Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Kneebone Boy

Potter, Ellen. 2010.  The Kneebone Boy. New York: Feiwel and Friends.

I like books that surprise me. I like books with intriguing cover art. I like quirky books. (The Death-Defying Pepper Roux, The Problem with the Puddles, to name two)

The Kneebone Boy is all three.

The Hardscrabble family is an odd one. The children Otto, Max and Lucia ("you pronounce it Lu-CHEE-a," the narrator reminds us), live with their father, Casper - an artist who makes his rather peculiar living, painting portraits of dethroned royalty. Their mother, Tess Hardscrabble, disappeared years ago under suspicious circumstances. Caspar was immediately suspected by the police; but the neighborhood children believe that Otto, the mute and eldest Hardscrabble child, murdered his mother with the scarf that he wears always around his neck. The outcast children are frequently left in the care of a neighbor with an unsightly neck boil, while their father travels the globe to immortalize down-on-their-luck princesses, sultans and baronesses.

But this trip is different. Their father has failed to make the proper arrangements and the children find themselves on an adventure - a frightening, exciting, exhilarating adventure!
All in all they were in that gorgeous state of mind in which they felt free and unafraid and sharply aware of how large and exciting the world was.
     In other words, it hadn't gotten dark outside yet.
The Kneebone Boy is narrated in the third person by one of the three Hardscrabble children, with frequent asides and commentary on the nature of storytelling and writing. The narrator prefers to keep her identity a secret, insisting that the story belongs to all of them, but it soon becomes plain which of the children is narrating the story, as she gives away a clue in the title of the very first chapter,

In which we meet the Hardscrabbles, unearth a triceratops bone, and begin to like Lucia even more.
After some trouble in London, they arrive in Snoring-by-the-Sea and take up temporary residence at their Great-Aunt Haddie's castle folly. The quite young Great-Aunt Haddie (do the math, it's possible) is an adventure unto herself, and in her curious care (which involves dungeons and peanut butter and jelly), the siblings begin to imagine that they can find their mother, discover a secret passageway through the castle folly, and rescue a sultan. Perhaps they can, or perhaps they are on a completely different adventure - one about which neither they, nor the reader, knows anything!

Though told through the lens of Lucia's mind, The Kneebone Boy displays all facets of the Hardscrabble children's personalities. Max may be a know-it-all who isn't fond of animals, but he is also a companionable and loving brother. Lucia sometimes resents Max's bossiness and feels herself to be Otto's protector, but she knows when to defer to Max's superior intellect and wonders if she may need Otto as much as Otto needs her. And though fearful of many things, she is more than capable of overcoming her fears when the need arises. Otto, who is mute and communicates with his hands, also has more to him than his description and appearance might suggest. Though speechless, Otto knows and understands more than his siblings think.

Dark and quirky, Otto and the rest of the Hardscrabble family will draw the reader into this witty and mysterious adventure with a completely unexpected and thought-provoking conclusion.

A discussion guide for The Kneebone Boy from the publisher.

Read an excerpt here.

More reviews @
Kids Lit
A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy

Share |

Monday, December 27, 2010

T is for Taj Mahal

Bajaj, Varsha.  2011. T is for Taj Mahal: An India Alphabet.  Ill. by Robert Crawford. Ann Arbor, MI: Sleeping Bear Press.

T is for Taj Mahal is the latest in a series of country-themed books that includes A is for America, K is for Kabuki, and C is for Ciao, among others.  Each page or double-spread contains a large font letter in both upper and lower case, a simple sentence,
S is for Spices,
a short rhyme,
Cumin, turmeric, saffron -
all blended to appeal.
Lentils, beans, and veggies
make a fragrant meal.
and a lengthy, small font sidebar explaining the word concept in greater detail.

Some of the rhymes are not as smooth as others, but a slow reading will help.  The book's format allows for use by children of many ages.  The youngest of listeners can simply enjoy the letter and the primary sentence.  Older listeners can understand the rhymes; while independent readers can glean useful information for school country reports, etc.  Each page contains at least three paragraphs of facts (although the book is without source notes or references).

Robert Crawford's painted illustrations are beautifully evocative of a country that is home to imposing mountains, chic urban centers, lush clothing, simple culture, impressive monuments, and rich and varied religious and cultural history.  A movie star, a smiling child, a waving politician, a loving mother - these are all familiar to the reader, yet depicted in a distinctly Indian style.

There are more than one million people of Indian descent in the United States, and the U.S. welcomes many immigrants from the world's largest democratic state each year, so the addition of an Indian alphabet book is sure to be welcomed by many.  Its richly colored paintings and fascinating facts will make it a favorite of Indian-Americans and non Indians alike.

This book is part of the Discover the World series.  There is a companion website with books, recipes, games, maps and more. The site could be a great resource for the reading theme that many libraries will be using this summer, One World, Many Stories.

I reviewed a softcover laser proof.  I'm sure the pictures will be even more impressive in the finished product.

 Advance Copy supplied by the publisher.  Due on shelves in March. In the meantime, enjoy this photo of the Taj Mahal.

Description: Taj Mahal in Agra
Source: Library of Congress
Date: Published as a photochrom between 1890 and 1900 by Photoglob Z├╝rich
Licence: Public Domain

It's Nonfiction Monday again. Today we're meeting at Check it Out. (Note: It appears that Check it Out has not checked in...try later, perhaps)

Share |

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

2010 Picture Book Favorites

While awaiting next month's big award announcements from ALSC, here are my favorite picture books of 2010.

My top five, linked to my reviews:
(I can't really decide on an order - they're all so different!)

  • Underwood, Deborah.2010. The Quiet Book. Ill. by Renata Liwska. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  • Frazee, Marla. 2010. The Boss Baby. New York: Beach Lane
  • .Raschka, Chris. 2010. Little Black Crow. New York: Atheneum.
  • Thomson, Bill. 2010. Chalk. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish.
  • Henkes, Kevin. 2010. My Garden. New York:  Greenwillow.
Other great 2010 titles ...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Nonfiction Monday

I'm taking a vacation day, but Nonfiction Monday never takes the day off.  You can visit SimplyScience for all of today's Nonfiction Monday posts.

Next week I'll have a review of T is for Taj Mahal: An India Alphabet, and later this week, I'll have my picture book favorites of 2010.  (I left my notes at work in my copy of Kneebone Boy, and I'm disappointed on both counts!)

More good reading for today can be found at StoryTubes, a great contest for kids 5-18.  Here are the rules in a nutshell:
Make a short video about your favorite book and use the online form to enter and compete for prizes. 
It's a wonderful opportunity to promote books and creativity; it's also a chance for kids to show their film making chops. Entries are accepted from January 19 to February 28.

Enjoy your Monday.  I'm off to the store.

Share |

Saturday, December 18, 2010

2010 Favorites

Next month the ALA Award Committees will present their favorites of 2010.  The Youth Media Awards (including the Newbery, Caldecott and Coretta Scott King winners plus many more!) will be announced in San Diego on January 9th, between 7:30 and 9:00am.

In the meantime, here are my favorites (in no particular order) in board books, easy readers,  nonfiction,  fiction, YA fiction, and adult nonfiction.  Each is linked to its review. 

(Picture books picks are coming soon!)

Board Books
  • Patricelli, Leslie. 2010. Tubby. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
  • Patricelli, Leslie. 2010. Potty. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
  • Pixton, Kaaren. 2010. Plip-Plop Pond! New York: Workman. (I love these Indestructibles!)
  • Sickler, Jonas. 2010. Humpty Dumpty. New York: Workman.

 Easy Readers


Juvenile Fiction 

Young Adult Fiction 
Adult Nonfiction

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Snow Day!

Laminack, Lester L. Snow Day! 2010. Ill. by Adam Gustavson. Atlanta: Peachtree.
(review copy supplied by the publisher)

If you're not from snow country, you can't know the excitement and anticipation that comes with the possibility of a snow day from school (or work!),
Did you hear that?  Did the weatherman just say what I thought he did?  Did he say... SNOW? Oh please, let it snow. Lots and lots of snow.  Look at the sky.  I can feel it in the air.  We're getting snow tonight for sure.  Just much snow, even the buses can't go.  No - so much snow that even the teachers can't go.
It's difficult to say what I enjoyed most about this book - the hilarious wide-eyed paintings of a brother, sister and father, hoping for a snow day (keep an eye on the dad - he's got a mischievous look on his face!) or the reading of the story by author, Lester Laminack.  You can just hear the excitement in his voice and the drawl of a southerner praying for a snow day just adds additional amusement to an already funny book. (The jacket note relates that he does remember snow falls in his home state of Alabama)

So what makes this book so funny?  The story's narrator, of course - and it's neither of the kids!

As I write this, I'm looking out the window at freshly fallen snow and I'm hoping for a snow day, too!
Maybe I'll wear my PJs inside out - the local kids swear by it!

Share |

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Clementine, Friend of the Week

Pennypacker, Sara. 2010. Clementine, Friend of the Week.  Read by Jessica Almasy. Recorded Books.
(about 2 hours - also available on Playaway)

A while back I was complaining about a lack of good audiobooks in the early chapter book field.  Helpful librarian, Jana, suggested that I might enjoy Clementine, narrated by Jessica Almasy. She was right!  I borrowed the newest Clementine book on CD, Friend of the Week, from my library. (It wasn't available in my preferred form as a digital download from my library's consortium). This was my first encounter with the irrepressible Clementine.

In Friend of the Week, Clementine is fearful that her friends might not write nice things in the memory book that she will receive at school for her turn as "Friend of the Week."  Adding to the week's drama is a fight with her best friend Margaret and a missing cat, her kitten, Moisturizer.  With plenty of inspired ideas, Clementine has a solution for everything - she hopes!

Third-grader Clementine is a delightful character with depth.  She isn't the brightest child in school and sometimes finds herself in trouble, but she's kind and positive and funny too - just the type of girl one would like for a friend.   Her parents' characters are also well-developed, and it's refreshing that they are an agreeable, caring couple - with always enough time to spare for Clementine, in spite of the fact that her father is a busy apartment building manager and her mother has the three-year-old "green bean," to look after as well!  (Clementine feels that since she was named after a fruit, she has license to call her brother by any number of vegetable names - turnip, broccoli, even mung bean!)

Jessica Almasay's narration is perfect for the cheerful Clementine.  She has an infectious quality to her voice that makes Clementine's character immediately likable.  Her boys' voices are soft and monotone, much like a typical young boy's tone when confronted with questions from a spunky girl of his own age.  She switches easily in and out of character; and the story moves along in an upbeat and seamless manner.

Highly recommended.  Thanks for the tip, Jana. 
Listen to a sample here.

Next in the series: Clementine and the Family Meeting.

Share |

Monday, December 13, 2010

All Aboard!

As I’ve mentioned before, barely a week passes without a preschool teacher stopping in to find age-appropriate books for the week’s curriculum. Well, here’s another series that preschool teachers and kids will be sure to love.

All Aboard! By PowerKids Press is a new series of six books featuring trains, Monorails, Passenger Trains, Steam-Powered Trains, Streetcars, Subways and Freight Trains.

Ryan, Phillip. 2011. Freight Trains. New York: PowerKids Press.

Like all the books in this series, this one is approximately 8 inches square and a mere 24 pages. Short and simple, each double spread contains a full or double-page photo and a sentence or two in a large simple font on a white background. Freight trains have a job to do. This one carries coal. The bottom of each page is bordered with lines similar to train tracks. Page numbers are also accompanied by a track icon, disappearing into the distance.

Perfect for little train enthusiasts and preschool or K-2 teachers.

The last page contains “Words to Know,” an “Index” (only 4 entries!) and a website address.

Today is Nonfiction Monday again! (the weeks go by so quickly!) Today’s roundup is at Books Together. Check it out.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Till Death Do Us Bark

Klise, Kate. 2011. Till Death Do Us Bark (43 Old Cemetery Road series) Ill. by M. Sara Klise,Boston: Harcourt.
Advance Reader Copy - due on shelves in Spring 2011

I haven't checked in on the 43 Old Cemetery Road series since Book 1, Dying to Meet You. Till Death Do Us Bark is Book 3 in this unique series of what the author writes of as "graphic epistolary mysteries - or some such unmarketable nonsense."  But marketable it is, as this third book in the series (following on the heels of the very successful Regarding the ... series), all of which are illustrated stories told primarily through correspondence.

In Till Death Do Us Bark, young Seymour Hope has now been adopted by writer Ignatius Grumply and his new wife "ghost" writer, Olive C. Spence (not a ghostwriter in the usual sense of the term, but an actual ghost).  Seymour finds Secret, a dog belonging to the recently deceased Noah Breth, and decides to keep it, keeping Secret a secret.  Ignatius and Olive are upset with Seymour for keeping Secret, the poorly kept secret. A further complication is the peculiar way in Noah Breth disbursed his fortune, converting it into several rare, valuable coins left in various locations in his hometown of Ghastly before he passed away.  His children, Kitty and Kanine are fit to be tied.

As you can tell by the amusing names and wordplay, Till Death Do Us Bark is a humorous romp through ghostly letters, "The Ghastly Times," and the many limericks written by the deceased Noah Breth.  The names will keep you laughing ..... librarian, M. Balm, attorney, Rita O'Bitt  ..... the limericks will keep you guessing .....
There's nothing on earth I deplore
Like fighting over money - oh bore!
So mine now jingles,
Whene'er it mingles.
Now do you know what to look for?
..... and the wisdom of the deceased will warm your heart .........
Well, you learn your lesson.  You make a small change. Then you try again the next day.  It sounds simple, I know.  But it's a grand arrangement you have there when you're living.
Another solid entry in the series from the always popular Klise sisters. Great ghostly fun in Ghastly!

Hopefully, Kate Klise can continue to engineer contrivances that require the inhabitants of 43 Cemetery Road to communicate via letters despite living in the same house.

Book 4 will be The Phantom of the Post Office.

Review copy provided by NetGalley.
Share |

Monday, December 6, 2010

Kubla Khan: The Emperor of Everything

Krull, Kathleen. 2010. Kubla Khan: The emperor of everything. Ill. by Robert Byrd. New York: Viking.

Working with what she acknowledges is "sketchy" information, Kathleen Krull has nonetheless provided a detailed and fascinating account of Kubla Khan, the Mongol warrior who, in 1271, became emperor of China.  Against overwhelming odds, Kubla Khan (grandson of the feared Genghis Kahn) oversaw an empire that he expanded to include Russia, Korea, Tibet and large portions of the Middle East.  Unlike later emperors, Kubla Khan welcomed foreigners (including Marco Polo), and his reign was a golden age for the arts and sciences as he freely embraced new ideas from the far reaches of his empire and beyond.

Krull writes in a familiar, easily accessible style, yet she still conveys the majesty and immensity of Kubla Kahn's empire,
On the Khan's birthday there was a wild party for as many as forty thousand people.  That may sound like quite a guest list, but his bodyguards alone numbered twelve thousand. ... One party blended into another.  Besides birthday bashes for his wives and children, other relatives, and various Mongol leaders, plus the parties for all religious holidays, there were celebrations for each of the thirteen lunar months.  Most over-the-top was the New Year's festival.  Everyone dressed in robes of white and watched the spectacle of five thousand elephants carrying in precious gifts for the Khan from all over his realm.

The text is written on parchment inspired pages and the previous passage is accompanied by an illustration of bedecked, marching elephants accompanied by soldiers while the waiting Khan and his wife are attended by white-robed guests. Illustrator Robert Bryd (Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village and Leonardo: Beautiful Dreamer) was a perfect choice for the story of this 13th century ruler.  His folk art style illustrations complement and enhance Krull's storytelling, colorfully depicting the vastness of the Chinese empire and the resplendence of Kubla Khan's court, while conveying the sensibilities and possibilities of the time period. Every page is richly illustrated.

Contains author and illustrator notes and sources.
Highly recommended.

Visit the illustrator's website, Robert Byrd Art for a video preview of Kubla Khan's stunning artwork.-

Kubla Khan is on the School Library Journal list of Best Nonfiction Picture Books 2010, and is a Junior Library Guild Selection. Another review @ Kids Lit

It's Nonfiction Monday.  Today's roundup is @ The Reading Tub.
Share |

Friday, December 3, 2010

Big Nate Strikes Again

Peirce, Lincoln. 2010. Big Nate Strikes Again. New York: Harper.

Until I read Big Nate Strikes Again, I was unaware that Big Nate was already a comic presence on the Internet and in newspapers around the country. (Obviously, he doesn’t appear in my newspaper because I am a big comics fan and would have known better!) Without that knowledge, I immediately interpreted Big Nate Strikes Again as a Wimpy Kid wannabe.  (Sorry, but it’s true. And I will once again quote from Mary Rose Wood’s, The Mysterious Howling, “All books are judged by their covers until they are read.”)

All that aside, while Big Nate Strikes Again may be in the same size and format as the wildly popular Wimpy Kid series, it simply is not a Wimpy Kid book. Big Nate does not have the sardonic wit of the Wimpy Kid, and is written in a narrative rather than confessional, diary style. The sooner the reader dispels the urge for comparison, the sooner he will begin to enjoy Big Nate for what he is, a 6th grade boy with a couple of good friends, a crush on a cute girl, a passion for sports, a dislike for schoolwork, a rivalry with one of the “cool” kids, and a loathing for a bossy girl.

Big Nate’s story is told in the first person, accompanied by black and white sketches. Peirce’s narrative contains dialogue which appears sometimes in the printed text, sometimes in graphic format, and sometimes strays between the two, with a single sentence beginning in print and ending in illustration. In addition to the more standard illustrations, Big Nate features sequences told in comic strip form, Nate’s own home-grown comics torn from his notebook, humorous “Fact” boxes,
His concerned-parent face is exactly the same as his I-don’t-know-how-to-work-the-DVD-player face,
and various lists, such as the food that may be found in Nate’s home,
Cookies? NO! Chips? NEVER!! Try these yummy treats instead:
  • Zesty Ranch croutons
  • Prunes
  • Half a bag of chopped walnuts
  • Three packs of instant oatmeal
  • Ice cubes
  • ...
In Big Nate Strikes Again, Nate must navigate the difficult world of middle school and all of its pitfalls - working in pairs with Gina - the one girl he can’t stand, avoiding a boy who may want to beat him up, and dealing with the fact that he’s captain of a fleeceball team called (gasp!) The Kuddle Kittens!

Big Nate Strikes Again contains prodigious amounts of boyish humor, and readers will find themselves rooting for this very likable young character.

My only complaint? Why does the librarian have to be the “bad guy?”
Oop. It’s Hickey.  Mrs. Hickson, I mean.  She’s the head librarian, and she’s not really into “hanging out.”  I’m pretty sure the beanbag chairs weren’t her idea.  If you’re in her library, she want to see you DOING something.  “Um... yeah, I’m doing research on Ben Franklin.  “Well then,” she answers, “Wouldn’t a BOOK come in handy?” Librarians. Aren’t they hilarious?
Sometimes we are! Well, at least Mr. Peirce didn’t draw her with a bun and glasses on a chain.

Bottom line? I think fans of the Wimpy Kid series will enjoy Big Nate, especially the boys.

Click here to see Big Nate as he appears in Lincoln Peirce’s daily syndicated comic strip of the same name, or check out the Big Nate website for all things related to Big Nate.

Review copy provided by LibraryThing.

Share |

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Boy and the Moon

Carroll, James Christopher. 2010. The Boy and the Moon. Ann Arbor, MI: Sleeping Bear Press.

In simple black text, on a stark white page, we learn that
It was midnight
when a small boy, with his dog and  teddy bear, opened the door to reveal a glimpse of a van Gogh-inspired evening sky.

With a crescent moon high in the sky, the boy and dog, along with an owl, a rabbit, a frog, a chicken and a flower, cavort beneath an apple tree under a magical sky. When the moon becomes stuck in the apple tree, it is the brave young boy who devises a rescue plan.

The narrative is simple, yet compelling,
They howled at the moon, they howled at life, and they howled with all the things in the night. But that night was dusky dark and the moon got stuck in a tree.
and infuses the reader with the power of possibility,
Then the boy had a thought, a delicious thought, a bright, ripe, red thought.
The painted illustrations, full page and double-spreads, are a mix of magic and realism.  The texture of the boy's thermal pajamas is visible, while at the same time, we can view the swirling evening sky through the soles of his bare feet. The moon's life-like craters receive the same attention to detail as her many expressions. All are painted in the the dusky blue palette of a midnight sky.

Sure to be a bedtime favorite, The Boy and the Moon is a magical adventure. Highly recommended.

The Boy and the Moon is author/illustrator James Christopher Carroll's first children's book.  I look forward to seeing what's next.

Share |

Monday, November 29, 2010

I Feel Better with a Frog in My Throat

Beccia, Carlyn. 2010. I Feel Better with a Frog in My Throat: History's Strangest Cures.  New York: Houghton Mifflin.
(a booktalk)

When you're trying to relieve a sore throat, do you prefer a frog down your throat, a necklace made from earthworms, or a dirty sock tied around your neck?  None of these? Well, I'm not surprised, but these were the cures of choice for Medieval Europeans and early 20th century Americans. Have a stomachache?  Have you tried urine, dirt, or millipedes? Medieval Europeans, Ancient Native Americans and 17th Century Britains did!

 Did any of them work?
To find out which ones, you'll have to read the true, humorously illustrated new book, I Feel Better with a Frog in My Throat: History's Strangest Cures. It's science, history and mystery combined!
Disclaimer: Side effects from reading this book may vary. Patients may experience rapid brain growth.
Highly recommended.

Reviews @
Kirkus Reviews
A Patchwork of Books
Three Turtles and Their Pet Librarian

Author interview @
Three Pipe Problem

Today is another Nonfiction Monday. Today's host is Playing by the Book.  Be sure to stop by.

Share |

Thursday, November 25, 2010

You know you're a children's librarian when ...

You know you're a children's librarian when...

you watch a commercial for a great new environmentally sensitive product, toilet paper without the cardboard tube, and inside you're thinking

 "Oh no, what will I use for crafts?"

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Octavia Boone's Big Questions About Life, the Universe, and Everything

Rupp, Rebecca. 2010. Octavia Boone's Big Questions About Life, the Universe, and Everything. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.

(a booktalk)

(If you're having trouble viewing this video, try these links instead: , )

 Vermont, seventh-grader, Octavia O'Keeffe Boone has lots of questions:
Why is there Braille at the drive-up ATM?
Is there a purpose to life?
Why is there algebra?
She lives with her dad, Boone, an artist, and her mother Ray, an environmental lawyer, always seeking a purpose in life. With her best friend Andrew, and caring neighbors, Octavia has a good life, At least she did, until her mother joins The Redeemers, a conservative Christian group that believes in strict obedience and a ban on the worldly influences of the Internet, television, public school and modern clothes.

At first, Octavia and Boone assume it’s another of Ray’s passing fancies.  But when it doesn’t pass, Octavia is forced to attend the Redeemers’ School. When the teacher asks the students to share stories about how God has helped them in their daily lives, Octavia is still asking the big questions,
Ronnie said that last Saturday he lost the money his mother had given him to go to the movies, but he asked God for help and then he found a five-dollar bill under a bush.

Marjean told how she’d lost her math homework and couldn’t find it anywhere, but she prayed and then she heard a voice in her head telling her where to look for it and she did and it was there.

What a waste of God’s time, I thought. What if he was supposed to be off taking care of starving people in Africa and instead he has to turn around and help some whiny kids find stuff?

If you're not the type to question authority, both earthly and otherwise, then this is not the book for you - for that is precisely what Octavia Boone does best. In the end, it may be that some questions just don’t have answers. And for Octavia, that just may be OK.
A review:

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

November picture book roundup

Some new favorite picture books - short and sweet, here we go:

Wood, Audrey and Don. 2010. Piggy Pie Po. Boston: Harcourt.

Three very short, rhyming pig stories, starring the absolutely adorable, Piggy Pie Po - each with a humorous ending.
But when he's ready for the tub, to splish and splash and rub-a-dub-dub, Piggy Pie Po wears no clothes ... only bubbles, head to toes.

Raczka, Bob. 2010. Guyku: A Year of Haiku for Boys. Ill. by Peter H. Reynolds. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Guyku (rhymes with haiku) - illustrated haiku that features boys and things that boys like to do outdoors in each season. My favorite?
Hey, Who turned off all
the crickets?  I'm not ready
for summer to end.
 Brilliant!  Teachers should be all over this one.
Wish there were one for girls (but "Galku" just wouldn't cut it)

Fox, Mem. 2010. Let's Count Goats. Ill. by Jan Thomas.  New York: Beach Lane.
Here we see an over goat.  And this one's going under.  But can we count the crossing goats, terrified of thunder?
Mem Fox, Jan Thomas, silly goats, what's not to like? Great counting book for little ones. (You don't see the word careering very often.  Interesting choice.)

Mavor, Salley. 2010. Pocketful of Posies: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Traditional nursery rhymes illustrated in "hand-sewn fabric relief collages."  Most of the rhymes are familiar - old classics including Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater, The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, and the like.  But a few may be so old as to be new,
I'm dusty Bill from Vinegar Hill.  Never had a bath and never will.
The depictions of the exquisitely detailed needlework are simply stunning.  Even a child who can't appreciate the work involved will know that this book is something special.

Share |

Monday, November 15, 2010

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth

Kinney, Jeff. 2010. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth. New York: Amulet.

Greg and Rowley are fighting.  And to make things worse, Rowley's getting taller and already has his first pimple! Pimples, sweat, facial hair, "the talk," and other unmentionable horrors are awaiting Greg this year in middle school.

Poor Greg. Everyone used to think he was so cute.  That is, until Manny came along,
See, when you're a little kid,nobody ever warns you that you've got an expiration date. One day you're hot stuff and the next day you're a dirt sandwich.
Of course, Rodrick's no help either.  Mom's taking college courses and the boys have new chores.
And the bagged lunch thing isn't working out, either.  This week Rodrick was in charge of making lunches, and he wrote a note on  my lunch bag, just like Mom does.

(sketch of lunch bag with the note, "Dear Greg, Make sure to change your diaper after lunch.  Love, Mommy")

 I didn't even bother eating the sandwich, since I've never seen Rodrick wash his hands even once.
Greg Heffley is growing up.  And that's The Ugly Truth.

Growing up is never easy, but with Jeff Kinney, it's always funny.  Kids will love this latest in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.

Host your own Wimpy Kid party with The Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth: Wimpy Wednesday Event Pack.

Review copy provided by Amulet Books.  (It will be raffled off to a very happy child at my library's Wimpy Kid event party.)

Share |

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Jazz Fly 2: The Jungle Pachanga

Gollub, Matthew. 2010. Jazz Fly 2: The Jungle Pachanga: Wherein los Jazz Bugs Meet la banda de las Termitas. Santa Rosa, CA: Tortuga.

Choo-ka Choo-ka ting,” the Jazz Fly’s back!
He’s in the rainforest, selva, so it’s time to pack.

But ¡Ay, caramba! - the Bug Band’s swing
just doesn't make las termitas sing.

So add Spanish words, a Latino beat.
Then those bugs start groovin’ in the southern heat,

proving jazz and Latin are a hoppin’ mix.
(Made all the better with Karen Hanke’s pix)

Let Matthew Gollub do the reading with the book’s CD.
Kids will love it. Es bueno. Check it out. You’ll see.

Listen to and see a preview of Jazz Fly 2 at Matthew Golub's site.
(The original Jazz Fly, is fly, too!)

Share |

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thanksgiving books for storytime

Thanksgiving is a wonderful (mostly) non-commercial holiday that we can all enjoy regardless of our ethnic and religious backgrounds. Following are some of my Thanksgiving favorites for sharing:

Anderson, Laurie Halse. 2002. Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving. New York: Simon and Schuster.

The fascinating true story of the woman who convinced the President Lincoln (the 5th president she petitioned!) to make Thanksgiving a national holiday - a quest on which she spent 38 years!  Written in a witty and engaging style, this one's a pleasure to share with older kids. This story never gets old.

Arnosky, Jim. 2009. I'm a Turkey. New York: Scholastic. (click for review)

A singing look at the natural world of turkeys.  Not a Thanksgiving book, but timely (and fun!), nonetheless.
Mayr, Diane. 2007. Run, Turkey, Run!
A cumulative tale (reminiscent of We're Going on a Bear Hunt) of a turkey on the run.  For the faint of heart, you can even end the book at the point where the family sits down to enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner of grilled cheese while the turkey rejoices (and skip the final page when the turkey is spotted again when the family goes out to find a Christmas tree!).  Either way, it's a winner.

Anderson, Derek. 2005. Over the River: A Turkey's Tale. New York: Simon and Schuster. (Based on the song by Lydia Maria Child)
If you want to keep old songs alive, you've got to sing them - and children are the best audience.  They love to sing, they love you to sing with them, and they don't mind if you don't do it well! (I love kids for that)  Break out your singing voice and give "Over the River and Through the Woods" a go while you page through the delightful illustrations of this Thanksgiving classic.

Markes, Julie. 2004. Thanks for Thanksgiving. New York: Harper Collins.

This book's simple rhymes (one line per page)   
Thanks for Thanksgiving, for turkey and pie.
Thank you for fall and gold leaves floating by.
and warm illustrations make it perfect for sharing with your youngest listeners. (the "you" in thank you is left undefined and readers may draw from it what they wish)

Ruddell, Deborah. 2009. A whiff of pine, a hint of skunk: A forest of poems. (Ill. by Joan Rankin). New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books.

And if you're planning to have children create the classic hand print turkey this year, it simply begs for a reading of "A Wild Turkey Comments on his Portrait," from A Whiff of Pine, a Hint of Skunk: A Forest of Poems, if not for the kids, then read it for yourself!
I find it most insulting
that you traced around your hand
and colored all my feathers
either plain old brown or tan.

Where's the copper? Where's the gold
that a turkey should expect?
Where on earth is raw sienna,
and where is the respect?

Finally, I'm baffled
that you've made me look so dumb.
My head is quite distinguished
and it's nothing like your thumb.
The rest of the collection is great as well! Don't miss this one.

Finally, If you're thinking of choosing a book that tells the "traditional" "Thanksgiving story," check out the resources at Oyate first.  Oyate, a Native organization that works to promote honest depictions of Native history and stories, offers Recommended Books about Thanksgiving  and a guide, How to Tell the Difference. I'm thankful that they have decided to discontinue their page on "Books to Avoid."  A list of suggested books is more helpful and affirming than a list of offensive ones.  In the future, I hope that more culturally-correct, Thanksgiving inspired titles are written for preschoolers. In the meantime, I'll be sharing the ones above.

And that's Thanksgiving in a pie shell.  Enjoy!
Share |

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Long Walk to Water

Park, Linda Sue. 2010. A Long Walk to Water. New York: Clarion.

A Long Walk to Water begins as the parallel stories of Salva, a young boy in the Southern Sudan of 1985 and Nya, a young Sudanese girl in the year 2008. 

Salva once had the life of a well-to-do villager's son.  His father owned many cows.  He attended school. He herded the cows.  But when the rebels arrived, shooting at everyone in the village, his life changed in an instant.  Now he is alone.  Get to the next hill, the next watering hole, the next day.  This is the mantra that keeps him going, one painful step at a time, searching for years for a safe haven - across deserts, war zones and countries.

Nya's life consists of providing water for her family.  When the brackish pond is full, she walks hours each day - first to the pond to collect water, then  home, carrying a full container upon her head.  After a quick meal of thin gruel, she has enough time for a second trip.  During the months when the pond is dry, her family relocates to a temporary shelter near a dry lake bed.  The work is easier there.  Nya spends all day digging in the mud, waiting for subterranean water to fill the hole she has dug with her bare hands.  She scoops out the water, one gourd full at a time and waits for the hole to refill.  It is tedious work and takes all day, but at least she does not have to walk for miles in the heat with the heavy water atop her head.

Park's minimal use of dialogue fits the stark landscape and mood of the story,
The nurse, a white woman, was talking to Nya's mother. "Her sickness came from the water," the nurse explained.  "She should drink only good clean water.  If the water is dirty, you should boil it for a count of two hundred before she drinks it."

Nya's mother nodded that she understood, but Nya could see the worry in her eyes.

The water from the holes in the lakebed could be collected only in tiny amounts.  If her mother tried to boil such a small amount, the pot would be dry long before they could count to two hundred.
Nothing else needs to be said.  How can a mother choose between dehydration and cholera for her children? 

As Salva's arduous journey continues, the years add on until Park has woven his story from the Sudanese Civil War years into the modern day Sudan of Nyla's time, of our time.  Sudan is Africa's largest country, full of wildlife and riches and oil and beauty and war and poverty and genocide and starvation. The reader can sense that the two stories will intertwine, but is at first, unsure how. When it becomes apparent how the lives of Salva and Nyla will intersect, it almost unbelievable, considering the circumstances.  And yet, their stories are true. Despite the overwhelming odds against Salva's survival, and Nyla's fragile subsistence existence, they do survive.

Salva, after more than ten years of wandering becomes one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, miraculously chosen from the untold tens of thousands of people in Kenyan refugee camps- chosen to start a new life in the United States.  And with his new life, he returns to repair his old one.

In an interview, author Linda Sue Park says that this was an easy book to write because she let Salva's story speak for itself.  Linda Sue Park gave Salva's powerful story a voice. Brief and straightforward, A Long Walk to Water is inspiring for its truth and simplicity.  Park eschews sentimentalism and allows Salva's understated dignity, perseverance and virtue to awe the reader.  No embellishment is necessary. This is a compelling story.  Highly recommended.

Review copy provided by NetGalley. Due on shelves, November 15, 2010.

 Linda Sue Park talks about A Long Walk to Water.

Watch Salva and see the work of his creation, the non-profit, Water for Sudan.

The November 2010 edition of National Geographic Magazine offers two feature articles on Sudan, "Sudan's Shaky Peace" and "The Lost Herds are Found."  Both are well worth reading.
Share |

Monday, November 8, 2010

Rags and Riches: Kids in the Time of Charles Dickens

Welcome to Shelf-employed! I am today's Nonfiction Monday host!
Bloggers, please add your link below. Readers, I hope you visit all of today's posters.

Osborne, Mary Pope and Natalie Pope Boyce. 2010. Rags and Riches: Kids in the Time of Charles Dickens. (Magic Tree House Research Guide series #22)New York: Random House.

This is the companion book to A Ghost Tale for Christmas Time, a historical fantasy romp through Dickens' A Christmas Carol,which is why it has the subtitle, Kids in the Time of Charles Dickens, when "Kids in the Victorian Era" might seem more logical.

Charles Dickens lived from 1812 - 1870, largely in the Victoria Era.  Queen Victoria reigned from 1837- 1901. Rich or poor, life was difficult for Britain's children in those days.  Rich children suffered from serious diseases and were raised largely apart from their parents. Boys were sent away to strict schools while girls studied at home with a governess those subjects which were thought most likely to win them a suitable husband - French, dancing, drawing, music.  Of course, they were still much better off than the poor children and street children who filled the streets of London. They slept outside in rags or lived in debtors' prisons or squalid housing. They often worked in dangerous factories for long hours with little or no pay - beginning as young as five years old! Cholera and typhoid were epidemic. Life for a poor child in the time of Charles Dickens was wretched.  Rags to Riches explains all these facets of Victorian Era life and more, with liberal use of sketches and period photographs.

 It is doubtful that any child can read the accounts in the chapter, "Jobs for Poor Kids," and not be affected.  Imagine life as a climbing boy, often only five or six years old,
Since they were small, they could squeeze through narrow parts of the chimney.
     Climbing boys climbed to the top of the chimney and swept the coal dust out on their way back down. They got cuts and bruises from the jagged bricks.  To toughen up their skin, salt water was rubbed into it.
     If the boys got scared and stopped climbing, the chimney sweeps jabbed their feet with pins or lit fires to keep them moving.  At times climbing boys got burned or stuck in the chimneys and suffocated.
Quite a different reality from the friendly, Bert, of Mary Poppins fame!

A children's highlight from the Victoria Era?  The birth of the modern children's picture book - Beatrix Potter's illustrated Tales of Peter Rabbit.  Of course, without money, poor children likely only glimpsed the tiny little books through shop windows.

This is not an easy topic for which to create a research guide.  A chronological approach does not work well, and the many aspects of a child's life are almost too large in scope for a book of this small scale. Still, Pope has created a semblance of order, dividing the topic into six chapters: 'Hard Times for Kids," "What Charles Dickens Saw," "The London of Dickens," "Jobs for Poor Kids," Rich Kids," and "How Things Changed."

Avenues for further research and an index complete this guide book.

Share |

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Packing for Mars

So, yes, sometimes I read adult books, too.  I heard Mary Roach interviewed on NPR and couldn’t wait to read Packing for Mars.  You can hear the interview here.  I began reading the print volume, but switched to the audiobook.  Below are reviews of both.

Roach, Mary. 2010. Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void. New York: W.W. Norton.

Audiobook version read by Sandra Burr.  Brilliance Audio. (about 10.5 hours)

In Packing for Mars, Mary Roach proves that it is possible to be both reverent and irreverent at the same time.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Maclear, Kyo. 2010. Spork. Ill. by Isabelle Arsenault.Tonawanda, NY: Kids Can Press.

Spork - a touching book that tells the happy story of how a Spork who didn't fit in, found his true place and purpose in life - a positive message with illustrations to charm your heart.

Using minimal colors (the silver tones of cutlery and toasters, the green of cooked peas, and the tomatoey hue of pasta sauce), Aresenault has crafted the darling denizens of the silverware drawer and one Gerber inspired human. "The artwork in this book was rendered in mixed media and assembled digitally."  I'm not sure exactly how that's accomplished, but the finished result is wonderfully, happily, sporkishly delightful!

Don't take my word for it. View a slideshow off the artwork at Isabelle Arsenault's website. You'll fall in love with Spork, too!

And here is author, Kyo Mclear's introduction to Spork.

(I think I'm a fan of cutlery in general. I'm also fond of Spoon.)

Share |

Monday, November 1, 2010

Veterans Day

Barely a day goes by without a preschool teacher asking me for "age-appropriate" nonfiction titles on a particular topic.  Some requests are easy - apples, winter.  Some are more abstract - community, kindness.
(Today's preschoolers work so much harder than I ever did)

Now for ages 4-6, Heinemann Library has just introduced its Holidays and Festivals series under the Acorn brand.  The books are a small 8x7 inch size and a uniform 24 pages each.  Each page contains one large photo and one or two sentences.
Rissman, Rebecca. 2011. Veterans Day. Chicago: Heinemann.

The Veterans Day title is a simple explanation of the holiday including a definition of a veteran, how we celebrate Veterans Day and Veterans Day symbols.  A calendar page (showing the date of Veterans Day), a picture glossary and an index complete the book.

There are 18 titles in the series, including Election Day, Arbor Day, Hanukkah, Labor Day and Diwali.  Not riveting reads, but teachers will like them and they can be paired with longer fiction titles for themed storytimes.

It's Nonfiction Monday again.  Today's host is publisher Capstone's blog,  Capstone Connect
Next week's Nonfiction Monday will be right here @ Shelf-employed!

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 ...