January 30, 2014
by Aaron Reynolds
illustrated by Dan Santat
It isn’t easy being a carnivore. People think it is — after all, the call the lion the “King of the Beasts.” But what people don’t realize is that even a carnivore can have sensitive feelings and it hurts when the other animals call you “bad kitty” or comment on your “feeding frenzies.”
Given their special social issues, it shouldn’t have been surprising when the lion, the great white shark and the timber wolf started meeting. After all, who better to understand what is going on in your head than another carnivore. What can they do to stop the hurt feelings?
The answer they came up with: become vegetarian. Not surprisingly, it didn’t work.
I don’t want to go into more detail about the actual story because I don’t want to spoil the plot. Suffice it to say that it is hilarious in a slightly warped kind of way. Okay, maybe more than slightly warped. Let’s just say that after several humorous attempts to be someone (or something) they aren’t, the carnivores learn to embrace what makes them unique.
Not only is the text extremely funny, Santat builds on this in his illustrations. Be sure to read the signs and dry erase boards in the background when the carnivores are meeting. And do pay attention to the secondary characters — the bunnies don’t mean to be funny, but in their own vapid way they may be the funniest part of the book.
This may be more of a boy book than a girl book or maybe you just need to be a wee bit warped to truly appreciate it. Frankly, I tempted to buy it for my fourteen-year-old son, the self-described carnivore.
I’d love to deliver this review with no warnings, but I do have one. If you are a vegetarian with no sense of humor, don’t pick this book up. You may very well be offended. If you fail to heed my warning and are offended … oh, well. You can’t say I didn’t warn you.
PS Watch the trailer below. If you laugh, check out the book! If you don’t, there is no help for you. I’m sorry.
January 27, 2014
by Lemony Snicket
illustrated by Jon Klassen
Little Brown and Company
Lazlo was afraid of the Dark. If you live in certain places this might not matter but Lazlo lived in a big house with stair cases, shower curtains and corners. At night, the Dark crept through the house, under the creaky roof, but in the day time it retreated to the basement.
Lazlo tried to keep the Dark happy, more or less, by visiting it every morning. He’d open the basement door, greet the dark and then go on about his day. Lazlo thought that if he visited the Dark in its room, it would leave him alone in his.
Then one night the bulb in his nightlight burned out and the Dark called him to follow. Lazlo wasn’t sure why he should follow or where he was going but he clicked on his flashlight and followed.
I’m not going to spoil the ending the suffice it to say that nothing terrifying happens and by the last page, actually several pages before this, Lazlo is no longer afraid of the dark.
I love that this deals with such a common fear without ever condescending to the reader. There’s no “dont’ be afraid” or “it’s silly to be afraid.” Lazlo is afraid. Period. That’s what matters. I also love that Lazlo works through it himself — that means with no adult interference or involvement by older siblings. In fact, there are only two characters in the entire book — Lazlo and the Dark.
Jon Klassen’s illustrations are a perfect compliment to this text with broad swaths of darkness dominating some pages and lurking in the corners of others. There is also light, because you really can’t appreciate darkness without at least a little light, but the colors are muted and sunset rich. He also provides visual cues to let the reader see for themselves that Lazlo is no longer afraid; early in the story, Lazlo moves about in the evening with a flashlight. Late in the story, the flashlight is no longer needed.
Pick up this picture book today and share it with the young reader in your life. Even if they aren’t afraid of the dark, they will appreciate Lazlo’s ability to solve his own problems.
January 24, 2014
The Man with the Violin
by Kathy Stinson
illustrated by Dusan Petricic
It was January 12, 2007 when world famous violinist Joshua Bell took part in an experiment. With his Stradivarius, he went to a metro station in Washington DC and played. He played for almost 45 minutes and in all that time more than 1000 people walked past. Only seven of these people stopped.
There were more people who wanted to stop. Every single child who came upon this experiment tried to stop. Every single one. Sadly, whatever adult these children were with rushed them on to do other things.
This is the fictionalized story of one of those children.
I didn’t know that when I picked up this book but as I read, I wondered. I had heard about the experiment when it took place but now I couldn’t remember the musician’s name. Please don’t think any less of Joshua Bell because of this. I’m just like that with names. But this book fascinated me. Why? Why couldn’t we have been there? Because, music mad fools that we are, we would have stopped.
This book is a beautiful reminder to keep your eyes and your heart open. Stinson’s story is simple and straightforward and works beautifully with Petricic’s illustrations which depict not only the clamor of our every day world but also the smooth power of the music. I have to admit, I also love the way Petricic demonstrates Dylan’s ability to notice things vs his mother’s hurried inability.
The good news is that although Mom refused to stop in the subway, she and Dylan hear a news story about the experiment that very night. Putting aside her dinner preparations, Mom and Dylan let the music wrap around them.
Realistic but hopeful, this is an excellent choice for story time and special together time. Share it with the young reader who opens your eyes to the wonders in our world.
January 21, 2014
What Will Hatch
by Jennifer Ward,
Illustrated by Susie Ghahremani
Walker Books for Young Readers
Eggs come in all shapes and sizes. They can be found in all kinds of places — in nests, in gel underwater, on the undersides of leaves and even on top of Dad’s feet. Just as varied is what will emerge once the egg hatches.
Ward’s text is super simple. On one spread, the reader encounters a question such as “Yellow, tiny. What will hatch?” Once the page is turned — the answer.
It may seem a bit simple but the execution is really clever. Ward uses her ultra-brief text to introduce young readers to animals from all kinds of ecosystems from all over the world. The cast of characters includes sea turtles and crocodiles as well as robins and platypuses.
Illustrator Susie Ghahremani makes use paper engineering in a unique way. Each image of eggs includes cut outs but there cut outs aren’t terribly obvious. Why? Because the background that you see through the cut out is the correct color for each egg. When the reader turns the page, the hole is again worked into the illustration.
The back matter includes a bit more information on each animal including time in the egg as well as information about mom and dad and any siblings. There is also a timeline of sorts showing a chicken’s developmental stages within the egg.
This isn’t an in-depth look at eggs or oviparous (egg-laying) animals but it is a fun introduction for the toddler or preschool reader in your life.
January 16, 2014
by Dori Chaconas
January 13, 2014
by JoAnn Early Macken
illustrated by David Walker
January 8, 2014
A Black Hole is Not a Hole
by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano
illustrated by Michael Carroll
If a black hole isn’t a hole, then what is it?
DeCristofano answers this question from two different theoretical perspectives. The first she uses is the more common.
A black hole is a place with powerful gravity. It is so strong that nothing, including light, can escape. That’s why it looks like a hole. The light that would normally reflect back to the viewer can’t reflect off the matter that is here. Without this ability to reflect light back to a viewer, the viewer is unable to see what is there.
At the center of a black hole is a collection of incredibly dense matter. It is so dense that the gravitational pull it generates is inescapable.
Because black holes are so very far from earth, and nothing can get close to one and then move away, scientists study them by taking readings of various kinds (xrays, etc.), making observations, and conducting thought experiments. The part that I found most interesting is that light traveling near a black hole is bent and often splits. Remember that light carries images to the human eye. If the light traveling around the hole doesn’t join up again perfectly, scientists observing black holes will see the same image in multiple places. This lets them know that someone back behind these images is a black hole.
Although this is a highly illustrated book, don’t let that fool you into thinking its a picture book. This is a book for older elementary students and middle school students. The material it covers is actually complex enough to keep high schoolers and adults engrossed as well.
In addition to discussing the history of the study of black holes, DeCristofano also goes into Einstein’s slightly different theory of space, matter and gravity. According to Einstein, gravity isn’t the effect of two objects acting on each other. It is the effect that matter has on space itself. An object in space presses something of a depression into space, the deeper the depression (stronger the gravity) depending on the density of the object. Because the matter at the center of a black hole is so dense, it is a pressing a vary deep dimple into matter. In that sense, a black hole, if not a hole, is at least a very deep well in the matter around it.
Writers are constantly told not to dumb down their material and DeCristofano definitely took this lesson to heart. Any middle school science classroom would benefit from this book and it is sure to generate a host of debates and discussions.
January 6, 2014
The Dragon Prince:
A Chinese Beauty and the Beast Tale
by Laurence Yep,
illustrated by Kam Mak
Once there was a poor farmer with seven daughters. The land they farmed was so bad that they grew more rocks than rice. In spite of the hardships of their lives, his youngest daughter, Seven, was beautiful, kind and industrious. When her older sister finds a snake, instead of letting the other girl kills it, Seven removes it from the field and sets it free. In true fairy tale fashion, the snake turns into a dragon.
The dragon captures the old farmer and tells him that if one of his daughter’s doesn’t agree to be the dragon’s wife, he will eat the old man up. Predictably, it is only Seven who agrees to sacrifice herself for her father. But this is a fairy tale. Instead of getting eaten by a dragon, the dragon turns into . . . can you guess . . . a handsome prince.
I’m a sucker for both fairy tale variants from around the world and also Chinese folk tales so this was solid gold for me. As is the case with many folk tales, none of the characters have names, but instead go by their positions in the tale — Dragon/Handsome Prince, Father, and the many daughters but their order in the family.
The richness of color in Kam Mak’s paintings make them a perfect compliment to this story of treasure, wealth of character and deeper beauty.
As is the case with many folk tales, this story is a little longer than the average picture book so it may not be entirely suitable to very young readers although older children would find it fun to compare with other Beauty and the Beast Tales.
If you aren’t used to Chinese tales, you may be
January 2, 2014
Come See the Earth Turn:
The Story of Leon Foucault
by Lori Mortensen
illustrations by Raul Allen
No one expected great things from Leon Foucault. He was a small baby, then a small boy. The last one to finish his lessons and too slow to answer questions in class.
But slow wasn’t always a bad thing. Not when it accompanied precise. These traits paired together as Leon duplicated scientific contraptions, such as the optical telegraph that topped Saint Sulpice Church.
Someone with such clever hands should only have one job, said his mama and she enrolled him in medical school. This proved to be a disaster, he could handle neither the blood or the suffering patients, but he was a marvel with the microscopes and other equipment. One of his professors got him a job as an assistant in the microscope class.
This freed Leon from thinking about medicine. He turned his thought to science. For centuries scientists had been trying to prove that the earth spins on an axis. While working with a lathe, Leon realized how he could prove this. When he had built his pendulum, he send out invitations.
“You are invited to come see the earth turn, tomorrow from three to five at the Meridian Hall of the Paris Observatory.”
Everyone knew that the pendulum would swing back and forth in a straight line, over the line drawn on the floor. But that isn’t what happened. As the earth rotated beneath the pendulum, the path of the pendulum seemed to shift.
This is an amazing book about how scientific discovery works. It isn’t always accomplished by the greatest minds or those with the most money. Sometimes the answers come to people who are working on something else entirely, but happen to observe something and understand what they see.
Another must for the young science classroom!