November 30, 2015
On Noah’s Ark
by Jan Brett
G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Rains are coming and soon the world will be flooded with water. That’s what Grandpa Noah says.
As the adults build the ark and the animals come forth, Noah’s granddaughter is busy loading provisions. Accompanied by her doves, she watches the big animals thump and bump into the ark and the mid-sized animals clip-clop by. As it rains, she moves among the animals and watches out the windows.
But the longer they are all cooped up, the more restive the animals become. Before long there are pulled feathers, jabbed hides and even a stinky spray or two.
At last, the rocking of the ark lulls the animals, people included, into a deep sleep. All but Noah’s granddaughter. As everyone else falls asleep, she moves among the animals and sorts things out, untangling them and setting things right. Only when she has finished this task does she cuddle up against a lion for her nap.
Given all the darkness that is at work in the world right now, I needed a story of hope and imagine that many of you do as well. This one definitely ends with hope as everyone settles into a world washed clean.
Although Brett doesn’t mention the vast majority of the animals by name, the variety that can be found in the illustrations is hard to imagine. New World, Old World and even some that are now extinct, a wide range of animals swim, fly, scuttle and stride through the pages of this book. That alone would be a big draw for a young animal lover, challenged to page through the book and name as many animals as possible.
While Brett’s retelling doesn’t repeat the Bible story word for word, it captures the feeling of hope that many of us have whenever we see a rainbow arching across the sky. Share this hope and this book with the young reader in your life today.
November 27, 2015
by Andrew Lane
Farrar Straus and Giroux
When young Sherlock Holmes hears that John Wilkes Booth, the assasin of America’s President Lincoln, is not only alive but possible in Britain, he decides to investigate for himself. If he doesn’t his tutor Amyus Crow may have to leave Britain because it is his first job to track down Booth and other Southern sympathizers. Sherlock doesn’t want Aymus or, more importantly, his daughter Virginia out of his life so he sets to work.
Unfortunately, young Holmes isn’t nearly as slick as he thinks he is and he is spotted and grabbed. He manages to escape but leads the men back to the Crow’s and his best friend, Matty. When they grab Matty in his place, Sherlock refuses to give up.
Soon he and the Crows are on their way over sea to America.
There’s a lot of love in this series, the Legend Begins. We get to see Sherlock developing his ability to reason through clues. In this particular book we witness his introduction to the violin.
Lane has created a youthful character who is every bit as arrogant, but lovably so, as the later Holmes. These books would be an excellent introduction to this classic character for readers who are not yet ready to appreciate the original novels.
Where the original novels focus on mystery, these books are more adventure oriented as Sherlock boxes and battles his way clear of kidnappers and villains of various kinds. Yes, there is a subtle mystery — who is using Booth and why — but this is much more of an adventure novel than the traditional mystery. Just keep that in mind when deciding which young reader on your list to share it with!
November 23, 2015
by Jan Brett
G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Mossy lived beside Lilypad Pond. Mossy liked it because it was cool and damp beside the pond. Soon sprigs of moss grew on her shell. Then ferns grew on her carapace and flowers. Each day Mossy went down to the edge of the pond and looked at her reflection to see how her garden had changed.
One day Mossy was visiting the pond when a handsome turtle peeked from beneath a lilypad. Scoot had never seen her before but the problem was the Scoot wasn’t the only one who had just spotted Mossy.
Dr. Carolina and her neice Tory were entranced by the turtle with the beautiful garden on her shell. Gently and carefully they picked her up and took her back to Dr. Carolina’s museum so that other people could see her. They created a beautiful viewing pavilion full of the things a turtle needed. But Mossy had what she needed back at the pond.
All summer long, visitors flocked to the museum. They watched Mossy eat juicy raspberries and lettuce leaves. But somehow the turtle just didn’t seem happy to Tory. Dr. Carolina explains to Tory that Mossy is safe in the museum where she will live to be a very old turtle.
Note: No spoiler alert because I’m not going to tell you the ending. You have to read it yourself to see what happened.
For me, the best part of this book was Brett’s paintings. The bright colors brought to life the flowers in Mossy’s garden. Of course, this could be in part that she included my favorites, violets. But I also loved the bright colors and the details that she brought to the turtles. You can see individual scales and even tell the turtles apart. As a former-kid who spent time searching for box turtles rooting through leaves in the woods, I loved this attention to detail.
Mossy doesn’t have the humor that Brett brings to many of her stories but it does have both the heart-felt ending and the colorful art that fans expect and new readers will love. Share this one with the young nature lover in your life. Use it to spark discussions on the best ways for people to interact with nature.
November 16, 2015
by Jan Brett
G.P. Putnam’s and Sons
The time has come to weed and harvest the last of the vegetable garden and Badger Girl is working away when she sees something odd in the garden — an enormous turnip. She tries to pull it out but it is simply too big. Along comes Badger Boy and he offers to help but the results are much the same.
The turnip is stuck fast.
In a cummulative process, one animal after another offers to help. You get a rooster, a goat, a horse and Mama and Papa. As they work, they dream of mashed turnip, turnip soup and turnip pie.
As they work, it starts to snow. It’s vital that they get the turnip out of the ground because once the ground freezes the turnip will be stuck tight. When a homeless rooster comes along, he pitches in to add his might to the effort.
If you’re at all familiar with Jan Brett’s books, you know that there is one story told in the text and the main illustrations. But framed to the side of each painting is a window on another story. In this case as you read about the giant turnip and the badger family, you see a bear famiy heading into their home for the winter — it is, after all, snowing.
They discover that the turnip has grown way down deep and is in their bed. If they don’t get it out they won’t have anywhere to sleep.
I’m not going to give away the ending but Brett manages to tie the two stories together in an altogether satisfactory way.
We started reading Jan Brett when my son, now 16, was a preschooler so I was excited when I spotted this title on the NEW book shelf at the library.
If you have a young reader in your life, pick up a few of Brett’s books. They are wild or rowdy but sweet and satisfying. Her painting give the stories the feel of traditional fairy tales and are a feast all on their own.
Share them with your young reader today.
November 12, 2015
by George Ella Lyon and Benn Lyon
illustrated by Mick Wiggins
Atheneum/A Richard Jackson Book
“Boats have keels.
Boats have hulls
lifted by waves,
followed by gulls.”
So begins this super simple text about . . . you guessed it . . . boats. The authors discuss everything from super small boats and rafts to ocean liners, river boats to deep-sea boats and even submarines and seaplanes.
Mick Wiggins illustrations are digital but they don’t have the dull, lifeless feel of many pieces of digital art. Instead, the compliment this story by bringing to life the bright colors of a sunny, windswept day on the water. I really liked the fact that he goes beyond the text, portraying some of the boats as toy boats on a lake. This will help make the text more accessible to young readers who have played in water but have never sailed on a large boat.
This is the perfect book for any young reader who loves boats, but it isn’t so advanced that it would scare off a child who hasn’t read about boats before. The brief rhyming text would be an excellent choice for simple reading aloud or story time. Beginning a unit on different modes of transportation? This book is the perfect introduction to different types of boats.
Personally, I had forgotten the joy of these simple books since my “young reader” is now 16. That said, when he was small, we had a whole host of lyrical, nonfiction picture books that were fun to read again and again. As a reading adult, you probably know what that is like. Fortunately, this text will hold together through repeated readings whether you are reading it to three different story time sessions or your own child repeatedly in one day.
Pick this book up and share it before a ride on a ferry or just a drive past someplace with numerous boats.
November 9, 2015
I Thought This Was a Bear Book
by Tara Lazar
illustrated by Benji Davies
The Three Bears are out picking berries in a nearby crash announces a new presence in their story. Prince Zilch from Planet Zero has crash landed and needs to find a way back to his own story by page 27.
Mama and Papa Bear try to help Zilch climb to the top of the book where he might be able to climb out. They try bouncing him out of the book. They even try catapulting him out of the book, but nothing works. Finally Baby Bear, who has been unable to get anyone to listen to him through one attempt after another, shares his idea.
Zilch crashed into the book. The only solution is for him to crash back out and for this to happen the reader needs to give the book a good shake. Of course, if the young reader shakes too hard, there will be trouble.
Lazar has created a book that breaks the barrier between not only one story and another (Planet Zilch and the Three Bears) but also between the story and the reader. The characters in Lazar’s book fully understand that they are a part of a story. They understand that there are other stories. While no one discusses whether or not travel between stories is rare or common, no one is all that surprised when Zilch shows up.
Young readers who are more likely to identify with Baby Bear than Mama or Papa will love that it is the youngest member of the bear family that solves Zilch’s problem.
This would make an excellent story time book although you should expect some shouting out as various listeners ask to be the one to shake the book. That said, it would be worth the noise to get their ideas on how to get Zilch back into his own story. This would also make an excellent book for reading one-on-one.
November 5, 2015
In the Canyon
by Liz Garton Scanlon
illustrated by Ashley Wolff
Beach Lane Books
Rhyming couplets narrate a young girl’s hike into the Grand Canyon. Yep. The Canyon.
From the rim to the base of the canyon and back out again, readers follow the narrator as she describes her experience. Kingbirds, red-tailed hawks and condors are named without the text feeling weighed down. Information is doled out a bit here and bit there without bogging down the story. An author’s note at the end of the book gives a bit more information on geology and the various animals. She also observes the surrounding stone, petroglyphs and fellow visitors to the canyon.
Don’t worry! Mom and Dad are there but they remain quietly in the background.
The heavy black lines of the block print illustrations give a slight stained-glass effect to the art without pieces feeling rigid or static. Personally I loved the warm oranges and deep purples of the desert that were used to color a landscape that many people think of as barren and lifeless.
The illustrations also add a bit more information than is delivered in the text. The condor mentioned in the story has a wildlife tag and the end papers include a map that flags various points of interest found throughout the canyon.
I’ve never hiked the canyon so I did have one question while reading the book but that point was clarified in the author’s note. Visitors really can and do take overnight trips into the canyon.
This would make an excellent bed time story but it also suitable for the classroom as it teaches about canyon life. It could also be used to launch a writing exercise involving observation and description.
November 2, 2015
The Safest Lie
by Angela Cerrito
Anna and her parents have spent another restless night. Anna and Mama slept curled together for warmth and comfort. Papa kept watch. The two men they share an apartment with may be fellow Jews but the Baumans don’t know them. Trust is hard to come by in the Warsaw ghetto.
Before the war, Anna had many aunts, uncles, and cousins. She had grandparents and traditions. Now she has fear.
Then a woman named Jolanta insists that Anna call herself Anna Karwolska. She must say Catholic prayers in Polish and cross herself. She must also tell people that her Mama and Papa, are dead.
Nine year old Anna is soon spirited out of the ghetto and hidden away in a Catholic orphanage. She has to tell people she is only 8, but no matter where she is there are some things Anna knows. Soldiers’ stomping march means trouble. Whether they are looking for food, Jews, or Polish conspirators , Anna must hide her fear.
Anna’s greatest worry is that being Jewish will endanger the family who agrees to give her a home. Even after the German soldiers leave Poland, she is afraid that if her new family discovers she is Jewish they will somehow love her less. It is only when a man comes to take her back to whatever family she has left that Anna tells them the truth, a truth they knew all along.
Admittedly, I don’t read many books about World War II. Because I read extensively on this topic when I was younger, it is hard to find a book that feels fresh. It is no exageration when I tell you that this is one of the best books that I’ve read in a long time. I didn’t want to put it down. I wanted to keep on reading even when I had deadlines of my own to meet.
The characters are truly three-dimensional and that includes the German soldiers. It is so easy to portray the common soldiers as jack-booted thugs. While Angela doesn’t portray them as better than they were, she doesn’t paint them all with the same brush. Some were cruel. Others less so. The Polish are treated with just as much care; as one of the characters points out, in times of war it is hard to know who to trust. There is just too much at risk.
Take the risk of picking this book up for the young readers in your life. It is a younger middle grade title and well-suited to the age group. Yes, the realities of the war are grim but Angela handles it so that the violence is muted, off-screen, and age appropriate.
She has created so much more than a book about war. This is a story of identify, hope and strength.