June 30, 2014
Hi, Koo! A Year of Seasons
by Jon J. Muth
An adorable panda, Koo, leads readers through the alphabet and the seasons in this light, fast flowing alphabet book.
But don’t think you’ve seen it before. This isn’t a flashy book but it quietly, gently sidesteps expectations. Where most books about the seasons start with spring or summer, this one begins with fall.
That’s not all. A is for autum and B is for Broom but Muth shakes things up a bit. Although he follows the alphabet A-Z, the featured word isn’t always the first word in the poem. This results in a more fluid sound when the book is read aloud and also gives the young reader a bit of a challenge in finding the featured word.
This book would make a good bed time or cuddle time book. It holds up well to being read aloud, it is poetry after all, but this isn’t your loud, raucous read aloud.
When you hear the word haiku, you probably think 5-7-5. The first thing that Jon J. Muth does in this fun alphabet book is flip that notion head over heals. In Japanese, haiku consist of 17 sound units, called on. I’m not sure I understand these units myself but one article I read explained that the word on consists of one English syllable and 2 Japanese on.
Muth’s watercolor and ink illustrations are a strong compliment for the forms emphasis on nature, creating images with strong colors that are still gentle in that they don’t hae hard-edged borders.
Share this book with your young poet and have fun writing haiku that deviate from the American norm.
June 26, 2014
Army Camels: Texas Ships of the Desert
by Doris Fisher
illustrated by Julie Dupre Buckner
In 1856, a ship carrying thirty-three camels sailed from North Africa to Matagorda Bay, Texas. The journey took 3 months and the camels withstood the stormy seas much better than did the two handlers who accompanied them. When they disembarked, there were even 34 camels since one of them had given birth on the journey.
The camels were brought to this country to act as desert transport for the military since the railroads were not yet completed. They could easily go for 3 days without water and feed on the scrub along the way.
That said, they also frightened horses, ate the cacti that had been planted to fence them, and no Army man could stay in the saddle once a camel reached a full gallop. Only their North African handlers could accomplish this feat.
To prove to the local people just how handy these animals could be, the Major in charge took a camel into town. He had his men strap two bales of hay onto the animal. People grumbled. Then he had his men add two more bales for a total of over 1200 pounds, the weight of 6 men. The weight didn’t kill the poor camel as many town’s people worried. It slowly stood and carried the load down the road.
The US Camel Experiment is one of those curiosities of American history. I’d heard about them growing up. After the Civil War, they were auctioned off but stories circulated then, and are told in the light of campfires today, about escaped camels roaming the desert.
Pick this one up for the history buff in your life or the young animal lover. This little known bit of American history is sure to stir the imagination.
June 23, 2014
Rabbit and Robot: The Sleepover
by Cece Bell
Rabbit can’t wait for his best friend Robot to show up. He already has a whole list of sleepover activities planned, starting with Make pizza and ending with Go to bed.
The problems start when they try to make pizza. Robot doesn’t like carrots on his pizza. He likes nuts and bolts. When he helps himself to the nuts and bolts in Rabbit’s table and chairs, Rabbit has a meltdown when the furniture falls apart. Where are they going to eat their pizza? Fortunately, Robot has a solution.
From a missing remote to Robot’s dead batteries, the problems continue but, as in any friendship, the solutions come from both Rabbit and Robot. Each of them helps the other out.
Early readers like this one are essential for many new readers. With large text and not too many words per page, they are a quick read and help young readers build not only skills but confidence.
This one has the added benefit of being all about friendship — each friend wants his way but they have to work their way to an acceptable compromise. This dance will look familiar to any parent whose child is learning to be a good friend. Whether your child is a little uptight and a bit of a control freak, like Rabbit, or someone who marches to his own drummer and is logical too a fault, like Robot, he will find a character to identify with in this book.
Help your young reader learn not only about friendship but also basic reading skills with this fast paced book. Broken into four chapters, a less confident reader can read them one at a time while a more confident reader can easily finish the book in one sitting.
Whether your young reader is an animal lover or a robot fan, check this out today.
June 19, 2014
by Shannon Hale
Maisie Danger Brown can’t believe her luck when she manages to snag a spot at astronaut camp. All her life, Maisie has dreamed of being an astronaut. Home schooled, her parents have never put limits on her in spite of the fact that she only has one arm. She expects comments about it, but the childishness still surprises her.
Then she catches the attention of a good-looking boy who is always the center of a flock of “popular kids.” She’s not sure how she pulls it off but soon she’s Wilder’s girlfriend. For the first time in her life, she ‘s breaking rules and taking chances for no reason other than to have fun.
And camp is fun in addition to being hard work, but the work is worth it. Maisie loves all things astronaut. And her team is good, solving problems quicker than anyone else. Of course, this is what gives them the special opportunity that leads to them all being infected with nanomites — tiny computers that give each of them a special power — super intelligence (Wilder), techno intelligence (Maisie), strength, the ability to generate armor and the ability to fire small items like bullets. Their abilities are so specific; there must be a reason behind it all.
But not everyone handles their powers equally well. Some team members become emotionally unstable. Will they figure it out before the group falls apart?
Admittedly, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Dangerous. I’m a huge Shannon Hale fan but I admittedly prefer her fantasy Goose Girl, Edna Burning, and The Book of a Thousand Days. The characters in Dangerous are just as complex and well drawn as her fantasy characters. Because they populate the near future, the world building isn’t as difficult but I wish Hale had spent a bit more time setting things up.
Still, when things get moving, they get moving and the plot quickly builds. Readers will find themselves rooting for Maisie as they try to sort the good guys from the bad — never an easy task in one of Hale’s books. That said, I think that’s one of her greatest strengths. She shows the fine line between hero and villain and makes it clear that no one, but no one, is without flaw.
Readers who like light science fiction should pick this one up. It isn’t too techno for those who don’t want that aspect and the setting is, for the most part, recognizably Earth and the near-future U.S.
June 15, 2014
by Sally Sutton
illustrated by Brian Lovelock
“Grab your gear. Grab your gear.
Buckle, tie and strap.
Safety jackets, boots, and hats.
Zip! Stamp! Snap!”
So begins Demolition, a brief, punch picture book about the demolition of a building. From the short, snappy text to the fun sound words, this is a book that begs to be read aloud.
As brief as this book is, it is jammed full of action and information from how the building comes down to how the workers deal with what is left. And it doesn’t stop there. Sutton takes readers through the new role for the building site — a role that will be near and dear to the reader.
An author’s note at the end of the book wraps things up with a variety of Machine Facts, inluding the names of the heavy machines that get this job done.
Lovelock’s richly colored illustrations invite the reader into the world of the construction worker. There are clearly both men and women but the workers look child-like enough to appeal to the child reader.
Whether you have a young reader who is into building things or big trucks, pick this one up and try it out for a fun read aloud. That said, with all the sound noises, pick another book for bed time reading. Chose this one before pretend play or time outside. Young readers who like this book might also enjoy Sutton’s Roadwork.
June 12, 2014
One Man Guy
by Michael Barakiva
Farrar Straus and Giroux
“Alek stared at the menu suspiciously. He smelled marinara sauce and a trap.”
So begins One Man Guy although it does take some time before Alek realizes just what the trap is. His Armenian-American parents are simply too busy grilling the waitress about the menu, the ingredients and even the water. When they turn their attention to Alek, he wishes they were back to tormeting the waitress.
It seems that Alek earned C’s in two of his honors classes. If he’s going to stay in the advanced placement track, he is going to have to go to summer school while everyone else in the family goes on vacation.
Alek can’t believe his miserable luck. If he goes to summer school, he can’t go to tennis camp, an event he’s been looking forwardt to the whole long school year. But his parents won’t accept anything less than absolute perfection from their son.
The torment of summer school turns into a blessing when they leave Alek alone and he falls for skater boy Ethan. Up until their first kiss, Alek never even considered the fact that he might be gay but with the kiss many things fall into place. Soon he’s skipping classes to travel from his Jersey home to NYC with Ethan who helps Alek make the transition from uptight Armenian-American to a cooler constietious guy who stands up for what is right.
This won’t click with young readers, but this reminded me of My Big Fat Greek Wedding simply in the over and above way that his parents handle everything and I do mean everything. While they are completely okay with the fact that Alek is gay, they have huge issues with his choice of a boyfriend. Still, they are impressed when their son stands up to them, sighting the traditions of his Armenian family in his arguement.
While this is a book about growing up and being gay, it is so much more. Alek’s biggest concern isn’t his sexuality but learning to appreciate people who are different from you, people you were sure were out to get you.
An excellent summer read with its lovable characters, fast pace and lessons in accepting people based on their best behavior instead of your fears.
June 9, 2014
Why Feet Smell
and Other Gross Facts about Your Body
by Jody Sullivan Rake
From slimy snot and yellow pee to smelly feet and bad breath, this is a fast paced, somewhat icky book about the human body.
None of it is in-depth but there is a surprising amount of information packed into only 583 words. That’s right. 583 words. It is only slightly longer than your average picture book and that’s going to make it a huge hit with kids who are reluctant to read anything dense or long. The reading level is listed as first to second grade. It is also a good choice for the cautious reader because it is divided into chapters of only two pages each — one of text and one photo.
The illustrations are a combination or photographs and cartoony drawings. They are much more humorous than they are disgusting.
The temptation is to say that this is an excellent boy book, and it is. But don’t right it off for the girl in your life who likes science and things that are a little . . . icky, but only a little. There is nothing in here that isn’t age appropriate although after your child reads it you may have to endure a dinner time discussion about farts or urine.
I have to admit that the only reason that I picked this one up is because of an upcoming project. I wanted to check out potential competition. I have to say that one thing that I loved about this book was that it was exactly what it said it was. A book about gross body facts. Period. It didn’t pretent to be a book about gross body facts only to get you to pick up a preachy book about nutrition or health.
So if you’ve tried to find a gross book for your child, only to be disappointed, don’t be afraid to pick this one up. It is what it claims to be while also educating and entertaining. An excellent summer time read.
June 5, 2014
Tap Tap Boom Boom
by Elizabeth Bluemle
illustrated by G. Brian Karas
When the rain starts with a tap tap and a boom boom, the street carts appear. People buy umbrellas and hurry through the down pour, finally taking shelter in the metro station. There strangers chat, listen to music, share pizza and even, when someone needs to head out, give up an umbrella to help someone else out. Finally, the storm lets up and everyone heads out into the sunlight and the puddles . . . until it happens again.
This book isn’t so much a story as a concept — pedestrians in the rain and how a common experience can pull strangers together into a community.
Bluemle’s rhythmic rhyming text creates a fun read aloud experience. You’ll find your young listeners chiming in with the various sound words. And don’t be surprised when they want to talk about times they’ve been caught in a downpour as well as what other types of people the author might have included.
G. Brian Karas’ collage illustrations are a blend of textures as he combines the smooth realistic details of photos with the cartoony look of gauche.
Although the book circles around to a quieter ending, it wouldn’t be a great bed time choice with all the booming and running but it would be a fun way to introduce a group to sound words or weather.