Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Queen's Hat. Written and illustrated by Steve Antony. Scholastic, 2015.

“ … Swish!! As the Queen sets off from Buckingham Palace (to visit a “very special” person), a gusty wind whisks the Queen’s favorite hat off her head. Followed by her beloved corgi (dressed in an argyle vest), her guard, and her tea-tray-bearing butler, the queen pursues her hat from one iconic London spot to another: Trafalgar Square, London Zoo, the London Eye, and more.
Author and illustrator Steve Antony uses the format of the picture book to great effect, creating eye popping and hilarious illustrations: the Queen’s Men squashed in like sardines on the Underground, stampeding through London Zoo accompanied by its inhabitants, and dangling from the London Eye. 

The spectacular two-page spread (to be held vertically) of everyone climbing to the top of Big Ben, as a precariously perched Queen stretches out for her hat, is guaranteed to elicit gasps and laughs from readers.Finally, everyone floats down, Mary Poppins-style, umbrellas in hand, and lands at Kensington Palace. The hat gently plops down on a baby in a pram. Now can you guess who this baby might be? The Queen finishes her whirlwind outing by taking this very special baby for a sedate stroll, followed by her dog, and the butler, still trying to serve tea.

Where’s Waldo and I Spy fans will enjoy the challenge of spotting the Queen and her companions amongst the “Men,” not all of whom are so uniform: sharp-eyed children will notice subtle and humorous differences.

Antony, who has been nominated for several awards, including the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal, effectively limits his palette of colors, making the handsome reds, blacks, and blues, stand out vividly against the white space of the pages …”

As always, a big shout out to Ronna Mandel at Good Reads with Ronna for letting me review the book, keep it for my library, and repost the review on my blog.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Now we know our ABCs ...

R is for Rocket; an ABC Book written and illustrated by Tad Hills.  Schwartz & Wade Books, 2015. Recommended for ages 3-7.

A is for apple ...

Alphabet books are so important in fostering early literacy in children by teaching children to recognize letter shapes and sounds, often in very creative ways. In addition, alphabet books, like R is for Rocket, also help children build vocabulary recognition. We could have children chant  “B is for boy,” but I bet they’d enjoy this more:

Bella balances on a ball while
a big blue butterfly watches.

The repetition of a single letter also creates a mood and a rhythmic effect, and, in longer sentences,  encourages children to use words to expand beyond “C is for cat” and create sentences that contain multiple alliterative words. These in turn could be used to describe an activity or event:

Owl offers a cookie and a crayon to crow.
“Now will you stop cawing?” she asks.

What might children’s responses be if asked why was the crow cawing? How did this story begin or end? Can they think of other hard “C” words that could be used to tell their story? A great precursor to creative storytelling/writing.

Tad Hills, the author and illustrator of numerous books, including the Duck and Goose books, depicts his well-known Rocket characters “ ...having fun while learning the alphabet.” Unlike basic alphabet books,  Hill’s popular Rocket characters are engaged in activities beginning with that letter, and accompanied by  a short, alliterative sentence or two:

Rocket paints a picture of a peacock. Owl prefers her pumpkin.

Read the full review at Goodreads with Ronna. Thanks to Ronna Mandel for letting me review the book and keep the review copy for my library. On November 10, we look forward to a visit from Tad!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Fall in-Toon Books

Check out these brilliant new early reader releases from Toon Books

Written and Drawn by Henrietta. A Toon Book by Liniers. Toon Books, New York, 2015. Level 3. Highly recommended for ages 5-8.

"A book is like a world you can carry around with you." (frontpiece).

A gift of a box of colored pencils inspires young Henrietta to create her own book: The Monster with Three Heads and Two Hats. As Henrietta writes the story of Emmy, a girl afraid of the dark and eerie night noises, she herself grows frightened. However, both the author and her heroine confront their nighttime fears in this "monstrously" touching and funny story.

Liniers cleverly captures a story within a story while illustrating the writing process and demonstrating how authors struggle with word choice and writer's block. Small comic-style frames, complete with speech bubbles, are inserted into Henrietta's story. In these, young readers can see Henrietta, the author, at work as her story unfolds on larger, often two-page spreads. Henrietta tells the story of Emma's encounter with the monster in simple sentences and with brightly colored, child-like drawings..

Humorous techniques abound: the story and characters freeze as Henrietta struggles with "writer's block" (pp. 20-21), while Fellini, her cat, adds his gently sarcastic comments: "the messy closet-that's based on real life ...right?" (p. 23)

And don't forget to visit Liniers website, Por Liniers.

Flop to the Top. A Toon Book by Eleanor Davis and Drew Weing. Toon Books, New York, 2105. Level 3. Highly recommended for ages 5-8. 

One self-centered girl learns a lesson about the value of putting family ahead of self and fame.

Wanda the "wanda-ful" thinks she's a superstar. She posts a multitude of selfies (some with her fans who are really her objecting brother and sister), dresses up,  practices walking down a red carpet in her home, and watches celebrity news. She's way too busy imagining the flash of cameras and the roar of the crowds to play with her younger brother and sister.

Her selfie with Wilbur the dog goes viral when posted. But, she’s shocked to discover that the media attention is not for her:

“We want  FLOPPY DOG” roars the picture-snapping crowd outside her home

Wilbur’s fame and celebrity takes off as Wanda struggles to draw attention to herself. He’s even chosen to appear on Wanda’s favorite celebrity show The Star Show. After following Wilbur around on his night on the town, Wanda admits she’s his “number one fan” before beefy security guards drag her away. The passive Wilbur watches as she dragged away by two beefy security guards. Then bounds after her (after chomping up the contract).

The next day, when she settles in to her usual routine and brushes off her siblings request to play, the usually silent Wilbur, "wurfs" a gentle reminder. She switches off the TV to join her “new superstars” in play. The pictures she now takes are of her brother and sister. An lesson about the importance of family gently and humorously told.

The illustrators brilliantly use the inside front cover to display  “The Many Faces of Floppy Dog” giving the reader hilarious insight into Wilbur’s personality. Regardless of whether he's confused sleepy, happy or nervous, his expression is the same: a somber droopy eyed dog. The brightly colored illustrations capture the energy of the story's ebullient characters.

Eleanor Davis is the author of another Toon book, Stinky,  and co-author, with her husband Drew Weing, of the graphic novel, The Secret Alliance and the Copy Cat Crook. Visit her website to learn more about work.  Visit Drew and read online The Creepy Casefiles of Margo Maloo

Back matter in both books includes author information and a valuable essay on tips for parents and teachers on "How to Read Comics with Kids." Visit the Toon Books website for a wealth of free materials to accompany all their books: cartoon makers, lesson plans, and more.

Thanks to Toon Books for giving me the privilege of reviewing their Fall 2015 lineup.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Cold War on Maplewood Street

Cold War on Maplewood Street by Gayle Rosengren. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2015. Highly recommended for ages 8-12.

War was something that happened in other countries, not here in the United States. Not in Chicago on Maplewood Street (p. 21).

On October 22, 1962, President John F. Kennedy delivered a televised address to  the American people about the discovery of Soviet nuclear tipped missiles in Cuba and his response to that threat: a naval blockade of the island. In the tense days that followed, U.S. and Soviet warships sped to the island and the two Cold War superpowers stood “eyeball to eyeball”. The world hovered at the edge of a nuclear precipice.

As the story in Cold War on Maplewood Street unfolds, we meet sixth grader Joanna who loves her dog, Dixie, horses, and mystery books. She lives with her single mom in a basement apartment. Her beloved older brother, Sam, is in the Navy and her best friend, Pam, lives upstairs.  She is attracted to the new student in her class, Theo, but too embarrassed to talk to him. However, Joanna has a lot to worry about. A latchkey child, she’s home alone frequently after school and fears that robbers may break into her basement apartment. She wonders about the strange lady in the upstairs apartment who always seems to be watching Joanna from her window ...  could the old lady be a spy? She misses Sam, but won’t write to him or read his letters, because he broke his promise to her that he would never leave like her father did. One of the popular girls in school is having a boy-girl party that Joanna’s mom feels she’s too young to attend.

President Kennedy’s televised speech triggers unpleasant memories of her father and the disastrous last visit she had with Sam. As tensions mount between the two superpowers, fears at home grow. People begin to stockpile supplies and students practice air raid drills at school. Joanna worries about her brother’s safety and she finally begins writing to him. But he does not reply? Has he given up on her? Or is his ship involved in the  blockade?

Want to know more? Please see my full review at Good Reads with Ronna. Thanks to Ronna Mandel for letting me keep the review copy for my library.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Move over Moose, Lizzie's got something to say

Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko. Penguin/Random House. 2015. Recommended for ages 8-12.

Lizzie Kennedy,13, lives in a house on her aunt and uncle’s fashionable Nob Hill estate with her widowed father and her brother, Billy, 16, once her best friend, but now surly and secretive. Their beloved servants, Jing and Maggy, also reside with them.

A brief prologue gives the readers some insight into Lizzie’s world at the dawn of the 20th century and the ominous developments to come:

“In the Palace Hotel, electric lights blaze as ladies in shimmering gowns and gentlemen in black waistcoats waltz in a ballroom gilded with gold.

In the bay, a steamer from Honolulu is fumigated, scrubbed, and smoked … and given entry to the port of San Francisco.

At the dock … rats slip off the ship. They scurry onto the wharf and climb the sewers to Chinatown …”

Thanks to her aunt and uncle’s wealth, Lizzie is able to live a fairly privileged life. However, her strict and proper Aunt Hortense insists that she attend finishing school. Lizzie is not interested in becoming a society lady. She’d prefers science to etiquette, and, much to Aunt Hortense’s chagrin, enjoys assisting her doctor father with his house calls

Stories begin to surface about the large numbers of dead rats found in Chinatown, and soon that community is quarantined. Despite her father’s and her uncle’s insistence that there is no plague and the quarantine is unjustified, Lizzie has her doubts. One day she discovers that Jing has smuggled his son Noah out of Chinatown and has secretly hidden him in the servants quarters. However Jing is now missing. Did he get caught up in the quarantine … or something worse? Stunned by the discovery that Jing has a secret life, she promises the frightened boy that she’ll help keep his secret and try to find out what has happened to his father.

As dead rats and plague rumors mount, Lizzie boldly attempts to determine the veracity of the plague rumors and secretly undertakes some dangerous trips to Chinatown to find Jing.  Her friendship with Noah and her trips to Chinatown, help her realize the gender, racial, and class inequalities which exist in her society.  When Lizzie realizes she can’t find Jing on her own and illness strikes close to home, help comes from some surprising quarters ...

Please read my full review at Good Reads with Ronna. Thanks To Ronna Mandel for allowing me to review the book and keep the copy for my library.

Why We Love Hedwig and Pigwidgeon

Owls; our most charming bird. Written and illustrated by Matt Sewell. Ten Speed Press/Penguin Random House. Release date: September 22, 2015.
British author, street artist and "birder," Matt Sewell shares his love and passion for owls by presenting brief narratives of fifty owls from all over the world. In a forward to the book, Martin Noble notes the world's fascination with these creature spans history and cultures.
However, this is less a field guide or informational book but rather this artist's celebration of one of his favorite birds. Short entries on each owl discuss folklore, cultural beliefs, or symbolism attributed by humans to this owl. The Woodland Barnyard owl is associated with misfortune. Conversely, the Little Owl is associated with Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, and symbolizes wisdom and good fortune. The book is organized by habitat (Woodland, Tropical, Wilderness, etc.). Each narrative includes the owl's scientific name, a short description focusing on a prominent feature or features of that owl (the huge and distinctive eyebrows of the Crested owl) and approximate size and general location. Most of the entries are accompanied by Sewell's distinctive, stylized watercolors,  familiar to readers of his earlier books and to those who have seen his graphic designs on products and large street muralsThe author's charming and quirky characterizations of each owl will certainly delight readers of all ages: he humorously comments on and depicts the scruffy appearance of the Tawny owl and the scowling face of a Long eared owl. 
Sewell concludes the book with a note on "Spotting and Jotting" (how to look for and keep track of owls) and a lovely thumbnail watercolor of each of the owls in the book. 
Sewell's love for and fascination with birds comes through on each page and his humorous observations and delightful watercolors make this a charming gift for birders of all ages. Also highly recommended for libraries with visual art collections and where interest in birding is high. 
Visit  Sewell's website to see more of his work. Check out a few videos on YouTube: the book trailer for Our Garden Birds (Ebury Press) and a 2014 interview. Be sure to visit Ten Speed Press (Penguin Random House) to learn more about this book and other titles published by this press.

Thanks to NetGalley and Ten Speed Press for giving me access to the e-galley.

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Block(buster) of a Book

DINOBLOCK by Christopher Franceschelli with artwork by Peskimo. Abrams Appleseed, 2015. $16.95.

If you have a budding young paleontologist (and even even if you don't),  this book's inventive and colorful graphic design will delight and engage both children and adults. 

Two children  stop by the museum to "meet the dinosaurs" as the banner outside proclaims. Wait .... don't be quick to turn the page: the first two pages fold out to form a four-page spread of the diorama-style exhibit. 

But the children want to know:




And the dinosaurs, peeking out from the jungle brush, call out:


Pairs of two-page spreads combine to create clues and answers, comparing the characteristics of contemporary objects with dinosaur features. The design of the "clue" spread interacts with the "answer" spread and links the present to past. 

A tall building is compared to the Sauroposeidon, a dinosaur which reached heights of 18 meters (almost 60 feet).   


The straight-edged tab on the shared page of the clue and the answer emphasizes both the building's height and the long neck of the Sauroposeidon and gives children a peek into the prehistoric environment ...

Visit  Good Reads with Ronna to see the full review and find links to resources about the author and the illustrators. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

A Chill(ing) Book for a Hot Summer Night

Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand. Open Road Integrated Media, Inc. 2015.

A poem written by English Renaissance poet Thomas Campion prefaces this suspenseful and atmospheric story and foreshadows the dark events to come:

Thrice toss these Oaken ashes in the ayre,
Thrice sit thou mute in this inchanted chayre …

Go burn these poys’nous weedes in yon blew fire,
These Screedh-owles fethers, and this prickling bryer,
This Cypresse gathered at a dead man’s grave …

Then come you fayries, dance with me a round,
Melt her hard heart with your melodious sound …

In the early 1970s, a British record producer and manager of an up-and-coming acid folk band,  leases Wylding Hall, a large and very old country house in Hampshire, England, for the summer. The band’s popularity is just starting to take off and their manager hopes to give the band the time and space, in a remote area, to write new material and rehearse for their next album.  The young musicians are eager to move in and work on their music.

Much of the house, sections of which date back to Tudor and  Norman times, is unused and in ruins. The band occupies a newer, remodeled section and almost from the first, notice that things are not quite right.  An old caretaker warns them to stay away from the “Downs” after dark  and not to wander around in the nearby woods. A psychic visitor suddenly becomes frighteningly ill.  Lead singer and songwriter, Leslie Stansall, feels like an intruder and bassist Ashton Moorehouse wonders about a well-tuned piano in the unused house. In one of the story’s more chilling incidents, he finds a small, foul smelling room filled with dead birds. Singer/songwriter and lead guitarist Julian Blake discovers a library and becomes obsessed with some of its mysterious manuscripts.  While exploring the house, a visiting journalist also discovers the library--and finds it contains more than just some esoteric books. Amazingly, few of these disturbing  experiences are shared with the group, but for the reader, who knows what each character knows, the suspense and horror grows.

After a bizarre incident at a local pub, Julian unexpectedly vanishes. First days, then weeks go by without any sign of him. The band member search for him and even contact the local police, who are less than helpful. The stress of their missing friend,  coupled with mysterious happenings in the house, impacts the group's social dynamic. It becomes difficult for them to write and rehearse. Soon, everyone takes off with little to show for their efforts and diminished prospects for the future.

Twenty years after the event (when this short novel actually begins), an American filmmaker  interviews the band members and other witnesses in preparation for a documentary about the events of that long ago summer. Will she uncover the truth about Julian’s disappearance?

Author Elizabeth Hand’s creative use of the interviews  as a vehicle to tell the story enables the reader to see the story from many different perspectives. The interviews are intimate, personal,  sometimes painful, and reveal the characters’ young and  hopeful selves and as the middle-age adults they became. How the characters’ interact with each other, respond to their environment,  and, later, discuss their impressions and recollections of that summer in 1971, is probably one of the most compelling aspects of this story. The interviews make it clear how significant this summer was for each.

Enjoy this story for its chilling suspense, but stay for the author’s beautiful and evocative writing which invokes a strong sense of time and place. Hand writes knowledgeably of the folk music scene in England during the 1970s and tantalizes the reader’s imagination (and fears) by weaving in old traditions, superstitions, and haunting songs from British folklore.

References to drugs and sex, while not explicit, are part of the “times” and  make this hard-to- put down story appropriate for mature teens and adults. Hand is an award-winning author and critic. Visit her website and Open Road Media, Inc. to learn more about her.

Review based on e-galley from Netgalley.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The British are coming ... Again!

Tom Gates; Excellent Excuses (and Other Good Stuff). Written and illustrated by Liz Pichon. Candlewick Press, 2015.

While Paul Revere is probably rolling in his grave, Pichon's American fans will be rolling over with laughter as they read the next book in the hilarious saga of British fifth grader, Tom Gates.

Those who read Pichon’s first book, The Brilliant World of Tom Gates, will find that Tom, now on a two week break, is still up to his usual hijinks: finding new and improved ways of annoying his sister, Delia, devising the most ingenious excuses to get out of troublesome situations, eating his favorite snacks (caramel wafers), doodling, and hanging out with his best mate (friend), Derek.

Tom’s biggest hope is to find a drummer for his band, DOGZOMBIES and secure the band’s first gig. But in typical Tom Gates fashion, there’s a whole lot of everyday life-and his reaction to it-swirling around:  a bad tooth, his prank-playing cousins, the ongoingt rivalry with class smarty pants, Marcus, and the field trip from hell.  Oh, and as Mr. Fullerman, his teacher, keeps reminding him, there's still an overdue homework assignment to turn in. To give Tom a little incentive, Mr. Fullerman (who's wise to this procrastinating day dreamer) has sent one of his prize worthy, tongue-in-cheek notes home to his parents ...

 Visit Good Reads with Ronna to see the full review and links to great resources on the author and the series. Review based on advance reader copy.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Soar with Misty Copeland's Firebird

Firebird by

Firebird. Written by Misty Copeland and illustrated by Christopher Myers. G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2014.

Recommended for ages 5-8.
American Ballet Theater ballerina, Misty Copeland, shows a young girl how to dance like the firebird. Copeland, author of Life in Motion, has written a spare but powerful picture book about a young African American girl who dreams of becoming a ballet dancer. Daunted by the process, the young girl compares her ” gray as rain” self to the “swift as sunlight” Copeland, believing that she could never be as good as her idol. Realizing that the girl lacks confidence and is overwhelmed by what lays ahead, Copeland offers encouragement and support in a lyrical conversation between mentor and protégé:
“darling child, don’t you know
you’re just where I started …
your beginning’s just begun …”
Copeland assures the young girl that, despite the challenges and hard work (“…I  had a thousand leaps and falls …”), her ability will grow. One day someone will need her support:
“then they will look to you in wonder
and say …
the space between you and me is longer than forever
and I will show them that forever is not so far away”
Lovely ballet similes and metaphors are woven into a narrative as powerful, yet as graceful as the dancer’s art:
“ …Like me you’ll grow steady in grace
spread an arabesque of wings
and climb …”
And while the narrative is a conversation is between a beginning dancer and an experienced ballerina, Copeland’s message of determination and realizing your dream is an important and inspiring message for all of us.
Read more at Good Reads with Ronna.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

"A wholly unique memoir..."

Brown Girl Dreaming by
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. Published by Nancy Paulsen's Books, 2014. Recommended for grades 5 and up. 

The National Book Award-winning Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson should be counted as a classic along the lines of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and The Diary of Anne Frank, memoirs of strong, spirited girls living through extraordinary historical circumstances, each of whom possess a love of language that help them cope with painful life circumstances.  But this book also exists in a literary class by itself.  Told as a series of interconnected narrative poems, Woodson’s personal story pushes the boundaries of the memoir form, creating something that is wholly unique.  The language is lyrical and sophisticated, yet highly accessible to readers across generations – even to those who do not consider themselves fans of traditional poetry.  Part of the book’s power lies in its inability to be easily labeled.  Born in 1963, Woodson traces her upbringing growing up in the North (Ohio), then the South (South Carolina), and then back to the North again (this time Brooklyn) during a time of great social and political upheaval in America.  As a child as young as five, she bore witness to the civil rights-era sit-ins and marches happening in South Carolina, knew what it was to sit in the back of a bus, to bow her head to whites on the street, to avoid stores that would not serve her family, and she struggled to understand America’s invisible dividing line between the supposed promised land of the North and the restrictive Jim Crow South.  Woodson writes honestly about feeling torn between the economic opportunities in the North and the deep love she feels for her family roots in the South.  But the book’s greatest gift may be the glimpse it offers the reader into how a writer is born.  We watch Woodson go from falling in love with stories as a toddler to falling in love with the written word as an older child to ultimately announcing to her family her intention to become a professional writer.  Against such challenges as having a learning disability and family members who urged her to try for a more sensible career, like becoming a teacher or “doing hair,” Woodson follows her dream.  This book is a moving personal history and an inspiration to burgeoning writers.

Check out Woodson's website for some great resources for children, parents, and teachers.

Many thanks to this special review from author and parent, Attica Locke. In addition to the National  National Book award, Brown Girl Dreaming won multiple Youth Media awards from the American Library Association (the Coretta Scott King Award Book Award and Newbery and Siebert honors).

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Commemorating the historic march to Selma

Because They Marched; the people's campaign for voting rights by Russell Freedman. Holiday House, 2014. $20.00. 

Recommended for ages 10 and up.

(Thanks to Ronna Mandel of Good Reads with Ronna for letting me review this book for her blog and keep the copy for my library).

Nearly fifty years ago, on March 21, 1965, three thousand people, black and white, Christian and Jew, young and old, began a five day march from Selma to Montgomery (Alabama) to secure voting rights for black people. Although this was not their first attempt, it was highly successful. A judge’s ruling that the march was constitutional and the presence of the Alabama National Guard,  paved the way and protected the marchers from police (and segregationists) brutality. By the time the marchers reached Montgomery, their numbers had swelled to 25,00. Nothing, not even Klan blockades, could squelch their courage and spirit.  

The impact of this march was immediate, Congress approved the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and, by the following summer, 9,000 blacks in Dallas county had registered to vote.

In a clear and compelling narrative,  Freedman places the march and preceding events  in the context of a society that lived under oppressive “Jim Crow” laws, which effectively legalized and enforced segregation. Accompanied by powerful and dramatic, black and white photos, young readers will easily grasp the challenges and the dangers black people faced in demonstrating for their democratic rights, especially the right to vote. The well-chosen photos further underscore the marcher’s courage and passion in the face of horrific violence and give readers a sense of immediacy, even fifty years after the event.

Highly recommended as a valuable resource in helping young readers understand the profound impact that the Civil Rights Movement had on our country’s political and cultural history. It is also recommended as a powerful and moving tribute to the courage and determination of a people, who sacrificed dearly to obtain for democratic rights-for all.

The book includes a timeline, source notes, and a selected bibliography.

Kirkus gave this a starred review and named it one of the “Best Books of 2014.”
Find an excerpt of this book at Holiday House along with excellent valuable CCSS and teaching resources.

Read more about the author at the  National Endowment for the Humanities and see a Library of Congress webcast featuring Russell Freedman.