Thursday, December 4, 2008

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox; illus. by Helen Oxenbury

I used this title for Book Baby this morning and loved it! The text is super sweet and the illustrations perfectly capture that gentle tone. The repetition appealed to the little ones who enjoyed showing their own ten little fingers and ten little toes over and over again. I was worried it might be a little long for my youngest crowd but they responded well to the rhythm of the text and Oxenbury's lovely illustrations. A winner!!

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt

This is my choice for the Newbery Medal this year. Some may wonder about audience and child-appeal but the writing is so well-crafted and beautiful that I was riveted from the first page and found the story lingering long after I closed the book. The unfortunate cover (unfortunate because it makes the book look like a 2nd-3rd grade read) is one of the very few negatives for me in this title. For older, sophisticated readers, this is a fable of sorts that weaves three stories together: That of an abused child who grows to be an evil man named Gar Face; a dog named Ranger and the Calico cat with her kittens that join him in the "Underneath" to become his family; and a 1,000-year old creature of mystery. Ranger is Gar Face's dog and is treated harshly. Chained to the porch for many years, he is lonely and heart broken until the cats fill his life with something new - love. This is a complex tail with multiple thought-provoking levels. For me, the ultimate message of the fable is this: Whatever else you do, choose love. An absolutely masterful work for mature readers.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Madam President by Lane Smith

A young girl imagines what it would be like to be President - everything from giving executive orders to kissing babies to exercising her veto power. The straightforward text holds a nice undercurrent of humor that is enhanced by the fabulous illustrations. I've always been a Lane Smith fan but like his newest titles even more than his early work. His illustrations are so full of action and detail that it can, at times, almost become a distraction - not so here. The illustrations are the perfect blend of movement, detail, and story. I like this as an introduction to young children during this election year.

bees, snails, & peacock tails by besty franco

Lovely, vibrant torn-paper illustrations bring this collection of poetry to life. Each double-page spread celebrates a different animal, various shapes, and a variety of patterns. This title is both a visual and auditory feast.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale

Shannon tries her hand at a new format in this graphic novel version of the Rapunzel tale. Full of action, heroics, and some fun, this is a pretty good attempt. I don't love this title the way I love "Goose Girl" or "Princess Academy". Still, it held my attention and pulled out a smile from time-to-time. In this telling, Rapunzel is an independent, right-minded, girl determined to save her mother and rid the land of the evil witch who raised Rapunzel as her own. Rapunzel and her new-found friend Jack (think Jack and the Beanstalk) are drawn with a distinct Western flavor and her hair becomes her weapon. Worth a look.

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look

Alvin Ho is afraid of everything. At school, he is so terrified that he never speaks a word. Not being able to speak at school, makes finding friends difficult. Alvin, however, wants a friend desperately. However, when an opportunity for "friendship" comes along Alvin must decide if having a friend is worth giving up the person that you are. As the book closes, Alvin may still be afraid of many things but he has also made some important discoveries that make his life better. This is both humorous and touching. The simple text and black and white illustrations will appeal to young chapter book readers. Just right.

Wangari's Trees of Peace by Jeanette Winter

This is another truly lovely telling of the life of Wangari Maathai. A little simpler than "Planting the Trees of Kenya," by Claire Nivola, this is, nevertheless, full of the basic information of Wangari's life of service. The telling is smooth and pulled me in. The bright, simple illustrations further enhance the text. I loved this version as much as Nivola's - and that's saying alot. I've been very grateful this year to learn so much about an amazing human figure that I had not know before.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Nic Bishop Frogs

Bishop’s latest non-fiction effort, is a wildly appealing celebration of frogs – with all of the color and dazzle these amazing creatures have to offer.

The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas

Every wizard carries a stone of power that allows him or her to focus magic and work spells. When gutter thief Conn picked the pocket of the powerful Wizard, Nevery, stealing his locus magicalicus stone, he should have been instantly killed by that power. Intrigued by the fact that the boy suffered no negative effects from touching his stone, Nevery takes him on as an apprentice with the condition that Conn must find a locus magicalicus of his own. In his search for his stone, Conn makes an astounding discover about why the city of Wellmet is losing it's magic and about the nature of magic itself. Full of intrigue, adventure, and truly likable characters, this is one of my favorite new fantasy titles of the year.

Sally and the Purple Socks by Lisze Bechtold

When Sally’s purple socks begin to stretch, she uses them first for a scarf and a cap and then, as they continue to grow, as curtains and a blanket. But, the growing doesn’t stop there and neither does the fun in this quirky, imaginative tale with a just-right ending.

Old Bear by Kevin Henkes

Snuggled down for the winter, Old Bear soon finds himself dreaming of magical seasons when he was young. From flowers as big as trees in the spring to blueberry raindrops in summer, bear's dreams bring each season to life with a touch of wonder. Kevin Henkes thick-lined watercolor illustrations accent each time of the year perfectly.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Nick of Time by Ted Bell

Twelve-year-old Nick McIver and his little sister Kate live on the smallest of the Channel Islands in 1939 - on the brink of war with Germany. His father, a pilot injured in WWI is the lighthouse keeper for the tiny island where Nick doubts any real adventure will ever find him. More than anything the likable Nick wants to be a true hero like his idol - Admiral Lord Nelson of the Royal Navy. Any time, his courage is tested he chants to himself, "Nelson the strong, Nelson the brave, Nelson the lord of the sea." On one of their many excursions along the sea shore, Nick and his sister discover a mysterious old sea chest that looks like new and bears the name Captain Nicolas McIver - Nick's ancestor. Shortly after the discovery a truly evil pirate named Captain Blood enters their lives and kidnaps Nick's beloved dog, Jip, in an attempt to get his hands on the locked chest. Desperate for help, Nick turns decides to brave the forbidding Castle Hawk in an attempt to reach the owner, Lord Hawk, who has some desperate secrets of his own. With Hawk's help, the chest is opened and Nick finds himself the owner of an amazing time travel device - one of only two in existence. The other belongs to the evil Blood himself. With the help of the device, Nick and his companions embark on a journey back to 1805 to save Nick's dog and Lord Hawk's missing children. With plenty of honor and courage as well as more than a share of blood and death, this title is full of old-time adventure that will appeal to many readers, particularly boys.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

When the Wolves Returned by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent

Fabulous photographs by Dan and Cassie Hartman highlight this informative text chronicling the disappearance of the wolf from Yellowstone National Park and the successful efforts to bring them back. This title includes more detail than the lovely "The Wolves are Back" by Jean Craighead George. One side of each double-page spread provides a brief, simple overview of the information while the facing side offers more detail.

The Wolves are Back by Jean Craighead George

This is a lovely celebration of the return of the wolf to Yellowstone National Park and beyond. George's rhythmic words are beautifully accented by Wendell Minor's soft detailed illustrations. Full of joy.

Dragon Flight by Jessica Day George

In this sequel to "Dragon Slippers" Creel once again finds herself acting as an arbiter between the dragons and humans. This time an army of hundreds of dragons appears to be in league with the human city of Citatie in a quest to overthrow Creel's home of Feravel. Creel, her human allies, and her dragon friends set off on a quest to find out why the dragons are attacking and how to stop them. Facing an army of hundreds of mounted humans on dragons and a large and truly evil dragon named Krashath, Creel and her companions find themselves in greater danger than they have ever before imagined.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Safari Animals by Simms Taback

This is the perfect animal guessing book for very young readers. The pictures are simple, bright, and inviting. Best of all, the pages fold first up, then over, to create a large illustration of the animal. At each turn, the visual and print clues to the animal increase, allowing even inexperienced readers to successfully guess the coming creature. Fun!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Queste by Angie Sage

This fourth title in the Septimus Heap series provides more action, adventure, and fun. Angie Sage has a nice way of creating characters the reader can connect too. Even some of the mildly villanous characters are appealing and intriguing in their own way. She gives each personality time to develop and provides the reader with the chance to meander just a little without losing the pace and suspense of the story. Another winner!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Mail Harry to the Moon! by Robie H. Harris

"Before Harry was born, there was ME! Now there's me and HARRY!" A young boy thinks of several ways to get rid of his new annoying brother only to dash off in a rush to save him when he believes the baby has really been sent to the moon as he had suggested. "Before Harry was born - there was ME. Now there's ME AND HARRY!" This is a cute title celebrating the journey a young one goes on when learning to welcome a new baby into a household. The bright, kid-friendly illustrations nicely capture this young boy's frustration - and eventually his joy.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Savvy by Ingrid Law

Mibs Beaumont is looking forward to her 13th birthday – the day when members of her family discover their “Savvy” – a magical power unique to each individual. Unfortunately, just two days before her momentous birthday, her father is critically injured in a terrible car accident that leaves him in a coma. Convinced that her “Savvy” will give her the power to awaken her father, Mibs, two of her brothers, and the local minister’s children hide on board a pink Heartland Bible Supply bus Mibs believes is headed towards Salina where her father lies in a hospital. However, when the bus turns left instead of right and the driver’s tattoos begin to talk to each other, Mibs realizes her Savvy isn’t what she’d hope for and her plan could be heading toward a whole bunch of trouble – for everyone. Quirky characters, loads of bad luck, and a young girl determined to get to her dad make this book a true stand-out adventure.

Ever by Gail Carson Levine

When 14-year-old Kezi’s mother falls gravely ill, her father makes a rash promise to Admat, the god of their city Hyte. He swears that if Admat will restore his wife’s health he will kill the first person who congratulates him within three days. The family hides out hoping for the three days to pass without contact. Unfortunately, Kezi’s beloved Aunt Fedo arrives without warning and begins to comment on the mother’s health, to save her aunt’s life, Kezi congratulates her father herself, bringing the oath down upon her own head. Meanwhile, Olus, the Akkan god of the winds has been observing Kezi’s family from afar and has fallen deeply in love with the girl. Determined to save her life, Olus reveals himself to Kezi and the two set off to change her fate by completing a series of quests that could make her immortal. The question of faith is prevalent throughout this tale. There is no tangible sign – even to the god Olus – that Kezi’s god exists and yet, she never abandons her belief in him or turns her back on her father’s oath to him even when doing so could prevent her death. That exploration of the meaning and power of faith allow this title to stand out from Levine’s other romantic works as one not only worth reading but also contemplating for some time after the last page is turned.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai by Claire Nivola

Wangari Maathai grew up on a farm in central Kenya and went on to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. As a young woman she left Kenya to attend college in the United States. Upon her return, she discovered that her beloved land had been decimated and that many families, who once grew their own food on family farms, now labored on large plantations, forcing them to purchase expensive store-bought food. Lack of nutrition had left many of the people weak and susceptible to illnesses. Starting with the women, Wangari began to encourage the people to replant the land – particularly the trees. One seed at a time, this picture book biography celebrates the ability of one person to ignite a spark that will make a significant difference in thousands of lives.

Silent Music by James Rumford

More than anything, Ali loves calligraphy – “I love to make the ink flow – from my pen stopping and starting, gliding and sweeping, leaping, dancing to the silent music in my head.” The skill and effort required by this art form help young Ali through the difficult nights when the bombs fall and destruction reigns all around his home in Baghdad. The message is clear – the Arabic symbol for Harb (or war) is easy to create; the lovely symbol for Salam (or peace) takes time and practice. The mixed-media illustrations echo the graceful rhythm of calligraphy and the form of the Arabic language to create a picture book that is both somber and hopeful.

Monkey and Me by Emily Gravett

An active young girl imagines visiting all kinds of animals with her stuffed monkey. Exuberant illustrations of muted reds, browns and grays spotlight sprightly penguins, high hopping kangaroos, flitting bats and more. As the text repeats, “Monkey and me, Monkey and me, Monkey and me, We went to see, We went to see some…”, the illustrations capture the child in various points of movement that hint at the animal to come. Utterly child friendly from the first line to the final “zzzzzzzz”, this picture book is a spot-on hit.

If Animals Kissed Good Night by Ann Whitford Paul

Candy sweet illustrations cheerfully adorn this cozy bedtime story in which a mother and daughter imagine what it would be like if animal parents kissed their little ones goodnight like humans do. Rhyming text describes everything from the waggling twirling kiss of the snake to the jumpity-jump kisses of the kangaroo. One of the highlights of the tale is the repeated mention of the soooo slooowwwww kiss of the sloths.

Hello, Day! by Anital Lobel

"The Sheep said, 'Baa.' The Horse said, 'Neigh.' The Dog said, 'Woof.'... What they all meant was 'Hello, day!.'" A variety of animals greet the day and an owl welcomes the night in this vibrant picture book. The notably simple text and bright illustrations make this the perfect title for little ones who are just learning their animal sounds.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Airman by Eoin Colfer

Conor Broekhart was literally born in the sky, entering the world while his parents were on an ill-fated hot air balloon ride. In the 1890’s Conor and his parents live on the Saltee Islands off the Irish Coast, an idyllic life where young Conor spends his days playing with the Princess Isabella, exploring the intriguing castle, and dreaming of flight. However, at fourteen, his life takes a disastrous turn when Conor witnesses the king’s murder and that of his beloved tutor by the truly evil Bonvilain. When Conor tries to intervene, he is branded a traitor and cast into the island’s inhumane underground prison where the prisoners are forced to mine for diamonds under terrible conditions. There, Conor sees his dreams of flight dimming and struggles to survive. Adopting the name Connor Finn as his own, he wonders if he must lose his true self in order to survive. As the terrible years pass, Connor devises a daring plan to fly to freedom that will require all of the courage and scientific ability he possesses. Not for the faint of heart, this title contains enough daring, action, sword fighting, battle scenes, intrigue, revenge, and honor to satisfy the most demanding reader – with a touch of romance thrown in for readers like myself! Dark and fearsome but also hopeful and touching this is a title that will keep readers fully engaged and turning pages until the last word is read.

Keeping Score by Linda Sue Park

More than anything in the world, Maggie Fortini wants the Brooklyn Dodgers to win the World Series. She’s tired of saying “Wait till next year!” – the unofficial slogan of Dodger fans. Maggie doesn’t play baseball herself but she listens to every game possible, often gathering around the radio with the guys at the firehouse where her father worked before a career-changing injury. One day, a new firefighter is at the house and, horror-of-horrors, he’s a Giant’s fan! Despite her shock, Maggie and Jim quickly become friends as he introduces Maggie to a wonderful new dimension of baseball – keeping score. She quickly learns to love the complicated system of tracking game statistics on a sheet of paper, developing some of her own touches along the way. When Jim is called up to serve in the army in Korea, Maggie devotedly keeps in touch. However, Jim’s letters suddenly stop and Maggie is left feeling hurt and worried. Part baseball story, part growing-up tale, this is, ultimately a story of hope and the power of one person trying to make a difference in the life of another.

Waking Beauty by Leah Wilcox

The fabulous team that brought us the hysterical “Falling For Rapunzel” returns with their take on “Sleeping Beauty”. “Once upon a Saturday, in search of dragons he could slay…” Prince Charming happens upon a castle reverberating with a terrible thunder. Certain he has found a dragon, the prince enters only to discover to his dismay that the noisy disturbance is caused not by a dragon but by a “snoring girl in bed.” Adding to his disappointment is the pronouncement by the little fairies hovering over the girl that he must find a way to rouse the sleeping lass. Ignoring the poor fairies who try to explain to him the proper wake-up call, the prince proceeds to try everything from yelling to shooting the princess out of a cannon. At last, the fairies get through to him and the look on the horrified Prince’s face is priceless as he exclaims, “One hundred years of morning breath. Wow! That could be the kiss of death!” Hilarious from first snore to final kiss.

Piano Starts Here: The Young Art Tatum by Robert Andrew Parker

This lovely illustrated biography tells of the young life of Jazz pianist, Art Tatum. Told in first person, with just a touch of fictionalization, illustrator/author Robert Parker charms the senses with mood-capturing watercolor illustrations and brief but beautiful text. When describing Art's love of the piano, the author writes, "When I am at the piano, I close my eyes. I play clouds of notes, rivers of notes, notes that sound like skylarks singing and leaves rustling, like rain on a rooftop. I forget that my eyes aren't good. I have everything I need." A well-thought out end note tops off the story with more detailed information about Tatum's life. Absolutely captivating!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Oggie Cooder by Sarah Weeks

Oggie Cooder's teachers say he is "different", "one-of-a-kind", "quirky", "unusual" - and not, necessarily in a positive way. Oggie certainly has his own style - he wears clothes from his parents second-hand store and especially likes to combine stripes and checks. He also has an extraordinary talent - the ability to "charve" (a combination of chewing and carving) slices of cheese into the exact shape of the various 50 states. Through a shocking sequence of events, this distinctive ability lands him on the popular game show, "Hidden Talents." This has some positive consequences, including a new popularity - even the boys Oggie's always dreamed of playing basketball with invite him to join in their daily game. But, the snooty Donnica Perfecto wants a piece of Oggie's fame and she will go to any length to get what she wants. Oggie must decide if he will allow Donnica to rule his life and take him down the path of fortune or if he will choose his own way. Fun and quirky with plenty of laughs along the way.

The Key to Rondo by Emily Rodda

When Leo Langlander inherits an old, painted music box from his great-aunt he is very careful to follow the instructions - only wind the box three times, never move the box while it is playing, never close the lid until the music stops, and never wind the box while the music plays. However, when his odd cousin Mimi arrives for a visit she quickly breaks the music box rules with shocking results. Leo and Mimi ultimately find themselves in the mythical land painted on the outside of the box. On a quest to save Mimi's dog, they soon learn that this is a dangerous land where the name Langlander is feared and sometimes hated. They find some kind assistance along the way but never know who they can fully trust. The children are determined but not without fear and doubts, particularly the careful Leo. Action packed, this creative world should appeal to a wide-range of fantasy lovers.

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Castle Corona by Sharon Creech

Long ago and far away there lived a king, a queen, the heir to the throne, the second prince, a beautiful princess, and two orphan children. The cast of delightful characters in Sharon Creech’s gentle fairy tale intrigue and entertain from page one to the final turn. When a supposed thief (unheard of in the simple land) charges out of the castle on horseback with a mysterious pouch, the royal community is in an uproar. Meanwhile, two orphans discover the dropped pouch and find themselves suddenly connected with the castle in ways they never imagined. On an additional note, the audio book is fabulous. The reader, Jennifer Wiltsie, does a wonderful job of giving voice to the inimitable players in this often humorous tale. She perfectly captures the tone and pace of the story, transporting the listener to a land both enchanting and droll

This quirky title pokes fun at the overwrought themes of some "classic" children's stories - i.e. odious parents, orphan (or practically orphan) children, THE nanny, a baby on the doorstep, the lonely (and shockingly rich) widower...and more! I found myself unexpectedly bursting into laughter throughout as the nefarious parents plot to rid their lives of their children and the children set out to become "deserving orphans" free of their horrible parents. True to form, all turns out perfectly for the children and not so perfectly for the villanous adults. An amusing glossary tops off the tale.