Friday, January 30, 2009

Betsy B. Little

McEvoy, Anne. 2008. Betsy B. Little. New York: Harper Collins.

A bright and happy, rhyming story that soars to great heights (literally) of possibility as giraffe, Betsy B. Little, refuses to abandon her dream of becoming a ballerina despite the difficulties of her size. The rhyming text flows smoothly,

"and so,
On the very first Monday in May,
She arrived At the Skoffington School of Ballet,"

and the message is uplifting,

"Maybe my problem's not
Being too tall. Maybe I've just been
Dreaming too small!"

Anne McEvoy's first children's book is a winner.

Diamond Willow

Frost, Helen. 2008. Diamond Willow. New York: Frances Foster. ISBN: 978-0-374-317768

Like a diamond, the concept for Diamond Willow is brilliant. Twelve-year-old Willow is named after a stick, a diamond willow stick, to be precise. When branches are cut from the willow, a diamond shaped scar is left on the branch. Written mostly in first person verse, each page of Willow's thoughts is a diamond-shaped poem; but the brilliance is not in the shape of the poem, it lies in the gem within. Nestled within each poem is a small truth - a truth that resides within Willow but cannot be seen from without,

I love
about dogs;
They don't talk
behind your back.
If they're mad at you,
they bark a couple times
and get it over with. It's true
they slobber on you sometimes.
(I'm glad people don't do that.) They
jump out and scare you in the dark. (I know,
I should say me, not "you" - some people aren't'
afraid of anything.) But dogs don't make fun
of you. They don't hit you in the back
of your neck with an ice-covered
snowball, and if they did, and
it made you cry, all their
friends wouldn't stand
there laughing
at you.
Diamond Willow takes place in a remote Alaskan town where dogs and snowmobiles are the most common form of transportation. Willow is most comfortable with her family and her dogs, especially now, since her closest friend has a boyfriend. When an accident occurs while Willow is mushing the dogs, Willow uncovers the truth within, as well as a closely-held family secret.
More than just a coming-of-age story, Diamond Willow is a mystical tale of Native American spirits that reside within the creatures of the Alaskan wild.
I was unable to find reviews of this book on sites dedicated to Native American literature (Oyate, American Indian Library Association, American Indians in Children's Literature), and am curious if those within the Athabascan community find Diamond Willow to be in keeping with native philosophy. I was pleased to see that the author, Helen Frost, spent much time in Alaska and consulted with an Athabascan elder while writing Diamond Willow.
A thoughtful look at the meaning of family, loss, friendship and love.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

2009 ALSC Awards and the House in the Night

Below is the link to the 2009 American Library Association's (ALA) Association of Library Services to Children (ALSC) 's list of award-winning books for 2009.
Click the link for the complete list of winners and honor books in all categories.

Here are a few highlights:

The Caldecott Medal (picture book) went to
The House in the Night, illustrated by Beth Krommes and written by Susan Marie Swanson, Houghton Mifflin Co.

The Newbery Medal (J Fiction) went to
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, HarperCollins Children's Books.

Unfortunately, because it is cataloged at a Young Adult book in my library, I did not read The Graveyard Book, and now I'm on the waiting list for a copy.

The Sibert Medal (non-fiction) went to
We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball, written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson, Disney-Jump at the Sun, an imprint of Disney Book Group

The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) also chooses an annual award, the Orbis Pictus Award for outstanding non-fiction for children.

Their choice this year is:
Amelia Earhart: The Legend of the Lost Aviator by Shelley Tanaka, illustrated by David Craig (click the link for Honor and Recommended books)

As the saying goes, so many books, so little time!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Kiss! Kiss! Yuck! Yuck!

Mewburn, Kyle. 2008. Kiss! Kiss! Yuck! Yuck! Atlanta: Peachtree.

With bright, red, lipsticky lips, Andy's Aunt Elsie seeks him out and kisses him every time she visits, "Kiss! Kiss! on the left cheek. Kiss! Kiss! on the right cheek. Yuck! Yuck!," Andy says to himself. When Aunt Elsie breaks her leg falling off a camel in Australia and can't visit for weeks, Andy realizes how much he misses those yucky kisses! A sweet story illustrated in bright, colorful, simple drawings, embellished with bits of photo realism - purple sequins on Auntie's shoes, real socks stuffed into Andy's cartoon sneakers, real hay sticking out of Andy's crayon hair. Sweet, but not saccharine, with a predictable, but humorous ending.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Keeping Score

Park, Linda Sue. 2008. Keeping Score. New York: Clarion.

It's the summer of 1951 and Margaret Olivia Fortini is nine, going on ten. She is the daughter of an Italian father and an Irish mother (one day pasta, one day potatoes), a practicing Catholic, and like most Brooklynites, a fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers, better known as " 'Dem Bums." The Dodgers are flirting with a chance at the World Series and the United States is entering into the long-standing Korean conflict. Maggie spends much of her time at the firehouse, where her Dad does all the hiring. She loves nothing better than listening to the games on the radio with the guys, that is, until the new guy, Jim, teaches her how to score the games.

"There was something else about keeping score - and Maggie loved this most of all. Like every other Dodger fan she knew, she felt almost like part of the team, like she herself was one of the Bums. It was as if cheering for them, supporting them, listening to the games, talking about them, somehow helped them play better.

Maggie knew that this didn't really make any sense. It wasn't like Jackie and Campy and Pee Wee knew that her radio was turned on, or played worse if it wasn't. But there were times when it felt as though the strength of her wishes, combined with those of thousands of other fans all over Brooklyn, pulled the player or the bat or the ball in the right direction - for a stolen base or a hit or a strikeout, exactly when it was needed most."

When Jim is called up to serve in Korea, Maggie relies on what she knows best - prayers and baseball. But suppose just wanting something, praying for something is not enough? Suppose none of it matters?

Linda Sue Park explores what most children (and adults) eventually come face-to-face with - doubt. Will it matter if you don't wear your lucky shirt? Does praying help if your heart is not in it? Does receiving a benefit from a selfless act make it selfish? The Korean War, post-traumatic stress disorder, faith, family, and friendship - Keeping Score looks at all of these topics through the lens of a true baseball fan - and that is what makes the book work. Baseball is an optimist's sport. There's always next year. Hope springs eternal. Keeping Score never falls into despair. Maggie's loving family and steadfast friend, Treecie, keep her hopes alive.

Park's love of baseball is apparent in Keeping Score. Her team spirit is authentic; the play-by-plays flow easily. She writes, as she says, from the pain of growing up a Cubs fan. What can be more painful than that? Today, she's a Mets fan. As a Phillies fan, I can't say that I've felt her pain these last few years, in fact I've probably enjoyed it! ;-)

But I'm sure she's thinking... just wait 'til spring!

This is a great book that should appeal to girls and boys alike and especially baseball fans!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Alvin Ho Booktalk

Second grader, Alvin Ho doesn’t speak at school. Not one word. Of course, that’s not to say that he can’t speak at all. He can! In fact, thanks to his Dad, he can even swear like Shakespeare, “Get thee gone, thou beshibbering onion-eyed flap-dragon! THY MOTHER WEARS ARMOR!” Of course, swearing can get a person into trouble. And Alvin’s got enough trouble already. He’s having trouble learning to be a gentleman, he’s afraid of just about everything, and now, a bully wants to be his friend! Find out how Alvin Ho makes it through second grade with the help of his trusty Personal Disaster Kit and a friend named Flea in this great new chapter book titled, Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look, with pictures by LeUyn Pham.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Lincoln Shot: A President's Life Remembered

Denenber, Barry. 2008. Lincoln Shot: A President's Life Remembered. Ill. by Christopher Bing. New York: Feiwel and Friends.

This massive book (11" x 17") was created to resemble an aged leather album of newspaper pages from a fictional periodical, The National News.

The book begins with the assassination and then tracks back in time with "chapters" (denoted by headlines), Boyhood (1809-1829), Youth (1830-1835), Politician (1836-1853), and Candidate (1854-1860), followed by a chapter for each year of the Civil War (1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, and 1865). The biography ends where it began, with the nation's first presidential assassination. A Chronology, Index, Picture Credits, and Walt Whitman's poem, "O Captain! My Captain!" finish out the book. The Bibliography is available only online.

Period photographs, quotes, maps, advertisements ("Dr. Sterling's Ambrosia for the Hair. For Sale by Druggists. Price $1"), sketches, handbills, and even a page of Lincoln's math homework in his own hand(!), ("If 1 gallon of ale cost 8d what cost 36 gallons"), add interest and variety to this story of one of our best-known presidents. Each page is sepia-toned and resembles a brittle and aging newspaper.

Despite having read several biographies of Lincoln (both adult and children's), I was still able to find tidbits of new information in details about the assassins and other items of particular interest to children, such as the antics of the Lincoln boys in the White House. My only complaint is that because of the book's format and use of actual period headlines, readers may have the impression that the text actually appeared in newspapers of the time. This is however, a minor issue.

This book's size and format should definitely draw interest in this, the 200th anniversary of President Lincoln's birth. Great for display! (difficult to shelve)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Marley and Me

Marley and Me. 2008. 20th Century Fox.

This is an equally heartwarming and heartbreaking movie based on the book of the same name. I have only read the children's version of the book, Marley: A dog like no other, which I reviewed earlier, so I cannot say for sure if the movie is faithful to the adult title, Marley and Me. What I can say most emphatically, is that despite the humorous and heartwarming movie trailer, this is not a movie for young children. The movie, starring Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston, follows the lives of the married couple as much as that of the dog, Marley. I would not recommend taking a child with whom you would not want to discuss sex, failed pregnancies, or contraception. Conception is a recurring topic in the movie. A co-worker told me of a mom that planned her young daughter's birthday party at the movie. All partygoers ended up crying in the theater lobby, and poor mom had to call all the parents with an apology!

That being said, I took my own daughter to this movie and we thoroughly enjoyed it, laughing and crying out loud in the theater. Marley and Me is a realistic look at one dog's influence on a young and growing family. Through the best of times and the worst of times, Marley does what dogs do best - love unconditionally. And, as the movie asks, how many people do you know that can do that?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The 39 Clues: One False Note

Korman, Gordon. 2008. One False Note. New York: Scholastic.

Book two in the 39 Clues series, continues Dan and Amy Cahill's quest to find the mysterious 39 clues left by generations of wealthy, influential, or ground-breaking Cahills of the past. Maze of Bones left Dan, Amy and their au pair, Nellie in Paris, following a trail of clues left by Benjamin Franklin. One False Note finds them hot on the hunt for clues left by another gifted Cahill, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Chased by the brutish Holts, the cunning Kabras, wily Uncle Alistair, ruthless Irina Spasky, and the famous Jonah Wizard, Dan and Amy and their au pair track the clues from Paris to Vienna to Venice and beyond. The hunt continues...

This second book in the series is written by Gordon Korman. Korman follows effortlessly in the pattern left for him by Rick Riordan, author of the first book. There seems to be little noticeable difference in the style of the two stories, except perhaps that Korman, a humorous author in his own right, seems to go for fewer punchlines than Riordan did in the first installment. One can only imagine that each succeeding author will find it increasingly difficult to knit the threads of story and character together in seamless fashion. However, so far, so good.

I am somewhat disappointed in the companion website. The site, while interesting and very interactive, stands completely independent of the published stories, and at times, does not even appear to be connected. In the book, Dan and Amy are following the clues of Mozart in Vienna. On the website, I am trolling the bottom of the Loch Ness for a clue lost in Grace Cahill's plane crash. Additionally, the website tale appears to be at a standstill. I have followed the clues to a dead end. My inbox is empty and I have no new leads to follow. Perhaps with the release of the third book, more clues will appear. BTW, I'm a Lucian.

I have not seen the hoped-for blockbuster interest in The 39 Clues series, but as word travels, interest may snowball. It's too early to tell. The books are perfect for kids who enjoy mysteries, series, history, or adventure.

Artemis Fowl

Colfer, Eoin. 2006. Artemis Fowl: Artemis Fowl, Book 1. Read by Nathaniel Parker. Listening Library.


Begin with the premise that all the stories you’ve heard about leprechauns, goblins, trolls, fairies, and the like, are based on truth. Not the shoe-making elves of fairy tales, but rather, an ancient, highly-intelligent, subterranean species. Now add in our "hero?", the cold, calculating, 12-year-old genius (and criminal), Artemis Fowl, whose thirst for treasure rivals even that of the fairy race. If Artemis can unlock the language and secrets of the fairy race (and he will!), he can use that knowledge to strip them of untold riches. When he kidnaps Captain Holly Short, a highly-trained and armed officer of LEPrecon unit, he realizes that he may have underestimated this tiny species. Will he stop at nothing? Will the LEPrecon unit risk the fate of their entire species to rescue Captain Short? Find out in this action-packed, sci-fi, mystery adventure.


This is the first of six books in the Artemis Fowl Series and refers to the audiobook version read by Nathaniel Parker. Parker's Irish accent is perfect for the story, and he creates memorable voices and accents for each of the story's mostly hard-boiled characters and moves seamlessly between the voices of the large cast. This story downloads in 5 parts and is about 6 1/2 hours in length. The author confirms that a movie deal is in the works. A great choice for fantasy fans looking for something with a bit of an edge.

My library classifies this series as YA (young adult), but older J (Juvenile fiction) readers should enjoy it as well.

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 ...