Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Land of Stories: The Wishing Well - a review

(My review from the November 2012 edition of School Library Journal)

The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell. By Chris Colfer. 8 CDs. 8:59 hrs. Hachette Audio for AudioCo. 2012. ISBN 978-1-61969-125-4. $69.99.

Gr 4-7 - Like a kinder, gentler Inkheart, (Chicken House 2003), Chris Colfer's first novel (Little Brown, 2012) features a parallel world residing within the pages of a family book — a world whose inhabitants are, in general, ignorant of any world other than their own. Into this appropriately named "Land of Stories" fall 12-year-old twins, Alex and Connor. After the initial excitement of meeting the likes of Goldilocks, Sleeping Beauty, and other fairytale world denizens, the twins are anxious to return home. The way out, however, is not as simple as the way in. They must gather items from a cryptic riddle to perform the Wishing Spell, and soon discover they are not alone in seeking these items. A mysterious girl tracks them and perils await. The weighty danger and adventure is lightened by the wisecracking Connor, a perfect foil for Alex, his more serious sister. If the twins are a little too lucky and clueless at times (a well-read girl like Alex would surely know to avoid the gingerbread cottage in the woods), and phrasing is occasionally trite, it's a small price to pay for an otherwise satisfying adventure. As one might expect from Glee star, Chris Colfer, the narration is superb. His youthful voice is ideal for the roles of the young siblings as well as the large cast. He speaks conversationally in a pleasing voice, although the constant refrain of "he said," "she said," can become tiresome. Colfer's popularity and top-notch narration should ensure a fine reception for this first title in a projected series.

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

Monday, November 26, 2012

Picture Book Roundup - Catch up edition

I am quite far behind in reading, reviewing, and blogging.  Here are a few new picture books that I feel deserve a mention:

A talented artist and writer, Marino's newest is a fable chronicling what happens when neighborhood one-upmanship threatens the friendship between Rabbit and Owl. Marino's beautiful paintings are expertly colored in a palette of nature's finest hues. The expressive faces of the erstwhile friends add much to this brief tale presented in an appropriately tall book.

  • Marsalis, Wynton. 2012. Squeak, Rumble, Whomp! Whomp! Whomp! Somerville, MA: Candlewick.  Ill. by Paul Rogers.

Despite my relative lack of musical talent and rhythm (though I can read music and play a few instruments poorly), I am a great fan of music and music education for kids. One day I will write a post about the jazz story time, which I feature each year in April, sharing jazz-themed books and music for preschoolers.  In 2013, my job of choosing books will become much easier thanks to Wynton Marsalis and Paul Rogers' new book, Squeak, Rumble, Whomp! Whomp! Whomp! Some musically-themed books are difficult to read aloud, and I'm thankful when a CD is included (Jazz on a Saturday Night and The Jazz Fly come to mind), but this catchy, rhyming book may be easily read - even by those with a limited ability to speak jazz - for jazz may be found in the most common of places,

Big trucks on the highway RRRRRUMBLE!
Hunger makes my tummy GRrruMBle.
The big bass drum goes Bum! Brrrum! BRRRUMBLE!!!!
Another musically-themed book:

  • Isadora, Rachel. 2012. There Was a Tree. New York: Nancy Paulsen (Penguin).
A favorite childhood song (a.k.a. "The Green Grass Grew All Around"), accompanied by Rachel Isadora's luscious Africa-inspired illustrations with rebuses to aid kids in singing along.  What more can one ask for?

  • Sif, Birgitta. 2012. Oliver. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
In a style that is reminiscent to me of Oliver Jeffers' work, Birgitta Sif writes and illustrates this short and quirky tale of an introspective, thoughtful boy who finally finds a kindred soul. 

  • Stevens, Janet and Susan Stevens Crummel. 2012. Find a Cow NOW! New York: Holiday House.
The Stevens sisters (The Little Red Pen, Harcourt) team up again for another delightfully silly story following the antics of the hyperactive herding dog, Dog, as he takes the advice of Bird and travels to the countryside to find a cow. In Are You My Mother? style, he queries the various creatures he encounters.  By the time he actually finds a cow, he's too tired to even ask.  Cute.

November is Picture Book Month!

Lots of additional resources available at Picture Book Month.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving - NJ edition

In spite of Hurricane Sandy, I have much to be thankful for. 
 I am thankful for the kindness of my family, friends, co-workers, library patrons, the library community at large, and even strangers.  

Wishing you a joyful and restful Thanksgiving. 

I'll leave you with some photos of New Jersey's cranberry bogs,    
Double Trouble cranberry bog
By Jennifer H. Kertis (Flickr) [CC-BY-SA-2.0
(], via Wikimedia Commons

Richard Tevor, 8 years old. 5 years picking cranberries. Theodore Budd's Bog at Turkeytown, N.J.
This is the fourth week of school in Philadelphia and the people will stay here two weeks more.
By Lewis Hine (1874-1940)
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Friday, November 16, 2012

Liar & Spy - a review

Stead, Rebecca. 2012. Liar & Spy. New York: Random House.

Georges, a seventh grader, and his parents, have just been downsized to apartment living due to financial difficulties. In his New York City apartment, just around the corner from his old home, Georges makes a curious friend in the watchful,  home-schooled, Safer.  Safer is obsessed with spying on the activities of the mysterious "Mr. X" who lives in the apartment building.  Georges joins Safer's spy club and eventually becomes quite fond of his quirky little friend -- until he uncovers some uncomfortable truths.

At only 192 pages and suitable for grades five and up, one might think that this small book is a quick read - easy contemporary fiction for middle-schoolers; but one must remember that it was written by Newbery Medal winner, Rebecca Stead.

Rebecca Stead requires you to be patient.  She requires you to be thoughtful.  She requires you to follow her wherever she may lead - even if she may be lying.  After all, what is a lie anyway?

Thought provoking and insightful, Liar & Spy touches many topics pertinent to middle school students - lying, bullying, economic downturn, friendship, illness, and family life.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Picture Book Roundup - post Sandy edition

I'm getting back in the groove of normal life after a devastating hit by Hurricane Sandy. 

Here are some short and sweet reviews of books that I've had on my pile for weeks - no common theme - just great picture books!

These first two books are ones in which the illustrations steal the show and tell the story.

  • Johnston, Tony. 2012. Laugh-Out Loud Baby. New York: Simon & Schuster. Illustrated by Stephen Gammell.

If this book doesn't make you smile, make you laugh, make you happy - well, I don't know what will.  The author's note regarding the Navajo celebration of a baby's first laugh is interesting.  I can think of few things better to celebrate. Go ahead, laugh!

  • Fox, Mem. 2012. Tell Me About Your Day Today. New York: Beach Lane. Illustrated by Lauren Stringer.

A enjoyably repetitive, rhyming text that is filled in by cheerful step-by-step illustrations, detailing the busy day of a young boy and his favorite stuffed animals,

And Greedy Goose told him about her day -  the who,
the what,
the why,
and the way ...
the whole wild thing ...
turned out okay.

  • Tarpley, Todd. 2012. Ten Tiny Toes. New York: Little Brown.  Illustrated by Marc Brown.

Into the world came ten tiny toes, a hundred times sweeter than one could suppose
A book for everyone who has ever kissed, and later missed a baby's ten tiny toes. Rhyming and sweet, this one would steal my heart even without illustrations!

Watch the book trailer for Ten Tiny Toes here.

  • Kimmel, Eric A. 2012. Moby Dick: Chasing the Great White Whale. New York: Feiwel and Friends. Illustrated by Andrew Glass.

Moby Dick in a picture book for kids? Yes! This is not likely a book that young parents will pick off the shelf for a bedtime story, but it deserves an audience.  Eric Kimmel captures the essence of Melville's classic for a young audience, and he does it in rhyme, and he spares us the endless chapters on whales and whaling (sorry, it may be a classic, but those chapters are sheer drudgery).
Call me Ishmael ... When days start getting long again and time is moving slow, I set out for New Bedford town, a whaling for to go.
No important part of the story is missing, and while some of the rhymes are a bit forced, the overall effect of Kimmel's retelling, the book's generous size, and Andrew Glass' evocative paintings is striking.  An Author's Note and Glossary are included.  Hopefully, teachers will find a way to use this one.  View the Flickr slideshow of Andrew Glass' paintings for Moby Dick.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Seahorses - a review

It's time to show Sandy that we can pick ourselves up and keep going.  Like other New Jersey barrier island residents and inhabitants of low-lying areas throughout NJ and NY, my family evacuated with whatever we could pack in a vehicle.  There are plenty of photos and videos out there of devastation throughout the area.  This one's from my neck of the woods: Sandy Devastation. Although my home and hometown are still inaccessible and uninhabitable, it's time to get back to the business of living.  Many schools will re-open today, and I'm back to work, though many others are not so lucky. It will be a long haul, but as my daughter said, we're Jersey Strong.  No more whining, I promise.

On that note, I'll review an aquatic book today - a reminder that the ocean carries beauty as well as danger.

Curtis, Jennifer Keats. 2012. Seahorses. New York: Henry Holt. Illustrated by Chad Wallace.

Usually I prefer photography over artwork in nonfiction books for children.  Abstract or collage illustrations of fauna and flora can be difficult to equate to their real world counterparts.  The artwork in Seahorses, however, is informative and enchanting.  The front papers list the artwork as "digital media," the illustrations apparently created using Photoshop. You can see a bit of Chad Wallace's creative process in making Seahorses on his site.  The result is a realistic, yet appealing depiction of seahorses in beautifully colored settings.  I was drawn to the book by its cover, but was also impressed by the poetic nature of the informational text.  Presented in a simple black font, with few sentences per page, the words flow gracefully and follow the life cycle

from infancy,

No bigger than eyelashes, the babies - called small fry - spin and whirl away from one another like deflating balloons in the ocean's gentle current.

to courtship,

Although the female drifts off, she returns early the next day to greet her mate.  This time, he floats up to meet her.  Dancing, they circle each other, changing colors from brown to green.  His fins become very dark brown as he waltzes around her to music only they can hear.

to conception and infancy, a "new life in the ocean has begun."

DDC 597.6798

Today is Nonfiction Monday. This week's host is The Flatt Perspective.

Sunday, November 4, 2012


Unfortunately, Sandy treated my beloved Jersey shore much worse than anyone expected, and I am now part of the diaspora of the thousands of residents of New Jersey's barrier island communities.  Cut off from the islands, now under control of the federal government, residents will not be allowed home (even by boat) for months, possibly even a year. We took only what we could fit in the van.  Those who stayed are without power, water and gas, and are being removed for their safety, by the National Guard.  I'm thankful for friends who have accepted me, my family and my pets into their homes.  Friendship is truly a priceless gift.
 I'll be taking a break for another week while I try to gather my thoughts, my life, and my friends. My family, thankfully, is safe and together, save for my eldest daughter who is safely at college and wishing she were here with us.

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 ...