February 23, 2017
Pirates? Polite or not?
I have to admit that my first inclination was to answer NO and I’m betting that authors Demas and Roehrig are counting on that. I say this because although the pirates in this book do all kinds of pirate things, from fighting to feasting, they always use their manners saying please and thank you and waiting their turn. This surprising twist is sure to pull readers into the story.
Demas, Roehrig and Catrow have populated their book with honest to goodness pirates. They are scruffy and they sure do look smelly, but they definitely have manners. They chew with their mouths closed. They don’t interrupt. They share.
My favorite? They don’t make fun of someone who is a little bit different. In this case, the captain takes a bath which flies in the face of stinky pirate tradition. Although they notice how clean he is, no one says a word. The point isn’t belabored but it will make a great jumping off point on other ways someone might be different in behavior or appearance.
As I read this book through the first time, I kept thinking how familiar the illustrations looked. I definitely recognized the artist’s work. Then I realized why. He has 8 pages of hard cover picture books on Amazon including Little Pierre, I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More and the Molly Lou Melon books. You’ll likely recognize his work as well. It’s cartoony and quirky and perfect for a silly pirate book.
This book will make a great read-aloud. Kids love texts that rhyme and this one is short and swift, moving along at a good clip. It will definitely hold the attention of restless and rambunctious listeners who may be itching to act out some pirate play. Be prepared to discuss how polite pirates would do a wide variety of pirate-y things. This is going to be something about which there are many opinions so you may have to encourage your pirate fans to use their indoor voices.
Just be sure to say please and thank you! It would be a pity if you were less polite than a pirate.
February 21, 2017
Freedom in Congo Square
by Carole Boston Weatherford
illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
Little Bee Books
Before Louisiana became a part of the United States, it was a French colony and then a Spanish colony. The Catholic Church mandated that Sundays be a day of rest for everyone, free and slave alike.
Weatherford has created a spare text that tells of the realities of slave life — feeding livestock, chopping firewood, plow, planting and tending to household chores as well. But every day holds a bit of hope as they are able to visit Congo Square on Sunday afternoons.
In New Orlean’s Congo Square, enslaved and free blacks would gather on Sunday afternoons. In addition to sharing the news, often speaking their own languages, they also played music on bells, fiddles, flutes, and more. They danced and they chanted.
Congo Square also gave these people a chance to buy and sell. Some sold herbs they had grown or wild foods they had gathered. Others sold items they had made.
This text doesn’t downplay the agony of slavery, making it clear that Congo Square gave them only a small taste of the freedom they were missing. But it was a taste that they would not have when New Orleans and the Louisiana Territory became a part of the United States.
In other parts of the US, and in Congo Square once it was part of the US, slaves were not allowed to gather together without white supervision. African music was against the law.
Christie’s brightly colored artwork is as full of life as the text. The colors sing and the bold lines suggest movement.
Given the brevity of the text, this book would be good as a read aloud even with short attention spans. The Author’s Note and a foreword give a wealth of additional information.
At a glance this book appears simple but it tells a meaningful story that may take some time for readers to absorb. It is no wonder that in 2017 the American Library Association named it a Caldecott Honor and a Coretta Scott King Honor and also gave it the Charlotte Zolotow Award.
February 16, 2017
“Does a fiddler crab fiddle?”
This is the first line of the book. Of course, we already know that the answer is NO, but then why is it called a fiddler crab? Young readers have to turn the page to find out.
Spread follows spread in the same form. One asks a silly question, complete with a silly painting, and the next provides the oh-so factual nonfiction answer, teaching young readers about fiddler crab claws and fiddler crab food. Read on to find out where they live, what they eat and how they survive when the tide comes in. The text is brief, the pace is fast and you take in a lot more information than you initially realize.
But for those of you who want your facts dense and no-nonsense, turn to the fact-filled author’s note. There you’ll learn about how many species of fiddler crabs there are, the differences between males and females and much, much more.
When I picked up this book, I came into it knowing that it was nonfiction with a silly side. I had interviewed the authors for an article so I knew something about their research and eye for detail. And the cover had prepared me for the silly. At least, it has prepared me to a point. Then I opened the book to see a top-hatted fiddler crab fiddling away across the sand.
Artist John Sandford pulled off a difficult task. His paintings and bright and lively, invigorating the nonfiction while still being realistic. But they are also fun and fanciful enough to make the fictional spreads believable.
This is an excellent book for reading aloud in the classroom, at story time, or simply with your own young reader. The text is super brief and moves fast, but there’s just enough silly to hold the attention of the squirmy set as they anticipate what will happen next. Read this to your young readers to spark their interest in fiddler crabs and sea life and be ready for a few silly, side-stepping dances.
February 13, 2017
“Once upon a time in a beautiful glass kingdom, there lived an unusual fairy named Bloom.” It seems that everywhere Bloom walked, she left a trail of muddy boot prints. Ladybugs clung to her wings. She could spin sand into glass, turn a trickle of water into a river, and weeds became blossoms. But she also had a heavy foot. In addition to leaving mud, she often left tiny cracks.
As the kingdom grew larger and more shiny, the people no longer noticed Bloom’s abilities. All they saw was the mess she left behind. Gripe, gripe, gripe. A fairy can only stand so much and one day she left.
As you can imagine, a glass kingdom is a fragile thing and without the fairy that could spin glass, it fell into disrepair. The king remembered Bloom and rode out to find her. Then the queen rode out.
Let’s just say that it didn’t work. It wasn’t that they couldn’t find Bloom, but that she refused to help. They decided that the problem was that they were royalty and, as royalty, sure to intimidate a quiet, little fairy. So they chose Genevieve, the most ordinary girl in the kingdom, and sent her to find the fairy.
Before long, Bloom is teaching her all that she needs to know to build. Along the way Genevieve also learns to speak out, get her hands dirty and that there is no such thing as an ordinary girl.
I have to admit that at first I shrank back from this book. Oh, no. Another special snowflake story. But this isn’t about being special in spite of the fact that you do nothing. This is a story all about a girl who is quiet and shy and proper and altogether typical but still accomplishes what the king and queen could not. She, quite literally, saves the kingdom and she does it in an all new way.
You may recognize David Small’s illustrations and that isn’t surprising. He is the winner of the Caldecott Award–winning illustrator of So You Want to Be President? by Judith St. George. He also illustrated Sarah Stewart’s The Gardener, one of my favorites, One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo, and Elsie’s Bird by Jane Yolen.
Share this book with your class and get ready for a great group discussion on how to solve a wealth of problems.
February 2, 2017
“I begin with the young. We older ones are used up . . . But my magnificent youngsters! Look at these men and boys! What material! With them, I can create a new world.” –Adolf Hitler, Nuremberg 1933
By the time Hitler became Chancellor in 1933, 3.5 million children belonged to the Hitler youth. What did he offer them that drew so many young people into the fold?
For many, it gave them a sense of pride and belonging. They enjoyed camping and hikes and getting to perform feats of bravery. Hitler promised to make Germany great again, to create jobs and to give the young a source of pride.
Bartoletti tells the story of the Hitler Youth, focusing on the lives of 12 young people. Some were enthusiastic Hitler Youth members, reporting their parents and leading marches. Some started out enthusiastic but resented the loss of personal freedom, coming to see the organization in a more ominous light. Others were not welcome to join because they were Jewish or simply had no interest in joining a group that worked so hard to curtail freedom. I have to admit that my favorite stories were of the defiant, Hitler Youth who fiddled with their radios that would only pick up approved German radio so that they could listen to forbidden British broadcasts.
This book isn’t a rosie posie look at the Third Reich. Bartoletti tells about Hitler’s work to strengthen Germany by emphasizing physical fitness and forcibly sterilizing and even killing the institutionalized unfit who he saw as a drain on the country’s resources. It tells about the rise of the camps and how they were used to discipline non-Jews and scare people into line although later it was said that no one knew about these same camps.
But it isn’t an entirely dark story. Bartoletti also tales about brave young people who refused to be brainwashed. She tells about the struggles of those who were and how they worked to change their lives and their outlooks in years to come. Yes, there is a warning but there is also a note of hope. The young can be used but they can also overcome.