February 29, 2016
Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras
by Duncan Tonatiuh
Abrams Books for Young Readers
Have you ever seen figures of skeletons riding bicycles, dancing, or playing musical instruments? These are called calavera. The word is literally Spanish for skull and these figures are associated with the Day of the Dead or Dia del Muertos. This Mexican holiday is celebrated on November 1st and 2nd and is a day of remembrance for all our loved ones who have died.
These skeleton figures are the creation of an artist named Jose Guadalupe Posada. Early in his life, he was known as Lupe. As his work became more and more popular, he came to be called by his last name – Posada.
His pieces are meant to be entertaining and fun but there is always a message – this is what will happen to us all. In his lifetime, his etchings accompanied poems. Sometimes the poems were festive, funny comments on life. But those created during the Mexican Revolution were often dark and aggressive.
When this book won the Pura Belpre Award given by American Library Association in January, I was eager to get ahold of it for two reasons. 1. I adore calaveras although many people think they are grim and ghastly.
2. I also adore Duncan Tonatiuh’s illustrations.
It did not disappoint. I loved it for the lessons in Mexican culture and history, but there is so much more on this book. Definitions of art techniques used by Posada are scattered throughout the text as are the works of Posada and Manuel Manilla who also created calaveras. Tonatiuh’s work is hand drawn and then used to create computerized collages sometimes including pieces by either Posada or Manilla. The works of these two artists are fully credited in the backmatter.
I would definitely recommend sharing this with your young art lover or any other child interested in learning about other cultures. The illustrations are colorful and humorous and make you think about the many things we take for granted.
February 25, 2016
Worst of Friends: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and the True Story of an American Feud
by Suzanne Tripp Jurmain
illustrated by Larry Day
Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were two very different people. Short, chubby John loved to tell jokes and be the center of attention. Tall, thin Jefferson liked to play the violin but almost never spoke in public. In many ways they were opposites but they were still best friends. They loved to spend time together just talking or helping each other out.
They worked together to help move America toward independence. John talked. Tom wrote the Declaration of Independence. Together they went to Europe to raise money to help the new government pay its bills and fight off its enemies.
But they didn’t agree on everything and it almost cost them their friendship. They didn’t agree on how strong the new president should be. eventually they ended up running again each other for President. They didn’t speak to each other for years.
Jurmain has done a fantastic job of showing how two people can agree on many things, truly like each other, and still be different in very big ways. It is an excellent example of how politics and other beliefs can come between people, even friends. It also shows that the name calling we see today isn’t new in any way.
Day’s illustrations help bring the story to life. I love the image where Tom is trying to get John to shush while he contemplates a chess move. They are detailed without being scientific and just cartoony enough to lighten the mood even when things are grim.
This book will generate a lot of discussion on whether or not they should have quit being friends and what they could have done to mend the break much sooner. An excellent book about history, politics, friendship and opinion.
February 22, 2016
The Scorpion Rules
by Erin Bow
Margaret K. McElderry Books
Greta is crown princess of the Pan Polar Confederacy. Posh as it sounds, Greta is a hostage to Talis, an artificial intelligence that the United Nations put online to find a solution to global conflict. Talis found a solution no one expected.
The students at the Precepture spend part of the day in the classroom. It is vital that they understand history and the havoc brought to the world by war.
The rest of the day is spent caring for the goats, orchards and gardens that feed the Precepture. Yes, the students go home a few times a year. That’s essential to maintain the bonds that will hopefully keep their parents from doing anything rash.
If a King, Queen or President goes to war, his hostage will be killed.
When she goes home for a visit, Greta wears ball gowns. She has her portrait painted. The people adore her.
Back at the Precepture, she and the others watch for the tell-tale plume of dust from a lone rider. A lone rider is most often Talis’ messenger to announce a war and execute one of their classmates. Greta knows she could easily be next.
I realize that I’m not revealing a lot about the plot in this particular review. Why? Because it is marvelously, deliciously complicated. To delve into it would be to get lost in it.
Still, this wasn’t an easy book to get into. Greta holds her emotions close so that she feels cold and distant. She isn’t. In reality she’s terrified. Elian is her opposite. He is a wild cannon, tortured daily by the artificial intelligence that runs the Precepture. Shocked until he can no longer stand, he refuses to give in and just go with the flow. Elian wasn’t raised a prince or a lordling, but a shepherd. It is his country that will likely go to war against Greta’s.
It is an amazing moment when Greta realizes what power she has and seizes it.
This is postapocalyptic fiction at its finest. The characters are amazingly well drawn. The world is complex. It is easy to see that we could end up living this reality some day in the not too distant future.
But the torture makes it really, really hard to read. It isn’t graphic. It isn’t gory. But it is painful to witness, as it should be.
Still this is an excellent choice for a young reader who is a Hunger Games or Divergence fan. Pick it up and be ready for some deep discussions.
February 16, 2016
Fab Four Friends:
The Boys who Became the Beatles
by Susanna Reich
illustrated by Adam Gustavson
Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt
John Lennon lived with his aunt and uncle but when his band, the Quarrymen, practiced, that met at his mother’s apartment. Aunt Mimi knew he loved to play the guitar but worried he wouldn’t be able to make a living with it.
Paul McCartney grew up in a musical home and music definitely helped fill the void when his mother died. Paul and John practiced their guitars at Paul’s house, writing songs and scribbling down the words.
George Harrison’s family didn’t have a lot of money or enough to eat but they had plenty of laughter. His Dad wanted him to be an electrician but George loved rock-n-roll. He used his wages as a delivery boy to buy records and worked out the chords for the songs. He taught the chords to John and Paul.
When their band, they had changed the name to the Beatles, got a gig in Germany, they learned to whip up a crowd. All they needed now was a drummer which they found in sharp dressing, steady drumming Ringo Starr.
This can’t have been the easiest book to write — having to merge the stories of four musicians into one — but Reich handles it well, detailing their lives pre-Beatles as well as how the band became The Beatles of legend. Gustavson’s oil paintings bring the story to life, capturing each man and helping bring him into focus for the readers.
What I think this book does best is show the work and commitment that went into becoming a band of legend. This wasn’t a ho-hum we don’t have anything else to do project. It didn’t happen over night. It is something the boys made happen in spite of the odds and working to make the changes necessary to go from good to great.
Share this book with the young music lovers in your life but be ready to pick up a copy for an older Beatles fan as well!
February 11, 2016
The Thing about Yetis
by Vin Vogel
Dial Books for Young Readers
“The thing about yetis is that yetis love winter.”
As should be clear from the cover, this isn’t a wild, blood-chilling abominable snowman story. This is a cute, cuddly yeti yarn.
It turns out that yetis are a lot like us. They love winter and hot cocoa. They love building with snow, wrecking what they’ve built, and playing around on the ice. But no matter how much they like winter, sometimes the cold and snow and ice just get to be too much.
Because, just like us, yetis like summer too. They like water games, the beach and building with sand. And, just like creative kids, creative yetis can enjoy summer fun even on a cold winter day.
This is one of those stories where the monster/animal is a stand-in for Joe Kid. Why say “yeti” instead of “Joe Kid”? Yetis make the book that much more fun. But young readers are still going to identify with our young yeti. They’ll get the thrill of waking up to snow, of slipping and sledding and building. They’ll also understand that feeling that too much of a good thing is just . . . too . . . much.
The cartoony art work for this book was created digitally. Young readers will love that it is fun and silly. The adult reading to the child will love jokes hidden in the art work — be sure to look for the marshmallow bag.
I can see using this book for story time and the craft options are endless with cotton ball yetis, pom pom yetis and even pop corn ball yetis. This book would also work well to introduce discussions on seasons and seasonal activities as well as helping kids who must deal with event let-down. If you don’t understand “event let-down,” just smile. You probably haven’t had to deal with it.
A fast moving, fun read for sun lovers, snow lovers and everyone in between.
February 8, 2016
The War Within These Walls
by Aline Sax
illustrated by Caryl Strzelecki
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
The Germans invaded Poland and a month later they settled in Warsaw. It seemed like they planned to be there for a very long time. The war seemed to be over but it wasn’t actually peaceful. People would be stopped in the streets. German soldiers yelled at them, beat them down and left them to freeze where they lay.
This was the beginning of the war on Poland’s Jews. Misha had non-Jewish friends but was no longer allowed to play soccer together or even sit on a bench and visit with them.
Then the wall went up. All Jews had to stay within the wall. Non-Jews had to leave. More Jews were moved inside; it was the birth of the Warsaw ghetto. Things were crowded but life went on more-or-less as usual. It couldn’t be entirely typical. Misha’s family lived in the kitchen of their apartment. Strangers crowded into the other rooms. Still people who had money or things to trade had food. They could buy bread in the bakery.
But eventually the food ran out. Germans wanted people to work in the ghetto factories but they didn’t provide enough food.
One day, Misha saw a colorful parakeet fly over the wall. He started to think — if the bird could get in and out, maybe he could too. For a time, he took to the sewers, moving into the city to find food. Sewers, holes in the wall and even the gates themselves allowed people who were quick and clever to exit and reenter the ghetto but there was always a risk. Misha saw the Nazi’s with flame throwers burn out the sewers, people were shot just outside the gate, some people simply never came home.
Then the Nazis decided to kill everyone left in the ghetto for Hitler’s birthday. The Jews had to fight back.
I know I’m not giving a lot of details about the plot but I want you to discover that for yourself. The uprising was doomed from the start but the ill-armed Jewish fighters managed to hold the Nazis off for four weeks. I’d read about the ghetto and I’ve written about World War II but I learned a lot from this book.
One of the things that I appreciated most was that Sax did not make the Jews out to be victims. Yes, horrible things were done to them. But among them there were wolves reading and willing to fight back.
This is definitely a young adult book but it isn’t dense and it is a very quick read. I’d recommend it for both the classroom and the library as well as any teen who is interested in World War II. Yes, it is a dark story but it still succeeds in being hopeful.
February 5, 2016
Finding Winnie, The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick, illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Finding Winnie, The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear
by Lindsay Mattick
illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Little, Brown and Company
Cole and his mom are cuddled up together when she begins a story about a Canadian veterinarian named Harry Colebourn. Harry was a soldier, traveling with a train full of other soldiers. It was World War I and Harry was going to take car of the soldiers horses. The trained carried them on and on, stopping occasionally.
Once it stopped at a train platform where a trapper sat on a bench. He had a bear cub and Harry knew that the trapper wasn’t going to raise that bear cub. He thought and thought about how he could help the cub and finally bought it from the trapper for $20.00.
Harry knew his commanding officer wouldn’t be wild about the idea of the bear cub so he named her after their home, Winnipeg. “We’ll never be far from home…” The men called her Winnie. They helped care for her, bringing her food. Fortunately, bears it a wide variety of things. Then men gave Winnie a post to climb and Harry worked in the horse hospital.
When the men were done with their training, Winnie went with them to England. Harry just didn’t have the heart to leave her behind. Winnie ate and ate and grew and grew. By the time they reached the new camp in England, she was big enough to be a bother, even if the was still a very smart, very good bear. Harry wouldn’t give her up but then the order came for the men to go to fight. Harry just couldn’t take Winnie into war. Instead, he took her to the city to the London Zoo.
There she met a young boy. The boy had a stuffed bear that he loved very much but he’d never been able to pick a name, not until he met Winnie. And what was the boy’s name? Christopher Robin.
This is a nonfiction book written by the granddaughter of Christopher Robin. It is the story that she used to tell her own son Cole about how this American bear came to be in England where she met a boy named Christopher Robin and his father, A.A. Milne, the author of the Winnie the Pooh books.
Sophie Blackall has created illustrations for the book that have an old-time feel. I don’t know whether it is the soft colors or the character’s rosy red cheeks but these illustrations feel just right for a story that takes young readers back to a time to a very special bear. I’m not at all surprised that her work won the Caldecott Medal given by the American Library Association to one picture book a year for delightful illustration.
I would definitely recommend this book to everyone, young and old, who is a fan of Winnie the Pooh.
February 2, 2016
by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews
illustrated by Bryan Collier
Where y’at? Where Trombone Shorty grew up in New Orleans, that means hello. Just like that greeting, Trombone Shorty is New Orleans through and through.
He grew up in a neighborhood called Tremé. It is the kind of place where you can hear music day and night. Often, where he heard it was right at home because his big brother James played trumpet in his very own band. Trombone Shorty loved the Mardi Gras Parade full of brass bands. He loved hearing the musicians call out to each other “Where y’at?” All day long he’d watch the parade go past his house as the neighbors danced along.
Trombone Shorty and his friends wanted to be part of this but they didn’t have the money for instruments. This didn’t stop them. They made their own. He even rescued a broken down trombone. The next time the parade came by, he joined in and his brother called out “Trombone Shorty, where y’at?” The trombone was longer than he was tall and, although he grew taller than his instrument, the nickname stuck.
Before long, Trombone Shorty was teaching himself the songs his brother played. When he got to hear Bo Diddley at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, he played along. Bo Diddley called out. Not that he wanted Trombone Shorty to stop. Instead he invited him up on stage.
Before long Trombone Shorty was playing in his brother’s band. Now he has his own band, Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue.
Trombone Shorty may not be a writer but his passion and enthusiasm come through in this book that won the Corretta Scott King award for illustration in 2016. It was also an honor book for the Caldecott medal. Bryan Collier’s illustrations bring the story to life, combing watercolor and collage much as the music of New Orleans creates a variety of flavors to create a unique sound.
This picture book wouldn’t be my first choice for a preschooler but an elementary age music love would quickly be immersed in the experience. Add it to your bookshelf today.