Nov 30, 2011

Sweet Moon Baby and Author Interview

Sweet Moon Baby: An adoption tale by Karen Henry Clark
Illustrated by Patrice Barton
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers

     A perfect baby girl is born in China.  Her parents are poor and dream of a better life for their daughter. "She should have pretty things", "she should learn to read."  As they send her in a basket down the river to find her new life under the light of the moon, the girl peacefully sleeps.
     At the same time, but in the other side of the world, a couple hopes for a daughter of their own.  They have waited for a long time for her, planting a garden in case she loves vegetables or pies, building a house with room for her, hoping she would like pretty things and books.  The moon gives them the sign they were waiting for and they embark on a journey to find their little girl.
     Sweet Moon Baby is beautiful, touching, lyrical, and memorable.  The language is poetic and flows with ease: "from high in the warm sky, the moon's face glowed on the river, making a path as clear as the night's promise."  The parallels in the phrases used by the parents in China and the American parents, frames the story and connects the two worlds before the beautiful baby becomes the physical link.  As the girl journeys through the river, different animals watch over her (a turtle, a peacock, a monkey, a panda, and fish). Once the girl is asleep in her new home in America, we connect back to her beginnings in China when we see a peacock feather by her nightstand, a goldfish and her three stuffed animals: a panda, a monkey, and a turtle.
     November is National Adoption Month, so what better way to close it out than reading this beautiful adoption story.  I read it aloud today to my fifth graders and, though I had read it alone a couple of times, I couldn't help choking up.  They were also very moved by it.  Simply beautiful.
Here is a link to the book trailer: Sweet Moon Baby

     As a special treat, I'm thrilled to share with you my second interview ever with the author of Sweet Moon Baby, Karen Henry Clark.  

What inspired you to write SWEET MOON BABY?

Our daughter Maggie was eleven months old when we adopted her from a Chinese orphanage and little was known about her.  I thought about how rich with information my own early life was because my mother saved so many things of mine, and we had great pictures of my early days.  None of that was possible for Maggie, so I wrote a history for her.  Her first English word was moon, which seemed incredibly dear to me.  And she said it with such joy and certainty that it inspired me to believe the moon had been a significant influence in her life from the beginning.  

Did your daughter participate in the process for the book?

She is so much a part of this book and the fact that I finally got published that it's a huge thing to try explaining it.  I'll try.  By the time I was four years old, I wanted to be an author.  While other children played outdoors, I wrote books and drew the illustrations.  I had no idea, of course, how to go from that to getting a printed book on a shelf, but life has a curious way of showing us how to make our dreams come true.  By the time we adopted Maggie, I had given up writing picture books because I kept having "almost but not quite" experiences with editors.  Then one day when she was in kindergarten, we were in a bookstore, and I read her a piece of a review I'd written several years before she was born.  It was still printed on the novel's cover.  "That's good, Mama," she said.  "You should write more!"  Her face was beaming at me, filled with faith that I could do it.  So I started again by writing about her in SWEET MOON BABY.  She often sat on my lap while I typed, and I would read it out loud to her.  She was excellent at telling me what she liked and what she thought wasn't clear enough.  So not only was she the subject matter, she was my first editor. 

Are you working on other stories connected to the theme of adoption?

In a way, yes.  At Christmas last year, we adopted two rescue dogs.  One of them had never had a home and was found in the northern part of the state.  She traveled a great distance to get to us and had been through plenty of hard times alone.  She is the sweetest, bravest dog.  I've started a story based on her journey.

What books influenced you as a writer?
As a first grader, I tried to understand why some books were interesting to me and some weren't.  I worried about Dick, Jane, and Sally in our early readers because their lives seemed so awful because all they did was stand around and shout verbs at each other.  At least that's how it seemed to me.  I kept wondering what was wrong with them.  My mother took me to the library each week, and I'd fallen head over heels for Curious George and Dr. Seuss's Horton.  Now there were characters who were really living.  I started writing my own stories that involved the long-winded tales of a rabbit family.  They were always up to something.  So I wrote to avoid dry literature and to create joyful literature.

What are three books every adult should read to their kids?
I'm not much into lists of "bests."  What inspires one reader is easily disregarded by another.  It's like telling a joke. Some laugh wildly, and others stare blankly at you. For instance, my husband has always loved Where the Wild Things Are, but it does not speak to me.  I can admire the phrasing and art, but the story does not capture my heart.  You should read whatever you love, whatever you remember fondly.  Children are as impressed by an adult's devotion to a certain tale as they are by the plot itself.  My mother read to me the stories she believed were important life lessons, although I didn't see it at the time.  There was no room for princesses or magic spells in her lap.  She read The Little Engine that Could and Henny Penny and The Little Red Hen.  Consequently, she raised a determined daughter who never waited for a magic potion.   

Anything else you would like our readers to know?
Because I've written a picture book, I cannot leave the beautiful art of Patrice Barton unmentioned.  When the editor sent me her drawings, I showed them to a few people to watch their reaction.  Even without words, tears would run down the faces of those adoptive mothers who turned through her illustrations.  The heartfelt power of her drawings is undeniable.  The story tells itself by what she's drawn.  The book has been out for a while now, but I am constantly amazed by the lovely comments I receive.  At a school reading, an adopted kindergarten Chinese girl told my husband, "I'm the REAL sweet moon baby."  That she identified so intently with the baby's adventure is just the dearest thing to me.  But, really, who wouldn't love to believe a peacock had carried them past the moon?

Thanks Karen for your time and kindness!

Nov 29, 2011

Dinosaur Dig!

Dinosaur Dig! by Penny Dale

     What are two things most young boys obsess about sooner or later? Dinosaurs and construction equipment.  Put them both together and you get Dinosaur Dig! On the inside front cover we are introduced to the ten different types of dinosaurs we will encounter in the book.  Adding one by one, all ten dinosaurs come into the story, each using a different piece of construction equipment.  They dig, shovel, dump, lift, mix, build, roll, pump, and spray paint.  The whole time we wondered what they are working on until we see their finalized project: "Ten dinosaurs playing. Playing in their brand-new pool. The pool they built themselves!"
      Dinosaur Dig! is guaranteed to be a hit with dinosaur loving crowd (and the digger lovers).  Not only will they learn the names of ten different types of dinosaurs but, in the inside back cover, they'll also learn about ten construction equipment machines.  The illustrations are big and bold.

Nov 28, 2011


Ice by Arthur Geisert

     I'm a huge fan of Geisert.  He always connects with a younger me, the one that dreamed up mousetrap-like contraptions and elaborate scavenger hunts.  His latest wordless book, Ice, had me flipping its pages back and forth, admiring his detailed illustrations and ingenious solution to the main problem in the book.  There is a group of pigs living on an island. The sun is shining down relentlessly, the ground is dry and barren, and the pigs' well is running out of water.  Some pigs are trying to keep cool with fans, but they know they need to come up with something. Quick.  In each page there is a hint, a clue, as to what's to come. We see a boat docked on the island.  The pigs sail...actually, they fly their boat with balloons, all the way to the north pole to find a new source of water: ice.  How will they bring the iceberg back to their island?
     If you haven't check out any of Geisert's book yet, you must do so immediately.  They are a treat. And as much as I love the written word, there is something quite special about wordless books.  This is one of those that are worth sharing and looking at over and over again.  In the classroom, wordless books like this can be used as a picture guide for students to write out the story the author has told us through his illustrations. Did I already tell you I'm a huge Geisert fan?
Other books by Geisert reviewed on this blog:
Lights Out

Nov 27, 2011


Willy by Geert De Kockere
Illustrated by Carll Cneut

     Willy was an elephant with legs like pillars, a massive body, huge ears, and a tiny "insignificant little" tail with "a ridiculous little brush at the end."  "And still Willy was invited everywhere." His huge ears made him a great listener.  With his huge body he could push children who didn't want to go to school, or cars that stood in the way. With his little brush at the end of his tail, he could draw and write beautifully. He was welcomed everywhere. Sometimes, someone would make a comment mocking his ears or his legs like pillars, but "those remarks where brushed off very quickly" or "overruled."  And then he was comforted by many who loved him.
     At this point in Willy the author talks directly to the reader and the point of the story becomes clear: "So if you have legs like pillars or ears that flap in the wind or if you have a body as big as two [...] then think of him. Think of Willy. HE HAD IT ALL." And still he was loved.
     Willy is an interesting book to share in the elementary classroom and discuss the topic of self-esteem and bullying.  The illustrations by Cneut and the length and style of the text, give the book a feeling more connected with the upper elementary grades.  Great book to show kids to own who they are, just like Willy.

Nov 26, 2011

Good-bye, Havana! Hola, New York!

Good-bye, Havana! Hola, New York! by Edie Colón
Illustrated by Raúl Colón

    In Good-bye, Havana! Hola, New York!, Edie Colón tells the story of a 6 year old cuban girl named Gabriella. The story is basically autobiographical, but Colón explains on a note at the end of the book that she decided to use a different name for the main character "so that I could have some distance from my story."
     Fidel Castro has recently taken control of Cuba and under the banner of the Revolution, the government has taken control of all private property, including Gabriella's family restaurant.  In search of a better life, Gabriella's parents move to New York.  They travel ahead to get everything ready for their new life, while she stays with her grandparents in Havana.  When her father comes back to take her to the Bronx, Gabriella must face the pain of leaving her adored grandparents behind, not knowing when and if she'll see them again.  During the rest of the book, we see Gabriella dealing with the lifestyle changes after the move to New York. It is colder, more urban, she's far from her beloved ocean, and she doesn't speak the language. Throughout the school year, Gabriela makes new friends and learns to speak English. And at the end, she's reunited with her grandparents. The whole family is together again, but this time in their new home in the Bronx.
     Good-bye, Havana! Hola, New York! is a good book to share in the multicultural classroom. As an ESL teacher, I know my English Language Learner students will relate to Gabriela's struggles, feelings, and fears.  The story uses a lot of phrases in Spanish with an English translation immediately following (I found that since the phrases were long, the translations seemed to interrupt the flow of the story). The illustrations by Raúl Colón are simply beautiful, with a warmth of color that immediately brought me back to the Caribbean coast.  This book would also be a great mentor text to introduce memoirs. 

Nov 25, 2011

My Name Is Elizabeth

My Name is Elizabeth by Annika Dunklee
Illustrated by Matthew Forsythe

     Her name is Elizabeth. She loves how long her name is, how it feels when she says it, and that a queen was named after her.  You know what she doesn't like? When people call her names other than Elizabeth. Like Beth, or Liz, or Betsy.  When she finally explodes and lets them all know, she actually gets her way. With one exception.
     Using dialogue bubbles, My Name is Elizabeth captures the frustrations of a young girl who can't control what adults call her. Or can she?  With her quirky pet duck, two tone illustrations, this enjoyable picture book grabs you with its simplicity with a final scene that will have you smiling.


Nov 24, 2011


Stars by Mary Lyn Ray
Illustrated by Marla Frazee

     Stars appear in the sky, one by one, "and the dark that comes doesn't feel so dark."  You can't catch them but you can make your own with shiny paper, cut it out and keep it in your pocket.  There are many stars out there, like the one that shows you're the sheriff or the one at the end of your magic wand.  Snowflakes and flowers are also little stars.  And somedays you feel like a star, and others not so much.  But at the end of the day, you can put your PJs on, look up at the sky and know that even if you can't always see them, starts are there every night, every where.
     Stars is a beautiful book, perfect for bedtime.  Ray's text speaks to children with a honest tone while remaining lyrical.  Frazee's illustrations are spot on. Her portraits of children are delightful, and every page turn offers a new spread, with new tones and detailed expressions.  Lovely.

Nov 23, 2011

Too Shy for Show and Tell

Too Shy for Show and Tell by Beth Bracken
Illustrated by Jennifer Bell

     Sam was a very quiet little boy who kept to himself at school. "Nobody knew much about him."  He loved trucks, chocolate cake, and dogs, but nobody knew it.  The one thing everybody knew about Sam was that he didn't talk much.  "Sam really didn't like talking in front of people, which is why Sam hated show-and-tell." So when his teacher announced that they would be having one at the end of the week, Sam got scared.  He was so nervous, he felt sick and wanted to stay home. But his mom told him he needes to go school.  Once at school, he tried to get out of it by telling his teacher he'd forgotten to bring something to show.  As he sat on the rug watching his classmates share their items, Sam tried to gather up courage.  And then it's his turn.  He didn't faint or cried, and no one laughed.  Today, everyone in class learned a little bit more about Sam, who's already thinking about his next show-and-tell.
     Too Shy for Show and Tell is a sweet story to share with the pre-k and lower elementary classrooms, as well as with the shy kids at home.  The illustrations by Bell are tender and welcoming (the kids are depicted as zoo animals and Sam is an adorable giraffe wearing a stripped turtle neck).  I got to admit that the book had me at its dedication when it quoted The Smiths: "Shyness is nice, but shyness can stop you" ('from doing all the things in life you'd like to').  So "ask me, ask me, ask me," if I liked it.

Nov 22, 2011

When a Dragon Moves In

When a Dragon Moves In by Jodi Moore
Illustrated by Howard McWilliam

     A boy is enjoying a beautiful sunny day at the beach.  With his swimming trunks on, wearing a towel as a cape, and with pail and bucket in hand, he builds a large sandcastle.  "If you build a perfect sandcastle, a dragon will move in." The boy and his imaginary dragon have a wonderful day at the beach: swimming, flying kites and roasting marshmallows.  He tries to convince his family that the dragon is real by showing them a feather from his wing (a seagull feather) and one of his sharp teeth (a broken shell), but they don't believe him.  When he starts getting in trouble for eating all the food (because the dragon was hungry) and for spraying his sister with sand (because she says there is no such thing as a dragon), the boy gets scolded by his parents: "I think we've had enough of this dragon business." The boy destroys his sandcastle and orders his dragon to leave.  There is always tomorrow to build a new perfect castle.
     When a Dragon Moves In is a fun read aloud.  It follows the familiar structure of "if you...then."  I've used this type of book in my classroom and had students create their own "if, then" picture books and they have a blast.  The Illustrations by McWilliam are wonderful (I loved his work on the delightful I Need My Monster).  Kids will enjoy the dragon's antics and the boy's imaginative play.

Nov 21, 2011

Betsy Who Cried Wolf!

Betsy Who Cried Wolf! by Gail Carson Levine
Illustrated by Scott Nash

     In the same town where there was once a boy who cried wolf, Betsy has just turned eight and taken the Shepherds' Oath.  She's ready to guide her sheep and protect them from any wolf who may try to eat them.  Meanwhile, up on Rosenrise Mountain, Zimmo, the wolf, is hungry and lonely.  He knows he needs food, and soon, so he comes up with a plan.  As Betsy leads her sheep up the mountain, the wolf lets her see him and as soon as she calls for help, he hides.  Nobody believes poor Betsy. The next day, Zimmo shows up again and Betsy calls for help once more.  Afraid that this is a repeat of the lying boy from years ago, the townsmen send poor Betsy back to Shepherd School (where she must write on the blackboard "I will cry wolf only when I see a wolf", over and over again).  When she's finally allowed to head back out to the mountain, she comes face to face with Zimmo.  She calls for help, but nobody comes. This time, the hungry wolf runs towards Betsy and the sheep, but he only has eyes for her lunch: a delicious shepherds' pie. With a full belly, Zimmo turns out to be quite helpful and Betsy has a new assistant.
        Betsy Who Cried Wolf! is a very entertaining twist on the old story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf.  The delightful illustrations by Nash, add a great touch with tons of funny details to be noticed in multiple reads.  The styling of Betsy, with hooded sweatshirt and cut out gloves, give it a cool and modern touch.  Excellent read aloud to pair up with the original story.

Nov 20, 2011

A Nation's Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis

A Nation's Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis by Matt de la Peña
Illustrated by Kadir Nelson

     Back in college at Northwestern University, I took an amazing class titled "History and Anthropology of Sports."  I grew up loving sports, watching all of them on TV and playing a couple of them as well.  One sport I never had any interest in was boxing.  And then I took that class...and read a biography on Joe Louis.  During one of the weeks of school, I had to read two books: one on Joe Louis and one on soccer (my favorite sport).  Well, I was so mesmerized by this boxer that I only discussed one book during the class meeting.  My professor, who was my mentor and knew me well, couldn't believe I didn't even made a single reference to the soccer book.  That's how amazing Joe Louis' story was.  Needless to say, I was thrilled to find a new picture book about him.
     Nation's Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis tells us about his beginnings as a child ridiculed for his stuttering. "Words spinning just beyond Joe's grasp, and with black skin he passed through childhood in shadows."  We learn about his trips to the gym, learning how to box and "slowly stepping out of the shadows."  He found a new home "between the ropes."  Knowing that back then, as a black man, he would not win fights by a decision, Joe Louis had knock them all down. The book focuses on the most important fight Louis ever fought against the German Max Schmeling.  That fight was about more than a world title, it was a battle between America and Nazi Germany, and all of the US, white and black, united to see Joe Louis defeat the German.
     As I was reading A Nation's Hope, I couldn't help but think that the writing by Matt de la Peña flowed as smoothly as a boxer dancing in the ring.  The illustrations by Kadir Nelson are nothing short stunning (the portrait of Joe Louis as young man, with his hands resting between his legs is hauntingly beautiful). Nelson plays with angles and perspectives that ad dynamic movement, as if our eyes are moving around the ring, following the boxers' feet.  Gorgeous biography of an amazing man.


Nov 19, 2011

Picture a Tree

Picture a Tree by Barbara Reid

"There is more than one way to picture a tree." Depending of the seasons, its size and its type, a tree can be so many things. A tree could be a tunnel (when trees from opposing sidewalks touch each other over the street), an ocean (when seen from a high rise terrace, a city filled with trees) or a home. Trees can be the umbrellas that protect us from the sun on hot summer days, or can be skeletons in the winter. The fallen leaves of trees in the autumn are part of "a wild goodbye party", while the evergreens in the winter get to "put on snowsuits". Weather they are baby trees, young or old, they all hold spring in their branches, "sleeping like a baby." "Picture a tree. What do you see?"

Illustrating the book with her incredible Plasticine style, Barbara Reid has created a beautiful book that wows at every page turn. I stayed on each page for awhile, admiring the detail and vibrant quality of each spread. The text is lyrical with great use of figurative language to explore in the classroom and many possible extension activities. I will have my students "picture a tree" and write from the point of view of one of the trees in their neighborhood. This is a gorgeous book that I'm truly happy to have in my personal library now.

Nov 18, 2011

My Bear Griz

My Bear Griz by Suzanne McGinness


     "My name is Billy and I love bears."  Billy named his bear Griz because he is, of course, a Grizlly Bear.  Together they explore the world, eat peanut-butter-and-honey-sandwiches (much better than PB&J, if you ask me), play hide-and-seek (Billy usually wins that one) and look at the stars.  Griz is great to cuddle up to when you need to take a nap and he's also a great listener, so Billy can tell him all his secrets (like the fact that he's afraid of the dark).  Griz and Billy are best friends. Is Griz a real Grizzly Bear?
     My Bear Griz is a sweet tale of friendship perfect for children 2-6 years old.  The illustrations by McGinness are striking.  There is a great contrast between the size of Griz and the size of the boy, which makes the large bear take over most of the pages.  The illustrations are mixed-media with pen, ink, watercolors, collage (Billy's crow is made out of newspaper cut outs), and digital aplications (imitating a child's handwriting).  There is a mix of text and dialogue bubbles ("handwritten" by Billy) which add interesting details to share during the reading.  My Bear Griz is about creative play and friendship. The final twist in the story, will capture the affections of young readers.  

Nov 17, 2011


Seasons by Anne Crausaz

     There are four seasons and five senses to explore them.   Following a circular structure, a girls enjoys the touch, smells, sights, tastes, and sounds of a year of seasons, starting with the spring, then summer, autumn, winter, and back to spring again.   She sees the greens of spring, hears the blackbirds singing, and feels the tickle on her finger as a ladybug lands on it. In the summer she can see the "fireflies, like flying stars," smell the vegetables in the garden, listen to a summer storm, feel the warm air and the cold ocean. In the autumn she can "taste the first blackberries, sweet and sour at the same time," smell the moss, and hear the cracking of the leaves as she jumps on them.  In the winter, she can smell the wood fires and taste the snowflakes. And soon, "the flowers will start growing up through the snow, ready for...spring."
     Seasons was originally published in french under the title Premier Printemps.  Crausaz illustrations are clean, bright and beautiful (I have a soft spot for the girls rosy cheeks). The text is simple, but still lyrical.  It's a great book to use in the classroom to introduce the seasons, but even better, as a way to encourage children to use their five senses to add details to their writing.  Great read aloud to use in a mini lesson as a mentor text for sensory details.  Use your senses to explore the world.

Nov 16, 2011

Balloons Over Broadway

Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade by Melissa Sweet

     Next week, like every Thanksgiving morning for over eighty years, the famous Macy's parade will take place in the streets of New York City.  Enormous balloons will fly between skyscraper canyons, mesmerizing children and adults alike.  How did this tradition get started?
     In Balloons Over Broadway Caldecott Honor Winner, Melissa Sweet, tells the true story of Tony Sarg, the inventor of the upside down balloon marionettes that have become such and intrinsic part of our Thanksgiving tradition.  Born in England, Tony moved to New York to display his marionettes on Broadway.  When word of his skill and inventiveness spread, Macy's approached him and asked him to design puppets for their windows.   Eventually, Macy's asked Tony to help organize a parade that would cheer up its employees, who, being mostly immigrants, missed their own holiday traditions.  It took Tony a couple of years of parades under his belt, until he finally came up with the idea of creating balloons that could be handled from the ground, just like an upside down marionette.  "And from that day on, every Thanksgiving morning, crowds have lined up the sidewalks of New York City to see what new balloons would rise to the skies for Macy's famous parade."
     Balloons Over Broadway is one of the most entertaining non-fiction books I've had the pleasure of reading this year.  The bright and beautiful drawings of the balloons by Sweet, give this non-fiction book a sense of wonder and imagination more commonly associated with fiction picture books.  The reader is engaged from the very beginning of the biography.  Great non-fiction read aloud to do in the classroom.  Delightful book that should become part of the Thanksgiving family library.

Nov 15, 2011

Fall Mixed Up

Fall Mixed Up by Bob Raczka
Illustrated by Chad Cameron

     In the Fall Mixed Up world, pumpkins turn red and apples turn orange, bears climb trees looking for nuts, while the geese cuddle underground and hibernate; the squirrels tie balloons around their waists so they can fly south; scarecrows watch over fields of candy corn sprouts; and "kids leap in great heaping piles of sticks.  You sit by bonfire to cool off and eat delicious caramel pumpkins.  You trick or treat for chicken drumsticks and give thanks for sweets.
     Fall Mixed Up will have kids looking at you wondering if you have noticed that everything is kind of, well, mixed up.  The illustrations are a beautiful compliment to the hilarity of the situations.  Great read aloud that offers a great chance for a text innovation activity, where students can create their own Mixed Up versions of the different seasons.  Delightful book to include in the autumn classroom and home libraries.

Nov 14, 2011

What Animals Really Like

What Animals Really Like by Fiona Robinson

     The billboard is up. It announces that for one night only the legendary conductor Mr. Hervert Timberteeth will present his new song: What Animals Like (a pair of birds are holding a banner with the word "Really" above the billboard, changing the title to What Animals Really like... a premonition that things are not going to go as expected).  The conductor walks on stage, the red curtains open (fold out flaps) and we see twelve different groups of animals on stage, and an octopus piano player, dressed and ready for the performance. "A-one, a-two, a-one, two, three, and..." The song begins and each group of animals sings what they like to do. First, the lions sing that they like to prowl, then the wolves like to howl, the pigeons like to coo, and the cows like to...We all guess we'll turn the page and read 'moo', but instead we find the the cows like to dig.  The conductor is confused but lets the show go on.  But little by little, the show spins it out of control as more animals stray from the script and tell us what they really like.
     What Animals Really like is a riot.  It funny and clever.  I love the fact that it plays with the rhyme to create the unexpected.  The things that each group of animals like get more and more unpredictable and ridiculous: lions really like flower arranging.  The design of the book is also very clever: the cover shows the animals prepping for the show and the title page is its billboard. It is a great read-aloud and offers the possibility of extension activities where students come up with their own theories of what animals like.  Love it.

Nov 13, 2011


People by Blexbolex

     People is part picture book, part coffee table book, all conceptual book.  Through very cool retro looking silkscreened images,  Blexbolex illustrates over 200 pages organized as paired concepts.  The paired concepts are sometimes easy to relate to each other: man and woman, mother and baby, couple and bachelor. Other times they need the illustrations to help with the link: contortionist and plumber, blind and distracted.  Or they are very interesting (conductor and tyrant, amputee and cyclops) or, I guess, just plain weird (station attendant and alien).  There are endless topics to discuss while flipping through the pages of People.  Every page turn offers a new surprise, thought or laugh.  This is the kind of books adults will like as much as curious kids, so much so, they might have it around even when the kids are not there.   

Nov 12, 2011

No Dogs Allowed

No Dogs Allowed! by Linda Ashman
Illustrated by Kristin Sorra

     Alberto's City Lights Restaurant is open.  It's in a town square, across from a fountain. It has indoor seating and outdoor tables.  There is a blackboard easel with the word 'Welcome!' handwritten on it.  As Alberto gets ready to welcome diners, he notices a boy with his dog approaching. Uh, oh. He rushes to the easel, erases "Welcome!" and quickly writes "No Dogs Allowed" instead.  The boy turns around and sits heartbroken by the fountain. Just then, a girl approaches the restaurant with a cat. So Alberto adds, "No Dogs or Cats Allowed" to the sign.  As other townspeople come buy with different animals (a magician with rabbit, kids with a kangaroo, a man with parrots, a family with an iguana, even a boy with an elephant), Alberto keeps having to add new clarifying phrases to keep them all out of his restaurant. He's been so busy keeping animals out, that he's managed to ignore the one patron who's desperately trying to order his food.  Meanwhile all the rejected diners and their pets have remained in the square and are having a great time together.  That is, until the lemonade stand that's been serving them all, runs out. Will Alberto come to their help?
     No Dogs Allowed! is a delicious almost-wordless book.  The sense of joy and community is palpable in the images of the town coming together in the square.  Its cast of characters and all the unbelievable pets, adds a degree of hilarity to the story. The illustrations by Sorra are wonderfully detailed and beautiful.  Great book to "read" over and over. It can also be used in the classroom, having the students create dialogue for the myriad of characters or write the complete story.  Delightful.

Nov 11, 2011

Charlotte Jane Battles Bedtime

Charlotte Jane Battles Bedtime by Myra Wolfe
Illustrated by Maria Monescillo

     "Charlotte Jane the Hearty came howling into the world." Her pirate parents knew there was something quite special about her, she had 'formidable oomph." The little pirate's first words were en garde! She loved swashbuckling sessions, treasure hunts and "Fantastic Feasts of Daring" (like going down the slide head first). The one thing the young pirate didn't like was going to bed. She fought her sleep every night, until one dark night she didn't go to bed at all. That morning she climbed out her window, and with sleepy eyes, she whispered "Victory!" The rest of the day she dragged around, too tire to fight with her sword, or look for treasure. Her parents were worried and Charlotte Jane confessed: "My oomph's weighed anchor." They looked everywhere for the little pirate's oomph. But they didn't find it anywhere. Charlotte looked at her bed and thought that sleep was for landlubbers, but dreams...That night Charlotte had wonderful pirate dreams and woke up full of oomph. "It was time to shiver some timbers."
     Charlotte Jane Battles Bedtime is a charming and clever swashbuckling bedtime story. It offers a refreshing twist on the pirate books, showing us a delightful pirate family. The illustrations by Monescillo are beautiful, bright and cheery. I loved the pirates home, with a balcony that emulates the front of a pirate ship. A great book for feisty pirate girls.

Nov 10, 2011

The Princess and the Pig

The Princess and the Pig by Jonathan Emmett
Illustrated by Poly Bernatene

A poor farmer is heading home after a day at the market pulling his own car and carrying hay and a little pink piglet. He stops to take a break in the shade of a great castle. Right above him, the Queen is holding her new baby who she has just named Priscilla. The little princess fills up her diaper and the smell is so awful, it makes the pretentious queen run to get a nanny in such a hurry that she drops the baby. Luckily for Priscilla, she lands on the farmers cart and catapults the little pink piglet all the way up to the princess's crib. When the queen finds a piglet in the crib she can't believe her eyes, but the king, who was well versed on classic fairytales explains that he believes a fairy who was not invited to the baby's christening, must have put a curse on the princess and turned her into a pig. "It's the sort of thing that happens all the time in books" he ads.
On the other side of town, the farmer and his wife are shocked to find a baby girl inside the cart. But they also know about fairy tales and conclude that a good fairy must have turned the piglet into a baby girl to reward them for their kindness and honesty. "It's the sort of thing that happens all the time in books," says the farmer's wife. Priscilla grows up to be a kind and beautiful girl, and the piglet grows up inside the castle to be, well, a pig. Will they return to where they belong?
The Princess and the Pigis a wonderful fairytale. Playing with fairytale stereotypes, it offers and fresh and hilarious twist. Bernatene's illustrations are delightful and funny. It's a great read aloud with plenty of opportunities for kids and students to make text to text connections, and have a blast at the same time. Great find!

Nov 9, 2011

King Hugo's Huge Ego

King Hugo's Huge Ego by Chris Van Dusen

     King Hugo's diminutive size contrast with the enormity of his ego.  He was only three foot three.

And though this mini monarch 
stood no higher than an elf,
his ego was enormous-
he though highly of himself.
     He made his subjects bow to him and forced them to listen to never ending speeches about how mighty and magnificent he though he was.  Then, one day, while strolling in his carriage, he ran over a maiden who refused to move out of the way.  The maiden happened to be a sorcerers who cursed him so that every time King Hugo said something arrogant, his head would grow.  Soon, his crown in too small and tight for his quickly growing head.  His head got to be so large that he didn't fit through any door in the castle.  With his humongous head affecting his balance, he ends up falling off his castle's tower, rolling and bouncing all the way to the field were the sorcerers lived.  Will he deflate his ego and see the love of his life standing before him?
     King Hugo's Huge Ego is a blast.  I read it to my fifth graders today and they loved it.  The illustrations are hilarious!   But the real star of the book is the story (and I'm a sucker for good classic style stories).  The rhymes flow with ease and never seemed forced. And the vocabulary used in the book is wonderful (with many context clues to help kids figure out the meaning of the advanced words).  Overall, a great find.  One of my favorites this year.

Nov 8, 2011

The Honeybee Man

The Honeybee Man by Lela Nargi
Illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker

     Fred is a beekeeper.  He climbs up to the roof of his Brooklyn brownstone, and with the city all around him, he focuses his whole attention on another tiny city, one made up of three houses, each with three stories and thousands of rooms made of wax. Fred inhales the smells of a summer city morning: maple leaves and gasoline and the river and dust. He turns to the tiny city and inhales its smaller sweeter smell -a little like caramel, a little like ripe peaches. The bees are like a family to Freed, he knows everything about them and loves them.  He imagines himself flying over Brooklyn with them, looking for flower nectar.  When the bees have done their job, Fred collects the honey and pours it into jars to share it with his neighbors.  Fred loves the feeling of wonder and surprise he gets from each batch of honey, tasting its delicate sweetness and discovering what flowers have given it its special flavor each year.  This time around it is sweet, like linden flowers. It is sharp, like rosemary. It is ever-so-slightly sour. He's delighted to know his bees made it all the way to blueberry bushes to give their honey that special sweet and sour flavor.
     The Honeybee Man is a delightful example of realistic fiction.  While it reads like a story, it also provides tons of details about the beekeeper's job and the organization and behavior of a beehive.  The illustrations by Brooker are beautiful and offer and nice "view" of Brooklyn.  The Honeybee Man also offers students a different perspective on urban activities, showing that jobs associated with rural areas, like beekeeping, are actually also carried out within our urban landscape.  The end of the book offers a series of facts about honey, honeybees, and beekeepers.  It's a beautiful book to share at home and also to include in elementary classroom libraries.

Nov 7, 2011

You're Finally Here!

You're Finally Here! by Melanie Watt

     In the style of Mo Willem's Pigeon books, where the character talks directly to the reader, Melanie Watt brings us You're Finally Here!  A bright eyed, energetic bunny, is super pumped up about the fact that you, the reader, have finally showed up.  He flips, plays maracas and guitars and shouts "Hooray!" to celebrate.  But wait, he's also annoyed at you, "but where were you?", he's been waiting for you to show up for a long time ("long enough to gather dust bunnies.") And bunny hates to wait. Waiting is really boring, unfair ("as unfair as getting picked last"), annoying ("as annoying as wearing an itchy sweater"), and rude ("as rude as talking with my mouth full").  Such a guilt trip! It's okay though, he's just really glad you finally made it and now all he wants is for you to stay...forever. He even writes up a contract to guarantee just that.  And just when you are getting ready to commit, bunny gets a phone call and gets so engrossed he ignores you, the reader, just long enough for you to turn the last page and walk away.
     You're Finally Here! is an funny read aloud.  Kids will surely respond to the loud shenanigans of bunny, his energy, and his complaints.    

Nov 6, 2011

The Vole Brothers

The Vole Brothers by Roslyn Schwartz

The Vole Brothers, two little rodents, are very hungry. When they get a sniff of a delicious smell, they follow it all the way to a pizza slice. A cat, who also went after the smell, gets there first and the brothers must outsmart him to get the slice. They do, but in a matter of seconds they lose the slice to hungry birds and ants. The cat eventually nabs them is about to eat them for dinner, when at the last moment they catch a very lucky break and land on their feet, with plenty of food to eat.
The Vole Brothers is written in comic book style. There is plenty of action and adventure to entertained young readers. It can be used in the classroom as an example of onomatopoeia, and as a text innovation activity where students would write the narrative using the text as a storyboard.

Nov 5, 2011

That's How!

That's How! by Christoph Nieman

     Around ten years ago I was in Spain visiting relatives, and one of my uncles gave us a tour of his town.  Everywhere we went he had a great story to tell about the place and its history.  At one point I turned around and asked my cousin how his father knew so much about the town and he said to me in Spanish: "He knows a bit, and what he doesn't know, he makes up."  I've thought about that quote many times since, especially when my four year old goes around asking his favorite questions: why? and how does that work?  And today, I found the perfect picture book to go along with the "how does that work?" question.
     In That's How! a girl is always asking a boy how do different things work.  The boy always replies "Hmm...let me think." And in the next page we see him come up with a very imaginative answer to the question and saying "that's how!"  Always getting a "Wow!' in return from the girl.   So, how does an airplane work? Well, according to the boy the plane is filled with chickens furiously flapping their wings. And a train? A monkey is making soup and three other monkeys are running on a conveyor belt trying to reach the pot.  And my favorite, how does a digger work?  There is a pink rabbit inside holding a long alligator whose jaws do all the digging. 
     That's How is a blast.  It will have kids rolling at the crazy explanations the boy comes up with and will get their imaginations going with other explanations they can come up with themselves.  As for me, when my boy asks me how something works and I don't know, I'm using the rabbit-alligator explanation.   

Nov 4, 2011

Singing Away the Dark

Singing Away the Dark by Caroline Woodward
Illustrated by Julie Morstad

     When she was six, Caroline Woodward had to walk a mile in the dark and through the woods to get to her school bus stop.  From this memory, she has written a beautiful story.  On a windy winter's day, she leaves her house when it's still dark outside and heads downhill trekking through the snow.  As she gets farther away from her home, she's frightened by the "creaks and groans and hoots and howls " that creep into her ears.  But she has learned how to deal with those fears, she takes a breath and sings until the darkness disappears.  "I sing for sun, I sing for strength, I sing for warm toes, too."  She makes it to her school bus, ready to start the school day.  "When I was six and walked a mile and sang the dark away."
     Singing Away the Dark is a very special book, a lovely find.  The illustrations are beautiful and find a perfect balance of darks and lights to create the feeling of walking in the dark through the white snow. I love the detail of the little cardinal that shows up in a couple of pages adding a splash of red over a white landscape.  The text rhymes but never feels to be doing so intentionally, which is a great just has this lovely lyrical rhythm to it.  A great read aloud for the classroom and a perfect text to use as a sample of exploding the moment when writing a memoir.

Nov 3, 2011

Subway Story

Subway Story by Julia Sarcone-Roach

     I remember being captivated by some photographs I saw a couple of  years ago of subway cars being submerged in the ocean and becoming coral reefs. The idea that they could have a new life after spending years as part of the heart and soul of my city was very touching.  So I was thrilled to come across Subway Story by Julia Sarcone-Roach; she took that image and created a beautiful picture book about it.
     In Subway Story we follow a subway car created especially to carry visitors around New York during the 1964 World Fair.  She was a beautiful blue and cream car, shiny and new.  She loved being a subway car and cruising around the city, enjoying the noises and sounds of the busy metropolis.  As the years passed, she changed, got updated, graffitied and repainted.  Eventually, her old venting systems could not withstand the warm summers and she's replaced by brand new subway car models.  One day, they remove all her parts and place her in a barge that took her and other old cars out into the Atlantic Ocean. She was dropped into the ocean floor and soon found new passengers among the fish, turtles and seaweeds.
    Subway Story is a very sweet tale.  It reminded me of Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, in the way we get attached to the subway car and see her find a new productive life once she's become outdated.  I loved the detail in the final illustration of the book, where in one side of the page we see the subway car as part of the coral reef with fish swimming through its doors, and then those same fish turn into the mosaics characteristic of old subway stations.  A great read aloud to share, especially with all the kids obsessed with trains and transportation.  Lovely.

Nov 2, 2011

Red Wagon

Red Wagon by Renata Liwska

     Lucy, a young fox, just got a brand-new red wagon and she's dying to play with it.  Her mother tells her that she can take the wagon to the market to do some grocery shopping.  Lucy is less than thrilled with the idea of running errands with the wagon instead of playing with it, but she goes anyway.  She has treacherous trip to the market, with rain, crashes, spills, and repairs. And at the end of trip, she's exhausted and finally free to play with her wagon. Unfortunately, she's so tired she cuddles up with a book inside her wagon and falls asleep.
     The magic of Red Wagon lies in the way Liwska's beautiful illustrations (she also illustrated the gorgeous The Quiet Book) complement and add to the story.  While the text seems to tell a straight forward tale of Lucy's journey to the market and back, the illustrations show the imaginative world of Lucy and her friends.  When the rain starts coming down hard, the illustrations show Lucy and her friends riding the wagon, which has turned into a boat, sailing over huge waves and encountering pirates.  During the long walk to the market, we see the little red wagon turn into a gold rush covered wagon, a circus trailer, a train, and even a rocket ship.  There is a great contrast between the simple text and the detailed illustrations that portrait Lucy's playful imagination.  Red Wagon is beautiful and will appeal to young ones that delight in imaginative play.   

Nov 1, 2011

Snowmen All Year

Snowmen All Year by Caralyn Buehner
Illustrated by Mark Buehner

     There is something heartbreaking about snowmen.  You spend hours working on making the perfect one, packing the snow just right, and decorating it. And then, a couple of days later, it has melted away; your labor of love has vanished.  What if the last one you built where magic and could stay around all year and never melt?  That's what the boy narrator wonders about in Snowmen All Year.
     Written in rhyme, the boy imagines all the things he would do and all the places he would visit with his magic snowman.  They could fly kites together, visit the zoo, enjoy the fireworks during the 4th of July, ride roller-coasters  play chess during rainy days, even dive and swim in the pool during on a sunny summer day and go trick or treating during Halloween.  As the boy sits on a snowy patch of his yard with his latest snowman creation behind him, he hopes "this snowman will be the one to stay with me all year!"  In the last page his dream seems to come true.
     Snowmen All Year is a companion book to the two previous Snowmen Books: Snowmen at Night and Snowmen at Christmas.  The illustrations are bright and colorful.  The illustrator offers a challenge on the title page: to find two ducks, a rabbit, a T-Rex, a cat, and at least one hidden snowmen in each painting. Looking for them in each page was a lot of fun.  A winter book for all season.