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

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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)

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.
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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.
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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.

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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 ...