Friday, May 28, 2010

Ten Unusual Features of Lulu McDunn

(This is a review of an Advance Reader Copy received from LibraryThing Early Reviewers.)

Pulley, Kelly. 2010. Ten Unusual Features of Lulu McDunn. Saint Clair Shores, MI: Gauthier.

Ten Unusual Features of Lulu McDunn is a rhyming narrative in a sing-song cadence similar to that of a Dr. Seuss book,

Two was the number of eyes in her head. Her left eye was green and her right eye was red. They were spaced far apart and they weren't quite in line. But to Lulu the two of her eyes matched up fine.
The rhythm is perfect. No practice necessary before reading this one to a group of preschoolers.

Counting from 1 to 10, the story describes Lulu's unusual features (and some of them are quite unusual!) and follows with Lulu's upbeat perspective on each particular anomaly,
She wasn't embarrassed when people would stare. She was proud of her belly with buttons to spare.
On first reading, the bright and simple comic-style artwork cleverly hides Lulu's unusual features until they are highlighted in the story, revealed one at a time. Only on the final page do we see Lulu sporting all of her unusual features - everything from seven hairs on her nose to four knobs on each knee. And though, in her entirety, she looks a little peculiar, by the final page, the reader is predisposed to like the cheerful little gal.

The message of self-acceptance may be a little too obvious here, but the Seussical rhymes will appeal to preschoolers and they will have fun going back through the book and spotting the partially concealed precursors to Lulu's ten unusual features.

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

BookExpo America and more

Yesterday I attended  BookExpo America at the Jacob Javits Center in NY - a steamy, hot day in the city - just how I like it. In addition to carrying home more than 15 pounds of new books to review, I was extremely fortunate to meet (if only briefly) and receive books from author Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrator, Floyd Cooper, and one of my personal favorites, author Jon Scieszka.  (I told him that I never go on a school visit without him, and truly, I don't!)

Despite the seemingly endless lines of people waiting to meet them, all were extremely gracious and polite.  And yes, Jon Scieszka is funny even if you only have time to shake hands and exchange a few words.  Of course, it helps that he was handing out fake noses and mustaches!

Mr. Scieszka was at BEA to promote his latest project, Guys Read: Funny Business, a collection of funny stories edited by Scieszka. It wasn't until I reached home that I realized that in addition to Jon Scieszka, my book is autographed by Mac Barnett (Billy Twitters and his Blue Whale Problem), David Lubar, and Adam Rex. I think they were standing right there and I didn't recognize them - silly me! Adam Rex is the author of one of the funniest children's novels that I've ever read, The True Meaning of SmekdayDavid Lubar is also consistently funny, as is Barnett.

Carmen Agra Deedy was signing copies of last year's stellar contribution to children's literature, the child-accessible 9/11 themed book, 14 Cows for America. I can't say enough about it.  I'm also a big fan of Martina the Beautiful Cockroach.

Floyd Cooper is the illustrator of countless children's books, including 2009's The Blacker the Berry, for which he won the Coretta Scott King Illustrator award. He was there to promote his latest collaboration, Ruth and the Green Book, written by Calvin Alexander Ramsey.

Look for reviews of these and other great new titles soon - as soon as I unpack all this stuff I brought home!

In the meantime, enjoy this trailer for Guys Read: Funny Business.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Poll: Vote for your favorite nontraditional nonfiction review

Yesterday, kidlit bloggers entered in the first nontraditional Non-Fiction Monday review contest. My entry was a poetic tweet and a comic rendition of the same for Zeus: King of the Gods by George O'Connor, published in 2010 by First Second (:01). (see earlier post) Now it's time to vote at yesterday's Non-Fiction Monday host site, 100 Scope Notes. If you want to join in the fun (and it was fun!), check out all the reviews at 100 Scope Notes and vote for your favorite. And if your favorite happens to be mine, so much the better. ;)
Poll: Vote for your favorite nontraditional nonfiction review

Monday, May 24, 2010

Zeus: King of the Gods

Today's Non-Fiction Monday is an unusual one.  Travis, at 100 Scope Notes, is this week's host, and he has issued a challenge to create "non-traditional" book reviews.

I've answered the call with not one, but two reviews of First Second's Zeus: King of the Gods by George O'Connor.  I was having so much fun that I couldn't stop at just one review! Poetry, Twitter, comics!  I've included them all.

My first review is a poetic tweet of exactly 140 characters.  Check it out!

My second review brings my poetic tweet to life in a comic strip.  Check it out here! 

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Quiet Book

Underwood, Deborah.2010. The Quiet Book. Ill. by Renata Liwska. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Shhhh... How many kinds of quiet are there?
Coloring in the lines quiet, thinking of a good reason you were drawing on the wall quiet, hide-and-seek quiet, last one to get picked up from school quiet,
 and many more.

Each page features its own mood and special kind of quiet, accompanied by digitally colored, pencil drawings in soft and comforting shades. Expressive woodland creatures convey the many shades of quiet - their eyes closed, contrite, wide-eyed, tearful, pensive or contemplative. The Quiet Book is a small and gentle book waiting for small and gentle hands.

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The 39 Clues ...

An update on The 39 Clues series... I've fallen behind in this series that may not have been the Harry Potter blockbuster that Scholastic was hoping for, but still appears to be quite popular.  I've just finished books 4 and 5, Beyond the Grave by Jude Watson and The Black Circle by Patrick Carman as audio book downloads. Both books are read by David Pittu, who does a fine job, considering the many characters and their many diversities.  I continue to be amazed that despite being written by popular and signature authors, each book flows smoothly into the next.

A quick note on both titles:

In Beyond the Grave, Irina Spasky's character becomes more developed, Dan and Amy have their first real "falling" out, the one-dimensional Holts are (thankfully) mostly absent, and Jude Watson does a fine job of highlighting the wondrous nature and historical significance of Ancient Egypt.

In The Black Circle, set in Russia, Dan and Amy find out more about their parents, the Madrigals role becomes somewhat more defined, and the Holts reappear as major characters (though thankfully, Hamilton Holt, at least, becomes more singularly identifiable).  Also in book 5, Dan and Amy finally obtain a source of money and venture forth without au-pair, Nellie Gomez.  Bonus material is available in the audio book version.

Book 9, Storm Warning is due out in 5 days and is written by Linda Sue Park (I love her books and am looking forward to a female author's contribution to the series).

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Monday, May 17, 2010

The Wimpy Kid Movie Diary

It's Non-Fiction Monday!  Check out all of today's posts at Rasco from RIF.

Kinney, Jeff. 2010. The Wimpy Kid Movie Diary: How Greg Heffley Went Hollywood. New York: Amulet.

With the success of the wildly popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, it was only a matter of time before Greg Heffley went Hollywood.  What's surprising is that he wasn't animated!  Perhaps it's cheaper to make a live action film these days, or perhaps the talented Jeff Kinney simply didn't have the time to draw an entire movie.  Whatever the case, Greg went to Hollywood (a.k.a Vancouver).
The producers searched for a place that looked like a typical American town. They considered Rhode Island, Michigan, and lots of other places in the United States. So it's weird that they ended up finding the perfect American town in Canada.
In short sections with titles like "A Wimp is Born," "Action!," and "Faking It", Jeff Kinney walks the reader through the complicated process of creating a movie.  Of course, he does it with the humor that readers have come to expect.  In the chapter "Double Trouble" detailing the casting of little brother Manny, Kinney writes,
One of the trickiest roles to cast was Greg's three-year-old little brother, Manny. You may have noticed that in the books, Manny looks sort of like a buck toothed alligator.  Unfortunately, there aren't many kids who look like that in Vancouver - or anywhere else for that matter.
So the casting director looked for the next best thing, which was a cute kid with a memorable face.  After a lot of searching, the perfect Manny was found. Two of them actually. The trouble with three-year-olds is that they don't always do exactly what you want them to do, so it's a good idea to have a backup in case one of them decides not to cooperate.
The Wimpy Kid Movie Diary is the same size and format of the previous books, a printing font on diary-style pages liberally accompanied by hilarious artwork (from The Diary of a Wimpy Kid as well as new drawings created especially for this book).  The difference here is the addition of photographs, costume sketches, movie stills, actors' family photos and more.

This book will appeal to fans of Greg Heffley as well as those interested in the film making industry.  Casting, directing, set design, costumes, acting and editing are explained in a manner that is both informative and funny - a great way to learn.  The WK Movie Diary is a winner!

Diary Of A Wimpy Kid Teaser Trailer

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Little Rabbit and the Meanest Mother on Earth

Klise, Kate. 2010. Little Rabbit and the Meanest Mother on Earth. Illustrated by M. Sarah Klise. New York: Harcourt.

This is another of those books that jumps out and yells "Read me!"  I hate to admit that I'm so affected by cover art, but I am.  I read the book (and loved it!) before looking at the author and illustrator; now I'm firmly convinced that the Klise sisters  know the exact location of my funny bone.  From the Regarding the... series to the Dying to Meet You series, they are consistently funny and inventive.

Little Rabbit and the Meanest Mother on Earth is the Klise sisters' latest picture book featuring Little Rabbit, and Little Rabbit's room is a MESS!  He would love to attend the circus that has arrived in town, but mom has decreed that he must first clean the playroom. How mean is mom?  She's the meanest mother on earth, and she's about to become the newest circus sideshow!
Only 5 cents! Odd! Shocking! The Amazing Rabbit and the Meanest Mother on Earth! 
 Will Little Rabbit's mother satisfy the 100 animals who have purchased tickets to see the Meanest Mother on Earth?  Or is there something even more shocking than the Meanest Mother on Earth?

Delightfully funny with humorously detailed paintings (don't miss the "mold-o-meter"), often featuring the "ring" motif of the circus.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Boy Who Dared

Bartoletti, Susan Campbell. 2008. The Boy Who Dared. Read by David Ackroyd. Listening Library.

Based on the true story of Helmuth Hübener, The Boy Who Dared is told in a series of flashbacks by an imprisoned Helmuth as he awaits his sentence of death by guillotine. Helmuth revisits the events and decisions that drove him to defy the Nazi party and the Gestapo.

Many children's books have been written on Nazi atrocities, each with its own particular vantage point.  Milkweed looks at the plight of a young Gypsy.  Number the Stars tells of the Danish resistance. The Boy Who Dared focuses on what Helmuth Hübener would have known best - the experience of Germany's young, non-Jewish citizens. Forced to join the Hitler Youth and adhere to strict curfews, forbidden to attend school with their Jewish friends or shop at Jewish-owned stores, and particularly grievous to Helmuth, forbidden to read non-German books or listen to any radio other than The People's Radio.

This is a powerful story for middle-schoolers and is especially relevant because it highlights the impact that one single young person can have on his society.

However, as is often the case, the truth is a more compelling story.  Susan Campbell Bartoletti's earlier book, Hitler Youth: Growing up in Hitler's Shadow. It's a powerful and fascinating story that follows the lives of numerous young Germans and explores why some succumbed to the Nazi propaganda machine and others resisted. The outcome of their decisions is revealed as well. Katherin Kana's accent and "matter-of-fact" style of reading, is perfect for setting a chilling tone to a horrific period in history. Hitler Youth is the winner of over 10 major awards including a Newbery Honor and a Sibert Honor. Best for 7th grade and up.
Scholastic's video booktalk for The Boy Who Dared is available here.

An excerpt from Listening Library's Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow, also by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, and read by Katherin Kana. (2006)

Saturday, May 8, 2010

A brand new look!

Welcome to the newly renovated Shelf-employed!  I hope you'll like the new design and layout and will take a few minutes to look around.  In addition to the new look, I've added an About page, and a Multimedia Booktalk page. (Those of you who read my posts regularly know that I am fond of creating videos and podcasts for my favorite titles.)  If you read Shelf-employed on a feed, hop on over and take a look.

Please share any comments or suggestions.  I'd love to hear them!
Thanks for reading,

Friday, May 7, 2010

A Season of Gifts

Peck, Richard. 2009. A Season of Gifts. New York: Dial.

In A Season of Gifts, Richard Peck returns to rural Illinois and the small town that  larger-than-life Mrs. Dowdel calls home.  This time, the year is 1958 and Elvis, television and Civil Defense are the buzz words of the day when the Barnhardts move into town.  A poor Methodist preacher in a town of "foot-washers," Mr. Barnhardt and his wife have their work cut out for them, as do their children - narrator, 12-year-old Bob, younger sister Ruth Ann, and Phyllis, a high-schooler on the road to trouble.  Local kids don't  feel any brotherly love for PK's (preacher's kids).

Although each of the books in this companion set A Season of Gifts (A Year Down Yonder and A Long Way from Chicago) has its own narrator, it is the over-sized, outrageous Mrs. Dowdel who dominates the story. And  though she "doesn't neighbor," and is often trigger-happy,
I'm about a squat jump away from a loaded Winchester 21, ...and I'm as tetchy as a bull in fly time,
underneath her flap hat, apron, boots, and afghans, she's got a heart of gold.

Like a master comedian, storyteller, or practical joker, Peck takes his time in setting up the dry humor that characterizes Mrs. Dowdel. The reader, so engaged in the story, never sees the setups that span a chapter, two chapters, even the entire book. Mrs. Dowdel is always one step ahead.

A Year Down Yonder is still my favorite, but A Season of Gifts runs a close second.  Highly recommended.


Monday, May 3, 2010

Oprah: The Little Speaker

Weatherford, Carol Boston. 2010. Oprah: The Little Speaker. Illustrated by London Ladd. Tarrytown: NY.

If ever there was a life story about overcoming odds, Oprah, The Little Speaker is it. It's well worth remembering that as recently as the 1950s, a woman in the rural south could be raised in such primitive conditions
in a run-down house off a Mississippi dirt road...No indoor plumbing, just an outhouse, not even a bed of her own. ... God only knew what would become of that child.
Well, we all know now what became of that intelligent and precocious child. An inspiring story of Oprah Winfrey's earliest years; a paean to faith and the power of words.

Enjoy the trailer by Jefferey Weatherford.

Today's Non-Fiction Monday is hosted by Bookends. Head on over!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Night Fairy

Schlitz, Laura Amy. 2010. The Night Fairy. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.

Still looking for a good "girly" book, I picked up Laura Amy Schlitz's, The Night Fairy on recommendation from a colleague. I was pleasantly surprised by this little book that offered more than I expected.

A wingless, yet dauntless fairy with tangled curls and a resolute attitude, Flory is a heroine you will love. An intrepid adventurer no taller than a pair of acorns, nothing can stop Flory once she sets her mind - not daylight, not squirrels, not even bats.
Flory nodded briskly. "I can do that," she said, though she knew how prickly barberry bushes were, and she feared the climb. ... She yanked her arm away from the spiderweb. The sticky thread left a red welt on her arm. Flory was not going to fuss over a minor wound like that. She set her teeth, turned her back on the hummingbird, and set forth on her quest.

An action-packed magical journey with nature inspired illustrations of the plucky Flory, diminutive heroine of The Night Fairy.

Schlitz was the 2008 Newbery Award winner for Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village. 

You can read an excerpt from The Night Fairy here.

Dog Ear offers another Night Fairy review.


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 ...