Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Fortunately the Milk - a review

Gaiman, Neil. 2013. Fortunately, the Milk. New York: Harper Collins.

With Mum out of town and the fridge out of milk, a boy and his sister await their father's return from the store with milk for breakfast.  After an interminably long wait, he comes homes and relates a most outlandish story (frequently interrupted by his son) explaining his lengthy absence.  Much occurred on his journey, but fortunately, he managed to save the milk.  Is it a true story? You decide.

Something very long with a head on the end of it came over to us.  It was attached to a very large body, on the other side of the room. "Who are you?" it asked Professor Steg, "And why is your gorilla holding a transtemporally dislocated milk container?"
"I am not a gorilla," I said.  "I am a human father."
"The human is holding the milk in order to make these evil redecorating snot-bubbles go away and stop menacing this planet and us," said Professor Steg.
The Diplodocus in a police cap opened its mouth and didn't say anything.
The Tyrannosaurus, who had handcuffed all of the green globby people together with something that looked a lot more like pink string-in-a-can than it looked like handcuffs, which was a good thing because they probably didn't have hands and they definitely didn't have wrists, stared at us and his eyes opened wide."
"Great day in the morning!" he exclaimed. 
Humorous black and white illustrations and occasional illustrated text, accompany this explosive burst of ridiculousness. Every father should come home late with such an excuse. A yarn like this is well worth the long wait for milk. Great fun - especially for reluctant readers, boys, and budding humorists.


One caveat: Although it's short (I read it on my lunch break), and fun and silly, making it the perfect choice for reluctant readers, both the son and the father narrate in the first person, which could make it slightly difficult for struggling readers.

This is the official Harper Kids book trailer, however, I prefer the British version from Bloomsbury Publishing for its silliness.They're both fun. Check them out.


Skottie Young illustrated the US version. The UK version was done by Chris Riddell.  Interestingly, the US version is called Fortunately, the Milk, while the UK version is called Fortunately, the Milk ... (note the ellipses)  Want to see the difference?  Click for an excerpt from the UK version. Click for an excerpt from the US version.  Funny how publishers assume that we need different versions.  Other than a few unnecessary u's and misplaced c's (no offence meant, neighbour), I think we're generally on the same page and would do just fine with the same version. No?

Canadians, when there is a UK and a US version, which do you prefer?

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Man with the Violin - a review

Stinson, Kathy. 2013. The Man with the Violin. Toronto: Annick Press.  Ill. by Dušan Petričić.

Kathy Stinson's story of a boy who is interested in his surroundings and captivated by the music of a performing violinist is perfectly complemented by the illustrations of Dušan Petričić. Targeted use of watercolors highlight the flow of music and joy emanating from the violinist and the spirited observations of the child. Wanting to linger, the boy is instead pulled along, forced to adhere to the busy schedule of his mother who hurries obliviously through the crowd.  In a satisfying conclusion, the mother later finds the time to appreciate and savor the music that so captivated her young son in the transit station.

Sure to be counted among one of 2013's best picture books, The Man with the Violin is a reminder that the world is often seen and heard best through the eyes and ears of a child.

While this is not actually a nonfiction book, it is based on a true story, an experiment done by the Washington Post.  Read the Washington Post article by Gene Weingarten and watch the actual footage of violin virtuoso Joshua Bell playing in the L'Enfant Metro Station in Washington, DC.  For almost 45 minutes, harried commuters passed by, barely noticing the music of Joshua Bell. There was indeed, a young boy who wanted so badly to watch the performance, but his mother was too pressed for time.  It's a lesson for us all.







For today's roundup of children's nonfiction book reviews, visit Booktalking, where author Anastasia Suen is hosting today's Nonfiction Monday.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A librarian's thoughts on conferences, workshops and such

In addition to being a librarian, I am also a long-time school board member.  Whenever feasible, I have attended state (and sometimes, national) conferences and workshops.  Sometimes, these events are better than other times, but in general, I enjoy learning new things, meeting up with other similarly-interested professionals, and staying abreast of things that affect the education of children in my state and the nation.

Today, however, I realized several things ...

The difference between the annual gatherings of librarians and the annual gatherings of school board members has changed dramatically over the years.  When I return home from a conference of librarians, I am generally enthused, enlightened, and filled with new ideas to bring back to my library.  I used to feel the same when I returned from school board workshops.  This year, however, I was struck by how many of the sessions, labs, and programs were related to budgetary obligations, legal issues, compliance instructions, regulatory updates, legislative updates and the like.  Yes, there were still groups of students performing, and there were enthusiastic young teachers promoting STEM objectives - but even these joyous expressions of creativity and knowledge are seen through the lens of logistics and regulation.  Can we afford to bus these student entertainers to the conference?  Does this exciting lesson in rocket building fill the requirements of the CCCS?  In general, the school community seems to be less A B C than B B B,  beleaguered, besieged, and beset.  Truly, it is amazing how many wonderful and positive things are being done in school communities despite the many obstacles that face them.

Wherever you live, if you are a public librarian, a parent, or a concerned citizen, take an interest in your public schools and offer your support.  Chances are, they are doing their best with a limited budget in an increasingly regulated and litigious world.

OK, off my soapbox now.  Thanks for listening.






Monday, October 21, 2013

A visit with Claire Legrand



A few days ago, I was lucky enough to have Claire Legrand visit my library.  She is the author of The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls (2012) and The Year of Shadows (2013), both published by Simon and Schuster.  An eclectic crowd of 5th-7th-graders, parents, and older adults attended the program.  Everyone was impressed.  Though Claire's books may be classified as middle-grade horror and the stuff of nightmares, Claire, herself, is a delight.  In fact, the most often asked question was "How did you ever think of that?!" "That" being something creepy, horrific, or downright terrifying.  (How could someone so nice spawn Miss Cavendish, one of the most frightening villains of children's literature?)

I'm holding Igor from The Year of Shadows
Ms. Legrand shared her earliest writings and drawings (horses, unicorns, more horses), her rejection letters (74), her publisher's edit requests (11 pages), passages from each book (creepy ones),  a bowl of candy (Starburst and Three Musketeers), and a bit of herself (as I said, she's delightful). She was inspiring, but took care to underscore the simple fact that writing is hard work; it takes time and dedication. After her presentation, she stayed on to sign books and chat with attendees. No one left empty-handed. Kids who did not purchase a book for signing were sent home with attractive autographed bookmarks (one featuring each book).

If you have the opportunity to have Claire Legrand visit your school or library, take it!
 (She Skypes, too!)

A Reading Guide and the first chapter of The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls are available at the author's website. http://claire-legrand.com 

Reviews for The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls:

Reviews for The Year of Shadows:

Next up for Claire Legrand - an anthology of dark, short stories for middle grade readers, The Cabinet of Curiosities (Harper Collins, 2014), and Winterspell (Simon & Schuster), a young adult, dystopian retelling of The Nutcracker.  Find her on Twitter @clairelegrand

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Snatchabook blog tour

Thanks to the interns at Sourcebooks, I'm excited to be a part of The Snatchabook blog tour. The Snatchabook is a skillfully rhymed bedtime story featuring the cutest little villain, a Snatchabook. The illustrations are cheerful but nuanced, and will offer many details to discover as the book is shared again and again.  It's sure to be a bedtime favorite.

The Snatchabook's author, Helen Docherty, has graciously accepted an offer to answer a few questions.

Lisa: The Snatchabook has put me in a lighthearted mood, so here are a few lighthearted questions!
 Snatchabook is such a cute name.  Was it the seed that started the story, or did it grow from the story?

Helen: The idea of a book thief came to me first, and it was while I was trying to find the right name for him that the character and the story started to form in my mind. At first I wasn’t sure what he would be like, or what to call him, so I played around with names; the book cruncher? The book snatcher? These seemed to suggest quite a menacing character, which wasn’t at all what I wanted, so I tried inverting the words - and that’s when the Snatchabook was born. As soon as I had named him, an image started to form in my mind of a pitiful, lonely little creature who just needs someone to read to him – hence his desire to steal books, which symbolize to him the joy and warmth of sharing a story at bedtime. So I guess you could say that the name and the story came together.

Lisa: Helen, did you leave Thomas (Docherty) alone to illustrate the story as he imagined it, or could you not resist giving suggestions? (I know that I would have a hard time resisting!)

Helen: To be honest, it would have been impossible to resist, given that we see each other all the time (or at least that’s my excuse)!  Actually Tom was more than happy to discuss the development of the characters and the setting with me – it was a very collaborative process, and we had lots of fun discussing how the Snatchabook and Eliza would look. Of course, he added many visual details that I could never have dreamed up, all of which greatly enhance the story. He always asks me for feedback at every stage of the illustration process, just as I read him my stories and seek his advice. It’s great to have a critical eye / ear available around the clock!


Lisa: What were your favorite bedtime stories when you were young?

Helen: There are too many to choose from! Some of my best early memories are of being read the Winnie the Pooh stories and being convulsed with laughter. I also loved a series about a panda pajama case called Ponder, the My Naughty Little Sister stories and a Norwegian series by Anne-Cath Vestly about a little girl called Aurora and her family. Favorite picture books included The Bear’s Winter House (by John Yeoman and Quentin Blake), The Giant Jam Sandwich (by John Vernon Lord and Janet Burroway) and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. I was a huge fan of Russell Hoban’s Frances books, too. Luckily, I managed to hang on to most of my favorite books from childhood, and it now gives me enormous pleasure to read them to my own kids. I hope I can keep doing that for as long as possible.

(The Snatchabook has apparently snatched all of Helen's favorites!)

Lisa: How wonderful will it be when your children can read The Snatchabook to their children?  You don't have to answer that one.  I think I can imagine!

Helen: Our five year old daughter Lucia read it to us the other day – or rather, to the gorgeous Snatchabook puppet that Pippa Curnick at Alison Green Books (our UK publishers) made for us. Lucia is just learning to read, but she knows the words almost off by heart. So that was a very special experience indeed!

Lisa: Such a fun story.  I can't wait to try it out in story time at the library! Thanks so much for the opportunity to chat with you,


Visit The Snatchabook's website to snatch up an Educator's Guide and Activity Kit.


My copies of the Snatchabook were provided at my request by NetGalley and Sourcebooks.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Tree Lady - a review


Hopkins, H. Joseph. 2013. The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever. Ill. by Jill McElmurry.

From her school, Kate could see City Park in the hills above town.  It was called a park, but it didn't look like one.  It was where people grazed cattle and dumped garbage.    
Most San Diegans didn't think trees could ever grow there.
But Kate did.

With a recurring theme of "but Kate did," The Tree Lady recounts how Kate Sessions (1857-1940), defied all expectations by enjoying the outdoors as a young girl, obtaining a science degree from a prestigious university (unheard of for a woman in 1881!), and resolutely turning a barren, desert park into a green and leafy oasis that remains a jewel of the City of San Diego to this day.  McElmurry's painted, double-spread illustrations get the colors just right and project an "old-timey" feeling that kids will immediately recognize. Katherine Olivia Sessions' story, The Tree Lady, is an inspiring and informative book for anyone, but should most definitely be in every elementary school in San Diego, where she is known as "The Mother of Balboa Park," the name given to City Park in 1915.

Having lived for many years in the Northern reaches of San Diego County, I was thrilled to learn the history behind one of my favorite places. Balboa Park is the larges urban park in North America, containing more than 1200 acres of land. By comparison, Central Park in New York consists of about 778 acres.

In addition to Kate Sessions' trees, the park houses the world famous San Diego Zoo, the San Diego Museum of Art and more than ten other museums, the Old Globe theater, the Starlight Bowl, more than fifteen individual gardens, restaurants, trails, a Spanish village, a United Nations Building, a carousel (circa 1910), and more.  Located in the heart of town, it is open and accessible to all, with many roads running through it.  No trip to San Diego is complete without a visit to Balboa Park.  I'm wistful just thinking of it.

Food for thought:
Kate Sessions imported trees and plants from around the globe that she knew would prosper in San Diego's unique climate.  Given the current focus on sustainability and native plantings, I wonder if such a project would or could ever be undertaken today. This would be an interesting topic to explore in the higher grades.


Nonfiction Monday is hosted today by Perogies & Gyoza.  All of today's nonfiction posts will be featured there.
For those of us in the U.S. (our meme host today is in Japan), enjoy your Columbus Day!  Hopefully, for you, it is a holiday from work.

Friday, October 11, 2013

A Tangle of Knots - a review

Graff, Lisa. 2013. A Tangle of Knots. New York: Philomel.

A travelling salesman with a Talent for tying knots. "The Owner," a man with no discernible Talent of his own, other than perhaps floating a few inches above the ground. Miss Mallory, who has a Talent for matching orphans with new families. And Cadence,

If you peeked in the window of the orphanage you would see her,

"Cadence, that was her name.
She was standing there now, Cady, deciding what to add to her bowl of batter.  If you squinted through the window, you could just make her out from the chin up (Cady was barely a wisp of a thing). You'd see the shiny, crow-black hair that hung smooth as paper from the top of her head to the bottom of her earlobes.  And you'd see the petite - pixieish, Miss Mallory called them - features of her face.  Tiny nose, tiny mouth, tiny ears.  Cady's eyes, however, those were large in comparison to the rest of her.  Large and dark and round, and set just so on a face the color of a leaf that has clung too long to its tree."

Cady has a Talent for baking the perfect cake.

A chance encounter in a long ago bus station,  a powder blue suitcase, a boy with a Talent for getting lost - these and hundreds of other threads are tangled together, and slowly unravel to reveal a mystery of love and longing and desire and family. A wonderful book!

If you read no other middle grade fiction book this year, you will have made a good choice.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Tuesday (not the book)

A few notes for today, Tuesday, October 8, 2013


  • If you're looking for a final wrap-up of all the Nonfiction Monday posts (I didn't get them all added until late last night), scroll down to yesterday's post, or click here.


  • Stop by the ALSC Blog today if you want to hear about my latest musical endeavors. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Ick! Yuck! Eew! Our Gross American History - a review

Huey, Lois Miner. 2014. Ick! Yuck! Eew! Our Gross American History. Minneapolis, MN: Millbrook.

Imagine that you have the ability to travel  to America, circa 1770.  You'll be able to blend in and talk with people who will have no idea that you have traveled back in time.  That's the fun premise of Ick! Yuck! Eew! Our Gross American History, just the kind of book that I love -- one that brings history alive as no textbook can do.

From "The Awful Smells,"

Your nose runs as you approach the people in a room.  When a woman smiles at you, you see she's missing several teeth.  Her breath is horrid.  You can't escape it.  Almost everyone in the room has bad breath from rotting teeth.  Plus, both men and women smoke white clay pipes.  So their breath (and clothes and hair) also smells of strong tobacco.  People aren't completely unaware of the smells. They know they have bad breath.  Women try to hide it by chewing cinnamon, cloves, orange peel, and honey melted in ashes.  Men don't bother.  Women mostly wave fans to keep the smell away and to cover their own black smiles. 
 As a traveler from the future, you'll visit a cobbler's shop (also full of stomach-churning smells), a tavern complete with bedbugs and rotting food, a barbershop (where people go to have their rotting teeth ripped from their jaws), and the homes and wardrobes of wealthy, poor and working class Americans.

Colorful inset boxes offer facts about smallpox, bathing habits, and other public health issues of the time. Period illustrations, photographed realia, and other buggy and bloody spot illustrations, add interest and break up the small text.

An introduction, "The Yucky Past," and four chapters, "The Awful Smells," "The Creepy-Crawly Bugs," "The Nasty Germs," and "The Uncomfortable Fashions," are followed by an Author's Note, Glossary, Source Notes, Selected Bibliography, Further Reading, Places to Visit and Index.

The author's note is well worth reading, and finishes with,

I don't think we should feel superior to the people of the past. They knew of nothing better than the conditions in which they lived. Despite all the hardships they faced, they worked hard, raised their children, and made the best of what they had.

A well-done look at our nation's earliest days.  How will we be viewed by citizens from the centuries to come?

You're in the right place!  Nonfiction Monday is here today. 
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Thanks for participating in today's Nonfiction Monday roundup!








  • Brick by Brick is the nonfiction picture book selection of Jeanne at True Tales and a Cherry on Top this week.  It is the story of the construction of the White House, created by many workers, including slaves who endured horrible working conditions.



  • Eggs 1, 2, 3: Who Will the Babies Be? is today's offering from Jen at Perogies and Gyoza. Eggs ... is one of last year's Cybils' finalists and Jen declares it "an adorable book on numbers and eggs for preschoolers." She also reminds us to nominate our favorites for consideration in this year's Cybils voting!

















 Note:
 I'll be working all day, and will update the post with your links later in the day.

Friday, October 4, 2013

How Big Were Dinosaurs? a review

Judge, Lita. 2013. How Big Were Dinosaurs? New York: Roaring Brook Press.


Just how big were dinosaurs? Well, it's easy to offer an approximate size in feet or meters or tons or pounds - but what does that mean to the average child?  Not too much.  How Big Were Dinosaurs? uses cheerful comparative artwork to make common comparisons that children will easily understand.

Twelve dinosaurs are featured.

From the small,
MICRORAPTOR was a deadly hunter, but he would barely be able to look a modern-day chicken in the eye,
To the enormous,
ARGENTINOSAURUS. As long as four school buses, this dinosaur was probably the biggest animal ever to walk on land.  A full-grown adult weighed more than a herd of seventeen elephants.
A  double fold-out featuring each of the dinosaurs in the book is accompanied by a few pages titled, "How do we know how big dinosaurs were? A few suggested websites and books are also included.
Kids will finish this book with a great sense of the comparative sizes of dinosaurs.



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