Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Picture Book Roundup for July

Here are a few picture books that caught my eye this hot July ... enjoy!

  • Crum, Shutta. 2011. Mine! Ill. by Patrice Barton. New York: Knopf.
With expressions of glee, surprise and joy, two toddlers and a dog creating mayhem in the house are accompanied by the book's only necessary word,
"Mine." "Mine, mine, mine, ..."
The illustrations are soft-edged and gentle, yet action-packed as the siblings and dog playfully squabble over a pile of toys. The rosy-cheeked baby is too cute for words! I love it!

  • Daly, Cathleen. Prudence Wants a Pet. Ill. by Stephen Michael King. New York: Roaring Brook.
Simply colored ink drawings on white space are the backdrop for poor Prudence, who wants a pet - desperately.
"No," says Dad, "pets cost too much to keep." "No," says Mom, "pets make noise."
But these arguments do not stop the determined Prudence. She chooses a branch for a pet, then a twig, and even an old shoe.
Its name is Formal Footwear. She found the same written on its inside.
She puts Formal Footwear on a leash and takes him for a walk around the block.
The neighbors find Formal Footwear very interesting. Prudence shows them all the tricks she has taught Formal Footwear. Formal Footwear is a smart shoe.
She's so desperate, she even tries out her brother, Milo, for a pet. "She feeds him seeds and grass."
This is a hysterical look at a poor girl's quest for a pet. Will her parents (shown from a kids' eye view of waist down) relent?  They'll have to.  Prudence is impossible to resist!

And finally,

  • Owen, Karen and Barroux. 2011. I Could Be, You Could Be. Cambridge, MA: Barefoot Books.
No white space here, just the brilliant colors of a child's boundless imagination,
I could be an alien with a funny face,
You could be an astronaut zooming into space.
Short and sweet with one sentence or less per page and brightly painted illustrations that will be easily recognized by even the youngest of children. Perfect for sharing or storytime.
I'll have another roundup of back-to-school themed books shortly.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Dear Hot Dog

Gerstein, Mordicai. 2011. Dear Hot Dog. New York: Abrams.

Daylight at the end of the work day, leaving the house without a coat, lavender blue lemonade, watermelon, a cool ocean breeze, the smell of food cooking on the grill, sea legs after a day on the water.  These are just a few of the things that I am thankful for in the summer.

In Dear Hot Dog, Mordicai Gerstein brings us three friends and the mundane, but infinitely wonderful things that bring them joy and for which they are thankful.

Did you have cereal this morning?  If you did, did you give much thought to your

Friday, July 22, 2011

Petite Rouge: A Cajun Red Riding Hood

Artell, Mike. 2001. Petite Rouge: A Cajun Red Riding Hood. Ill. by Jim Harris. New York: Penguin.

While I was in New Orleans, I attended the 8th Annual Poetry Blast sponsored by ALSC. As I mentioned on the ALSC blog, one of the highlights of the evening was Mike Artell's reading of his book Petite Rouge.  Of all the fractured folktales that I've ever heard, this has got to be one of my all-time favorites! Hearing it in New Orleans, in Cajun country, made it that much better. I went down to the French Quarter and purchased a copy the very next morning.

In Artell's version, Petite Rouge and her cat set off in a pirouge (a small boat used with a pole to travel the bayous) to grand-mère's house, carrying homemade gumbo. 

In the swamp, she runs into a wily gator named Claude,

Dey don' be gone long
when dey see by a stomp,
a big, long, green log
dat got plenty a' bomp.

Dat log it come close
to de pirouge and say,
"Now what you two doin' out here ...
si'l vous plait?"

It was Claude, dat ol' gator.
Petite Rouge gotta honch
dat ol' Claude t'inkin' he'd
like to have her fo' lunch.

Petite Rouge uses her pole to get away, but old Claude catches up with her at grandma's house, with very funny results involving TeJean, the cat, and a bottle of Cajun hot sauce.

It's hard to say what's funnier - the story, or Jim Harris' detailed and expressive illustrations.

© Jim Harris
For a real treat, or some pronunciation help, you can download or listen to mp3 files of Mike Artell reading Petite Rouge here. His narration is flawlessly funny!

Also, be sure to check out illustrator Jim Harris' site for some backstory, photos of bayou homes that inspired Petite Rouge's, and preliminary drawings for the book.

Included in the book is a brief history of Cajun people and a glossary of unfamiliar words with their phonetic spellings as well.
Great fun!  Perfect for sharing with all ages!  With some practice, I think I'll be able to read this one on school visits.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Mr. Popper's Penguins

Atwater, Richard and Florence. 2011. Mr. Popper's Penguins. New York: Open Road. 
(first published in 1938)
Review copy provided by NetGalley.

I checked out this 1938 classic for several reasons. The movie was just released, it's summer reading season with Newbery Medal and Honor books always in high demand at the library (I prefer to recommend what I know), and after hearing a radio interview with the founder of Open Road Media, I wanted to experience what they have to offer.

So here are my few comments on all of the above.

Fortunately or unfortunately (please tell me which) I didn't get out to see the movie (though I definitely made time for HP and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2! - it was great!).  If  you did get to see Mr. Popper's Penguins in the theater, please share your thoughts in the comments. Meanwhile, I'm waiting for the DVD.

Mr. Popper's Penguins was a Newbery Honor book in 1939. Times (and children's books) seem to have been simpler then. In my humble opinion, based upon the relatively few older Newbery titles that I've read, there is either a greater level of sophistication in the writing of today's juvenile fiction or the preferences of the esteemed librarians choosing the awards has changed much over the years.  That isn't to say newer or older books are superior, just different.

This particular version of Mr. Popper's Penguins, is an e-book published by Open Road Media. They appear to have struck upon a great idea, making classic books available digitally with enhanced content, in this case, "never-before-seen archival material from the authors' estate," or in more common parlance, period photographs of the Atwaters and brief biographical information. Open Road's offerings are available through the usual digital content providers (,, etc.).  I don't see any Open Road offerings from my library's e-book consortium, but they are listed on the publisher page, so perhaps some Open Road titles will be forthcoming via public library download.

Jane Friedman, once the CEO of Harper Collins is the CEO and Cofounder of Open Road Media, a new entry into the brave new world of e-books and digital content.  You can listen to an NPR interview with Ms. Friedman here.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Adventures in Cartooning

Sturm, James, Andrew Arnold, and Alexis Frederick-Frost. 2009. Adventures in Cartooning. New York: :01 (First Second)

Adventures in Cartooning was published in 2009, but was recently brought to my attention by Diamond Comic Distributor's, Diamond Bookshelf e-newsletter. The latest edition featured a news article entitled, "Learn the Language of Cartooning: Resources for Non-Artists and Nervous Beginners."  I love comics; and I don't do it often, but I do love to draw (though "non-artist and nervous beginner" both describe me quite well).

In any case, Adventures in Cartooning: How to turn your doodles into comics, is a unique resource for young artists who have great ideas but lack great artistic skills.  A comic book itself, Adventures shows the budding cartoon artist how to use basic cartooning principles to overcome any lack or imagined lack of drawing skills when creating a comic.  Can't draw someone running?  No problem.  Draw the same figure in four different panels and change the scenery.
Running uphill?  Align the panels diagonally rather than horizontally. 

What makes this book so unique is that it's actually a story featuring an elf, a knight and a horse.  The elf points out the artistic principles inherent in the story. At one point in his quest to fight a dragon, the knight and his trusty horse are dropped from the sky.  As they fall upside down through the clouds, the helpful elf points out, "Long panels are good for going down, too!"

Following the story are "The Magical Elf's Cartooning Basics," instructions (à la Ed Emberly) for drawing the story's characters, a sample story done by a young artist, and a short strip "About the Authors," in which the authors appear as a three-headed monster.

A winner for budding cartoonists or graphic novelists.

Read pages 5-22 on :01's site.
An interview with the authors appears here.

It's Nonfiction Monday.  Be sure to check out all of today's posts @
 Anastasia Suen's Chapter Book of the Day.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Wrinkle in Time - audiobook

L'Engle, Madeleine. 1993. A Wrinkle in Time. Read by Madeleine L'Engle. New York: Listening Library.
5 hours, 17 minutes.

It's been many, many years since I've read A Wrinkle in Time, and actually, I'm not sure that I liked it as a kid.  I was never much of a sci-fi fan.  In any case, after reading last year's, When You Reach Me, I was inspired to read it again, but forgot about it until recently, when I downloaded the audiobook version.

I remembered some of the story, but had forgotten much.  I didn't remember the religious overtones in the latter half of the book (or perhaps I never realized that Mrs. Who was quoting 1 Corinthians);  I certainly can't understand why this book has been challenged by various groups over the years.  I remember A Wrinkle in Time as a sci-fi, fantasy, time-traveling book, which, it is.  Although it was written in 1962, Madeleine L'Engle did not record the audiobook until the 1990s, when she was well into her seventies.  At first, I wasn't sure that I would like her narration - the voice perhaps too old, too flawed - but that initial perception quickly faded.  There is something special about hearing an author read her own book.  There is less room for personal interpretation, but the listener can be sure that she is understanding every nuance that the author wishes to convey.  Minor details cannot be misconstrued as important ones.  Ambiguity only exists if the author wishes it so.  It was great to revisit this old classic.  Expect to hear more about A Wrinkle in Time in the coming months.

Some Wrinkle facts and news:

Monday, July 11, 2011

Little Kids' First Big Book of Why

Shields, Amy. 2011. Little Kids' First Big Book of Why.Washington, DC: National Geographic.

A fun book for several reasons, the First Big Book of Why asks many of the great questions that occur to children, but grownups never ponder.  "Why can I see myself in a mirror?" "Why do the stairs seem to disappear on an escalator?" "Why does the moon change shape?" 

In addition, it's a great title to booktalk or share on school visits.  Just read a few pages and kids will want to know more.

And, it's a great browsing book.  Just leave it out and someone will find something interesting inside.

The questions are highlighted by large font in colored text boxes and the pages are brightly colored with photos of kids and the things which keep them wondering. The answers are short and sweet with bold font for the most important points,
Why does Grandma have wrinkles?
Skin grows and stretches as you grow from baby size to adult.  When you've been an adult for a while, skin stops growing and stretching.  It gets a little tired and a little less elastic.
The lines you make when you smile today are where your wrinkles will be when you are old.  A lifetime of laughter helps your skin wrinkle very nicely.
Nicely put!

Although this is a great browsing book, it is divided into four themed chapters, Amazing Me, How Things Work, Animals All Around and Wonders of the World.  In addition to the questions and answers, there are scattered text boxes and insets with interesting facts and experiments.  Little Kids' First Big Book of Why has a Table of Contents, a Glossary (albeit a very small one), Parent Tips, and Additional Resources.

Want to know why doughnuts have holes and why your toes get wrinkly in the tub?  You'll have to read it to find out! Nonfiction fun for lower elementary school grades.

Yes, it's Nonfiction Monday again and today's roundup is at proseandkahn.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Guantanamo Boy: a review

Perera, Anna. 2011. Guantanamo Boy. Chicago: Albert Whitman.
(first published in the UK, 2009)
Advance Reader Copy supplied by the publisher.  Due on shelves in August.
"We must remember that once we divide the world into good and bad, then we have to join one camp or the other, and, as you've found out, life's a bit more complex than that."
Funny (or not so funny) - in searching for related links, further information and other reviews on Guantanamo Boy, I actually found myself wondering (worrying?) if my every passing stop along the Internet seeking information related to Guantanamo Bay will be tracked by some government official in a cubicle somewhere.  Just the fact that such a thought crossed my mind, is an indication of the intense fear, distrust and paranoia that is gripping our world because of terrorism.  With that worldwide fear and paranoia as a backdrop for Guantanamo Boy, Anna Perera has crafted an entirely plausible story about a 15-year-old British boy, Khalid, from Rochdale, a large town in Greater Manchester, England.

Khalid is much like any other boy from his town, interested in good grades, his mates, soccer ("footy"), girls, and online gaming.  Though his family is Muslim, Khalid is a casual practitioner.  When his family visits Pakistan to assist an aunt, Khalid's father inexplicably disappears.  Khalid goes to check the address where his father was last seen, threading his way through a street protest enroute.  Unable to find his father, he returns to his aunt's home where he is later kidnapped in the late night hours,

Surely only his dad could be coming through the door without knocking this time of night?

But he's badly mistaken. Blocking the hallway is a gang of fierce-looking men dressed in dark shalwar kameez.  Black cloths wrapped around their heads.  Black gloves on their hands.  Two angry blue eyes, the rest brown, burn into Khalid as the figures move towards him like cartoon gangsters with square bodies.  Confused by the image, he staggers, bumping backwards into the wall.  Arms up to stop them getting nearer.  Too shocked and terrified to react as they shoulder him to the kitchen and close the door before pushing him to his knees and waving a gun at him as if he's a violent criminal.  Then vice-like hands clamp his mouth tight until they plaster it with duct tape.  No chance to wonder what the hell is going on, let alone scream out loud.
And so begins Khalid's descent into a frightening labyrinth of secret prisons, interrogation rooms, and finally Guantanamo Bay detention center.
A few lengthy passages are didactic in nature, but they are few in number. Khalid's unique perspective as a boy, a British citizen and non-practicing Muslim of Pakistani descent, offers a superb vantage point into the previously termed War on Terror. His sensibilities are Western, his concerns are adolescent, his perspective is that of  outsider - he has known discrimination in England, he is too Western for his Pakistani relatives, he has little in common with his fellow inmates.  Khalid is the perfect protagonist for this third-person narrative.

Heart-wrenching and frighteningly enlightening, Guantanmo Boy is not without bright spots - the power of small acts of kindness, the love of family, the virtue of forgiveness.  A thought-provoking read for teens and young adults.

Contains an Afterword by the founder and director, of Reprieve.
 Teacher's Guide

More reviews @
Finding Wonderland

Monday, July 4, 2011

July picture book roundup

Between BEA in May and ALA in June, I've been happily swamped in books!  I have so many to read over and review, but here a few quick reviews of titles that have found their way into my book bag.
Maloney, Peter and Felicia Zekauskas. 2011. One Foot Two Feet: An EXCEPTIONal Counting Book. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons.

I've been carrying this one around for too long (as a matter of fact, I think it's overdue!). A many-faceted book, I like it more each time I read it. It's a counting book, it's a color book (brightly colored "frame" pages offer a sneak peak of each illustration), it's a hidden picture book (find the plane!), it's a vocabulary book (one is a foot, two are feet, one is a die, six are dice), it's simple enough for toddlers, yet sophisticated enough for preschoolers.  In short, a winner!

Littlefield, Bruce. 2011. The Bedtime Book for Dogs. New York: Grand Central.
(Advance Reader Copy from LibraryThing)

Come. Sit. Stay.  I want to tell you a story.  I think you'll like it.  It's about a treat.

 A cute concept, this truly is a book to read to your dog. Because the words are so simple, perhaps a struggling reader might enjoy reading it aloud.  Who can resist reading to a dog?  And yes, I read it to my dog.  She loved it!

Dewdney, Anna. 2011. Llama Llama Home with Mama. New York: Viking.

Anna Dewdney's rhymes are pitch-perfect, her illustrations are expressive and funny, and she's darned nice, too! (She signed my book at Book Expo America) A perfect book for a sick day. Everyone loves Llama Llama!

Klassen, Jon. 2011. I Want My Hat Back. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.

Candlewick sure knows how to find 'em!  This is the first book that Jon Klassen has written and illustrated, and it's a winner.  Written in softly, color-coded  dialogue, Bear searches for his missing hat, stopping to ask the other denizens of the woods,
Have you seen my hat?
I saw a hat once.
It was blue and round.
My hat doesn't look like that.
Thank you anyway.

Have you seen my hat?
What is a hat?
Thank you anyway.
The surprise ending requires a sense of humor as a certain hat-filching rabbit may just end up slightly flattened. This book would make a perfect home-grown puppet show!  (Jon Klassen is another friendly author/illustrator who affably signed my book @ BEA- thanks!)

And yes, it's Nonfiction Monday, but unfortunately, I forgot to bring home a nonfiction book to review this weekend!  Please stop by anyway.  Today's Independence Day roundup is at Bookmuse.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Okay for Now

Schmidt, Gary. 2011. Okay for Now. New York: Clarion.

Fourteen-year-old, Doug Swieteck, has never had an easy life as his abusive father's drinking has carried his family in a steady plunge down the social scale.  Now it has landed Doug, his mother and older brother in a rattle-trap rental house in the Catskills that Doug terms "the dump."  He can only hope that his brother, injured in Vietnam, condition unknown, will be able to find them at their new location.  In the meantime, he tries to cheer his mother and steer clear of his father and wise-guy older brother.  There's not much to do in Marysville, but he manages to find the public library - a favorite haunt of Lil Spicer, the grocer's daughter.
And so what if I've never been in a library before?  So what?  I could have gone into any library I wanted to, if I wanted to.  But I never did, because I didn't want to.  You think she's been to Yankee Stadium like I have?  You think Joe Pepitone's jacket is hanging up in her basement?
If Doug's demeanor often has a hard-edge, it is only a thin veneer, built up to protect the fragile young man inside. Mr. Powell, the local librarian, however, finds a way to remove Doug's rough outer shell - the paintings of James Audubon. Doug has a talent for art.
When I came down into the cool of the library that afternoon, it was only three thirty and no one else was in the whole place as far as I could see, so I don't know what Mrs. Everything-Has-to-Be-Cataloged-This-Second Merriam was all fussed up about.  Along the line of my thumb there was a dark streak from the pencil.  I decided I wouldn't wash my hands for a while to see if I could make it last.
     By the way, in case you weren't paying attention or something, did you catch what Mr. Powell called me? "Young artist."  I bet you missed that.
That this is a well-written, touching, humorous book has been acknowledged across the kidlitosphere. (links to reviews below) There are only two main debates that I've seen about this book, and I'll posit my opinion on both.

  • The cover:  I don't like it.  I don't think it does justice to such a wonderfully written book.  It appears to me to be too childish.  If you tend to judge a book by its cover, read this book anyway.  You won't regret it.
*Spoiler alert*
  • The redemption of Mr. Swieteck: While the previously drunken and abusive Mr. Swieteck's sudden and whole-hearted attitude change does not necessarily ring true, it is not outside the realm of possibility.  Perhaps as Doug has found salvation through the art of James Audubon, Mr. Swieteck has found redemption in his family and the actions of his three sons, each rising above the meanness of his current situation.  In short, I liked the ending.  It is not a negative for a well-told story to have a happy ending.  The offer of hope and salvation through art, the wings of birds, the public library and the love of family is a strength, not a weakness.  A great book for 12 and up.

Author of the Newbery Honor book, The Wednesday Wars (a companion title to Okay for Now), Gary D. Schmidt has written another phenomenal book.

Best paragraph in the book?

Mr. Powell raised an eyebrow. "I'm a librarian," he said.  "I always know what I'm talking about.  Mr. Sweiteck, does this gray look right?"

Read the first chapter here!
Okay for Now Educator Guide

Other reviews @
The Fourth Musketeer
Fuse #8
Dog Ear

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 ...