Monday, May 30, 2011

We are America

Myers. Walter Dean. 2011. We are America: A tribute from the heart. Ill. by Christopher Myers. New York: Collins.

Due to the long holiday weekend and my scurrying back and forth between two library branches, on Friday afternoon at 4:55pm, I found myself scrambling to find an appropriate nonfiction book to bring home and share for nonfiction Monday.  I had missed this one when it first arrived, and thankfully found it on a cart full of returns.

In We are America, Walter Dean Myers traces the history of the nation.  With elegant poems, he begins the history with the Lakota in
"Before there was America."
Before the ships came
Their white sails ablaze
     against the clear blue sky
My Lakota heart pounded the rhythms
Of this sacred land ...
He continues, recounting in poetry the birth of the nation, the slave economy, the Civil War, the building of America,
"We were machines belching smoke"
Pushing carts, baking bricks, cleaning sewers
Inventing, daring, lifting our hopes to skies
     that suddenly seemed
Within reach
We were Irish muscle and Polish pride
Germans and Italians
Africans and Chinese
Mexican and English
We spoke a hundred languages
We were laborers building the hugeness
     of the fantasy that was
The Unites States of America ...
and America's future possibilities. His poems are accompanied by quotes that reflect great, decisive, or conflicted moments in American history -quotes from varied people and documents of great meaning to our country.
"Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?  Forbid it, Almighty God!  I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!" Patrick Henry
"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." Emma Lazarus
"We have a positive vision of the future founded on the belief that the gap between the promise and reality of American can one day be finally closed."  Barbara Jordan
Each poem on a stark white page is accompanied by an oil painting representing the people and times that are or have been "America" - from John Smith to Jimi Hendrix, Amelia Earhart, textile workers, a Japanese internment camp, soldiers in Europe, Vietnam, and Iraq, Chinese railroad workers, Mark Twain, Gloria Steinem, and everything in between.

What better book to share for this solemn and reflective national holiday? Enjoy your Memorial Day and remember those who made it possible.

As I waited in line to meet Llama Llama Misses Mama author, Anna Dewdney, on Wednesday, I was less than 2 feet from Walter Dean Meyers as he was signing books in the next row. Unfortunately, after meeting the talented and friendly Ms. Dewdney, the line to meet Mr. Myers was too long for me to get through before he finished greeting librarians and other fans. He sure did look like a nice guy, though. It's comforting to find that famous authors and illustrators are such "regular" people.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

BEA goodies!

It's great to get out of the library for the day and spend time with co-workers, colleagues, authors, illustrators and booksellers.  It's a good reminder of what makes librarianship a great profession!

Here's a peek at my goodies from BookExpo America!  I can't wait to spend some time looking them all over.  Books, I will read, review and give away to lucky children participating in my library's summer reading program.  Posters and other goodies will also be used in the library for decoration or prizes.  What am I keeping? A few good bags, a flash drive (I really need an extra one), and this lovely sketch from the lovely and talented Rebecca Guay.  Ms. Guay is the illustrator for the upcoming graphic novel by Jane Yolen, The Last Dragon (Dark Horse, Sep 2011). (If you can't wait for it, request it now from NetGalley.)
The Last Dragon by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Rebecca Guay.
oops! That circle of light is from my window.  It's a beautiful
day here in the East. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Branch Rickey adult book today. Either indulge me in my annual adult nonfiction baseball read, or come back later in the week when I hope to have great things from BookExpo America in New York. Thanks!

Breslin, Jimmy. 2011. Branch Rickey. New York: Penguin . 
     The two men sat across from each other at Joe's Restaurant.  Breaking salt rolls into crumbs, Rickey immediately told Barber, "Mrs. Rickey and my family say I'm too old at sixty-four, and my health is not up to it.  They say I've gone through enough baseball and [taken enough] from the newspapers.  That every hand is baseball will be against me.  But I'm, going to do it."

     "He looked straight into my eyes," remembered [Red] Barber, fixing my attention."

     Rickey said, "I'm going to bring a Negro to the Brooklyn Dodgers."
 Barber remembered Branch Rickey speaking slowly as he said it.  "I'm going to bring a Negro to the Brooklyn Dodgers.

   Barber sat straight and silent.

    "I don't know who he is," continued Rickey, "or where he is, but he is coming."
Whatever one may think of the controversial Jimmy Breslin, it's difficult to deny that he's a great writer, and due to his long career and many connections to the sports world and New York in general, he was the perfect choice to write this book on Branch Rickey for the Penguin Lives series. Although he, himself, met Rickey only once, Breslin read extensively about him, and interviewed many people who still remembered the man who brought Jackie Robinson, the first African American, player into Major League Baseball.

What little I knew about Rickey came from watching Ken Burns' documentary, Baseball, and from reading books about Jackie Robinson; but I always wanted to know more about man who put the wheels of integration in motion.  What motivated Rickey?  Altruism?  Money? Religion? Baseball?
It was all of these, and yet it was none. In the simplest explanation, it was Rickey's sense of fairness that drove him to integrate Major League Baseball.  That he was the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers gave him the opportunity to make his dream of equality take root in the game of baseball.  That he was a religious man, made him see the righteousness of his cause and allowed him to bring other like-minded individuals into the fold.  When faced with those who were neither fair nor religious, Rickey appealed to their sense of business acumen.  These talented young African Americans were the future of baseball.  He saw it as a good financial investment (although it was devastating to the Negro Leagues), and wasn't afraid to sell the concept on its business merits, and make money in the process, too.  In short, he was a clever, fair, and honest man with a dream of racial equality.  It took him years of planning and the ideal choice of Jackie Robinson to make it happen, but Branch Rickey, can be credited with the integration of Major League Baseball. Not bad for a poor boy "from the hills and swamps of Southern Ohio."

Told in a largely anecdotal style, Branch Rickey is a short, fascinating read for baseball and history fans, regaling the reader with little-known stories of baseball lore. At one point, the always opinionated Breslin (once a heavy drinker) inserts his own theory on alocohol, smoking, and cancer, opposing Rickey's ardent lifetime antipathy towards liquor. This is the one digression that detracts from the story, which otherwise reads like an old friend telling well-worn family lore. (perhaps old friends may be forgiven a digression or two)

And with long-practiced ease, Breslin artfully weaves the story of Branch Rickey into the context of today, pulling the ends of the story together in the middle, with people cheering the election of Barack Obama from their local polling place - Jackie Robinson High School.  How fitting.

I love baseball.

This is an adult nonfiction title, but get your glasses out, because its font is better suited for much younger eyes! (Centennial LT Std 45 Light, if you're interested)

Listen here to an interview with Jimmy Breslin about writing Branch Rickey.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

May picture book roundup

I am in the midst of transferring from one branch to another, and I now have two desks overflowing with great new books!  Here are a few:
Gibbs, Edward. 2011. I Spy with my Little Eye. Somerville, MA: Templar. (Candlewick)

That big (almost 2.5"), yellow, circular eye on the cover is actually a hole - an oh, the things we can spy through that hole!  On a predominantly white spread with an eye on the left page and a circle of blue on the right, we read,
I spy with my little eye  ... something that is blue. "I am the biggest animal in the world."
Turn the page to find a richly colored blue whale, which due to some artfully placed curlicues, manages to appear realistic and at the same time, fanciful.

Each featured animal unfolds in the same manner.  The rear cover of the book features a hole for your own little eye to go spying! Colors, animals, guessing - this book has it all!
Edward Gibbs is listed as a "debut artist."  What a debut! This one's dynamite!

Tusa, Tricia. 2011. Follow Me. Boston: Harcourt.

From the book jacket, here is the description of the art,
The illustrations in this book were done using an etching process with monoprinted color.  The text type was set in Prin.  The display type was set in Rats and Carrotflower.
(Rats and Carrotflower? - love that one!)  What this means to me is a softly-colored book with fanciful drawings outlined in etched brown lines.  The color sometimes spills out of its intended (?) perimeter in much the same way that the young protagonist spills out of her swing and floats and flies through the breezes, "lost in small, green, happy music."  She invites the reader to follow her through all of nature's colors, "deep into brown, into the bright white of yellow, into orange that slips into red."   From the illustrator of In a Blue Room, another beautiful book!

Johnson, Lindsay Lee. 2011. Ten Moonstruck Piglets. Ill. by Carll Cneut. Boston: Clarion.

All in a scramble,
all ready to gambol,
ten moonstruck piglets
on a midnight ramble.

Through the mud wallow,
beyond the wide hollow,
leapfrogging piglets
in turns lead and follow.
It's all fun and games until the moon goes behind a cloud!  But not to worry - Mama's coming.  These sleepy-eyed, wrinkly little runts are irresistible!

Where Ten Little Piglets is filled with amusing detail, this next book features uncomplicated simplicity ... (but in both books, you can count on mom to the rescue!)

Monday, May 16, 2011

What's the Difference?

I'm glad that I chose to review a book about the natural world, because today's Nonfiction Monday is at SimplyScience Blog.

This is a title from last year, but it just arrived in my library's bag o' books.

Koontz, Robin. 2010. What's the Difference Between a Butterfly and a Moth? Ill. by Bandelin-Dacey. Minneapolis: Picture Window.

I like this book for two, no, make that three, main reasons:
  • the minimal text makes it a book that you can slip in to a storytime session
  • the illustrations strike a perfect balance between realism and art (anatomically correct with close-up insets, but artfully and attractively presented with soft edges and complimentary backgrounds)
  • the book answers a question that interests kids
Opposing traits are presented on opposing pages,
Can you spot the difference between a butterfly and a moth by looking at the wings?  Many butterflies have wings that are covered with thousands of bright, colorful scales.  The colors help the insect blend in with its surroundings.  Spots on its wings can look like large eyes that scare away animals. 
Most moths have dull-colored scales that match their resting places.  Some moths look like wood or  a leaf.  This helps them blend into their surroundings.

Text box insets offer more technical information and terms,
Some animals and insects are camouflaged.  That means they are shaped or colored to match their surroundings.  Camouflage helps them hide from enemies.
What's the Difference between a Butterfly and a Moth? offers seven differences between the two insects.  A pictorial synopsis is included in the back matter, as well as Fun Facts,  Glossary, To Learn More, and Index.

I wanted to review What's the Difference Between an Alligator and Crocodile? (who doesn't want to know about 'gators and crocs?!)  but it was checked out.

A side note: I was curious about the named illustrator, "Bandelin-Dacey," so I checked it (him/her/them) out. After searching the website for MB Artists: Bandelin-Dacey Studios, I discovered that the artwork is a collaboration of Bob Dacey and Debra Bandelin.  I wonder how that works.  What can be the division of labor in a painting?  Something to ponder ...

See all of the titles in this series at Capstone's site.

Note: For those of you working with a hobbled version of Blogger (as I am!), you have my sympathy.
 It's been a very frustrating week!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Finally! The Little Red Pen: a review

Stevens, Janet. 2011. The Little Red Pen. Ill. by Susan Stevens Crummel. Boston: Harcourt Childrens.

Finally!  I've been dying to get my hands on this book ever since I saw it during a spring preview webinar!  It was worth the wait.

You know the story of the industrious Little Red Hen, you know, the one who planted the seeds, raised the wheat, milled the flour, and baked the bread without any help from her lazy friends?  Well, look out, 'cause here comes the desk set version -  the Little Red Pen with her similarly unhelpful friends, Eraser, Pencil, Highlighter, Scissors, Stapler and SeƱorita Chincheta (don't you dare call her Pushpin!) - and they've got papers to grade! But unlike the traditional story, this Little Red Pen can't do it all on her own.  She's collapsed from exhaustion and fallen into  "The Pit of No Return!" (aka "The Trash")

With puns

"I have another bright idea," said Highlighter.

"What? Me, a bridge?" Ruler snapped. "I'm not budging an inch."

She's pushing!  Well, I'm a pushpin! 
and hilarious artwork, The Little Red Pen makes a point and gets an A+ in the grade book!

Written and illustrated by siblings, Janet and Susan, it must have been a lot of fun!
An Activity Kit is available from the publisher.

Highly recommended!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Meadowlands: A Wetlands Survival Story

It's Nonfiction Monday and I'm pleased to be today's host location!
Yezerski, Thomas F., 2011. Meadowlands: A Wetlands Survival Story. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
From the top of the Empire State Building in New York City, you can see a flat, wet place in New Jersey.  Some people think it's just smelly swamps.  Others think of it as where the airport or malls or stadiums are.  Most people think it's not much of a place at all.  This place is called the Meadowlands.
Though the word meadow conjures thoughts of an idyllic landscape, to many New Jerseyans and nearby New Yorkers, the word Meadowlands does not.  Instead, thoughts of Giants Stadium, Super Fund sites, and, according to the governor, the state's ugliest building come to mind.  But as New Jersey resident Thomas F. Yezerski points out in Meadowlands: A Wetlands Survival Story, the Meadowlands is and always has been a changing place.
Yezerski begins the Meadowlands' story several hundred years ago when the Meadowlands was "20,000 acres of marshes, swamps, and bogs that were home to many different plants and animals," as well as the native people, the Lenni Lenape. Throughout the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, the area went through various changes - most of them for the worse.  Landfills, chemical dumping, noxious smells, overcrowding, filthy water - the picture looked grim, and the Garden State's new reputation as a smelly place along the Turnpike was fixed in the nation's consciousness.
But even after being dug out, filled in, run over, and dumped on, the wetlands still showed signs of life.  The Hackensack River still flowed south.  The tide still rose north from the Atlantic Ocean.  The river and tide still met in the Meadowlands twice a day, as they had for 10,000 years.  Because they did, the ecosystem had a chance to recover.
Meadowlands is a hopeful story. A story of the return of fish, birds, and even the marshland itself.  It's a story of possibility, of the positive effect that people can have when they are so determined.  Yezerski's love for the area is apparent. His pen and watercolor illustrations show that he has spent many hours and days in the Meadowlands, capturing its essence. Realistic detailing is present throughout, particularly in the birds, which approach guide book quality.  Each double spread features a rectangular painting set in a frame of white space.  Related icon-sized images surround the main illustration. Text appears plainly at the bottom of each page - no more than 4 lines per page.
The final pages show the fragile combination of a now bird-filled marshland located within one of the nation's most densely populated urban areas. The cover art, featuring a snowy egret in this urban wilderness is stunning.

Meadowlands should be required reading for all New Jersey schoolchildren, but it has value beyond New Jersey as well. It spreads the hopeful message:  If we can do it, so can you. Where there is water flowing, there is life.

Highly recommended.
Author's Note, Selected Bibliography, and Selected Web Sites are included.
You can learn more about the Meadowlands at the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission site or the many sites devoted to the Meadowlands' varied commercial ventures.
Link your Nonfiction Monday post below.  If you're not posting today or just stopped by to read, please check out the other great nonfiction posts linked below.  In either case, thanks for stopping by.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Take Me Out to the Ball Game - review

Norworth, Jack. 2011. Take Me out to the Ball Game. Ill. by Smiko Hirao.  Performed by Carly Simon. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge.

In 1908, Jack Norworth wrote the lyrics to "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." In 1994, Carly Simon recorded the song for Ken Burns' epic documentary, Baseball. In 2011, Amiko Hirao created brightly colored, anthropomorphic characters to accompany the story,  Giraffes, elephants, flamingos, dogs and cats, gathering together for a day at the ball park.

Put them all together and you've got a delightful baseball story, sung by the renowned artist, Carly Simon.  A longer version than the "seventh inning stretch song," this collaboration begins with Katie Casey,
Katie Casey was baseball mad. 
She had the fever and she had it bad.
Just to root for the hometown crew,
every cent, that Katie spent.
When Katie's beau invites her to a show, she says,
"No, I'll tell you what you can do,"
He takes her out to the ball game, of course, and well, you know the rest.

This is a large book (11x12) with double-spread, action-packed illustrations throughout. The lyrics are classic, and Carly Simon's voice is clear and warm - singing slowly enough so that kids can follow the story as the pages are turned, but with all the enthusiasm of the ball game.

A fun book for little baseball fans!

Have a listen ...

Take Me Out To The Ballgame by Carly Simon - Official

The accompanying CD also contains two completely unrelated songs, "Scarborough Fair" and "I Gave my Love a Cherry,"  two old classics that I remember singing as a child. An odd pairing, but it might work well used as a bedtime story followed by two lullabies.

An added Performer's Note reveals the interesting fact that Jackie Robinson and his family lived with Carly Simon's family in 1954 and 1955 while the Robinson's home was under construction in the neighborhood.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A beautiful day in Long Branch!

A Tuesday, on which I post something completely unrelated to children's literature ...

Today I attended the annual NJLA Conference in Long Branch, NJ.  It was uncommonly warm day at the beachfront Ocean Place Resort.  But despite the beautiful beach day, all the action was inside at the conference.

I attended several worthwhile sessions, but here's my main takeaway for the day - author Adriana Trigiani rocks!

I am a children's librarian with a penchant for reading nonfiction.  When looking for a book to read, one of Adriana Trigiani's would probably not be my first choice - at least not before today.

But let me tell you, Adriana Trigiani is flat-out funny!  She was today's keynote speaker, and she brought down the house!  To say that she's a warm, personable, intelligent, best-selling author seems to just scratch the surface. She paid homage to librarians (her mother is one), to her friends, her hometown, her mentors.  She gave away her impressive jewelry (really, she did!). She shared the intimate details of the half-frozen bag of peaches in her purse. She had the audience in stitches! I could have listened to her all day. 

Check out her website to see Adriana and all of her books, including the Valentine series, The Big Stone Gap series, and more. 

Kudos to the NJLA conference committee and thanks to Adriana for a great speech.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Nonfiction Monday

It's Nonfiction Monday again! 

I'm only a visitor today, not a participant.  I'm still catching up from vacation, preparing for my first author Skype visit (yay!) and cleaning my very messy desk as I prepare for a transfer to a new branch location - an exciting and  busy time for me.  But excuses aside, I wanted to give a heads up that next week's Nonfiction Monday, May 9th, will be right here at Shelf-employed

If anyone feels inspired to do Twitter reviews, I will retweet them all, as well as posting them here.  I will be featuring a post on a book that should be of particular interest to my fellow New Jerseyans.

Today's roundup is at Jean Little Library. Please stop by.

Thanks for your patience.

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 ...