Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Picture Book Roundup - Best of 2011

Here they are - my favorite fiction picture books of 2011!
(an eclectic mix, to be sure)

If I have reviewed the book, the title is linked to the review.  
My top three choices
(I couldn't pick just one!)

  • Ray, Mary Lyn and Marla Frazee. 2011. Stars. New York: Beach Lane.

  • Henkes, Kevin. 2011. Little White Rabbit. New York: Greenwillow.   

  • Lyon, George Ella. 2011. All the Water in the World. New York: Atheneum.

  • Also making my list of favorites (in no particular order) are:

  • DeKockere, Geert. 2011. Willy. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. 

  • Milgrim, David. 2011. Eddie Gets Ready for School. New York: Cartwheel (Scholastic). 

  • Gibbs, Edward. 2011. I Spy with my Little Eye. Somerville, MA: Templar. (Candlewick)

  • Crum, Shutta. 2011. Mine! Ill. by Patrice Barton. New York: Knopf.  

  • Shea, Susan A. 2011. Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow? Maplewood, NJ: Blue Apple.  

  • Becker, Bonny. 2011. The Sniffles for Bear. Ill. by Kady MacDonald Denton. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.

  •  Are any of these your favorites?
    My other lists will be coming soon. Stay tuned ...

    Thursday, November 24, 2011

    Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever - a review

    Kinney, Jeff. 2011 Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever. New York: Abrams.

    The wait is over.  Cabin Fever has finally arrived!

    I've seen a lot of movies where a kid my age finds out he's got magical powers and then gets invited to go away to some special school.  Well, if I've got an invitation coming, now would be the PERFECT time to get it.
    A big snowstorm has Mrs. Heffley and the boys snowed in.  Greg is fearful that the police will be coming for him at any minute (it wasn't really vandalism - it just looks that way), Manny's reprogrammed the parental controls so that no one can watch any programs except his favorites, the basement's flooded and Rodrick moves into Greg's room, Greg has to care for Manny since Mom's glasses are broken (oops!),  Dad's stuck in a hotel (cue the bubble bath, robe, slippers, and cable TV), and the power's out.  Just a typical month in Greg Heffley's diary. Amidst the laughter, Jeff Kinney coaxes out a spirit of community, of giving, of Christmas, and family togetherness - whether Greg Heffley likes it or not.

    Another great addition to the Wimpy Kid series!

    One of the reasons I find the Wimpy Kid books so funny is that for all intents and purposes, I am Greg Heffley's mom (although my eyesight's better).  I see myself in her character and I laugh and I'm thankful that my children are turning out OK in spite of me. ;)  Hoping you have something to be thankful for, too.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    And thanks to Abrams books for my review copy.

    Monday, November 21, 2011

    1st and 10: Top Ten Lists of Everything in Football - a review

    Gramling, Gary, Christina M. Tapper, and Paul Ulane. 2011. Sports Illustrated Kids 1st and 10: Top Ten Lists of Everything in Football. New York: Time.

    Here are thirty-six "top ten" lists of some of football's great achievers (touchdown leaders), achievements (Super Bowls), and curiosities (wackiest weather, nicknames, quotes, etc.)

    Do you know the top ten undrafted players? The top ten biggest players? Comeback games? Famous quotes?  Craziest hairstyles? (yes, Troy Polamalu is #1)  You'll know them all after reading 1st and 10.

    The large size (over 11" square), makes this the perfect browsing book for football season.  Books of this sort often have a relatively short shelf life, as players retire and records are broken; so if you've got a copy of this book in your library, put it out on display and start it moving!

    I'm not a football fan, but I'm a pretty good judge of what kids will check out of the library. Football fans are sure to find something to interest them in this 95-page volume filled with photos.

    In light of the recent football scandals at two universities,  it should be mentioned that 1st and 10 features only professional teams.

    Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is at Books Together.

    Friday, November 18, 2011

    Just a Second: A different way to look at time - a review

    Jenkins, Steve. 2011. Just a Second: A different way to look at time. New York: Houghton Mifflin.

    What can happen in a second?
    Earth advances 18 1/2 miles (30 kilometers) in its orbit around the sun.
    What can happen in a day?
    People use the equivalent of 200 billion sheets of letter-size paper.
    In a year?
    A termite queen will lay almost 3,000,000 eggs.
    With his trademark illustrative style, customary accuracy, and imaginative perspective, Steve Jenkins shows us the concept of time through a variety of aspects.  From the briefest second in which a cheetah can sprint 100 feet, to the unfathomable span of 2,000,000,000 years that it would take a spacecraft to traverse our galaxy, Jenkins offers illustrated facts, charts and graphs that are sure to interest kids of all ages. Facts are presented in white text on colorful pages, accompanied by cut paper illustrations.For teachers, it is a cross-curricular treasure trove. Highly recommended.

    Included are books for additional reading and a note about the use of credible estimations for certain facts (e.g., the number of babies born each day).

    Other reviews @:

    This week's STEM Friday roundup is at Dig This Well.

    Tuesday, November 15, 2011

    13 Gifts - a review

    Mass, Wendy. 2011. 13 Gifts. New York: Scholastic.

     Earlier in the year, I listened to 11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass. (Review here).  At the time, I didn't realize that it was the first in a series, and while I enjoyed it, I didn't plan to read any follow up titles.  So I passed on Finally, and planned to give away my ARC of 13 Gifts. Instead, I opened it to read a few pages (it is a Wendy Mass book, after all), found the following passage, and was hooked:

         Since the telegram arrived, Mom's been really distracted. She's even stopped asking if I've finished my homework or made any new friends (usually her two favorite topics). Whenever I try to strike up a conversation, she mumbles something and wanders out of the room. This morning I found her keys in the freezer next to the ice cream sandwiches.
         Her normal approach to mothering has always been to smother and overprotect. While I was still in my crib she taught me that talking to strangers would cause my tongue to turn green. (I believed this until I was eight.) I've never been allowed to sleep over at anyone's house, and my cell phone has a GPS tracker in it that links up to her computer. Mom promised me she'd only activate the tracker if I went missing, but when I stopped to buy gum after school last month, she texted me to get a quart of milk.  Coincidence?  I think not.

    In a strange turn of events, Tara's overprotective mother and her dad (the devoted husband), have decided to leave Tara with relatives in Willow Falls while they travel to Madagascar, where Mrs. Brennan will be studying the mating habits of lemurs.  Tara barely knows her relatives, and is bewildered by her mother's ironclad decision; but she soon finds out that this may be the least bewildering thing she encounters during her strange summer in Willow Falls.

    Due to the loss of her iPod and cash,Tara becomes beholden to a mysterious, old woman named Angelina (who features prominently in the two earlier books).  Angelina operates a curiosity shop, which curiously, cannot be seen by all of Willow Falls' inhabitants. Angelina tasks Tara with finding thirteen items before her 13th birthday, and Tara, normally a loner, is forced to seek the help of the strangely cooperative kids of Willow Falls.

    In Willow Falls, everything happens for a reason, and most reasons are unapparent.  In her search for the items on Angelina's quirky list, Tara finds much more than duck canes, frayed shawls, and misprinted books!  But all the mysteries of Willow Falls and its families, are not revealed in 13 Gifts.  Clearly, there are more to come.

    A melding of realistic fiction and fantasy, 13 Gifts is a humorous coming-of-age story, but it's part of a much broader picture of a magical small town that, in conjunction with its oldest resident, Angelina, promotes harmony and healing - but not without a price. A fun and unconventional book.

    A word of advice: it's best to read these books in order. Normally, it's fairly easy to pick up a series in midstream, but I often found myself wishing that I had read Finally, the second book in the birthday series. Things would have been a bit clearer (or at least as clear as they can be in the magical town of Willow Falls).

    If you're a Wendy Mass fan and want to keep up with the latest book (and movie!) news, check out her blog, Wendy's Blog.  Did you know that Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life is now a movie?  I didn't!

    Wednesday, November 9, 2011

    Picture book roundup - Dynamic Duos

    Here are two great new picture books with dynamic author/illustrator pairings.  Enjoy!

    • Ray, Mary Lyn and Marla Frazee. 2011. Stars. New York: Beach Lane.
    Stars combines childlike simplicity with the grace of a poet. As children face the wide expanse of the universe, they are not afraid.  Instead, they exhibit a sense of quiet, contemplative wonder.

    The illustrations, “rendered in graphite, gouache, and gel pen,” are both whimsical and philosophical. When shown outdoors, children are the focal point of the illustrations - sitting pensively in the seat of swing, blowing dandelion seeds to the wind, holding a basket aloft to a star-studded sky; yet they are small and insignificant amidst the vastness of the world.
    It may help to have on pajamas.
    Then you look up. Almost always you will find one. And another, and another, and another.
    And if sometimes you can’t see them, they’re still there.
    (The font was hand-lettered by Marla Frazee.)

    One of the year’s best picture books. A stellar collaboration! 

    Read a graphic excerpt here.

    (And keep this one in mind for next year’s collaborative summer reading theme, Dream Big.)

    • Becker, Bonny. 2011. The Sniffles for Bear.  Ill. by Kady MacDonald Denton. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.

    Rarely do follow-up picture books measure up to the success of the original, but The Sniffles for Bear, the fourth in this wonderfully charming series, is nearly as delightful as the original!  It is by far the best of the Bear and Mouse sequels.

    Bear is sick, and the ever-cheerful, ever-helpful, bright-eyed Mouse is trying his best to comfort the ailing bear, who is decidedly unwilling to be comforted.

    “This is impossible, intolerable – “Bear started to roar.
    But he was too weak.  “Look!” Bear wheezed.  “Look how my paw is trembling. You must help me to my bed.”
    And indeed, Mouse was most helpful.
    (picture Mouse, trudging backwards up the banister, pulling on the finger of Bear who is dramatically and theatrically feigning an inability to mount the stairs on his own)

    Bear is at his funniest when his mood is at its darkest.  But of course, when Mouse becomes ill, his sour mood will turn to one of concern.  They are, after all, the best of friends.

    This may be a well-used plot, but Becker and Denton play it to perfection.

    Monday, November 7, 2011

    Franklin and Winston: A Christmas That Changed the World - a review

    Wood, Douglas. 2011. Franklin and Winston: A Christmas That Changed the World. Ill. by Barry Moser. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.

    It was the winter of 1941.  The valiant battleship HMS Duke of York struggled against the screaming winds and forty-foot waves of a mighty December gale.  On board, Winston S. Churchill, prime minister of Great Britain, calmly chomped his ever-present cigar as he strolled the pitching decks.  He was going to meet the president of the United States.  He was going to spend Christmas at the White House.  He would not be stopped by a mere storm.  He would not be stopped by a hurricane.
    The focus of Wood's book is this single visit by Churchill to the White House following the early December attack on Pearl Harbor.  Although some background and biographical information is included to set the scene for young readers, Franklin and Winston is, in essence, a chronicle of the historic December 1941 visit.  Transportation (Churchill was too impatient to travel by land from his arrival point in Chesapeake Bay and was flown to Washington, D.C.), activities (Churchill explored the White House gardens in one-piece overalls),  press conferences, dining arrangements and meetings are fully detailed to give the reader a flavor of the era, and an understanding of the relationship between the two men and of their role in world politics.

    Most importantly, the reader gains the insight that although these were powerful men deciding a course of action in dire circumstances, they were not larger than life, but full of life. They were friends, and they were very human - with the quirks and frailties one might find in any human being.  Roosevelt and Churchill overcame personal obstacles, and with a common cause and a fast friendship, they formed the bonds and the strategy needed to defeat the Axis powers in WWII.

    Yet still, while the fate of the world was at stake, the two men took time to celebrate the Christmas holiday, giving heartfelt speeches at the lighting of the National Christmas Tree.  The included speeches are excerpted and edited by the author with great care to portray both the gravity of the world's situation and the context in which Roosevelt and Churchill were deciding its fate,

    "I spend this anniversary and festival far from my country, far from my family, yet I cannot truthfully say that I feel far from home. . . . We may cast aside, for this night at least, the cares and dangers which beset us, and make for the children and evening of happiness in a world of storm. . . . Let the children have their night of fun and laughter.  Let the gifts of Father Christmas delight their play. . . . In God's mercy, a happy Christmas to you all."
    Moser's full-page watercolor illustrations face pages of black text on a white background. Moser's paintings are rich in the simpler, more somber colors of the era - dark suits, night skies, a bathroom featuring white tiles, towels and fixtures, simply colored maps, military aircraft. But while the colors and details are evocative of a past time, the faces of Churchill and Roosevelt express life - mirth, joy, and gravity, all within the framework of the timeworn faces of real men, men of a different age who were respected for their actions - discolored teeth, bulbous nose, wrinkles, glasses and all.

    Smaller illustrations appear with the text on many pages, and add visual details to the story - a view of the Foundry Methodist Church, the radio on which Roosevelt listened to Churchill's address to Congress, an adorned napkin from dinner with Mrs. Roosevelt.

    Contains an Afterword (listing accomplishments of the Christmas 1941 meetings), Author's Note, and Bibliography.

    Chronological and factual, Franklin and Winston: A Christmas that Changed the World, is moving as well.  Highly recommended.

    You can preview the book at the author's website.

    Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup may be found at Charlotte's Library.

    Thursday, November 3, 2011

    Fashion Kitty's got a lot (more) to say

    Harper, Charise Mericle. 2011. Fashion Kitty and the B.O.Y.S. (Ball of Yellow String). New York: Disney Hyperion.

    Fashion Kitty and the B.O.Y.S. (Ball of Yellow String) marks a change in the successful Fashion Kitty series. Still aimed squarely at the reluctant reader, with simple vocabulary and a fast-moving story, the newest book is a foray into the illustrated chapter book format.

    Fashion Kitty's latest adventure unfolds in twenty-six short (2 -3 page) chapters, with abundant illustrations and panel cartoons in several colors.  Now firmly entrenched in her role as a masked superhero, Kiki Kittie is learning a few of the unpleasantries that come with being a superhero. Hardest of all is keeping her identity secret, and mean Leon Lambaster III is about to start trouble in Chapter 6 with

    The Six Words That Started it All
    "I am gonna catch Fashion Kitty."
    Throw in some marshmallows, some t-shirts, a secret club (Catch Fashion Kitty Club, or CFKC), and a slippery invention called "evaporating knot string," and you've got everything you need for a fashion-based superhero adventure!

    The book's small size matches the earlier GN editions, however, with text and panels competing for the same space, both suffer in the size department. Harper's humorous illustrations deserve a larger venue, and a larger font size might be easier on the struggling reader.

    If Fashion Kitty and the B.O.Y.S. signals the end of Fashion Kitty in graphic novel format, it could be a zero sum game - readers eager for more Fashion Kitty may be pleased with the new illustrated novel format, but fans of the graphic novel series may be disappointed. If this is indeed the future for Fashion Kitty, all readers may benefit from a larger size.

    Glossy pages with Creative Ideas for Crafty Kitties (including marshmallow sculpture building) follow the story.

    Look for Fashion Kitty's little sister, Lana Kitty, starring in her own picture book, The Best Birthday Ever.

    Check out Charise Mericle Harper's website.  There's a Fashion Kitty page.

    For the record, I received this free review copy of Fashion Kitty along with a valuable and enticing gift - one that I could smell even before I opened the package - a bag of marshmallows and a box of stick pretzels (for building my own marshmallow statue, I presume)!  A very clever promotion that would double as a fun book discussion activity!

    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 ...