Thursday, September 30, 2010


Wiles, Deborah. 2010. Countdown. New York: Scholastic.

Countdown.   The story is one of a girl named Franny - a nondescript, middle child with a beautiful older sister and a "perfect" younger brother.  Her father is in the 89th Air Force Division; her mother is a dutiful military wife.  Her neighbors are nosy, her "crazy" uncle is suffering flashbacks from the war. She is having a major fight with her best friend; she has a crush on her neighbor.

And as if that were not enough, it's October, 1962.  The Soviet Union has placed missiles in Cuba and the world as she knows it may end at any minute. Duck and cover!

 Interspersed between the pages of Franny's story are photos, advertisements, song lyrics, headlines and other depictions of realia from the "Camelot" years.

According to the author, Countdown is based on her own life, which accounts for the honesty and authenticity of it's protagonist.  The collected depictions add to the story and in some instances (the bomb shelter instruction pull-out that appeared in Life magazine, the "duck and cover" photos of young children at their desks) add a palpable sense of the fear felt by Americans during those tense October weeks. Young readers will relate to Franny and gain a greater understanding of the period, however many of the song lyrics and photos will be unfamiliar to them, and are presented scrapbook style, without caption, in the body of the novel. This format adds dramatic impact at the expense of context.  Will children recognize the smiling Nikita Khrushchev or the silhouetted figures of JFK and his brother deep in thought? Probably not, but it's a minor complaint.

There's a lot of Newbery Award buzz about this ground-breaking "documentary novel."  It is the first in a planned trilogy about the 1960s.  Well-worth reading!

The author and Scholastic offer great resources.  Links are below. Be sure to check out the trailer!

An excerpt from Countdown.
Scholastic's Countdown booktalk.
Scholastic's Countdown Discussion Guide.

100 Scope Notes offers a "toon" review of Countdown.

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Monday, September 27, 2010

An interview with Janice Weaver

Today I have a real treat! An interview with Janice Weaver, author of Hudson, the new middle grade biography of Henry Hudson.  Ms. Weaver graciously agreed to a VoiceThread interview, which means that you can participate and ask questions as well! The interview "thread" will remain open for a week or so, and Janice will answer any added questions, so please, dive right in! (Click "Play" to start and enable sound)  To see it in "full-screen," click this link.
  I reviewed Hudson last month.

Other books by Ms. Weaver include:

Today's host for Nonfiction Monday is Wendy's Wanderings. Be sure to click on over.
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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Elsie's Bird

Yolen, Jane. 2010. Elsie's Bird. Ill by David Small.  New York: Philomel.

An uplifting story of a young girl and her newly widowed father who leave Boston with the girl's beloved canary to make a new life on the Nebraska frontier. At first lonely and depressed, Elise learns to appreciate the beauty, vastness and music of the prairie. A wide book with double-spread watercolor and ink paintings is the perfect format for evoking the beauty and solitude of the prairie in contrast with the hustle and bustle of Boston. A hopeful story in which the small, loving, well-tended family blooms in the rich Nebraska soil.

More Elsie's Bird reviews @

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Friday, September 17, 2010

September Picture Book Roundup

Here we go with another picture book roundup - 
a selection from the three bags just received at my branch.

Smith, Lane. 2010. It's a Book. New York: Roaring Brook.
Can it text? Blog? Scroll? Wi-Fi? Tweet?  No. It's a book.
Not quite appropriate for school visits (!) , but it may be the funniest picture book you'll read this year!  I can't stop laughing!

Wright, Michael. 2010. Jake Goes Peanuts. New York: Feiwel.

This one was on hold and left the branch on the same day it arrived.  I can see why some young peanut butter-loving child is anxious to read this one! Hilariously droll illustrations and a delightfully funny story about a boy who wants to eat nothing but peanut butter.  Luckily (?) for him, his parents decide to oblige, making everything out of peanut butter,
They dipped peanut butter crackers in their peanut butter soup.  Jake was eating so much peanut stuff, he made peanut butter poop.
A rhyming romp of peanuty fun!  Allergies?  No worries.  There's a "Peanut-Free Zone" at the school!

Agee, Jon. 2010. Mr. Putney's Quacking Dog. New York: Scholastic.

It's hard not to like Jon Agee.  His illustrations are classic, and he's got a great sense of humor.  Mr. Putney's Quacking Dog, however, may be just a little too difficult for most kids to "get."  The reader is introduced to Mr. Putney's animal friends, and has to guess the animal's name based on the illustrations and a short question,
Which friend of Mr. Putney's has cold feet?
The illustration does show Mr. Putney preparing to dive into the water carrying a large flower-sized box, and the chilly octopus is partially visible in the water, but I have to admit, I didn't guess "socktopus," before I turned the page (and that's one of the easier jokes).  As a matter of fact, in a quick run-through of the book, I only "got" 6 of the 20 jokes.  If you're planning to read this one at storytime, be prepared to give plenty of hints! Cute.

Frazee, Marla. 2010. The Boss Baby. New York: Beach Lane.

This baby is no little bundle of joy!  He’s the boss, and Mom and Dad know it! He runs the home like a tyrant - no time off, plenty of meetings, and round-the-clock demands.  He wants his perks too - time at the spa and the gym, drinks made to order.  When Mom and Dad are finally too worn out to comply with boss’s orders, something very surprising occurs!  The illustrations of the business-suited little tyrant (complete with diaper hatch!) add hilarity to an already funny book. Delightful!

and finally, a more thoughtful book ...

Raschka, Chris. 2010. Little Black Crow. New York: Atheneum.

A little boy sits on a fence and wonders about a passing crow,
Little black crow where do you go? Where do you go in the cold white snow?  Where do you go?
Through the boy’s series of poetically repetitive questions, we learn about the little black crow, but ultimately, more about the boy who questions it,
Do you ever worry when you hop and you hurry?  Are you ever afraid of mistakes you’ve made?  Are you never afraid?
Raschka’s watercolor illustrations evoke the simplicity and wonder of childhood.  Enchanting.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Can we all get on the same page, please?

On September 8, I received an email from Toon Books announcing its upcoming partnership with Candlewick Press.

TOON Books Partners with
Candlewick Press

I read it with mixed emotions.  Two great publishers joining together.  That’s good, right?   But I was (am) a bit apprehensive that Toon might be overshadowed by its new owner.  And why my concern for Toon Books?  Well, because they’re so darned good at easy readers.  I attended a graphic novel webinar which included comments and booktalks from Toon’s director, Fran├žoise Mouly.  As you know if  read my blog regularly, I am often frustrated by the nonconformity of easy reader leveling “systems.”  I questioned Ms. Mouly about the readability levels of Toon Books. She contacted me after the webinar with complete, thorough, and accurate information about Toon’s graphic easy readers.

The “mystery" book
Can you guess its reading level?
Just take a look at how Toon books differentiates their easy reading graphic titles.
Like many beginning reader series, they’re divided into three levels.  But here’s the difference - we’re not left to wonder what criteria was used to derive those levels.  Surprise, surprise!  Toon Books tells us! Each book has a listed Lexile Level, Guided Reading Level, and Reading Recovery Level.  Now I’m not a teacher, so I don’t specifically need those items, but surely all librarians can appreciate having the tools needed to appropriately shelve, catalog, and recommend our easy reader collections!  This is how it should be done, folks!

A visit to Toon in the Classroom  features teachers’ resources, online books, cartoon makers, reader’s theatre, book lists.  What more can you ask for? There are other publishers who get it right (Peachtree’s reading levels are also readily available), but it’s the exception rather than the rule.

Let’s hope Candlewick follows the tune of Toon Books and begins a movement to make this basic (and much appreciated information) an industry standard in beginning readers.  Kudos to Fran├žoise Mouly for leading the way.

If you agree with me, please, leave a comment, start a discussion on your own blog, send an email to someone, tweet, digg, whatever.  But this, I think, is a conversation that we should have.

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Ling & Ting

Lin, Grace. 2010. Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same. New York: Little Brown.

Twins Ling and Ting are not exactly the same, but they're close - at least, that is, until you get to know them. Ting is more fanciful. Ling, more disciplined.  In "Making Dumplings," Ling remarks that dumplings look like old Chinese money. 
"We should make a lot of dumplings," Ting says.  "Then we will have a lot of money." So, Ling rolls and Ting mixes. "I will close my dumplings tight," Ling says. "Then our money will not get away." 
 Ting stuffs her dumplings until they're fat and lumpy.
"I will put a lot of meat in my dumplings," Ting says.  "So we will be very rich."
In the end, it doesn't matter.  The girls laugh.  They have made "dump-Lings" and "dump-Tings!"

The delightful illustrations have Grace Lin's distinctive combination of simplicity and joy. Each page of this  easy reader contains a half-page illustration and minimal text.  Each chapter is printed on different, complementary colored pages, helping newly independent readers to an easy transition between chapters.  Also aiding the reader is the bad haircut that Ting receives in the first chapter!  Her botched (but still cute) bangs make the twins easily distinguishable from one another throughout the rest of the book.

Readers of this early chapter book will be treated to six short stories in which they will get to know Ting and Ling, and receive a small taste of Chinese American culture.  They will see that Chinese Americans are the same, but not exactly the same, as any other Americans. And they will see that though they are twins, Ling and Ting are as different as any other two sisters! 

Ling & Ting - they're twins, they're sisters, and they're funny.  I hope we see more of them.

Grace Lin's site offers a wealth of useful information - recipes, coloring pages, lesson plans and more. Her publisher's site offers a downloadable Educator's Guide specifically for Ling & Ting.

The only thing lacking for Ling & Ting? Leveling information - Lexile, Flesch-Kincaid, please, give us something to work with, Little Brown.  Oh how I wish publishers would all get on the same page when it comes to Easy Readers!

A question I'd like to ask Grace Lin:
Is there any significance to the giant cupcake?

Grace Lin's jacket flap author photos are just plain fun. And here's a fun little trailer for Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Lost Boy

Today is Nonfiction Monday, and today’s host is Rasco from RIF. Be sure to stop by and read all of the great nonfiction posts from today’s contributors.

Yolen, Jane. 2010. Lost Boy: The Story of the Man Who Created Peter Pan. Illustrated by Steve Adams. New York: Dutton Children’s.

Here is another book whose cover begs the reader to pick it up. I wish there were explanatory remarks on Steve Adam’s illustrations. Unfortunately, I don’t know enough about art to discern the process. The results however, are priceless - full page, “framed” illustrations that appear to be aged paintings on wood, evoking J.M. Barrie’s bygone era, the images of Barrie, boyishly similar to those of Peter Pan.  The text, as well, speaks of a simpler, bygone age. Here Yolen recounts the adult Jamie Barrie playing in the park with young boys,
Soon the boys were playing games with Jamie and his dog, the nanny sternly looking on.  Jamie could wiggle his ears, do magic, tell wild stories just as he had as a boy in the upstairs room.  He could make up plays as he had with Robb in the washhouse  He led the boys in pirate games, just as he had with his childhood friend Stuart in the Dumfries Academy.
J.M. Barrie clearly placed a bit of himself in his famous character. It was interesting to learn that
 he gifted the copyright for Peter Pan to the Great Ormond Hospital for Sick Children in London, which meant that any money made from the book, the play, and associated sales, went to the hospital.
Peppered throughout Lost Boy are quotes from Barrie’s works,
 “(S)he was just slightly disappointed when he admitted that he came to the nursery window not to see her but to listen to stories.” From Peter Pan and Wendy,
accompanied by small “window” illustrations of each quote. A selected list of works and a list of famous actresses (yes, they’ve all been women) who have portrayed Peter Pan completes the book.

Booklist suggests Lost Boy for grades 2-4, SLJ for grades 3-5, Amazon for ages 4-8(!).  I think SLJ has the best suggestion, although I would add sixth grade as well.  Sadly, at only 40 pages, this book may not pass the minimum page requirement imposed by many teachers (a pet peeve of mine).

A detailed look at the man who created one of our most enduring literary characters.
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Friday, September 10, 2010

Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum

McCarthy, Meghan. 2010. Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum tells the improbable story of bubble gum and its inventor, young Walter Diemer, an accountant in a 1920s Philadelphia chewing gum factory. Walter's boss had given up on the idea of a gum that could make bubbles,
But Walter hadn't.  He spent months playing with different mixtures.  Finally something was happening!  Bubbles!  Big, glorious bubbles!
Using simple text and colorful, simple artwork, McCarthy infuses a bubbly, buoyant flavor to Pop!  The illustrations range from ancient Greeks with gum in their cheeks, to a double-spread collection of joyous, bug-eyed, hand-holding, bubble-blowers from across the globe!

Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum is a delicious mix of nonfiction and fun!  (Don't let all the fun fool you, it's well-researched too!)

Browse inside Pop!

Thanks to Rasco from RIF for pointing out Pop!
Rasco from RIF's review.

A personal note, Walter Diemer's invention, Dubble Bubble is my absolute favorite!  I chew at least 3 pieces at a time and one of my peculiar talents is that I can blow a bubble inside a bubble.  But alas, despite years of practice, I still cannot snap my gum.

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda - Read it you must

Angleberger, Tom. 2010. The Strange Case of Origami Yoda. New York: Amulet.
Origami Yoda
(My own Origami Yoda says "Read it you must!)

Dwight is a 6th grade oddball, but he's good at one thing - origami.  When his origami Yoda begins to tell the future and give advice, Tommy and his friends can't decide whether to believe him or not.  The Strange Case of Origami Yoda is the illustrated case file of the mysterious events surrounding Origami Yoda -- as told and illustrated by Tommy (whose future romance hangs in the balance), Harvey (the skeptic), Jennifer (the texter), Quavondo (a.k.a. The Cheeto Hog) and other members of McQuarrie Middle School.

Is this a great book? Irresistibly insightful and funny?
"Certain am I," said Dwight's Yoda.
I agree!

A sample chapter can be viewed online @ Abrams Books.
Reviews (and Origami Yoda instructions) at:

Monday, September 6, 2010

Call for Sibert Award suggestions

It’s Nonfiction Monday, the weekly gathering of bloggers highlighting nonfiction books for kids.  Today’s host is The Miss Rumphius Effect.

What was your favorite nonfiction book of the year?  Would you like to see it win the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award, "awarded annually to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished informational book published in English during the preceding year?”

Since we’re all nonfiction fans, I’d like to use today’s gathering remind everyone that the ALSC 2011 Sibert Committee is seeking nominations for the Sibert Award.  A few of my favorites this year were (in no particular order):

  • Zeus: King of the Gods by George O’Connor (which I believe may not be eligible because it is “traditional literature")

Nominations may be submitted by members of the Association for Library Service to Children. If you’re not a member, think about joining!  It’s an active and helpful organization. Be sure to check the criteria for the Sibert Award before sending in your nominations.

More details are available on the ALSC blog.

Happy Labor Day - enjoy!

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Saturday, September 4, 2010

Speling Mistayks

Pilkey, Dav. 2010. The Adventures of Ook and Gluk: Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future. Scholastic.

Okay, so I wanted to like this book.  I really did.  I think Dav Pilkey is hilarious and love the fact that he has introduced countless boys into the world of reading with The Adventures of Captain Underpants.  I love Dav Pilkey’s “Extra Crunchy Website O’ Fun.” I love “flip-o-rama,” the world’s cheesiest animation.

So, why don’t I like his latest offering, The Adventures of Ook and Gluk: Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future? It’s the spelling!
In the Captain Underpants series, George and Harold (who are, BTW, the “authors” of the new series) were notoriously bad spellers.  Their graphic interludes usually contained misspellings.  The actual story in text however, was always written with proper spelling and grammar.  In contrast, The Adventures of Ook and Gluk, contains only the graphic cartooning of George and Harold, and so is consistently misspelled.  How bad is it?
When Ooks sister, Gak, heard the comoshen, she pleeded with Chief Gobernopper.
Aack! It just grates against my brain, and I imagine thousands of kids reading it without an inkling that there might be an error.  Is it just me?

The Adventures of Ook and Gluk: Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future - cartoons, flip-o-rama, cavemen, dinosaurs, robots, kung-fu, evil leaders.

Will kids (especially boys) love The Adventures of Ook and Gluk?  Probably.  Do I? Sadly, no.

(Still, I do love “flip-o-rama.”)

Now I’d better try to revive my spell-checker!

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Friday, September 3, 2010


I’m a bit late to the Cosmic love fest, but am finally ready to chime in.

Cottrell Boyce, Frank. 2010. Cosmic. Walden Pond Press.

An improbable premise powers this first-person, space-age novel.  Twelve-year-old Liam Digby is tall for his age - so tall, in fact, that he's often mistaken for an adult - great fun at the amusement park or car dealership, but a very different story when he finds himself in China's Gobi desert, playing "dad" to his friend, Florida, as they train for a secret mission to outer space.  He does his best to appear "dadly," even referring to a copy of "Talk to Your Teen," hijacked from his own dad, who believes Liam and Florida to be attending a multi-day Gifted and Talented symposium for school!

The laughs are plentiful in this cosmic romp, but Liam and Florida also manage to learn a few things about space, human nature, themselves, and of course, "dadliness."
One person has just left the crowd and is heading over to me.  It's Dad.  He's walking toward me like there's some special gravity pulling him toward me.  And maybe there is.  Maybe everyone's got their own special gravity that lets you go far away, really far away sometimes, but which always brings you back in the end.  Because here's the thing.  Gravity is variable.  Sometimes you float like a feather.  Sometimes you're too heavy to move.  Sometimes one boy can weigh more than the whole universe.  The universe goes on forever, but that doesn't make you small. Everyone is massive.  Everyone is King Kong.
Well said.

Enjoy the trailer.

The publisher offers a Cosmic Reading Group Guide.

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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 ...