December 31, 2015
Pie for Chuck
by Pat Schories
Big Chuck loves pies. The problem is that he can see the pie cooling in the window but he can’t reach it. Neither can Raccoon or Rabbit or Chip.
One by one, except for the mice who work in a group, the animals try to reach the pie cooling on the window sill. Unfortunately, it is high over head and even three mice standing on top of each other can’t reach it. Three mice standing on a woodchuck’s head is another story. Soon the animal friends are enjoying a blue berry treat.
This is an early reader meaning that although it looks like a picture book it is meant for young readers to puzzle through on their own. The great part? It is all of 70 words long. Yes, I counted them. The reason this is so great is that 70 words don’t take long to puzzle out or to count. Even a really new reader will be able to work through this with the contextual clues provided in the illustrations.
And as simple as it looks, the author doesn’t talk down to the reader. No one says that Big Chuck is a woodchuck. The reader either figures that one our or not. The same with Chip who happens to be . . . can you guess? . . . a chipmunk.
The books in this series are written at the kindergarten/early first grade level. There are also classroom discussion questions available on the web site. You can find the questions/activities for Pie for Chuck here. Also available for young readers who may be having problems acquiring new sight words are flash cards. You can find the cards for Pie for Chuck here.
Check this out at your local library and share it with your young reader or add it to your classroom library today. If your young readers enjoy reading about Big Chuck, you can also check out Pants for Chuck.
December 28, 2015
A Long Walk to Water
by Linda Sue Park
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
A Long Walk to Water combines two storylines.
First is the story of Salva Dut. When his village is attacked, Salva isn’t at home but in school in a nearby village. Because of this, he must undertake a journey across Sudan without his family. He’s told along the way that his village has been wiped out and he has no reason to doubt this since he is all alone.
Desert sun, thirst, starvation and bandits all take their toll on the refugees. And they take their toll on Salva — robbing him of his childhood. But they never take away his patience or his faith in humanity. Salva becomes a leader among the young men who make up a large proportion of the refugee population. This story line begins in 1985.
The second story line is contemporary. In it a young girl, Nya, must walk twice a day to the local water hole. This is what she does all day, every day, facing sun, thorns and loneliness. Add to this the fact that the water is not clean and it is easy to see how her younger sister grew sick after drinking contaminated water.
Nya’s life is consumed with walks to water and walks home carrying the heavy load. She worries that dirty water will make her sister sick, but it is the only water that they have until the day a group of men come to their village. The men are there to dig for water. The head of the crew? A man named Salva.
Salva’s story is true and Linda Sue Parks only decided to write this book after she met him. Although Nya’s story is fiction, it is strongly based on fact. Many girls in this part of the world must walk every day to draw water for their families. As they make this walk, they face not only loneliness but often danger. Still it is the only way that their families can live.
Park goes through great pains to create believable three-dimensional characters to bring this life to light for her young readers. Some of it is hard to read about but it is done in a way what is suitable for a middle grade audience. The story isn’t always an easy to one to take in but it is a reality that people in our country need to acknowledge.
This is a book that should have space on your bookshelf and in your reading time.
December 26, 2015
A Riddle in Ruby
by Kent Davis
If you were lucky enough to get a book store gift card yesterday for Christmas, consider buying A Riddle in Ruby.
When I met Ruby, my first thought was Oliver Twist. Ruby was clearly perpetrating a scam. Pretending to be gravely injured while trying to pick a lock. I was certain that her accomplice was also her master, forcing her to break the law.
But it quickly become clear that things are much more complicated than that. Gwath is her senior in age as well as her teacher. He is also the ship’s cook. Ruby has grown up aboard the Thrift were her father ferries passengers across the ocean, telling mock pirate stories and pretending to be something he is not. In fact the whole crew pretends to be pirates and the whole thing gets on Ruby’s nerves.
Until one day when their only passenger is young Lord Athens and his man-servant Crum. A Royal Navy vessel is in pursuit. Athens is sure that they are after him but Ruby’s father seems certain that it is his daughter they want. He orders the pair into hiding.
It is truly impossible to summarize this story without giving it away. The world is every bit as complicated as Hogwarts and Harry Potter but it isn’t a contemporary story. This piece of colonial fiction portrays a world that never existed but . . . if it had? Wow.
Alchemy called chemystry has altered the face of society. Lights can be lit and food can be cooked if only you can afford the service. Chemysts have built cities on top of cities, occupying the sunlight expanses above while Ruby and her ilk lurk below, struggling to make a living in the shadows.
When Ruby realizes that she is the one everyone is looking for such doesn’t understand. At first she thinks she has something that they want but then she realizes that it goes much, much deeper.
Whether it is Ruby posing as a boy or Lord Athen posing as Lord Athen, few characters are who they initially seem to be. The world is delightfully complex. Things aren’t so complicated that they are confusing but they are definitely complex enough to support a series. The characters are equally complicated — doing what they think is best at the time only to discover that they’ve made a dreadful mistake. They often find themselves in situations where there is no clear-cut good choice.
Pick this one up and share it with the young fantasy lover in your life today.
December 21, 2015
How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah?
by Jane Yolen and
illustrated by Mark Teague
Blue Sky Press
We can’t very well have Merry Christmas Dinosaurs without also having Happy Chanukah Dinosaurs and the Chanukah variety threaten just as much mischief as their Christmas cousins. From a Ichtostega who writes his own name on each and every gift card to the Arizonasaurus who melts the chocolate coins in his hot little hands, these dinosaurs definitely show Jewish children how not to behave.
As everyone knows, the holidays are a tough time for our energetic children who want so badly to behave that they get a little nutty when they fail. Telling this story with dinosaurs instead of children gives the children the distance they need to laugh at behavior that probably seems way too familiar to more than a few of them.
As much as I loved both of these holiday books, I have to say that I actually liked the Chanukah book better.
Consider giving it to the Jewish dinosaur lover on your very own gift list. You’ll have a fun rhyming story that you can read together each of the eight holy days of Chanukah.
December 17, 2015
How Do Dinosaurs Say Merry Christmas?
written by Jane Yolen
and illustrated by Mark Teague
Blue Sky Press
“On Christmas Eve, does a dinosaur sleep? Does he go up to bed without making a peep?”
Eventually, yes, but those of you who are familiar with Yolen and Teague’s dinosaur books know that we have to get past some seriously funny bad behavior first. From Gigantoraptor upending the Christmas tree to, my own personal favorite, Erythrosuchus sloppily licking each and every candy cane, we get to see what good dinosaurs do not do in terms of Merry Christmas behavior. Then of course, we get to how they do behave.
For me, half the fun is Teague’s amazing illustrations. I suspect Teague is a dog person and I love looking for the dogs that he slips into his art work — watching, waiting and occasionally letting out a merry yip.
As with all of the Dinosaurs books by Yolen and Teague, this one is short, weighing in at a light 148 words. That said, this book is a fantastically fun read aloud. If you are looking for a fun book to share with a young reader this holiday season, take a look at this one. Young dinosaur lovers adore the variety of creatures worked into the books by Teague and Yolen’s rollicking rhymes make them fun to read out loud.
Be sure to check out my post later in the week for another great gift book!
December 14, 2015
Dorrie and her brother Marcus are in hot-pursuit of Moe, an especially vengeful mongoose, when they follow him into a janitor’s closet. When they can’t find him, they know he didn’t slip back past them. Eventually they find their way into a secret room.
It’s clear that the dusty, room doesn’t see regular use. Dorrie and Marcus have gotten no more than a glimpse of the bookshelves, the table stacked with papers, or the strange pattern radiating out from a star on the room’s floor, when the floor itself rises up, bubble-like. The wooden floor cracks flacks away leaving a tarry, blackness beneath.
Dorrie and Marcus fall into and through this blackness, dropping into the pool of a Roman-style bath. Above them, Dorrie’s backpack and Moe hang from the edge of the hole.
This is one of those books that is really hard to summarize because it is so marvelously complex. Suffice it to say that I can’t do it justice so I’m going to go with the super-compact version.
Dorrie and Marcus have dropped into Petrarch’s Library. It is home to a secret society of librarians who are willing to fight and risk capture to protect the written word.
Word of warning — much like the first Harry Potter book, this one took a little bit to grab me. You meet so many characters so quickly that it can be a bit of a . . . what a minute, who is that? . . . as you read. You also spend about forty pages in the “real world” before making it to Petrarch’s Library, but once you get there it was well worth the wait. Readers encounter a variety of historical figures ranging from Hypatia to Casanova. Relax, he isn’t as awful as you might imagine. They learn about a variety of historical periods, plant lore, and sword fighting.
Whether your young reader is a fantasy buff, a history fan or someone who loves a good sword fight, they will find something in here to love. There is mystery and adventure, humor and more. A definite “must read” for librarians, book lovers, and anti-book banners alike.
December 10, 2015
Happy Birthday, Cupcake!
by Terry Border
Cupcake’s birthday is just around the corner and you know what that means. It is time for a party!
Cupcake and her friend Muffin go through the options ranging from a beach party to make overs. Muffin points out that the beach is hot and some of them (pictured are an ice cream cone and a chocolate bar) might get drippy. The make would be fun for cupcake but Hamburger can barely stand to wear ketchup.
I have to admit that absolute favorite was why they can’t have the party on a boat — because Soup might “lose his lunch.” Sick but oh so funny when you see the photo.
And that’s by far the most enchanting quality of this book. The photos.
Instead of being illustrated by paintings or drawings, the illustrations are Border’s wacky photos. Wire arms and feet and a varitety of props personify everything from Cupcake and Muffin to a pear and a waffle.
The story resolves as Muffin invites Cupcake to take a break in her garden where they can relax and continue their discussion. Surely a birthday party solution must be in sight.
The ending and story are oh so sweet but for me it is the photos that are most appealing and that keep my coming back to this book. Every time I page through it, I find something new going on in the background of one photo or another.
This book would make would be good for quiet together reading but might not be the best choice for a large story time simply because it would be difficult for everyone to be cloes enough to truly take in the details in the photos.
As sweet as the story is – it is also a little bit warped but that will also serve to broaden the audience to include young readers who may not be into sweetness and cupcakes and sprinkles. Musical fruit? Tossing cookies? There will be laughter.
December 7, 2015
An Invisible Thread: Christmas Story by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski, illustrated by Barry Root
An Invisible Thread:
by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski
illustrated by Barry Root
Maurice is just a boy when he and Laura meet. She is passing by on the street. He’s outside hoping to find food when he asks her for spare change. Instead of giving him a few coins, she buys him dinner.
Soon they are meeting for dinner once a week. He helps her put up her Christmas tree in spite of the fact that he’s never had one. Laura invites him to spend the holiday with her family. He tells her about the only Christmas gift he’s ever received, a teddy bear from the Salvation Army.
Out in the country, Maurice sits at the dinner table amidst Laura’s family. More than the gifts, and they give him plenty, or even the food, what impresses Maurice the most is all of these people gathered together, laughing and talking and enjoying each others company. Maurice promises himself that he will have this for himself one day.
Maurice leaves his gifts at Laura’s because he is afraid they will get lost or stolen at the shelter hotel where his family lives. While he’s placing them under the tree, he leaves a gift for Laura. His teddy bear.
I have to admit that I finished the book wondering about a few things. Why the title? This is about simple acts of kindness. Yes it is also about the threads that connect all of mankind but most young readers won’t come up with this on their own. There also seemed to be gaps in the story. I’m assuming she must have spoken to his mother before having him over to her apartment and taking him into the country for dinner but that didn’t come through.
This is a picture book adaptation of a full length book and I’m guessing that a lot of this detail was in the adult book but fell by the wayside in the adaptation.
In spite of this, I really like this book. In it, one woman changes a young man’s life by giving him goals and hope for a better future. And it all started because she heard him, she saw him, and she didn’t just walk on.
This book would make excellent classroom reading before a food drive or other holiday charitable activity. Your young readers may have a few ideas of their own about a project they’d like to take on.
December 4, 2015
Amanda and Her Alligator
written and illustrated by Mo Willems
Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins
Amanda and Alligator are best friends. Unfortunately, Alligator gets left behind when Amanda goes out. When this happens, he paces and fiddles with his tale. Alligator is not very good at waiting.
Still he’s a good friend. When Amanda surprises him with a BOO!, he wants to surprise her back. But BOO! does work nearly so well when the other person is expecting it. Alligator has to think of something else. After all, he’s a good friend like that.
When Grandpa takes Amanda to the zoo, Alligator gets left behind yet again. He paces. He fiddles with his tail. He tries to eat a book. Finally, Amanda comes back but Alligator is pretty sure he doesn’t like the surprise she brings home with her. Panda is huge and fluffy and doesn’t look like he came from the sale bucket.
Alligator is still trying to reconcile himself with this interloper when Amanda announces that she’s leaving again. Grandpa, it seems, wants to take her to dinner.
Now Panda and Alligator are waiting together. The biggest surprise? He may be fluffy and cute, but he doesn’t like waiting either.
Again, I’m not going to give the ending away.
As always Willems’ illustrations convey a ton of emotion while being very simple. Like Knuffle Bunny, also by Mo Willems, Alligator is a stuffed animal. Willems’ doesn’t exactly say this but you get that feeling when you see him sitting in the corner of the room. But Willem respects Alligator too much to point out his stuffed-animalness. Alligator, after all, is very real to Amanda and to Willems. My favorite illustration is probably when Alligator chews on Amanda’s head. Seriously, it is silly and fun and you have to see it.
The book is divided into 6 1/2 stories. They call them stories. I would call them chapters. But that’s not important.
The design of this book is masterful with all kinds of little things that many people wouldn’t notice. At the beginning of the book, the end papers feature Amanda and Alligator. At the end, they feature Amanda, Alligator and Panda. This is a masterful stroke, because above all this is a book about friendship. It isn’t only about how to be a good friend but how to add friends.
Share it with the young reader in your life today.