Monday, March 28, 2016

China's Forbidden City

The China Institute contacted me to see if I would be interested in seeing books from their We All Live in the Forbidden City program. (The Forbidden City refers to the Imperial Palace in Beijing that housed the seat of Chinese government for about 500 years.  It is now home to the Palace Museum.)  I reviewed their book for very young listeners or readers.

Bowls of Happiness: Treasures from China and the Forbidden City by Brian Tse.  Illustrated by Alice Mak.  Translated by Ben Wang.
China Institute, 2016

A mother creates a bowl and decides to paint it with a pig to represent her young daughter, nicknamed Piggy.

Mommy is good at making pottery.  She has made a bowl, and on the bowl she painted a piggy.

Holding the bowl, Mommy smiles and says "At the sight of Piggy, my hearts leaps with joy!" Oh, silly Mommy.
To make Piggy happy, the mother paints a cloud.  White Cloud, too, needs happiness, so she adds birds, and Flower, and Butterfly, and Tiny Goldfish.  Fruits join the tableau as well, to "represent the joyful meeting of all living things."  When finished, the bowl is lovely; and it is Piggy's; and it is a gift of happiness,

There are so many lovely things joined together on it, all gifts of happiness from Mommy to Piggy, which is me.  Mommy smiles and says, "Oh, silly Piggy!"

The story is short and simple, yet steeped in Chinese culture and meaning. The illustrations are of mixed medium and feature simple ink drawings colored in cheery pastel colors with watercolor highlights.  As each item is added to the painted bowl, the facing page features a facsimile of a  pattern on one of the porcelain bowls in the Palace Museum collection.

A small (3 small-print pages) section titled "What Happiness!" follows the story and briefly explains Chinese customs pertaining to auspicious name selection and the creation of symbolic happiness that brings concrete blessings.

A final section contains beautiful photographs of the antique bowls represented in the story.  The photos are presented on white space without text, so that young children can enjoy them.  Descriptions are on accompanying pages.

Bowls of Happiness will provide a very small introduction to Chinese art and culture to the very young.  Art teachers may find it useful for discussing painted pottery.  The book is perfect for small hands and sharing one-on-one or with a very small group.  The overall presentation is lovely.

Other books in the We All Live in the Forbidden City series are:

My copy of Bowls of Happiness was provided by the China Institute.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Will's Words - a review

Will's Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk by Jane Sutcliffe.  Illustrated by John Shelly.  2016, Charlesbridge

According to author Jane Sutcliffe's note, she intended to write a book about the Globe Theater and its famous playwright, but found she was more interested in the way that William Shakespeare's words (even the invented ones!) have become so ingrained in our everyday speech. 

The end result is somewhat of a hybrid.  Two types of text boxes are placed upon each double-spread, full-bleed illustration.  One contains an account of life in the time and milieu of William Shakespeare,

Good plays need good playwrights.  And the most brilliant playwright in London was Mr. William Shakespeare. From butchers and bakers, to lords and ladies, everyone looked forward to the excitement of a Will Shakespeare play.

While the other explains one or more of Shakespeare's words,

WILL'S WORD: Excitement
WHAT IT MEANS: A feeling of "Bring it on!"  This was a fairly new word in Will's time.  He helped people get excited about "excitement."
WHERE IT COMES FROM: HAMLET, ACT 4, SCENE 4.  There's a lot of excitement in Hamlet's family.  And not the good kind.
The "Will's Word" text boxes are displayed on a facsimile of parchment paper - a nice touch.  If John Shelley's illustrations don't necessarily capture the squalor of the time, they certainly capture the essence of living in a seething mass of humanity.  The pen, ink, and watercolor illustrations are positively teeming with activity - providing opportunity for exploring hundreds of small details in each scene.

I chose to highlight one of the shorter passages.  However, there are more than fifteen scenes packed with information presented in a lively, conversational tone that will keep readers' attention.  Teachers should love this one.

The book goes on sale today.  Look for it on a library shelf soon.  If you choose to purchase it, you will receive the gift of more words from Shakespeare, your "money's worth."

Author's Notes, Timeline, and Bibliography are included.

My copy of Will's Words was provided by the publisher at my request. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

A book with a plug - whaaat?

A book with a plug! Whaaat?

For car trips, young readers, struggling readers, and sheer entertainment, you can't beat a picture book/audio book combo for younger kids. 

Though schools and libraries may still keep book/CD kits in their collections, the truth is, CD players are not that common anymore. Newer computers don't come with a standard CD/DVD drive, cars don't always have them, and the only people I know who still have "boom boxes" are children's librarians.

That's why I was happy to receive a copy of  a new VOX (TM) "audio-enabled" book.  In my photo, the book is plugged into the wall for charging, but I did that just for show because a book with a plug cracked me up!  In truth, it arrived fully charged and ready to go - no plug required. (I didn't test it for battery performance.)  The audio recording and speaker are built right into the book and operated by a simple control panel - power, play, pause, volume, forward, and back. There is also a standard headphone jack. The audio is of comparable quality to any conventional children's book.  The book itself also seemed as sturdy as any, and was not overly heavy or burdensome.

Perhaps other companies have similar offerings, but this is the first book of its type that I've seen.  I think it has possibilities, and that the days of the book/CD kit are numbered.  I passed my copy along to a school superintendent who agreed that it might be a useful addition to his school's collection.  I did not inquire as to the price.  I was interested solely in the format.

If  you can get your hands on one, it's worth checking out.

(I'm not going to review the book, Don't Push the Button!, but will merely note that it is in a vein very similar to the wonderful Press Here by Herve Tullet. Kids will likely enjoy it.)

My review copy was provided by VOX Books.

As always on my blog, I review books and materials for educational purposes only, and receive nothing of value other than the review copy, its associated marketing materials, and the occasional thanks or consternation of its author or publisher.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Child of Spring - a review

We receive news of current events from many sources: news outlets, Facebook, BuzzFeed, friends, family, etc. Some of it is accurate, some of it is false, much of it is biased.  At best, each source reveals a glimpse of a larger picture.

I am in not suggesting that children's literature or cooking shows* can replace knowledge of current events, but it's easier to understand what's happening in a location if you understand what it's like to live there, play there, work there, learn there, and eat there.

I feel like learned more about the Iranian people from reading Persepolis or watching *Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown: "Iran" than I gleaned from "news."  Similarly, I never truly grasped the standing of females in Saudi Arabia until I read The Green Bicycle, based on the award-winning documentary, Wadjda. In The Green Bicycle, Wadja opens readers' hearts to the everyday struggles of girls in Iran. 

In Child of Spring, Basanta will open a door to the lives of children in a small Indian community.  You will be glad you passed through.

Child of Spring by Farhana Zia.
March, 2016, Peachtree Publishers.
(Advance Reader Copy)

Basanta lives in a small hut in India. Though only 12-years-old, she, and most of her friends, work.  Her best friend, Lali, takes care of siblings while her mother works.  The handsome Bala is a jack-of-all-trades - begging, gambling, stealing, or performing.  Beautiful and wily, Rukmani makes clay pots.  Basanta works at the Big House with her mother - cooking, cleaning, and serving the whims of a wealthy family, 

     The station tower clock struck seven times.  One by one, the residents of my busti ducked out of their huts.  Bangles jangled on the women's wrists..  The men puffed on their cheroots and coiled head cloths around their heads.
     The line at the water tap was already getting long and Rukmani was at the front of it, filling her pretty clay pots.  I ducked my head and walked by quietly  I didn't want to be peppered with questions about life at the Big House: "How many fluffy pillows on Little Bibi's bead, hanh?  How many ribbons for Little Bibi's hair?  How many eggs on Little Bibi's breakfast plate? Come, tell me, na?"
The life is hard, but the bonds of friendship and family within the impoverished busti make life bearable, even enjoyable.  Basanta is a good and generally obedient girl, but prone to clever scheming.  When she becomes the unlikely possessor of an expensive ring, a plan forms in her mind.  In practice, however, it turns out much differently than she expected! Spanning only a few weeks, the story ends on a hopeful note during Divali, The Festival of Lights.

Child of Spring is a sometimes predictable story, but its strength lies in the rich cultural detail of life in Basanta's community, and in the joy the residents find in life's small pleasures.

A Glossary of Indian terms and expressions is included.

From the publisher:
  • F&P (Fountas & Pinnell)
  • F&P Level: U
  • F&P Grade: 5

Read an excerpt of Child of Spring here.

Monday, March 14, 2016

I'm back!

Hello, Florida!

Well, I've packed up a home of 15 years, and a job of a decade, and moved them both almost 1,000 miles away - while simultaneously working (with little more than a week's break), hosting two of my kids for back-to-back spring breaks (one helped load the moving van in the North, and the other one helped unload it in the South), and flying back and forth for new-hire screenings and orientation.  (Have I mentioned that my husband and family are wonderful?)

Anyway, as of tomorrow, I will be "shelf-employed" in my new adopted state. 

If you've been waiting for me to review a book you've sent me, I've got a backlog, but I'm getting through them.

Back in business!  More soon ...


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 ...