May 29, 2015
by Anna Myers
illustrated by Charles Vess
Abrams Books for Young Readers
The Upagainstit children are walking home from school when the biggest boy is knocked right down by a tumbleweed.
Yes, Upagainstit. Say it out loud. UP-against-it. Get it? Good. Now back to the story.
The Upagainstit children are walking home from school when the biggest boy is knocked right down by a tumbleweed. Out of the tumbleweed sticks a foot. When he takes a closer look, he discovers that nestled inside is a “wild-all-over baby.” Against the better judgement of the littlest girl, they take her home to their falling apart house.
The littlest girl is sure that keeping the wild baby is a bad idea but Mama knows what has to come first — this baby needs a bath. It seems that bathing a tumbleweed baby is a lot like bathing a cat and soon water and soap are everywhere. Dinner isn’t much calmer and bedtime? Bedtime is something else.
At this point, Mama and Papa are pretty certain this isn’t going to work. But the biggish boy wants to keep her – it will make him stronger. And the smallest boy knows that chasing after her will help him be the fastest at recess. The not-so–big girl needs the practice so she can be a teacher.
Papa still isn’t sure but then Tumbleweed Baby snuggles up close and he’s a goner.
I’m not going to tell you how the littlest girl and Tumbleweed baby reconcile. It’s just to “Awwwww.” You’ll have to get the book and read it yourself.
Charles Vess used colored ink and pencil to crate the illustrations for this book. His picture remind me somewhat of the murals of Thomas Hart Benton in the Missouri State Capitol. Somehow the pieces are both larger than life, but so down-to-earth and real that you can almost feel the grit.
This is definitely a story for every wild child who doesn’t easily conform as well as the people who love these active, strong-willed children. Frankly, I think it would make an excellent gift for the first grade teacher who didn’t even flinch when my own pointed out that he didn’t have time to read, thank you very much. But it would make a good gift for patient teachers, moving parents and classrooms who nurture all of the special children who find their way inside.
May 26, 2015
Ally-saurus and the First Day of School
by Richard Torrey
Ally is a girl who knows what she likes — dinosaurs! Her pajamas have dinosaurs. Her first day of school outfit has a dinosaur. She even insists that her new teacher and her classmates call her Ally-saurus.
Her one worry is that she won’t find another dino-crazy kid to be her kindergarten friend. There are princesses, pirates, a lion and even a boy who loves his new lunch box but no one who loves dinosaurs as much as she does.
But as she sits down to a solitary lunch, she is surprised to be joined by a dinosaur, a lion, and Walter, the boy who loves his lunch box. For the rest of the day, she plays games with astronauts, cats and more as she gets to know her new friends. It isn’t long before she realizes that she may be Ally-saurus but there are other things she likes as well.
As a parent, I loved this book. It reminded me of when my now 16-year-old would only answer to Bob. You didn’t have to use his full name – Bob the Builder – that would be too formal but he did insist on Bob.
This book explores first day jitters, new friendships, and fascinations all without calling them by name. Richard Torrey just introduces us to Ally and lets us follow along on her first day.
For his illustrations, Torrey combines oil base pencil and watercolor with digital media for a style that is reminiscent of his work as an editorial cartoonish. I especially love the bright crayon-like sketches around each black and white figure that hint at his or her passion.
This would be a great book for story time — be prepared for some serious roaring — but it isn’t so rowdy that it wouldn’t make a good one-on-one book as well.
May 21, 2015
Here Come the Humpbacks
by April Pulley Sayre
illustrated by Jamie Hogan
In every ocean on Earth, humpback whales swim through the waters. Here comes a humpback — a baby whale being born. The reader follows this calf and its mother from the quiet waters of the Caribbean where a male escort whale accompanies the pair.
First the escort whales and the other adults with no calves leave. then finally the mother and her calf swim north. Past Delaware and New York they swim toward Canada where they find the feeding grounds as well as hungry orca.
I can’t really tell you everything without simply summarizing the book spread by spread. Sayre’s does a great job detailing the lives of the giant sea creatures. She tells how they are born, what they eat, how they feed, and what is dangerous to them.
I like to read about whales but this book still included information I didn’t know. The whales that scientists once thought were aunts and grandmothers helping raise the calf are actually male escorts waiting for the female to be ready to mate.
If you have a younger reader, stick with the main text on each spread. It will tell you a complete humpback story. If you have an older reader or one who is major whale enthusiast, you can also read the sidebars — details about the whales written in smaller script. That said, you could also read the sidebars without the main text. Either way, your young reader will learn quite a bit about whales.
Jamie Hogan used charcoal and pastels on sanded paper to create illustrations that combine soft, slightly blurred lines with saturated color.
Share this book with your class if you are studying ecosystems or whales. Share it if you are learning about animal babies or migration. This is definitely a top choice to share with eager, young minds.
May 18, 2015
The Graham Cracker Plot
by Shelley Tougas
Roaring Brook Press
Judge Henry told Daisy to write everything that she thinks and feels about her attempt to break The Chemist out of Club-Fed (prison). Mom thinks Daisy should be able to have it done it just a few nights but not-quite-twelve year old Daisy (she refuses to go by Aurora Dawn) has been keeping things in and she has a lot to say.
But she’s sure of one thing above all else – the whole thing is her friend Graham’s fault. After all, the break out was his idea.
Life isn’t easy when your dad is a resident of Club-Fed. But Daisy gets to see him once a month and reassures herself with the fact that the one-time college turned minimum security prison isn’t all that bad. There aren’t any serious criminals there and she’s sure The Chemist is innocent.
Then one Saturday she finds him with half his face swollen and a missing tooth. Apparently he had a disagreement with some of his fellow prisoners. Daisy is so upset that she ignores the “no touching” rule and climbs into his lap. This earns her a six-month ban and a belly full of anger. This anger feeds into the plan to spring the Chemist from Club-Fed.
As an adult reader I immediately realized that the Chemist didn’t accidentally set the house on fire doing a science experiment. He was most likely cooking up some product for sale and distribution. Daisy finds this out late in the took. She’s also realized that Graham is often a better friend to her than she is to him and that Judge Henry may be strict but he knows a thing or two about truth and about people and even about her.
This book covers a lot of touch topics but it is still solidly middle grade. The author moves the story along quickly and Daisy’s sassy, energetic voice keeps things from going to the dark side.
Don’t hold this book back from your young reader because it deals with these topics. They will love it for the same reason that they love The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. They’ll love it because Tougas is willing to tell them tough truths about the world.
May 14, 2015
A Nest Is Noisy
by Dianna Hutts Aston
illustrated by Sylvia Long
“A nest is noisy.
It is a nursery of chirp-chirping…”
And so it begins. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is just a book about chirping birds. When Aston talks about noisy nests, she isn’t just talking birds. She’s talking bees, alligators and squirrels as well.
It isn’t just the animals that are suprising but also the nesting material, including the everything goes nest of the blue jay complete with leaves and twigs and bits of cloth but also a snake skin.
In addition to the surprises, Aston sets up a series of contrasts with great big nests and teeny tiny nests. Then there are the textured nests that are pappery, pebbly and even bubbly. A frogs bubbly nest high up in a tree? You’ll read about it here.
There’s even a spread about army ants and the nests that they make from their own bodies. I’m still trying to decide if that is cool or more than a little creepy.
Detailed watercolor illustrations bring the details in this book to life. Long’s pictures are so vibrant and full that a child who sees one of these animals in the book would be able to recognize it in life.
With the quiet, comfy ending, this book could work as a birthday book but it would also make a great group book as you discuss animal home and animal babies. Share this one with the young nature lover in your life but then be ready to go out and explore the world.
May 11, 2015
by Raina Telgemeier
When I started reading this, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to review it here. You may not have noticed, but I only review books that I like. I’m not interested in panning anything. I want to help readers find good books. Why was I so uncertain about this one? I requested this from the library because it is one of the American Library Associations most banned books of 2014. Don’t get me wrong – I love many banned books. But in this case I was requesting a graphic novel. I should admit up front that I’m not a huge graphic novel fan. That said, Drama may help change that.
Drama is a story about — drama. Callie is on the stage crew for her middle school’s production of Moon over Mississippi. As befits a story that takes place in middle school, this one is an emotional roller coaster.
Callie loves theater. Truly, it is her passion. Some day, she wants to design sets for Broadway shows. Until then, she is limited by the constraints of middle school.
That said, Callie is a girl who pushes the limits. She’s convinced that what Moon over Mississippi needs more than anything else is a cannon and not just a ho-hum painting of a cannon. This has to be a honest-to-goodness functioning cannon. Mr. Madera isn’t sure about the wisdom of pyrotechnics on stage but he sets a few limits and then let’s Callie go. She is definitely the girl for the job.
Threaded throughout the story of the play itself are the emotional ups and downs of being a young teen. Callie is desperate to fall in love and targets three different boys throughout the course of the story. No, she isn’t shallow. She truly likes two of them, but this is early teen love at it’s most fleet. It doesn’t help that more than once her love interest doesn’t return her interest because he’s got a thing for someone else, someone male.
If I remember correctly, that’s what got the book banned. There are gay characters. There’s even a character who may be bi. Don’t let that panic you. As with all matters romantic or sexual in this book, it is strictly rated PG. I say PG instead of G because there is some kissing — both boy/girl and boy/boy.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in theater. The characters are well-developed and three dimensional. The story is fast paced and there are enough sub-plots to make this full-length book interesting. Share it with the Drama Queen or theater geek in your life.
May 7, 2015
Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France
by Mara Rockliff
illustrated by Jacopo Bruno
During the American Revolution, Ben Franklin traveled to France. His goal was to convince the King and Queen to send money and soldiers to help fight the British.
The French were all abuzz about the wonders of science. They knew all about Franlin’s work with electricity. The only thing more exciting might be Dr. Mesmer. Dr. Mesmer claimed that a natural force that streamed from the stars flowed into his iron wand. He could then direct the force into his patients and cure what ailed them – whatever ailed them.
What would science come up with next?
The King asked Franklin to investigate. What was this amazing force that had his court all abuzz? Franklin agreed to look into it but Mesmer refused to meet with the American scientist. Fortunately, Mesmer’s assistant agreed to the meeting.
Franklin invited the assistant to use the wand on him. He felt . . . nothing. Mesmer told everyone that the force didn’t work on Franklin but Franklin thought otherwise. He believed that people felt a burning in their limbs because that was what they expected to happen. It was their minds at work and not some amazing force.
I don’t want to tell you the whole story but suffice it to say that Franklin used the scientific method to investigate Dr. Mesmer’s invisible force.
Whether you have a young reader who is interested in history or science or even hypnotism, pick this book up. Rockliff’s story flies and is complimented perfectly by hand drawn and digitially colored illustrations. The details in the illustrations pull the reader into the story without bogging it down and they are just cartoony enough to make Mesmer compelling and perhaps just a bit creepy.
This book is long enough that it wouldn’t be the best introduction for preschoolers to Franklin but older children who are learneing about the scientific method would benefit greatly from this book. Be ready for a busy discussion on how they would have tricked Mesmer into giving himself away.
Share this book with the young historian or science lover in your life.
May 4, 2015
by Kenneth Oppel
Simon and Schuster
It isn’t quite steam punk although steam is at the center of this adventure that centers on the Canadian railroads. From avalanches to Sasquatch and circuses to the Fountain of Youth, this story is rich and complex and magical.
It takes place in the Gilded Age, a time when the wealthy consume without apology, taking what they want from the land and from their workers. Will knows he’s fortunate to have a place on the maiden voyage of the Boundless, the most massive locomotive to chug across Canada. Maybe this will be his chance to have an adventure of his very own instead of getting by with the stories his father tells.
Then he sees a security guard murdered and finds himself hiding from the killer, one of the train’s brakemen. He knows the man isn’t working alone but how can he find out who is scheming against his father and the railroad? In a desperate attempt to escape, Will runs the roofs of the train cars in the dark and makes his way to the center of the train. As he runs the circus cars, he is grabbed and pulled through a hole in the roof, captured by the circus elephant.
The circus performers take Will in, offering to hide him until he can get back to his father but can Will really trust the strong man, the high wire walker or the knife thrower?
This book is so complex that it is almost impossible to describe. This is seriously my fifth attempt to write a coherent review.
Oppel’s characters are complex and multidimensional. The “good guys” are beautifully flawed and it is almost impossible to be sure who to trust.
The setting is 100% Gilded Age with the wealth dripping perfume and jewels even while the poor scrabble to survive. Conspicuous consumption abounds and few people have the nerve to question the morality of breaking men to build an empire.
I have to admit that it took me a while to warm up to this book. I love Sasquatch stories and did not appreciate that the Sasquatch in this book are . . . malevolent? Vengeful? But I did like the way that two different plot lines explored the idea of immortalizing one man at the expense of the lives of others.
History buffs who also enjoy fantasy and steam punk will find a new book to love in The Boundless.