Monday, November 30, 2009

Georgia Rises - Kathryn Lasky

A Day in the Life of Georgia O'Keeffe
Illustrated by Ora Eitan
Melanie Kroupa Books, FSG, 2009
Rating: 3.5
32 pages
Endpapers: 11 squares of illustrations of Georgia O'Keeffe in various daily activities - mainly outdoors.

This book is, indeed, about a ficticious day in the life of Georgia O'Keeffe when she was in her 70"s, living alone at her home in the New Mexican desert. She lived simply, waiting for the light to change, enjoying the joy of natural color and flowers and the shine of light on the bones she picked up in the desert.

Kathryn Lasky researched this (she calls it historical fiction) by reading many of O'Keeffe's letters and visiting Abiqui, O'Keeffe's home in the New Mexican desert. Her writing is eloquent and tells the story of O'Keeffe's life, her activities, her thinking, quite perfectly. I can so see it.

I wasn't enamored of the illustrations, although the cover was eye-catching and they do grow on me more and more as I look at them. The cream colored pages give the book a soft desert-y glow, but either the font type or color made it very difficult for me to read. And the page of gray font in the lavender sky seems almost invisible. Granted, I'm blind as a bat - but I'm reading this sitting in a sharply-lit library.....

This is a very nice addition to my collection of Georgia O'Keeffee picture books.

An interesting author's note and list of resources is included.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

MOVIE - Capitalism, A Love Story

Really interesting, but choppy
Released Oct. 2, 2009
NR (2:07)
Nov. 28, 2009 at Century Gateway with Fran
RT: 75% cag: Pretty much the same, I guess
Director: Michael Moore

The top 1 percent of this country has the wealth of the lowest 95 percent. Unimaginable. Unbelievable. This time, Michael Moore goes after the the banks, the CEO's that run the government, insurance policies that are taken out by companies on their employees (with the company as the beneficiary), the low pay of airline pilots, worker-owned companies.....big business...big business...capitalism....

It's all interesting, but I'm not quite sure how some of it fits together. It's not at all seamless. And I, as a watcher, and left thinking....OKAY, if that's so, what can I DO???? There's no insight into that.

The Listeners - Gloria Whelan

Illustrated by Mike Benny
Tales of Young Americans Series
Sleeping Bear Press, 2009
40 pages
For: Kids old enough to understand slavery
Rating: 4.5
Endpapers: White (a tiny drawback...)

I begin with Gloria Whelan's "Author's Note," found at the beginning of the book: "The lives of slaves depended on circumstances beyond their control. They had nothing to say about whom they would work for or where they would live. They never knew when they might be separated from their children or their spouses. Hoping to learn their fate, they sent small children to hide near the windows of their masters' homes to listen.

Authors are listeners, too, that's how they find their stories. They listen. Sometimes they hear stories from people who have lived them. Sometimes they hear words spoken long ago and set down in books. It's what writers do; they listen, and like Bobby, Sue, and Ella May they pass the stories along."

This information for kids is twofold - it talks to the reader about slavery AND about being a writer.

This book looks at slavery from a slightly different angle, it looks at the hard work that even very young children do, and it looks at how some of the massive groups of slaves were able to find out any information about what was going on in the country and in the world of their plantation. It is a thought-provoking tale about three young kids who listen outside the window of their "owner's" to glean any kind of news that might be relevant to them.

Dark, glorious illustrations going all the way to the edge of the page richly accentuate this gracefully told story. Outstanding.

Homegrown House - Janet S. Wong

Illustrated by E. B. Lewis
Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2009
for Kids
Rating: 3
Endpapers: Alternating squares that look like old-fashioned wallpaper, perhaps.

E. B. Lewis' watercolors are sumptious, as always. He does amazing things with shadows! He captures people perfectly - there's even one page that has its perspective from high up - not quite birds-eye view, but almost (the girls and her grandmother are looking down at the floor).

This is a story of the relationship between a girl and her grandmother. It's also the story of a girl wanting to stay in one house for more than a short amount of time, as her grandmother has. Some of the story is lovely - it's written in freeform verse and flows in a gentle way. The reason I can't give it a higher rating is because I think, although the essence of the story comes through clearly, there are some places that I can't tell whether it's talking about her grandmother's house, her new house, or her hopeful, future new home. It's probably me and the frame of mind I'm in right now, but I've gone back twice and I think it's now clear - it would probably be more clear for a kid withouth the extra-aged brain cells.

MOVIE - The Blind Side

A based-on-real -life, up-from-the bottom, feel-good movie
Released 11-20-09
PG-13 (2:06)
Thanksgiving, Nov. 26, 2009 at PP with Fran and Christine
RT: 73% cag: 90%
Director: John Lee Hancock
Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw

Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw portray real-life Memphis, Tennessee residents Leigh Annd and Sean Tuohy, who "adopted" a homeless black teen and helped him become the successful NFL football player that he is today. Mike Oher was smart, almost-silent, polite, huge, unschooled -- and homeless. He somehow got a chance to go to school in a private Christian school on the "other side" of town, and Leigh Anne Tuohyfigured out his dire straights and brought him home. One night turned into becoming his legal guardian. The two Tuohy children figure hugely into the story. And it's a wonderful, heart-warming story. Really well done. Really thoughtful. Even the football games are interesting. That Leigh Anne is one ball-of-fire! Sandra Bullock is great - so is Tim McGraw (who knew?) -- the whole cast really works (the young son, SJ, is GREAT). Lots of laughs, a few tears shed - a great Thanksgiving movie.

During the credits, there are videos and photographs of the REAL Mike Oher, the REAL Tuohys, NFL videos - good stuff. A perfect way to end the movie.

Friday, November 27, 2009

MOVIE - Julie and Julia

Wonderful movie - almost perfect!
Released Aug. 7, 2009
PG-13 (I'm not sure why....) (2:03)
Nov. 25, 2009 at Crossroads with Fran
RT: 74% cag 96%
Director: Nora Ephron
Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stnely Tucci, Chris Messina

Nora Ephron took two memoirs and wove them together. Beautifully. Then Meryl Streep BECAME Julia Child. What a performance! ! ! ! ! Superb doesn't cover it. She was incredible. Believable. Lovely. Special.

Amy Adams' Julie Powell, unhappy to have moved to a tiny apartment above a pizza shop inQueens and with her cubicle-telephone job taking calls concerning the World Trade Center, takes on a personal challenge. She loves to cook. She adores Julia Child, so decides to make every single recipe in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. In one year. 365 days. blog about it all.

The movie weaves Julie's story - with its many ups and downs AND her super-supportive husband with Julia's story - with its ups and downs and HER super-supportive husband (go Stanley Tucci!) beautifully, beautifully. Two hours and three minutes (with five or six previews beforehand) is a long time to sit, but I could have doubled that. Just plain fun.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

76. Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side - Beth Fantaskey

for: Young Adults
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009
HC $17.00
354 pgs.
Rating: 5

I loved this book - for many reason. It's many-layered. It starts out light and humorous then works itself slowly to a darker, heavier feel. It's really quite clever, as vampire stories go. Heads (many of them, actually) above the Marked series... I know there are lots and lots and even more lots of vampire teen books out there now, but this one is clever, well-written, and super enjoyable.

Jessica knows that she was adopted as a newborn from her Romanian parents. That's all she knows about her past - and all she really wants to know. She was raised on a farm in central Pennsylvania by "granola" parents, adored as an only child, nutured and loved. She is an ordinary, studious, fun-loving, honest American teenager. That is, until one day, on the first day of her much-anticipated senior year, Lucius Vladescu appears - and her past and future appear to become totally unbelievable. For both she and Lucius are vampires, promised to each other at the time of their births, to stop a huge vampire feud. Not only is she a vampire - but a vampire PRINCESS! Lucius becomes a foreign exchange student at Jessica (Antanasia is her real name-as much as she wants to deny it)'s high school - and the roller coaster ride starts there...a roller coaster rides with some interesting twists and turns. The storyline switches once in awhile from Jessica's first person point-of-view to letters that Lucius writes to his ancient vampire Uncle Vasile. These letters show an intelligence and humor in the young vampire that aren't to be missed - a great addition to the storyline. I read it in almost one long sitting - just couldn't put it down!

This is Beth Fantaskey's first book. I hope there are many more to follow.

The Circus Ship - Chris VanDusen

Candlewick, 2009
40 pages
Rating: 5
Endpapers: 2-color yellow, wide vertical stripes - very subtle.

This is the picture book my grandkids are getting for Christmas. With clever rhyming, snazzzy words, bright, fun illustrations, and rhythm shouting from every page, any kid would enjoy this. That it takes place on an island off the coast of Maine (home sweet home for much of my family) is an extra special touch. This island is SO Frenchboro or Islesford or Great Cranberry - and has its roots in a true tale from 1836!

A circus ship, loaded with animals, hits a ledge while heading south to Boston. Fifteen animals escape and swim to a nearby island. A sparsely, yet cozily inhabited, island. When the exceedingly mean circus owner comes to reclaim the animals, they are nowhere to be found. At least, not by him - but a bit of pouring over the two-page sperack and careful young eyes will find them all!

Wonderful in every way.

Check out Chris VanDusen's website.

Friday, November 20, 2009

75. Need - Carrie Jones

for: YA
Bloomsbury, 2009
306 pgs.
Rating: Hmmmm....3.5?? 4??

Within the first few pages Zara, the protagonist, arrives in Bangor and hits Rte 1A for the coast of Maine. Well. If I had a buck for each time I'd done this..... Every bit of the setting of this story is known to me. All the places that Zara's EMT grandmother is called to - Rte. 9, Acadia National Park. This Bedford, Maine has to be Ellsworth. I can see the high school, have walked the halls (and taken summer workshops) there many times. The library - I love the Ellsworth Library - is one of my favorite places. Betty, Zara's grandmother has to live in Lamoine or Trenton, or one of the long, twisting roads that attach the outside world to Ellsworth. And there's a blizzard in October. Major nor'easter. A little early for my liking - but we're talking Maine here. Those long, cold, gray winter days arriving in October are part of the reason I now live in Tucson!

So.....I loved loved loved the setting of the book. The heroine/protagonist Zara is a gutsy, interesting young lady. Liked her a lot. Some of the other characters were harder to get to know. I wanted more about them before startling images and information were given. Oh well. I must admit I couldn't put the book down. No vampires in this one! However, there are pixies (they sound a lot sweeter and nicer than they actually are) and plenty of "were's." Gold glitter. A lot left to the imagination. Not enough details! Specifics - what does "turning" look like? I needed deeper insight into everything that went on.

I feel like I've already given enough spoilers for the story. I don't want to give away the few secrets that you wait for. It's good. It's fun. Maybe the next in the series, out in January (I think) will give me more of that. I will be standing in line for the first Tucson copy....

So, yes, the book is about to have a sequel! To go to the "series" website click here.

74. The Day of the Pelican - Katherine Paterson

for: Middle and Upper grades
Clarion (H/M), 2009
146 pages
Rating: Incredibly mixed: I loved learning more about the plight of Albanians in Kosovo, there's so little we really know and understand. Some of the storytelling was terrific, but there were places where I know that kids will just put the book aside. And some of the storytelling was just that - a narrator telling a story. I was profoundly moved by the plight of this family. I do love Katherine Paterson's writing. This didn't seem like her extraordinary writing though. It was more....ordinary. I feel guilty and mean saying this about a powerful author. But it's the feeling I'm left with....

Meli's family goes through unbelievable cruelties in the three years between living a comfortable life in their home in Kosovo, then taking very few belongings and fleeing to a remote mountain KLA hideaway, then to live in a tiny farmhouse with uncle, aunt, elderly granny, cousin and her three kids (14 of them in all, I think), to trudge for days without food or water to be thrust into a freight car, dumped on the Macedonia border and put into a refugee traveling to Vermont to a new life. Horrible injustices. So much hate. And killing. Cruelty. Subhumanity. And this is going on in many places in the world RIGHT NOW! The story ends shortly after 9/11, which is another huge blow to this non-practicing Muslim family.

When we look around and see immigrants, we must realize how much they've left behind to be here. Huge pieces of themselves left behind. Family and friends that will never been seen again. I'm almost speechless with sadness. What can I do to help?

Here's another review, from Twenty by Jenny. It includes an interview with Katherine Paterson and her editor about the writing of the book. Quite interesting.

MOVIE - The Invention of Lying

Many good chuckles in this one....
Released 10-2-09
PG-13 (1:39)
11-19-09 at Crossroads (me, myself, & I)
RT: 56% cag 65%
Director: Ricky Gervais (also the protagonist, and writer, I think...)
Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe, a few fun big name additions with tiny parts

A fantasy alter-world where everyone tells the truth and there's not one moment of disbelief. "You're ugly and fat." "Never in a million years, pal." Nothing is kept to one's self - you tell it like it is and if you hear something negative (which is constant), you have to eat it up and take it. A very depressing world, full of unhappy people. But for some unknow reason, at the moment when our protagonist, Mark, is at his absolute lowest, he lies. He is believed. Totally and completely. And the story takes off from there.

Yeah, it's a love story. It's a story about "the man in the sky" who has never been heard of before. Mark invents him to answer some questions. It's fun and funny most of the time. There is, of course, some eye-rolling that will inevitably take place in this sort of story, but there are some big chuckles. Politically-incorrect chuckles, to be sure. It was an enjoyable movie that doesn't leave you up, or down, or anywhere really. Just....entertainment, I guess.

I knew immediately that the sweeping setting was somewhere in Massachusetts. I was thinking perhaps one of the mill-type towns in western Mass. I watched the credits 'til the end (as I always do....I know....boring, boring.....) and it was filmed in Lowell, Mass. Not quite western Mass, but almost. Isn't it funny how sometimes you know something for sure?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Mitten - Jim Aylesworth

Illustrated by Barbara McClintock
Scholastic, 2009
$16.99 32 pages
Rating: 4
Endpapers: red
A very cute & cuddly winter story.

A "once upon a time" story. The expressions on the animal's faces alone are a good reason to read this book!

A young boy every year receives a warm hat, scarf, and mittens from his grandmother. He plays and plays in the snow...and loses a mitten. Because it's cold they decide to have some hot chocolate and check for the mitten in the morning.

Well. During the night a variety of animals cuddle into the bright red mitten to keep warm - it stretches and it stretches until it's so full of cuddlying animals that it explodes. Cute, very cute.
(And then of course Gram knits a new mitten.)

This is an old folktale from the Ukraine. I'm quite sure Jan Brett has also illustrated this story. Great for comparing versions. Also a great gift for a knitting gram to give her lovin' kiddo...a hat, scarf, mittens, the book, a package of hot chocolate, and a small stuffed squirrel (or bunny or fox or bear or mouse!)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Imogene's Last Stand - Candace Fleming

Illustrated by Nancy Carpenter
Schwartz & Wade Books, 2009
32 pages
Rating: 4
Endpapers: Info and thumbnail sketches of each of the 14 quoters in this book

Kids haven't had to memorize much history in recent years. I held a jeopardy game in my classroom and found this out firsthand. They have no clue about famous quotes. Well, NO MORE! Imogene will introduce them!

Imogene lives in a tiny little town in New Hampshire (the state itself is in the middle of nowhere...I can say that....I'm from Maine and spent most of my childhood summers in New Hampshire) and they seem pretty uninterested in the world around them, particularly history. Imogene loves history. She has since she was tiny, and when she discovers the old building that is the hisorical society, she cleans and shuffles and displays and gets ready to open the building to the public. But nobody comes. (What boring town citizens!) Then Mayor Butz decides to sell the property to a shoelace family so that the town will be "put on the map." Imogene tries everything to spark some enthusiasm for retaining the historical old building, but to no avail....until she discovers a letter on an old piece of parchment from George Washington thanking the building owners for their terrific hospitality. Yup. George Washington slept there. Saved, just in the lick of time!

Not only does Imogene have great quotes, she knows who said them. We hear from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. ("We are made by history"), John Paul Jones ("I have not yet begun to fight!") and even the famous chant of Vietnam War protesters ("Heck no, I won't go!"....wait a minute, was it really "heck".....?) Of course, a happy ending, sprinkled with all sorts of historical quotes and tidbits. Viva Imogene!

"Balderdash" - Teddy Roosevelt
"Hear me, my chiefs. I am tired, my heart is sick and sad." - Chief Joseph
"A great oak is only a little nut that held its ground." - Abraham Lincoln
.....are just a few more. Enjoy!

There are some other reviews for you to read out there in cyberspace:
Try Bri Meets Books or 100 Scope Notes, both great blogs.

January's Sparrow - Patricia Polacco

Philomel Books, 2009
96 good-sized pages
For: grades 3/4+
Rating: 5
Endpapers: Pale, shimmery, sage green

When I was in college, the main owrk for passing my social studies methods course was creating a curriculum about the Underground Railroad. I read and researched every children's book I could possibly find. That was .... a number of years ago ... but I have added occasionally to that curriculum. This book has to one of the best of any of them.

This story begins and ends in the voice of January, a black runaway slave that was captured, tortured, and put to death for his actions. Two days later, his adopted family, the Crosswhites, decided to run when they discovered their sons were to be sold away from them. The youngest was a girl named Sadie, and most of the story is told from her point-of-view. It's not an easy story. It tells of violence and hatred and ridiculous laws. It also tells of compassion and caring that travels well beyond the usual bonds of friendship.

The Crosswhite family makes it safely to Marshall, Michigan, which is free. However, they are still runaway slaves and can be arrested and returned to their owners if they are caught. Marshall is a friendly town of blacks and whites living together, so they decide to stay and rest for awhile. Seasons come and go until they'v been there for four years, and a new baby girl has been born to the family. But then....yup....they are found by their viscious owner.

What brave people. Not just the family, but the people of the town. Apparently the town is only a dozen miles away from where Patricia Polacco herself lives, and she'd always heard stories about this family. One of the Marshall, Michigan middle school teachers did most of the research for the book. A destination for one of my upcoming summer trips? I've only spent a short amount of time in Michigan....

Okay, I'll admit to springing a few tears at the end of this long read. It's more than a picture book. I can't get through Polacco's fabulous Pink and Say without crying, and this is a wonderful addition to her collection.

Lissy's Friends - Grace Lin

Viking, 2007
32 pages
for: kids
Rating: 3.5
Front endpaper: Large red crane and title page information
Back endpaper: Clear directions on how to fold a paper crane

Lissy moves to a new school and no one talks to her. Tired of having no friends, she begins folding paper and soon has a menagerie of various new folded paper friends - beginning with a crane, then giraffe, bear, dog, frog, rabbit, snake, elephant..... until one day they all fly away in a big gust of wind. One of her classmates catches one of them. They become friends, and Lissy teaches her to fold animals as well. In that way, Lissy became one of the gang.

The illustrations are great - right down to the fabric and origami paper patterns. Bright and bold, and the kind you want to cut right out of the book and put on the wall to brighten up a room.

Feel like folding paper cranes? Start out with reading this book. Afterwards, if kids are old/mature enough, read to them about Sadako.

Building on Nature - Rachel Rodriguez

The Life of Antoni Gaudi
Illustrated by Julie Paschkis
Henry Holt & Co., 2009
32 pages
Rating: 4.5
Endpapers: Mustard, with lighter colored stenciled pomegranites and vines
Author's Note

Antoni Gaudi was an architect, born in 1852, that devoted his career to the city and surroundings of Barcelona at the turn of the century. Apparently, these magnificent creations are the number one tourist draw to that city. I wonder if you can make it as a tourist there with no Spanish?

This was all new information for me. Fascinating, spellbinding information. I've spent a couple of hours online since reading the book, looking up photos and more information (some links can be found at the end of this short review). Gaudi had an unbounded, creative enthusiasm for line and swoops and thinking outside the box-of-the-norm, creating from nature and the world around him. Apparently, he was even somewhat of an ecologist, reusing materials. Mosaics! Glass! Swooping metals. I really must go to Barcelona now. Never had any desire before this......

I have quite a fondness for Julie Paschkis' illustrations in both Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal and Night of the Moon -- and I do enjoy the illustrations in this book.....but I don't think they quite do justice to the fantastic architectural achievements of Antoni Gaudi.

"Gaudi's buildings curve and arch. They sparkle and glitter and whisper with joy."

His first big project, as described in the book, is the Vicens House (Casa Vicens). There's a photograph of it here. Wow. There are some great photos of the crypt at Colonia Guell here. And check out the incredible design of Casa Batllo here and here (this site is quite something, even accompanied by music). You can see the waves and swells of Casa Mila here, and take a tour of the unbelievable Park Guell here. And Gaudi's ultimate Holy Family Church can be seen - from many different angles- here.

Stars Above Us - Geoffrey Norman

Illustrated by E. B. Lewis
G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2009
32 pages
For: kids
Rating: 4
Endpapers: Dusky blue

Amanda's father reads her bedtime stories, and comforts her when she's afraid of things. When she tells him she's afraid of the dark, he picks her up and shows her all the wonderful things that can be found in the dark - fireflies and the night sky, full of stars. Then he gets some glow-in-the dark stars and creates a night sky on her bedroom ceiling.

But that's only the beginning of the story. We soon discover that Amanda's father is "going away" for a long time. He reminds her of the connection in the sky, and that the North Star can be seen from anyplace in the world. When he calls her on the phone, you can see he is in army fatigues. He keeps reminding her to wish on "their" star.

And home her dad does come, it's afterquite awhile, but he does return. And she surprises him with lots of additions to the night display in her darkened bedroom.

A gentle but powerful story. And E. B. Lewis' illustrations, as usual, delicate and poignant and perfect.

Thanks a Lot, Emily Post! - Jennifer LaRue Huget

Illustrated by Alexandra Boiger
Schwartz & Wade Books, 2009
32 pages
for: and full of chuckles
Rating: 4
Endpapers: Blue with a continues stream of Rules of Etiquette in aqua.

Apparently, Emily Post's original book of etiquette, Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home, was published in 1922. She invented people with appropriate names - Mrs. Toplofty, Mr. Kindhart, Mrs. Worldly, Mrs. Wellborn - to illustrate good manners. Ms. Huget includes them in this story. Emily Post's famous blue book is the basis for this picture book.

Enter one family - four kids and a dog - whose mother has just purchased Emily Post's groundbreaking book. Oh no....manners!

There's good storytelling foing on here, but it's the way that the illustrations and text interact that creates a little something extra. The 1922 family appears in full color, but many of the illustrations have blue and white ghostly additions - the aforementioned Mrs. Toplofty, Mr. Kindhart, Mrs. Worldly, and Mrs. Wellborn - "helping out."

The story has a clever turn-about twist near the end - with the help of Emily Post, naturally! Hey, what a great story....
Contents, check plus
Illustrations, check plus
New information, check

I'm reading this one aloud to my fourth graders!

Finding Lincoln - Ann Malaspina

Illustrated by Colin Bootman
Albert Whitman & Co., 2009
32 pages
for: all kids - elementary especially
Rating: 4.5
Endpapers: med. brown
Author's Note

This is an essential book to share with kids. This took place just 50 years ago. This is not ancient history. It's heartbreaking. What were people thinking??? Segregation??? A very difficult happenstance for me to fathom at all.

Louis walks past the public library every day - but he is not allowed to enter. It's for WHITES ONLY.

He wants to find more information on Abraham Lincoln. The only way is to find a book that might have the information. The small collection of books that's been gathered in the church basement has nothing relevant. So he takes a huge chance and walks into the library. He is berated and asked to leave immediately. But one librarian whispers to him to come back the next day after five. He does, and she sneaks him in, finding him just the right book.

Okay, so libraries became desegrated in the mid-60's...and not without fights and injuries. What is wrong with people? I just don't understand, I never will...and I guess I don't want to!

Great story telling. Lovely illustrations that really capture the thoughts and "essence" of people on their faces. This is a wonderful book....but how sad that it had to be written!

Heroes and She-roes - J Patrick Lewis

Poems of Amazing and Everyday Heroes
Illustrated by Jim Cooke
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2005
40 pages
for: elementary school kids (and all the rest of us, too)
Rating: 5
Endpapers: Avocado

Poems of heroes in general. Poems about specific heroes. Heroes that I didn't know about. Heroes I never really thought about. There are so many heroes in our lives to consider. This is book to help kids - and us all - remember that!

Each of the 21 poems has information about the person or event that is the subject of the poem, which makes the book even more interesting. The illustrations are portraits: witty, colorful. I can picture an overhead for each page or double page to greet the kids in the morning as they enter the classroom, for reflection, journaling, even handwriting, and of course, for plain old enjoyment!

Heroes and She-roes

Give thanks to the he- and she-roes
Who will turn upon a dime
When occasion calls for action ---
And be there in half the time.

Roll red carpets out for she-roes
And to heroes raise a toast
For extraordinary courage ---
Yet you’ll never hear them boast.

Lend your hand to he- and she-roes,
To the valiant and the brave,
To those simple people know by
Two simple words: The gave.

The Elementary School Teacher

A teacher is a person
To get the third degree
From Second Grade!

Teachers are pathfinders, guides, truth-seekers, champions, role models, and guardians. Some of the greatest heroes and she-roes can be found in classrooms.

(I had to include this. It makes me feel really good...and reminds me of the many teachers and mentors that have helped create the teacher that I am today.)

The Organizer

Cesar Chavez
Migrant Labor Organizer, 1927-1993

Cesar was a peaceable fighter
With his back against the wall.
He was the David to Goliaths,
One worker against them all.

Up from the Mexican culture,
He rallied migrants to unite
And challenged consumers to boycott
Five years for the grape pickers’ plight.

Cesar won and lost many battles
But never resorted to arms,
And the carried the torch for La Causa
Across California farms.

Poor migrants, whose harvest was hunger,
Depended on him to be strong,
To ignite the fight and fight for right
And everywhere right the wrong.

Here are the other subjects included:

The Seeker (Helen Keller)
The Explorers (Meriwether Lewis & William Clark)
The Unknown Rebel (Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China, June 5, 1989)
The Wonder Dog (Togo, Alaska, 1925)
The Little Angel of Colombia (Alabeiro Vargas, Columbia South America) REALLY INTERESTING!
The Peacemaker (Mohandas Gandhi)
The Nun (Sister Jeannette Normandin)
The Great One (Roberto Clemente) Includes some unknown-to-me information
The Bareback Rider (Lady Godiva) No kidding - talk about fascinating...
The Preachers (MLK, Jr. & Mahalia Jackson)
The Riveter ("Rosie the Riveter)
The Journalist (Ida Wells-Barnett)
The Soldier (Joan of Arc)
The Steadfast (Rosa Parks)
The Immigrants
The Child Laborer (Iqbal Masih) Whoa! This'll make me dig deeper...

Wonderful. Should be in every 3-6th grade classroom!

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Gift - Yong Chen

Boyds Mills Press, 2009
32 pages
Rating: 4
Endpapers: Red

A simple story.

I live 3000 miles away from my family, but I don't have to cross an ocean to get the them. I live in the same country and am surrounded by the same cultural stimuli as them. Not so for the mother of the protagonist in this lovely picture book.

Amy's mother's family lives in China - far away from Amy's American home. It's really difficult being so far from loved ones, but there are certain times that are even more difficult. For Amy's mom, the Chinese New Year is one of those times.

A package and a letter arrive from China. The mother's siblings, working together, have created a beautiful dragon pendant from a lovely found piece of stone. It's a beautiful gift within a loving, far-flung family.

Note" Red is the color of luck in Chinese tradition. For Amy to hang her pendant from a red string is a sign of live and a wish for luck.

Illustrations are realistic, large, many complete cover the page. The appear to depict the Chinese culture well.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

73. Homeboyz - Alan Lawrence Sitomer

Jump at the Sun/Hyperion, 2007
283 pages
for: YA/High School
Rating: 4.5

Although this book is the third in a series about siblings living in the inner city of LA, I have not read the first two and did not need to. It stands alone. And it's good. Impossible to put down. I inhaled it in two evenings.

Teddy Anderson's 14 year-old sister has been killed - an innocent bystander - in a gang killing. 17 year-old Teddy, who is more-than bright and a computer hacker extraordinaire, is driven by revenge. He's not part of a gang, but he knows them, understands the mentality, because he's always lived in the 'hood. His brilliant plan has one tiny, microscopic, unforeseen hitch, and he is caught and incarcerated. It's the punishment that "makes the man"....and saves a 12-year old wanna-be gangsta as well.

You see a little bit into the reason that gangs still blossom and grow. It's difficult to understand, but you can see why it happens and what its enticements are. Powerful book.

Sad stuff. Good stuff. Fascinating stuff. Viva la biblioteque! A well written story with a happy ending, redemption... and a little bit of mystery still left. A fourth novel, perhaps?

Yum! MmMm! Que Rico! - Pat Mora

America's Sproutings
Illustrated by Rafael Lopez
Lee & Low Books, 2007
32 pages
Love the Illustrations.
Love the Interesting paragraph for each haiku.
Not crazy about some of the haiku.
Endpapers: Pumpkin orange

Discover the foods NATIVE to North and South America. There might even be a few surprises! A really informative, interesting, well-researched paragraph about each individual food sits in the left edge of the left page (black font on a rich, a haiku about the same food sits on the right page. Illustrations are gorgeous - bold, bright, no white (the originals are acrylic on wood). Love 'em.

Blueberry --- Chili --- Chocolate --- Corn --- Cranberry --- Papaya --- Peanut --- Pecan --- Pineapple --- Potato --- Prickly Pear --- Pumpkin (look at all the P's!) --- Tomato --- Vanilla


Fudge, cake, pie, cookies.
Brown magic melts on your tongue.
Happy, your eyes dance.

I teach haiku each year. It's great for figuring out syllables, stresses, rhythm. I always encourage the kids to get rid of any non-essential words by putting in a snazzier one. Also encouraged is adding a word to make sure that it paints the picture it needs to paint. We really work on having them make total sense. Some of the haikus in this book leave out words to the point that they don't really paint the picture they need to paint. Others will disagree, I'm sure.
Don't get me wrong - it's a great book. I'm just not crazy about some of the haikus.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Moses - Carole Boston Weatherford

When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom
Illustrator: Kadir Nelson
Jump at the Sun/Hyperion Books for Children, 2006
48 pages
Rating: 4.5
Endpapers: bright yellow-orange
Forward and Author's Note
2007 Caldecott Honor Award
2007 Coretta Scott King WINNER

Kadir Nelson is a master at creating mood in his illustrations., I can smell the air. I can hear the crickets. I can feel her intense sadness.

I know well the story of Harriet Tubman and her many trips between the south and the north guiding slaves to freedom. I know of her bravery and perseverance. I did not know about her deep spirituality and belief in God, although I guess I'm not surprised. This book is the story of her first journey - a lone journey - and the talks she might have had with God. The same kind of conversation that the original Moses might have had with God. Those words - God's answers to her questions, his guiding advice, are written in a larger, paler font and twist and turn in and around the pictures. Quite beautiful. But we're talking Kadir Nelson here....

I like the way this shows the relationship Harriet Tubman felt with God. It doesn't matter whether or not you're a believer - it tells of HER beliefs. And it's apparently those beliefs, that relationship, that pushed her and gave her the bravery to succeed.

1820-1913. I've been to her grave. I have a photo somewhere. I'll look for it.

Monday, November 9, 2009

If the Shoe Fits - Laura Whipple

Voices from Cinderella
Illustrated by Laura Beingessner
Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2002
68 pages
Rating: pretty cool
Endpapers: Icy blue

Told in 33 different verse/poems, we hear the voices of Cinderella, her father's ghost, her stepmother, her cat, the king, the queen, and their son, (yup, that's the prince-) the stepsisters (which are poems in two voices), the ball guests (told in many voices), her "godmother", a rat, and even each lost shoe AND her feet - well, this would make a great reader's theater poduction for 17 or 18 kids. I was reminded of Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! (Schlitz) as I read. Many possibilities here. Here's how it starts:

Father's Ghost

Hear my voice first.
Blinded by a cunning woman,
I was the unfortunate fool
who set the stage
for the ashes and tears in this tale.

Left widowed
with a daughter,
my sweet Ella,
I remarried in a rush.
Rash move.
Reckless choice
for a new wife.

I planned to make amends
to my daughter,
but I fell from my horse.
A fast death.
No life. No remedy
then for my mistake.

What a fool to take
that woman into our lives;
a woman cruel,
uncaring at best.

I am only shadow now.
My poor Ella.
I cannot help her.
I cannot rest.

Great vocabulary. A pleasurable retelling of the most-commonly told Cinderella.

Illustrations accentuate the book, but don't dominate. I'd really like to try this aloud!

Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal - Paul Fleischman

A Worldwide Cinderella
Illustrated by Julie Paschkis
Henry Holt & Co., 2007
32 pgs.
Rating: 4,5
Endpapers: Aqua & avacodo world map showing 17 locations that are included in the story - bordered
Author's Note

I'm quite enamored of Paul Fleischman's work (I'm trying to forget that he wrote The Dunderheads), and this beautiful Cinderella does not disappoint. One of the reasons I love Fleischman's writing so much is that you never know exactly what to expect - he always has a clever take on things. Well, this Cinderella draws from 17 different countrys' adaptations of the story. So you'll be reading along, and get a page split into halves, or thirds, or quarters: And on the girl's feet appeared a pair of glass slippers (France)...diamond anklets (India)...sandals of gold (Iraq)....

The colors! The artwork! The book design! All my favorites are included, which make the visual enjoyment of this story even more wonderful. The fairly small amount of text is written in small white boxes that are framed by batik-looking backgrounds. Paschis uses designs and motifs from each of the various cultures that she's depicting. The illustration for each is placed in a rectangle above the text, and she includes as much information from the country as possible. The only thing that never changes is Cinderella's face.

Clever. Visual. A wonderful Cinderella. Read it after you've shared a few of the many, many available that tell the story from another culture's point of view.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

72. Cam Jansen: The Mystery of the Babe Ruth Baseball - David Adler

Cam Jansen Adventure Series #6
Illustrated by Susanna Natti
(recently updated cover art by Joy Allen)
Scholastic, 1982
58 pages
Rating: 3.5
(2.7, 500L, L, 28 DRA)

Cam Jansen is a fifth grader with a photographic memory. Therefore, she's able to solve mysteries, and that's what she does in this story. She and her best friend Eric accompany her parents to a hobby show. While there, an authographed Babe Ruth baseball is stolen. Cam uses her mental abilities and tracks down the thief.

(It would help if you know a little about the history of baseball when reading the story, and have a bit of an idea of who Babe Ruth was.)

The story is simple, simple to read - a second grade level - so is particularly well-suited for 3rd or 4th graders who are having reading difficulties to practice their reading. A somewhat interesting story with details, adventurous, with a mystery to solve.


I've been studying and collecting Cinderella stories for awhile now. Yesterday I read a really thought-provoking blog at Book Aunt. It's called How Cinderella Got Twittered. I went and pulled out all my copies of Cinderella and reread five or six of them. What IS the difference between a storybook and a picture book? It's time to start looking at some of the picture books I'm reading from a different angle. There is certainly a "place" for both in our kids' libraries.

In Search of Cinderella (Katharine Goodwin, Shen's Books, 2000) A Curriculum for the 21st Century includes a few pages of general Cinderella information and ideas (including "Creating Your Own Cinderella Tale") and specific activities for twelve different multicultural Cinderella picture books. This is a wonderful start for a Cinderella classroom investigation that includes some excellent ideas. I've found it very useful and interesting.

I've already reviewed Bubba the Cowboy Prince (Ketteman/Warhola), which is a male Cinderella in a cowboy/southwestern setting. It's a yeeha kind of fun.

And then there's the breathtaking Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal (Fleischman/Paschkis) which includes adaptations from 17 different cultures. Visually gorgeous.

If the Shoe Fits (Whipple/Beingessner) is Cinderella's story told in verse/poems in the voices of the characters in the story, including the main characters we know so well --- as well as the shoes, a rat, and even the dead father. The stepsisters and the ball guests are poems for more-than-one voice. Well done, a great reader's theater.

I'm off to find more....

Not a picture book, a YA dystopian/scifi take on it that's fun to compare:  Cinder (Marissa Meyer).

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Cool Cat - Nonny Hogrogian

A Neal Porter Book/Roaring Book Press, 2009
36 pages
Rating: 3.5
Endpapers: (They actually begin this wordless story, 2 different illustrations framed in white)

This wordless picture book begins with a black and white cat (just like the "Mittens" we had when I grew up) in a rocky, brown, desolate place. The only vegetation is dead and broken, and the ground is littered with empty tin cans and a broken bottle. But the cat has a paint set in a wooden box, and slowly begins to paint the scene. Starting in the corner leaves appear, then a blue sky begins. A mouse comes to help...then a bunny, then a cardinal. The colors are now spreading from left and write as the animals are joined by a turtle, a squirrel, a goldfinch, a frog. A mallard duck appears to swim in the water that's been included. Butterflies flitter across the page, flowers appear, becoming more and more sluh. The animal friends celebrate.

Most of the two page spreads are made created as one long, horizonatal painting, with about an inch of white around the edges as a frame. More and more story comes into your head every time you take a trip through the pages. It really is a environmental/ecological story as well - to take your world from a dead, barren place to a live, green one...

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Underwear Salesman - J. Patrick Lewis

And Other Jobs for Better or Verse
Illustrated by Serge Bloch
Ginee Seo Books/Atheneum, 2009
Rating: 3.5
Endpapers: 24 different paris of boxer shorts with various pricing....(cute)

The first poem, "Guess how many jobs there are /At the occupation salad bar!" are six clevery written, four-line stanzas. There's an interesting rhyme pattern, each stanza begins with a triplet, then then the fourth line of each is in an aabbcc pattern. Interesting rhyme and easy rhythm. We things about 49 (if I counted right) different occupations, some that you never would think of. Exterminator, Mapmaker, Belly Dancer, Highway Line Painter, Pet Groomer, Banana Picker, Bridge Painter, Sunken Treasure Hunter, Acupuncturist, Cuckoo-Clock Repairman, Paleontologist.....

Illustrations are a mixture of line drawings, simple painting, and collage. In most cases, lots of white. The Marathon Runner pome is a city neighborhood in oranges with no white, and is pretty snazzy:

Marathon Runner

Long duration
Big ovation
(Long vacation!)


I take a word, and then another,
Let them get to know each other,

Exercise them till they learn
A song to sing, a phrase to turn.

I choose strong verbs right off the bat
(Since adjectives are high in fat).

Some words may act excited, nervous,
But all are glad to be of service.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Pssst! - Adam Rex

Harcourt, 2007
Rating: 4
Endpapers: zoo map in lt. brown, lt. green & lt. rust
Clever title page - info is incorporated into a NYC subway station illustration

Jacketflap: "What happens when a bunch of animals have been cooped up too long? Pssst! You're about to find out."

A girl goes to the zoo, where animals repeatedly get her attention to ask for something. Every 2-3 pages there's a conversation between her and a different animal. These pages are divided into six boxes with graphic-novel-type conversations taking place.

Their requests are interesting but make sense - the gorilla needs new tires - his tire swing broke. The bats need flashlights - the hippo in their cave can't see. And so on. And she's good...she figures out how to grant all their requests - phew! But, there's a great surprise twist at the end. And you realize that if you'd thought about the jacket flap a little more, you would have guessed something was going to happen!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Big Snow - Berta & Elmer Hader

Caldecott Medal 1949
Simon & Schuster, 1948
48 pages
Rating: 4.5
Endpapers: Aqua-y blue with different white 1.5 inch snowflakes

Although I've seen the cover of this book - it's a Caldecott after all - I don't ever remember reading it. It's actually a great introduction to the coming of winter for the animals in the northern climates for young kids - or kids who live in Arizona and don't have this sort of change of seasons!

The illustrations are beautifully rendered black and white (charcoal? pencil?) with lovely detail. Flora and fauna. Every few pages the illustrations are in color - watercolor - and a totally different look than the black and white. I wonder if the two author/illustrators each had their own media? (More research!) Although I like the black and white illustrations the best, the two page watercolor of the snow blanketing the world - a winter wonderland - is just lovely.

Although told somewhat in story format, this is more of an informational book about what happens to various birds and animals in the winter. Preparation, hibernation and migration are all included. Informative and interesting.

A surprising touch near the end - when the animals are getting a little desperate with hunger because the storm has been pretty major, covering even their stores of food - an elderly couple shovels out of their home and leave all sorts of food for the animals - thoughtfully including both winged and four-legged.

This is a very lovely book. I had no clue. I'm wondering why, in my mind, I was thinking the beauty and story in these older books would be of a poorer quality because they're "old." How ridiculous! I'm so glad I'm taking this journey through the Caldecott books!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Kartchner Caverns, Benson, Arizona

The Arizona State Park System is doing an extraordinary job, as far as I can tell. Today I took my fourth grade class to visit Kartchner Caverns just south of Benson in southern Arizona. It was an amazing -- and outstanding -- experience for all of us. A real treat.

There are two different tours available, we took the Rotunda/Throne Room tour. After an interesting glimpse of history and animal life at the Discovery Center (darn, the video was on the blink) and some crawling through three simulations of cave entrances, we embarked on a short tram ride up to the entrance to the cave.

Once there, we entered a series of airtight doors, walking in amazement through a long, winding corridor that has been dynamited through the mountain. The humidity is amazingly high - 99% - my glasses kept steaming up. And then we got into the cave itself. It's a wonder. A real wonder. Back in ...1974ish....two twenty-something spelunkers climbed down into a sinkhole in the middle of the desert and discovered it. They knew enough to be really careful, so that even the originial tracks through the mud at the very bottom of the cave are the ones they retraced every time.

This is a "wet" cave, still alive. That means it's still forming its steleothems - stalactites and stalagmites and soda straws, bacon, drapery, popcorn - so many different kinds of formations. At the end of the tour you sit in an area looking down into the "Throne Room" and watch a slow, careful light show along with some beautiful music. Breathtaking. Every one of the kids was impressed.

I'm going back - soon. I want to take the second tour, the one of the "Big Room." Kartchner Caverns Tenth Anniversary is this weekend - what a phenominal, environmentally sound excursion they have created for the populace. An incredible treat.

One Red Apple - Harriet Ziefert

Illustrated by Karla Gudeon
Blue Apple Books, 2009
32 pages (one flips up)
Rating: 5
Endpapers: small apples, bees, bluebirds, cores, leaves on a pale brown background

Oh-oh-oh. This is beautiful!

Simple. Thoughtful. G-O-R-G-E-O-U-S illustrations. A five through and through.

The story shows an apple being picked from a tree, trucked to market, bought at a farm stand, and eaten. It shows birds eating the apple core, leftover seeds being scattered and planted randomly. The seed germinates and sprouts - grows to a big tree (here we flip up the page to see it all) and sprouts beautiful pink blossoms. And then it's time to pick the fruit and watch the cycle begin again.

On the back jacket flap it shows another book by this writer and illustrator - Hanukkah Haiku!
It also states that Karla Gudeon's art is displayed in galleries around the U. S. I wonder where?

NOTE: A Great book to read to young kids each October before going apple picking!

The Marvelous Toy - Tom Paxton

Illustrated by Steve Cox
Includes a 4-song CD
Imagine! A Peter Yarrow Book
24 pgs.
for: ages 3-5
Rating: 4.5
Endpapers: a mesmerizing blue/aqua shooting-star filled sky

Magical. Every page is magical.

I've been a Tom Paxton fan for a zillion years. Seen him in concert four or five times. He's funny, clever, and quite politica (he doesn't miss anything)l. A very cool guy. And I've heard this song dozens of times - including live. So I sang along as I read. The book follows the words to the song, showing a father giving a cool new toy to a son...and ending with this same son, now grown, passing it along to his own son. The gorgeous bright-blue toned illustrations are a blast to ingest.

This is a yummy book - a great gift for a young child - with four Paxton songs included! ! !

(And I see that not only did Paxton get a Life Achievement Grammy this year, he has a new album (Comedians and Angels) out. Bravo, Tom Paxton!)

Monday, November 2, 2009

71. Junie B. Jones & the Stupid Smelly Bus - Barbara Park

Junie B. Jones series, Book #1
Illustrated by Denise Brunkus
Stepping Stone Book/Random House, 1992
RL: 2.0, ages 6-9
74 pages
Rating: 4.5

Hilarious 1st person narrative. Junie B. is a HOOT!

The story is of her first day at school and her traumatic bus ride. She really, REALLY didn't want to ride home on it, so she hid in the classroom supply closet. She nammped. She investigated the school. But then she had to go to the bathroom and all the bathroom doors were locked. It was an emergency - and she'd been taught what to 911!

Peeny Butter Fudge - Toni Morrison & Slade Morrison

Illustrated by Joe Cepeda
Paula Wiseman Book/Simon & Schuster, 2009
32 pages
Rating: 4

First of all, the illustrations are bright, super colorful, and completely cover the page - no white at all.

Secondly, we meet a very cool grandmother; a break-the-rules gram, a let's-try-something-new nan, a Converse-wearing, game-playing, cook-it-up-good granny.

And thirdly, we enjoy some nice rhyme (I lose the rhythm in a couple of spots) in a very warm-fuzzy story.

A just plain fun book about enjoying life with a grandparent.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

70. The Book of Air and Shadows - Michael Gruber

A Novel
Audio read by Stephen Hoye
Published: 2007
For: Adults
15 cds/ 18.5 hours
480 pages
Rating: 3
Publisher's Weekly Starred Review

Told from three points of view, parts of this book were v-e-r-y tedious, others more interesting. My biggest problem with it, right from the start, was that I didn't think the reader (Stephen Hoye) fit. At all. Something about the timbre of his voice, or his accent, or......well, I'm not sure. But I began wishing I were reading it instead of listening to it. I bet I would have liked the story much more.

The three points of view: Jake Mishken was a dolt. Albert Crusetti was a gem. Richard Brayskirtle was a pompous ass, a seventeenth century pompous ass (and Jake Mishken was his 20th century counterpart). Well, this doesn't tell much about the story. Okay. Albert Crusetti and his coworker, Caroline Raleigh, find some hidden letters inside the covers of a 17th century book. Some are encoded. Throughout the book, we, the readers, are allowed to hear/see/read these letters, the tale of Richard Brayskirtle and his association with William Shakespeare. Apparently, he has hidden away a WS play about Mary, Queen of Scots. When Crusetti gets duped out of the letters, they make their way to Jake Mishken, an intellectual property lawyer, who becomes very deeply embroiled in the escapades that are to follow - including his family (Nazi mother, Jewish father, former thug-current priest brother, rich Swiss wife and two odd children), the Crusetti family (librarian mother, deceased cop father, lawyer and cop siblings), and a variety of Russian gangsters and Shakespearean scholars. It sounds a bit complicated, and it's interesting at points, exciting at points, and pointless at points.

Get it? You switch back and forth between Shakespeare's early 1600's and contemporary America, with a bit of contemporary England thrown in. Good luck.