September 26, 2018

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 10:55 pm by suebe2

Raymie Nightingale
by Kate DiCamillo
Candlewick Press

At first, the Rancheros seem like an unlikely trio of friends.  Raymie is learning to twirl a baton to win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition because more than anything she needs to get her father’s attention.  Two days ago he ran off with a dental hygienist.

Louisiana Elephante, complete with her fainting spells and swampy lungs, needs to learn to twirl so that she can win.  She and her grandmother desperately need the prize money.

Then there’s Beverly Tapinski who already twirls like a pro.  Of course, she can also pick locks and doesn’t intend to win.  Her plan is sabotage.

From visiting the retirement home to perform good deeds to breaking into the animal shelter to rescue a cat that probably isn’t there anymore, the three are soon traipsing around town getting each other into and out of a wide variety of trouble.

Admittedly, I had some troubles getting into this.  I’ve never had much interest in twirling and the whole thing was far to reminiscent of my own dance classes.  How well did they go?  I am probably among the ten clumsiest people on Earth if that tells you anything.  I’m sure my former teachers would agree – it was torture.

So the book had that against it but its Kate DiCamillo so I kept reading.  Thank goodness.

As so often happens in her books, soon I was won over by her quirky cast of characters.  My absolute favorite was Louisiana although I think her grandmother was a close second.

I’ve seen other readers comment that the characters deal with things that simply are not age appropriate for the audience.  Although everything isn’t sunshine and lollipops, none of it is extreme either which some of the comments might lead you to believe.  These are girls dealing with life including a full cast of flawed adults.

This book would  make an excellent read aloud.  Don’t be surprised when the humor draws in some of the kids who consider themselves non-readers.


September 19, 2018

Rice from Heaven by Tina Cho, illustrated by Keum Jin Song

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:04 am by suebe2

Rice from Heaven
by Tina Cho
illustrated by Keum Jin Song
Little Bee Books

A little girl and her father travel to the South Korean countryside.  All around them are rice fields but they are here because across the border, in North Korea, children are going hungry. Because the North Korean government does nothing to help its own people, people in South Korea work to send rice across the border.

They do it by sending the rice up into the night sky on special hot air balloons.

As they are working, villagers come to watch.  Many are not happy that these people are helping the enemy.  One boy gets in the little girl’s face and yells at her.  She answers him that the has to help.  The children in the north are eating tree bark and grass.

This stops the boy.  How can he hate children who are starving? He wants to help.

Two hundred balloons are sent up into the night sky.  How many reach the North?  No one knows but they know that they have to try.

I have to admit – I wanted to know that they helped people.  I wanted a concrete ending.

But Tina Cho respected her readers and gave them the unvarnished facts.  She helped with this mission but cannot name anyone who helped.  She doesn’t want to risk retaliation from the North Korean government.  The author has also included back matter about the historical and political situation as well as the effort to float rice across the border.

Keum Jin Song’s art work is colorful and detailed, bringing the story to life.  That said, the scenes of the North are handled in such way to keep them from overpowering young readers.  Flat colorless landscapes take the place of specific details of deprivation.  It is clear by the art work that the North is empty and void, the South vibrant and full of life.

This isn’t an easy story but it is a story that needs to be told.  Written as a picture book, it is probably better suited to slightly older readers such as 2nd and 3rd graders who will still need to hear about efforts to help those who have little.



September 12, 2018

I Don’t Want to Be a Frog by Dev Petty, illustrated by Mike Boldt

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 1:37 am by suebe2

I Don’t Want to Be a Frog
by Dev Petty
illustrated by Mike Boldt
Doubleday Books for Young Readers

Last week, I discovered Dev Petty’s Frog books.  Anyone who parents a preschooler is going to understand Frog for what he is – a strong-willed preschooler.

In the first book, Frog makes it clear to his father that he does not want to be a frog.  He’d much rather be a cat or a rabbit, or a pig or an owl. Animal by animal, Frog’s father explains why he cannot be . . . whatever.  Where they live is too wet for him to be a cat.  He may be able to hop, but he doesn’t have long ears.  Eating garbage may sound do-able but Frog hasn’t even tried it.  And the problems with trying to be an owl?  There are so many that Father Frog makes a chart.

Yet, it isn’t his father who convinces him that it is better to be a frog.  If you know me, you can probably predict that I am NOT telling you who does convince Frog. You’ll have to read the book to find out.  But Petty has created a marvelous twist.

The adventures continued with I Don’t Want to Be Big and There’s Nothing to Do. My library didn’t have the fourth Frog book but when it arrives I expect that Frog will continue in all his argumentative, pre-school glory.

Petty’s text is simple and straightforward with each story told entirely through dialogue. These books would be great fun to read aloud especially if you enjoy doing voices.

The characters in Mike Boldts’ illustrations are expressive, making it clear to young readers when Frog is curious, amused or frustrated. The animals are silly and cartoony which is important in the first book when you see who sells Frog on being a frog. Definitely a fun group of books to share with the young book lovers in your family, class or library group.


September 5, 2018

Chester Nez and the Unbreakable Code by Joseph Bruchac, pictures by Liz Amini-Holmes

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:07 am by suebe2

Chester Nez and the Unbreakable Code:
A Navajo Code Talker’s Story
by Joseph Bruchac
pictures by Liz Amini-Holmes
Albert Whitman and Company

At 8 years-old, Betoli is sent to the Fort Defiance School.  It is a boarding school where Navajo children are taught to live in the white world.

Step 1. Give them white names.  Betoli is called Chester.

Step 2.  Forbid their language.  Navajo is bad.  Children who speak Navajo have their mouths washed out with harsh soap. Never mind that they don’t know English.

In the summer, Chester goes home where he can speak Navajo and practice his religion.  In the fall, he goes back to school.

He understands that he needs to learn to function in the white world.  But he also sees the beauty of the Right Way. He comforts the younger children who have nightmares.  He studies and learns English.  He learns about Catholicism.  But he is still Navajo.

When World War II arrives, the Marines realize that they need a solution for the code problem.  They have a machine, aptly named The Shackle.  It takes 4 hours to code, send a message, and decode it on the other end.

The Marines have heard of the Navajo language.  They go to the Reservation and explain that they need men who speak both English and Navajo. Of the many men who volunteer, Chester is one of 29 chosen to be in Platoon 382.  They create a code and use it to send, receive and decode a message in less than 3 minutes.  They are the solution to the Marine’s problem.

Chester and his fellow Navajo are sent to Guadalcanal and other places.  In the heart of battle, they see men die.  Many of them become sick.  But still they work on because they know they have an important job.  With their help, the US wins the war.

Back at home, they are not allowed to talk about their work because it is top secret.  The Marines may still need to use their code.  This secrecy isolates the men and they have nightmares.  Chester’s family saw he needed help and they bring in a singer to do a healing ceremony called The Enemy Way. Through the ceremony, Chester rediscovered the Trail of Beauty.

This amazing true story shows how Nez maintained his Navajo identity in the white world.  Joseph Bruchac is the author of well over 120 books and is known for his writing on native topics.  He ends the book with the Navajo code and a timeline of events.  Amini-Holmes is both a fine artist and an illustrator.  Her work brings the actions and emotions to life in a way that is accessible to young readers.

Written as a picture book, the topic is most appropriate for slightly older readers from second to fourth grade.  This is a vital story that should be in every school library.


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