July 29, 2013
by Patricia Polacco
When she was a little girl, Patricia loved to visit her Babushka’s farm. The one thing that she didn’t like were the thunder storms that came rolling across the countryside. This is a story about how Grandma taught her not to be frightened.
Instead of trying to keep Patricia from focusing on the storm, Grandma teachers her to count the seconds to tell how far away the storm is. They have to time things just right if they are going to have time to make a Thunder Cake. A Thunder Cake is more than the eggs and the milk. It is even more than the unusual ingredients like overripe tomatoes.
As the cake bakes, Patricia and Grandma debate. Is Patricia frightened or is she brave. Patricia is convinced that hiding under the bed when the thunder first rumbled makes her frightened. Slowly, Grandma convinces her that gathering all of the ingredients during an approaching storm makes her very brave indeed.
Just as the storm rolls across the farm, Grandma puts the finishing touches on the cake — chocolate frosting and strawberries.
Yes, I’ve clearly been on a Patricia Polacco kick lately. When I read one book that I like by an author, even a favorite author like Polacco, I then request more of this person’s books.
What can I say? I love the cozy, homey details of Polacco’s books. I love that instead of lecturing her granddaughter to be brave or telling her to ignore the storm, Grandma gets her to track the storm while urging her to brave pecking chickens and garden trellises to gather the ingredients for a treat that simply cannot wait for a young girl to gather her courage. Before Patricia knows what’s happening, they have a cake and an amazing story to tell.
Readers can even make their own thunder cake with the recipe included by Polacco. Timing it just right with the storm is something you have to undertake all on your own.
July 25, 2013
Librarian on the Roof! A True Story
by M.G. King,
illustrated by Stephen Gilpin
Albert Whitman and Company
Lockhart, Texas may have the oldest library in all of the great state of Texas, but what it doesn’t have is many patrons. It is dim and quiet and a little ho hum at least until RoseAleta Laurrell comes through the doors. It isn’t long at all before the new librarian is shaking things up. New books and new magazines drew the people back but none of these people were children and RoseAleta wanted the children to visit most of all.
Her solution? The planned an area with computers and kid-friendly furniture. There would be colorful artwork and all kinds of fun.
People wanted to help. They offered to hold bake sales but RoseAleta knew that it would take more than a few cup cakes to raise $20,000 so she took to the roof.
Fifty feet up, she used a sling shot to fling water balloons at the laughing children. She called down to the grown ups that she wouldn’t come down until all of the money had been raised. News spread and people came to see. They brought her breakfast and left behind donations. They took her picture and dropped off coins. In just a few days she had over $10,000 but RoseAleta knew that wasn’t enough. Each night she crawled back into her tiny tent, not even coming down when it stormed.
In 7 days, they had raised over $39,000 dollars, enough for the new children’s section RoseAleta had planned and even more. But RoseAleta didn’t take credit for the success. She knew it had taken the whole town with just a little nudge from one very determined librarian.
What an inspirational book! And the most amazing thing is that it is based on a true story.
Share this book with the young reader in your life who is facing a big task or who needs to see what amazing things kids can help do. But also share it with the adults in your life who need to see what you can do when you try the unexpected.
July 22, 2013
Every You, Every Me
by David Levithan
photos by Jonathan Farmer
Alfred A. Knopf
Evan is just drifting through life without his best friend. He doesn’t think anyone much notices him, not in any way that matters, until he finds the first photo. He isn’t even sure that it’s for him until he finds several more, including one taped inside his locker. This one is definitely meant for him, but no one but Ariel, his best friend, knows his locker combination and she’s not here anymore. Soon he’s looking all around for not only the photos but also the photographer and trying to figure out just how much she knows about what he did to Ariel and who on earth she is.
Levithan has created a moody, first person novel. It is told from the point of view of Evan, a loner who had something to do with the disappearance of Ariel. The reader doesn’t find out what happened until near the end of the book but it is clear by the text that Evan has crossed out that he is carrying a huge load of guilt. Whether or not it is deserved is anyone’s guess until the very end.
Throughout the text are photos. Some are of people. Others are landscapes. Evan has to piece together where they were taken as well as who the photographer is before he can come to understand Ariel and himself just a bit better, because, clearly, he didn’t know her nearly as well as he thought.
Evan isn’t alone in his quest although he is by far the most enthusiastic seeker. Jack, Ariel’s ex-boyfriend, is also along for the ride although much more reluctantly. He worried about Evan’s inability to move on but also madder than hell that Evan questions whether or not he really cares.
Levithan has created a novel that keeps you flipping the pages because you have to find out what happened in the past to understand what is going on in the present; his writing is a lot like life that way.
This is a quick read even when it isn’t a particularly easy read. Still, it is one that I would highly recommend. It would be an excellent talking point on friendship, personal responsibility and innocence vs guilt.
July 18, 2013
by E. E. Charlton-Trujillo
Angie can’t get over the fact that no one else believes that her sister might still be alive. Yes, serving in Iraq is a risky thing but her sister is no quitter. If only Angie herself had the same willpower, but she doesn’t. She’s just Fat Angie, the girl that absolutely everyone picks on. She can’t even connect with her therapist.
And then on day one of the popular jocks sticks up for her. Angie isn’t sure what’s up — Jake has never been mean to her but he was always her sister’s friend. They’ve never really even spoken to each other but all of a sudden he’s there, but so is someone else.
And it’s KC Romance who takes Angie’s breath away. Its clear from the moment that she saunters into the gym that KC is someone and she isn’t taking crap from anyone — popular kids, jocks or teachers. She is who she is and the world had better take notice.
I don’t want to say a whole lot about this book because I don’t want to give anything whatsoever away. Suffice it to say that Angie isn’t a quitter either, it just takes her a while to find her courage. When she does, she forces those around her to give pay attention. It’s an eye opening experience for one and all even if some of them don’t like what they see. In the end, Angie ends up with a friend (Jake), a girl friend (KC) and the space at home that she needs to be.
I love that this book deals with issues of sexuality without that being the be-all-and-end-all of the plot. It is one of the many things that Angie is forced to sort out and something that wasn’t even on her radar when the story begins.
This is much much more a book about people being more than one you see on the surface. The girl who looks like a total wreck has hidden reserves and just needs a team to help her believe in herself. The girl who seems to have it all together is actually a bit broken inside and needs the strength of others to move forward. And the popular jock who could fit in with anyone he wants may choose to hang with a mess and a trouble maker and in doing so help them to see that he too has lost something in this world. No one’s life, after all, remains untouched by loss.
This one is a must read for so many reasons.
July 15, 2013
I Can Hear the Sun
written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco
Those of us who love Polacco’s books are in for a new treat with I Can Hear the Sun.
Stephanie Michele is an animal keeper at Lake Merritt nature preserve in California. One day she spots a little boy who sits on the bench. He’s always alone and he never speaks. He just watches the geese.
The geese are Stephanie Michele’s favorites too. She invites the boy, Fondo, to help her feed the geese. Fondo lives in a nearby children’s home. Soon he is helping put out feed, and grass and cleaning the ponds. Then he spots one goose who doesn’t move around as well as the others. The little goose in blind and must be hand fed. Before long, Fondo has taken over her care. He holds her and rocks her and she follows him everywhere.
When other adults ask Stephanie Michele about Fondo, she explains that she has been listening to the sun. It tells her what is in the hearts of people and animals and what they need to thrive. Its the same way that she understands the geese.
She soon realizes that Fondo also speaks to the geese. When she asks, he admits that he can also hear the sun. But he doesn’t do well in school. When the teachers give him special tests, he flunks one after another. They tell him that he will be sent away.
But there is someplace that Fondo is wanted and the geese invite him to fly away with them.
Polacco’s books are always about family and connection, but this one reminded me a lot of the Native American tales in which the boundary between the human and animal worlds is elastic. Animals speak and very special people can cross from one to the other. My initial reaction was that the youngest readers would be confused by this elasticity but on reflection I think that it is older readers who will have a problem. Younger reader except many things that seem to fantastic for us which is too bad. We miss a lot, but we can begin to catch up when we pick up this book.
July 8, 2013
Crazy Horse’s Vision
by Joseph Bruchac,
illustrated by S.D. Nelson
Lee and Low Books
Crazy Horse wasn’t like those around him. Other babies are born crying. Crazy Horse watched the world around him. Most Lakota have straight hair but he had curly hair so his parents called him Curly.
Curly might be smaller than the other boys but he was strong. His friends followed him into the river to swim, across the plains on their horses and up the mountains to where the bald eagles nest. When he was only 11, he gentled a wild horse that his father brought into the camp. Curly rode this horse on his first buffalo hunt.
It might sound like Curly had a wonderful childhood but he lived in an area that was being crowded by Wasichu (white) settlers. His people and the Wasichu lived such different lives that misunderstandings were inevitable and with the U.S. Army present, these miunderstandings ended badly for the Lakota. After a brave killed a settler’s cow that was trampling the camp, the Army fired into the camp in spite of Lakota attempts to repay the settler. Curly saw it all happen and left the camp on his horse to seek out a vision about how to help his people.
Because he went on this vision quest without the help and advice of his elders, his father didn’t want to hear about his vision. It wasn’t until he became a better person, living to help those around him that his father asked what he had seen. That was the day that he came to be known as Tashunka Witco, or Crazy Horse in English.
Crazy Horse led his people by giving generously and always being willing to take on tasks himself. This isn’t a comprehensive biography, telling Crazy Horse’s story from birth until death but it is a touching story of how a young boy comes to be a leader.
Nelson is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. He patterns his artistic style after the ledger drawings; this is especially obvious on the paintings used to decorate the end papers of this book. You will know the style by the black line outlines and bright colors used to fill each space.
This isn’t a new book but it is a favorite of mine and still available in paperback. I’m lucky to have a hard back library addition, purchased at a library sale.
This isn’t a suitable story for preschoolers, because of the killings committed by the Army but it provides older children with an example of someone who led not for his own benefit but to help his people.
July 5, 2013
The Race to Build — and Steal — the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon
by Steve Sheinkin
Roaring Brook Press
It all began with a simple, but amazing discovery.
In December of 1938, a German chemist split a Uranium atom, releasing a small amount of energy. It wasn’t much but it was from only one atom. How much energy would be produced if a mass of atom were split at one time? Soon scientists in Europe and the U. S. began to experiment and while they experimented, they theorized. What could be done with this amazing energy?
It wasn’t long before they realized the military implications and by then the world was at war. Who ever figured out how to use this science to build a bomb would certainly win the war and the race was on. Could the Americans build it before the Germans? And if they couldn’t do it in a straight fight, what would it take to bring the German advances to a halt.
This is an amazingly complex story.
- It involves scientists like Robert Oppenheimer who worked long hours trying to split atoms but also do it in a controlled manner. Unbelievably, one of the early reactions was created in the middle of a Chicago with scientists nervously monitoring radiation levels while life went on, unaware, around them.
- It involves Norwegian commandos given the job of halting production of heavy water at a plant in German held Norway. They scaled cliffs, waded rivers and hiked mountain passes, all in freezing weather, to complete a mission that had seen the death of every British soldier assigned to the task.
- It involves American soldiers and spies, given the task of removing scientists from German control if the German’s seemed likely to complete a bomb. Kidnapping might work but assassination is a much more permanent solution.
As I read this story, I was continually amazed at how many things worked out without unstoppable chain reactions or other disasters in spite of the fact that scientists were struggling with something they were only coming to understand.
Sheinkin doesn’t ignore the ethical or moral implications of this work, covering the reactions of the scientists themselves when they realized how powerful were their creations. He also discusses Truman’s decision to use the bombs on civilian targets as well as the following nuclear proliferation and contemporary dismantling of some of the weapons that have been stockpiled.
As Sheinkin notes, this is an amazing story of cooperation and discovery as well as responsibility. And it is a story that is not yet finished.
Although this isn’t light reading, it is a compelling book, both by topic and through Sheinkin’s amazing story telling skills. I don’t know that I would consider it a beach read but it is something that science geeks and history buffs alike could use to while away a summer afternoon.
July 1, 2013
How to Babysit a Grandpa
by Jean Reagan,
illustrated by Lee Wildish
Alfred A. Knopf
Babysitting a Grandpa can seem pretty intimidating. What do they eat? What activities are appropriate? How do you keep them safe on a walk? Fortunately, Jean Reagan has pulled together a wealth of tips in this fun how-to. Grandpa care has never been easier.
As an adult, you will assume this is a tongue-in-cheek how-to where the baby sitter is actually the grandpa (duh) and we just want the oh so precious child to think he’s the boss. And if that’s what you want to believe, than the joke is on you.
Sure, there is a certain amount of that but this book has so much more including great grandpa games, because adults really are hard to entertain, what to do when Grandpa falls asleep, because you know it’s going to happen, and how to reassure him that Mom and Dad really are going to come home, because you’ve caught him gazing at the front door. Again. Last but not least, there is an amazing spread on letting Grandpa know just how much the day meant to you.
Lee Wildish’s cartoony illustrations add to the fun but he clearly gets the point of this book. You will laugh, or at least smile and nod, but it is a great story about connecting across the generations.
While Grandpa would probably enjoying reading this book to his grandchildren, this would also be a great way to introduce the idea of having Grandpa babysit to a young child. It is a fairly quiet book so it would be better for lap time reading than a bit story time but it is also touching enough to stand up to repeated readings.