August 28, 2014
The Fantastic Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau
by Dan Yaccarino
Alfred A. Knopf
How did Jacques Cousteau end up devoting his life to the sea? Doctors orders.
It all started when he was a small boy, small and sick. The doctor told him to swim to build his strength. Jacques found that he loved the water. He also loved tinkering with gadgets and building things.
As a young man, he was in a serious car accident. Doctors said he would have to wear arm braces throughout his life. Jacques returned to the sea and swam every day, growing stronger and stronger. Looking through a pair of swim goggles, he discovered the life teaming in the Mediterranean.
He could only see so much from the surface but underwater suits were clumsy. Jacques invented the first tanks and was soon swimming under water seeing what he could see.
From the Meditarranean, Jacques explored the oceans of the world. When he made his way make to the Mediterranean, he was horrified by the polution and the damage that he saw all around him. No longer a simple explorer, Jacques was now an advocate for the sea, pushing people to conserve and preserve this amazing resource.
Bold bright illustrations make this book a marvelous read aloud for a group. Students will learn about early ocean science and conservation as well as just how much one man can accomplish. Notes in the back of the book give additional information about Cousteau and also provide resources for additional study.
As always Yaccarino’s paintings bring life and vigor to the subject.
This book would make a great gift for fans of Cousteau or anyone interested in the sea or conservation. Consider giving it as a gift to any adults who grew up watching The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau.
August 25, 2014
All the Way to America:
The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel
by Dan Yaccarino
Alfred A. Knopf
Michele Iaccrino grew up on a farm in Sorrento. His father gave him a small shovel and he used to to tend zucchini, tomatoes and strawberries. As he grew up, he learned to put in a good effort and to love his family. When he journeyed to America, he brought the little shovel with him.
The shovel passes from father to son. It is used on the farm to dig in the soil, in a bakery to scoop flour, on a pushcart to measure fruits and nuts, at a barber shop to scoop salt in the winter, on and on. The family, called the Yaccarinos since Michele entered this country, and the shovel make their way from New York City into the countryside and back into the city.
But wherever they are, they are a family working together. Husband and wife. Parents and children. Together they make a life to share with each other.
You don’t have to be from a big Italian family to love this book. It is a story of family and traditions and how both adapt through time and place. They aren’t a unit because they pass a trade from person to person, but they do pass down a set of values which adapt and change to fit each person’s circumstances.
Yaccarino’s paintings are bright and slightly cartoony and help give the story a contemporary feel although it stretches back over 100 years. Need a book on tradition that doesn’t center on the holidays? Use this story as a jumping off point to discuss tradition, family, immigration, and history.
August 21, 2014
At Her Majesty’s Request
by Walter Dean Myers
She was only a small child when almost everyone in her village was killed by women warriors. They took the princess and several other people back to their king, Gezo. He told the girl she would be safe. The people who took care of her told her tales of human sacrifice. Two years later, she was brought out to be part of a very special blood sacrifice. The Dahomans honored their ancestors through sacrifice. This sacrifice was also designed to show a British military officer the might of the Dahomey. He was there to put a stop to slavery but even the might British empire couldn’t stop King Gezo whether he chose to sacrifice these people or sell them.
Fortunately, Commander Forbes was determined not to let this child die. He made it clear that Queen Victoria would never kill an innocent child. Furthermore, she would never respect a ruler who did. The girl, named by the commander Sarah Forbes Bonetta, was given to Forbes as a gift for Queen Victoria.
Queen Victoria took a special interest in the girl’s life, paying for her education. When she returned to Africa, she was better educated than the missionary women who thought that Africans were not capable of teaching their own children.
As is always the case with a historic figure, there are gaps in this somewhat sparse story but it doesn’t make Sarah’s life any less fascinating. Here is a girl who escaped both slaver and human sacrifice, only to have almost no control over her own life. In part, this was because she was upper class in Victorian England. Where a poor woman might support herself, an educated woman had to marry. But Sarah may have had even less control than other upper class women, not because of her race but because she had attracted the attention of the Queen. When Victoria decided you should move from England to Sierra Leone and back again, it wasn’t an item for discussion. Happy with the decision or angry, you packed up and moved.
I’m not sure how I missed this book when it came out in 1999. I recently learned about it when Walter Dean Myers died. I wanted to sample his work but through a wholy unfamilear book. I’m not sure this book is still in print but it is worth finding. I requested it from my local library.
August 18, 2014
by Dan Yaccarino
Alfred A. Knopf
Every day, a young bot named Doug is plugged in by his parents. They plug him to fill him up with facts. On the day he learns about the city, he learns about the number of people, trash cans, man holes, pigeons and more. As these facts flow into his brain, something grabs Doug’s attention…
He instantly recognizes the bird on the windowsill as a pigeon but no where in the download did Doug hear the funny noise the pigeon makes. What else is he missing?
With that question in mind, Doug unplugs.
On the surface, this is a fun story about a boy who ventures out into the city and makes a friend, learns more about the city than ever before and even learns a bit about a whole new topic — family.
On a deeper level, this is a story about the modern age, a time when we can learn more than ever before without ever interacting with another human being or feeling the sun on our faces. We can learn a lot, but we fail to learn just as much.
Yaccarino’s illustrations are, appropriately enough, composed with a brush and ink as well as finishing touches on Photoshop. Bold bright colors give a cartoon-feel to a topic that could easily become to weighty and serious. The vintage 1960s look of the artwork compliments the “here-and-now” feel of the story.
At only 555 words, this is a quick read. It has a cozy enough feel for a bed time story. The topic lends itself to discussion, but it doesn’t have the lively chorus of many story time books. That said, it would make a good lead into a talk about learning, technology or experience.
Plug into this one with the young reader in your life.
August 14, 2014
The Castle Behind the Thorns
by Merrie Haskell
Katherine Tegan Books
Middle Grade Novel
Sand doesn’t immediately know where he is when he wakes up in an ashy fireplace. Eventually, he ventures out amid a jumble of broken tables and shattered benches into a room torn apart.
He is in the Sundered Castle.
The castle, battered, broken and desserted, stands above the valley where Sand lives with his blacksmith father, his step-mother and his two younger sisters. As a child, he asked questions about it — what happened? why does no one live there? But the answers (earthquake, fled) where given only grugdingly. For some reason, most people in the valley neither saw it nor thought about it. Even Sand eventually quit asking, but now he needs to find a way out and that presents a problem. The castle is surrounded by a murderous raspberry bramble.
Murderous. These thorns don’t just wait until you snag yourself. If you get too close, they come and get you.
As if all of that isn’t enough, the girl in the crypt comes back to life.
This is clearly a work of fantasy, a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, but it is fantasy steeped in history.
As always, Haskell’s story drew me in and refused to let me get anything else done until the last page was turned. Yes, I read most of this in 1 day although I had other things to do.
As is so often the case, the best lessons are taught through story and not through a lecture. This is a strong story about the destructive power of hate and anger and greed. It shows clearly that it may take more than one person to create the problem but not everyone has to cooperate for healing to begin. And healing, even imperfect partial healing, is a powerful thing.
Don’t let the above paragraph make you think this is a dark story. It is also a story of family, intention, understanding and strong friendship.
This is probably my favorite of Haskell’s books (The Castle Behind the Thorns, The Princess Curse, and The Handbook for Dragon Slayers). Pick it up for your young fantasy lover, but don’t be suprised if you find yourself pulled in my this tale of brambles and sleep and vengence.
August 11, 2014
A Super Chicken
by Sarah Dillard
Warren wasn’t the only chicken on the farm. In fact, he was one of many. The chickens spent all day, every day, pecking for chicken feed.
The tedium was more than Warren could stand. It had to stop.
He wasn’t sure why it bored him silly when all of the other chickens were happy, but Warren understood one thing. He was no ordinary chicken.
Warren is off exploring the farm when he comes across Willard monologuing about special chicken. Unfortunately, Willard is a rat so when he says “special chicken” he means something completely different from what Warren.
Willard is looking for an amazing meal. Thanks to Warren, he spots the other chickens.
Warren starts thinking of himself as a special chicken, a super chicken . . . Chicken Supreme! But will he be super enough to save the day?
From the cover, you might assume this is a picture book but it is a graphic novel hybrid — approximately 64 pages to a picture book’s 32. I say hybrid because the book combines blocks of text with the cells (art and text blocks) of the graphic novel. The illustrations are color and simply but also surprisingly expressive. There will be no doubt in the young reader’s mind that Willard is devious or when Warren is conflicted.
Dillard uses the graphic novel format to its fullest to explore Warren’s world, his developing friendship with egg, and what it means to be a super chicken.
At almost 64 pages, the book might be long for your picture book fan but it is an excellent choice for a reluctant reader who dreads large blocks of text. Yes, there are blocks of text but they are not overwhelming. It would be a fun shared read with you reading one spread and your young reader taking the other.
If you have a young book lover who is drawn to the graphic novel format, this is a perfect compromise. Written for ages 6-9, it is serious and has tension but they are age appropriate and won’t overwhelm a younger reader.
Share this one for an eggstraordinaryly quirky super hero and his up-and-coming sidekick.
August 8, 2014
The Three Ninja Pigs
by Corey Rosen Schwartz
illustrated by Dan Santat
Once upon a time, or so the story goes, times were dangerous and a wolf went around blowing down houses until three pigs decided that they had had enough. They enrolled in the local ninja school.
Suffice it to say that all three pigs were not equally good students. The first little pig quickly grew bored. He could say he studied and that might have been enough if his house wasn’t made out of straw.
The second little pig could put on a good show but that wasn’t enough to save his bamboo house.
Fortunately, their sister, the third pig, had dedicated herself to her studies, emerging from the school with her final belt.
Whether your young reader loves fractured fairy tales, studies tae kwan do or is a fan of martial arts movies, there is a lot to love in this tale. Schwartz’s story is fast-paced with humorous dialogue, just like in the movies, and Santat’s illustrations pack a humorous punch. I especially love the “power lines” that radiate out whenever our porcine heroine strikes a victorious blow.
In terms of book design think graphic novel with panels and flamboyant action.
And if you read this at bed time, don’t be surprised when your little pig ends up standing on the bed practicing kicks and punches.
August 4, 2014
Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook for Young Readers and Eaters
by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple
illustrated by Philippe Beha
Do you have a young reader who likes hands on involvement in the stories? Or maybe a bit of background information? Then check out Fairy Tale Feasts.
This book is a collection of traditional fairy tales and one original tale by Yolen. The stories range from the well-known, such as Cinderella and Red Riding Hood, to the less known, The Stolen Bread Smells and the Magic Pear Tree. Each story is accompanied by side bars with notes on the tales, including where they come from and variations on the tale as presented.
The language of these tales has a modern feel and some of the tales include modern details, such as calling 911. Before you object, realize that these stories would originally have been told, not written, with details massaged and adjusted for time and place. Even as she makes these modernizations, Yolen stays true to the original tales like the folklorist she is.
Stemples contribution spans the recipes that accompany each story. They range from a simple porridge (oatmeal) recipe to like stuffed shells and pear grumble. Although older children might be able to cook many of the recipes on their own, younger children will need assistance which is perfect because these types of stories are a community effort. Why not follow a similar path with the recipes.
Philippe Beha’s full page illustrations contribute to the modern feel of this book with cartoony, slightly abstract images that keep the tone lively.
This is the perfect book for sharing with short pieces that can easily be read aloud at one sitting followed by recipes that beg for hands on fun. Pick it up and spend some times with your young story teller or chef.
August 1, 2014
The Fourteenth Goldfish
by Jennifer Holm
When Ellie is in preschool, her teacher gives each child in the class a gold fish. The explanation that she gives the parents is simple. Goldfish don’t last very long and owning one will teach your child about life and death and loss. To her amazement, Goldie lives for 7 years until one morning Ellie finds her fishing floating bellie up in its bowl.
Not only is this the day that Ellie finds her fish floating, it is also the day that she discovers that her mother has been replacing dead fish with live fish for 7 long years. Goldie the First only lived for 2 weeks. This was Goldie Unlucky 13.
Ellie is waiting for her mother to get home when she gets the news. Mom might be a while. She’s at the police station getting Ellie’s grandfather. Ellie can’t imagine what kind of trouble her grandfather might have caused. After all, he’s old. What she isn’t expecting is her mother to return home with a thirteen year-old boy, a thirteen-year old boy who seems vaguely familiar, has out of control curly hair just like hers and dresses like an old man.
Apparently, her grandfather’s lastest science experiment was a success. Based on the regenerative properities of a certain jelly fish, he is once again a teenager and was caught entering his own labs.
As a teen, he is forced to attend middle school, a fate he bemoans. Ellie finds herself drawn to him as he teachers her about the scientific method and the scientists who plied it to unlock the secrets of the universe and a world of possibilities.
While definitely science fiction, this book contains healthy doses of truth in both the realities of middle school (old frienships wane, while new are born) as well as the importance of love, family and being true to each other. Ellie also learns that there are two sides to every story, including stories of scientific discover and the “good” of any invention.
This book may be a quick read, but it isn’t all light and air. It will make you think and pop back into your mind as you read about the latest and greatest finds, guarenteed to improve the world and solve all our problems.