January 29, 2015
The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets
by Nancy Springer
This isn’t a new book but young mystery lovers should check it out.
Enola Holmes. That name may sound a bit familiar. At least, her last name might. She is the sister of none other than the renowned detective Sherlock Holmes.
Enola is every bit as brilliant and unconventional as her brother. That might be acceptable if she was a boy, but Enola is a young lady in a world that expects very specific things from a girl. A girl who departs too much from what is expected might very well find herself declared insane and committed to an institution. Enola actually knew a woman who was committed after sitting on the ground.
Not that Enola thinks that her brothers would do this (she does have two brothers, you know), but she’d rather avoid finishing school or anything else they might dream up for her. She has rented a room and taken on work as a locator of missing persons. Her latest case is to find none other than Dr. Watson. The police are having no luck and from the clues she has seen, Enola suspects that the kidnappers are women. After all, they know the language of flowers and they know it well — something no man would be bothered to pursue.
As Enola searches London’s alley ways and rooftops for clues, she has to watch her step and it isn’t just the filth of this urban center she needs to avoid. Her brothers are still looking for her. In fact, she has to decide if the secret message left for her in the newspaper is from her mother or if it is a trap set by a brother.
I’m not going to give you any more about the plot because this is a mystery. I don’t want to give anything away. Springer expertly plants both clues and red herrings so this one is great fun to try to solve as you read.
This book is equal parts historic fiction and mystery. Springer brings both the squalor and wonders of London to life. But equally real are her characters from the brilliant figures of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes to the caring concern of both Doctor and Mrs. Watson.
This is book four in the series. While readers would surely enjoy books 1-3, it is possible to start with and understand book 4. Share it (or all of them) with the young mystery fan in your life.
January 26, 2015
Leroy Ninker Saddles Up
by Kate DeCamillo
For some reason, it has been a while since I picked up one of Kate DiCamillo’s books but I’m definitely happy to have made the acquaintance of Leroy Ninker Saddles Up.
Leroy is a small man with huge dreams. He works the concession stand at the Bijou Drive-in Theater. While patrons watch the movie, he nibbles popcorn and stares up at the screen. His favorites are the ones with cowboys. In fact, Leroy is well on his way to becoming a cowboy himself. He has his jeans, his lasso and his boots. When he’s not at work, he even wears his very own ten-gallon hat. But Leroy is missing one important thing.
Fortunately, coworker Beatrice Leapaleoni straightens him out. What Leroy needs is a horse and Beatrice helps him page through the want ads. It doesn’t take long before she’s found the perfect horse for Leroy. “Very exceptionally cheap.”
Before long, Leroy is sitting atop Maybelline and soon he gets her home only to confront a problem or two. One, he has no clue what a horse is supposed to eat. Two, Maybelline is a bit to large to fit through the door of Unit #12 at the Garden Glen Apartments. Not to worry. Leroy is certain that he and Maybelline can weather a night under the stars just like out on the prairie but when a storm blows up trouble ensues and soon Leroy is on foot, searching for his friend.
The search takes him to Deckawoo Drive. Mercy Watson fans will immediately recognize that street — it is the home of none other than the porcine wonder, Mercy Watson. Not surprisingly, Leroy encounters not only Mercy but also Mrs. Watson. To find out what happens, I’m going to make you read the book, and you really should.
This isn’t exactly a sequel to the Mercy Watson series which was a very low-level chapter book with full color illustrations. Leroy Ninker is a traditional chapter book with brief chapters and spot illustrations. It is perfect for a new independent reader who likes word play and silly humor.
Young readers will love that Leroy is a small person with big dreams. They will also benefit from the message that you can make big mistakes and turn your life around. Leroy was one of the burglars from the Mercy Watson books. Fortunately, he’s left behind his life of crime to bring joy to horse and young reader alike.
Share this book with the new reader in your life. It would also make a good book for reading out loud to either a class or a young book lover.
January 19, 2015
by April Pulley Sayre
Beach Lane Books
If you’re already a fan, here’s another great book by April Pulley Sayre. If you don’t know her work, pick this one up to share with the youngest readers on your list.
Sayre is a top notch author for creating books that make science kid-friendly for the youngest readers. This time around her topic is rain. What is it like for the smallest animals who live outdoors when water falls?
Sayre discusses the approaching rain and as it begins to fall all the way through the very last drop. But what happens to those droplets once the rain quits falling? Sayre covers that too and she doesn’t with the simplest text imaginable.
“And when the sun shines . . .
raindrops slowly dry.”
Sayre’s text is simple and straightforward but also poetic and it is complimented by gorgeous photography. As much as I love the cover photo (see above), my very favorite is the one near the beginning of the book that shows a tree frog just barely visible in his hiding place.
Following the main text of the book, Sayre has included an extensive author’s note about the science of rain. Between this and the main text, the book is a top notch choice for early readers who are learning about the water cycle.
Share this book in your class room but remember, the gentle lyrical text would also make an excellent bedtime story as the rain patters on the windows.
January 15, 2015
Eye to Eye:
How Animals See the World
by Steve Jenkins
If you have a young reader who is animal crazy, pick this book up! Not only will your critter enthusiast meet a wide variety of animals, ranging from ghost crabs and gharial to tuatara to tarsier, she will also learn something about the science of vision.
Jenkins doesn’t cover the differences between how predators and prey see the world, he starts out with eyespots and the fact that they tell only the difference between darkness and light. He explains how pinhole eyes work and the fact that seawater flows freely in and out of the creature’s eye but also the difference between a primitive lens eye and a camera eye.
Different types of eyes evolved because different animals need to see different things and Jenkins goes into this in detail.
He accomplishes the vast majority of this by profiling individual animals. In the profile of the blue mountain swallowtail butterfly, readers learn about the insect’s ability to see ultraviolet colors invisible to humans as well as the benefits of a compound eye. The green pit viper reveals the benefits of the pits that allow it to “see” body heat and much, much more.
As always, Jenkins has illustrated his book with collages that combine both cut and torn paper using individual pieces to create everything from the tentacles of the nautilus to the whiskers on a fluffy housecat.
The backmatter for the book gives detailed information on the different types of eyes as well as the 24 animals depicted in the book. There is also an age-appropriate bibiography for young readers who want more information on the topic.
Although a preschool reader might not be interested in the details about how different eyes work, they would be hooked by the illustrations and the wide range of animals. Older readers would take this in as well as the science of the eye.
Share this book with your class or your animal-engaged reader and don’t be surprised if you have to read the book multiple times.
January 12, 2015
Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate, illusrated by G. Brian Karas
The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla
by Katherine Applegate
illusrated by G. Brian Karas
I have to admit that I’ve put off reading this book. Poor gorilla! I only picked it up after I saw it on the list for the Nerdy Book Awards 2014, category nonfiction picture books.
Born in the wild, Ivan was one of two infant gorillas captured from the wild and sent to live in the B&I Circus Store. The store regularly displayed a variety of animals to help draw in customers. The first thing they did was to hold a contest to name the two gorillas, Burma and Ivan. Burma failed to thrive in captivity, dying shortly after being named, but Ivan grew and grew. He lived much like a human child, raised in a human home. He watched TV, he slept in a bed, and even went to baseball games.
But once he was about five years old, he was too big to treat like a little boy. Instead, he stayed in his enclosure at the store where he still watched TV, painted pictures and watched the people who stared back at him. He lived this way for many years until a group of people started to worry. This wasn’t the way a gorilla should live — in a small space, all alone. Their letters and petitions paid off and he was sent to a zoo.
This is the second book that Katherine Applegate has written starring Ivan. The first book, The One and Only Ivan, is a fictional story creted and imagined by Applegate with Ivan as the main character. This book is nonfiction, a true story about the animal’s life.
I’m not going to lie to you, this wasn’t an easy book to read but it is an amazing story. And it is one that is sure to stir up a lot of discussion about the differences between a refuge, a zoo and a mall, about the ethics of wild animal capture and more. Applegate has presented a lot of information for young readers to mull over and they will almost certainly want to discuss it.
January 8, 2015
Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle
by George Hagen
Schwartz and Wade
Ravens used to hold a place of honor in the world until the fateful day that one raven was tempted to eat the flesh of his human companion. With that, the bird turned into a demonic valraven, always hungry and always on the hunt.
Few people could tell the different between ravens and valravens — valravens have sickly yellow eyes, smell like carion, and cannot laugh at a good riddle. When they saw the birds feasting on human dead, they thought they were seeing ravens and began to hunt their former companions.
By the time Gabriel Finley turns twelve, almost no one remembers the time that ravens talked to men. His heart goes out to the fledgling raven he finds perched on a window sill of his home. When the bird speaks to him, he knows something exciting is about to happen.
George Hagen has created an amazing new fantasy that combines Norse mythology with magical elements. Like the first Harry Potter book, the story is well along before Gabriel begins to discover his magical abilities but unlike the other book the reader is well aware of the magic.
In addition to his raven, Gabriel’s friends include a quirky girl who loves riddes as much as Gabriel does, a talented musician and a boy from an abusive home. While there is a lot that is dark in this story, it is a story about personal strength and making good choices even when all seems dark.
This is a solidly middle grade story without the angst or sexual tension of a young adult novel but with more darkness and greater depth than a chapter book. Share it with the young fantasy fan or riddle lover in your life.
January 5, 2015
Hunting with the Great Whites of
California’s Farallion Islands
by Katherine Roy
David Macauley Studio/Roaring Brook Press
True confessions – although I’ve written about sharks and I’m reviewing this book, I am not a shark fan. In fact, they creep me out.
That said, this book pulled me in and wouldn’t let me go. I read bits of it to my poor husband. Did you know a great white can be 8 feet wide? Eight feet? That’s frighteningly close to the width of my office. Although most fish are cold blooded, great whites operate like warm blooded animals because their circulatory system pumps their blood through their muscles. All of their motion and movement warms their blood. This is part of the reason that they can move so fast. They can also push their jaws out from their skulls. I can’t even imagine how that must feel.
This book definitely grabbed me.
Author Katherine Roy describes their hunting ground, the Farallion Islands some 30 miles from San Francisco. In fact, this is where most of this nonfiction story takes place. The islands are where the sharks hunt elephant seals, fatten up and then hit the road. It seems that these sharks reserve one area for feeding, one for breeding and another for deliveries.
Roy explains why sharks are such efficient hunters, the features that play into this ability and how scientists are learning more about these animals. Roy’s illustrations aren’t overly graphic when it comes to hunting but she doesn’t pull any punches either. This book is, after all, straight up science.
I was a little surprised that she didn’t offer much information on the shark’s sense of smell. She explains this in the back matter; apparently, little is known about how a great white’s sense of smell works and Roy didn’t want to confuse readers with unproven hypothesis.
This book is an excellent choice for the science classroom or for any young reader who is enthusiastic about these might hunters.
January 2, 2015
In the Wild
by David Elliott
illustrated by Holly Meade
Yes, yes. Another post about a David Elliot book. I have no excuses other than I’ve recently discovered his work when I read On the Wing and wanted to sample some more.
Where On the Wing was about a narrow grouping of animals (birds), In the Wild takes a look at a much broader slice of animal life. From Asia to Australia and Africa to the Americas, Elliot samples animals from all over the world. Ironically, the giraffe poem is only 4 lines long. Another poem takes the form of a letter. Although many of the poems rhyme, this isn’t the case with all of them and the collection presents an excellent cross section.
As such, this would be a solid book to share with a class or a home school group, allowing the young readers to mimic the styles present and try their hand at a variety of work.
As always, each poem teaches about the animal it represents and many display Elliot’s quirky sense of humor. This is especially true of the final poem in the collection — a poem that many readers will assume is about extinction until they turn the page and get a surprise.
Holly Meade’s wood block and water color art work depicts the mood and setting of each poem to perfection. Some display soft, inviting colors while others are sunlit and stark.
Share this book with the young animal lover or poet in your life. Read it aloud to a group or to a single child, but do read it aloud to better appreciate the rhythm and play of the poems.