October 27, 2016
When we discuss cities and what it in a city, we tend to focus on the things we can see as we walk down the sidewalk — buildings, people, cars and more. In their book, Porter and Lazano take a look at what is going on beneath the city and they cover all the bases.
Granted, the focus is on things that are essential to city life. There is a discussion of the pipes that bring natural gas and water into the city as well as the sewers and storm drains that allow rain water to escape. Readers get to see the tunnels for roadways and trains and well as the foundation pilings that are sunk deep into the ground.
But that isn’t all that can be found underground. Porter also writes about burials and crypts. She includes spreads on artifacts as well as fossils.
The text isn’t particularly dense but it is informative. Readers will definitely come away from it all with a better sense of a how a city functions and what is unseen.
The book design contributes to the unique feel of this book. Although the cover orientation is typical with the binding to the left, as soon as the reader gets into the story they turn the book on its side so that it displays a tall narrow window into the earth. Quite clever!
Lazano’s digital illustrations aren’t as specific as schematics or blueprints. But they give enough detail to create a complete and accurate picture. In addition to showing the view from buildings down into the ground there are inset “close-ups” of various details. All in all the design works well to pull the reader in and teach them something about the world they live in.
A glossary, critical thinking questions and list of additional readings complete the book. This is an excellent choice for a school library or classroom but don’t pass it up for the young builder or digger in your life. Invite them all to explore the world under the city.
October 25, 2016
We have time for another book that is Halloween-y without being strictly limited to that holiday.
Through her ballet class Vamperina Ballerina has an amazing group of friends. Naturally, she wants to do things with them and invites them all over for a sleepover. Just as she is a top notch dancer, she is a top-notch hostess. She makes her invitations (with help from Dad), delivers them and even takes her parents to meet the parents of one of the girls.
At this girl’s house, Vamperina sees how other people live and she starts to worry. Does home look “right”? And what about her family? She gets her mother to take her shopping and picks out all new outfits for the whole family. Grandpa Frankenstein in beach attire is a scream! Big sis, goth-girl vampire refuses to wear a cheer leaders uniform but she does save the say later in the book.
As always with the Vamperina books, half the story is in the illustrations. Vamperina knows that she needs a variety of foods because no one will eat absolutely everything but she has monster foods. That said, one guest is eager to try stew full of tentacles! But Sis comes to the rescue of the other girls with a stack of steaming pizzas.
I love that each of the girls has a distinct personality. One will try anything in the way of food. Another falls for the family’s dragon. One girl does get home sick and Vamperina and the others make it their mission to cheer her up.
This story sounds amazingly complex and it is but so much of it is in the illustrations. Expect to spend some time rereading the book, pouring over the pictures, and reading-by-reading eventually taking it all in.
October 20, 2016
Looking for a fun Halloween book that can be read year round? Then pick up a copy of Vamperina Ballerina today.
From finding just the right ballet school to how to behave your first day of class, this book is a fabulous and funny how-to on the art of ballet. Some of the helpful tips?
“Keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth closed.” Why? So that your fangs don’t distract the other dancers.
“And a mistake here or there is not a reflection on your talent.” Honestly, this was my favorite tip. As with many an excellent picture book, Pham’s paintings add details not present in the text. We aren’t told what specific problems our young dancer is having but the illustrations show her, awkward and struggling, as she eventually trips and tumbles through her peers. To add insult to injury, when Madame tries to show her how to correct her posture, using the mirror, she discovers that Vamperina has no reflection.
There is really so much to love about this book. Vamperina isn’t an instant success as a dancer and continues to struggle until, slowly, she improves. The whole time she has the support of her family. We see her older sister placing a stack of books on her head to help with posture, Mom sculpting the young dancer, and Dad painting a picture that looks surprisingly Degas.
Pace’s text is spare and upbeat and oh so fun. Pham’s watercolor and ink illustrations expand wonderfully on the story, adding all kinds of visuals that aren’t present in the text. Honestly, if you’re the one reading this story out loud, you’re going to want to “read” it a second time focusing on the illustrations.
Share this with the spooktacular dancer in your life but don’t be surprised when she wants a ballet cape or a batty head band.
October 18, 2016
At one time, art, music and learning had a place in Afghanistan. Under the Taliban, that all changed. Soldiers from the hills moved into the cities. They shut down the schools, especially the schools for girls. This is the story of one of those girls.
Nasreen’s days were long and boring and sad. The soldiers had come in the night and dragged her father into the street. After waiting for him to return, Nasreen’s mother went looking for him. It was forbidden for her to do this, no woman was allowed to go out alone but with just her and her mother-in-law and little Nasreen, there was no one who could go.
Months passed as Nasreen and her grandmother waited. Nasreen no longer spoke. All she did was sit and wait.
Her grandmother couldn’t let this go on. She had heard about a secret school for girls. In this school, Nasreen could learn as her grandmother had learned, as her mother had learned. Nasreen and her grandmother slipped down the lanes to the green gate. A lady teacher answered their knock and let Nasreen inside.
This isn’t a new book – it came out in 2009. Yet, somehow I didn’t see it until recently.
Very few of us remember what Afghanistan used to be like. 70% of all teachers were women. So were 40% of the doctors and 50% of the students at Kabul University. With the Taliban, women could no longer work or go to school. They couldn’t even travel in the streets unless they were accompanied by a male relative — an impossibility with your only male relative has been taken away by the soldiers.
Jeanette Winter was invited to write a book and chose this story to tell. It is based on a real little girl and her real grandmother. Obviously, Winter had to make some changes to the story to ensure their safety — or at least to avoid endangering them any further. I love that although this is a story about a girl and her grandmother and other girls and women, Winter shows the part that good men also play. She tells about little boys who distract the soldiers when they see women and girls heading toward the school.
Share this book with your young readers. It is truly a story that needs to be told and needs to be heard.
October 14, 2016
I have to admit that I was a bit apprehensive when I picked up Peck’s latest offering. I’m a sucker for his historic fiction. I absolutely love it. Somehow I had consistently missed his contemporary novels. What can I say? It means I can be a bit narrow in my focus. Still, I requested it at the library and eagerly sat down to read it Wednesday night. I was only a chapter in when my husband turned off the light. But I picked it up Thursday morning and read all the way through to the back cover. It is that good.
Archer is a lucky kid and he knows it. Yes, he has to put up with bullies — including the one that pulled a knife on him in the first grade. And he’s had his share of heartache like when his grandpa had a stroke. But he’s also got a lot of great people in his life. The three men he looks up to most are:
- His Grandpa, a great architect who walks him to school.
- His Dad who restores antique cars and let’s Archer help.
- His Uncle Paul whose just great.
Then he meets role model #4 and things start to get interesting. Mr. McLeod is movie star handsome but when he shows up to his first day at work (student teaching) in full camo since he’s on his way to the National Guard for the weekend, the secretary panics. Soon the school is on full lock down because of . . . a uniform.
Mr. McLeod is the most interesting not-quite-a-teacher that Archer has ever had and soon he’s seeing more and more of the man. He and Uncle Paul seem to have struck up a friendship. Finally Uncle Paul points out to Archer that he (Uncle Paul) is gay. Archer’s a little surprised because he really isn’t the most observant guy ever. Still, Uncle Paul is Uncle Paul and if Mr. McLeod is what’s good for Uncle Paul, that’s good enough for Archer.
Before the book is over, it is obvious that these men are all helping Archer become the Best Man he can be.
As is always the case with Pecks books, he peppers them with amazingly funny and eccentric characters. There’s Archer’s best friend Lynnette, whose unapologetically herself both before and after fat camp, and temporally wheel-chair bound Hilary who has personality to spare.
Young readers who enjoy getting to know the characters in their books and a good laugh will love Peck’s book. But it isn’t all laughter. There are difficult moments and tears but there is also laughter and love and hope. I absolutely loved Archer in part because he can be so clueless. He’s the perfect character for any kid who has been surprised by a family announcement or a revelation from his best friend.
But if your young reader doesn’t get anything done until the book is read, don’t blame me. You were warned it could happen.
October 11, 2016
“Don’t read this book (unless you love books and art).” So begins The Scraps Book.
Even as a child, Lois Ehlert had a special place to create her art. She started with the folding table her father set up for her. She even took the table with her to art school.
Ehlert explains where she gets the ideas for her books, how she uses her various collections in her art work, and how she plays with the point of view until she finds the story she wants to tell. She shows young readers how she plans a book out, how the illustration changes from idea to finished piece, and how she plans and cuts out the pieces to piece together a collage. Peppered throughout the book, are pieces os art from Ehlert’s many books. Fans will recognize pieces from Ten Little Caterpillars, Snowballs and Cuckoo.
Personally, I love that she admitted that she’s messy when she works. She even included a photo of the bottoms of her shoes complete with the bits and pieces that were stuck there.
She also shows how, even after she’s started to work on a piece, sometimes she has to seek further inspiration. Young readers who only see a finished book might not understand just how much trial and error goes into creating a finished product. Without some knowledge of the process it is too easy to mystify the end result.
Instead, Ehlert separates the layers and shows how it is done. She encourages young readers to create their own work as well. In addition to art work, Ehlert includes a treat for young readers to use to attract and feed wild birds and more. Yes, she wants to encourage them to try their hand at art but what she really wants is to help them explore the world and discover their passions just as she found hers.
An excellent choice for your would-be artist and more.
October 8, 2016
We think of plants as stationary objects, anchored to one place. Read Hirsch’s book and you will see plants wiggle, squirm and reach as they grow. You be there when they climb and walk, snap and fold.
Readers will learn about the movement of plants as they grow, as they capture a meal (venus fly trap) and as they avoid being eaten (sensitive plant or touch-me-not). There is information about how plants move throughout the day and how seeds are dispersed. Some of the movements are small, such as when a flower closes, and others cover vast distances, when a coconut floats across the ocean, coming to rest on a new spot of land.
I love books that make us rethink how we look at the world so this one was natural for me. I also appreciate how the author uses especially simple text to convey so much information.
Mia Posada brings the plants themselves to life using a combination of cut paper collage and water-color. Fibers in the paper are used to great effect as they mirror the fibers in the plants themselves. The water-color lend graceful bleeds as leaves turn toward their autumn colors as well as the vibrant but changing colors within a venus fly trap. I love cut paper collage and “read” the book through once just taking in the textures of the paper.
For those who want more information than can be found in the main text, the author has compiled extensive information on each plant in an author’s note. My only complaint, and it is minor, is that in describing the Russian thistle she doesn’t clarify that it is also known as a tumble weed. Since there is no image accompanying this particular description, some readers may have trouble making the connection back to the appropriate image. A glossary, reading list and web sites round out the back matter.
This book is an excellent choice for quite reading or for use in the classroom. Share it with the young reader in your life today!