Monday, February 24, 2014

The Boy on the Wooden Box - an audiobook review

Below is my starred review of The Boy on the Wooden Box: How the Impossible Became Possible on Schindler's List, as it appeared in the February, 2014, edition of School Library Journal.

LYESON, Leon. The Boy on the Wooden Box: How the Impossible Became Possible … on Schindler's List. 4 CDs. 4:15 hrs. Recorded Books. 2013. $46.75 ISBN 9781470369439. Playaway. Digital download.

Gr 4-9--In an intimate look at one family on Oskar Schindler's famous "list," Leyson's (born Leib Lezjon) memoir (S & S, 2013) begins with his earliest memories of his poor but idyllic life in a Polish village. His large Jewish family was short on money, but never on love or a sense of purpose and belonging. They eventually move to Krakow, a city that Leib finds enchanting. When the Nazis invade, however, life becomes desperate for the 10-year-old protagonist, his parents, sister, and three brothers. By sheer happenstance, Leib's father becomes a worker for Schindler, beginning a chain of improbable events that leads to Leib's survival, despite pogroms, ghettos, and Nazi work camps. Young Leib's feelings of fear, dread, and despondency are relayed simply. Narrator Danny Burstein speaks in decorous, measured tones, yet sounds conversational. The words have power, no embellishment is necessary. Despite the horrific subject, Burstein imparts Leyson's peaceable nature and even delivers a natural-sounding laugh or chuckle when relating the rare bright spots. Leyson here shares only his own memories and does not speculate or pontificate on the larger story. If he does not know the fate of a relative or friend, that uncertainty, too, is part of his story. Randomness, luck, and split-second actions that delineated life and death--these are the truths of the Holocaust, and of those on Schindler's list. A moving and heartfelt conveyance of Leyson's gratitude to his family and to Oskar Schindler.

Copyright © 2014 Library Journals, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc.
Reprinted with permission.

The Boy on the Wooden Box was recognized as an Honor Book for Older Readers in the 2014 Sydney Taylor Book Awards.

Visit today's roundup of nonfiction books for young people at the Nonfiction Monday blog.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Claude at the Beach - a review

Smith, Alex T. 2014. Claude at the Beach. Atlanta: Peachtree.

Popular in the UK, with numerous books, Claude is a relative newcomer to the US. Claude at the Beach is the 3rd US release of this delightful, illustrated chapter book series about an imaginative dog and his best friend, Sir Bobblysock, an appropriately named sock.

The humor is immediately apparent when we learn that,

"Claude lives in his house with two people who are too tall to fit on this page. They are called Mr. and Mrs. Shinyshoes, and they both have very shiny shoes and neat ankles."

When the Shinyshoes head off to work, Claude sets out for adventure - this time to a French beach, where he will fashion makeshift bathing trunks from some sticky tape and Mr. Shinyshoes' underpants, rescue a bather from a shark, and meet up with a band of pirates - all with relatively more sensible Mr. Bobblysock in tow.

Illustrated pen and ink drawings in shades of black and red. Great fun.

Look for this one on shelves in March, 2014.
Advance Reader Copy supplied by publisher.  (If you have a NetGalley account, you may be able to get a copy of this one)

Publishers Weekly review

Monday, February 17, 2014

Yes, it's a book - but throw it out!!

Yes, books are wonderful.  Books are precious.  Books should be treasured...but some belong in the trash!

* attribution below
If you're reading this, chances are good that you're a teacher, librarian or caregiver; and as such, you're in an important position.  You're someone to whom children look for answers.  They also look to books, and therein lies a problem.  Not all books are good books.  A good book today may be a bad book tomorrow.
Allow me to illustrate.

In first grade, my daughter borrowed a book about the moon from her school library.  It concluded with the inspirational sentiment, "someday men will go to the moon."  She thought this a wonderful suggestion, until I explained to her that men had already been to the moon numerous times and had now set their sights on Mars.  I don't care how true the rest of the book may have been, it belonged in the trash.  It may have been a good book in the 1960s, but it is (or should be) garbage now.

If yours is not a special focus library and your primary patrons are children,  hyper vigilance is in order when deselecting old nonfiction books - particularly biographies. Kids believe what they read.

Currently, we're in the "perfect storm" of biography assignments.  Between President's Day, Black History Month, the new Common Core State Standards, and Women's History Month coming up fast, the biography shelves see more action this time of year than any other.

I gave mine a good, hard look the other day, and here are some things I discovered.

If this is on your shelf,
it's time to replace it ....

with this.
Same author, same book,
updated information.

The President of the United States - He's a very popular choice for assignments, but some of my books were written soon after his first election.  Plenty of things have happened since then, and plenty of new biographies have been published.  Unless the older titles offer a unique perspective not present in other books (the road to the White House, the story behind a particular speech or inaugural address, his childhood), they can go.

Still have this one on your shelf?
This was published in 2010,
 and appears to be in need
 of an update, no?

Justin Bieber (and other trending musicians, singers, and such) - They're young, they change rapidly (remember Hannah Montana?), their stories are incomplete.  If the person is still popular and your book is more than two years old, it's time for a new one.

A quick check of
 shows that 368 libraries are still shelving this 2002 book
featuring A-Rod in a Texas Rangers uniform!
How much has changed since then!!

Sports teams and stars -Yes, it's nice to have a book on the shelf for each team, but kids believe what they read in books.  Don't give a child a book that says Curt Schilling plays for the Boston Red Sox. You may remember it as yesterday (heck, I remember him as a Phillie!), but to a child, it's old news.  Players change teams often.  If a book doesn't reflect a player's current team or a team's current players, get a new one or do without.  Again, if it has a unique historical perspective, that's a different story.  I'm speaking of the general formulaic style books on teams and players.

As a general rule, if the subject of your book is deceased, you may be safe with an older title.  If she's still living an active, productive life, look for a new edition.

Happy President's Day!  Buy yourself a new book.

* Niteowlneils at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

Friday, February 14, 2014

1 Cookie, 2 Chairs, 3 Pears: Numbers Everywhere - a review

Brocket, Jane. 2014. 1 Cookie, 2 Chairs, 3 Pears: Numbers everywhere. Minneapolis, MN: Lerner.

This is a simple counting book from one to twenty, that features bright photographs of everyday items.  It's eye-catching, simple and attractive - showcasing the many ways that each number can be represented,

7 Can you count how many eggs in the bowl?
How many fruits in a row?
How many socks in a box?
That's right, seven.
The focus here is simple.  There are an infinite amount of ways in which any number may be represented, and numbers may be found everywhere!

For you teachers, here are the reading levels:

Reading Level: 2
Interest Level: PreK-2
Ages: 4-8
Guided Reading: I
Lexile Level: 430

In the same way that many rural folks may not relate to the city streetscape images of Tanya Hoban's books, many lower income children may not relate to the images in 1 Cookie, 2 Chairs, 3 Pears.  Lines of trendy and colorful French macarons, brightly-colored polka dot socks packaged neatly in a box (1 for each day of the week), and artist quality oil pastels (as opposed to crayons) are not typical purchases of an average family.  I don't mention this as a criticism, only as a comment.  City kids are typically taught the sights and sounds of the farm, just as farm kids are taught the sights and sounds of the city.  A child's exposure to the world writ large should not be limited by where she lives or what her parents can afford. Do expect, however, that some kids will know the familiar refrigerator magnets, fallen leaves and school clock, but will not have an immediate connection with embroidered tablecloths, needlepoint, fresh cherries, and perfectly decorated cupcakes and confections. Still it is, as I said, eye-catching, simple and attractive.  Take a look for yourself.  The publisher offers a "Look Inside"

It's STEM Friday! (STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)
See all of today's STEM book reviews at the STEM Friday blog.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Caminar - a review

Brown, Skila. 2014. Caminar. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.

While many other families in Carlos' rural Guatemalan village are large and boisterous, he and his mother live alone.  He's not yet a man.  He's afraid of the dark. He listens to his mother.

Guerilla Rain

They came

in rain,
the end
of wet
season, when
rain was
no longer

it beat
our roof,
turned floor
to mud,
washed off
the army

they came
in rain.
We huddled
inside, waited
for earth
to stop
its          slide.

They came,
sacks          empty
bellies         empty
guns            full.


They marched
right through
our town,
made their
way into
the jungle.

And when
the last
of them
had been
sucked in
by thick
green arms,

the rain
After the rebels pass, his mother knows that the soldiers will be back, and she tells him,

Unsure of who is the enemy, the rebels or the army's soldiers, Carlos heads for the place where he is most comfortable, the trees. In the cover of the trees, he makes his way up the mountain toward his grandmother's village.  When he meets up with guerilla fighters, he must make the biggest choice of his life.

A debut novel in verse, Caminar is a rural boy's perception of a sad time in 1981, when the fighting between Guatemalan rebels and soldiers (which, according to the author's note claimed 200,000 lives over the course of time), disrupted his village of  Chopán forever. In Carlos' fictional Chopán, where the people still speak indigenous languages, there is disagreement.  Are the guerilla fighters Communists, rebels, freedom fighters? Are the Guatemalan soldiers oppressors, liberators, defenders?  To non-Spanish-speaking, non land-owning villagers, it matters not.  In the end, they are both the enemy.

Featuring different types of poetry, including one styled after Marilyn Singer's unique "reverso" poems, Skila Brown often employs "concrete" effects, using spacing to punctuate a feeling or mood.  Poetry is an excellent vehicle for delivering a complex and nuanced book on a disturbing topic to a young audience. Brown deliberately leaves space for reflection between the leaves.

A Note from the Author, Glossary, Q&A with the Author, and Acknowledgments help to round out the historical aspects of the story. Best for middle-grade readers.

Review copy supplied by the publisher.  Due on shelves in March, 2014.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Love is in the air - books for Valentine's Day and every day

Every February I eagerly peruse the new crop of Valentine's Day books, hoping for something new to add to my list of storytime favorites.  This year, my two favorites aren't Valentine's Day books at all.  They're books about love. And, they're not exactly new - both have old copyright dates, but have just been republished in new formats. In any case, here they are!

  • Sheehan, Monica. 2010. Love is You & Me. New York: Simon & Schuster. 

A darling, rhyming book about love between the reader and a special someone - friend, pet, brother, mother - it doesn't matter.  It's all about love!
It's just us two ... without a care.
It's what we give ... and the times we share.
The illustrations of a dog and mouse are simple, playful and joyful.  Perfect for sharing!

Note: The dedication page contains an illustration of a heart-stamped envelope, an inkwell and pen, and a mouse whose eyes urge you to fill out the envelope's "To:" and "Love:" fields, and give this book to someone you love.

  • Willis, Jeanne. 2005. Never Too Little to Love. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.  Illustrated by Jan Fearnley.
A novelty book with heavy pages of varying sizes, Never Too Little to Love tells the story of Tiny Too-Little.  He's a mouse in love with somebody, but too small to reach her,
He's too little, even on tiptoes on a teacup,
He's too little, even on tiptoes on a cabbage, 

He stacks items higher and higher. The page size shrinks smaller and smaller, each building on the page before it - ever-reaching toward the top of the book. Despite stacking all manner of household items, he cannot reach his intended and falls with a crash à la The Cat in the Hat or Ten Apples Up on Top. Such an obstacle cannot stop true love, however.  All is made well when, in a final "pop-up" page, his beloved bends down to kiss him.  She's a giraffe. Lovely watercolor illustrations are gently humorous.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Monday Morning Miscellany v.7

Despite (or because of) the groundhog's prediction of six more weeks of winter, I'll be trying to keep busy. Here are some things to look forward to:

February is Black History Month, and we're fortunate that resources abound.

Be sure to check out The Brown Bookshelf each day.
From their website:
"The Brown Bookshelf is designed to push awareness of the myriad of African American voices writing for young readers. Our flagship initiative of is 28 Days Later, a month-long showcase of the best in Picture Books, Middle Grade and Young Adult novels written and illustrated by African Americans."

Also, check out the US government's African American History Month site.  It features a page "for teachers" with links to useful resource sites, including the Library of Congress.

The Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, begin in a few days!  Break out your globes, your Russian folktales, and some books on skating and skiing.  The Olympics is a great storytime theme.

February has Valentine's Day.  I'll be posting tomorrow about my new favorite books.  In the meantime, check out my old favorites in a previous post on Storytime Favorites for Valentine's Day.

To My Valentine [1890]
 Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
Washington, D.C. 20540

Today is Nonfiction Monday.  All of the Nonfiction Monday posts (including this one), are now collected at the new Nonfiction Monday blog.  Be sure to check it out.

And finally, looking forward ... next month is Women's History Month.  For the 4th consecutive year, fellow librarian and blogger, Margo Tanenbaum of the Fourth Musketeer, and I will be hosting and curating the blog, KidLit Celebrates Women's History Month!  Each post in March will feature noted authors, illustrators, librarians and book bloggers including Gretchen Woelfle, Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks, Mary Ann Scheuer and more. (See the blog's sidebar for the complete list of scheduled contributors.)  It's going to be an awesome month!  We do have a few dates still open.  If you have a unique idea, book, or essay related to children's literature and women's history, and you would like to see it featured on our blog, please contact me or Margo as soon as possible before all dates are taken.

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 ...