Friday, September 30, 2011

Butterfly Tree: a review

At least once in a lifetime, we should be totally awed by the natural world – not by its destructive power, which so many have seen this year in the form of floods, hurricanes and fires; but by its beauty.

For me, it was a frigid late autumn evening about eight years ago.  It was the time of the annual Leonid meteor showers, and excellent visibility was in the forecast.  Excellent yes, but also in the wee hours of the morning on a bitterly cold night.  My husband agreed to be the advance scout.  We would prepare everything in advance – thermoses of hot coffee and cocoa, blankets, sleeping bags, and warm outerwear.  My husband would head up to the beach at 2am.  If the meteor showers were visible, he would come back to wake the kids and me. 

He came back and hurried us all to the beach where we parked our pickup truck facing west and sat in the bed of the truck gazing eastward.  The meteor showers were not just visible.  They were spectacular!  At least one meteor every second – zooming across the sky, long tails following behind.  As earth hurtled through the meteor storm for hours, we sat transfixed – unable to keep our eyes from the sky.  It was raining stars, and it was unspeakably beautiful!  The cold and darkness added to the atmosphere of quiet awe. Only a few hardy souls and families willing to spend the night on a Northeastern beach in November shared it.  When the sun began to rise in the east, we turned and faced the darker, western horizon to get a last look at what we knew was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

This type of singular experience, this awesome display of nature’s beauty is the topic of Butterfly Tree by Sandra Markle and illustrated by Leslie Wu. (2011 Peachtree, Atlanta, GA)  In Butterfly Tree, Markle recreates, as she explains in the Author’s Note, the day she
happened to be on the beach when a migrating flock of monarchs crossed the lake and settled for the night.  Their arrival first seemed spooky – then magical.  Being surrounded by these golden-orange butterflies and seeing a tree totally covered with fluttering, shimmering monarchs was unforgettable.
Together, Markle and Wu perfectly capture that magical, dusky twilight on Lake Erie.  Wu’s dreamy pastel illustrations in brisk autumnal hues fill out the wide, double-spread pages.  The story is told through the voice of a young girl, heading home with her dog and her mother.  The text rests lightly on the page, arranged in verses that add depth and measure to the vibrant images,
An explosion
of golden orange bits
fills the sunlight
streaming between branches.

Wow! I exclaim.  They’re not leaves.
They’re butterflies.

Monarch butterflies, Mom says.

There must be hundreds – thousands.
The tree looks like it is in motion.
All the butterflies are slowing fanning their wings.

We are in an orange cloud.
Though it contains an "Author’s Note," "Traveling Monarchs," "Books," "Websites," and a migration map, this is not a nonfiction book; however, it deserves to be included in scientific discussion with children because it captures what so many books do not – the sense of wonder about the natural world, the sense of wonder that has driven man to push past the limits of our collective knowledge.

Highly recommended for grades K-2.

Read Sandra Markle's post on her book!

Today is the first time that I'm participating in STEM Friday.
  The roundup is at Chapter Book of the Day.  Stop by and check it out!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Lightning Thief: The Graphic Novel and other Olympian news

Just how big is Rick Riordan in the publishing world?  Well, he doesn't have a mere web page, he has a world, The Online World of Rick Riordan.  And he needs an online world to contain all of his projects!

I've been meaning to share a few things about Rick Riordan since attending the American Library Association conference this summer. I am so impressed with Rick Riordan's commitment to his craft, his boundless imagination, his friendly personality, his circle of talented colleagues,  and most of all, his ever-increasing appeal to readers.  Like Midas, whatever he touches turns to gold.

Did you know that The Lightning Thief and subsequent books in the series are being released in graphic novel format?  I might have passed on this news, had I not attended a session in New Orleans that featured Rick Riordan in a panel discussion with his colleagues.  One of the panel members was Robert Venditti, who wrote the adaptation for the graphic novel.
Robert Venditti signing books @ ALA in NO
 Venditti explained both the challenges, and his method of condensing a beloved book into GN format. It was not a task that he undertook lightly, and it was clear to everyone in attendance that he put a great deal of effort into maintaining the spirit and content of the original book.  My co-worker and I spoke with him later about the process of working with Attila Futaki (artist) and Jose Villarrubia (colorist) in creating the adaptation to ensure that readers of the original book would not be disappointed. There is much more to the process than you might think.

The resulting book is a new way to experience the Percy Jackson saga (the rest of the series will follow!) and adheres to the story much better than the movie. And yes, Annabeth is blond, as she should be.  My only complaint with The Lightning Thief: The Graphic Novel (2010 Disney Hyperion) is  the font color for otherworldly messages.  I found it difficult to read, but perhaps I'm just getting old!

The Lost Hero, the first book in the Heroes of Olympus series, flew off the shelf all summer! Can't wait for the second installment, Son of Neptune?  Well, here's a teaser for you -

Read the first chapter here or
you can download an mp3 file of the first audiobook chapter here!

(It will be interesting to see how the issue of narration is reconciled.  So many listeners loved Jesse Bernstein, the narrator of the original Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.  Joshua Swanson narrated The Lost Hero, which is told in first person narration from varying points of view. Swanson portrayed all of the characters. When Percy re-enters the story in Son of Neptune, will listeners pine for the voice of Jesse Bernstein?  We'll find out next month.)

And did you know that October 4-11 is Olympian Week? Rick Riordan will be touring the country in support of his upcoming book. The first printing of The Son of Neptune will be three million copies!  Click the link to see if he'll be in a city near you!

And then, there's the Kane Chronicles - the series based on Egyptian mythology. It's no wonder that Rick Riordan needs an "online world!"  According to Rick Riordan, this popular series should wrap up after three books.  We'll see what happens next.

The 39 Clues, originally planned to end with book ten, finished up with book 11, Vespers Rising, written in part by Rick Riordan and detailing the origin of the clue hunt. I'm almost finished with this one in audiobook format (my new commute is too short for quality listening), but it sets the stage for the new Cahill vs. Vespers series. The Medusa Plot (book 1) by Gordon Korman was released last month. And the Cahill clan lived on!

And finally, in New Orleans, Riordan mentioned that he is not ruling out a foray into Norse mythology.  Let's keep our fingers crossed!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Children's book of Mythical Beasts and Magical Monsters: a review

Dorling Kindersley, Inc. 2011. Children's Book of Mythical Beasts and Magical Monsters: An introduction to fascinating myths and legends from around the world. New York: DK.

Thanks to the prolific writer, Rick Riordan,  kids cannot get enough of mythical beasts and magical monsters.  DK's new book should give them all the background information they need to keep up with Rick Riordan or their favorite fantasy writers.

This book is much more than a mythology book, however.  It is divided into three loosely organized sections, Nature and Nation, Magic and Mayhem, and Quests and Battles.  Each section contains approximately fifteen to thirty different entries covering civilizations from across the globe and spanning all of recorded history.

Nature and Nation features creation and pourquoi stories,  Magic and Mayhem - tall tales, legends, legendary creatures and trickster tales. Quests and Battles is self-explanatory - dragons, Robin Hood, El Dorado, Durga, the Hindu warrior goddess and more.  There are four "types" of pages with the book, each type marked with a color-coded symbol,

  • Around the World: Wonder at the similarities and common elements in myths from around the world
  • Who's Who: Find out about the relationships between gods of certain cultures and characters that feature in famous legends
  • Telling the Tale: Discover the excitement and drama of myths that have been passed down from generation to generation.
  • Character Up Close: Take a close-up look at mythological characters, how they are depicted, their role and their adventures.
With a table of contents, usage guide, extensive index, glossary, and acknowledgments for the hundreds of illustrations from museums and libraries, this is more of a reference book than a browsing book, however, its appealing layout and busy pages will likely attract browsers as well.  The Children's Book of Mythical Beasts and Magical Monsters can easily serve as a starting point for school reports. A well-balanced and informative book.

This images of this cover found on the web are not entirely accurate.  The actual colors are much brighter and more garish than portrayed - jarring, to be sure, but most certainly eye-catching!  Kids will pick this one up.

Today's Nonfiction Monday is at True Tales & A Cherry on Top, the blog of writer Jeanne Walker Harvey, who has a new nonfiction book on shelves now:
 Please stop by.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Picture Book Roundup - kid pleasers!

Cars, pirates and caterpillars - how can you miss?
Stein, Peter. 2011. Cars Galore. Ill. by Bob Staake. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.

With Seussical rhymes,
Black car, green car,
nice car, mean car.
Near car, far car.
Whoa! Bizarre car!
Peter Stein writes about one of children’s favorite topics – cars. In rhyme reminiscent of The Foot Book (which, BTW, I think I might know by heart!) this should be a genuine crowd pleaser. Bob Staake’s digitally-created illustrations are all double-spreads. His often long-necked, pointy nosed, angular humans are humorously squeezed into improbable conveyances that travel along whimsical and scenic blacktop roads set against a backdrop of white space. Kids will love it.

Check out Bob Staake's occasional newsletter on The Sporadic Bob.
Wolfe, Myra. 2011. Charlotte Jane Battles Bedtime. Ill. by Maria Monescillo. New York: Harcourt.
"Charlotte Jane the Hearty came howling into the world with the sunrise” … "finer than a ship full of jewels,” and with “formidable oomph.”
Under the loving and watchful eyes of her pirate parents, young Charlotte is a daring little doubloon. At least she was, until she stays up all night and loses her oomph; and then, the search is on! With smart writing that offers more than just Pirate-talk, Wolfe spins a simple, humorous yarn. Monescillo’s digitally retouched and textured watercolor illustrations are crisp, colorful and modern.
Martin, Bill Jr. 2011. Ten Little Caterpillars. Ill. by Lois Ehlert. New York: Beach Lane.

Yes, you’ve probably got enough caterpillar to butterfly books (even Ehlert’s own books), but how can you resist the combination of Bill Martin Jr. and Lois Ehlert? A rhyming, counting, nature, butterfly book illustrated in Ehlert’s signature watercolor, cut-paper collage style. Martin avoids triteness by varying the rhyme pattern to offer a final poetic metamorphosis equal to the caterpillar’s natural one.

That's it for tonight.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Julie of the Wolves - a free book giveaway

On contests and giveaways and such:

If you're a regular reader of Shelf-employed, you'll know that I've never had a contest.  Whenever I receive free books from authors or publishers, I prefer to personally put them in the hands of young readers, fitting each book to the proper reader.

However, today I'm making an exception because of an interesting and somewhat non-tangible offer from Open Road Media of a copy of the Newbery Award winning, Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George.

Earlier in the summer, I downloaded, read, and reviewed Open Road's enhanced digital version of the classic, Mr. Popper's Penguins (provided to me by NetGalley).  You may read that review here.  In a nutshell, Open Road offers digital downloads of some new, but primarily older, well-known titles, that have been repackaged digitally with additional associated content, i.e., photos, video, drawings.

Open Road Media has been kind enough to supply me with a free e-book download of Jean Craighead George's Newbery-winning book, Julie of the Wolves, first published in 1972. In addition to the wonderful survival story of a young Eskimo girl, this new digital edition "features an illustrated biography of Jean Craighead George, including rare photos from the author’s personal collection."

If you have an e-reader and would like to win a digital copy of this book , please leave a comment regarding the wonderfully talented Jean Craighead George (through My Side of the Mountain, she turned my son into a reader!), the Newbery-winning Julie of the Wolves, or new e-book publisher, Open Road Media.  I will use Randomizer to choose the winner this weekend.

I hope that some of you will take advantage of this opportunity.  Thanks and good luck.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Self-Portrait with Seven Fingers: The Life of Marc Chagall in Verse - a review

Lewis, J. Patrick and Jane Yolen. 2011. Self Portrait with Seven Fingers: The Life of Marc Chagall in Verse. Mankato, MN: Creative Editions.

Self-Portrait with Seven Fingers pairs the art of Marc Chagall with the talent of writers, Jane Yolen and Patrick L. Lewis, for a result that is illuminating in every sense of the word.

"There's never been anybody since [Pierre-Auguste] Renoir who has the feeling for light that Chagall has," Pablo Picasso once said. "[W]hen [Henri] Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what color really is."  Chagall himself wrote that "there is a single color ... which provides the meaning of life and art.  It is the color of love."
 Such is the praise that Chagall received from his contemporaries and is related in Self-Portrait. Marc Chagall's use of color and light makes his work particularly appealing to children.  Chagall's art is the ingredient from which dreams may be made; and dreams and colors are things that children know intimately. But aside from a child's natural attraction to Chagall's colorful paintings on a purely visceral level, Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen make Chagall's art accessible through words, poetry, history, and examination. 

Paintings or works are presented in roughly chronological order, each chosen to represent a period in Chagall's life.  Each is paired with a poem by Yolen or Lewis, which gives context and definition to both the artwork and Chagall's life.  Opposite "My Fiancee in Black Gloves," Yolen writes, borrowing words from Chagall's first wife, Bella Rosenfeld.

"I was surprised at his eyes,
they were so blue as the sky,
and oblong, like almonds,"
Bella writes, and having written,
falls in love, she so young and rich,
and he but a poor apprentice,
working for a Russian painter
he will one day eclipse,
a sun over Bakst's pale moon.
Did she know how he would rise
like an angel into the sky
on that first day they met,
having tea at Teja's house,
or the next time on the bridge
when he and Teja walked the dog,
and Marc's curly hair spilling
out from under his hat.
Or did she just fall in love
with the surprise of his blue eyes?
Each poem is accompanied by a shaded box, offering facts about each particular period in Chagall's life, including his home, marriage, paintings, colleagues, friends, and the effects of war, politics and circumstances on his very existence and his work. 

Yolen's poetic additions to Self-Portrait with Seven Fingers ("with seven fingers" is a Yiddish phrase meaning "done well" or "adroitly done") are free-form in nature when compared with Lewis' more measured and often rhyming verse, however, all flow seamlessly and complement Chagall's work, sometimes inviting deeper exploration of the painting - offering almost a "seek-and find" challenge to the reader,


 From "I and the Village"
I hailed a milkmaid standing on her head
I saw a cow a-milking in a cow's head
I watched a peasant off to canvas tillage
I met the very universe in a village.
I spied a blossom sprig, a tree of life
I loved Vitebsk in glory and in strife
I scanned a multitude of images, with mirror
I etched a dream and strove to make it clearer
I solved the riddle imagined by a child
I sketched a field, geometry gone wild
I knew myself, white lips, my face in green
I drew the cow's contentment in between.

 Rounding out this exquisite book are photographs of Chagall, footnotes explaining the occassional Yiddish word or unfamiliar name, a table of contents, and source list.

Any art teacher introducing Marc Chagall without the benefit of this book is missing a great opportunity!

Highly recommended.

Today's Nonfiction Monday is at Tales from the Rushmore Kid.  Stop by.

Friday, September 16, 2011

STEM Friday

There a new meme in the kidlit blogosphere and it's S.T.E.M. Friday
(Science. Technology. Engineering. Mathematics.) 
Although I won't be participating each week, if you're a teacher, you'll definitely want to check out the weekly gathering of STEM Friday bloggers.  I'll be hosting the group on October 14, and the rest of the roundup may be found here
The STEM Friday group is just getting started and, given the fact that the US trails other countries in math and science education, this new group deserves some attention.

Today's roundup may be found at Archimedes Notebook

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Picture Book Roundup - Toddler style

The perfect combination of simple text and engaging illustrations for toddlers is more elusive than it would seem.  I am in the midst of a weekly toddler storytime series, and thought it would be fun to highlight toddler-friendly books today - one new and one old, both by prolific writers.

First up - Cynthia Rylant's newest series, Brownie & Pearl.  Although today I used Brownie & Pearl Step Out, I'll feature her latest, Brownie & Pearl Grab a Bite.
  • Rylant, Cynthia. 2011. Brownie & Pearl Grab a Bite. Ill. by Brian Biggs. New York: Beach Lane.
 Listed by the publisher as appropriate for ages 3-5, this title is nonetheless suited for toddlers as well.  Simple words and bright illustrations make this a perfect series for little listeners.  Grab a Bite is an especially good choice because everyone likes to eat!

Personally, I love that Brownie eats string cheese (enjoying the peeling as much as the eating) and that she bites her Saltines into shapes.

Since I was loosely basing my storytime on the number two, I used an older title that we had in our storytime collection.  I'd never used this board book before (we have multiple copies so that each child and caregiver can follow along in their own copy), but I certainly will again!  Toddler Two is by the very kind and friendly, Anastasia Suen - author, teacher, consultant, and organizer of our weekly Nonfiction Monday roundups.

The simple words, beautifully detailed felt art, and collection of commonplace items (tricycle, dog, ball, sandbox) make this a picture-perfect picture book for sharing with toddlers.

Q: Can it be that Cynthia Rylant doesn't have a website? 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Big Wig: A Little History of Hair

Krull, Kathleen. 2011. Big Wig: A little history of hair. Ill. by Peter Malone. New York: Arthur A. Levine.

From prehistoric times in Africa to England, 2007, Kathleen Krull presents a paragraph on many hair-related milestones in the history of the world,

2,400 Years Ago, Greece
Rubbing goat pee on his head.  That's how the wise philosopher Aristotle thinks he will cure his baldness.  But Hippocrates, known as the Father of Medicine, prefers his own brews, which include opium, wine, green olive oil, horseradish, and pigeon poop.

Each event is featured on a single or double spread page, accompanied by the amusingly detailed watercolors of Peter Malone. (Dorothy Hamill skating in front of an audience of Dorothy Hamill look-alikes; Cleopatra weaving horse teeth and roasted mice into Caesar's receding locks; a blue-faced, punk Celt, sporting a kilt and white spiked hair, they're all here in Big Wig)

The reader learns a bit of history while enjoying the ridiculousness that is mankind's never-ending obsession with hair.

Back matter includes a source list, and "Hair Extensions," which expands on each of the periods introduced in the book.  (Who knew that our current term for the extra bathroom, "powder room," came from 1624, France? Not me.)
As wig styles developed after Louis XIII, white became the favorite color.  The wealthy had their servants powder their wigs by blowing wheat flour with a bellows from the fireplace.  With flour going every which way, the French invented a new room - a powder room ... so they would have a place to powder without worrying about the mess.
The only milestone that I found missing in Big Wig was the wildly popular and risque "bobbed" haircut of the 1920s flapper girls.
Regardless of whether she chooses to present facts with humor or seriousness, Kathleen Krull always delivers education with entertainment.

Big Wig: A (highly styled) Little History of Hair. Comb your shelves for it today!

(sorry, couldn't resist the hair buns puns!)

Another review @ The Fourth Musketeer
Read BWI's recent interview with Kathleen Krull.

Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is at Wrapped in Foil.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Wonderstruck: a review

Selznick, Brian. 2011. Wonderstruck.  New York: Scholastic.
 (Advance Reader Copy)

During the course of reading Wonderstruck, I misplaced the book.  When I asked my family if anyone had seen it, my daughter answered, "Which book?  The one with two different covers?"  I hadn't thought of it that way, but yes, the book with two different covers.
*minor spoiler alert*
(though I'm not giving any more away than Brian Selznick does in his Wonderstruck video - see below)

Wonderstruck's cover is a preview of its contents - two stories, two eras, two modes of storytelling. One would think that after his ground-breaking, Caldecott Winner, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick could not have any more surprises up his sleeve, but  in Wonderstruck, he again inspires us with this singular story of two mysterious and wonder-filled journeys.

Ben's story begins in Gunflint Lake, Minnesota, in June, 1977; Rose's, in Hoboken, New Jersey, 1927.  Though 50 years divide their stories, the children embark on parallel journeys fraught with uncertainty and risk, and guided by purpose - a need to know.  Ben's story is told in third person prose, while Rose's is told in Selznick's incredibly detailed, unmistakable pencil drawings.  The two stories are woven together, sometimes almost touching, other times gathering distance until at last, in a single drawing, with a simple turn of the page, Selznick seamlessly binds the two stories together, where they stay, until Wonderstruck's conclusion.

It is clear that Selznick's fascination with silent film and early cinema did not end with Hugo Cabret.  Silent film is featured in Wonderstruck, not in the same capacity as in Hugo, but rather as a vehicle for introducing deaf culture. It is museums, not film or mechanics, that take center stage in Wonderstruck.  Both Rose and Ben are seeking something, and both find themselves, a half century apart, at the same location, the American Museum of Natural History, where they are fascinated by museum dioramas and early museum collections, or "cabinets of wonder."

Readers will be fascinated as well, by Wonderstruck's story, artwork, and the offered glimpse into another time and another culture.
A page from Brian Selznick's, Wonderstruck. © 2011
Rose can be seen ducking behind a "cabinet of wonders."

This drawing (not from Selznick's book) of an early "wonder room"
 or "curiosity cabinet," comes from the Smithsonian Institution's collection.
 It appeared in a 1599 book entitled, Dell'historia Naturale by Ferrante Imperato.
I've tried to be purposefully vague, because I enjoyed reading Wonderstruck with no preconceived notion or direction, trustingly following wherever it led. If you'd like more details, read another more revealing review @ Jen Robinson's Book Page.  And by all means, watch Brian Selznick's video.

I hope you enjoy Wonderstruck as much as I did.  It's due on shelves next week.  And remember, Hugo, the movie inspired by The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and directed by Martin Scorsese, is due in theaters in November. (Trailer here) Much to look forward to.

I'm also blogging at ALSC today.  If you've the time, hop over.

Monday, September 5, 2011

America is Under Attack: A review

Brown, Don. 2011. America is under Attack: September 11, 2001: The day the towers fell. New York: Roaring Brook Press.

It's difficult to believe that the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is almost upon us, and there are now legions of schoolchildren across our country that have no recollection of that day.  With his customary exactitude, employing direct quotes when appropriate, and featuring a bibliography, source notes, and author's notes, Don Brown has made this horrific day in American history accessible to children of elementary school age.

The writing is simple and factual, without embellishment and is accompanied by Brown's pen and watercolor illustrations which are sufficiently vague to mask the absolute horror of the day (faces are often obscured and the terrorists are not depicted), yet with enough detail and gravity to convey the mood of determination despite desperation.

Several stories of individual exploits or heroism are woven into the narrative.  Most striking is the story of survivor Chris Young.  Early in the book, we read that

in the North Tower, another elevator sat stalled and locked closed at the lobby.  It had come to a halt when the plane struck.  Chris Young, its lone occupant, knew nothing of the catastrophe around him.  Firefighters going up couldn't hear his shouts and marched past him, unaware of his predicament.
Near the story's conclusion, the reader is confronted with an eerie, two-page spread in shades of yellowed grays.  A man in a suit is dwarfed by an enormous space littered with debris,

In the North Tower lobby, the doors of a stalled elevator opened. The collapse of the South Tower had cut the power to the elevator's door locks.  From the car emerged Chris Young, the trapped passenger who'd been overlooked by rescue workers.  Earlier he had boarded the elevator from a polished, modern lobby.  Now he shuffled through clouds of dust, over rubble and debris. 


The use of the word "overlooked," is somewhat unfortunate in this case, as it implies negligence, however, the story of Chris Young completely captures the surreal nature of September 11, 2011.

America is Under Attack is Volume Four in the Actual Times series, which feature the events of a particular day and cover art mimicking a newspaper masthead.

Like Brown's earlier book on the Titanic, All Station Distress! or Let it Begin Here!, which retells the start of the American Revolution, Don Brown has once again made history readable and accessible to children in the elementary school grades.

For teen readers seeking information on the September 11, attacks, I highly recommend The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon (Hill and Wang, 2006), with a foreword by 9/11 Commission Chair, Thomas H. Keane.
For young listeners, Carmen Agra Deedy's, 14 Cows for America (Peachtree 2009), is the best book I have seen on the topic.

Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is at Playing by the Book. Be sure to stop by.

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 ...