Saturday, October 31, 2009

Count Down to Fall

Hawk, Fran. 2009. Count Down to Fall. Illustrated by Sherry Neidigh. Mt. Pleasant, SC: Sylvan Dell.

There is much to like about Countdown to Fall. Ostensibly a counting book, its true value is in its leafy pages. Seasonal leaf identification is as easy as falling off a log with simple rhymes and realistic, double-spread illustrations.

Not all of the rhymes flow perfectly, but each offers a fun way to memorize each leaf type. Beech tree leaves are described "like yellow cat's eyes," and my favorite,

"Six linden leaves
in Valentine shapes
reflect golden sun
in autumn's landscape."

Linking the Linden tree's leaves to a Valentine shape is original and memorable.

The real beauty of this book, however, is in its illustrations. Four corner insets on each spread offer depictions of a leaf in spring, a leafy tree in autumn, a seed pod, and an autumn leaf. The illustrations are bordered by a lifelike depiction of the tree's bark. The featured artwork shows the tree sharing its habitat with the creatures of nature - bears, birds, bugs, and more.

For Creative Minds is an educational section that follows the story and contains simple quizzes (match the spring leaf to the autumn leaf) and questions. Click to see.

This book is a teacher's dream - engaging, entertaining, and educational.
(If you're a librarian, check the publisher's site for crafts to do in conjunction with each of Sylvan Dell's titles- cool!)

Ziggy and the Black Dinosaurs

Draper, Sharon. 2006. Ziggy and the Black Dinosaurs: The Buried Bones Mystery. New York: Aladdin.

Similar to the A-Z Mystery series, but featuring a diverse group of young African American boys, Ziggy and the Black Dinosaurs is a chapter book, mystery series. The boys are representative of many types of families. Ziggy's large, extended family is from Jamaica. Rico lives with his overprotective mother and police officer dad. Jerome lives with his grandmother and often watches his younger sisters. Rashawan's family is Muslim and helps to raise awareness of black culture and worthy causes.

Written by Sharon Draper, this series is a welcome addition to a genre in which people of color are often missing, or serving as token characters. Check the author’s website for activities and study guides.

(This is not a new series, but it's new to my branch. There are six titles in the Ziggy and the Black Dinosaurs series.)

One Book NJ

This year, for the first time, the One Book NJ committee is offering the public a chance to vote for the 2010 One Book NJ titles. Each year, four different books are chosen - one each for pre-readers, independent readers, teens, and adults.

According to their website, One Book NJ's "goal is to bring people together through literature by encouraging them to read the same book and participate in discussions and other events centered on that book. One Book New Jersey celebrates reading, literacy, and all that New Jersey's libraries do."

If you want to see great programming based on books that you enjoy, vote today!
My picks? The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian (for teens), The Tale of Despereaux (for older kids), and Click Clack Moo: Cows that Type (for pre-readers).
If you're not in NJ, check out your own state or local One Book program.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

All of Me! A book of thanks.

Bang, Molly. 2009. All of me! A book of thanks. New York: Blue Sky Press.

All of Me! A book of thanks, is a joyful book that fits many needs. It is foremost, a child's book of thankfulness for his body,

"What grand hands! Thank you, hands, for gripping and throwing and patting and holding. And for hugging,"

his world,

"I listen with my ... ears. Outside I hear cars rumbling. I hear music playing. I hear honking, singing, barking, and laughing,"

and his place in the world,

"All this is my home. I am ALIVE."

The illustrations are a large and colorful mix of collage art, paint and crayons. The endpapers include directions for children to create their own books. In "Books are Fun to Make," author-illustrator Molly Bang, tells children how she made the book using paper bags, cloth and paper, crayons (!!), paints, paintbrushes and water. She includes simple directions and illustrations. Perfect for a budding artist!

Finally, All of Me! A Book of Thanks is perfect choice for Thanksgiving storytime (reminding us that we have more to be thankful for than a full plate) and for showcasing multiculturalism. The child is has biracial parents and lives in a vibrant and diverse neighborhood.

A simple book with a positive message.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Easy Readers for people of color?

During the summer when the branch was full of young children and parents looking for summer reading titles, I noticed something. There were very few "easy-reader" type books on my shelves that featured children of color. Late in August, when I took a course in Reading Instruction and Children's Books, I discovered from that my colleagues from around the country had noticed the same thing; while there are great children's authors in every culture, many cultures and ethnicities are underrepresented in the "easy reader" market.

I mentioned this to our collections department. Our children's selector got on the job immediately - and found that the choices are not great; however, she was able to quickly provide me with several titles from Picture Window Books, a division of Capstone Press. The books are part of a Read-It! Readers series, The Life of Max, beginning readers featuring a young African American boy, Max. The books don't have the stellar story lines of other series, like Cork and Fuzz or Elephant and Piggie, but they're an alternative. I particularly liked Max Goes to the Library because it also busts a gender myth - the librarian is a man. :)

I'm going to check out the offerings of Lee and Low's, Bebop Books. They might be just what I'm looking for. In the meantime, children in my diverse community can now find Max on my easy reader shelves.

Of course, any book can be enjoyed by any person of any race or ethnicity, but I believe that it's probably nice to see a familiar face on the shelves of your local library.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

I have not had a chance to see the new movie Where the Wild Things Are, based on Maurice Sendak's Caldecott Medal winning book of the same name, however, I thought I'd pass this information along.

My niece, who has two preschoolers, went to see the movie and posted this message on Facebook, "Just saw Where The Wild Things Are. It is NOT a children's movie. I repeat, NOT a children's movie."

Of course, this is only one person's opinion, but I pass it along because I've noticed that many movie trailers are crafted to appeal to very young children, when the movie itself is intended for an older audience.

When in doubt about the appropriateness of a children's movie, you can check the website of, which contains reviews and commentary on all new movies. The site rates them on gore, violence, profanity, etc. Movies are reviewed in excruciating detail and reviews usually contain spoilers, however, you'll never be unpleasantly surprised at the theater, and the site is a cheaper option than previewing the movie yourself before bringing the kids.

Common Sense Media is another great site for movie reviews. They suggest this movie for ages 9 and up.

Where the Wild Things Are is rated PG for "mild thematic elements, some adventure action and brief language."

I'd love to hear comments from anyone who has seen the movie with young kids! If I get to the movie this weekend, I'll be sure to post again.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Dog Days

Kinney, Jeff. 2009. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days. New York: Amulet.

It's Dog Days as in the dog days of summer (the timing of this book's release could have been better) and Greg Heffley is looking forward to some quality indoor time, but unfortunately, his Mom's idea of the perfect summer vacation does not include horror movies, video games and TV. In Dog Days, Greg woefully recounts his misadventures at Rowley's country club, the public pool, his summer job, and the cabin at the beach. Rodrick, Manny, Gramma, Mom, Dad, the Jeffersons, and Fregley, all make appearances in this latest installment of the Wimpy Kid series. However, the true stars of Dog Days are Greg and his Dad, who learn that father-son bonding may not be the same in every family. Sometimes hating the same comic strip is all that you need.

Dog Days may not have as many "laugh out loud" moments as earlier installments, (Rodrick Rules is still my favorite) but it remains comic genius, hilarious sketches seamlessly integrated into the story, often acting as the "punchline" in place of words.
Usually, I can relate to Mrs. Heffley. In Dog Days, I completely empathize with Greg. As a child, I also dreaded the trip to the "public pool," although my experiences (thankfully) were not the same as Greg's,
"I didn't want Manny to have to walk through the shower area and see the things I've seen. So I got a towel out of my bag and was gonna put it over Manny's eyes when we walked past the shower guys. But in the two seconds it took me to get my towel, Manny was gone. And you'll never believe where he went."
You'll have to imagine the sketch of the diminutive Manny, whistling and washing in the men's shower, surrounded by hairy knees and ankles!

"I knew I had to rescue Manny, so I closed my eyes as tight as I could and went in to save him... When we got to the other side, Manny seemed fine, but I don't think I'll ever totally recover from that experience."

And although I never watched a movie with "the muddy hand," I do remember one with a charred, black hand, and can completely relate with Greg's feelings in this passage,
"My new fear is that the hand is gonna crawl up on my bed and get me in my sleep. So lately I've been covering my whole body with the blanket and leaving a hole so I can breathe. But that strategy his its OWN risks. Rodrick got into my room today, and I had to spend the morning trying to wash the taste of a dirty sock out of my mouth."
And finally, I have to agree with Greg on this one,
"There's this comic about a dog called "Precious Poochie," and it's been running for about fifty years. The guy who wrote it died a long time ago, but they're still recycling his old comics. I don't know if they're funny or not because, to be honest with you, most of them don't even make sense to a person my age."

Well, Jeff Kinney does make sense to a person of Greg Heffley's age! In fact, based on the phenomenal interest in his books, he makes sense to kids of all ages - from 9 to 99.
Check out The Diary of a Wimpy Kid website for the Dog Days Event Kit.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Anne Frank: Her Life in Words and Pictures

Metsalaar, Menno. 2009. Anne Frank: Her Life in Words and Pictures from the Archives of the Anne Frank House. New York: Roaring Brook Press.

With a wealth of photographs, selected diary entries, and historical background information, Anne Frank: Her life in words and pictures is perfectly suited as a wonderful companion to Anne Frank: The diary of a young girl, or an alternative for more visual learners. To see photographs of her actual diary pages and her family's hiding place (in addition to hundreds of other photographs)is a compelling addition to Anne Frank's story. The book is arranged chronologically, and contains a glossary, but no index.

Coincidentally, I attended an excellent presentation yesterday by Kathe Pinchuck, Chair of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee. The purpose of the award is "to encourage the publication of outstanding books of Jewish content for children and teens, books that exemplify the highest literary standards while authentically portraying the Jewish experience." The site and Ms. Pinchuck are great sources of information.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Murder at Midnight

2009. Avi. Murder at Midnight. Scholastic: New York.

Set in Italy at the end of the Middle Ages, Murder at Midnight, finds Fabrizio, a young servant boy, negotiating the deadly intricacies of the royal court in order to save his master, Magnus the Magician. This is not my favorite of Avi's mystery books. It is lacking in the rich language and total period immersion of The Traitor's Gate, Seer of Shadows or Newbery Award winner, Crispin: Cross of Lead. However, it succeeds as a gripping, suspenseful, and fast-paced (perhaps too fast?) murder mystery with strong protagonists in Fabrizio, and his friend, Maria. It's hard to go wrong with Avi.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

14 Cows for America

Deedy, Carmen Agra. 2009. 14 Cows for America. Illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez. Atlanta: Peachtree. (In collaboration with Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah)

On September 11, 2001, Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah, a college student from the Massai tribe in Kenya, was in New York City, studying to become a doctor. The following spring, he returned to his small village,

“He has brought with him one story. It has burned a hole in his heart,”

This is his story. It is not a story of the terroristic attacks upon the United States, but rather, a story of the compassion of the Massai people for the victims. The Massai, former warriors, now proud and peaceful cattle herders, believe that “the cow is life.” “Without the herd, the tribe might starve.”

After the tribal members and elders contemplate fires that can melt iron, buildings that can touch the sky, and three thousand lost souls, they respond with a gift for the U.S. Ambassador - the gift of life, fourteen cows for America.

The endpapers list Thomas Gonzalez’s medium as “pastel, colored pencil, and airbrush on 100% rag archival paper.” Its effect is stunning. The majesty of Kenya and the pride of the Massai people are evident in the rich, colorful illustrations.

A “Note from Kimeli Nayiyomah” follows, offering the story in greater detail for older readers. He notes that, in the gift of the Massai to America, “a connection between the two cultures had been made. We felt we had taken some of America’s pain into our Massai hearts.”

14 Cows for America is a touching story of compassion. The combination of Carmen Agra Deedy’s simple yet powerful words, the vibrant illustrations of Thomas Gonzalez, and the moving story of Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah, is a book that defies superlatives.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

New picture books

Our computers were down at work today…a great time to explore the contents of my new arrivals bag!

From the picture book collection:

Pinkney, Jerry. 2009. The Lion and the Mouse. New York: Little Brown.

Jerry Pinkney’s The Lion and the Mouse is a (nearly) wordless re-telling of Aesop’s fable of the same name. The story unfolds clearly and simply. The only “words” are the sounds of the Serengeti plain – the screech of an owl, the squeak of the mouse, the putt-putt of the hunter’s truck, the roar of the trapped lion. The pencil, watercolor, and colored pencil illustrations on paper, are simply stunning, conveying both the vastness and majesty of the African Serengeti and the myriad emotions of the lion and the mouse as they encounter each other by chance and again by purpose. The soft butter-yellow pages blend artfully with the earthy hues of Africa’s birds, plants, insects and wildlife. A beautiful book!

Redmond, E.S. 2009. Felicity Floo Visits the Zoo. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.

Felicity Floo has a cold and she’s off to visit the zoo – without a tissue. Trouble ensues as little Felicity spreads her germs,

“All of the animals down at the zoo
Are snuffling and snorting and sneezing ACHOO.
The lions won’t roar, and the tigers just mew.”

The double-spread illustrations are delightfully dreary. The disheveled Felicity sports a red nose, baggy eyes and a slimy, shiny, green hand print which she plasters throughout the zoo. Emus, elephants, flamingos and more, eye her with wide-eyed dismay.

Of course, one could argue that the idea of a zoo visitor touching the animals and spreading germs is a poor and erroneous example for little listeners; however, this is an engaging, rhyming story that spreads, not just germs, but a timely reminder to use a tissue and keep one’s slimy, green germs to oneself! A fun introduction to hand-washing and flu prevention.

And now our computers are working and it's time to get my nose out of books ...

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 ...