Heos,
illustrated by Stephane Jorisch
Whether you are a crocodilian parent or a reptile loving kid, this book offers up a lot of information in a humorous Question and Answer format that is a take off on What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Heos covers everything from where the nests are located, threats to the eggs and development within the egg itself, to how the young reptiles hatch, whether or not the adult reptiles parent and how old the young are when they strike out on their own.
Even if you know a good bit about crocodiles or alligators, chances are that you are going to learn something new since this book also contains caiman and gharial facts and even mentions muggers, which were completely new to me.
The facts come from the text with Stephane Jorisch’s illustrations providing additional humor with love struck google-eyed crocs and crocs wearing a variety of outfits suitable to what ever task they are undertaking in this particular illustration.
Curious kids will benefit from the listing of web sites and books for further reading. Offer this book up to your reluctant reader who can satisfy his curiosity with one question or four before taking a break. At just over 2000 words, this probably is not an ideal book for young preschoolers unless you have a kid who is simply crazy to learn more about these amazing animals. Slightly older readers will find what effects the percentage of male babies vs female babies fascinating.
Heos and Jorisch are also the pair who brought us What to Expect When You’re Expecting Larvae.
Share this with the young scientist in your life today.
April 4, 2013
Alchemy and Meggy Swann
by Karen Cushman
Meggy doesn’t know why she’s been brought to the crowded, filthy streets of London. Her father did send for her, but she’s never met him, not once in her entire life. Why would he send for her now?
When she does meet him, it doesn’t go particularly well. He’s expecting his new assistant to be a son and a son who can stride through the streets of London. Not only is Meggy a girl, she is a girl who must lean on two sticks to walk. Meggy’s strange waddling gait attracts enough attention that in her home village she was forced to stay out of sight lest the offend customers at the ale house run by her mother.
Fortunately, she has Roger, her father’s former assistant. Roger teaches her how to navigate London’s sometimes crowded always filthy streets. Meggy learns that there are places she cannot go on her own where a man wouldn’t think twice about stealing from her and even knocking her down.
But Meggy also learns that there are people who appreciate her quick wit and sharp tongue. Before long, she’s made friends with the cooper across the street and a nearby printer. Both of them sometimes use her help and always have a kind word. Slowly, even her father seems to warm up a bit and he begins to let her help with his work — the quest to turn other metals into gold.
Unfortunately, making gold takes funds and to do this sometimes an alchemist has to take on morrally questionable jobs. Meggy knows that she must warn his target but how does a poor, crippled girl gain the ear of a Baron?
This is another book with some amazing twists and turns in the plot. You’ll have to read it for yourself to find out anything more because I refuse to give away all of Cushman’s secrets.
As always, Cushman has done an amazing amount of research in pulling together this tale. Meggy is a sharp witted and sharp tongued heroine who holds her own in a world that has little sympathy for the weak or incapable but fortunately she also has help.
I listened to this one as an audio book and this would be a great family “read” for a car trip. With both strong boy and girl characters, this book will appeal to readers of either gender although the appeal for girls will be more obvious. History lovers, thespians and those with an eye for science will all find something to love in this particular story.
April 1, 2013
My Life Next Door
by Huntley Fitzpatrick
Samantha has lived next door to the Garrett’s for years. The Garrett’s are a big, boisterous family with a yard full of toys and a house full of love. Unfortunately, all Samantha’s mother sees is the disorder. Disorder has no place in the life of her mother, the Senator. The woman is so “orderly” that she actually vacuums her way out of the house to keep from leaving tracks on the carpet.
But outside Samantha’s second story bedroom window is a the perfect vantage place on the roof. Perfect for watching the stars. Perfect too for watching the Garrett’s from a safe, envious distance.
Little does Samantha know that one of the Garrett’s has been watching her right back and one day he invites himself up the trellis to say hello. Before she knows it, Samantha is spending almost every day with the Garretts, slipping back home right before her mother walks through the front door and sometimes sneaking off again at night. It doesn’t take long before she’s in love with Jase Garrett and his family too.
I know I fell for the Garrett’s and fell hard. My favorite may very well be worry wart George — a preschooler who gathers facts the way some kids pick up interesting rocks. Unfortunately, he not only gathers them, he worries about them from black holes and tornadoes to blue ring octopus and whether or not bacon comes from Wilbur.
I can’t say a whole lot more without giving away plot that you must discover on your own.
Admittedly, I initially thought I had stumbled across a piece of chick lit. Samantha and Jase are two beautiful people madly in love. Sure, Samantha’s mother is a controlling loon but she’s a rich controlling loon and Samantha actually has it pretty easy even if she does have to listen to her mother’s lectures about bad choices resulting in a tough life. Mom loves to deliver this lecture whenever she sees the Garretts and their many children.
But then Samantha begins to spot imperfections in the lives of those around here and I don’t mean the Garretts. Soon she’s wonders how long she’s been lying to herself about people she’s known her entire life.
Yes, the book has a 4.4 reading level (4th grade, 4th month) but this is not a book for the grade school crowd. These characters ultimately deal with drugs, alcohol, sex and a felony (I won’t say what because, again, I simply refuse to spoil this plot). Everything that happens on screen is fairly mild so this book would be okay for a middle schooler but, again, not a grade schooler.
There’s a lot that goes on here but it would still be a good summer read. There is tons of humor (oh, thank you, George) but enough substance to make you want to continue reading. Fitzpatrick has created a book that deals with personal responsibility and appearances and is a must read for teens dealing with both in a society that emphasizes how you look to far too great an extent, over who you are and how you treat those around you.