July 11, 2018

Life on Mars by Jon Agee

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 7:23 pm by suebe2

Life on Mars
by Jon Agee
Dial Books for Young Readers

When the young astronaut arrives on Mars, he carries a package across the landscape as he searches for life.  Others have told him there is no life on Mars but he is certain he will find it and walks along leaving a trail of foot prints.

As is always the case with Agee’s books, half the story takes place in the illustrations.  We learn what the main character hopes and believes in the text.  We see what takes place in the illustrations.

As the astronaut is followed through the landscape by “martian life,” he grows more and more discouraged because he still hasn’t found anything.  Eventually he even misplaces his spaceship.  Not to worry!  He spots a martian flower and, climbing up the hillside to pick it, sees his spaceship in the distance.

Young readers will love this book because Agee gives them a chance to know more than the astronaut.  Why?  Because he never spots the creature that is following him!  Never.

I’m not going to reveal the ending because I want you to experience that for yourself.  As is so often the case with one of Agee’s books, it will make you laugh out loud.  What a surprise!

But my favorite part is when the creature is following the astronaut.  Not only is it following, it is mirroring his expressions – worried and curious.  As always, Agee’s illustrations are both simple and expressive.  Heavy black lines give weight to drawings lightened with the subtle colors of the landscape.

As simple as this book appears, there is so much for young readers to love.  The setting is unusual.  No one tells the main character that, although a child, he cannot be an astronaut.  He proves that he is right, there is life on Mars.  But the book is also funny since he misses the biggest “life.”  And then there’s that surprise ending.

This is definitely a fun book that you will want to share with your young reader.

–SueBE

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April 6, 2018

Quackers by Liz Wong

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 4:06 pm by suebe2

Quackers
by Liz Wong
Borzoi Books/Alfred A. Knopf

“Meow.

“Quackers is a duck.”

Why does this kitten think that he’s a duck? Because he lives at the pond with the other ducks.  He even eats duck weed although he can’t understand why he’s the only one who doesn’t like to get wet.

Then a kitten comes down to the pond. It can’t believe that Quackers thinks he is a duck.  The second kitten invites Quackers up to the barn where Quackers discovers the fun of chasing mice and lapping up milk.  Quackers is less than thrilled with bathing himself.  As much fun as Quackers has at the barn, he misses the wind blowing and even, do I dare type this?, duckweed.

So Quackers spends part of his time at the pond being a duck and part of his time at the barn being a cat.  But most important?  He spends all of his time being happy.

I love that this book has such a clear message without being preachy.  You don’t have to be just like your family or your friends.  You can *gasp* be yourself.  But because it is told through story, the message comes through without being too much.  Kids will get it.

Wong’s illustrations which were created digitally and with watercolor are perfect for this story. Young readers will love the silliness of the bipedal cats who revert to all-fours to chase mice and the huggy ducks.

This would be a fun book for reading aloud to a group. Use it to launch a discussion on how young readers feel like they are different from everyone else – in their families, on their teams, or in school.  I suspect that the adult may have to launch the discussion. “My husband and son love to camp but I can’t stand it.  I’m the only one who likes to craft.”

A fun book about an important topic.

–SueBE

January 18, 2018

Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee! by Andrea J. Loney, illustrated by Keith Mallett

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 8:11 pm by suebe2

Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee!
by Andrea J. Loney
illustrated by Keith Mallett

As a boy, James VanDerZee loved to paint but  he found drawing people incredibly difficult. They never looked quite right.  Then a photographer came through the town of Lenox, Massachusetts. When he returned later with the photo, James was amazed.  It perfectly captured his mother’s smile.  He was determined to learn to take his own photographs.

James worked hard to win a camera in the contest but the camera didn’t fit together right.  This time he worked to earn the money and bought his own camera.  James loved his family, friends and town so when he took and developed photos he worked hard to make people look their best.

At 18, he took this skill to Harlem. Harlem was where things were happening.  He took a job as an assistant photographer at a New Jersey studio. His boss worried that customers wouldn’t want to work with a black photographer so he sent James to the dark room. James knew he could take better photos than his boss and he got his chance when the man left on vacation.

James took his time posing people.  He retouched photos in the dark room.  James was the photographer people wanted! Soon he moved back to New York and opened his own studio in Harlem. Politicians, musicians and athletes came to him for photos.

I have to admit that although I’ve dabbled in photography, this book escaped my notice until someone recommended it to me.  But I’m so glad I picked it up.  In addition to being a ground breaking photographer, VanDerZee restored other people’s photos and captured the Harlem Renaissance on film.  This is what brought him back into the public eye when the Metropolitan Museum of Art put together an exhibit called Harlem On My Mind.  After this exhibit, VanDerZee’s skill as a photographer was once again in demand.

This is a fast-moving, touching slice of American history.  It chronicles African-American history as well as the history of photography. Loney’s text is smooth and flowing.  It is complimented perfectly by Mallett’s paintings.

This book is a must for the classroom and the would be artist.  Share it with the young reader in your life today.

–SueBE

 

December 20, 2017

Manjhi Moves a Mountain by Nancy Churnin, illustrated by Danny Popovici

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 5:35 pm by suebe2

Manjhi Moves a Mountain
by Nancy Churnin
illustrated by Danny Popovici
Creston Books

In the country of India, a massive mountain separated two villages.  On Manjhi’s side of the mountain, nothing grew.  It was a 40 mile walk to the other village and that is where children had to journey to go to school. Adults ventured the same path to go to the market.

In the other village, life was good and the people were prosperous.

Manjhi believed that life in his village would be easier if people no longer had to travel up and over the mountain.  Manjhi traded his three goats for a used hammer and chisel.  Each night, after this work was done, he climbed to the top of the mountain and chipped away at the stone.

Night after night Manjhi worked.  His neighbors told him he was crazy.  But little by little his hole grew. A year passed and Manjhi had grown stronger.  His hole had grown longer and deeper. After 15 years, people could see the notch in the mountain from the village below. People started to leave him gifts.  Food.  A new hammer and chisel.  And he could tell that other people were now working on his hole.

When I checked this book out of the library, I thought it was a folk tale but this is a true story about a man who broke a hole through the mountain that blocked to way between two villages.  Manjhi started the project because his wife had trouble getting the medical care she needed in their village.

Danny Popovici’s art work helps bring this story to life. From the warm earth tones of the stone to the greys and blues of cloud and sky, his style is cartoon-like but very appealing.  Spread by spread, readers watch Manjhi age and the hole grow.  They also watch the attitudes of the people in Manjhi’s village change as they gain hope.

This is a must read for the classroom and for the home.  Share it with your children and then be prepared to discuss.  What mountain do they want to move bit by bit?

–SueBE

December 6, 2017

I Love My Purse by Belle DeMont, illustrated by Sonja Wimmer

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 9:54 pm by suebe2

I love my purseI Love My Purse
by Belle DeMont
illustrated by Sonja Wimmer
Annick Press

Charlie is getting ready for school one morning when he’s looking through his closet for something to wear.  The problem is that there is only one thing in there that he really likes. It is the red purse that his grandma let him have.

Enough is enough.  Charlie decides to wear what makes him happy.  He packs his things up in the red purse and he is ready to go.  On the way downstairs, his father attempts to stop him. “Hold on, wait a second!” Charlie explains that the purse makes him happy but Dad’s a hard sell.  “I love Hawaiian shirts but that doesn’t mean I wear them to work.”

From Dad to Charlotte and Sam at school, person after person questions his decision.  Still, Charlie knows what makes him happy.

The next day, things are a little different.  Everyone notices that Charlie still has his purse but something about each of them is different too, starting with Dad. He’s decided not to wear a tie.

Day after day, Charlie’s impact grows.  Soon Dad is wearing Hawaiian shirts and Sam is cooking lunch for the other students.  DeMont’s message is clear without being preachy – be yourself and you will encourage others to do the same.  Self-confidence, and happiness, will spread.

Sonja Wimmer’s bright art helps bring this story to life.  It is fanciful enough to add to the fun mood of this story while still being realistic.

Share this book with young readers to spark discussions on individuality and personal expression. Invite them to discuss what they’d do “if they could” and what makes them think they cannot. Some answers will be obvious, such as having to follow school rules, but the conversation will also make them think about self-imposed limitations.

A fun fast-paced book that would be good for the classroom and the home bookcase.

For another book about individuality see The Sandwich Swap by Queen Rania al Abdullah with Kelly DiPucchio illustrated by Tricia Tusa.

–SueBE

November 16, 2017

I am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness by Susan Verde, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 8:33 pm by suebe2

I am Peace:
A Book of Mindfulness
by Susan Verde
illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
Abrams Books for Young Readers

How do you explain to a young reader just how to chill the heck out?  With a great picture book like I am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness. Told in the first person, the reader follows the narrator through a journey of self-awareness.  And really, this kid could be any of us.

“There are times
when I worry about
what might happen next
and what happened before.”

We’ve all been there.  Fortunately, the young narrator knows how to go from feeling unanchored to noting the ground beneath his feet.

This book deals with a lot of abstracts — mindfulness, focus, and clarity.  But it does so in a way that young readers, and even older readers hung all over with their preconceptions, can understand. He notices the here and now. He inventories how he is feeling and names those feelings. He shares kindness, feeding birds, and then takes it easy beneath a tree that sprouts from a fallen birdseed.

In this book, small acts take root and have big consequences as they bless many.

The art may look familiar as it is provided by Peter H. Reynolds who wrote and illustrated The Dot. Reynolds’ fluid style is colored by watercolors and . . . you’ll never guess this one . . . tea.  His inked character is expressive, clearly showing as he lets go of tension and negativity.

Verde’s final note includes information on guided meditation for those who have never used this technique and want to give it a try. Reynolds and Verde worked together on another picture book, I am Yoga.  

Celebrate Picture Book Month by sharing this title with your young reader.  It would make a great bed time book but don’t limit it to quiet times.  It would also be a good launching off point for a discussion on dealing with negativity and how what we bring into this world, whether it is anger or peace, spreads to and impacts others.

–SueBE

 

October 14, 2017

Madam President by Lane Smith

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 11:20 pm by suebe2

Madam President
by Lane Smith
Hyperion Books for Children

A confident girl takes the reader through a “typical” day for Madam President.  It starts at home as she makes an executive order for waffles.  It continues through the school day as she vetoes tuna casserole.  Honestly, I would vote for this kid.

 

She leads by example as she picks up her room but also knows when to delegate, letting someone else take over a task when she is just too tired to do it well.  And her cabinet?  Oh, just too funny. Her piggy bank is Secretary of the Treasury and Mr. Potato Head is Secretary of Agriculture.  Smith’s trademark humor comes into play because there is also a Secretary of Fantasy and a Secretary of Pizza.  Makes sense!

 

As is so often the case with Lane’s books, the text is spare and the punch is in the illustrations.  The look on the Boy Scouts faces when she pops in for a photo-op is priceless!

Unlike many picture books, this one is story light.  But that’s okay because Lane makes it work.  Young readers will come away from this with a much better understanding of everything that a president does.

Somehow I managed to assume that this was a very recent book, but it is 2008.  In spite of this, the book is both timely and timeless.  Madam President must attend to disasters and make sure that things get cleaned up – a task that she takes on herself instead of passing it on to an underling.  Of course, her desire to negotiate a treaty when no one asked her to butt in is a bit too American as well but that’s the beauty of Smith’s work.  He is willing to point out all manner of things, some that you appreciate and some that you might rather forget.

Definitely a good book to spark discussions as to what a president does, how they should behave and more.  Share this one with the young reader in your life today and sit down for a long chat!

–SueBE

September 12, 2017

Prudence the Part-Time Cow by Jody Jensen Shaffer, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 7:09 pm by suebe2

Prudence the Part-Time Cow
by Jody Jensen Shaffer
illustrated by Stephanie Laberis
Henry Holt and Company

Prudence may look like the other cows in the herd but there’s a big difference between her and Bessie and Patty.  They are full-time cows.  Prudence is only part-time because even when she tries to fit in she just can’t shut off her mind.  Prudence is into science and she’s always making observations, calculations and ways to improve all their lives.

The tough part is that Prudence knows she isn’t like the others.  Their side stares and snide comments hurt. Still Prudence tries one last time to win them all over.

This book definitely belongs in both the home and school library.  It is a great jumping off point for discussions on bullying (how do we treat those who don’t belong), being true to yourself (what do you do when you don’t fit in) and STEM (try, try again!).

It also has something many teachers and librarians are looking for in a STEM book – a female character who is fascinated by science. One of the best things about Prudence’s passion for science is that it isn’t just passion for one field in science.  She’s an engineer, an architect and an inventor.

Stephanie Laberis has created digital illustrations that are silly and fun – that’s important in a book that could quickly be weighed down when the character feels picked on.  But the cartoony feel of these pictures, helped along by a wealth of bright color, are fun even when things are tense.  The characters, but Prudence especially, are very expressive which could also help lead a discussion on emotion and how to tell what people are feeling  and when we need to back off.

When you read this to your class, be prepared for a conversation that is sure to touch on a variety of topics and strong opinions!

–SueBE

 

August 29, 2017

Let Me Finish! by Minh Le, illustrated by Isabel Roxas

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 4:15 pm by suebe2

Let Me Finish!
by Minh Le
illustrated by Isabel Roxas
Disney/Hyperion

When our young hero sits down to read a long-awaited book, he is just getting started when someone comes along and tells him the ending. Time and time again, his reading is spoiled by someone who just can’t resist telling him all about it.  So he sets off in search of a quiet place to read.

If you’ve been reading my reviews for any length of time, you know how much I hate commenting on something that is going to spoil a book for the reader.  More than once, probably more than a dozen times, I’ve told you that you are going to have to go read the book for yourself to find out how it ends.

Guess what?  That’s the case with this one too because the author has created a fun twist for the ending.

The text is short and would make a great read aloud.  But be prepared for a lengthy discussion of the many ways that reading time can be ruined as well as what the boy should do to assure that both his time and his reading experience are respected.

Roxas illustrations are brightly colored and fanciful, adding a layer of silliness and fun to the story.  From the young reader clutching his new book to the birds and other animals swooping in to tell him all about it, the characters are both silly and expressive.

Anyone who has ever had their reading ruined by a plot spoiler is going to identify with this young character.  So will the reader who sits down to enjoy a book only to be interrupted, and interrupted, and again interrupted.  This book will make a great gift item for book lovers of all ages who consider their reading time special even if they have a hard time squeezing it in.

–SueBE

 

August 15, 2017

Hoot and Honk Just Can’t Sleep by Leslie Helakoski

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 4:09 pm by suebe2

Hoot and Honk Just Can’t Sleep
by Leslie Helakoski
Sterling Children’s Books

High winds blow and two eggs are blown out of two very different nests.  Mama Goose and Mama Owl each retrieve an egg and return to their nests.

When Hoot hatches among the goslings, it is clear something is different.  Hoot doesn’t like the bugs and seeds the others relish.  When they go to sleep at night, he’s ready for adventure.

Mama owl finds Hoot playing with the other owlets and they all return to the owl’s nest.  And that’s where Honk hatches.

Poor Honk is just as out-of-place as Hoot was.  Little mice for dinner? Yuck!  When they others go to sleep, he wonders off to see what is what. Not too worry.  He too finds his family.

The book ends with a neat little summary:

Night and day.
Wake or doze?
Some eyes open.
Some eyes close.

Neither way is right or wrong.  They are simply different.

I first came across this book in a discussion of STEM reading.  For those of you who may not know the term, STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.  It is a tag used to label books and curriculum that can help young learners understand science.  How can a fictional book do that?

A lot of people mistakenly think that STEM books are always nonfiction.  But fiction like Hoot and Honk can be an excellent jumping off point for discussing STEM topics.  In this cast, the book sets up a world of comparisons and contrasts.  What do the two types of birds eat?  When do they sleep?  Where are their nests?

It is also a beautiful book.  Helakoski’s art work, done in pastels, is richly colored.  The pastels create a look of slightly furred edges that make the chicks look fluffy and fuzzy  – like chicks.

This book is super short and rhymes which will make it a great read aloud for either an individual child or a group.  Use it to spark discussions of comparison and contrast, fitting in, and more.

–SueBE

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