Saturday, October 31, 2009

MOVIE - Whip It

Thoroughly enjoyable entertainment
Released Oct. 2, 2009
(I can't believe it's in the cheap movies already!)
PG-13 (1:51)
Halloween 10/31/09 just me
RT: 82% cag 93%
Director: Drew Barrymore

Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden, Daniel Stern, Drew Barrymore

Bliss Cavendar, a senior in high school, wears fancy white dresses pagent-ing with (for) her mom. She works at a local piggie-themed diner than serves "squealers" and longs to get out of her small town.

Nearby is Austin, Texas. So many possibilities there. And she decides to take advantage of them - by pretending she's 21 and trying out for one of the roller derby teams that are popular here. She's fast. She's lithe and athletic. She still has her Barbie skates - and she's a natural on them. She begins to live a double life - dutiful daughter by day -- nd Babe Ruthless of the Hurl Scouts Roller Derby team by night.

Totally delightful, enjoyable, fun. The parents, Marcia Gay Harden and a bit-of-an-overweight Daniel Stern are wonderful and real. And Ellen Page pulls off this role beautifully and believably. Don't miss this one on the big screen.

Stars! Stars! Stars! - Nancy Elizabeth Wallace

Marshall Cavendish, 2009
40 pages
For: kids 4 and up
Rating: 4.5
Endpapers: deep blue

Packed full of information about the stars, we join a family (who happen to be rabbits) and a few of their friends for an evening of stars - starting with dinner, continuing to the planetarium, then outside for a star-gazing.

The book includes a recipe for soup and ideas for creating sandwiches, cookies, and fruit in the shape of stars. The tour guide at the planetarium is full of easy-to-understand-kid-language that explains much star/solar phenomena - including amazing photos from NASA - and the kids get to participate at hands-on learning centers (therefore writing and art are included). At the end they spread a blanket on top of a hill, away from the town's lights, and gaze up at the wonders of the clear night sky. The story includes a little bit of everything, and is in itself a great lesson plan or curriculum guide. It's cleverly done and informative.

The characters and setting are all hand-cuts (or die cuts) in bright colors. The characters are rabbits. Why that puts me off a bit I don't know, but it did lower my rating from a 5 to a 4.5. I wish the characters had been people. Oh well. I really like the book.

I see that the author has a whole series of interesting-looking titles: Fly, Monarch, Fly! The Kindness Quilt, Apples, Apples, Apples, Recycle Every Day, Look! Look! Look! and Rocks! Rocks! Rocks! Her website is

69. Judy Moody - Megan McDonald

Book #1 in the Judy Moody Series
(Judy Moody was in a mood. Not a good mood. A bad mood.)
Illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
Candlewick, 2000
168 pgs.
Rating: 5

Check out the Judy Moody website!!

Judy Moody was not very happy to begin 3rd grade. She was in a bad mood. But things started looking up when she walked into the room, met her third grade teacher, and saw that everything they were going to do that day revolved around pizza. Of course, she couldn't show her enjoyment, she WAS in a bad mood......

This if a funny, clever story. The book revolves around an assignment that the class has to do in the first month of school, creating a "me" poster. (I'm really glad these kids take their assignments so seriously!) The T.P. Club is created, a highly secret club. And no, it doesn't mean toilet paper. She discovers that the classmate that eats paste is actually not someone to be kept at an arm's distance, but a collector-like-her that was brave enough to eat paste as a dare. She constantly thinks outside-the-box, enjoying a Venus flytrap as a new pet. She aspires to be a doctor like Elizabeth Blackwell and has a huge bandaid collection. She loves to tease her brother, but is always there to make things all right for him, too. She's a really great kid. I love her!

Highly recommended. Would make a great read aloud for third graders, too.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Tap Dancing on the Roof - Linda Sue Park

Sijo (Poems)
Illustrated by Istvan Banyai
Clarion Books, 2007
40 pages
Endpapers: Ink bottle, splotches, kid dumping ink bottle, b&w on gray

What is sijo poetry? It's from Korea and, like haiku, is based on syllables. Usually three lines long, with 14 - 16 syllables on each line, it has one added requirement - there's a "twist" at the end. (Sometimes each of the three lines is split into two lines of 7-8 syllables.)

For example:

Art Class

Keesha says my fish doesn't look like anything she's ever seen.
"Flowered fins? Plaid scales? And the tail -- tie-dyed weirdo green?"

In this ocean, I am Queen. That tail, my dear, is aquamarine.


The wind rearranges the leaves,
as if to say, Much better there,"
and coaxes others off their trees:
"It's lots more fun in the air."

Then it plays tag with a plastic bag,
and with one gust uncombs my hair!

Bedtime Snacks

Good: Cookies and one glass of milk
for two dunkers -- me and my dad.

Better: Popcorn, a video,
and sleeping bags stuffed with friends.

Best: Blanket pulled up over my head --
book, flahshight, and chocolate bar.

Illustrations are simple, black, white, and gray with a touch of blue on one or a touch of red on another.

At the end, there's a two page author's note about sijo. Interestingly, she says there's only one other collection of sijo for young readers in English, Sunset in a Spider Web (Virginia Olson Baron, 1974) and it's out of print.

I wonder how hard these would be for fourth graders to write?

Muktar and the Camels - Janet Graber

Illustrated by Scott Mack
Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt, 2009
32 pages
For: Kids
Rating: 3.5
Endpapers: Sky blue

Muktar is a Somalian regugee, living in an orphanage in Kenya. He misses his life as a nomad traveling with his parents and their camels. He had learned everything about caring for the camels, and he misses his old life and his family, who were killed in the wars in Somalia. One day a librarian from Garissa brings books on the backs of three camels to the orphanage. Muktar notices that one of the camels has a cut on his foot, and he repairs it. The librarian realizes that having a helper versed in camels would be a great help to him, so Muktar's fate is happily found.

You can see the texture of the canvas in the paintings. I'm thinking that Mr. Mack used pastels, the illustrations have a chalky look. A good story to share to help make kids more aware of what's happening in different parts of our world. The map of Africa at the beginning of the story is pretty cool. There's a short Author's Note at the end that gives a little more infomration about the civil war in Somalia and the camel convoy that delivers books eight times a year to schools and orphanages in the boonies of Kenya.

When the Moon Is Full - Penny Pollock

A Lunar Year
Illustrated by Mary Azarian
Little, Brown & Co. 2001
32 pages
for: everyone (though written for kids)
Rating: 5
Endpapers: Red

There are 13 poems in this book, one that introduces full moons, then one for each month. At the end are questions and answers about the moon that gives good, simple information for young kids. (Do you know what a blue moon is? It happens every two years and nine months - it is the second full moon in one month or the fourth in a season. Cool, huh?)

Mary Azarian's illustrastions are hand-colored wood prints. Gorgeous. Whether it be summer or winter, animal or moon, she gets it right. Use this with a study of the moon, poetry, seasons, great words, or beautiful art. Mmmm.

The Frog Moon

Frogs sit in the marshes,
throats bellowed tight,
feeling quite romantic,
calling through the night.
Come my love, my love, my love.
Come be mine tonight.

The Beaver Moon

Black and icy pond
mirrors moon so round,
while hidden in the beavers’ lodge
coziness abounds.

The Truly Terribly Horrible Sweater...That Grandma Knit - Debbie Macomber & Mary Lous Carney

Illustrated by Vincent Nguyen
Harper, 2009
40 pages
For: Kids
Rating: 3
Endpapers: Christmas Green

Cameron loves his grandma, but he hates the striped sweater she knit him for his birthday. It's ugly, had big buttons, and he decides he's NEVER going to wear it. He tries everything to get rid of it, or to make it unwearable, to no avail. When his grandma comes at Christmastime to visit, she tells him the story of knitting it, of the history that went into every color choice. It makes Cameron instantly decide to wear it. The illustrations then show him wearing it at soccer practice. I wish this were believable, but knowing kids, he would never have changed his mind. He might have worn it at home, but never out with his friends. Cute pictures-full page. Cute story, too - only the ending was not believable. Oh well.

Watch an interview with author collaborators Debbie Macomber and Mary Lou Carney about the creation of the book - and about their reading memories here. Interesting.

MOVIE - A Serious Man

I adored this offbeat black comedy
Released Oct. 2, 2009
R (1:45)
10-29-09 at El Con with Sheila
RT: 85% cag: 93%
Director: Coen Brothers (Joel & Ethan)

Get ready to time travel to 1960's Minneapolis, full of Jefferson Airplane music, F-Troop, Rabbis, bar mitzvahs, and angst, angst, angst. Larry Gopnik, a color professor of physics, slowly watches his life unravel. SPOILER: Anti-semetic next-door-neighbors, mentally disturbed brother who's moved in with the family (and spends most of his day draining the cyst on the back of his neck), wife who is leaving him for an acquaintance, a Korean student who is trying to bribe him into giving him an unfailing grade, a pot-smoking, naked sunbathing next-door-neighbor, visits from the cops, many trips to his lawyer (Adam Arkin) and a number of rabbis...and on and on. We also see what's going on in his son's life, watch this junior version of dad.

Okay, it seems deranged to laugh at the horrible situations that happen to this guy. But you can't help it. It's not long before you realize the only thing you CAN do is laugh, and you sit back and enjoy the wreck of his life. There's quirkiness at every twist and turn. :What else could happen?" you keep asking yourself....and then you find out! This also has one of the best endings I've seen in a movie in a long, long, time.

I'm still thinking about the short beginning piece, which doesn't seem to have anything to do with the storyline at all. I've just about figured it out, though. It's put there to make you think, I'm sure.

Yup, loved it. I guess I'm a bit warped, 'cause you'd have to be, I think, to love this movie.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

68. New Moon - Stephanie Meyer

Megan Tingley Books, Little Brown
563 pgs plus 36 pages of Eclipse
Rating: 2
For: Middle schoolers

I don't get it. I really don't. I understand how and why Harry Potter got where it did. But I just don't understand how and why this series got where it is. I read Twilight when it first came out, and enjoyed discussing it with my middle schoolers. I wasn't crazy about it - I hated that an intelligent young woman could become so dependant on anyone else, and even more so because she became so smitten, her every move, her every thought, revolved around Edward. I enjoyed the movie. That's why I read this book - the New Moon movie comes out in November. And it sure doesn't take very long to read these almost-600 pages. But, well.....blech.

It was boring. Pages after pages of the same thoughts over and over. Pages and pages (and months and months) of an almost catatonic state because she lost her boyfriend? I liked the character of Jacob, but his reactions seemed so....extreme. His actions made sense, but not his reactions. And the dare-devil activities Bella pursued? Yeah, right. And the consideration she had for her parents? Always included, but as an afterthought, but it was made to appear that her love for them was affecting her thinking. Yuh. Mmm hmmm. Plus, I think this story could have been told in half the pages . Give Bella a tinybit, a microscopic bit, of independence. Of rational thought. I really like Edward, the Cullens, Jacob, his pack.....but I couldn't stand the protagonist! You can't like a book when you roll your eyes at the main player!

I'll probably like the movie. It won't spend half the time going over Bella's tortured thinking. I'm actually really looking forward to it!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

14 Cows for America - Carmen Agra Deedy

In collaboration with Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah
Illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez
Peachtree, 2009
36 pgs.
Rating: 4
Endpapers: (front) blazing sunset, (back) dusky sky

Kimeli comes home to his remote native village in Wesern Kenya from his studies at Stanford University. It's been most of a year since September 11th, and he tells the devastating story to his village. To these Masai people, the cow is life. They invite the U. S. Ambassador to their village and present him with 14 cows they've specially blessed - as an offering for the future. The book ends, "Because there is no nation so powerful it cannot be wounded, nor a people so small they cannot offer mighty comfort."

There's a two-page explanation at the end by Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah, for this is his story. The full-page deeply-colored illustrations accentuate the uniqueness of these Masai people artistically showing their customs and life in lovely detail - a beautiful story.

Note: The 14 cows are being cared for in Kenya. They are blessed, sacred, and can never be slaughtered. The herd now numbers 35.

There are reviews at 5 Minutes for Books, the Scrub-a-Dub-Tub Blog, and at School Library Journal.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

2009 National Book Award Finalists

The National Book Award Winners will be announced on November 18th. You can check the titles out at their website, but I'll detail the kid's nominations here:

Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith

(Deborah Heligman)
272 pgs.
Young Adult Biography
1020 L

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice

(Phillip Hoose)
144 pages
Young Adult Nonfiction


(Rita Garcia-Williams)
Young Adult Fiction
176 pages

Lips Touch: Three Times

(Laini Taylor)
YA Novel
272 pages
990 L

Stitches: A Memoir

(David Small)
Illustrated Memoir
329 pages

My First Ramadan - Karen Katz

Henry Holt & Company, 2007
24 pages
For: young kids
Rating: 4
Endpapers: Wide vertical stripes with different colors and designs,

Karen Katz is a folksy artist that I like very much. If the illustration is not a two-page spread, the single page of writing has a wide vertical strip along the edge (like a border) that compliments and finishes the page beautifully. She depicts Muslims of every color, ethnicity, and level of involvement. "I see Muslims from Asia, Europe, Africa, Australia, North America, and South America."

In clear, simple language Karen Katz describes the annual Muslim month of Ramadan; the customs and reasons behind it. From the point-of-view of an early elementary boy, she describes his day, the fasting from sunup to sundown, the meals, and the three-day festival at the end, Eid al-Fitr. I worked for two years with many Muslims, enjoyed many meals - including during Ramadan, but this simple book gave me more information and insight than I had during those two years. Thanks, Karen Katz!

Ramadan this year was from August 21 - September 19th.
In 2010 it will begin on August 11th and end on September 9th.

Uncle Andy's Cats - James Warhola

G. P. Putnams, 2009
32 pgs.
For: Kids of all ages
Rating: 5
Endpapers: Pale peach with numerous "Sams" in many stances and sizes

As a child, James would go to visit his Uncle Andy and his Bubba in New York City. The tall, skinny house was full of Uncle Andy's art projects (including numerous soup cartons) ..... and cats. This is the story - made into a bit of a tall tale, but based on fact nontheless - of Andy Warhol and his dozens of Sams. Yes, they were all named the same as the father cat because all the kittens looked like the father. But it all started with a blue pussycat named Hester.

The illustrations are fun-fun-fun, drawn from different angles and points-of-view. They also give us a good peek into the life, home, and art of Andy Warhol. Each colorful illustrations tells a story in itself. I will definitely share this book when the art teacher at my school does his unit on Andy Warhol. Perfect for a fun-and-easy fourth grade read aloud.

Oliver at the Window - Elizabeth Shreeve

Illustrated by Candice Hartsough McDonald
Front Street, 2009
For: preschoolers, young kids, but it's about divorce, so I'd be careful about getting little kids nervous or upset
Rating: 3.5
Endpapers: Red

Oliver's parents have separated, and now he has two homes and a new preschool to go to. At first he just looks out the window, depressed, hanging on tightly to his stuffed lion. There are lots of books and things to do at Redbird School, but he has no interest. But gradually, as the days pass, he begins to spend less time at the window and more time drawing and playing. He starts spending less and less time staring out the window, but still alwys keeps his trusty lion with him. It's good to note that his parents never let him down, they take turns coming to pick him up and always love him.

One day, after he is fully integrated into the class and much of his grief has passed, a new girl comes to the school that was in the same state he wasw in upon his own arrival. He befriends her and helps her work things out.

Sweet, simple full-page illustrations that help tell the story.

Be careful - I wouldn't want to scare young kids into thinking this could happen to them - it reminds me of Elizabeth Partridge's book about her cat that died , but this isn't quite so sad.....

What Can You Do with a Rebozo? Carmen Tafolla

Illustrated by Amy Cordova
Tricycle Press, 2008
28 pgs.
For: kids
Rating: 4
Endpapers: Edges of a red rebozo scarf (and two colorful butterflies!)

If you don't know what a rebozo is, you will by the end of the book. And now I want one! I saw someone wearing a pretty white sleeveless dress with a deep lime/avacado rebozo draped across her shoulders, and she looked stunning. I bet it'd look good on anyone of any shape and size. And we watch as a family uses the mom's rebozo in many ways - carrying a baby, playing hide and seek, wrapping in lovely long hair, for warmth as a shawl, covering your eyes when playing pinata, as a superhero cape, and eve to clean up spills when nothing else is handy.

The illustrations include all sorts of colorful Hispanic/Mexican/American art and traditions and cover the entire page with bright beautiful color. I really enjoy this artist! (Amy Cordova owns a gallery in northern New Mexico (Taos, I think). Road Trip!

The Strange Case of the Missing Sheep - Mirceau Catusanu

A Thriller
Viking, 2009
For: preschool
Rating: 4
Endpapers: Orange, hands with outstretched fingers, sheep and number at tip of each finger.

There's a cute video on You Tube that you can watch - it's only a minute and a half long, but it's fun!

There's something about these sheep, this cool burnt orange, the expression on the sheep's faces - that just makes you want to grab and ingest. And who can resist reading a book by an author/illustrator with a name like Mircea Catusanu?

Ten sheep live in Happy Valley, cared for by "one Super Sheep Dog named Doug.: He counts them every night as they go to bed. But then one night, they are missing. Now, guess who lives in nearby Dark Forest. Yup. Wolf. And he needs sheep. (When we find out why he needs them, not only are we relieved, but we are giggling....) So he lures them away with a clever trick (candy!).... Super Sheep Dog Doug to the rescue!

Very cute story with lots going on in the very cool illustrations. You can see the texture of the canvas and hunt for all sorts of things being said and going on. So much fun. PLUS, you can reiterate to kids about going off with strangers for any reason.....

Saturday, October 24, 2009

June and August - Vivian Walsh

Illustrated by Adam McCauley
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2009
32 pgs.
For: Young kids
Rating: 4
Endpapers: White stars on a lt. blue sky/background

Scratchboard, colored pencil, and gouache illustrations cover the entire page, the words in a cool white or black font cover the illustration. Completely in color - no white negative spaces at all. Very nice.

June and August meet one evening and admire the moon and stars together. They agree to meet the next day, but are unsure what each other looks like since it was dark at the time the first met. They discover that the other is nothing like they'd imagined - even though at night they appeared to be the same size and shape, that is not the case at all. Nevertheless, the two become fast friends. Lots of messages here, particularly that you can look totally different, have totally different lives and viewpoints and still be fast friends that enjoy doing things together.

Fox Walked Alone - Barbara Reid

First published in Canada, 2006
Albert Whitman & Company, 2009
32 pgs
For: Kids
Rating: 4.5 (Very cool illustrations, clever rhyming)
Endpapers: Lt. blue

Canadian author Barbara Reid creates scrumption pictures using plasticine clay. (Check out her website, which includes a couple of YouTube videos where you can watch her in action!) Told in rhyme, we accompany Fox, who, buy himself, joins pairs of animals on some sort of journey. Along the way they come to an abandoned city, where Fox frees a pair of doves. More and more pairs of animals join, until they arrive at a huge ark, where Noah waits for them. Here, Fox is joined by another fox that has been waiting for him. Cute and clever. The illustrations are amazing - especially after you watch Ms. Reid create them! She has a new book out, Perfect Snow, which I hope will be available in the U.S.

Bring Me Some Apples and I'll Make You a Pie -Robbin Gourley

A Story About Edna Lewis
Clarion Books, 2009
For: ages 4-8
46 pgs.
Includes five recipes at end
Rating: 4

Bright, lovely watercolors.

In this story, we follow Edna and her siblings living on a farm, surviving from its fruits and labors - from early spring to late fall. From the first wild strawberries to the gathering of the last walnuts and pecans, we follow the seasons as the family gathers fruits, share stories and songs, and cook fresh food.

Ednas Lewis goes on to become an award-winning chef, best known for her fresh southern cuisine.

The book ends with five recipes: strawberry shortcake, apple crisp, corn pudding, and the following two:

Pecan Drops
(makes 2 1/2 - 3 dozen cookies)

350 degrees. Grease cookie sheet.

1/2 cup butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1 beaten egg
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans

Using a mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg, flour and salt and mix well, then blend in vanilla and pecans. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto the greased cookie sheet, bake on the middle rack of the oven for 10 minutes until lightly browned.

Nut-Butter Squares
325 degree oven

1 cup sugar
1 cup butter
2 cups flour
2 T. vanilla
1 egg, separated
2 cups chopped walnuts or pecans

With mixer, cream sugar and butter. Add flour, vanilla, and egg yolk. Dough will be stiff. Using your hands, spread dough into an 11 x 15 jelly roll pan. Brush dough with lightly beaten egg white. Sprinkle nuts across dough, then press into the dough with your fingers.

Bake for 25-30 minutes. Keep checking that nuts don't burn. Cool for 5 minutes, then cut into squares.

Hillary Rodham Clinton - Kathleen Krull

Dreams Taking Flight
Illustrated by Amy June Bates
Simon & Schuster, 2008
For: ages 5-10
36 pgs.
Endpapers have copyright info & title page

In this picture book biography for kids we learn a great deal about Hilary Clinton - and because we know so much about her from the media, none is surprising - but it's really interesting. (She wanted to be an astronaut -- and a doctor!)

At the end of the book are more detailed facts and information for each two-page spread. I read every word- it was really interesting.

Whether you agree with Hilary's politics or not, you've got to agree that she has championed and pioneered women's rights like very few others. A groundbreaker.

Amy June Bates' illustrations cover the entire page. It was interesting to see she lives in Carlisle, PA, where I visit at least three times a year (that's where Laura lives).

On each two-page spread is a great quote. For example:
"Take a deep breath, look ahead, and keep trying to fly."
"Stank up for yourself, and keep your balance."
"Even if you jake a mistake, never be afraid to show your intelligence."
"Find heroes to lift you up."
"When borders surround you, try to break through.
"You don't have time for fear."
"Try harder - you can do better."
"Dare to compete."
"Think of the world as bigger than yourself, and carry on."
"Be who you are, get through it, and wait for times to change."
"When something makes you fall, rise up again."
"Take the lead role in your own life."
"Take a risk and dare to change the world."

The author's website: www.Kathleen

Gathering the Sun - Alma Flor Ada

An Alphabet in Spanish and English
English translation by Rosa Zubizarreta
Illustrated by Simon Silva
Lothrop Lee & Shepard, 1997
40 pgs.
Endpapers: Bright Orange

26 "small" poems describing the life of a Mexican farm worker. The illustrations are just fabulous - edge to edge - with the word in bordered boxes. The book flap calls them "sun drenched". They are! The dark cover doesn't suit OR give enough credit to the illustrations inside. Spanish first, then English.

Orgullo = Pride
Proud of my family
proud of my language
. . . . culture
. . . . people
. . .being who I am

Tomates = Tomatoes
Fresh tomato
in a salad,
in the salsa,
in enchiladas
Red tomato
in the kitchen,
in the little tacos
my godmother loves to make.

A is for Asia - Cynthia Chin-Lee

Illustrated by Umi Heo
Orchard Books, 1997
Rating: 3
Endpapers: Goldish paper bag color

Asia seems too diverse to include enough about it in one picture book, but Ms. Lee tries. She includes as many of the countries as she can by introducing a product, activity, animal, holiday, or activity from that country. There is a noticeable absence of some countries, however. It also gets confusing if you're looking for specific information about a particular Asian country, or if you're trying to figure out any of the different languages which are included on every page - or even where a country is located. But it is also an excellent introduction to teaching about the seven continents of the world - and zillions of lessons can be included for each letter.

I like the illustrations a lot. They cover much of the page within a single-line outline, are colorful, fun, and informative.

Asia (map) (Language: Tibetan)
Camels-Saudi Arabia (Language: Arabic)
Elephants-India (Language: Hindi)
Fish (symbol) (Language: Vietnamese)
Gamelan-Malaysia & Indonesia
Holi (a holiday)-India
Id al-Noruz (Persia-no explanation) (Language: Persian)
Jade (Language: Burmese)
Kites (Language: Korean)
Lotus (Language: Hindi)
Monsoon (Language: Urdu, with no explanation of who speaks this)
New Year-China
Qur'an-Muslim (Language: Arabic)
Rice (Language: Chinese)
Sled-Siberia (Language: Russian)
Turkish Delight
Water Buffalo-Philippines (Language: Tagalong)
Xiang Qi (Chinese Chess)
Zen (Language: Japanese)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Dhegdheer, A Scary Somali Folktale - Marian A. Hassan

Illustrated by Betsy Bowen
Minnesota Humanities Commission/ Somali Bilingual Book Project
Rating: 4
Endpapers: dark purple

The illustrations are painted with gouache on black, with dark color covering the entire page. Mmmmmm. They go perfectly with this scary story.

"Once upon a time, a fierce cannibal named Dhegdheer roamed the Hargega Valley in Somalia. Her horrific ways cursed a land once green and lush, turning it into a desert, a crumbling dust. The animals grew thin and the rain went away for a very long time."

A scary "boogeyman" tale with a satisfying ending. Dhegdheer is a female with a daughter - and her daughter is as good as Dhegdheer is evil. Very evil. A cannibal.

Told in the right way, compared to tales from America including urban legends, this story is a great starting point for questions (what is the habitat and location of Somalia?) and discussion. I do, however, wish there was a pronounciation guide!

If America Were a Village - David J. Smith

A Book About the People of the United States
Illustrated by Shelagh Armstrong
for: middle grades
Kids Can Press, 2009
32 pgs.
Rating: 3.5
Great dedication

Welcome to America - population 306 million. This books tells of a village of 100 - each representing more than 3 million of America's people.
Who are we? Languages, citizenship
Where do we come from?
Where do we live? (by decade)
What are our families like?
What religions do we practice?
.....82 are Christians (54 Protestant, 24 Catholics, 2 Mormon and 2 "other")
....2 are Buddhist
.....1 is Jewish
.....1 is a Muslim
.....4 are "other" and...
.....10 have no religion
(It also shares world statistics)
What do we do? (1/4 attend school)
How old are we?
How wealthy are we?
What do we own?
What do we use? (energy & water-wise)
How helathy are we?
America past & future (size of the village over time)
Afterword & resources

Large illustrations look like paintings.
Really interesting....but the one about the world is even more interesting!

Guess Again - Mac Barnett

Illustrated by Adam Rex
Simon & Schuster, 2009
24 pgs. - one is a fold-out
Cover: cut out oval with "Guess Again"
Endpapers: question marks
Funny - funny- funny (my fourth graders would love this!)
Rating for the sake of a rating - 4

He steals carrots from the neighbor's yard.
His hair is soft, his teeth are hard.
His floppy ears are long and funny
Can you guess who? That's right! My

Now turn the page and SURPRISE! Guess again! It is NOT his bunny.

There are six very funny "guess who's" in this book. I don't want to give it away -- pick it up and give it a quick read yourself!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Gift for Abuelita - Nancy Luenn

Celebrating the Day of the Dead
(Un regalo para Abuelita En celebracion del Dia de los Muertos)
Illustrated by Robert Chapman
Rising Moon, 1998
32 Pages
Rating: 4/5 Illustrations
Endpapers: The cemetery, close up

Oh, the illustrations in this book! So different! I tried to guess how they were made before finding out. Thoughtfully - and thankfully - Mr. Chapman gave an excellent description of his process: CAST PAPER. He creates a mold using a wooden frame where he forms the picture in many layers using wood, cardboards, and heavy papers. He then creates the page by applying a thin layer of wet paper pulp. When dry and uncast, he paints and adds thread, twine, beads, etc. I would LOVE to see (and touch...) the actual work!

The story, told in English and Spanish, is the personal story of a young girl whose beloved abuelita (grandmother) has recently died. We hear of the offerings (ofrenda) that her family is making for previously deceased loved ones for the Day of the Dead. We're with them when they clean the graves and picnic at the cemetery. And we share Rosita's joy when she finally feels her abuelita's presence.

When I Wore My Sailor Suit - Uri Shulevitz

Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2009
32 pgs.
Rating: 4
Luscious vocabulary: provisions, destination, arduous, departure, valiantly, luxurious, disrupted, pelting, barrage, resume, sternly
Illustrations: 7/8 of page, boxed by white
Endpapers: Azure

A young boy dresses as a sailor and goes to visit his upstairs neighbor. They have a model ship - and his imaginative journey begins. He makes it through a storm and arrives on a jungle island. He escapes pirates and finds a treasure map. but when he feels like someone is watching him he "returns" to the room and sees a painting of an ominous-looking man, whose eyes seem to follow him wherever he goes. It unsettles him. After fleeing for home, the boy realizes something. Returning to the painting he says, "you can't leave this wall, you can't leave this room, but I can go far away on an exciting journey."

Bravo for great fanciful works, a great message, and lovely illustrations.

Come Back Soon - Daniel Schallau

Houghton Mifflin, 2009
48 pgs.
Rating: 4
Illustrations: colored pencils, pen & ink
Endpapers: Bright yellow

If you go through this story just reading the words it would seem disjointed and uneven. But if you examine each illustrations as you read, the story flows beautifully. I wonder if this is intentional, or happened because the writer and illustrator are the same person? I'd guess it wouldn't make a good readaloud to a group - much better alone or one to one.

Elephant the architect returns to Ice Island to be the special guest at the" PENGUIN DEDICATION". His friends, the penguins, meet him, wine him and dine him, and help him through several mishaps. The story is cute and the illustrations are marvelous - I wish the book were bigger so the pictures could be! There's SO much of the story in the pictures!

Give this as a gift to an inquisitve 4-year-old builder and include a scarf....

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Dewey, There's a Cat in the Library - Vicki Myron & Breat Witter

Illustrated by Steve James
Little Brown & Co., 2009
32 pgs.
Rating: 4
Endpapers: paw prints in pale yellow

These have to be the cutest kitten illustrations I've ever seen - you just want to pick him up and let him purr.

Dewey is left in the book drop at a small-town library. This is the story of how he made this library his home - and how much all the patrons appreciated him. I believe it was a novel - perhaps for adults? first.

A really cute story for any cat lover.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

My Uncle Emily - Jane Yolen

Illustrated by Nancy Carpenter
Philomel Books, 2009
32 pgs.
For: Lovers and discoverers of Emily Dickinson's poetry (including those who don't "get" her poems!)
Rating: 4.5
Endpapers: Rosy cranberry
Illustrations: "Pen and ink and digital media." They look old-fashioned and really work beautifully with the story and subject.

Based on facts that Jane Yolen has researched, we are treated to a little bit of the life of Emily Dickinson and of the people who loved her, the lives she touched. It explains what a "recluse" is, and gives us a wonderful glimpse into the possibilities of her quiet personality.

When she givers her six-year old nephew (and next-door neighbor), Gib, a dead bee and a poem to take to school to share, he feels obligated to do so - even though he doesn't understand the poems and knows that his classmates probably won't either. When one of the boys makes fun of his aunt (she refers to herself as Uncle Emily), he socks him in the nose. Not wanting to tell the truth at a family gathering that night, he omits the fighting part of the story, buy Uncle Emily is the one that figures out there's something missing. And she gets it out of him in with a poems and gentle kindness.

There's a note at the end entitled "What is True About this Story."

A for-sure addition to reading aloud the poems of Emily Dickinson to kids! Many love her poems, some have glimmers of understanding, but many screw up their faces and say, "I don't get it." This story should be included! For sure.

What a lovely cover illustration!

Peacock and Other Poems - Valerie Worth

Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2002
40 pgs.
For: Kids

I'm so glad that although Valerie Worth died in 1994 her poems are still being published. Known most by her collection of "short poems", this slim volume includes yet more. What she is able to say and show in these short poems is a real joy. I wish I could write like this!

(Natalie Babbitt, writer of Tuck Everlasting, was the illustrator - the gentle black and white pencilly sketches that she adds are just perfect.)


Never believe
That clouds
Are mere
Airy vapor:

They are
High terraces
Of marble
And alabaster,

Pillars of
Quartz, alleys
Of pearl
And silver,

To those
Who weigh
Nothing and
Walk there.


In a whir
Of wings he
Floats at the
Flower's door,

Wearing his white
Silk vest,
His glistening
Ruby collar:

And who could
Refuse a sip
Of nectar to
Such a caller?

Friday, October 16, 2009

City I Love - Lee Bennett Hopkins

Illustrated by Marcellus Hall
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2009
32 pgs.
For: K-4- lots of examining and things to figure out
Rating: 4
Endpapers: map of the world with 18 cities labeled

Eighteen poems that are using eighteen cities around the world as their showpiece. All of the poems could really be for any city, but if you examine the illustration and check out the world map on the endpapers, you can figure out which one is being denoted. Works for me!

I like Lee Bennett Hopkins poems. I don't usually love them. And I like these. At first I wasn't sure if I liked the illustrations, but then I looked at the detail and liked them more and more. There's a very cool backpacking, traveling dog (check him out on the cover) that appears somewhere on every page, and I found I was looking for him first. Then I was looking for clues as to which city was being depicted. This ended up being a really delightful book. First impressions aren't always the right ones!

Mother’s Plea

Silence sirens.
Hush all horns.
Quiet rumbling
traffic roars.
Promise me
My newborn

Thursday, October 15, 2009

67. The Corn Grows Ripe - Dorothy Rhoads

Newbery Honor Book
Illustrated by Jean Charlot
90 pgs.
For: Middle Grades
Rating: Much better than I ever expected

Dionisio, called Tigre (meaning Jaguar) lives in a primitive village in current-day Yucatan. At 12 he is lazy and somewhat spoiled, but takes over his family's milpa (cornfield) when his father is badly injured. This corn is the family's sustenance. Yes, they have a few chickens, but it is the corn that feeds them. We get to observe the full cycle, from cutting and preparing the milpa, to the wait for rain, the sowing, the wait for rain again, and the harvest. During that time we get a glimpse into the life of modern-day Maya that is still tied to those of the ancient Maya.

Full of description, Maya and Spanish words (and a wonderful glossary), stories of gods and ceremonies and a way of life, this book was appreciated by almost all of my 27 fourth-graders. They are creating a map of the setting that has them VERY excited. A codex of 27 of the Maya words and terms will follow. This was a great novel for our Maya unit.

Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow - Joyce Sidman

Illustrated by Beth Krommes
Houghton Mifflin, 2006
40 pgs.
For: Middle Grades
Rating: 4.5
Endpapers: INCREDIBLE scratchboard meadow closeup

Wow wow wow wow wow, this eye-popping art blows me away. It's scratchboard, and it's really something. The cover just doesn't do it justice.

Two page spreads with two poems are followed by two pages that describe what's going on in the previous pages. Dew and grasshopper, Rabbit and fox, Spittlebug and Xylem & Phloem (I've seen all the bubbles on a weed-type plant, this tells you about it!), Milkweed and butterflies, Snake and toad, Goldfinch and hawk, Deer and trees......coordinated pairings with beautiful poetry, lovely descriptions, and artwork that is spectacular.

In the Almost Light

In the dark,
in the night,
in the almost-light,
in the leaf-crisp air just before sunlight,
sprouts a secret, silent, sparkling sight:
berries grown on the vines of night.

On the grass,
on the buds,
on the bark of trees,
on the small clear wings of the bumblebees,
on the spiderwebs (and the spiders’ knees),
come the jewels of the dawn
in the cool night’s breeze

And the sun
when it comes
through the purple haze
touches each clear gem with its sidelong gaze,
fingers each clear drop with its lazy rays,
gathers each one back for the summer days.

What is it?

66. Escape Under the Forever Sky - Eve Yohalem

for: Middle grades (one of my fourth graders lent this to me after loving it...)
Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 2009
Hardcover, $16.99
220 pgs.
Rating: 4.5

Lucy Hoffman is the thirteen-year-old daughter of the American Ambassador to Ethiopia. She leaves the safe confines of "the compound" every day to be driven to school, but other than that her life is pretty restricted. She yearns to get out and explore Addis Ababa and the surrounding game area. She has researched mammals of Africa extensevely and hopes to follow in the footsteps of Dian Fossey, Jane Goodall, and Birute Galdikas. She feels that her parents are being overly protective and much too strict, so she sneaks out a few times, always getting caught.

(Spoiler Alert:) One day, she and her friend Tana sneak out and Lucy is kidnapped. She is taken to a remote hut in the middle of she-knows-not-where, given very little food, unsafe water, and held for some sort of ransom. She figures out a way to escape and takes off, with the knowledge she has gleaned from many books about Africa, into the great unknown. Full of wildlife sightings, good thinking, and lots of pluck and luck, Lucy figures out how to save herself.

Kids will love the adventure and the wildlife in this book. The description of life and celebrations in a remote tribal village only add to the feeling of Africa. Yes, it really feels like you're in Ethiopia. Fascinating. Interesting. Based loosely on a story about a girl who made it through a similar escape. Well researched, and thoughtful. There aren't a lot of stories for American kids with a setting like this - keep 'em comin'!

A Book - Mordicai Gerstein

Roaring Brook Press
April 2009
40 pgs.
for: Kids
Rating: 4.5
Endpapers: The same blue as the cover

Clever and different. I do appreciated clever and different.

The reader has a birds-eye view of all the activity in the book. We're looking DOWN at the action - as if we were the sun - and Gerstein has even drawn the shadows that are being made. The characters know you're there - and they know they're only a family that exists in the book. Everyone knows their own story - the father's a clown, the mother's a fire fighter, the brother wants to be an astronaut - but the young girl goes looking for her own, unknown story. She travels through different genres - fairy tale, mystery, adventure, historical fiction, science fiction - until she goes home to decide to become an author and write her own story!

At the beginning and end of the book are double-pages spreads of black pages - you can see the imprints of the beds - because "when the book was closed it was night in the book, and the family slept."

Brother Juniper - Diane Gibfried

Illustrated by Meilo So
Clarion Books, 2006
32 pgs.
Endpapers: Bright orange

Based on the true story of a friar and friend of St. Francis of Assisi, Brother Juniper joined St. Francis in 1210 and died in 1258. He was extremely generous, anf from the knowledge of that generosity comes this story.

Brother Juniper would give someone in need the clothes off his back. Literally. The other brothers would find him naked. One day, when he was left in charge of the chapel, many people came to the door asking for help. He gave away eveything - and when the other friars returned, naked Brother Juniper was standing in an empty hole in the ground! All is redeemed on Sunday when a huge happy crowd all come to say thank you.

A neat story of generosity and giving. Illustrations are fun and compliment the story beuatifully.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

65. Wild Things - Clay Carmichael

For: Middle grades and YA
Front Street/Boyds Mills Press
May, 2009
Hardcover $18.95
241 pgs.
Rating: 5

First-rate first-person storytelling by the protagonist, 11-year-old Zoe Royster, made me want to read without stopping. Wonderful characters, clever plot, subtle twists and turns, and lots of love create a one-of-a-kind tale. Every so often we watch the evolving story through the eyes of a feral cat that Zoe is slowly teaching to trust her. This story is loaded and lovely.

Zoe has practically raised herself. Her unwed mother, in and out of mental hospitals, has dragged her from one boyfriend's digs to another. Her life has been raw and pretty empty of love. She knows how to survive. She is really, really bright and loves to write. She is writing her memoir. When her mother commits suicide, Zoe is sent to live with the heart-surgeon-now-famous-sculptor uncle. She is instantly accepted by his collection of odd friends, and together they create a family. She slowly learns to trust, as does the cat in our parallel story.

This is one beautifully put-together story. I highly recommend it to all, and can't wait for one of my students to try it. Wonderful.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

64. Jane Austen Ruined My Life - Beth Pattillo

Guideposts, 2009
274 pgs.
For: adults
Rating: 2

I knew right from the beginnng that this book was going to disappoint, and unfortunately it did. I couldn't stand the protagonist/heroine. I didn't agree with anything she did, felt, or said. The plot was totally unbelievable. The setting was wonderful....the descriptions of London and the surrounding area was detailed and interesting. The facts about Jane Austen were great. It's my own fault. When you know right from the first page that the heroine is a dolt, you should read something else.

Emma had caught her stuffy, boring professor husband cheating on her with his TA. He had helped the TA discredit his wife, and Emma was fired as a professor and left with her tail between her legs. A mysterious woman had written to her from London and tempted her with the possibilites of long-lost Jane Austen letters. This interesting Mrs. Parrot sent her on a series of six tasks, places to from Jane Austen's life, where she was given a photocopy of one of the forbidden/lost letters to peruse. Two handsome professors enter her life, one brand new, one from her past. It's silly, it's not romantic at all. At first I thought that Jane Austen would be peeved, but then I realized that Emma is amazingly like the Emma of Miss Austen's own hand.... I think it's the total and complete ability to be self-centered that makes this book a real two-thumbs down.

(I sure hope that Adam gets on with his life, sans Emma. Please! He's been such a schmuck.)

Testing the Ice - Sharon Robinson

A True Story About Jackie Robinson
Illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Scholastic Press, 2009
40 pgs.
Rating: 5
Endpapers: Dark aqua
Author's Note

This heartwarming true story about the personal life of Jaackie Robinson is written by his daughter, Sharon. It tells of their home and home life in the mid-to-late 1950's. It includes tidbits about Jackie Robinson's entry into the entirely segregated world of Major League Baseball. In the main storyline, Ms. Robinson weaves her dad's courage in and around and through a story of his fear of water and his inability to swim. It's done quite beautifully and makes for really interesting storytelling.

And the illustrations! Oh my goodness, can this man draw! Completely covering the oversized pages, each and every illustrtation is a masterpiece to behold - most especially his depiction of Jackie Robinson.

Super book!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Princess Hyancinth (The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated) - Florence Parry Heide

Illustrated by Lane Smith
Schwartz & Wade Books (Random House) 2009
40 pgs.
Rating: 4
Endpaper: curlicues

Princess Hyacinth floats. The only thing that can be done about it is to belt her into her seat or weigh her down. She has a very boring life because her parents, naturally, won't let her go outside for fear she'll float away totally.

One day Hyacinth's had enough of this boredom, so outside she goes, weighed down so thoroughly that she can barely move. She sees a balloon seller and gets a brainstorm - one that ultimjately and unfortunately sends her floating up into the endless sky.

But there's a hero, and a rescue, and a happy ending for Princess Hyacinth's boredom.

Very cute story.

Here's another review from Bri Meets Books.

Crow Call - Lois Lowry

Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
Scholastic, 2009
32 pgs.
Rating: 5 YES!
Endpapers: Deep brown, accentuating the beautiful browns used in the illustrations.

This is a supremely lovely book. The words themselves are gorgeous. The illustrations are magnificent. And the story iteslf is oh-so-satisfying. It's a memoir, a story of Lois Lowry and her own father in 1945.

Just back from the war, a father begins the first steps of reconnecting with his young daughter by taking her hunting, just the two of them. Breakfast at a diner starts the day with a funny situation that I'm certain became an inside family joke. The woods are quiet and beautiful, and they talk. Lizzie is nervous about her father's rifle, and fearful for the crows he will shoot. He gives her the task of blowing the crow call. This becomes such a delight to her when dozens of silent crows rise from the trees in answer to her call.

This is first and foremost the story of a thoughtful, sensitive father who dearly loves his child. Wrapped in magical words and detailed illustrations, this is a lush, special book. BRAVO!!

"Grass, frozen after its summer softness, crunches under our feet; free from the floating pollens of summer, and our words seem etched and breakable on the brittle stillness."
Never stop writing, Mrs. Lowry, never stop!

The Bravest Flute - Ann Grifalconi

A Story of Courage in the Mayan Tradition
Little, Brown & Co., 1994 (out-of-print)
Rating: 3
Endpapers: aqua

(Includes a 3-paragraph author's note with information about the Maya.)

A poor, fatherless Maya boy is to lead the New Year's parade from the village to the cathedral. He will play his simple bamboo flute while carrying a huge drum on his back - on which a drummer will pound - for the entire procession. It gets harder and harder, but he is greeted at the cathedral with pine arches, soft leaves underfoot, and a very special gift.

It's written so that it reads as prose but looks like long lines of free verse. This seems to ba an early sample of the many vers-stories of the past decade. Illustrations softly cover the entire page, with the text in a lighter space near the bottom. It looks like pastels and watercolor washes.

Read this aloud accompanied by simple flute music. Have TWO voices read it aloud - one for the italics, one for the story. Amy and I did this in the classroom and it was actually quite lovely. We had the students just listen to the story and envision the setting and characters - without showing the illustrations as we went along. We had them draw their own visions, then we shared the story with the original illustrations.

Big Cat Pepper - Elizabeth Partridge

Illustrated by Lauren Castillo
Bloomsbury, 2009
32 pgs.
For: ages 3-8
Rating: Unsure
Endpapers: Yellow

A rhyming story about a boy's love for his cat. But Pepper is getting old, fails, and dies. We go through it all with the boy - including the burial, the grief, and finally the realization that Pepper's "spirit" is flying high.

As much as I enjoy the lovely writing and touching illustrations, I have mixed feelings. I've lost animals. I've had many student who've broken into tears - at school- in grief or sadness. And I know everyone grieves differently (oh, have I ever found that out) but this book makes me sad. And if I'd lost a pet recently I'd be over-the-top sad after reading this. So when would I ever share this book?

The illustrations are lovely. It says mixed media is looks like colored pencils to me, but it was probably done partly on the computer, which is being done more and more and I want to find out more about this process.

"Mama, me , and Pepper,
always been this way.
Never been without him,
even for a day."

First Year Letters - Julie Danneberg

Illustrated by Judy Love
Charlesbridge, 2003
32 pgs.
For Gr. 2-4 & teachers!

Now here's a great book to give a teacher! It's about a year of teaching, the second book about Sarah Jane Hartwell. (The first was First Day Teacher).

Full of humor and love, written entirely in letters, the story tells of a great school year and a great teacher. It includes science lessons, corresponding disasters, principal oabservations, escaped snakes, museum visits, and student inquisitiveness (hopefully that's a word.....).

This is a great fun read with pictures that beautifully compliment the letters.