Aug 31, 2011

Grandpa Green

 Grandpa Green

Grandpa Green by Lane Smith
Illustrated by Lane Smith
Published by Roaring Brook Press
Caldecott Honor 2012

     A great-grandson walks us through a garden of shaped topiary trees as he tell us the life of his great-grandfather. Each topiary tree represents a part of his great-grandfather's life: trees in the shape of roosters (a childhood spent in a farm), the characters from the Wizard of Oz (the stories he read as a child), a tree with red fruits representing the time when he had chicken pox, canons and planes (time spent at the war), the Eiffel tower and a wedding cake (the time when he met the love of his life). As he walks through the stunning gardens, the boy gathers the tools, watering can, glasses, and the floppy straw hat that his great-grandpa has left scattered around. He's old and forgets things, "but the important stuff, the garden remembers for him."

     Grandpa Green will steal your heart. This is one of my favorite books of 2011. The illustrations of the topiary garden by Lane Smith are breathtaking. It's a story about family, memories and love. The final two images (the great-grandfather having the boy pose for a new topiary tree of him fighting a dragon, and the boy himself now taking on the garden and making a tree sculpture of his great-grandpa) are just gorgeous. I can't recommend this book enough. It's definitely on my shelf of favorites.

Aug 30, 2011

When Charlie McButton Lost Power

When Charlie McButton Lost Power

When Charlie McButton Lost Power by Suzanne Collins
Illustrated by Mike Lester

     Charlie McButton loved computer games and things that involved handsets and bots.  When the power went out during a thunderstorm, Charlie McButton freaked out.  What was he supposed to do?  His mom told him he should find something without a plug to play. Maybe he could read, sing or play with clay.  No way.  So he found and old handheld game console but when he tried to turn it on it didn't have batteries.  He looked for batteries everywhere and then he saw his sister walking around with her doll, a talking doll.  Knowing that the doll had to use batteries to talk, Charlie pounced on it, ripped it out of his sister's hands and made her scream.  He ended up in a time out and from his chair he yelled at his sister so loud that:
Her eyes filled with tears and she gave them a rub.
She went to the bathroom and hid in the tub.
Then Charlie McButton felt totally rotten
And couldn't help thinking some things he'd forgotten

     Charlie thought about all the good times he'd had with his little sister and went looking for her to make her happy.  They played together all afternoon, building forts, playing hide-and-go-seek, and pretending to be wizards and trolls. By the time the power came back, Charlie thought about being able to turn on his computer again...but then again, he might also find dragons with his little sister instead.
     When Charlie McButton Lost Power is written in rhyme.  The story is very entertaining and relatable for most kids. The rhymes flow with ease and humor.  The illustrations capture the characters well.

PS: Suzanne Collins as in the author of Hunger Games and Gregor the Overlander.


Aug 29, 2011

Edwina, The Dinosaur Who Didn't Know She Was Extinct

Edwina, The Dinosaur Who Didn't Know She Was Extinct

Edwina, The Dinosaur Who Didn't Know She Was Extinct by Mo Willems

     Edwina played with the kids, helped around the neighborhood, and even baked chocolate-chip cookies for everyone.  Everybody in town loved her...except Reginal Von Hoobie-Doobie.  Reginal was very smart and he knew about everything. He loved giving presentations in class and he decided to tell his classmates all about dinosaurs, specifically about the fact that they are "totally extinct!"  But nobody took him seriously because they all knew Edwina.  Reginal was furious and tried to get the people in his town to listen to him and his arguments about how extinct dinosaurs were.  But nobody paid him any attention.  Crying in frustration, Reginal sat down and wondered out loud "Why won't anyone listen to me?"  And then, somebody did, Edwina.  She listened to all his explanations and he was very convincing. So much so, that she realized she was extinct, but she didn't care. And after having found a willing listerner, neither did Reginal.
     Edwina, The Dinosaur Who Didn't Know She Was Extinct is another wonderful book by Mo Willems.  Edwina is so lovable!  It's a fun read aloud sure to delight all Mo Willems fans -they'll enjoy catching a glimpse of previous Willems characters, pigeon and knuffle bunny, in the illustrations.  

Aug 28, 2011

The Shivers in the Fridge

The Shivers in the Fridge

The Shivers in the Fridge by Fran Manushkin
Illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky

     The Shivers are freezing!  There's Papa Shivers, Mama, Grandpa, Grandma and little Sonny.  They live inside a fridge but they don't know it.  All they know is that there are some monsters (people's hands) that cause earthquakes and make things (produce) appear and disappear. One by one, all the Shivers go out to explore and are taken by the "monster". The last one remaining is little Sonny Shivers. "I'm going to face those monsters and make them give my family back!" Sonny waited and waited until at last, an earthquake stroke and a monster's hand pulled him out of the fridge.  The monster, a human boy, says "Mom! Look what I found! The last magnet!" As Sonny was placed on the fridge's door, he enjoyed a "warm reunion" with his whole family; all the magnets enjoyed their new view knowing they'll never shiver again.
     The Shivers in the Fridge is quirky, a bit dark, and definitely fun.  The illustrations are great and help kids figure out what's truly going on.  They are filled with details to be enjoyed over multiple readings. Can you figure out how the Shivers ended up in the fridge?

Aug 27, 2011

Carmine: A Little More Red

Carmine: A Little More Red

Carmine: A Little More Red by Melissa Sweet

     Carmine: A Little More Red is a new and clever retelling of the classic Little Red Riding Hood.  Carmine is invited to have alphabet soup at her grandmother's house.  Grandma tells her she heard a wolf howl the night before, so it's very important for Carmine to stay on the path and not "dilly-dally".  Carmine and her dog Rufus got on the bike and as they came to the edge of a field, Carmine found a beautiful spot that she felt she had to draw (she loved to draw!).  "The light was exquisite" so she started painting...always adding a little more red (she believed adding more red to a painting could only improve it).  Meanwhile, the wolf approached Rufus and found out that Grandma makes a great alphabet soup with bones so he headed to her house.  By the time Carmine finally made it to her grandma's, the house was a mess and she feared the worst.  Thankfully, she found her grandma in the closet.  The wolf had taken the soup bones to his cubs.
     What makes Carmine: A Little More Red an interesting retelling, is the way the narrative is organized as a sort of alphabet.  Starting with "Alphabet" (for her grandmother's alphabet soup), all the way to "Zillion" (as for the zillion times they told Carmine not to dilly-dally), each page ads a new word that's part of the story (all in alphabetical order).  It's a fun read aloud that introduces great vocabulary and can open the door for students to create their own retellings of classic fairy tales. Don't forget Einstein's quote: "If you want your children to be bright, read them fairytales. To be brilliant, read them even more fairytales."  

Aug 26, 2011

Sandy's Circus: A Story About Alexander Calder

Sandy's Circus: A Story About Alexander Calder

Sandy's Circus: A Story About Alexander Calder by Tanya Lee Stone
Illustrated by Boris Kulikov

     Alexander Calder is one of the most important American artist of the 20th century.  I've always loved his sculptures and in my hometown of Caracas, Venezuela, we were very proud of having our university's auditorium designed by Calder:

I was very excited to find Sandy's Circus: A Story About Alexander Calder.  It is the story of Alexander Calder's beginnings as an artist.  We learn about his childhood growing up in a family of artists that made sure that Sandy -that's what they called Alexander- had a workshop and tools.  He became an engineer and had many jobs until one night, while on a boat he saw the colors on the sky that inspired him to go to art school.  He spent a lot of time in Paris and that's where he began creating a miniature circus with wires.  He made the figures in his circus perform and soon his fame spread.   He delighted in "crafting things that moved" and he invented the first mobiles.
     Sandy's Circus: A Story About Alexander Calder is a biography that manages to inspire and awaken the imaginative mind.  The detailed illustrations by Kulikov are full of life and wonder.  Great book to introduce Calder and as an example of biographies.

Aug 25, 2011

Jake Starts School

Jake Starts School

Jake Starts School by Michael Wright

     Jake woke up his first day of school with his dog Fred licking his eyes. He got ready and put on his favorite shirt. His mom packed his lunch bag and included two heart-shaped cookies for dessert. His parents drove him to school and everything was going according to plan, that is until Jake froze in front of his classroom door and refused to walk inside. "He grabbed his parents at the knees and would not let them go." His teacher, his parents, and even the school nurse, tried to pry Jake off but to no avail. The teacher decided that the only thing to do was for them (Jake, his mom and dad) to come to class. The three of them had to share one seat, and with his arms wraped around his parents's legs, Jake couldn't paint, or play with other kids, or ride the tricycle, or climg the jungle gym. It was almost the end of the school day and his teacher told the class that she was going to read aloud a book about a dog named Fred. From the back of the room, Jake raised his hand and said "I have a dog. His name is Fred." His teacher smiled and asked Jake to join her in the front of the classroom and hold the book for her while she read it. "That's when Jake let his parents go and felt some relief." The more she read, the more Jake loosened up and "inside, he felt good." And when the bell rang he gave his teacher his last cookie.
     Jake Starts School is a great book to read aloud to kids who are about to go to their first day of school. It's funny and tender. I love the teacher's character and the whole page bright illustrations are delightful. Great back to school book

Aug 24, 2011

The Pet Dragon

The Pet Dragon: A Story about Adventure, Friendship, and Chinese Characters

The Pet Dragon: A Story about Adventure, Friendship, and Chinese Characters by Christoph Niemann

     Lin is a young chinese girl who received a baby dragon as a gift.  Lin and her pet dragon did everything together: played hide-and-seek, made new friends, played ping-pong, and put on puppet shows.  One day, while playing soccer inside the house, Lin and her dragon broke a vase, so her father placed the dragon in a cage.   The next day the cage was empty and Lin was heartbroken.  She looked everywhere but couldn't find her dragon.  She came to a river and ran into a witch who asked for her help to get across. Lin carried the witch on her shoulders all the way across the river and to thank her, the witch became a giant and helped Lin reach above the clouds.   Up there, Lin found her dragon, all grown up,  playing with other dragons.  The dragon carried Lin back home, and her father, happy to have his daughter back, promised them they could always play together.
     There is something very cool about The Pet Dragon, because Christoph Niemann uses the story as a vehicle to introduce Chinese characters.  Each page has a couple of them incorporated into the illustrations and with their meanings underneath them.  The first page of the book offers a letter from the author with a brief explanation about the use of Chinese characters.  A good book to introduce children to chinese culture and to include in the multicultural classroom.

Aug 23, 2011

The Big Elephant in the Room

The Big Elephant in the Room

The Big Elephant in the Room by Lane Smith

     "Can we talk about the big elephant in the room?" says one donkey to his friend.  His friend is wondering what he means by the big elephant and starts confessing all types of incidents that might have upset him: is it the fact that he ate all the ice-cream? or that he hadn't return a video game? or maybe the time when he ran away and left him to deal with a bully all by himself? or "that you said it was okay to 'go' in the pool? So I did. A lot."  Nope. He was really asking about the real elephant that was actually sitting on the couch. "Oh, that big elephant! That's Stanley."
     The Big Elephant in the Room is hilarious.  The situations that the donkey describes are really funny and the pace of the jokes keeps increasing until it reaches the climax when we actually see a real elephant in the room.  Smith's illustrations are always cool.  Overall, great read aloud. 

Aug 22, 2011

My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother

My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother (Aladdin Picture Books)

My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother by Patricia Polacco

     Patricia's older brother could do everything better than her.  He could run the fastest, get the dirtiest, burp the loudest and spit the farthest.  It drove her nuts!  And Richie would push her buttons even more saying "I'm four years older than you...Always have been and always will be."  Her babushka told her one night that if you made a wish on a shooting star it would always come true, so she stayed up until she saw one and wished that she could do something better than her brother.  The following day, Richie and Patricia went to a carnival.  She ran straight for the merry-go-round and decided she would stay and ride it longer than Richie.  She rode it for so long that she fell off the merry-go-round right into some bottles.  When she woke up she was laying in bed surrounded by her family and she found out that her brother had carried her all the way home and called the doctor.  That's when their relationship changed.
     My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother is a warm tale of sibling rivalry and family memories.  I love using this book in the classroom as an introduction to writing personal memoirs.  I read it for the first time to my four year old son and he loved it.  Being an older brother himself, he laughed at Richie always one-upping his little sister and also related to the final show of brotherly love.  When we finished reading the book he said: "that's because an older brother's job is to protect his little sister, you know that?"  So there you go, a great book for the classroom and home.  

Aug 21, 2011

June 29, 1999

June 29, 1999

June 29, 1999 by David Wiesner

     On May 11, 1999, "after months of careful research and planing, Holly Evans launches vegetable seedlings into the sky."  A month later, on June 29, 1999 strange things start happening: a hiker in Montana discovers gigantic turnips flying through the sky, a broccoli the size of a house lands in Holly Evans's backyard, and all over the country, the skies fill with humongous vegetables.  At first Holly thought it was all because of her experiment, but when she sees in the news that some of the vegetables covering the land are not the kinds she planted, she has no idea what to think. "More curious than disappointed, Holly asks herself, "What happened to my vegetables?"  That's when we learn that out in space, the Arcturian starcruiser has had a little malfunction and their entire food supply has been jettisoned.  What will they eat now? Thankfully, Holly's vegetables are on their way.
     David Weisners quirky picture book is quite entertaining.  His illustrations are gorgeous and tell as much or more of the story than the text.  Readers, old and young alike, will have a blast looking at the pictures and imagining a world where peas the size of boats float down the Mississippi River.  

Aug 20, 2011

Peaceful Pieces

Peaceful Pieces: Poems and Quilts About Peace

Peaceful Pieces: Poems and Quilts About Peace by Anna Grossnickle Hines

Peaceful Pieces is a collection of poems that explores the theme of peace from different points of view and perspectives. There are poems about world peace, inner peace, peace between siblings, friendship, and peace with environment and the world around us. There are some very memorable poems, like "Soldier Daddy" about a boy hoping for his father's swift return from war soon. Or "Weapons," a poem about the destructive power of hurtful words:

"I've shot daggers from my eyes
At those I momentarily despised.
I have never fired a gun
but want to learn
to hold my tongue"

There are acrostic poems, free verse poems and rhyming poems. There are many examples of similes and metaphors as well as a beautiful poem that personifies Peace, which make this a greate poetry book to utilize in the classroom. The illustrations are gorgeous quilts. There is also some biographies at the end of the book about world history makers who are examples of peacemakers. Great addition to any classroom library.

Aug 19, 2011

These Hands

These Hands

These Hands by Margaret H. Mason
Illustrated by Floyd Cooper

     Joseph's grandpa is telling him all the things he used to be able to do with his hands:  tie a triple bowline knot in three seconds, "make the ivories sing like a sparrow in springtime," "pluck the ace of spades right out of thin air," "throw a curveball faster than a dive-bombing honeybee."  But there was something he wasn't able to do as a young man: he was not allowed to mix the bread dough at the Wonder Bread factory.  He was only allowed to clean the floors and work the line at the factory, but he couldn't make the bread because of the color of his skin.  So he joined hands and voices with others during the civil rights movement and now, "any hands can touch the bread dough, no matter their color."
     These Hands is a beautiful book.  It manages to be tender in the way it shows the grandfather and Joseph's relationship and at the same time it exposes a little known historical fact about the discriminatory practices at the Detroit Wonder Bread factory.  I love the change in point of view that takes place half way through the book.  We first hear the grandfather's voice sharing how he can help Joseph learn to do those thing he could do as young man. Then, we hear Joseph's voice sharing all the things he has learned to do thanks to his grandfather's guidance.  "Now I can do all that," he tells his grandfather.  It's a very uplifting picture book that should be shared at home and in the classroom.  There is a lot of figurative language examples to share with the students as well as the historical background.  The illustrations by Floyd Cooper are, as usual, works of art.  This is one of the most beautiful and moving books of 2011.