December 30, 2016
I’ve been exploring graphic novels a bit more lately and I have to say that I’m really enjoying some of the nonfiction graphic novels that I’ve found. My favorite new find is Dinosaurs by MK Reed and illustrated by Joe Flood.
Reed and Flood trace the discovery and exploration of dinosaurs and other prehistoric fossils. This isn’t just a list of finds. They present not only what was discovered when but also what people thought these finds represented and how that changed over time. They also managed to integrate information on the infighting and politics as well.
Why is that such a big deal? Let’s just say that misinformation isn’t a new thing with Facebook and the internet. It is as old as discovery and often involved factions and who didn’t like who. Sounds a lot like politics, doesn’t it?
Among the misunderstood fossils/creatures that they discuss are Iguanodon and Brontosaurus. Several weeks before the book went to print, it was once again decided that the Brontosaurus represents a unique genre. It is, as depicted on page 112 both smug and their least favorite dinosaur.
Why all the confusion? In addition to politics, there is also the nature of the fossil discoveries themselves. Few skeletons are complete. With scattered finds and incomplete remains it is hard to get a feel for how a newly hatched dino looks compared to a teen sibling or an adult. Then you also get the possible dichotomy between male and female dinosaurs. Simply put, with new discovers our understanding is constantly changing.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in dinosaurs but also to anyone who is interested in how science and our understanding of the world changes over time.
December 27, 2016
Stout Sam and his deckhand Pip ferry goods from island to island. One day they find a barrel on the beach. Inside they discover a pink piglet. Julie may be afraid of water but the pig loves to sail with them. At first they aren’t sure what is up when she starts squealing wildly but when they throw their nets overboard they haul in so much treasure that part of their regular cargo has to go.
Every time Julie squeals at sea, they find treasure. They find so much that they throw back everything but the coins that they can spend.
But other people on the island notice their wealth and start to talk. Just as Sam and Pip realize that what they have on their hands is a pirate pig, trained to find lost treasure, word about Julie reaches Barracuda Bill.
What will Pip and Sam do when the pirates steal their precious pig? Worries about a spoiler alert? Don’t be. You know me, I’m not going to give the ending away. You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens.
The leap from being read-to to becoming an independent reader is a tough one. I know my son was reluctant to take the plunge. Some kids don’t want to give up that together time even if you assure them that you will still read to them. Others, I’m convinced, want the light-hearted, fun fare they find in picture books. They can sometimes find it in early readers but that sort of thing can seem harder to find in chapter books.
The Pirate Pig fills that need for readers 7 to 10. Part of what makes the book so fun is the frequent illustrations. It isn’t as copiously illustrated as a picture book but there is an illustration on every spread (two open pages).
Share this book with your young reader. Take turns reading, let him read it to himself, or let her read it to you. Spend some time sharing your love of reading today.
December 22, 2016
Ada Twist is a girl who asks questions. “Why not climb on top of the grandfather clock?” “Why do roses have thorns?” “Why does a clock tick and tock?”
Not that she only asked why? She also wanted to know what, how and when.
The older she got, the more questions she asked and working to discover the answers could get messy. She was especially curious about what made things stink and smell. She tested the cabbage stew Dad was making for dinner. She checked out the cat. Dinner was ruined and now the cat stunk so Ada Marie is sent . . .
To the thinking chair. But that might have been their biggest mistake or is it a blessing? Because as she sits, Ada doodles and calculates and draws. By the time they come back, the whole wall is covered in Ada’s calculations.
Fortunately Ada’s parents give up trying to change their budding scientist. Now the whole family is in on trying to find the answers to Ada’s many questions.
There are many things to love about this book. I love that Beaty has created a young scientist who asks questions and keeps trying when she doesn’t immediately find the answers. I love that the whole family gets involved. And David Roberts watercolor, pen and ink illustrations really pull the reader in. I got to see just how will this worked as I was writing this review. I’ve got a house full of teens and one of them walked by, stopped, and started asking me about the book. “Those pictures are great!”
Share it with your young scientist or the young reader in your life who loves to ask questions. This is definitely a book you want to share.
December 20, 2016
When Piggie announces that he’s going to thank everyone that is important to him, it obviously makes Gerald nervous. He’s worried that his friend is going to leave out someone important.
From one character to another, Gerald follows Piggie. Piggie thanks the squirrels for their great ideas, the penguin for his ice cream and a whole host of animals for being good friends. Readers will even get to see Pigeon.
The more character’s that Piggie thanks, the more anxious Elephant (Gerald) becomes. Finally he forcefully points out that Piggie has forgotten someone really important. Piggie, of course, things of the same character that the readers have already thought of. With all of this thanking going on, Piggie hasn’t said thank you to Elephant.
When Piggie thanks him, Elephant loses his cool. He didn’t mean himself at all. And, no, I’m not going to tell you who he meant because it is too good. You’ll have to read the book.
This isn’t a picture book but one of the Elephant & Piggie early readers now put out by Hyperion. Unlike Dan Santat’s The Cookie Fiasco and We Are Growing! by Laurie Keller, this one is actually written by Mo Willems.
Who would like this book? As an early reader, it is a good choice the a child who is just learning to read independently. The text is simpler than that of a picture book and the images provide plenty of contextual cues for any words your child might have trouble deciphering. Obviously share it with your young Elephant and Piggie fans but also pick it up to share with your young child who blesses endless people in her evening prayers or who simply needs to learn a few subtle lessons about gratitude. We have, after all, all been there.
December 17, 2016
When you say that someone has a type, usually you mean a certain physical appearance or personality type. But in the case of Colin Singleton it’s the name Katherine. Not Catherine. Not Kate. Not Catrina. Katherine. To be specific, he has dated a Katherine 19 times to the exclusion of girls by any other name.
Unfortunately, Katherine 19 has dumped him right after graduation, right after he takes her out for dinner.
Colin isn’t clueless about how he turns girls off. He is a prodigy after all — a trait which is often, eventually, a deal breaker. He’s not exactly socially skilled and unfortunately he know it. Because of this, he’s more than a little insecure. That’s another deal breaker. So is his love of anagraming — only Katherine 19 found that trait adorable.
With his best friend, Colin decides to go on a road trip. They leave Chicago and drive South where they end up in Gut Shot, Tennessee. They stop because they see a bill board advertising the final resting place of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. While there they meet an eccentric businesswoman who hires them to record histories of the local people. Her daughter takes the pair around town and introduces them to a wide variety of local characters. They meet not only the oldsters and current factory workers (the factor makes tampon strings), but also the local teens.
Soon Colin is working on a mathematical formula to determine the length and fate of every romantic relationship. He’s also spending time with their local guide and, against his better judgement, her football player boyfriend. He goes on a wild boar hunt and has his first tip of moonshine. All the while he’s figuring out who he is now that he is no longer a child prodigy or attached to a Katherine.
I’m not sure how I managed to miss this particular book for so long. I love John Green and the blunt honesty he brings to his writing for teens. Of course, it is this blunt honesty that sometimes gets him into trouble with book-banning adults. The teens in his books sometimes drink and even have sex. That said, please be willing to share this book with your teen. It is about self-discovery and learning to truly see others. It is about friendship, hope and being willing to give up something so that someone else can have what they need.
If you aren’t familiar with Green’s work, you should be. His book speaks to teens because he writes about what is uncomfortable and messy and true.
December 14, 2016
Mention Lego and people think of brightly colored plastic bricks. But these awesome blocks were not the first Lego toys.
The very first LEGO toys were wooden toys ranging from trucks with pegs to pound to wooden blocks and more. Ole Kirk Christiansen, the Danish man who created the LEGO company, was a master carpenter. In 1932, he opened up a small shop to sell his handmade toys. Piggy banks and blocks were beautifully crafted and made to last. Not surprisingly, the toys sold well and soon Christiansen had other people working for him. He adopted the motto “Only the Best Is Good Enough.”
It wasn’t until the mid-1940s that Christiansen saw the plastic that other people were using to make jewelry and car parts. Christiansen liked the idea of making toys from plastic. Soon the company was injecting plastic into molds to make baby rattles, cars and more. It wasn’t until 1949 that the company first made plastic bricks.
But plastics were tricky to work with and the LEGO bricks faded and warped. They just weren’t good enough. Eventually a new type of plastic and marginally different block ironed out the problem. Ole Kirk’s son was now working for LEGO and he came up with the idea of systems of play. Instead of just selling one toy, sell a series of toys that work together. Themed sets to be used together to make vast arrays of LEGO wonders. Smaller bricks were compatible with the larger bricks eventually made for younger children. When LEGO ventured into robotics, the various mechanical and electrical robotic components all worked with the earlier LEGO bricks.
This book is a must-read for any LEGO enthusiast. Hirschmann writes about the history of the LEGO company, LEGO engineers, LEGO artists and LEGO theme parks. She writes about LEGO robots and universities using LEGO systems to teach their students.
It is also an excellent choice for young readers who are interested in history or science. There is also an underlying theme of “try-try again.”
That said, be sure to set aside some time for serious LEGO play. You are definitely going to want to create after spending time with this book.
December 9, 2016
A boy, who in early drafts was named “Alex,” goes on an unusual fishing trip. He and his dog take a row-boat out and soon they’ve dropped their lines in the water. Before too long, Alex (because it is easier to call him by a name) is reeling in his catch. The letter F. Next he catches an I and then an S.
All the while, the dog has his own story taking place on the other side of the boat. A menacing letter C emerges from the water and looms over the boat as if it is going to bite down on the small craft and its crew.
When Alex hooks the letter H, it puts up a fight. Alex is hauled out of the boat and towed beneath the water. Eventually he makes his way back to the boat, catch in hand. They have caught FISH. No, it isn’t going to be that easy. After all, this is a really good book so something has to go wrong to increase the tension. But you’re going to have to “read” the book yourself to see what it is.
I say “read” the book because this book is nearly wordless. Alex and his dog catch the F-I-S-H and the letters are later incorporated into the F-I-n-i-S-H sign at the end of a race.
If you’ve never shared a wordless book, or a nearly wordless book, with a young reader pick Fish up. It is a very different, completely rewarding, experience to share the pictures while each of you work to spin the story that you see.
Another reason that I love this book is that Walsh plays with the letters themselves. I love typography and the emotion and character that letters as art can portray. Walsh creates a menacing C, a swarm of Bs and As that look like fins cutting through the water. This was the perfect debut children’s book for Walsh who is a cartoonist for the New Yorker. His artwork is deceptively simple but his characters depict an array of expressions and effectively pull the “reader” into a story well worth sharing with a young book lover.
Note: No where in the book does it reveal that the boy is “Alex.” I read that in an interview with Walsh.
December 8, 2016
He may be the smallest member of the household, unable to utter an intelligible word, but everyone knows who is in charge . . . Boss Baby. From the round-the-clock schedule he drops on Mom and Dad to his oh-so particular demands, he keeps everyone on their toes. And when they don’t meet his demands he lets them know it by throwing a fit.
There’s no doubt about it, Boss Baby has the family on the ropes. But suddenly his high-handed tactics quit working. Will he find a new way to motivate his staff? (The answer is yes but you’ll have to read the book to find out how.)
How often have we heard someone say that the baby is the boss of the household? Frazee has taken this saying and run with it in a book that is almost too funny for words. I couldn’t decide which part was funniest — the fact that no one questions the fact that the baby has a briefcase or that his black pj onesies look like a suit and tie.
I’m not sure how I missed this book when it came out in 2010 but it is soon to be a movie put out by Dreamworks. The movie looks funny but I have to say the animation has lost the charm of Frazee’s own illustrations. The house and Mom and Dad’s outfits are “retro.” They look like they belong at an early 60s sock hop.
This is a perfect gift book — but not for baby. Have a child with a new sibling that has hijacked the entire family? Get her a copy. If you’re feeling a little mischievous, get it for the first time parents-to-be. They’ll think its funny but it’s already too late to save themselves. Yeah, I’m that big sister. Why do you ask?
Because this book is laugh-out-loud funny, it isn’t the best choice for bedtime reading but get ready to read it again and again at the demands of the newly defined older-sibling. And you really won’t mind. After all, everyone loves a great book.
December 1, 2016
Great-Grandmother Nell isn’t a cookie baking, apple picking grandma. She is a glamorous lipstick wearing dragon of a lady. She may not be soft and cuddly but that’s okay because her granddaughter loves her just the way she is.
That said, her granddaughter does wonder about her and there is so much to wonder about from the way Great-Grandmother can strike a glamorous pose to the graceful ballerina doll in her bedroom. There are the perfumes and powders that grace her dressing table and so much more including more than a little heart-break, at least some of which stemmed from her beautiful brown skin.
Just as there is so much to love about glamorous, gruff Great-Grandmother Nell, there is a great deal to love about this book as well. I have to admit that my initial curiosity stemmed from the command not to call her Grandma. I too had a grandmother — a strong, stern country woman who could chop off a snake’s head with a hoe and then cook up venison for dinner. Country to the core, she still had a formal core. My other grandmother, called either Gee-ma or Grandma, was a former flapper who later sold cosmetics. A total clothes horse, she never understood by hatred of shopping although she was more than willing to do it for me.
This book tells the story of an equally unique woman who clearly had a past – some of it joyous and some of it sad. But she also has a load of love for the great-granddaughter that she teaches to blot her lipstick just so.
Among the things that I loved most about this book are the details in the illustrations. In one scene, Great-Grandmother’s family watches from a window while she gives a song bird and earful. Maybe it twittered off-key? There are also old photographs in the background as well as bits and pieces of memorabilia including ballet photos and programs as well as civil rights buttons and news stories. I wonder what were young Nell’s dreams in addition to what she lived through. In this way, Elizabeth Zunon’s illustrations add to the story and help to make it rich and rewarding.
Share this book with your young reader today, especially if she has a grandmother who is something else.