Thursday, January 28, 2010

My Heart is like a Zoo

Hall, Michael. 2010. My heart is like a zoo. New York: Harper Collins.

With digitally created art that explodes in a riot of simple color combinations, this book is sure to grab the attention of young children. Each zoo animal is depicted in only a few colors against a brightly contrasting background with sparse white text.  Hearts are used extensively in each illustration.

Rhyming similes describing how "my heart is like a zoo," are both simple and inventive,
Frightened as a rabbit, jumpy as a frog, gloomy as a lone coyote walking in the fog.
Straightforward and satisfying. This is the author's first book for children.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Gracias Thanks

Mora, Pat. 2009. Gracias / Thanks (English and Spanish Edition). New York: Lee & Low.

A small boy is thankful for the many small things that we often take for granted,
For the ladybug that landed on my finger, a little red flying surprise, thanks. ... For my little brother, who threw mashed peas at my sister and made me laugh so hard I fell off my chair, thanks.
Each sentence is presented on a double-spread page, with Spanish appearing on one page and English on the next. The illustrations are done in a warm and weathered style, reminiscent of a well-worn, favorite desk or chair. The narrator is of Hispanic descent, his mother appears to be white, friends and schoolchildren are of varying races. All are portrayed with slightly oversized heads, highlighting soft and friendly features. Hispanic influence is prominent throughout the book - Spanish language books on the shelves, a brightly colored tile floor, palm trees, a red-tiled roof. His American side is apparent in the US dollar received from Abuelita, his baseball gear and posters, his English language homework, and sadly (humorously?) the garden gnome in the yard.

A cheery and light-hearted book of gratitude. Perfect for storytime and as a gentle reminder that we all have much to be thankful for; sometimes the little things are the most precious.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Book That Eats People

Perry, John. 2009. The Book That Eats People. Berkeley, CA: Tricycle Press.

Who can resist a book that eats people? If the yellow caution tape on the cover does not scare the reader, the book that eats people surely will! Just think of the fate of poor Victoria Glassford. After disguising itself in a cheery "Dolphins" book jacket, the "book that eats people" attracted Victoria's attention; she checked it out of the library and took it home one evening.

She put the book on her nightstand, but before she could finish brushing her teeth, it jumped up, thumped her on the head, and gobbled her down, beginning with her polished pink toenails.
Have you ever heard a book burp?

Beware - this book is ALWAYS hungry.
Great fun with hilariously gruesome illustrations.
(Not for the youngest listener - this book DOES eat people.)

I'm taking this one on school visits!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Years of Dust

Marrin, Albert. 2009. Years of Dust: The Story of the Dust Bowl. New York: Dutton.

On May 9, 1934, winds kicked up a dust storm that scientists estimate carried away 350 million tons of topsoil.  Although it began in the plains of Montana and Wyoming, in the next two days,

 "Some 12 million tons of dust enveloped Chicago in a gritty haze - four pounds for every man, woman, and child in the Windy City.  On May 12, the New York Times reported, 'a cloud of dust thousands of feet high...filtered the rays of the sun for five hours yesterday. New York was obscured in a half-light similar to the light cast by the sun in a partial eclipse.' Three hundred miles out at sea, sailors wrote their names in the dust that settled on ships' decks."

But this was not the biggest storm, nor the only storm.  The Dust Bowl years lasted a decade and spanned the plains in a wide swath from Montana and North Dakota to Texas.

Albert Marrin tells the story from a wide range of viewpoints -  geological, historical, economical, political, artistic, environmental, social, literary and individual.  The era that was the Dust Bowl touched every aspect of our civilization and every component of our natural habitat.  Marrin employs the voices of newspapers, individuals, poets, and writers of the time, including the great John Steinbeck to convey the harsh realities of the day.  He uses images of newspapers, handbills, and period artwork as well as photographs, including those of the famous Dorothea Lange.

Words to Know, Notes, Books for Kids, Bibliography and Index complete this intense and exhaustive study of one our country's worst social and environmental catastrophes.

Years of Dust: The Story of the Dust Bowl is a cautionary tale of the consequences of our own actions.  A powerful book.

Click for links to all of today's Non-Fiction Monday reviews.

Newbery and Caldecott Winners announced

A quick run-down of the major 2010 ALSC Award Winners  announced today:

Newbery Medal

When You Reach Me, written by Rebecca Stead, published by Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House Children's Books
Newbery Honor Books

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, written by Phillip Hoose, published by Melanie Kroupa Books/Farrar Straus Giroux, an imprint of Macmillan Children's Publishing Group

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, written by Jacqueline Kelly, published by Henry Holt and Company

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, written by Grace Lin, published by Little Brown and Company Books for Young Readers

The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg, written by Rodman Philbrick, published by The Blue Sky Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc.

Caldecott Medal
The Lion and the Mouse , illustrated and written by Jerry Pinkney, published by Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers

Sibert Medal

Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream, written by Tanya Lee Stone, published by Candlewick Press

Belpre (Author) Award
Return to Sender, written by Julie Alvarez, published by Alfred A. Knopf

Of course there are many other winners and honor books, but I wanted to pass the word quickly.

A comlete list of all awards and honors is available on the Association of Library Service to Children (ALSC) website.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A "nook" review of Getting Air

Gutman, Dan. 2007. Getting Air. New York: Simon and Schuster.

I finally received my "nook," and checked out my first book, Dan Gutman's, Getting Air.  This book is several years old but I had three reasons for choosing it.

1. It caused some controversy in my library system, with some librarians thinking it should have been classified as a young adult (YA) title
2. Because it's an older title, it was cheaper! (As a librarian, I'm not used to paying to read books)
3. I was hoping that the choice of a survival story combined with the coolness factor of my new nook would entice my son to read it (no luck there)

In any case, this is my first "nook review."  As for the nook itself, I've read its pros and cons, its comparisons to Kindle, and its possible negative impact on libraries. Here's my quick take on it:
My initial reaction is that using an e-reader takes a little getting used to.  The fact that your physical interaction with the words takes place on a touch screen separated from those words is, at first, a bit disorienting.  The ability to choose font type and size is great.  The interactive dictionary is cumbersome, but less so than getting up and going to the bookshelf for the Merriam Webster.  Yes, the page turns a bit slowly (more so than the Kindle?), but not nearly as slow as the three seconds that I've read in various posts. It's too soon to see how the e-readers will affect libraries.  There are many free books available - mostly the same titles that one would find at Project Gutenberg - classics and older texts out of copyright protection.  The nook allows for uploading of these types of books and also, if I can believe the blogosphere, books can be downloaded from some public library sites for checkout.  My library, offers access to e-books via NetLibrary, but for viewing only, not downloading.  I will continue looking into the possibility of free library content on the nook.  The Kindle, which has fewer free books available and no library compatibility, at least makes them (the free books) easier to locate.  For me, the best features of an e-reader are
  • the ability to tote around literally hundreds of Harry Potter-sized books in my purse
  • owning a book that opens up to the page where I left off
  • the ability to make notes and highlights that don't ruin the book
  • the, at least perceived idea, that e-books might be good for the environment (do e-readers create toxic waste? I don't know)
  • and the changeable font size is pretty cool as well
Now for the book!  (spoiler alert)
Getting Air is the story of three 7th grade boys on their way to a skateboarding convention. The main character is the good-natured, Jimmy, who is accompanied by his younger sister, Julia, as well as his two friends. The plane is hijacked by religious radicals and they find themselves crashed in a remote Canadian forest with a female flight attendant, and an elderly woman knitter.

While it is mostly a book about the boys, girls should enjoy it as well. The younger sister, Julia, age 11, turns out to be the most resourceful of the bunch, due largely in part to her reading habit and many years in Girl Scouting. Getting Air touches on serious topics - religion, fanaticism, hijacking - and contains some grim content - murder and death - but yet, Dan Gutman manages to handle the topic with his customary light hand and touch of humor. (The boys use the plane's outer shell as a "half pipe" course)

The story may not be completely convincing, but it should appeal to young boys in particular.  The suggested ages for this book are 9-12, however, parents and librarians should use discretion in suggesting this title for young readers. I would offer this book to readers in 6th grade and up.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Who Was First? Discovering the Americas

Freedman, Russell. 2007. Who Was First? Discovering the Americas. Read by L.J. Ganser. Listening Library.
(1 hour, 45 minutes)

(This review is of the audiobook version)

Who Was First? Discovering the Americas is a detailed look at the many possible interpretations of the "discovery" of the Americas.  Working backwards , Russell Freedman begins with Columbus' well-known voyage, and travels back in time to the voyages of China's Zheng He and Scandinavia's Leif Eriksson, to the journeys of America's true "first" discoverers, Stone Age immigrants who arrived 20, 30 or even 50 thousand years ago.

Who Was First? makes use of first person accounts and log books when available, and offers fascinating and little-known facts. When Columbus "discovered" America, "the central Mexican plateau, heartland of the Aztec empire, may have contained as many as 25 million people, compared to fewer than 10 million living in Spain and Portugal.  That would have made Mexico the most densely populated place on Earth at the time, with more people per square mile than China or India." (!) A lesson, not only in history, but in scientific method, Freedman carefully distinguishes between myth, theory, probability, and fact.

Read with enthusiasm and zeal for the topic, L.J. Ganser's rendering of Freedman's book should keep listeners engaged, but sadly, listeners of the audio version will miss out on the many maps and photos in the print version.

Although, the audiobook version makes no comment about sources, a look at the print copy shows that Freedman has done his customarily excellent job of research. Chapter notes, Bibliography, Acknowledgements, Picture Credits and Index are included in the print version.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Unfinished Angel

Creech, Sharon. 2009. The Unfinished Angel. New York: Harper Collins.
(a booktalk)

Highly recommended.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine, & a Miracle

As you can tell by the amount of nonfiction books I review, it is one of my favorite genres. This week, I am joining the ranks of other children's literature bloggers in participating in Nonfiction Monday. Each week is hosted by a different blog. You can check out all of today's reviews at Picture Book of the Day, today's host and the inspiration for Nonfiction Monday.

My contribution for the day is
Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle by Brian Dennis with Kirby Larson and Mary Nethery. Published in 2009 by Little Brown and Company.

Despite Major Brian Dennis' many duties, his many prolonged absences from his base in Iraq, and the US Marine's prohibition on the keeping of animals, Nubs - a small, thin, nearly earless dog, chose Major Dennis as his own, and nothing - not even a 70-mile journey across a snowy desert would keep him from his friend.

Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle is a third person account of the friendship between this Iraqi dog and a US Marine. The story is told chronologically, in simple text,

"The other pack dogs raced to greet the men. But the dog without ears cautiously approached Brian, who knelt down on one knee to meet him,"

using large font with occasional inset text boxes using quotes from Major Dennis' emails,

"From: Brian Dennis
Subject: Nubs
Date: November 2007
On our last trip north I was expecting to see Nubs again. I didn't. We didn't make it as for north as we did last trip, but I still thought I'd see him. I hope that crazy little dog is okay."

The text is primarily in white font on brightly colored pages or superimposed on photographs. Numerous photographs and several maps accompany the story. A note from Brian Dennis, now at home with Nubs in San Diego, completes the book.

Although its target audience is beginning readers, the language in Nubs still manages to be inspiring. Readers will root for the poor injured dog and rejoice at his eventual liberation from his harsh desert life. Nubs' story is one of friendship and loyalty. Nubs loyally follows Brian wherever he may lead, and Brian repays that loyalty with the help of his human friends and family. There are few bright spots in the Iraq War. This story is one of them.

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 ...