March 31, 2016
The Night Gardener
by The Fan Brothers
Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
The name said it all. Grimloch Lane as Grim with a capital G. From the orphanage where William lived to #71 which was full of cats.
Then one morning everyone awoke to find that a tree beside the orphanage had been cut to resemble a wise owl. Next came a tree shaped like a cat. Rabbits, parakeets and more appeared as a mysterious gardener clipped one creation per night. Each morning more and more people gathered to gaze in wonder at the new addition.
As more and more trees took shape, the morning gatherings changed. At first, people gathered just to gaze up at the trees. Soon there were photographers, people playing musical instruments, and children with balloons, kites and balls. Things were changing on Grimloch Lane.
One day the festivities continued until after dark. William was about to head home when he saw a man walking down the street carrying a ladder.William followed him to the park and as the man prepared to enter, he turned to William. “There are so many trees in the park. I could use a little help.” William joins the night gardener in creating beauty but never claiming it as his own.
Once again, I’m not going to tell you how the book ends. You’re going to have to read it yourself. That said, if you request it from the library, make sure you get the picture book by the Fan Brothers and not the middle grade novel by Jonathan Auxier which is a very different book although it is also excellent.
Perhaps it is because the book was created by brothers Terry and Eric but the text and art work seamlessly together. The text tells the part of the story about the topiary. Until the very end, the story about the changes within Grimloch Lane itself is told only within the artwork. This book is profoundly encouraging without once saying “create something simply for the sake of creation and the world will change for the better.”
Share this book with the young reader in your life who loves art or gardening. Share it with the reader who needs a bit of mysterious beauty.
March 28, 2016
The Inventor’s Secret:
What Thomas Edison told Henry Ford
by Suzanne Slade
illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt
Before the inventions of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, the world was a very different place. But these two men came to be good friends and to understand one all important secret. Because of this secret, the world has been forever changed.
Edison was the older of the two. As a boy he experimented with chemistry and electricity. Explosions rocked his workshop in the basement of his home.
Ford was born sixteen years later. He was curious about how things worked and took about wind-up toys and tinkered with farm machinery. One of his engines exploded and set the school fence on fire.
Edison wanted to use electricity to make people’s lives easier. Ford dreamed of the day that he would build a car that hard working families could afford. As Ford heard about Edison’s successes, he wondered what secret the older man knew that allowed him to succeed at so much. Ford tried and tried but people laughed as his rattling gas buggy. The same people thought Edison’s inventions were great. What was his secret?
Eventually Ford traveled to New York City and got himself invited to a dinner where important businessmen were meeting. Everyone wanted to talk to Edison. Finally Ford made it to the seat next to the inventor. Before too long, the pair were discussing Ford’s car. Edison asked question after question. Finally he shouted, “Keep at it!”
Ford was shocked to realize that he had known Edison’s secret all along.
Slade has done an excellent job bringing these two legendary figures to life for young readers. Her writing is complimented by Reinhardt’s paintings. Her paintings are not photographic in their level of realism but they are detailed to the point that after reading this book you will be able to tell a Model A from a Model T.
Share this book with the science lover or young inventor in your life. Use it as a jumping off point for discussions on the scientific method and the can-do attitude essential to all inventors.
March 24, 2016
Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War
by Steve Sheinkin
Roaring Brook Press
Daniel Ellsberg was a marine who had led men in battle in Vietnam. He was also a genius who worked as a Pentagon consultant. As a consultant he gained access to a secret history of the war known as the Pentagon Papers. He wasn’t supposed to have the report but a secretly friend loaned him a copy and Ellsberg couldn’t believe what he read. It was obvious why one President after another had failed to win the Vietnam War.
Why? They weren’t trying to win because it would mean too many American deaths. Why then continue to fight? No one wanted to be the first American President to lose a war. The goal was simply to hang on until after the next election while continuing to send US soldiers to die.
In 1971, Ellsberg leaked parts of the Pentagon Papers to various reporters. He did this knowing that he could be convicted of treason and sent to prison. He considered that a small price to pay to bring the truth to the American people.
It didn’t take long for President Nixon and his intelligence network to realize that Ellsberg was the leak. With this knowledge, Nixon’s goal became to ruin Ellsberg. His men broke into the offices of a psychiatrist who had treated Ellsberg, planted bugs and more. Nixon believed that in this, and many other situations, that results matter more than whether or not you break the law to get these results.
This carefully researched book reads like a James Bond novel with G. Gordon Liddy and his men breaking into offices, wearing disguises and prepared to kill if necessary. Sheinkin linked Nixon’s willingness to sidestep the law to get Ellsberg directly to Watergate. But in Sheinkin’s story, Nixon is more than a power mad villain. Sheinkin brings to light his motivations and his strengths as well as his weaknesses.
Any young reader interested in history, politics or recent whistle blowing cases, such as Snowden’s revelations about NCA surveillance, will enjoy this book. As always Sheinkin has created a tightly woven, fast paced story that, though factual, reads like a spy thriller.
March 21, 2016
An egg rolls down hill and plunks into a nest but Mother Duck, who is busy reading, doesn’t notice. When her eggs hatch, she has a variety of ducklings, striped and spotted, and one that is much, much bigger than the others. Regardless of their difference, Mother Duck loves all of her ducklings and she teaches them to swim, waddle and dive. The biggest one, Guji Guji, always seems to catch on first. Young readers will see in the illustrations that he is a crocodile.
One day three hungry crocodiles come out of the lake. They spot Guji Guji and make fun of his duck-like walk. But the crocs aren’t giving up. They explain to him that his grey color, claws and pointed teeth are all normal for a crocodile and designed to help him eat ducks, not live with ducks. They tell Guji Guji to bring the ducks to the dock and challenge them to practice diving, right into crocodile mouths.
Guji Guji doesn’t like to think that he might be a crocodile. He doesn’t want to be bad but he has to acknowledge that he isn’t exactly a duck either. In spite of this, he knows who is family truly is (quack quack) and knows he has to save them from the crocs.
Yet again, I’m not going to reveal the climax. Read the book! Suffice it to say that Guji Guji saves the day and makes peace with his place as an adopted child. That’s what adults get out of the book and I can see why because the theme is there and it isn’t subtle. I read a number of reviews online and adults worry that children will only receive the message that their birth family/culture was bad. Frankly, I don’t think so. I think that for the most part kids are going to accept the surface story. Guji Guji needs to chose sides — crocodile or duck.
Yes, adoption is one of the themes but as a parent I would be much more worried about protecting my child from the negative portrayals of various cultures that saturate the media. If my child seemed upset about the way the three crocodiles are portrayed, I would ask “Do you think all of the crocodiles are bad? What about Guji Guji?” The answer is rather obvious (no!) yet elludes the adults who have missed this obvious fact.
March 17, 2016
Pink Is for Blobfish
by Jess Keating
Alfred A. Knopf
Do you have an animal crazy young reader in your life? Than pick up Pink is for Blobfish.
Pink is more than a color for girls in this book that explores all kinds of animals that are pink. The list ranges from blobfish and hairy squat lobsters in the water to red uakaris and pink land iguanas on land. Not sure what one of these animals is? Pick up this book.
Each spread includes a large photo of the animal in question (see blobfish on cover), general information and a sidebar full of details including the Latin species name, size, diet, habitat, and predators and threats.
The animals covered in this text range from sea to land and even include the birds of the air. Be on the lookout for gross dining habits of pink sea stars and how the pink land iguana was saved from extinction.
At the end of the book is a world map with a color-coded key that shows the range of each animal. It was interesting to see how well represented South America was but that the only animals in Asia are all in Southeast Asia.
A quick glance at the book may be a bit intimidating since it is fairly wordy but you can read about one or two animals and then set the book aside for later. It is perfect for curious young readers who may not have the attention span for a full-length study on each animal.
An excellent book for the classroom library and to launch discussions on ecology, climate change, or ecosystems.
March 15, 2016
Anno’s Counting Book
by Mitsumasa Anno
Do you have a young one who is struggling to learn to count? Then pick up a copy of Anno’s Counting Book. This wordless picture book starts with the number 0 and, spread by spread, counts up to twelve. There is just so much to love about this book!
First of all, I have to say that I appreciate the fact that it goes through 12. The vast majority of counting books stop at 10 but Anno works through a full dozen. And he illustrates zero. Zero really isn’t the easiest concept for a preschooler to grasp but Anno gives them the chance to learn what it means.
Furthermore, Anno acknowledges the abstract nature of numbers. What do I mean by abstract nature? Draw a picture of an apple and show it to your young reader and if you have even minimal talent, your child will recognize the apple. Why? Because it looks like an apple. Write out “3” or “5” and your reader isn’t going to know that 3 means three of something and that 5 stands for two more than that. Numbers are not concrete, but abstract.
Without any words, Anno demonstrates each number in three different ways. Each is written out in terms of Arabic numbers (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.) and as groups of blocks (1-10 per column). The illustrations show the number in question in several different ways — 1 building, 1 snow man, 1 pine tree, 1 skier. Although 2 shows 2 buildings, 2 men, 2 trucks, 2 pine trees and more, not everything in the painting appears as part of a pair. There is still only one river and one bridge. Children have a chance to see what 2 is and what 2 is not.
Although the book is wordless, the illustrations do tell a story as a village grows from late one winter through the middle (Christmas) of the next winter. As the seasons pass, the village adds building after building and the numbers of people and heads of livestock grow.
Pick this book up and share it with your young learner. Then be ready to go out and find the various numbers in the larger world.
March 10, 2016
To the Stars! The First American Women to Walk in Space by Carmella Van Vleet and Dr. Kathy Sullivan, illustrated by Nicole Wong
To the Stars!
The First American Women to Walk in Space
by Carmella Van Vleet and Dr. Kathy Sullivan
illustrated by Nicole Wong
When Kathy Sullivan was growing up in the 1950s, she wanted to be an adventurer. Her friends didn’t understand. Adventurer wasn’t a girl’s job. She should want to be a nurse or a teacher or, more likely, a mom. Fortunately, Sullivan didn’t worry about what people expected.
You may not recognize her name, but Dr. Kathy Sullivan is an astronaut and scientist. She was the first American woman to walk in space. She flew three Space Shuttle missions in her fifteen years with NASA including the mission that launched the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit.
Her biography is told as two parallel story lines. In one, young readers learn about things she did as a girl. In the second, they read about things that she did as an astronaut that parallel her childhood adventures. Studying her father’s blueprints for aircraft preceded her study of maps and various NASA documents to prepare for her flights. Doing a cannonball into the water preceded her underwater training for weightlessness in space. From earning her pilot’s license to taking off as a passenger in a Breezy, an aircraft with no cabin around the pilot and passengers, Sullivan’s early life fed into the adventures she would have as an astronaut.
Although the afterward discusses other women in NASA, the focus of this book is clearly Sullivan. Although times have changed and girls are no longer restricted to teaching or being nurses, many young people are discouraged from dreaming big. This book will show them that even the stars are within their grasp.
Share it with your young reader who is interested in space or science. Share it with the child who needs a bit of encouragement because if Kathy Sullivan could find such an unusual way to use her gifts, they too will almost certainly find a way to shine.
March 7, 2016
Bruce is going about his life like any bear would — looking for eggs and cooking them using fancy recipes he found on the internet. One day he found a fantastic goose egg recipe and knew he had to give it a try. Bruce sourced the freshest ingredients starting with the salmon and honey. When he came to the goose eggs he was lucky enough to find a nest with four lovely eggs.
At home, he put them in a pot on the stove only to discover that he didn’t have enough wood. While Bruce was out gathering wood, something happened.
His eggs hatched.
When Bruce came back home, the goslings decided that he was their mama. Bruce tried to eat the goslings on toast, but somehow he had lost his appetite. He tried to take them back to their mother, but without the responsibility of a nest she had headed south early.
Bruce tried to leave the goslings behind, but they followed him everywhere. He pointed out that he wasn’t their mother, but it didn’t seem to make any difference. “Goslings always follow their mother, even if SHE is a HE and HE is a bear.”
Suffice it to say that Bruce makes the best of things even when the time comes to send the goslings south for the winter. I’m not going to give a play-by-play because, really, you want to read this one for yourself. It is just that fun.
Now I have to admit that this book is fun for me in ways that may not be fun for you. One of my son’s boy scout leaders is Bruce. Bruce does a lot of the cooking for the troop and their troop meals are always head-and-shoulders above what the other troops are eating.
Whether not you know Leader Bruce, you are going to love this Bruce because really and truly all of us who work with kids feel this was every now and again. “Quit following me.” “I’m not your mother.” And he’s a bear who’s a foodie! That just cracked me up.
Higgins’ art work is perfect for capturing the full range of emotions from Bruce’s grumpy scowl to the goslings’ clueless wonder. I think my favorite illustration is the dinner table when Bruce has one gosling sitting on a slice of toast, butter pat on his head, another gosling on the butter, and two more just trying to figure out what’s what.
Share this one with your clueless but adorable young goslings and the adults who teach them the many things that they need to know.
March 3, 2016
Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans
written and illustrated by Don Brown
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
When Hurricane Katrina storms across Florida, it is only a Category 1 hurricane. This is the smallest, least destructive level but it still kills 6 people, dumps 18 inches of water and leave 1/2 million without electricity. If that was a small storm, what could a bit one do? People found out when it reached New Orleans.
Crossing the Gulf of Mexico, the storm pulled in more and more water. By the time it reached New Orleans, it was a Category 5 complete with 155 mph winds. These winds drive a wave of water ahead of the storm. When Katrina strikes New Orleans it will lead with a wave that is 25 feet higher than normal.
There are 1.2 million people living in the area. Miraculously, 80% of them manage to flee. These are the ones who have cars or no one sick in the hospital.
But this is when the true disaster begins. Trains must be evacuated as well and they offer to fill all five with those who have no cars. The major says no thank you. The city also owns 360 buses but they aren’t used to remove people either. As the water approaches, waves roll over the tops of levees. The cities pumps could remove this water but when levee walls collapse nothing can be done.
Don Brown goes on to describe the many ways that people die — trapped in attics filling with water, washed away or, later, from lack of food and water. He describes the lack of response from the government and the lack of coordination. But he also describes the many people who fight through to help and the spirit of those who are determined to rebuild because, in spite of everything, New Orleans is their home.
I’ve been trying to find nonfiction graphic novels but I have to admit that I initially passed this one over. I couldn’t image reading this particular story in graphic color. And I have to say, it can be a tough one to read but Brown uses muted, muddy, flood-appropriate tones. Somehow that also mutes the horror. The dead are sometimes shown but not their faces. I know that sounds like a trivial detail but somehow it makes it less extreme (and is also an old war photographers trick).
The book is listed for readers 7th grade and older. In truth, I’d be tempted to say 9th grade but a lot is going to depend on the young reader. Many of them will be drawn to the story for the truth and the realism, a reality that is often denied to them by adults who feel that they just can’t handle it.
Would I give this book to my son? Yes. Would I have given it to him in 7th grade. Yes, but we would have read it together.
Brown’s telling doesn’t gloss over the ugly realities either of death itself or the government failures that led to that death toll. It isn’t a pretty story but it is one that needs to be told, if for no other reason so that we can avoid making the same mistakes twice.