Thursday, May 31, 2012

Picture Book Roundup - May edition

So many great picture books have passed my desk lately.  Here are a few:

  • Joose, Barbara. 2012. Old Robert and the Sea-Silly Cats. Ill. by Jan Jutte. New York: Philomel.

Each night, Old Robert counts "his regular things in their regular place"

Clean socks
a clock
my ship in the slip at the dock.
One dish
one spoon
a slice of the silver moon.
Things are always the same until the night a cat asks to come in.  There was no room for a cat on Old Robert's boat,

And yet ...
        and yet ...
               Old Robert said yes ...
... and the cat came in.

This is a delightfully, quirky story about Old Robert, his boat, and how one small decision can change a life (or two, or three, or ...).  Illustrations by the Netherlands' Jan Jutte, give Old Robert and the Sea-Silly Cats a salty and silly air reminiscent of old comics (think Popeye or original Tin Tin) touched with whimsy.  Comforting, repetitive refrains make this a great read aloud. 

There is just something irresistible about Old Robert and the Sea-Silly Cats.

And there's apparently a song available, too,  "Old Roberts Jig" by the Happy Racers.

  • Elya, Susan Middleton. 2012. Fire! ¡Fuego! Brave Bomberos. Ill. by Dan Santat. New York: Bloomsbury.

My husband has had a long and wonderful career in the fire department, so I'll admit some partiality to firefighter books, even ones that feature firefighters rescuing cats from trees.  For the record, professional firefighters don't rescue cats from trees. They will, however, rescue animals from fires, and in Fire! ¡Fuego! Brave Bomberos, a house fire traps a poor kitty on an upper floor,

Climbing up la escalera,
Coaxed by food in small pedazos,
kitten jumps to outstretched brazos.
See how easy that was?  You're speaking Spanish. Even without the brightly colored double spread illustration of a firefighter on a ladder, hand extended with cat treats, you knew what it meant, and kids will too!  The story rhymes, the meter's fine, and if you need help with pronunciation, it's all in the Glossary.  All bias aside, I like it!

  • Kohuth, Jane. 2012. Duck Sock Hop. Ill. by Jane Porter. New York: Penguin. 

I've been waiting to see this one, ever since I saw it on Fuse #8's Librarian Preview.  As usual, Betsy Bird knows her stuff. 

Warm up, wiggle,
stretch your beak.
Duck Sock Hop
comes once a week.
Short, fun, and simple with colorful illustrations surrounded by white space with minimal text on each page.  Perfect for storytime, for toddlers, for reading aloud.

And another song!  This one comes with the free "Duck Sock Hop Bop," composed by Jeremy Stepansky, the author's cousin.  I'm always game for singing, so I'll give it a try.  Thankfully, children are such kind audiences.

And last but not least, a little beauty of a book,

  • Isadora, Rachel. 2012. Bea at Ballet. New York: Penguin.
Rachel Isadora's simple words are accompanied by pen and pencil sketches of an adorable mix of multicultural children.  All are highlighted by colorful clothing painted in oils. Another perfect book for very young listeners.

If you have or know a tiny ballerina, this book is a must!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tuesday odds and ends

A few odds and ends here  - hopefully, you may find something useful.

A head-scratcher:

  • Why is Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days coming out on August 3, with an unofficial title of DWK 3?  I can see why they'd like to release it in the summer because of the storyline, but The Last Straw is book three, not Dog Days.  No matter, I guess.  Kids will like it, but it will annoy the die-hard fans, I think.


A tech-helper:

  •  Not at all book-related, but if you're mourning the demise of Picnik for creating promotional materials, etc., take heart - PicMonkey may just win you over. Give it a try.

A couple of things to bring a smile:

BTW, I keep all of my reviewed books (more than 500 of them) and others in my LibraryThing account.  You can search my books by date, title, author, "stars," etc., by accessing my LT library. You're welcome to stop by and browse.


Monday, May 28, 2012

My Body - a review

Pinnington, Andrea and Penny Lamprell. 2012. My Body. New York: Scholastic.

This isn't the usual type of book that I would read aloud to kids at the library, but here's why I like it. The children featured in the photographs are adorable (toothless, toothy, bespectacled, goofy, sweet and culturally diverse), but more intriguing are the cartoon depictions of the body's internal structures, superimposed over previously mentioned adorable children.  The concept of ear canals, nasal passages and the like are easier to grasp when they can be seen in the familiar setting of a friendly face.  Additionally, the very simple, large-print text makes this a book that one might even excerpt during storytime.  The pages thick and sturdy. There's an index and a glossary.

My Body comes with a free digital companion book, that may or may not be useful to you, depending on your circumstances.  The book is part of Scholastic's Discover More series.  On the one hand, I really like it.  On the other hand, it's one more in a constantly expanding realm of beginning readers with ambiguous designations (Emergent Reader 4+, Confident Reader 6+, Expert Reader 9+).  For the record, My Body is an "Emergent Reader." Thankfully, the age suggestions are not written on the book itself. 

Overall, it's fresh.  It's new, and it's eye-catching.  I like it.

Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is at Perogies & Gyoza.
(I'll be hosting on June 11)

 I sincerely hope that you enjoy your Memorial Day holiday and that you are able to take some time out to remember those who died in the service of our country.  

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Unfamiliar Fishes - an audiobook review

An adult book today...

Vowell, Sarah. 2011. Unfamiliar Fishes. Simon and Schuster Audio.

If you're looking for something recent in adult nonfiction, try Sarah Vowell's, Unfamiliar Fishes, which chronicles the transformation of Hawaii since the arrival of Captain Cook and more importantly, the first missionaries. As is her way, Ms. Vowell is both erudite and playful, offering carefully researched history punctuated with the droll realities of the contemporary and the commonplace. (e.g., why Barack Obama is our first "plate lunch" president)  Though she does not count herself among the believers of any religion, she is nevertheless well-schooled in and respectful of the beliefs of native Hawaiians and the later arrivals. She gives credit and scorn equally, deservedly and humorously. If you've never heard her quirky little voice before (she is the voice of Violet in The Incredibles), you're likely to love it or hate it. I love it. Listen for yourself.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Seeing Red: The True Story of Blood - a review

Kyi, Tanya Lloyd. 2012. Seeing Red: The True Story of Blood. Illustrated by Steve Rolston. Toronto: Annick Press.

Seeing Red is the odd pairing of a nonfiction chapter book with a comic book featuring goth teenager, Harker.  The comic story line weaves information from the nonfiction text into the evolving tongue-in-cheek story of Harker's acquaintance with a vampire girl who tries to recruit him.  Strangely, it works.

Seeing Red traces the role of blood in history and culture. The seven chapters include "Blood and Ritual," "The Bloody Facts," and "Ties that Bind."  Seeing Red is definitely not a scientific treatment, but nevertheless, readers will learn some interesting science (blood typing, forensics), history (Aztecs, royal bloodlines), and culture (blood in food, rituals).  While some concepts in the printed text will inspire deeper thought, such as blood violence in video games, some breakout illustrated sections are purely for shock entertainment,

That Takes Gall
If you were a Gaul warrior, here's how you'd celebrate a victory:
  • Cut off all your enemies' heads.
  • String the heads together and use them as a necklace for your horse.
  • Sing a victory song.
  • Nail a few heads to the doorway of your house, like hunting trophies.
If you'd won an extra-impressive victory over a particularly dangerous foe, you might want a special souvenir.  In that case, you'd embalm an enemy head in cedar oil and stash it away in a cedar chest.  You could show all your friends the next time they stopped by!
(to accentuate the point, the bullet points are skulls)

Further Reading, Selected Sources and Index round out the book.

I was interested in Seeing Red after hearing a preview in Booklist's April webinar, "You've Got Male: Great New Books for Boys." I requested a review copy, graciously provided by Annick Press. Kirkus gave the book an "anemic" review. I, however, believe it lives up to Booklist's description as one of the new books that will capture "the attention of the often elusive male reader."

Read the first few pages of Seeing Red on the publisher's website.

This one's best for older readers because of its descriptions of ritual sacrifice and cultural mores associated with the female menstrual cycle - very interesting to contemplate why some traditional societies shower girls with gifts and attention, while in other cultures they are isolated (at least the secluded women get out of chores!).  Annick Press suggests age 10 and up.  Make your own decision. I would likely choose a higher age.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Firelight - an audiobook review

Jordan, Sophie. 2011. Firelight. Read by Thérèse Plummer. Brilliance Audio.

Following is my review of Firelight, the first in a romantic, inter-species trilogy, which I reviewed for School Library Journal. The review appears in the May 2012 journal.

Firelight (unabr.). 8 CDs. 9:42 hrs. Brilliance Audio. 2011. ISBN 978-1-4558-5815-6. $49.97.
Gr 9 Up--Jacinda is a draki, a modern-day descendant of the dragons of old, surviving in the misty mountains of the Pacific Northwest in the first title (HarperCollins, 2010) in a trilogy by Sophie Jordan. She's not just any draki--Jacinda is a fire-breather, the only one born to her pride in generations. Armed with her particular talent and the innate ability of all draki to shift or manifest into human form, Jacinda is special, powerful, prized. But her power and desirability have a cost. She is too important to the survival of the pride to be trusted with her own decisions. When Jacinda is promised to the pride's alpha male, her mother flees with Jacinda and her twin sister. They attempt assimilation in a small Nevada town, hiding from the pride. But when Jacinda finds a forbidden love in Will, a human in her suburban high school, she places her entire family in danger. Thérèse Plummer is cast perfectly as Jacinda. Her youthful voice switches seamlessly between Jacinda's self-absorbed, anxious inner musings and her more confident audible declarations. She is equally adept at portraying Jacinda's determined mother, long-suffering sister, the brooding alpha male, Cassian, and the tortured voice of Will. This fiery inter-species romance, fraught with anxiety and anticipation, will leave fans scrambling for the next title in the series.

Copyright © 2012 Library Journals, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. Reprinted with permission.


Hear an excerpt from Firelight.

Firelight news:

  • Vanity announces that Mandalay has purchased the film rights for Firelight.
  • Hidden, the final book in the series, will be released in September 2012.

... struggling to adapt to posting via Mac. Last night I suffered the #bluescreenofdeath on my laptop, so my posts may be scarce while I wrestle with the fallout.  Not too pleased with Kaspersky right now.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Buried Alive! How 33 Miners Survived 69 Days Deep Under the Chilean Desert - a review

Scott, Elaine. 2012. Buried Alive! How 33 Miners Survived 69 Days Deep Under the Chilean Desert. New York: Clarion.

Though it may seem as if it were only yesterday, it's been nearly two years since the San José mine collapse in Chile's Atacama Desert. The first collapse occurred on August 5, 2010. For two days, an escape route remained open, however, the escape ladder was only 690 feet long. The distance to the surface was 2,300 feet. A subsequent and more devastating collapse occurred two days later on August 7, effectively sealing thirty-three miners underground. It was 9:55pm, October 13, 2010, when the last miner, foreman Luis Urzúa, finally emerged.

Buried Alive! offers a chronological story that is contextual and multi-faceted. Using a theme of cooperation (chapters are titled "Surviving Together," "Working Together," "Planning Together," "Living Together," and "Rejoicing Together"), Elaine Scott begins with an introduction of the various factors that draw men into the mine, including poverty, tradition, and national pride. Other chapters recount the extraordinary way that the miners, under the direction of Urzúa, known affectionately as Don Lucho, organized themselves fairly and purposefully to survive the ordeal, never knowing until they surfaced if they would survive.

Not covered much in televised accounts, was the real meaningful work that the men did to help themselves. They dug sanitary trenches, aided the drillers with useful information, and dug drainage and holding pools for the 18,421 gallons of water that were necessary to cool and lubricate the drill bits as they ground down to the mens' refuge, a 14-day project.

Scott also follows the cooperative scene at Camp Hope, the makeshift town including a school and medical facility, that sprung up to house the thousands of people living in tents above the mine - family members, would-be rescuers, Chilean military members, and more - all awaiting news of "los 33." And journalists were there to provide it,

an estimated 1,700 of them, representing thirty-three countries on five continents. The world had its eye, its ear, and most important, its heart on Camp Hope and the thirty-three men who were buried alive.

The cooperative (and, in the case of the drillers, competitive) spirit of the rescuers is chronicled as well. Rescue plans and offers of assistance arrived from around the globe.  The logistics of drilling so far down into the ground without mishap is explained in fascinating detail.

Most people will be familiar with the jubilant scenes of rescue, but it does not feel as "old news," rather, Scott's writing rekindles the emotions of the day.

An afterword tells the somewhat saddening stories of what has happened in the miners' lives since the rescue, but the overarching message of Buried Alive! is one of togetherness - for 69 days, the trapped miners, their families and the rest of the world were together in hopefulness.

 Buried Alive! How 33 Miners Survived 69 Days Deep Under the Chilean Desert is dedicated "To the thirty-three miners and those who worked, waited, and worried until they were finally free." I count myself among the millions of people who worried about the fate of these amazing men. This is a story that will live on for many, many years to come. Elaine Scott has done a superb job in telling it.

Extensively researched, sourced and indexed with detailed author's notes. Contains numerous photographs.

Reuters news article, slide show and video of the rescue.

Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is hosted by Ms. Yingling Reads.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

This and that - 3 reviews

A little of this and a little of that, as I'm ahead in reading and behind in writing!

(short stories, novel, audiobook)

Kibuishi, Kazu. 2012.  Explorer: The Mystery Boxes. New York: Amulet.

This book is an unexpected little gem, something of a mystery itself. From the cover, I was expecting a graphic novel mystery, a la The Box Car Children infused with a bit of magic.  What I found instead, was a themed, graphic, short story collection.  Mystery Boxes contains seven stories by noted graphic artists including Raina Telgemeier (Smile).  What ties these disparate illustrators and authors together is that each story features a mysterious box, contents unknown.  The stories range from amusing ("Spring Cleaning by Dave Roman and Telgemeier) to profound (Jason Caffoe's, "The Keeper's Treasure") to social commentary on war (Stuart Livingston and Stephanie Ramirez', "The Soldier's Daughter").

Judging from the way  my Advance Reader Copy was scooped up by a child in my book club, I'd guess this will be popular if it can find the right audience.  I'm also assuming that we can look forward to more collections in the Explorer series. I, for one, would like to see more interest in short stories.  They don't seem to be required reading for middle schoolers - a pity.  (Another good short story series, though not in graphic novel format, is Jon Scieszka's Guys Read Library)

Doyle, Roddy. 2012. A Greyhound of a Girl. New York: Amulet.

Advance Reader Copy

I chose to read this one because it features a multi-generational Irish family.  It's hard not to like Ireland - a beautiful country full of "lovely" people.  In fact, you will hear people in Ireland describe nearly anything as "lovely" --friendly people they are in general, but I digress.

This is the first Roddy Doyle book that I've read and I wasn't sure what to expect. I thoroughly enjoyed it once I stopped looking for some artificial contrivance or tricky plot twist and settled in to enjoy a simple yet touching story of 12-year-old Mary O'Hara, and three of her female relatives, one of whom happens to be dead.  A Greyhound of a Girl covers a short span of time in a short book (208 small pages)  about life and death and family. Being of Ireland, of course it is not without humor.

Riordan, Rick. 2011. The Son of Neptune, The Heroes of Olympus Series, Book 2. Read by Joshua Swanson. Listening Library.
12 hours, 27 minutes.

As much as I enjoyed The Lost Hero, I'd be lying if I didn't say that it's good to have Percy back in the story.  Lost no more, but without his memories, Percy finds himself in the midst of the Roman demigod stronghold, Camp Jupiter.  In this installment, the listener learns little of Camp Half-Blood's activities, but is thrust into the militaristic world of the Roman demigods.  Before the story ends on a culture-colliding cliffhanger, a clear picture of the identities of "the seven" is unfolding,

Seven half-bloods shall answer the call,
To storm or fire the world must fall.
An oath to keep with a final breath,
And foes bear arms to the Doors of Death.
 The narration by Joshua Swanson is beginning to grow on me (but perhaps that's because Leo doesn't appear much in The Son of Neptune).  My favorite new character in the series?  Hands down, it's Bella the Harpy, voiced perfectly by Mr. Swanson.

Sadly, we've got to wait until the fall for The Mark of Athena (book 3).

Enjoy an audio excerpt.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Minette's Feast - an interview with Chad Beckerman

Today I have the pleasure of welcoming Chad Beckerman. He is here in his capacity as Creative Director for Abrams Books for Young Readers, to talk about the newly released Minette's Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat, written by Susanna Reich, and illustrated by Amy Bates.

Lisa: Although I did ask to interview the editor of Minette’s Feast, I did not anticipate interviewing the Creative Director for Abrams books.  When I looked you up online, I admit to being more than slightly intimidated by your very impressive resume.  I’m interviewing the art director behind the wildly successful Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Origami Yoda series? Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes? The artistic muse behind Escape! and my new favorite, Huff & Puff?   Be still, my nervous heart.  Please forgive me in advance for my lack of knowledge in your area of expertise and allow me to quote one of my favorite lines from Mary Rose Woods', The Mysterious Howling, "all books are judged by their covers until they are read."

So, on we go …

Chad: Wow, you really have done your Designer research!  I am the evil design mastermind behind all of those books!

Lisa: Minette’s Feast– a superbly written narrative by Susanna Reich paired with the pencil and watercolor paintings of Amy Bates that exude the aura (and aroma!) of a 1950s French kitchen.   Was it you who brought these two talents together?  How do you choose an illustrator for a manuscript?  Was there ever a case where you’ve found artwork that sent you in search of a writer?

Chad: Tamar Brazis, editorial director, and I had worked with Amy Bates on two other picture books, The Dog who Belonged to No One and A Bear in the Air. We had been on the search for a picture book for Amy. When Susanna's Minette's Feast came across Tamar's desk, we knew without question this was a book for Amy. In most cases we have a manuscript and will search for just the right illustrator. Thankfully we had Amy stowed away for a rainy day.

Lisa: I understand that you have designed all of Amy Bates’ books for Abrams. You must be quite familiar with her and her work.  Does that make your job easier?

Chad: Being familiar with an illustrator's work definitely makes an art director's job easier. You know what their strengths and weaknesses are. You know where and when to push them to get better work from them. In the case of working with Amy, our first book we worked on together was The Dog who Belonged to No One. I had seen Amy's work on a few other pictures from our houses so I had an idea of what she could do. I wanted to make the books that she did with ABRAMS different than her other work. To solve that idea, we pushed Amy into creating designs and patterns that fit the content of the story; in turn giving the viewer more to look at than just full bleed or spot illustrations.  These border designs helped bring you into the time period of the story.

Lisa: Your job is to create an overall  “vision” for the book, to give it a particular “feel,” how do you affect that vision?  Within the pages of the book itself, is it primarily a matter of space and placement, typeface and font,  or is there more that you can do to achieve a particular effect? 

Chad: The first way a designer helps create his or her vision on the book is through his font choice. I feel this helps set the mood or time period for the story. Designers need to ask themselves, is this book wacky and deserves a more fun take on the typography, or does the typography need to be played down to let the art be the main star? Is this an historical book where a typeface from that time period or region might be the best choice?  This is the question I asked myself for Minette's Feast. I searched mainly for fonts that said "Paris" to me. This choice helped set the stage of where the story takes place, perhaps hinting at the atmosphere of the text.

The second way a designer or an editor helps create a vision for a particular book is working with the illustrator to shape the look of the book. For example we spent a lot of time working with Amy getting a few spreads to work exactly right.

As you can see we had to reshape the sketches so they worked better with the text and told the story better.

Lisa: How involved are you in the early sketches or color studies?  I saw the many transformations that occurred in the making of Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes.  How do artists feel about going “back to the drawing board" for so many iterations? Are most cooperative?

Chad: I am very involved in the early stages. In a cover like Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, I had a idea of what I wanted the cover to be before hiring Gilbert Ford; but I also knew it might not be the right idea so I wanted to see what ideas Gilbert had.  This was definitely a long process - one that Gilbert stuck by me with.  No one likes to have to go "back to the drawing board." It helps to be very transparent about what is going on. Artists are not in the office with you; they don't hear the reasons why a cover or illustration is not working for someone. Not being part of that process can be hard since an illustrator can feel on the outside of the process. It's my job to make sure they don't feel that way.

Minette sketches
Julia sketches

Lisa: Why choose different artwork for the book’s cover and its dust jacket?  I love them both, but I am curious. Don’t picture books usually have the same cover art and dust jacket?

Chad: I find that you are correct that picture books tend to have the same case as the front jacket image. I find this a bit lazy from the designer's point of view. I say this because I am guilty of just placing the cover on the case as well. More and more, I find that designing the case with new art offers up a little something extra to help the book feel more special.

Lisa: Were the endpapers your idea?  I love the tablecloth motif.

Chad: Amy had made the end paper art for the copyright spread, I believe. The art that is now on the copyright spread was originally intended as the cover illustration. During the process of working out the pagination of the text/illustrations, we moved the tablecloth pattern to the end papers. It was just too good not to use.

Lisa: What do you feel is your greatest contribution to Minette’s Feast?

Chad: My greatest contribution is working alongside Tamar Brazis. Our teamwork is an accomplishment. We sit down, go over the sketches, and shoot ideas off each other, helping the book to grow into what it wants to be. This relationship adds to the quality of our books and Minette's Feast. But, if you are asking what is my favorite part of the book, I am quite fond of the case and endpapers, but you have already pointed those out.

Lisa: Finally, I’m curious – are those “brass knuckles” on your coffee cup?

Chad: Those are indeed brass knuckles attached to, yes, my coffee cup. Oddly, there has never been any coffee in that cup.

Lisa: Thanks so much! I've truly learned a great deal - about Julia Child, of course, and about picture books in general.  Until this interview, I never gave much thought to the art director's contribution, being more of a wordsmith than an artist, myself.  Writer, artist, editor and art director - together you've created a delicious offering in Minette's Feast,

Ooh-la-la! Magnifique!

The blog tour wraps up tomorrow at Readerkidz.

Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is at The Swimmer Writer.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Book of Wonders - a review

Richards, Jasmine. 2012. The Book of Wonders. New York: Harper Collins.
The combination of exotic cover art and the promise of Sinbad the Sailor and other characters from One Thousand and One Nights drew me to this one like a moth to a flame. A magical adventure story from the East, The Book of Wonders is loosely based on the original tales of the Arabian Nights and features a teenaged version of the character Scheherazade.  Together, "Zardi" and her best friend, Ridhan, a boy mysteriously endowed with violet eyes and silver hair, must save Zardi’s sister, escape from Desolation Island, and free their people from the evil sultan's rule. Filled with action, magic and suspense, there’s sure to be a sequel.  This one should be popular with middle-schoolers.

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 ...