Book reviews (and news) you can use. A librarian's opinion on books and media for children and young adults
Thursday, October 30, 2008
If you know a reluctant reader with a biography book report assigned, and you don't point him toward Knuckleheads, you're missing a great opportunity to turn that child into a great reader. Scieszka knows his audience and his biography is right on target. His biography humorously details the events in his childhood that led him to his current success as an author. Raised in a family of six boys and hard-working parents, he has a wealth of material to work with.
He mentions his many of his favorite childhood stories, Mad Magazine, My Side of the Mountain, Go, Dog. Go!, and more. He was not a fan of Dick and Jane.
"When I read the Dick and Jane stories, I thought they were afraid they might forget each other's names. Because they always said each other's names. A lot.
So if Jane didn't see the dog, Dick would say, 'Look Jane. Look. There is the dog next to Sally, Jane. The dog is also next to Mother, Jane. The dog is next to Father, Jane. Ha, ha, ha. That is funny, Jane.'
Did I mention that Dick and Jane also had a terrible sense of humor?
At home, my mom read me real stories. These were stories that sounded like my life. These were stories that made sense. She read me a story about a guy named Sam-I-am. He was a fan of green eggs and ham."
Knuckleheads, his father's name for the collective Scieszka boys, is full of life's great lessons - read, if it sounds to good to be true - it is, listen, learn to cook (because stirring oatmeal is more fun than picking up dog poop!), have a sense of humor.
Chapter 36, "What's so funny, Mr. Scieszka?" will have the reader in stitches.
Black and white graphics and period photos and advertisements add humor and interest - Gregg's broken collarbone x-ray and the dreaded Halloween bunny suit come to mind.
This is a heartwarming and hilarious biography that will entice even the most reluctant of readers. And for budding humorists, Knuckleheads is a "must read."
A note about Jon Scieszka (rhymes with Fresca):
Jon Scieszka is the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. He is probably best known for his Time Warp Trio series and The Stinky Cheese Man, although these are just a fraction of his large and growing collection of juvenile fiction, easy fiction, non-fiction, and poetry titles. His main focus is promoting reading to boys. To this end, he has two great websites: Guys Read http://www.guysread.com/ focusing on older boys, and Trucktown,
http://www.behindthepulse.com/trucktown/kidspage.php , (a site with a tortuously long url)that corresponds with his new preschool series , Trucktown.
My favorite Jon Scieszka stories? "Duck-billed Platypus vs. Beef Snack Stick," and "Straw and Matches," from Squids Will be Squids.
Seer of Shadows
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Phillies in Phive!
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Maze of Bones
The first installment is written by Rick Riordan, and read by David Pittu. Pittu does an admirable job inventing accents and distinct voices for the many characters of varying nationalities - no small feat and very helpful in sorting out the many members of the vast and varied Cahill clan. One minor complaint -his voice is not ideally suited for portraying the young female characters.
I don’t think that this series will be Scholastic’s answer to the Harry Potter void, but The 39 Clues concept has a lot of potential. The accompanying online game (http://www.39clues.com/) and trading cards add interest and intrigue to a story that contains enough of both to stand on its own. Several kids have told me that they enjoy the online game. The online quest does not require the player to read the book (a shame in my opinion).
As a public librarian, I'm not too sure about how the enclosed trading cards will work. The cards contain a code that can be used to obtain clues for the online quest. The downside - the code may only be used once - making them impractical for public library circulation. I understand that future library editions will not contain trading cards. Hopefully, the cards are not essential in solving the mystery.
It will be interesting to see how future authors will pick up on the threads of Rick Riordan, and if the interest will grow with each new book. Anything that entices kids to read is a winner in my book, so I hope the multi media concept is successful!A co-worker described Maze of Bones as "National Treasure meets Spy Kids. " I can't sum it up any better than that. Enjoy!
Book #2 is due out in January and will be written by Gordon Korman.
NOTE: I just discovered something! The audiobook has one more chapter than the print version does...more intrigue for followers of the 39 Clues!
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Schooled by Gordon Korman
Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek:
What we do in life does matter - even if we're not famous, even if no one is watching, even if we're only ten years old. That's the message in this little-known true story from Abraham Lincoln's childhood. Delightfully told,
"Now, I can just hear you grumblin', Who? That feller isn't in my history book. What do I care?"
and humorously illustrated, Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek is a fun read-aloud with a great message.
Monday, October 20, 2008
The Mozart Question
This book, by British Children's Laureate (2003-2005), Michael Morpurgo, was first published in London in 2006. The Mozart Question is a small, short work of fiction that will leave a large and long-lasting impression on the reader.
Paolo Levi is a young boy in Venice. His parents are kind, working-class people; his father is a barber. The family lives in an apartment over the barbershop, where, hidden in a bedroom, is a broken violin. Paolo learns that his father used to play it, and he longs to hear him play; but there is a mystery. Mama tells Paolo that he must never mention the violin. He must not mention it to his father. He must pretend that it does not exist.
But Paolo is drawn by the mysterious violin and by the music of a street musician who plays near the bridge. Paolo becomes friends with Benjamin, the elderly musician. Paolo secrets the violin away from his apartment and Benjamin repairs it; then teaches him to play.
Paolo Levi becomes a famous musician, renowned as much for his musicianship as for his peculiar concert habits - no applause, no recordings, and no Mozart - ever.
Fast forward to today... a young reporter lands a plum assignment - an interview with the famously reticent, Paolo Levi. But the assignment comes with a warning - Don't ask the Mozart question. Young reporter, Lesley, does not ask the Mozart question, yet in a reflective mood, Paolo answers it; and in so doing, he draws the reader into the story of his parents, the Holocaust, and Mozart's role in their survival.
Morpurgo succeeds in conveying the horror of the Holocaust with the simple affecting tale of one family's survival. Both haunting and uplifting, The Mozart Question illustrates the power of music and love, and the indomitable nature of the human spirit. The watercolor illustrations of Michael Foreman are a beautiful addition to the story, muted colors and expressionless faces of Nazis in the concentration camps, contrasted with the beautiful scenery of modern Venice.
More a mystery than a Holocaust novel, this short (less than 70 pages) book is a perfect read-aloud or introduction to the Holocaust. For 5th grade and up.
Friday, October 17, 2008
Motherbridge of Love
Thursday, October 16, 2008
The Donut Chef
I recognized the jacket art on this book right away as belonging to Bob Staake, illustrator of one of my new favorites, Mary Had a Little Lamp. (I also noticed his signature Adobe PhotoShop style on the new Sputter, Sputter, Sput!, but I didn’t enjoy the story line on that one)
Who would ever think that a picture book about unbridled capitalism, rampant consumerism, and aggressive marketing could be a hit? But it is!
In The Donut Chef, a baker is surprised and threatened by a competitor who opens up shop on the same street.
"Indeed, with two shops on the block,
Both selling donuts round the clock,
Well, people asked - you might have guessed -
'Whose donuts are the very best?''
The fierce competition for customers leads to drastically reduced costs and an explosion of new flavors,
"If one chef dropped his donut cost,
The next would add more chocolate frost!
If one would scram, 'Buy two, get three!'
The other yelled, 'But mine are FREE!'
They made new flavors, quite bizarre,
Like Cherry-Frosted Lemon Bar,
And Peanut-Brickle Buttermilk,
And Gooey Cocoa-Mocha Silk!"
In the end, it takes "little Debbie Sue, a teeny girl, just barely two," to bring the baker and his customers back to their senses!
This book has potential to be used in more ways than one. It's a fun choice for storytime, it's a humorous introduction to the free enterprise system, it's an inspiration to young artists, and it's a testament to the artistic possibilities of a program as simple and readily-available as Adobe PhotoShop.
Here's a sneak preview from Bob Staake -
Motherbridge of Love (video booktalk)
Monday, October 13, 2008
Most simply put, The Underneath is the story of a faithful hound dog, Ranger; his master, the cruel and possibly unredeemable Gar Face; and a small calico cat and her two kittens, Puck and Sabine. The story is set in the swamps, woods, and bayous in the wilderness somewhere between Louisiana and Texas. But that is the only thing simple about this haunting, suspenseful, mystical and poetic tale.
Woven into the story of Ranger, Gar Face, and the cats, are the magical stories of Grandmother Moccasin, a monstrous and venomous snake; the Alligator King, more than 100 feet long and a thousand years old; the shape-shifters, Night Song and Hawk Man, and the loblolly pine, who watches and remembers and sometimes intervenes in the fates of mammals, reptiles, and shape-shifters.
The underneath refers to the porch under which Ranger and the cats seek protection, but Grandmother is also underneath, trapped for a thousand years under the loblolly pine in an earthenware pot; and so too, is the Alligator King underneath, as he waits in the depths of the bayou, the Petite Gateaux, for the man he knows will hunt him.
“Do not go into that land between the Bayou Gateaux and its little sister, Petite Gateaux. Do not step into that shivery place. Do not let it gobble you up. Stay away from the Gateaux sisters.”
The story spans more than a thousand years and chapters alternate between the stories of man, animal, and reptile.
“A thousand years later…
Here is another listener.
Puck, wet and cold,
listening for his mama,
listening for his sister,
listening for his old hound, Ranger,
listening to the creek running by.
All he heard was loss.
Loss. A small, hissing word. A word that simmers into nothing. Beneath the old pine, Grandmother stewed inside her jar. Loss engulfed her as it had a million times before in this dark space. Lossssss! She whispered.
A word that scrapes against the skin.”
Each short chapter is written in similar fashion, a poetic style with recurring themes – loss, love, promises, and the price to be paid for one’s actions. Words are repeated as well,
“Do not trust a living soul. Do not.”
This is a book like none other that I have read and there is much “buzz” about it in the librarian community. I applaud Kathi Appelt’s bold foray from picture books into juvenile fiction, however, I am not entirely sure that this book will connect with young readers, particularly the stated target audience of grades 3-7. In 311 pages (I read the Advance Reader Copy, the actual final copy may have a slightly different number), there are only about twenty lines of dialogue. The Underneath is suspenseful, in that the reader will want to discover the fate of the protagonists and how their stories will intertwine across the ages, but I am not convinced that young readers will persevere through Appelt’s poetic prose. I confess that having received and Advance Reader Copy back in June, I was not initially interested enough to finish this book. I set it aside and only picked it up again because of the keen interest surrounding it. I may be wrong, but I predict that adults will love it, and children’s reviews will be mixed, at best. Time will tell.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Children's Poet Laureate
Details may be found in the blog, Poetry for Children, created and maintained by author, librarian, and educator, Dr. Sylvia Vardell.
Friday, October 10, 2008
Sara Varnon's Robot Dreams, is a wordless graphic novel that is both heartwarming and heartbreaking. In chapters titled with the months of August through July, she tells the story of a friendship between a dog and a robot. With simple and muted colors, Varnon is able to tell a complex and rich story. Check this one out! It's a winner.
(Approximately 200 pages)
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
As with other titles by Demi, Marco Polo is as much a joy to look at as it is to read. Marco Polo is of course, the story of the remarkable explorer's journeys - over 33,000 miles and 24 years - particularly remarkable considering the time period and transportation available, 1271-1295AD!
Attacked by bandits in a desert dust storm, robbed by Indian pirates in the Arabian Sea, crossing the 20,000 foot high Pamir Mountains, Demi's telling of Marco Polo's journey reads like the fictional Tales of the Arabian Nights - a fantastic story of wonders and adventures - but of course, it's true. Whenever possible, Demi captures the essence of the time by quoting from The Travels of Marco Polo, the book which he dictated from prison after he fought and was captured in a battle for his beloved Venice in 1298.
"He described wild orange men with tails, or orangutans, and huge "unicorns nearly the size of elephants," or rhinoceroses!"
She does not invent dialogue, choosing rather to tell the story as true to Polo's own narrative as possible.
Each page contains an illustration bordered by replicas of Chinese and Indian embroidery or Italian, Arabian, and Persian designs. The artwork is a colorful and in the flat style evocative of medieval times. Demi uses Chinese inks and glossy, gold overlays in her depictions of Marco's many exploits. Marco Polo is easily identified in each scene by the red feather in his head covering. Important characters or images from each illustration often spill over the border onto the blank space, which is reminiscent of a creamy linen or parchment paper.
This is a lovely book that would make an excellent choice for sharing with youngsters at bedtime, or in a school setting over several sessions. Unfortunately, as with many books of this type, its slim size and many illustrations makes it an unlikely choice for a school assignment. Conversely, its rich detail and language make it an unlikely choice for preschoolers. Teachers assigning books based on the number of pages, might want to take a fresh look at some of the wonderful picture books being written for older readers.
My only complaint is that the map was not placed in the front of the book, giving the reader a preview of the extraordinary journey of this extraordinary man.
Until recently, with few exceptions, public libraries have offered mp3 compatible downloads only. OverDrive, the digital supplier used by most libraries, did not have software compatible with the iPod.
A new format has been unveiled, and now, public library digital book downloads are available for iPod, as well as mp3 users. The list of titles is not large, but I'm sure it will be growing.
If you've been missing out on digital downloads because you are an iPod user, check out your public library! Chances are good that you won't be dependent on the Apple Store for your audiobooks any longer!
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
Thump, Quack, Moo
I am a big fan of Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type, Duck for President, and Dooby Dooby Moo, but this latest collaboration by Cronin and Lewin is missing the same cleverness as the other titles. Duck is, of course, cooking up a scheme and at odds with Farmer Brown, but his work in altering the farmer's corn maze is done clandestinely. The humorous back-and-forth between Duck, Farmer Brown, and the other animals is missing. They are working at cross-purposes towards a humorous and clever ending, but the witty interactions are absent.
Of course, fans will love Thump, Quack, Moo anyway, but this is not Cronin's best... And be careful with the fold-out ending! It's not easily managed by big or little hands - my copy tore on the first attempt to open it!
Beneath the Waves - a review
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