Wednesday, December 31, 2008

We are the Ship

Nelson, Kadir. 2008. We are the ship: The story of Negro League Baseball. New York: Jump at the Sun.

If you have ever watched Ken Burns' landmark documentary, Baseball, then you will have heard of the Negro Leagues. In fact, it was Burns' documentary that inspired author and artist, Kadir Nelson, to create We are the Ship, to document the rise and fall of America's all-black baseball league.

The story is told, appropriately, not in chapters, but in "innings," beginning with the exclusion of blacks from major league baseball and ending with the bittersweet success of Jackie Robinson - bittersweet because while it opened baseball to other black players, it also signaled the death knell of the Negro Leagues.

The Negro League teams had more than just colorful baseball players, they had a colorful style of play - faster, looser and more inventive than that of MLB.

"There was a catcher, Chappy Gray, who used to catch Satchel when he was in his prime. One time they were playing in Enid, Oklahoma. By the time the game got up into late innings, it started to get kinda dark. So Chappy told Satchel, 'Hey, Satchel, you got two strikes on this hitter. Man, you throwin' the ball so hard, I can't see it too well and I don't want to break my finger. I'll tell you what you do. You wind up like you are going to throw the ball and I'll hit my fist in my mitt, make it sound like it's the ball. Man, nobody'll know the difference. ... Satchel said, 'Okay, I'll do that.' So he went back out there and he wound up and came down with that long stride, big follow-through. Chappy hit his fist in his mitt, and the umpire yelled, 'Strike three!' That hitter was so mad, he threw his bat down. He yelled at the umpire, 'You blind, Tom?! Anybody who could see knows that ball was high and outside!'"

The chapters, or "innings" are each compelling parts of the whole game, seamlessly weaving history, baseball and personalities. Although segregation is a great part of the Negro League story, We are the Ship is an uplifting book, highlighting a love of baseball and a can-do spirit.

Nelson's paintings are beautiful and lifelike depictions of a bygone era and some of baseball's greatest players. There is a double-spread foldout depicting the first Colored World Series in 1924.

The book concludes with Negro Leaguers Who Made it to the Major Leagues (count Hank Aaron among these!), Negro Leaguers in the National Baseball Hall of Fame (including Satchel Paige and Smokey Joe Williams), an Author's Note, Acknowledgments, Bibliography, Filmography, Endnotes and Index.

My only complaint with this book was the author's stated choice to write the story in the collective "we" voice. It helps to place the reader firmly inside the story, however, as a history buff and baseball fan, I spent the entire book wondering "who" was speaking. Only in the Author's Note did I discover that, although a true story, the "voice" is a fictional "we." This minor complaint will probably go unnoticed by most readers however, and certainly does not detract from the story.

This picture book for older readers is highly recommended. Hopefully, we'll see it on some of the winning book award lists next month!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Bedtime Stories

Bedtime Stories. 2008. Directed by Adam Shankman. Starring Adam Sandler.

Imagine if the stories you told at bedtime came true the next day? That's the premise of Bedtime Stories, the new movie starring Adam Sandler. Adam Sandler is Skeeter, a handyman at a California hotel once owned by his father - now a mega resort owned by a pompous old man (the original Mr. Dursely of HP movies). When Skeeter's sister finds that she will be losing her job, she takes a trip to Arizona to find a new position. Skeeter watches her young children for a week - and so the bedtime stories begin.

Of course, it would be simple to tell a bedtime story that works out well for our hero, Skeeter, who is desperately seeking a grander position at the hotel, but these magical bedtime stories have a twist and don't always turn out as expected!

This is a great family movie. The three kids I brought to the movie (ages 12-15) gave it 2 thumbs up. I could hear them laughing out loud throughout the movie. I enjoyed it too. In spite of its PG rating, it was not too juvenile for an adult to enjoy. A funny family movie with a great message. (The only thing that one could find offensive were the two scenes involving "little people." That's one stereotype that our ever-enlightening culture has yet to shed.) Still, the movie is well-worth seeing.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Tales of Beedle the Bard

Rowling, J.K. 2008. The Tales of Beedle the Bard: A wizarding classic from the world of Harry Potter. New York: Children's High Level Group in association with Arthur A. Levine.

Suggested reading for Hogwarts School children and a favorite of wizarding families everywhere, this version of Beedle's famous stories was recently translated from ancient runes by Hogwarts' own, Hermione Granger, and contains commentary by Albus Dumbledore.

In reality, this new book by J.K. Rowling is a collection of wizarding fairy tales written in a classic style. The stories, complete with requisite moral messages, are each a delight in their own right; the sometimes serious, sometimes humorous commentary by Albus Dumbledore only adds to the reader's enjoyment. There are five tales in all. "The Fountain of Fair Fortune" is good enough to rival classic fairy tales of old.

A delightful collection to sustain Harry Potter fans waiting anxiously for the long-delayed next movie! Purchases of this book benefit the Children's High Level Group, a worldwide children's charity established by J.K. Rowling.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Night's Nice

Emberly, Barbara and Ed. 2008. Night's Nice. New York: Little Brown.

I have just discovered this reprint of Night's Nice, first published in 1962. It's a bright, colorful and rhyming romp through all of the reasons why night is nice,

And yellow-eyed cats
All think night's nice
And of course
So do bats."

Illustrated by Ed Emberly in gouache and ink, in his now-classic style, (I love his drawing books!) the light-hearted illustrations manage to evoke evening, while still offering a riot of color. A perfect book to read before going to bed,

"So hop into bed,
Turn over thrice
And whisper this softly:

Night's nice, night's nice, night's nice."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Anna's Wish

Hachler, Bruno. 2008. Anna's wish. New York: NorthSouth.

This book may have been first published in Switzerland, but it's a perfect story for any town that hasn't seen snow in recent years. In the town where Anna lives, snow is becoming just a memory. It hasn't snowed in years,

"At first people thought nothing of it. Each winter, grown-ups got out their snow shovels. Children drew pictures of snowmen and sleds. Surely snow would fall soon.

But when the first crocuses popped out of the ground, people put their shovels away and turned their thoughts to spring."

Passing the bakery shop window daily, Anna becomes entranced by a sparkling white horse in a window display and consumed with her desire to feel snow. In her mind, she entwines the white horse with her wishes for snow - and

"Like tiny stars, her wishes floated up into the sky and froze. Then, slowly, they began to fall back down to the earth. ... Hundreds of them. Thousands of them. Millions of them."

The illustrations are cheerful, but subdued. Bright colors adorn the people, cars and shops, while the sky remains resolutely gray. The town, the bakery, the weather are the focus of the paintings - not Anna. Anna is a small, cheerful girl dwarfed by the hustle and bustle of the world. Humorous details include a leashed dachshund refusing to budge and two moving men carrying a sign which contains the text of the story.

This is a simple, quiet and joyful story of a long awaited snowfall. It may be about Switzerland, but it could just as well be New Jersey. A perfect read on the eve of a possible snow day.

Even Firefighters go to the Potty

Wax, Wendy and Naomi Wax. 2008. Even Firefighters go to the Potty. New York: Little Simon.

This is a lift-the flap book and behind every flap is ... ? You guessed it! A person on the "potty." Firefighters, policeman, doctors, astronauts and more - they're all on the potty in this toilet-training book. Each flap is a restroom door. Personally, I think it's in bad taste, but I see that parents on GoodReads and Amazon are giving it rave reviews. It's hard to argue with a satisfied toddler! If you've got a sense of humor and a child reluctant to use the "potty," perhaps this book is for you.

Dandelion Wine

Bradbury, Ray. 2007. Dandelion Wine. Narrated by Colonial Radio Theatre on the Air, et al.
Blackstone Audio, Inc.

I downloaded Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine, thinking that I was choosing Bradbury's classic 1957 novel - a bittersweet recollection of 12-year-old protagonist Douglas Spaulding's magical summer of 1928 in Green Town, Illinois. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised by a full-cast dramatization of the story by the Colonial Radio Players, narrated by Jerry Robinson. No expense seemed to be spared in the creation of this audio play - the large cast, sound effects, and orchestral soundtrack were flawless.

I wondered how the venerable Mr. Bradbury would rate the audio rendition, and was answered by the post-play narration. Mr. Bradbury, himself, dramatized Dandelion Wine.

This audio version is a new way to enjoy one of America's timeless classics! At only 114 minutes (2 discs on CD), it's hard not to find the time.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Six Days in October

Blumenthal, Karen. 2008. Six days in October: The stock market crash of 1929. New York: Atheneum.

This Robert F. Sibert Honor Book should be required reading. It is an historical account of the six days beginning with Black Thursday, on October 24, 1929. Blumenthal's book is chock full of well-researched historical facts, as well as period photos and newspaper articles. Practical information, "What is a Stock Split?," "What are Bonds?," etc. is in highlighted text boxes. This book may be found in the children's section of your library, but there is something in it for everyone. In these troubled financial times, this is certainly a period worth remembering. For ages 12 and up.

Cyberia by Chris Lynch

Sunday, December 7, 2008


Lynch, Chris. 2008. Cyberia. New York: Scholastic.

A booktalk for Cyberia Click for the podcast!

So, imagine it's the future - but not too far into the future. All your cool technology is now totally integrated. Your walls? High def screens. Your ceiling? It talks to you, answers you, plays your music. Your food? Ready whenever you're hungry and announced by the Scent-O-Com feed to your room. Sound great? Well, not quite. Your internal chip also displays your constant whereabouts to your parents - along with your height, weight, blood pressure, and, for crying out loud - even when you next need to use the bathroom!

Well, that' my life, and it really wasn't all that bad until Dad got me the latest in technology, the Gizzard. It's like a universal remote for my world, syncing everything wherever I go. But there was just one small glitch. My dog,Hugo. Hugo has an experimental chip called the Gristle 2.0. Our veterinarian, Dr. Gristle, installed it. He’s famous for all kinds of creepy animal experiments. And now that I've connected my new Gizzard, I can hear Hugo talk!

And that's not all - Hugo's got friends in the WildWood - lots of them; and they're not particularly happy. It seems that Dr. Gristle has been up to some nasty business; and now that the animals know I can understand them - they want me to help! Me! Suddenly I have hundreds of animal friends - although I should hardly call them friends - they won't leave me alone! Our Friend, they call me. “Our Friend, help us!’ “Help us!” They really think I can save them, but
can I?

Cyberia … a new series

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Little Klein

Ylvisaker, Anne. 2008. Little Klein. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick.

Little Klein is a slow, peaceful trip through rural America, circa 1949. Little Klein is the youngest and smallest of three brothers. Considered frail by his sturdy and practical mother, he is looked after (but never down upon) by his rough-and-tumble brothers (the Bigs). In this simple, dirt road town, Little Klein is the only one too frail to go barefoot in the summer. The addition of the stray dog, LeRoy, to the Klein family, adds joy and purpose to the Kleins' lives and Leroy's.

Written in what author Kirby Larson describes as "gossip-over-the-back-fence style," Little Klein meanders easily through the thoughts of the Kleins and their dog. The easy-going style makes the reader wistful for times he never knew,

"As the grown-ups went inside for iced tea, Little Klein, with LeRoy on his heels, raced to the garage for a trowel. He dug a hole in the discussed spot before Mother Klein could change her mind. He slipped into the kitchen, grabbed three forks, and stuck them in the ground around the hole, then tied string around the forks, marking the territory. He made a label, CORN, and sat waiting for his brothers, LeRoy at his side."

Of course, there is danger and adventure in the lives of all little boys, and Little Klein is no exception, but this is not an edge-of-your-seat adventure, but rather, the adventure of a bygone summer in a bygone era.

"Where were his boys? LeRoy tried to go to sleep, but the air was so empty of boy smell. He sniffed at the garbage can, but it was no good. He needed his boys. LeRoy rose up on his sturdy legs and picked his way to the alley and slouched slowly out of town."

There is no monumental historical message in this book, just simple and timeless themes - love between a boy and his dog (or in this case, between a dog and his boys, both the Bigs and the Little), the bonds of family, and the realization that in times of great need, we are all possible of performing great deeds.

Beneath the Waves - a review

As we read disturbing news accounts of dying manatees , environmental disasters caused by toxic waste, and ocean pollution on the scale of ...