Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Boy on Fairfield Street - Kathleen Krull

How Ted Geisel Grew Up to Become Dr. Seuss
illustrated by Steve Johnson & Lou Fancher
Dragonfly Books, 2004
48 pages
paper $7.99 purchased
Endpapers: pale green with various Seuss drawings

1- This is a well-written, somewhat lengthy-for-a-picture-book biography, more like a short story.
2 - This is really interesting.
3 - This is very informative.
4 - The illustrations are expressive, with one bordered painting on each double-page spread.
5 - Included at the bottom of each page of text is an actual Dr. Seuss drawing.
6 - At the end of the book are four more full pages of additional biographical information and a bibliography of his books.

This is a topnotch book. Ted Geisel was a "goof off" who was told that he would never be an artist. Huh!

This will showcase a weeklong unit in my class, including some of his famous books. I bet the kids'll love it.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Growing Frogs - Vivian French

Illustrated by Alison Bartlett
Candlewick, 2000
Paper $6.99
32 pages
"Read and Wonder" series
ages 5-8
Excellent book

Ever since Brendan's ranger-led Acadia National Park frog adventure, I've been checking out books about frogs. In this book it is springtime and a little girl and her mother find frog spawn at the pond. They take it home to watch the amazing changes fron egg to tadpole to frog.

Not only is this a story, it's an excellent easy how-to guide so kids --- with their parent's help --- can watch these magical changes themselves.

How often do you change the pond water? What happens next? What should you do when they become frogs?

The illustrations are full-page, brightly colored acrylics. The large "Tapioca" font tells the story, smaller font gives the info.

Oh would I love to do this! But the book itself is all you need to easily learn LOTS of neat things about frogs.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Water Gift and the Pig of the Pig - Jacqueline Briggs Martin

Illustrated by Linda S. Wingerter
Houghton Mifflin, 2003
32 pages
Rating: 4
Endpapers: light blue

Set in Waldo County, Maine, this is the story of a girl named Isabel who lives with her grandparents. Her grandfather is a water man. He was a sailor until he married and settled down and is a gifted dowser. His divining rod is a Y-shaped stick. He finds more than water, he finds lost animals, too.

When he feels he has lost his touch, and when the family's pet pig goes missing, Isabel discovers that she, too, has the water gift.

Illustrations are framed with a thin black line and a white border. They are really lovely and depict rural Maine and the seacoast perfectly.

Bot the author and illustrator grew up in Maine. They've given this book the right feel.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

MOVIE - Eat, Pray, Love

Gorgeous settings - Rome, India, Bali
Released 8-13-10
PG-13 (2:13)
Wed. 8-25-10 at El Con with great friends I haven't seen in awhile
RT: 38% cag: 70%
Director: Ryan Murphy
from the book by Elizabeth Gilbert (which I kept putting off reading)
Julia Roberts, James Franco, Javier Bardem

This is the story of a woman searching for herself. She's unhappy in her marriage, leaves her husband, has a fling with a younger man, decides there's something missing there, so takes off for a year in search of herself. Imagine being able to do that! She goes to Italy to eat, India to pray, and in Bali she finds love - and supposedly learns to love herself. She cries her way through the story - lots of glistening tears, a few falling down her cheeks - and I found all I wanted to do was take her by the shoulders, shake her a bit, and say, "Enough, already!"

I loved, loved, loved the setting and the filming. It was the character of Liz that I just didn't like. I couldn't relate to her no matter how hard I tried. She lives her life feeling sorry for herself, always searching for more, more, more. And the casting of Julia Roberts in the main role didn't work for me. It was Julia Roberts playing a part, not Liz Gilbert searching for self.

My three friends all loved it. All had read the book. One liked the movie better. My daughter loved it. I was expecting to, too. I didn't hate it, but I'm sitting here, 12 hours later, disappointed. I wonder what I expected? Ah, life.....

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Boy Who Loved Words - Roni Schotter

Illustrated by Giselle Potter
Schwartz & Wade Books, 2006
32 pages
Rating: 4.5
Front endpapers: cut-out words on light green
Back endpapers: Glossary of the many scrumptious words italicized throughout the book

Selig was a collector of words. He wrote all the great words he heard on a piece of paper and stuffed it in a pocket, in his sock, under his collar. But when he heard one of his peers call him an "oddball," he had a strange dream that sent him out into the world to find his purpose.

While doing so, he also found love. So upon his return home, still a young man, his parents were terribly happy for him.

Words are "cut" and dropped all over the pages. Lots of great words are italicized throughout the story.

I can think of oodles and oodles of activities to do with this including: class list of LUSCIOUS WORDS, laminate great words and tie by strings to trees around town, word mobiles, make a word potpouri - choose and use....

There's a Teacher's Guide at the Teachers at Random website.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

MOVIE - The Girl Who Played With Fire

Mesmerizing - but not as good as The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Released 7-9-10
R (2:09)
Sunday 8/22/10 with Shane at the Loft
RT: 66 cag: 88
Director: Daniel Alfredson
in Swedish with subtitles
from the book by Stieg Larsson
Noomi Rapace & Michael Nyqvist

Lisbeth Salander is implicated in three murders. She tries to figure out what's going on without any help, but slowly her friend, journalist Mikael Blomkvist, puts clues together as well. She's such a loner....and for good reason. This story is entirely linked to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and I can't imagine you'd know what was going on if you hadn't seen that first installment. It's exciting, interesting, and easy to follow. However, it didn't grab me up quite as much as the first one did. Still good, though.

There were several places that the subtitles were in white on such a light background that they couldn't be read. This was frustrating, and made you come out of your own mind to realize that you were reading along while watching a movie....you weren't part of it. Disconcerting.

MOVIE - Mother and Child

A beautifully woven beautiful story..."not the soppy melodrama you might expect"
Released 5-7-10
R (2:05)
Sat. Aug. 14, 2010 at Cheapie on Kolb, by myself
RT: 79 cag: 89
Director: Rodrigo Garcia
Naomi Watts, Annette Bening, Jimmy Smits

This was good. Totally held my attention. Three different stories that are really all entwined and come completely together long before the end. A mother who gives up her baby at 14; a daughter who never knew her mother and is now, in her 30's, alone, by choice, and pregnant herself; and a woman who desperately wants a baby and is trying to adopt. Great acting. Wonderful storytelling.

Getting Involved, Making a Difference

Making a Difference in Our World. There are so many well-run, helpful nonprofits out there, and I've been trying to do my bit to make the world a teeny tiny better place. Some of these have even come to my attention from reading picture books. So I thought I'd highlight a few of the thousands of worthwhile agencies that have caught my attention in the past year or two. Yes, monetary donations are what most are looking for, but some are looking for other things....including an understaning of the the problem that created the need for their organization in the first place!

Heifer Project International is the organization I've known about since I was a kid. My own kids, when they were in middle school, spent part of a week volunteering at the Heifer Project farm near Worcester, Mass. This is one fantastic organization. They help families around the world by giving them the gift of sustainable animals - heifers, chickens, pigs, goats, rabbits. You can help in many ways - physically, monetarily, educationally - and it's been around for over 65 years. The picture book Beatrice's Goat (Atheneum: Page McBrier, 2001) tells HPI's story well.

World Vision, which is the recipient of proceeds from Just Like You (Zonderkidz: Marla Stewart Konrad, 2010) is a Christian humanitarian organization that has been active since 1950. Very creditable. I remember adopting a child with my Sunday School class a million years ago.

Souls4Soles has given away more than 10 MILLION pairs of unwanted or gently-use shoes since it began in 2005. Their motto - "Changing the World, One Pair at a Time" is epitomized in the picture book New Old Shoes (Pleasant Street Press: Charlotte Blessing, 2009). A one dollar donation will purchase a pair of shoes, but there are also drop-offs all over the country where you can DONATE your used shoes!. Just go to their website, enter your zip code, and it'll tell you where to go. I just gathered a bag together and am heading out for a three mile trip to donate!

FINCA (Foundation for International Communiity Assistance) puts small...minute...loans into the hands of women. We're talking $25 here, but it's enough to have empowered thousands of women around the world to make a better life for themselves and their children. "The results are life-changing." I just got a brochure in the mail, and it reminded me of the picture book One Hen (Kids Can Press: Katie Smith Milway, 2008) which I read about a year ago.

The Manzanar Project/Plant a Tree, Feed A Family helps support the growth of Mangrove Trees on the edges of salty seas.  The Mangroves are cared for by the women of nearby villages (it began in Eritrea, Africa), the leaves are eaten by goats and sheep, who have begun to thrive, giving more milk and meat to the families.  It's a win-win situation.  I first read about this in The Mangrove Tree: Planting Trees to Feed Families (Roth & Trumbore, 2011), which I borrowed from the Amelia S. Givin Library in Mt. Holly Springs while visiting there with Ella.  (The name "Manzanar Project" came from the relocation camp in California where Japanese-Americans were sent during World War II - Dr. Gordon Sato is the scientist creator of this project and was sent to Manzanar in the 1940's.)

Water for Southern Sudan (Drilling Wells, Transforming Lives) - After reading A Long Walk to Water during my 4th grade study of Africa and Sudan, I learned about this fantastic organization created by the protagonist of the novel, Salva Dut.  Included at this website are numerous ways that anyone can help, including an inspired program called the H20 Project Challenge.  There's all sorts of materials available for teacher and even families and individuals.  This is a WONDERFUL organization!

Just Like You - Marla Stewart Konrad

Illustrated by Lin Wang
Zonderkidz, 2010
24 pages
For: Parents of new babies and all young children
Rating: 4.9
Endpapers: Gentle pale drawing of the world with different types of homes - it's almost foggy, and looks like it's a scroll unrolling....

"On the day you were born, I looked in your eyes, cuddled you close, and knew the world would never be the same. I counted your fingers and toes, whispered in your ear, and sang you a lullaby."

"On the day you were born, baby Mei Ling was born in China. Her mommy looked in her eyes and cuddled her close. She counted her fingers and toes, whispered in her ear, and sang her a lullaby."

We visit newborns in the Amazon, in Russia, in the Arctic and in Egypt, in southern Africa, India, and Australia. We see who comes to visit, what they bring, and what the world outside their doorstep looks like.

The illustrations are absolutely lovely. Lin Wang is a native of China who now lives in California. She is an illustrator to watch. Her full-page paintings are just perfect for this book. Mmmmmm.

The last two pages bring in the concept of God. This is wonderful for all the families in the world that believe in God, but would not be entirely welcomed by those who do not share those beliefs. I have just ordered three copies of this book to give to three pregnant couples I know. I plan to glue together these last two pages on one of the copies, because I know that particular couple will feel more comfortable with the book. This is why I haven't given this book a 5. It's a tiny drawback, but one I feel I must tune in to.

"Zonderkidz is a proud supporter of World Vision, dedicated to helping children in poverty worldwide.....In celebration of the publication of Just Like You, Zonderkitz is donating $10,000 to World Vision...."

Note: Another book I read recently that deals with a newborn arriving and how very special that makes everyone feel is All the Places to Love by Patricia MacLachlan.

Friday, August 20, 2010

60. Breaking Dawn - Stephenie Meyer

Audio read by Ilyana Kadushin (Bella) and Matt Walters (Jacob)
Random House Audio, 2008
16 unabridged cds
20 hrs. 29 minutes
768 pages
Rating: 3.5

Finally. I've finished the saga. 768 pages worth - 768 pages that should have and could have been written in about 350. Oh well. It had a happy ending, which is a good thing.....I.....guess.......

At least Meyers didn't mamby-pamby around. Throughout the three first installments, I was quite sure that she wouldn't turn Bella into a vampire. Her twist, the catalyst for all the events in this book, was quite unexpected, and quite interesting. However, I had a fourth grader that read the series last year. I had read the first three installments, but not this one, and felt the sexuality was hazy enough to keep the book appropriate for a sophisticated tne-year-old reader. Part of the time I was reading this fourth installment, I was thinking that it was probably a bit much for her. When I saw here a couple of days ago at Back-to-School Night, she told me she LOVED Breaking Dawn. Okeedokeee.

I didn't love it. But it was certainly entertaining. It was very exciting in places. It D R A G G E D in places. The movie is going to be made in two parts (groan). I will be in line to see it, I must admit.....

Lin Yi's Lantern - Brenda Williams

A Moon Festival Tale
Illustrated by Benjamin Lacombe
Barefoot Books, 2009
32 pages
For: young kids
Rating: 3+
Endpapers: Red with stenciled Chinese designs

Lin Yi's mother sends him to the market to bargain for five items for their Moon Festival trek up the mountain that night. If he has enough money left over, he can purchase the red rabbit lantern that he so dearly wants.

After the story itself we learn about the markets in rural Chinese villages, there's directions for making a simple Chinese paper lantern, and there's even a two-page story "The Legend of the Moon Fairy." But there's no explanation anywhere about the Moon Festival or information about the beautfiul red lanterns that are used. Unfortunately, I find this a weakness. The story uses repetition, which is great for young kids, but makes it a little "young" for my fourth graders. And how Uncle Hui "magically" has a lantern gift, and it's okay that we don't know how he got it or where it came from, it's too abrupt and leaves too much to wonder about. However, the book beautfiully depicts what happens in a market AND the illustrations are just wonderful. So a few pluses, and few minuses.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

MOVIE - The Other Guys

Very Funny - it's meant to be stupid, so you don't mind that it is
Released Aug. 6, 2010
PG-13 (1:47)
8-13-10 at El Con with Jen & Jennifer
RT 75% cag
Director: Adam McKay

Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Micahel Keaton!

They must have needed several thousand retakes, because to deliver these lines in a deadpan way must have been nearly impossible!

Two cops. Laughing-stocks of the detective division. Bickering partners that are as unalike as any two could be. Clever and silly - average-looking boring guy has hot-hot wife, macho supercop knows ballet moves. They're not stupid. Just silly. So when they stumble into what becomes their "big case," it swerves this way and that way...and you just laugh along and enjoy the ride.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

59. I Am Number 4 - Pittacus Lore (actually, James Frey, I think)

I've got a strong feeling this will be #1 in what might be called "The Lorien Legacies"
Harper, 2010
HC 17.99
for: YA
440 pages
Rating: mmmm...4? (there seems to be a theme going here)

There are a number of planets that sustain life in a smilar way as Earth - Lorien and Mogadore are two of them. Unfortunately, the very bad people of Mogadore sapped their planet of anything and everything they needed, so they attacked - and conquered - nearby peaceful Lorien. But nine young children and their guardians were able to escape. They escaped to the closest place that could sustain their life - Earth. Unfortunately, the Mogadorians are hunting each and every one of the nine. But because of a Lorien charm, they may only be killed in a specific order.

Number 4 is our protagonist. He is going by the name of John Smith. His guardian's name is Henri. They have never lived in one place very long, they flip around the country from one small town to another. "John" is now fifteen. They know that Number 3 has been killed, and that Number 3 will be the next target. So they leave Florida for a tiny town in Ohio; Paradise.

In all outward ways, Number 4 is your average American boy. But he has special powers, his legacies, that don't appear until after puberty. John's have begun to appear. And this boy, who has never been able to have friends, finds both a best bud and a girlfriend, while being antagonized by a local bully.

Science fiction, teen romance, interesting settings and characterization, a good dose of man't best friend, and a spectacular battle scene all combine to make this story a satisfying one for lovers of Harry Potter and the Hunger Games.

There's a movie coming out on February 18 (2011)! One of my newest favorite actor/hunks will be in it - Timothy Olyphant (who will play Henri), along with some interesting names - the young man, Alex Pettyfer, who will star in Beastly, Quinn from Glee, and the guy who played mercenary Martin Kearney in Lost. I'll be the first in line for this one!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Fire Up With Reading - Toni Buzzeo

Illustrated by Sachiko Yoshikawa
Upstart Books, 2007
32 pages
Rating: 4
Endpapers: White

Mrs. Skorupski, the Liberty School librarian, has come up with a great idea to get the whole school reading - a 6-month competition to end on March 2nd, Read Across America Day. Her theme is based on fire-spouting dragons. Kids earn a dragon scale for every 30 minutes of reading...and the whole school starts to read, read, read, including Patty Lee and her 4th grade class.

Colorful, fanciful, simple illustrations cover the entire page. But do you like the cover? I don't.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Sunday Love - Alison Paul

Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2010
HC $16.99
32 pages
Rating: 3.5
Endpapers: Red

The cover grabbed me instantly.

This is a great wordless book for older kids to follow and figure out. Illustrated entirely in red, black, and white, Bruno the Burglar breaks out of "the big house" to go after the love of his life. He is, of course, followed the entire way with a gaggle of officers trying to apprehend him. His surprise love is found - ecstasy! - but just before he can fulfill his longed-for embrace, he is captured. This all takes place on Valentine's Day, with Cupid trying to help him out along the way....and with one last helpful incident at the very end, he actually wins. I'm being careful in my wording so I won't give any of the fun stuff away....

Because of a spelling "thing" I puzzled over the title for a second or two....then it hit me.....

New Old Shoes - Charlotte Blessing

Illustrated by Gary R. Phillips
Pleasant Street Press, 2009
28 pages
HC $16.99
Endpapers: Spiral 'tiles" in a brownish with rainbow

Told from the p-o-v of a pair of red sneakers, we learn of the children who wear them and the many things that happen to them. We watch them travel from America to Africa and the life they take on there, until, completely worn out, they become the hands of a scarecrow.

The illustrations cover the entire page - the attractive, large font appearing in the background of the illustrations. Lovely pictures.

Transitions from wearer to wearer could have been better -- this might be a good book to use with kids learning to create better transitiions. They could haver a go.

http://www.soles4souls.org/ "Changing the World One Pair at a Time"

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Wishing Tree - Roseanne Thong

Illustrated by Connie McLennan
Shen's Books, 2004
32 pages
Rating: 5
Endpapers: Gold & beige decorated Chinese designs

I spent an hour browsing and reading in the Martha Cooper Library on Catalina - a small public library I rarely get to visit. The local neighborhood holds many cultures, and there are many kids' books in different languages here. In other words, a great multicultural find.

There's a huge banyan tree in Ming's hometown where his grandmother would always take him to make a wish for the lunar new year. She would purchase a Ng Bo Dip (Five Treasures Pile), a stack of decorated red and yellow papers. After writing a wish, the papers were rolled into a scroll, secured with string, and attached to a large mandarin orange. When ready, this was flung high into the banyan wishing tree.

For many years Ming and his grandmother enjoyed this yearly custom, until, when Ming was nine, his wish was not fulfilled and his grndmother's sickness does not get better. She dies. The rest of the story deals with grief resolution in a positive, helpful way.

Each two page spread is beautiful with an edge-to-edge illustration on one side and the text is usually within a pale-colored box that looks like paper. The same one inch Chinese patterns found on the endpapers are "seals" at the bottom of the page.

Fantastic explanation in the Author's Note at the end of the book.

Included are directions for making your own Ng Bo Dip and a black and white WISHING PAPER page to photocopy and use as the five pages.

Perfect addition to my 4th grade China study!

Thea's Tree - Alison Jackson

Illustrated by Janet Pedersen
Dutton Children's Books, 2008
32 pages
Rating: 4
Endpapers: Dark blue

Thea Teawinkle, a budding scientist who lives in Topeka, Kansas, plants a purple seed as the beginning of a choose-your-own research project. But it is a very unusual plant -- making the dirt ooze and turn purple, growing excedingly rapidly and quite huge. And so begins a series of letters between Thea and various experts in their fields.

Thea's letters show the rapid growth, the strange noises she hears from above, and items (like a huge golden egg) that begin to appear beneath the giant immovable "tree." The information she receives - from all sorts of sources - doesn't help her at all...but they're such fun to read.

There's humor everywhere - in the watercolor illustrations that completely cover each green-bordered page, in the condescending answers she gets, even all the salutations cover the gambit from Enthusiastically, Carl Capshaw, Curator to Doubtfully, Ada Adler, First Bank of Kansas to Importantly, Anna Applebaum, Arboreal Acquisitions. Such fun.

Perfect for a letter-writing lesson. And how about a twisted faiy tale?

MOVIE- I Am Love (lo sono l'amore)

Some WOW, Some Blech!
Release (in U.S.) 6-18-10
R (2:00)
8/15/10 at Crossroads
RT: 81, cag: I'll go with the same: 81
Director: Luca Guadagnino
In Italian, with subtitles
Tilda Swinton

Set in modern-day Milan, we meed the affluent Recchi family. The grandfather is turning over the reins of his major factory to his son and grandson. The grandson, Eduardo, has different ideas than his father, and is not wholly invested...he is trying to begin a restaurant with his chef friend, Antonio. The protagonist is his mother, Emma, played by Tilda Swinton. There is also a sister. And although the family has a large "staff," there is one in particular that is highlighted more than the others, which adds a nice touch to the story.

Some of the story is predictable, one, late in the movie, is more of a shock. The cinematography was unusual, some of the music was too loud and tacky for me. I loved Tilda Swinton. I don't really want to tell too much of the plot, 'cause part of the enjoyment was watching the story unfold. At first it seemed cold and emotionless, but warmed up...a lot...as it continued. There's a little bit of everything here. Milan in winter. Black and white vs. color. Love. Parent/child. Lovers. Gourmet food. And touches of all sorts of other things.

The subtitles were easy, you didn't even realize you were reading instead of listening to understand the dialogue.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

58. House of Dolls - Francesca Lia Block

Illustrated by Barbara McClintock
Harper, 2010
HC (a small book) $15.99
64 pgs.
Rating: 4

This quick, quick short read is for any child who believes that dolls have a life of their own. Madison Blackberry envies the lives of her five mismatched dollhouse dolls. They are happy, content, safe, in their lives, and she is unhappy and lonely in hers. So she begins taking things away from them.

The dollhouse and Wildflower, one of the dolls, used to belong to Madison's grandmother, who visits occasionally and still makes wonderful clothes for the dolls and furnishings for the house. When one of the dolls leaves the grandmother a message, she gets clued into her granddaughter's loneliness and life begins to ges better for Madison. And when it gets better for Madison, it gets better for her dolls.

The book starts like this:

"Wildflower, Rockstar, and Miss Selene lived in a house from another time, a white house with a red roof and red shutters and a red front door. In the garden was a real bonsai tree and a reflecting pool made from a pocket mirror tucked into a lawn of real moss."

Don't you just love it?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

All the Places to Love - Patricia MacLachlan

Illustrated by Mike Wimmer, with paintings
Harper Collins, 1994
32 pgs.
Rating: 4.5

"Dedicated to my grandparents....for their sity-four years of marriage which serve as the mortar that binds my family togther." M.W.

From the beginning "On the day I was born
My grandmother wrapped me in a blanket
made from the wool of her sheep."

to the end:

"All the places to love are here, I'll tell her,
no matter where you may live.
Where else, I will say: does an old turtle crossing the path
Make all the difference in the world?"

This book is a description of place using the senses and beautiful language, including similes galore. It tells of each family member's favorite place, and is a gorgeous model and touchstone for teaching kids how to write about place.

Beautiful, just beautiful.

"My grandmother loved the river best
of all the places to love.
That sound, like a whisper, she said;
Gathering in pools
Where trout flashed like jewels in the sunlight.
Grandmother sailed little bark boats downriver to me
with messages.
I Love You Eli, one said."

57. Word After Word After Word - Patricia MacLachlan

Katherine Tegen Books, 2010
For: younger middle grades
HC: $14.99
128 pgs.
Rating: Hard to say....great for this word-lover adult, but kids? We'll find out, because I'm going to start the year by reading this aloud and teaching a Patricia MacLachlan author study. That means I have to have it ready for n-e-x-t w-e-e-k!!!

This is a simple, lovely story of a children's writer who shares her love of words with a classroom of kids - and we meet five of them. Friends, each with their own unique qualities and stresses, who meet after school under a lilac bush and discover they love to write - and they CAN write.

Told from the point-of-view of one of the kids, a girl who is sad, whose mother is going through chemo. However, this is NOT a sad book. It's a thoughtful look at the way that kids think, and the way that kids relate to one another