Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Flotsam, but no jetsam in Long Branch

New Jersey native, David Wiesner, was talking Tuesday (and Flotsam and Free Fall) on Tuesday at the New Jersey Library Association Conference in Long Branch, New Jersey.

David Wiesner, signing books at NJLA
Librarians who attended the afternoon Children's Services Section program featuring illustrator, David Wiesner, were treated to a glimpse of the painstaking process of creating award-winning wordless picture books. Personable and humble, he detailed his long-standing love of art, comic books and painting - even sharing his Kindergarten artwork.
Then, he took the appreciative crowd on a step-by-step journey from idea to sketch, to layout, to revision, to painting, to finished product.  His presentation was peppered with humor as well.  Want to know why frogs fly?  So do a lot of other people, but David Wiesner doesn't really care why they fly.  In his mind, they just do.  Wonder why there are pigs in Free Fall? If something tells him to add a few pigs, he doesn't question it, he simply adds a few pigs! He also called attention to little known details.  Many of the children in Flotsam are based on his family members and friends; others from Google Images. Ever notice the froggy clouds in Tuesday? The reflection of the camera in  Flotsam's fish eye cover? Wiesner's attention to detail knows no bounds.

Spend some time reacquainting yourself and your young readers with the imaginative worlds of David Wiesner's picture book collection. 

And keep an eye out for his new book coming out in the fall - Art and Max.  (And no, they're not pigs; they're lizards)

Monday, April 26, 2010

Real Pirates

Clifford, Barry. 2008. Real Pirates: The Untold Story of the Whydah from Slave Ship to Pirate Ship.Washington, DC: National Geographic.

(This is not a new book, but it's a great fit if your library is participating in this summer's water-themed summer reading program, Make a Splash @ Your Library.)

A thoroughly investigated re-creation of a doomed ship's final journey. From its beginnings as a slave ship plying the lucrative trade route from Europe to Africa to the New World, to its capture by famed pirate, Sam Bellamy, to its sinking along the Cape Cod coastline, Barry Clifford tells the riveting true story of The Whydah's last voyage. Reinforced with photographed artifacts from the ship, painted illustrations, and replicas of period charts and drawings, the story of The Whydah is enhanced by the secondary story of how the persistent Barry Clifford unearthed the sunken vessel's secrets.

Small print and numerous illustrations are employed to tell the story in short titled sections, "Flying the Jolly Roger," The Storm at Sea," etc. Particularly interesting is "The Articles,"

"Even though the pirates were criminals, they insisted that the Articles be strictly obeyed."

One such article from "Ye Articles of ye Gentlemen of Fortune,"
Any Man who Strikes or Abuses another of Company shall suffer such Punishement as ye Company shall deeme ffit & Just. Every Man's Quarrel to be settled a shoar with Sword & Pistol & be Adjudged Fair Fighy by ye Quarter-Master.
(from Captain Charles Johnson's A General History of the Pyrates, 1724)

Index, suggested reading, references and websites complete the book.For older readers interested in pirate lore or shipwrecks. Fascinating!

And be sure to check out the Wydah Exhibit, headed soon to St. Louis, MO.
Today's Non-Fiction Monday is at Check It Out. Check it out!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place

I've already posted on Maryrose Wood's great new series, The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place (can't wait for book 2!), but I had to share this great video booktalk that I found on the author's blog.

If you enjoy video and audio booktalks, I've fashioned a new blog page with a few of my own multimedia creations. There is a link from my home page.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Picture Book Roundup

In no particular order, these were some of the wonderful picture books
 that I found in my book bag this week! I loved them all.

Spinelli, Jerry. 2010.I Can be Anything! Illustrated by Jimmy Liao. New York: Little, Brown.

A rhyming romp through all of the possibilities of the future - "cross-legged sitter, make-believe critter, deep-hole digger, lemonade swigger." Who knows? Bright and joyful illustrations!

Fuge, Charles. 2010. Yip! Snap! Yap! New York: Sterling.

Another lively, rhyming romp! This one featuring delightfully goofy dogs!

Thomson, Bill. 2010. Chalk. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish.

The illustrator of the exquisitely illustrated, Baseball Hour, Bill Thompson outdoes himself with Chalk - a wordless book that tells the story of a magical, rainy day at the playground for three children and a mysterious bag of chalk.  Let your imagination run wild and enjoy Bill Thomson's hand-crafted brilliance!

Geringer, Laura. 2010. Boom Boom Go Away! Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline. New York: Atheneum.

Music lovers, noise makers, and children who don't want to go to bed will love Boom Boom Go Away! Its cumulative rhyme is full of playfulness and imagination.  The warm illustrations evoke picture books of an earlier era.

Jeffers, Oliver. 2010. The Heart and the Bottle. New York: Philomel.

This is not a book for storytime.  It's a serious book for a special child - perhaps a grieving child, a child with a profound loss, a child who may have placed her heart in a bottle, a child who needs to know that there is a way to retrieve her own heart.  Gently and tastefully done.

Bottner, Barbara. 2010. Miss Brooks Loves Books (And I Don't). Illustrated by Michael Emberly. New York: Knopf.

The tagline for the book is "a librarian and a contrarian face off in this tale of a very reluctant reader." I predict that this will become a librarian favorite! When Miss Brooks assigns a book report (in costume!) for Children's Book Week, it prompts the best line in the book -
When I get home, I ask my mother if we can move to a new town. My mother says there's a librarian in every town.
 Too funny!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Very Little Princess

Bauer, Marion Dane. 2010. The Very Little Princess. New York: Random House.

"All books are judged by their covers until they are read."
from The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling, by Maryrose Wood.

I try to read across a broad spectrum of children's literature, to help me in my job as a children's librarian.  I take Reader's Advisory seriously and try hard to match each child with the perfect book. Towards that end, I picked up The Very Little Princess, thinking that I have been neglecting, (for lack of a better term) "girly-girl" books. The delightful pink cover with Elizabeth Sayles' fanciful artwork attracted my attention and sealed the deal.

I could not have been more wrong, however, in classifying this short tale as a lighthearted story for girls. (spoiler alert)

One fine June morning, Zoey is surprised by her mother's off-hand remark that they will be leaving soon for her grandmother's house.
Of course, visiting your grandmother probably is natural for you.  But it wasn't for Zoey.  The truth is she had never met her grandmother.  Until that moment, she hadn't even known she had a grandmother!
Zoey dutifully packs a cardboard suitcase (she is by nature a dutiful girl) and goes off to her grandmother's rural home where she is again surprised to find that her mother and grandmother do not appear to be on good terms.  In fact, they argue heatedly, prompting Zoey to go exploring, and thereupon to find a most beautiful three and one-quarter inch tall doll.  She is further surprised when the tiny doll sits upright and sneezes!

What child has not dreamed of a doll that comes to life?  But this is not the doll of dreams.  Princess Regina, (as she likes to be called), is a self-centered, bossy doll, a doll that treats Zoey as a servant.  But Zoey, being by nature a dutiful girl, is not particularly bothered by Regina's selfish, narcissistic behavior.  In fact, she comes to love the diminutive princess, and in her fashion, the princess loves Zoey, too.  As the book jacket declares in similar terms, this is an expertly crafted story of family, friendship, love and loss.  It is.  It also, however,  the story of a loss so profound that the dust jacket's cheery countenance might leave a young reader bereft, as she reads that Zoey's mother leaves her, with nothing more than a cheerful, "Be good," with a woman that a day ago, she never even knew existed.  Zoey is left with her grandmother because her mother needs to be alone. Does this really happen?  I'm sure that it does.  Should it happen in a short, cheerful, small-sized book that is suggested for ages 6-9?  I'm not sure.  In the final chapter, the reader finds that the grandmother turns out to be a kind, wise, and loving woman, but the loss is still great. Place this book in the hands of a child who is capable of understanding and appreciating the story.

Read it as a well-told story, a unique story, even an enchanting story; but don't judge this book by its cover.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: If Stones Could Speak: Unlocking the Secrets of Stonehenge

I'm delighted to host today's Nonfiction Monday. My contribution for today is Marc Aronson's If Stones Could Speak: Unlocking the Secrets of Stonehenge.  If you have a post to contribute, please leave a link in the comments section.  I will update this post several times throughout the day with your posts.  Thanks for visiting and contributing!

Aronson, Marc. 2010. If Stones Could Speak: Unlocking the Secrets of Stonehenge. Washington, DC: National Geographic.

I recently read a fantastic book of fiction, The Death-Defying Pepper Roux.  In it, the young Pepper Roux deposits himself into the lives of an unlikely mix of people,easily  masquerading as a grizzled sea captain, a reporter, a drunken husband, a store clerk.  How does he do it?  Well, he theorizes,

"People see what they expect to see. Don't they?"

And this, is the theme of If Stones Could Speak: Unlocking the Secrets of Stonehenge.  For decades - even centuries, people have assumed that 4,500-year-old, mysterious circle of stones on England's Salisbury Plain was an ancient temple - perhaps belonging to the Druids.  Why did they think this?  Because that is what they were told, and that is what they expected to see.

Fast forward to 1998, when lesser-known archaeologists, Mike Parker Pearson and Ramilsonia, suggested to the world that Stonehenge was not a place of the living, but rather a monument to the dead.  Then later, in 2005, when Mike Parker Pearson's team uncovered Woodhenge, the circle of the living, a nearby wooden counterpart to Stonehenge, it was as if (to paraphrase the book) scholars living 4,000 years from now were studying a basketball hoop.  Every famous professor and teacher is certain that the hoop and post are part of a complex religious ritual.  Scores of books and studies have been written on the subject, when suddenly, a newcomer says, "Hey, did you notice that there is another hoop at the other end of the court?  I think ancient people played games here."

This is the story told in If Stones Could Speak; it is more than the story of Stonehenge, how it was built and used (although that is covered in detail as well).  It is rather a lesson that one should always look at a problem from all sides and be willing to accept new ideas and discard old ones.  This 64-page book contains nine chapters that tell the story of Stonehenge, of scientific discoveries (both new and old), and of Mike Parker Pearson's Stonehenge Riverside Project.  As expected in a National Geographic publication, the photos are excellent and numerous with detailed captions.  Easy explanations are included for the processes of carbon dating and strontium analysis.  Rounding out the story are maps, a brief encyclopedia of Stonehenge, a chronology of Stonehenge digs, a timeline, and suggestions for further reading.

This is a perfect choice for grades 5-8, particularly for research paper use.  Also perfect for anyone interested in knowing more about Stonehenge, and the related Woodhenge, Southern Circle, Avenue, and Durrington Walls.  All are connected in this fascinating new look at a very old topic.

The schedule for future Nonfiction Monday sites may be found at Picture Book of the Day.  Thanks to
Anastasia Suen for coordinating Nonfiction Monday events.

That's it! This East Coast gal is done for the day.  If there are any late additions, I'll add them tomorrow. Thanks to everyone for your great contributions!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Al Capone Shines My Shoes

Choldenko, Gennifer. 2009. Al Capone Shines My Shoes. New York: Dial.

The year is 1935 and 12-year old Moose Flanagan and his sister, Natalie, are still living with their parents on Alcatraz Island where Moose's dad is a prison guard.  The famous mobster, Al Capone is still in residence as well.  In Al Capone Does My Shirts, Al Capone  helped Moose by engineering Natalie's acceptance into a special-needs school in San Francisco.  The action in Al Capone Shines My Shoes begins when Moose receives a note in his prison-laundered clothing, "your turn."

Moose narrates the events that follow this missive from the powerful Al Capone, and there is plenty of action and suspense to satisfy readers.  However, this book has far more to offer.  As historical fiction, its location and period is certainly unique to the genre.  What child wouldn't be interested in life on Alcatraz Island when Al Capone resided there?  It's also a glimpse into a bygone era where 12-year-old kids can chaperone younger children on day-long trips in San Francisco and spend most of their time unsupervised, no modern "helicopter parents" appear in this book. For better or worse, life was just different back then.

But what truly makes this a great book, is the relationship and depth of the younger characters.  Rarely is there a children's book that offers insight into so many characters.  By the end of Al Capone Shines My Shoes, the reader will identify with all of the island's young inhabitants - Jimmy, Moose's best friend who struggles to keep up with Moose's athletic prowess and easy likability; Jimmy's little sister, Theresa, who is much smarter than her seven years belie; the beautiful and spoiled Piper, the warden's daughter who acts out to ease her own misery; Janet Trixle, the tagalong daughter of one of the island's officers, Annie, Moose's good-natured and athletic girl friend, the story's narrator, Moose, who is learning much about love and life, and of course, Natalie, his autistic sister. Natalie's role in this story is not the role of the disabled sister, however.  She is just another of the children.  Yes, her disability causes complications and tension, but every child causes complications and tension, and Natalie is just another child.  In the eyes of the Flanagans, and indeed, all of the local children, Natalie is simply Natalie - no better, no worse than anyone else.  And although the Esther P. Marinoff School may try to "cure" Natalie, the Flanagan's are the only ones with the proper prescription - love.

Al Capone, guard towers, prison escapes, baseball, mysterious notes, lies, cover-ups, adventure, love, honesty, friendship, responsibility - Gennifer Choldenko puts them all together brilliantly.

A discussion guide for the book may be found here.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Nana's Getting Married

Hartt-Sussman, Heather. 2010. Nana's Getting Married. Illustrated by Georgia Graham. Plattsburgh, NY: Tundra.

Nana's getting married?

"I, for one, do not approve."

Who will knit a little boy's mittens, who will bake him chewy cookies? Will everything change now that Nana is going to marry Bob? Yes, everything does change. Including Nana's sense of style! The illustrations of the liver-spotted grandma transforming from a cozy, saggy socks and sweatpants look to a high-fashion, platform Grecian sandals and bangle bracelet look are hysterical. The exaggerated heads and eyes of all the characters are expressive and humorous. Bob sports a long, white ponytail, earrings and blue jeans. Mom and Dad are a hoot as well. Done in chalk, pastels, and chalk pastel pencils, the illustrations take center stage in this delightfully funny book. And yes, it all turns out OK. Who knew that Bob could build a treehouse?

After I reviewed this book, a recently married, great-grandmother (and a stylish one at that!) picked it up off my desk and sat down in the children's area to read it.  She loved it!  Turns out she is a retired librarian as well!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Jabberwocky musings

In 9th grade Algebra, I had a very peculiar teacher. He once offered the class the opportunity to memorize and recite a poem in lieu of an exam.  Not being a fan of Algebra, I naturally took him up on his offer. (If I remember correctly, I was the only one who did!)  And so, in honor of National Poetry Month, I present Lewis Carroll's, "Jabberwocky," quite likely, the only thing I remember from 9th grade Algebra.

(from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, 1872)
Illustration by John Tenniel

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'
He chortled in his joy.

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

So why do I bring this up?  Because I finally went to see Tim Burton's  Alice in Wonderland (Disney 2010) in digital 3D.  On the ride to the movie, I recited "Jabberwocky" from memory, but my audience (a teenage daughter) was, sadly, not impressed.  She might have listened, however, if she had realized that the plot of the movie is the poem!  The Jubjub bird, the vorpal sword, the Bandersnatch - they all make appearances in the movie, which, of course, culminates in the events of the frabjous day

The movie is a departure from the books, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable and true to the spirit of nonsense in Carroll's books.  Johnny Depp was superbly "mad," but with a large dose of human frailty that rendered him immediately likeable. Mia Wasikowska's performance was reminiscent of the innocence and petulance of the original Alice, with a dash of adult courage and bravado.  Fans of the Harry Potter movies will surely enjoy Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange) as the Red Queen and Alan Rickman (Professor Snape) as the Blue Caterpillar.

And finally, I have to note the MPAA rating, which tickled my funny bone.  How often do you see a PG rating for "fantasy action/violence involving scary images and situations, and for a smoking caterpillar"?

Great movie!

For an interesting story on the premise that Lewis Carroll's Alice books were actually a statment on the state of mathematics in the 19th century, read or listen to NPR's Weekend Edition story, "The Mad Hatter's Secret Ingredient: Math" (March 13, 2010)

Read a poem this month and commit it to memory. (Everyone should know at least one poem and one joke!) You'll never know when you might need it.

Friday, April 2, 2010

A Year Down Yonder

Peck, Richard. 2000. A Year Down Yonder. New York: Dial.

I admit that I don't "get" America's Heartland.  Other than a few trips to Texas, Colorado, and Louisiana, I usually think of the Midwest as something in between where I am and where I'm going.  So it was with great pleasure that on my recent vacation, I became acquainted with the rural Illinois of the Depression-era, and I fell in love with it!  Mary Alice and Grandma Dowdel are two of the best characters in children's literature, and I'm sorry that it's taken me so long to find them.  If you haven't read A Year Down Yonder, you're missing a very funny and heartwarming (but never sappy) story.  Many reviews are available of this 2001 winner of the Newbery Medal winner.  (The original PW review nailed it.)

Now I can't wait to read its prequel, A Long Way from Chicago (downloading to my mp3 as I type), and Peck's latest, A Season of Gifts.

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 ...