Thursday, April 17, 2008

Dinosaur Trouble

King-Smith, Dick. 2008. Dinosaur Trouble. New York: Roaring Book Press.

This short J novel by prolific children's writer, Dick King-Smith was first published in Britain in 2005. Dinosaur Trouble is actually historical fiction mixed with elements of fantasy. A young pterodactyl, Nosy, makes friends with Banty, an apatosaurus - despite bias by both sets of parents against the other species. The personified dinosaur children learn to work together in the common interest of avoiding the fearsome Tyrannosaurus Rex, Hack the Ripper.

This tongue-in-cheek novel fills a gap. Many children are huge dinosaur fans. Other than non-fiction selections and picture books, I have not seen any novels featuring dinosaurs. This one is chock-full of humor, large words (Nosy's mom, Aviatrix, is quite the erudite pterosaur), and factual information about the Jurassic age.

This book is a great choice for fiction-seeking, young dinosaur enthusiasts.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Where's my Mom?

Donaldson, Julia and Axel Scheffler. 2008. Where's my Mom? New York: Dial.


This is another book that has great illustrations and lukewarm text. Where's my Mom? is the story of a small blue butterfly that attempts to help a little monkey find his mother in the jungle. Much like a librarian's reference interview gone awry, the butterfly fails to elicit the correct information.

"She's big!" said the monkey. "Bigger than me." "Bigger than you? Then I've seen your mom. Come, little monkey, come, come, come."


At this point, the butterfly directs the monkey to the elephant. Further mix ups lead the butterfly to assume that the monkey's mother is, among other things, a snake ("her tail coils round trees"), a parrot and a bat. It never occurs to the butterfly that monkey's mom will look like the monkey. We suddenly understand her perspective when she reveals her own children, caterpillars, which do not look like her.


This story has great possibilities, however, some of the rhyming is forced, and I disliked the belittling of the other species. The monkey rejects the butterfly's misguided attempts at reuniting him with his mother, dismissing each of the creatures in turn - the spider is "hairy and fat," the frog is "slimy," the parrot squawks and shrieks.

The illustrations are vibrant and eye-catching. The human-like faces on both the monkey and the butterfly are quite cute and expressive. Children should enjoy the bright colors and of course, the safe and satisfying ending. Overall, though, I think that this book was a missed opportunity for a lesson in acceptance and perspective.

Come Fly With Me

Ichikawa, Satomi. 2008. 2008. Come Fly with Me. New York: Philomel.

This is the story of a stuffed dog and a wooden plane that decide to take flight from their balcony to go "Somewhere." Woggy and Cosmos travel through the skies, encountering birds, clouds and rain on their way to the "White Dome" that they can view in the distance.

The paintings of Paris are beautiful and the expressions of Woggy, the doggy, are particularly endearing, but the story was not engaging. Although the illustrations of Paris are beautiful, particularly the view from Montmartre of a rainbow over the Eiffel Tower, it is disappointing that the reader is never aware that the story takes place in France. Only the distant Eiffel Tower in the story's conclusion offers a clue. Even the author's note makes no mention of the "White Dome", Montmartre, or its significance in Parisian history - a pity.

The story line is perhaps a bit too simple, " A magnificent city and a beautiful rainbow!' says Cosmos. 'What a surprise.' "The best part of going Somewhere,' says Woggy, 'is surprise.' 'No, no,' says Cosmos. 'The best part of going Somewhere is sharing it with friends.'

Use this title for its beautiful illustrations or for use in a themed storytime about planes or France. For a great storyline, choose another book.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Goosebumps: HorrorLand: Revenge of the Living Dummy

Stine, R.L. 2008. Goosebumps: Horrorland: Revenge of the Living Dummy. Scholastic.

Fans of R.L. Stine should be thrilled. Goosebumps Horrorland is the brand new series from children's literature's "master of fright." In this first installment, Revenge of the Living Dummy, the plot may be an old one - a living, evil, ventriloquist's dummy (remember the Twilight Zone?), but it will likely be a new source of horror to the younger generation.

The book is in three parts, two individual stories, "Revenge of the Living Dummy" and "Enter HorrorLand," followed by Fear File #1 - the fictional contents of the reader's manila folder on HorrorLand. While the Revenge of the Living Dummy can be read as a stand-alone story, it is connected to "Enter HorrorLand." "Enter HorrorLand," it appears, will be a story told in serial installments.

A glance ahead at the second book in the series shows that it will follow the same format of three parts. The first story in the book can stand alone. The second is a story located in the diabolical theme park, HorrorLand. The third section is the reader's Fear File, which continues to grow with new maps and information.

Horror novels are not my cup of tea, but a legion of young readers has grown up on R.L. Stine. Fans have never stopped requesting Goosebumps books. I think these will be popular.

A footnote on R.L. Stine - I had the opportunity to see R.L. Stine interact with his young fans at a library book signing. In spite of the seemingly unending stream of young fans, he gave each child his undivided attention, never growing impatient or curt. I was impressed.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules

Kinney, Jeff. 2008. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules. New York: Amulet.

This follow-up to the best-selling Diary of a Wimpy Kid is hilarious! Jeff Kinney absolutely channels the mind of a middle-school boy. (For the mom, I think he may be channeling me!)
It's hard to say what's funnier - the text or the sketches.

Imagine the scene at Greg's friend Rowley's house as the boys try out their new secret language during dinner, the sketch shows Greg and Rowley giggling at the dinner table with a thoroughly angry Rowley's dad. The thought bubbles read:

YOUR-PA DAD-PA SMELLS-PA LIKE-PA A WOMAN-PA! HEE HEE HEE!

followed by:

"But Rowley's dad must have cracked our code, because I ended up getting sent home before dessert. And I haven't been invited to spend the night at Rowley's ever since."

Rodrick Rules follows Greg through his home and school adventures, but the underlying theme of this installment in Greg Heffley's adventures is brotherly love. Greg's older brother, Rodrick, may not be a gem, but he's family - and that's what really matters.

This book is laugh-out-loud funny.

Baseball Hour

Nevius, Carol. 2008. Baseball Hour. Ill. by Bill Thomson. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish.

As a baseball fan, I am always interested in books for children about baseball. Because baseball is a sport for older children, most books do not resonate at the the toddler level. This book, however, stays true to the spirit of baseball yet speaks to younger children.

The text is simple and rhyming, following a multicultural group of children through an hour of baseball practice, "We sit to stretch, our legs in V's, bend our heads down to our knees. We circle arms and twist our backs, count and count off jumping jacks." I particularly like the story's end, as all the team members stand in a circle, arms in spoke formation, hands atop each other's hands in a typical show of teamwork.

Thomson's mixed media, double-spread illustrations are evocative of photography, showing detail is every earnest face, well-worn bat, or leather glove. All of the illustrations are sepia-toned, with the exception of the brilliant white and red-stitched baseball that appears in many of the illustrations.

A great introduction to the joy of playing baseball. I can envision this as a great storytime book; complete with warm-up excercises!

Friday, April 11, 2008

What Athletes are Made of

Piven, Hanoch. 2006. What Athletes are Made of. New York: Atheneum.

What Athletes are Made of is a compilation of short biographical anecdotes on many of the world's most famous athletes. Each subject is chosen for a particular characteristic, some amusing, some inspiring. Mia, Kareem, Pelé, the Babe and more....they're all here in this one of a kind look at heroes of sports.

From the entry on Muhammad Ali, "Athletes are made of big mouths."
Once when a flight attendant advised him to fasten his seat belt, Ali responded, "'Superman don't need no seat belt.' 'Well, Superman don't need no airplane,' she shot back."

Annika Sorenstam's entry is titled, "Athletes are made of coolness under pressure." Her entry relates her dignified and professional performance as the first woman entered in a modern men's golf tournament.

One paragraph anecdotes are accompanied by "Did You Know" facts and a likeness of the athlete created in gouache and "found object" collage. The young Andre Agassi, for example, has disco balls for eyes and metallic garland for hair. The Post-Game Recap is an added two pages of statistics and career highlights.

This is a book made for sharing. The older children that would most likely enjoy these short snippets of athletic history are not likely to find this book on the non-fiction shelf. Find it for them.

Cork & Fuzz: The Collectors

Chaconas, Dori. 2008. Cork & Fuzz: The Collectors. Ill. by Lisa McCue. New York: Viking.

This book is apparently 4th in the Cork & Fuzz series, but it's the first that I've read. Cork and Fuzz are best friends in the tradition of Frog and Toad. They may have their differences, but they know that they can count on each other. In this latest installment, Cork and Fuzz are collecting shiny stones, but a mother duck decides to collect Cork!

Veteran illustrator, Lisa McCue, has created endearing characters in Cork, the muskrat, and Fuzz the possum. This Level 3 Viking Easy to Read series is a winner.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Oodles of Animals

Ehlert, Lois. 2008. Oodles of Animals. Orlando: Harcourt.

I hate to say it because I love Lois Ehlert's books (her less well-known folktale, Mole's Hill, has always been a favorite of mine), but I don't like this one. Oodles of Animals is a collection of very short poems with artwork done in Ehlert's typical collage style. According to her Author's Note, each animal or insect is created using only scissors, pinking shears, a hole punch, and shapes from a limited selection of nine (circles, square, oval, etc.).

The collage subjects are bright, representative of each subject, lively and engaging. Children should enjoy the illustrations and find them inspirational for their own collage creations. Some of the many poems are delightful as well, such as the short "Butterfly,"

Butterfly
wings
are angelic
things.

or

"Dog"
A dog's a true friend
from damp nose to tail's end.

Others simply don't work for me.
"Lama"
When llamas get a haircut,
they will look quite naked.
But you can knit a sweater
using their wool to make it.

or
"Moths"
When moths
fly at night,
they like
porch lights.

Individual selections from Oodles of Animals could easily be incorporated into a storytime. Poetry is very personal. Children may very well like Ehlert's latest book, even if I do not.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Bee-Bim Bop!

Bee-Bim Bop!Park, Linda Sue. 2005. Bee-Bim Bop! Ill. by Ho Baek Lee. New York: Clarion.
ISBN 13: 9780618265114.

PLOT SUMMARY
What does a hungry little girl want for dinner? Bee-bim bop! A little girl can hardly wait as she helps Mama purchase ingredients and prepare bee-bim bop, a traditional Korean dish, for her family. The process is as much fun as the result!

CRITICAL ANALYSIS
Bee-Bim Bop! is a delightful story for young audiences. The text reflects the fast-paced urgency of a hungry child in an upbeat rhyming rhythm, "Hurry, Mama, hurry Gotta chop chop chop! Hungry - very hungry for some bee-bim bop!" The "Hurry, Mama, hurry" refrain is repeated often. In addition to pure fun, Bee-Bim Bop! will give children a sense of possibility and capability, "Spinach, sprouts, and carrots Each goes in a pan, Let me pour the water in Yes, I know I can!" and"Bowls go on the table Big ones striped in blue I help set the glasses out Spoons and chopsticks too." Adding interest and excitement is the concrete presentation of verbs pertaining to cooking. The "flip-flip flop" of the egg pancakes bounces in the midst of the text. "Chop chop chop" appears on a hard 45 degree slant, much as a chopping blade in motion.The book is also an excellent example of a Korean American multicultural story with its roots set firmly within the United States. The child's family, illustrated by Ho Baek Lee, has the common characteristics of Asian Americans - tan skin tones, straight black hair and a characteristic eye shape, however, the features are never exaggerated and the family is portrayed as any other typical US family, complete with a frisky dog. The grocery store and kitchen setting, as well as the clothing are typically American. The focus is on the young girl, with Mama's head frequently missing from the double-page illustrations. The dog also is featured prominently, following the young girl throughout the kitchen. The colors are bright, but realistic. The overall impression of the cheerful watercolor and pencil illustrations is one of a happy and playful family.The topic of the book, is of course, distinctively Korean American, as is the use of chopsticks. Grandma is the only family member that appears decidedly Korean, wearing a traditional garment, with her hair fixed neatly in a bun with a decorated ornament. The fact that the entire family wears slippers while indoors may also be indicative of Asian American culture. In a nod to biculturalism, the family (except the dog, who keeps one eye fixed upon the bee-bim bop!) closes their eyes and bows their heads to say grace before dinner.The book concludes with a recipe for bee-bim bop, divided into tasks for "grownups" and "you." An Author's Note explains bee-bim bop and is accompanied by a photograph of the author and her young relatives preparing dinner. This book will surely ignite a desire to hurry hurry hurry to the kitchen to make some bee-bim bop!

CONNECTIONS
Read Bee-Bim Bop! with The Trip Back Home by Janet S. Wong, and Ill. by Bo Jia. The Trip Back Home includes a trip to the market and the preparation of a meal in a modern, rural Korean household. Many of the ingredients mentioned are the same as those in the dish, bee bim bop. It offers an excellent example of how traditions are brought to the United States and adapted.This is an excellent choice for a public library storytime. Preschoolers will love it!Share this story with a globe. Let children find bee-bim bop's home, Korea, on the globe.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Monarch and Milkweed

Frost, Helen. 2008. Monarch and Milkweed. Ill. by Leonid Gore. New York: Atheneum

Monarch and Milkweed chronicles the relationship between the migratory Monarch butterfly and the milkweed plant. Although it is a non-fiction book, it reads as smoothly as fiction, "Milkweed stretches taller. Two by two, its leaves spread wide, sheltering long-legged spiders, black and orange beetles. Monarch lights on Milkweed, drums her feet on Milkweed's flower, and tastes home." The prose is gentle and inviting - a perfect introduction to this commonplace, yet remarkably harmonious pair. An Author's Note offers more detailed information and websites to explore. The front and end pieces depict the north and south migratory patterns. A perfect book for teachers.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Black Powder

Rabin, Staton. 2005. Black Powder. New York: Simon & Schuster.

I read a glowing review of this book, and my daughters had both liked Rabin’s earlier book, Betsy and the Emperor. I started Black Powder with high hopes.

The year is 2010. Fourteen-year-old Langston Davis’s best friend Neely is dead – shot in a gang-related argument. When Langston’s science teacher, Mrs. Centauri, reveals to Langston that she has created a time machine, Langston decides to alter history and stop the invention of the gunpowder that claimed his young friend’s life.

At first blush, this seems to be a very workable premise, but the devil is in the details. Rabin goes off on too many tangents, and the entire work becomes muddled. The concept of a sci-fi, historical fiction novel is a good one; however it pairs awkwardly when conjoined with realistic fiction and humor – particularly when the subject is gun violence. The trite, the hackneyed, and the stereotypical all make appearances in Black Powder.

When Langston revisits Lincoln’s assassination, he inexplicably has no idea what is about to occur, even though he is in Ford’s Theater looking at the presidential box during the premier of Our American Cousin. He looks through his telescope, and thinks, “Holy moly! It was like looking at the face on a five-dollar bill come to life. Abraham Lincoln!”

In traveling to and from the time machine, Langston frequently catches a ride with Mrs. Centauri’s milkman, who drives psychedelic green and orange milk truck and makes clichéd comments such as, “Out of sight! That really blows my mind, man,”

There is also the medieval Jewish milkman, “So? You couldn’t maybe have chosen the daytime for this little visit? … You got a sudden yen for milk? Come in – we’ll nosh, we’ll schmooze.”

These attempts at humor mesh clumsily with the more serious story of Dr. Bacon’s experiments, his persecution by the Church, and life in medieval England; or the grim details of violence-plagued gang life in South Central Los Angeles.

The historical aspect of the story has problems as well. Rabin plays fast and loose with history, although this is certainly a writer’s prerogative. Much of the history that is included is unsubstantiated. In Black Powder, Marco Polo sends a postcard relaying his intent to introduce pasta to Italy upon his return from the East. Langston later runs into a scene from the Braveheart movie. The Scots win the encounter because Langston convinces the Brits to chase after the Holy Grail, which Langston notes, is the cup that Jesus used on the eve of his death. To her credit, Rabin does offer numerous explanations for historical inaccuracies in her Author’s Note, but she does not correct either of these questionable historical interpretations. Readers who skip the Author’s Note may not realize that Roger Bacon did not actually “discover” gunpowder, that Pope Clement IX was not murdered, or that it would have been impossible to travel from England to Paris in a single medieval day.

The intent of Black Powder is admirable, to call attention to the gun violence plaguing our society. One of the more chilling facts in Rabin’s author’s note is the following:
“The rate of firearms-related death in the U.S. among children under the age of fifteen is nearly a dozen times higher than it is in twenty-five other industrialized nations combined.” If Black Powder is able to spur teens to action on this crisis, then it is a worthwhile endeavor. I would not, however, suggest this book to a sophisticated YA reader or a history buff, such as myself. I will ask my daughter to read it and see what she thinks.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The View from Saturday

Just a short post on the Listening Library version of E.L. Konigsburg's The View from Saturday...

I checked this out as an .mp3 download from our regional library cooperative. More than ten years after this Newbery winner debuted, this book is still a favorite. I was on a waiting list for the download.

This is the well-known story of a group of four diverse yet interconnected children, that competes in the Ephiphany Middle School's academic bowl under the direction of their paraplegic teacher, Mrs. Olinski. The parts of the story unfold and are told through the voices of each of the contestants and their teacher. This is a novel that lends itself perfectly to an audio version. This is a full-cast audio book, with a narrator voice as well.

With occasional segments from the narrator or the character of Mrs. Olinski, the story is told by the students - first Noah, then Nadia, then Ethan, and finally, Julian. In most instances, this makes it very easy to recall which character is telling the story at any particular time. The only exception to this rule is when the current narrator is relating the dialogue of another character. In these instances, as in real life, the narrator merely changes his or her voice to mimic that of the other character. Nadia's is the only voice that is incompatible with the story. I was unable to find the name of the actor who portrayed Nadia, but the voice sounds as if it belongs to a woman much too old to portray a young girl. This, however, was the only fault that I found in this otherwise stellar production.

Dizzy

Winter, Jonah. Dizzy. 2006. Ill. by Sean Qualls. New York: Scholastic.

Just in time for Jazz Appreciation Month, we received a new copy of a previously released picture book biography of jazz musician, Dizzy Gillespie. It is a J biography, targeted at older readers. Dizzy simultaneously chronicles the life of Dizzy Gillespie and the birth of the new form of jazz that Dizzy helped to invent, bebop. I have mixed feelings about the book.

The prose is wonderful and evokes the transition of jazz music from swing to bebop, switching cadences and syntaxes throughout the story.

"He was always mad.
You see, his dad
was always beating on HIM
and there was nothing he could do

but try to be tough
and try not to cry."

and then later

"For the boy with the horn
fueled with a FIRE
that burned with every whooping,
JAZZ was like a fire extinguisher. It was c o o o o o o o o l.

For the boy with the horn, stuck
inside a Podunk town
in the Deep South, where white folks put you down,
JAZZ was also like a ticket
on a train to better days.

So he boarded that train and moved up north
to a place they call Philly.
Right off the bat,
he got a job in a jazz band
and started acting silly."

Winter tells Dizzy's story beginning with a difficult childhood filled with rage, progressing to his musical awakening through the trumpet and the early days of jazz, and ending with his accomplishments as the confident and ebullient creator and master of the bebop jazz sound.

I may be of a minority opinion here, but I think that the illustrations fall short of capturing the scope of Dizzy Gillespie's life. Qualls definitely captures the mood of Dizzy's early life, with its poverty and rage. His acrylic and pencil illustrations with their muted blues, reds, and purples, also accurately capture the hot/cool jazz scene. What I find missing is the exuberance and joy of Dizzy's fun-loving spirit. In fact, only one illustration in the entire book features Dizzy with even the hint of a smile. Winter's biography depicts a Dizzy Gillespie that was known as much for his clowning around as for his revolutionary style of jazz. Qualls' artwork misses that note.

Animal Records

Carwardine, Mark. 2008. Natural History Museum: Animal Records. New York: Sterling.

This book is another in what seems to be a recent trend, nonfiction books meant for browsing. Although Animal Records is logically organized into chapters on mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fishes, and invertebrates, it is still a collection of random facts on each species.
The book begins, of course, with aardvarks.

The aardvark entry is for "most burrows." The record? Sixty entrances. Whales, for example, have multiple entries, including "worst eyesight," "longest flippers," and "best-selling record!" "Male humpback whales are the only animals that can boast a top-selling record in the pop charts."

The book is primarily text, but interesting photographs of the fearsome, funny and unusual are plentiful. The index is helpful for finding entries quickly.

This may not be a useful book for school projects, but children should enjoy leafing through Animal Records for the photographs and interesting facts. Who knew that howler monkeys can be heard up to three miles away or that the Central and South American cockroach has a wingspan up to 7.25 inches?!

Beowulf: Monster Slayer

Storrie, Paul D. 2007. Beowulf: Monster Slayer. Ill. by Ron Randall. Minneapolis: Lerner.

Beowulf: Monster Slayer is a graphic novel in Graphic Universe's Myths and Legends series. Paul Storrie has written several of the Myths and Legends series titles; and both he and Ron Randall are accomplished comic book artists. The artwork is perfect for the genre, a sort of Prince Valiant meets Marvel Superheroes look. The dialogue, as well, fits the story admirably. The flavor of antiquity is retained, yet it is accessible to younger readers. The names of the story's characters are difficult, however, a helpful pronunciation key is included.

If the graphic novel is the modern answer to the assured continuation of our literary cultural heritage, then the genre is certainly a welcome addition. I do worry, however, that the readers of graphic novels, accustomed to dialogue-oriented stories, will be at a disadvantage when required to craft the complex sentences required for school papers, etc.

Young boys should love this book. Beowulf is a Children's Book Week Children's Choice nominee in the 5th and 6th grade category. http://bookweekonline.com/nominees.html

Friday, April 4, 2008

Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library

Borchert, Don. 2007. Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library. New York: Virgin Books.

As with my last foray into adult non-fiction (which is, incidentally, one of my favorite genres), I am returning this book unfinished. I feel guilty renewing it when so many others are waiting for this humorous look at public libraries.

Although the books is advertised as "mild-mannered librarian tells all!" it is actually the collected stories of a library assistant in a suburban L.A. public library. Free for All is definitely amusing, but since I'm living many of the scenarios on a day-to-day basis anyway, I'll pass on the rest of the book and get back to work serving children. I'm behind on my picture book reading!