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.