Monday, November 24, 2008

Sourpuss and Sweetie Pie - Norton Juster

Illustrator: Chris Raschka
For: Kids
Published: October, 2008
Rating:5 for story/ 1 for illustrations
Read: This weekend
Endpapers: Bright lilac
Sequel to 06 Caldecott: The Hello Goodbye Window

When a little girl visits her Nanna and Poppy, they never know if she'll be sweet and funny or grumpy and impossible - or both at the same time! There's lots of dialogue, lots of loving situations - but the illustrations are just blobs of color with a sparse few black lines showing detail. Maybe it's just the mood I'm in - but.....uck. I know people rave about Chris Raschka's art. I love moder/abstract art myself, Kandinsky and Haring are my very favorite artists...but this cool story was NOT enhanced by these nondescript scribbles. At least, not to enhance this story. Do kids relate to these illustrations?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Wild Boars Cook - Meg Rosoff

Illustrator: Sophie Blackall
For: preschool-Gr 2
Published: Sept, 2008
Rating: 3.5
Read: This weekend
Endpapers: Closeup of the boar's fur

Snorting, stinky javelinas and I go way back, so this book, sitting on the new picture books shelf at the Golf Links branch library, stopped me in my tracks. The author, Meg Rosoff, wrote the 2005 Printz winner for Young Adults, How I Live Now. NOT a children's story. But this is different. The illustrations are a riot, and the story is fun. I can picture myself reading it to Ella and Brendan.

Boris, Morris, Horace, and Doris are "bossy and selfish and stinky and HUNGRY." When Doris finds a delicious recipe for a pudding, the all pitch in to make it the best ever, adding their own favorite ingredients (like broccoli, butter, bananas, squid, and muddy puddles). They create, they eat, they sleep for a short time, and they're hungry again!

The book ends with a real recipe for a MASSIVE COOKIE that kids and parents could make together.

Just plain fun. Great illustrations and large font.

MOVIE: What Just Happened

Rating: Mostly boring, lots of emotional sadness, some funny parts
Viewed: Friday, Nov. 21
Crossroads by myself
Rotten Tomato Rating: 51%
Mine: About 40%
EW: B cag: C-
Genre: Comedy, dry comedy, if a sad life is funny...
Released: 10/17/08 (about a month ago)
R (1 hr. 47 min)
Directed by: Barry Levinson
Robert DeNiro, Sean & Robin Wright Penn,

I really wanted to like this movie. But it was slow and boring,.. and sad. I changed position in my seat a dozen times. DeNiro plays a getting-older movie producer. Nothing seems to be going right for him, either in his personal life or his professional one. Trying to be a good dad to his kids from two marriages, proably paying huge alimonies for two huge houses, drugged-out writer/directors and spoiled leading men, constant phone calls, If he could only let out his feelings, but he keeps everything all bortled up inside. I left the theater feeling really sad. There WERE some good laugh-out-loud places, but not enough to redeem the overwhelming sadness for this life. It makes you SO appreciate the one you've got!

Friday, November 21, 2008

My Baby - Jeanette Winter

For: Preschoolers
Published: 2001
Rating: 5
Read: Today
Endpapers: Deep lavender

There are THREE reasons why this book is a "5" for me (the illustrations, the bogolan cloth, the great author). And there are THREE different reasons to read it:

One: The story. Nakunte learns the art of painting bogolan cloth from her mother. Years later she paints a special cloth for her baby that will come when the rains come. As she paints, she speaks of all the creatures that live in her African village.

Two: The culture. Mali, Africa. You get a feel for the place.

Three: The painting of the cloth. I have some of this beautiful black cloth, myself. To see how it starts with white cloth, then specially prepared mud is painted on, leaving the lovely white design, is a treat.

I love the folky feel to Jeanette Winter's illustrations. I love all the clever touches she includes. When, as a young adult, Nakunte begins her painting, the borders of the illustration become strips of the bogolan cloth she's working on. The colors are bright and cheerful, different colored borders on each and every page, with very little white. And, Ms. Winter is a lyrical writer: "Listen, my baby, do you hear mama crocodile creeping across the savanna on her short legs? Will she find the water she is looking for?"

I've always enjoyed Jeanette Winter's's time to collect a few of her books, I think!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Little Boy - Alison McGhee

Illustrator: Peter H. Reynolds
For: Kids
Published: April, 2008
Rating: 5
Read: today
Endpapers: Sunshine yellow

Rhythm and rhyme. Repetition. Inklings of a favorite poem (think William Carlos Williams). Elipses. Clever illustrations. Pretty darn cool book.

Little boy, so much depends on...
your yellow cup
a serenade to wake you up,
sun that slants across the rug,
the wings on that astonishing bug,
your big cardboard box.

The personality of a young boy. Favorite things and life happenings. We all have favorite stories about our kids, stories we've heard about ourselves as kids, stories we hear over and over. Kids have favorite books and favorite foods and favorite objects that may be forgotten as time passes. This book would be a great model for a kid to write his own book! With a little time, effort, creativity, a blank book and some markers or colored pencils - away we go!

Even though there's lots of white/negative space (something I'm not fond of), this book really works. Simple, colored-in line drawings have detail and character. This is a very lovable book.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

MOVIE: Secret Life of Bees

Rating: Wonderful
Viewed: November 18, 2008
El Con with SW
58% Rotten Tomato Rating
Mine: 90%
EW: C cag: A
Genre: Drama
Released 10/17/08
PG-13 (1 hr 50 min)
Directed by: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Dakota Fanning, Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys
adaptation of the book by Sue Monk Kidd

What's not to like? Sure, this would probably be considered a "chick flick," but what's wrong with that? GREAT storytelling, wonderful acting, lovely setting and sets. It's been awhile since I've seen a movie, especially a drama, that I enjoyed this much.

Lily accidentally shot and killed her mother when she was 4. Now, in 1964, living with her mean, unhappy father in what looks like a sharecropper's house on the edge of a peach orchard, she is searching for information about her mother. Her young black housekeeper, Rosalie, seems to be her only friend. While walking into town together, Rosalie is attacked, and beaten by a group of rednecks. Lily breaks her out of her hospital prison room and they take off together to Tiburon, SC, because of a mysterious clue that Lily has found about her mother's past.

This takes them to the Honey Farm of August (Latifah), June (Keys) and May's Pepto-Bismal-pink home. The family takes them in and they instantly become close, Lily sleeping out in the honey shack, and learning about beekeeping with August. The usual touching/interesting ups and downs, friendship, love, racial tension and anger-a great ride toward a powerful (but foreseen) tragedy.

I very much enjoyed this film and would happily watch it again, for all the reasons stated above. Ultimately, a really feel-good movie.

Monday, November 17, 2008

59. Angels Flight - Michael Connelly

AUDIO Read by Dick Hill
For: Adults
Book Published: 1999
Audio Published: 1998, Brilliance (yup, these dates are correct)
9 discs
393 pages
Rating: 5/5
Finished Nov. 17, 2008

How does this guy keep thinking up such brilliant plots? Twists and turns and sitting in the car until I'm almost late to work....

Harry Bosch is called to head the team investigating a particularly tricky homocide. Howard Elias, a hated-by-cops and loved-by-blacks LA lawyer who has sued many, many LA cops, has been murdered. His most recent case, a powder keg involving the murder of a 12-year old white girl, could start race riots all over LA. The young black man he had been representing claimed that not only did he NOT do it, but that he'd been cruelly attacked while being questioned by the police. When Harry discovers what Howard Ellias has discovered - that the client is, indeed, innocent - a chain reaction is set off. Not only that, he's trying to quit smoking. AND he's partnered with an IAD jerk, Chastain, who tried to throw him to the wolves in the last book. But to top it off, his wife, Eleanor, has left him. Doesn't sound like she loves him enough. Poor Harry. Beautifully plotted and really well told, I couldn't stop reading/listening to this great yarn.

Hurrah, Harry Bosch! Keep 'em coming Michael Connelly!

Owney, The Mail-Pouch Pooch - Mona Kerby

Illustrator: Lynne Barasch
For: Kids K-3
Published: April, 2008
Rating: 3.5/5
Read: Today
Endpapers: Drawings of 14 dogtags from different North American cities

This appears to be a true story, although the whole time I was reading it I didn't know that - and considered it quite far-fetched. And, for some reason I seem to be on a cute-dog roll.

In 1888, in Albany, New York, a homeless, starving terrier finds his way into the post office and fell asleep on a mail bag. He wouldn't leave, and became instantly attached to mail bags and postmen dressed in blue uniforms. He became a resident of the post office. But, before long, he hopped the train with the mail and began making his way across the country, returning occasionally to the Albany post office. Wherever he went he seemed to find the post offices, and people would attach new identifying tags to his collar. A harness was put around him to more evenly distribute the weight of the tags. After traveling all over the US for many years, Owney was getting old. So his "many friends" purchased him a trip around the world. Which he did - still all by himself.

A current-day US map is included in a two-page illustration.

This was very difficult to believe and I was rollling my eyes as I read, still not knowing that this was based on a true story. The author says she researched extensively. Now THAT'S the book I'd like to read - let's include some of the research, some of the newspaper articles - this is what appeals to my primary-and-secondary-source brain. I must admit, it's an interesting story, as difficult to believe as it is.... She also says that there are a couple of stories about how Owney got his name. I wish she'd given some clue to this in the text, since I wondered about this unusual name all through my reading.

An aside: Mona Kerby teaches at McDaniel College and lives in Westminster, Md. I drive by the college and through the town on my way back to BWI - I always stop to fill my rental car gas tank in Westminster on my way TO the airport, and run into MacDonald's for a much needed Diet Coke on my way FROM the ariport.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Dog Who Belonged to No One - Amy Hest

Illustrator: Amy Bates
For: Young kids
Published: Sept. 2008
Rating: 4
Read: Today
Endpapers: Deep maroony-brown

This is a sweet book...with a simple theme of loneliness and companionship...with a happy ending. The cover called to me - a cute little dog sitting among some fallen autumn leaves, oranges and browns. Really nice watercolor illustrations, with most of the text inside framed boxes, with placement changing from page to page.

A homeless dog with crooked ears and a little girl who's an only child find each other one wildly wet Sunday. The illustrations show a late 19th century small city, but the story could take place at any time or place. A really nice story for young kids.

Abraham Lincoln Comes Home - Robert Burleigh

Illustrator: Wendell Minor
For: Kids, but they need to be old enough to know who Lincoln was
Published: August, 2008
Rating: 4.5
Read: today
Endpapers: Enlarged corner of the American flag with the words: "WE MOURN/ OUR CHIEF/ HAS FALLEN

Edge-of-page to edge-of-page gentle, meaningful illustrations accompany a similarly gentle story that eloquently says a lot with very few words.

A young boy and his father ride their horse and buggy, its single lantern bobbing, through the darkness of the prairie to the place where the railroad passes through. Bonfires burn along the rails as the people wait for the train carrying Lincoln's body to pass. Slowly it appears, with a picture of Lincoln atop the cowcatcher. Slowly it passes, so that the country can pay its last respects to an honored and much-loved man. For 1600 miles, by hearse and by train, Lincoln's body was carried from Washington D.C. back to Springfield, Illinois. It is said that about thirty million people were able to see the train, march in a procession behind the hearse, or attend one of about a dozen funeral services.

The media has certainly changed things. This story, these illustrations, hold a reverance, a simplicity, that seems absent today. It's a beautiful book, celebrating an exceptional life, adding an additional chapter to a story many of us know well. Bravo.

58. Cycler - Lauren McLaughlin

For: Young Adults
Published: Aug. 26, 2008
256 pgs.
Rating: 5
Finished Nov. 16, 2008

I was picking through my pile of ARCs from last May's BEA, realizing that I can't read them all in a timely manner, choosing what to take to school to share with my students. I'd never really looked at this one, so when I read the back cover I left the piles all over the living room floor and started to read. And kept reading.

17-year old Jill McTeague does not have a teenager's "normal" premenstrual cycle. Oh no. For four days each month, her body is mysteriously transformed into a boy's body. Jill was initially horrified and appalled by this transformation, but her mother took it one step further. PLAN B was created, a way for Jill to blot out her four-day transformation and be able to live the other 24 days of her month as a normal teenage girl with a combination of self-hypnotism and meditation. During the male-four-days, she/he never ventured from the house, and Jill's absence from school was explained away with vague monthly blood transfusions. But, by blotting out thoughts of herself as a boy for four days, her mind created Jack, I guess you'd call it an alter-ego, who was very much a boy. Horndog boy.

The story switches back and forth, month by month, between Jack and Jill.

Really interesting characters. Her best friend, Ramie, gorgeous and unusual, a crazy-fashion designer. Her crush, Tommy, bisexual and caring, a dream...and dreamy ...guy. Her mother, control-freak extraordinaire with a screw loose. Her father, a man with a story that would make a great book itself....a house-bound guru meditation yoga freak who has taken to living in their basement. And Jack and Jill.

Somewhere I read this was a "dark comedy of sex, gender, and sexuality." Yes, yes, and yes! FUNNY, very funny. Asking great gender questions. And it's full of sex, oh yes. Greatly written, very satisfying, I would consider McLaughlin a very clever storyteller, indeed. I had originally given this a 4.5 rating, but I'm going back and changing it to a five. Many facets, and I liked them all. I think I originally took that extra half point because of all the sex, I don't feel totally comfortable sharing the book with my students, though I know some of them would LOVE it. But the sex parts WERE important, well written, and .... fun.

The setting, a small town on the North Shore of Massachusetts, is pretty much where I was raised. I could see the streets, the people, the beach, the yacht club, the high school.

I've turned the cover over, looking between the front and the back at least a dozen times. How did I miss it before this weekend? Write on, Ms. McLaughlin!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

57. Living Dead Girl - Elizabeth Scott

For YA (ARC says 16+)
Published: Sept, 2008
176 pgs.
Rating: Unrateable
Read in one sitting, after school today

Disturbingly Disturbing
Older YA - NOT MS, for sure!

15-year old "Alice" was kidnapped from a school field trip when she was ten and in the fifth grade. Terrorized into thinking that her abductor, Ray, would kill her family, she submitted completely to him, mentally, sexually...and became an empty shell. He wanted a "little" girl, and has been starving her to keep her under 100 pounds, de-hairing her to keep her innocent-appearing, and rarely lets her out of his grip. Now he decides he needs a new, younger "Alice" and is forcing her to help him find and capture her. I hated it. I had to finish it. I couldn't stop. I had to find out what happened. Reluctantly.

Reader beware: though the descriptions are not what one might consider extremely"graphic", this book left nothing to the imagination. We see every painful, constant assault. But it was beautifully written and a fast read, though repetetive in places.

I'd love to think that this could and would never happen. Unfortunately, I am certain that it wlll, can, and has. What is our world coming to? I know they're out there. How? Why?

How would this young woman EVER be able to lead a normal life?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

56. Little Brother - Cory Doctorow

For: YA
Published: April, 2008
384 pgs.
Rating: 3.5
Finished Nov. 8, 2008

Set in San Francisco just a year or two in the future, Marcus Yallow is a 17 year-old techno-geek high school senior. One afternoon he and his three best friends skip out of school to play Harajuku Fun Madness when they hear a huge explosion. A bigger-than 9/11 terrorist attack has destroyed the Bay Bridge, killing thousands. But they are in the wrong place at the wrong time - they are picked up by an unmarked white van, hooded, bound, and taken in a boat to an old prison. There they are held separately in deplorable conditions and questioned mercillessly, without any rights at all. This is what sets up the premise of the book.

Marcus, once released, becomes w15t0n, the head of XNet. Together with one of his buddies, Jolu, and his new girlfriend, Ange, he comes up with plan after plan to try to point out to American citizens that they are now living in a police state and that many of their constitutional rights are gone - or at least being ignored. Teenages begin working together to overthrow the DHS (Department of Homeland Security), who have become a ruthless, overbearing, self-righteous group of our-way-or-the-highway clones.

-Endless technical explanations
-Paced well in places, very slow in others
-No goodness showed in any of the bad guys -- come one!
-No texting? Hard to make a book set two or three years in the future believable without texting.

-Makes you think......HARD.....
-Deals with a very important, timely subject
-Keeps you guessing
-Raises questions that need to be asked
-Marcus' reactions are very real: elation, crying, being over-the-top scared, horny - you do get to know, and understand, and root for, this young man
-Lots of references to interesting things - the beat writers, places and areas in San Francisco (yeah, City Lights Bookstore!), hippie and yippie history, Orwell's 1984

-The sex scenes. I really want some of my 7th and 8th graders to read this. I have two in particular in mind, but the sex scenes, which I think are important and very well written. are not appropriate at all for these two young techno-geek men who would otherwise eat up this book. No objections for the readers who can handle and understand this VERY smartly written (and really, quite small) part of the story.

And, hey, this is my ONE HUNDREDTH post!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Dangerous Alphabet - Neil Gaiman

Illustrator: Gris Grimly
For: ages 5 and up?
Published: Apriil, 2008
Rating: 2 (but I may change it if another reading helps me understand it....)
Read: Last month
Endpapers: Pale pumpkin

I read this twice. I wanted to love it. I feel stupid - I must admit I didn't get it. Gotta read some of the reviews for it one of these days.

The intro itself is intriguing: "A piratical ghost story in thirteen ingenious but potentially disturbing rhyming couplets, originally conceived as a confection both to amuse and to entertain by Mr. Neil Gaiman, scrivener, and then doodled, elaborated upon, illustrated, and beaten soundly by Mr. Gris Grimly, etcher and illuminator, featuring two brave children, their diminutive but no less courageous gazelle, and a large number of extremely dangerous trolls, monsters, bugbears, creatures, and other such nastiness, many of which have perfectly disgusting eating habits and ought not, under any circumstances, to be encouraged. Please Note: The alphabet, as given in this publication, is not to be relied upon and has a dangerous flaw that an eagle-eyed reader may be able to discern."

Intriguing? Yes! ! ! But . . . . . .

Illustrations are pen and ink colored with browns, greys, dusty yellows, with a touch of the endpaper color. The font looks like handwriting that might be used for adding scariness.

Peter Spit a Seed at Sue - Jackie French Koller

Illustrator: John Manders
For: Kids
Published: June, 2008
Rating: 4 (Spitting in general is nasty, that's why I had to knock it down.)
Read: Last month
Endpapers: Watermelon pink

Reading this book left me with the same smile on my face as Taxi Dog always does. Using perfect, lovely rhyme and rhythm, Koller transforms a boring summer afternoon into a fun-loving, watermelon-dripping, seed-spitting adventure for an entire town.

"C"mon!" I yelled to Mary Lou,
"You pepper Pete, I'll pepper Sue!"
Then seeds were flyin' everywhere
Zippin', zingin' through the air.
Seeds were plastered to our clothes
Seeds were stuck between our toes.

Glorious, snazzy verbs - my first love when teaching good writing. And, the illustrations are whimsical and reach all the way to the edge of the pages.

I'm Bad - Kate & Jim McMullan

For: Kids who really like dinosaurs
Published: 2008
Rating: 3
Read: Today at the library
Endpapers: a nine-patch of alternating rust & orange squares with illustrations of dinosaurs in black

Maybe because I'm not a dinosaur fan? For some reason the illustrations turn me off? Though the dialogue is fun and kid-friendly ("I'm REALLY BIG. 6-tons-of-MUSCLE on-the-hustle BIG"), it's almost blasted or shouted from the page. The dinosaur-- we never know what kind -- is prowling for prety. No white at all - crazy pictures using bright greens and yellows and rusty oranges ... there's even a fold-UP page when mom arrives. Probably 6-year-olds who love dinosaurs would love this book, but not many others, I'm guessing. Though I'm probably quite wrong....

Knitty Kitty - David Elliot

Illustrator: Christopher Denise
For: Little kids
Published: Sept. 08 by Candlewick
Rating: 4
Read: last weekend
End papers: Cream-colored

What knitting picture book lover could resist a picture book that's about knitting? However, I'm not crazy about this way-too-cutesy title. Oh well. This is a cozy, toasty, comfy book about three mischievous little kittens whose mother knits for them. It's a snowy day. They take these new mittens, scarf, hat, and garb their snowman with them. But, when it's time to go to bed they're NOT cozy, toasty, comfy, until mom curls up with them in the basket to sleep. The contented look on one of the kitten's faces is priceless.

There's one place were Knitty Kitty rings a bell to call the kittens in -- my own childhoot memories came roaring back. My grandmother had a big ole cowbell (I wonder whatever happened to it?) that she would ring when it was time to come home. No matter where we were in the neighborhood - even far out playing in the woods - we were able to hear this summons. I'd completely forgotten about that.

The illustrations are completely in color, no white, words on the background washes. It's a really cute, cozy, toasty, comfy book.

MOVIE: Ghost Town

Rating: Imaginative and quite funny
Viewed: Friday night, November 7, 2008 (after parent-teacher conferences, I needed laughs)
Centruy Gateway 12 (cheap ticket, expensive popcorn)
Rotten Tomato Rating: 83%
Mine: a bit less, perhaps 65 or 70%
EW: B- cag: B
Genre: Comedy
Released: 9/19/08 (7 weeks ago)
PG-13 (1 hr. 32 min.)
Directed by: David Koepp
Ricky Gervais, Tea Leoni, Greg Kinnear

I'm not sure why this was rated PG-13. I'd sure be fine with PG.

"Frank" (Kinnear) gets hit by a bus and killed, joining dozens of other ghosts that are roaming around NYC unable to pass on upward because they have unfinished business. Dressed in the clothes they died in, they are in limbo.

B. Pincus, DDS (that's what it says on the dental coat that he almost always wears) (Gervais) is a blunt, not-nice-at-all people hater. He goes into the hospital for a colonoscopy and dies for seven minutes before they bring him back. The hitch - now he can see all the ghosts. He doesn't WANT to see them, he is irritated by them and not at all sympathetic to their plights. But the forceful Frank convinces him to make a play for his widow (Tea Leoni) to stop her from marrying a save-the-world lawyer (cutie pie Billy Campbell).

Gervais is really quite homely, and his teeth certainly don't look like they belong to a dentist, which makes the love story a bit more fun to watch. And watching him turn on the charm and wit that he has underneath the mean demeanor is really fun. There's a twist at the end that I very much enjoyed, and I walked out of the theater totally entertained, having laughed out loud at least a dozen times. Not bad. Not bad at all!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Day of the Dead - El dia de los muertos

Today is the "official" (at least for me) day to celebrate The Day of the Dead. I created my first Day of the Dead altar in November of 2003, adding another item or two every year. I've come to love the motif, I have tiles in the bathroom and even splurged on a plate by Chris Bubany (gorgeous!) Candles and marigolds and celebration of lost love ones. This year I've added a couple of memories of my friend Linda Shipley, who died last January.

What is the Day of the Dead? Briefly, it is a three-day Mexixcan tradition that celebrates, honors, and "welcomes home" the spirits of loved ones who have died (or, as so many of my Jewish friends say, "passed"). Altars are created - and decorated gorgeously - in homes and in public places. Favorite foods, mementoes, marigolds, candles. In Mexico, families prepare picnics and, carrying candles, join their neighbors to walk to the graveyards which have been cleaned and decorated. Here, they welcome the spirits of their departed loved ones.

In an hour or two I will pack a picnic of deviled eggs, meatloaf sandwiches, green olives and eclairs. I'll drive the loop at Saguaro National Park East, where Steve loved to run. I'll stop and take photos. I'll pull into the picnic area to eat and read a newish Robert B. Parker "Spenser" novel. I've got a mix with Joan Baez, George Thorougood, Davide Mallett, Greg Brown, Eric Clapton, and Bob Dylan to listen to. I will not be sad, I will celebrate Steve's life and the time we were lucky enough to have together.

I remember seeing an altar about ten years ago at the College of Atlantic In Bar Harbor. It was intriguing, and the first time I'd ever heard of the celebration. But now, living in Tucson, altars are everywhere. At the library, at the UN Center, the Botanical Gardens and in many shops. In my home. Elaborate, simple, a remembrance of loved ones gone.

There are lots of books (I always gravitate to the books for KIDS) on El dia de los muertos that I like:

Day of the Dead - Tony Johnson/Jeanette Winter
Day of the Dead - Linda Lowery/BArbara Knutson (an early, easy reader)
Days of the Dead - Kathryn Lasky/Christopher G. Knight
Calavera Abecedario - Jeanette Winter

Memories and love today. Lots of it.

Steve Graves
Brandon Baughman
Linda Shipley
David Kettunen
Myrtle and Edgar Eklund

Calavera Abecedario - Jeanette Winter

A Day of the Dead Alphabet Book
For: The multitudes that know little about El di de los muertos
Published: 2004
Rating: 4.5
Read: Every October since 2004
Endpapers: B & W calaveras holding candles
A festive celebration!

I've chosen just one of my Day of the Dead books to mention this morning. I have a couple by Jeanette Winter-her art, her illustrations, the way she depicts this happy Mexican celebration, evoke really good feelings for me. Lots of blacks and fiesta colors. Black-backed illustrations framed to the edge of the page with yellows, pinks, purples, aquas, greens.....

The first nine pages tell of a family in Mexico City that have made calaveras (paper mache skeletons) for generations. Then the alphabet begins. Angels, witches, doctors, farmers, musicians, bride and groom, shoemaker, unicorn, chemist, queen.... all are depicted as calaveras using the SPANISH name. The translation for each is in the back as well as a bit of information about the day

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Tadpole Rex - Kurt Cyrus

For: School-age kids
Published: 2008
Ratng: 3.5
Read: Nov. 1st, 2008
Endpapers: medium olive (both prehistoric AND froggy...)

A swamp is born in prehistoric dinosaurland, and in the swamp a puddle, and in the puddle a polliwog. Rex the poliwog. We watch him grow to be a full-fledged frog. Written in couplets, quite cleverly rhymed, the large 10 X 12 pages have no hint of white, only strong greens and swampy colors from edge to edge of the page. So many great greens! The illustrations are done on scratchboard and colored digitally - that sounds so modern and techy! I've no clue what they're talking about. Very sophisticated word choices....I'd certainly use it with my middle schoolers if the need for a prehistoric or frog study ever came up. A sample:

Primeval puddles were desperate places
Of ambush and panic and life-or-death chases

Unimpressive Picture Books

Okay, so I don't want to take a lot of time reminding myself in length about picture books that don't jump out at me. But I DO want to remember that I've read them and that I wasn't incredibly impresseed. So I'm going to list them, with the cover, just to jog my memory. What memory? It's getting foggier and foggier every day. Hmmph.

by Mary Amato
Illustrated by Delphine Durand
Ugliest kids I've ever seen. Story's cute, two older sisters convince the youngest that she's a chicken so she goes to live with chickens. Cute story, really ugly kids. Don't like the illustrations.

by Jim Averbeck
Illustrated by Tricia Tusa
All Alice wants is a blue room, but nothing in it is blue. But when her mother shuts out the lights, blue moonlight comes in and turns everything blue. I was bored. And the illustrations certainly didn't make my heart flutter. Sorry.

by Antoinette Portis
Simple stick-like illustrations that do nothing for me, personally. "Be careful with that stick" -- then the illustrations shows how this....pig?.....uses it imaginatively. Waaaay too simplistic and negative-spacey for me.

by Nancy Van Laan
Illustrator: George Booth
Great rhythm, story builds and repeats in a cute way, but there's such a negative connotation to having lice/"cootie"s, it wouldmake me uncomfortable to share with kids, because it continues this stigma. The whole family tries different methods to get rid of them, but they appear to be sort of a hillbilly family, which just seems to keep the old negative stereotype going... It just can't imagine reading this to kids, am I off track here?