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Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Summer Supper, written by Rubin Pfeffer and illustrated by Mike Austin. Random House, 2018. $23.99 ages 2 and up

"Sprout ...
shoot ...
stalk.

Scarecrow
SURPRISE!

Snip, snip, snip.

Sample. Sell."

When I picked up this week's vegetables at the farmer's market on Friday I was taken aback to think there are only two more chances to get the fresh food I so crave throughout the summer months. Nothing tastes quite as good as fresh vegetables week after week; nothing we buy in the fall and winter can match the tastes of summer. So, I was very happy to see this new book about the farm-to-table growing season.

I have asked myself previously, (most notably when I read Watch William Walk  by Ann Jonas), how authors settle on creating a text that uses the same consonant to begin each written word. It seems an onerous task. Do they make a list of words that pertain to the subject and go for it? Do they imagine scenes and find the just-right word to describe them?  Do they assign themselves such a task to see where it might go? Summer Sweetness? Summer Scenes? Summer Surprises?

However it was decided, in his debut picture book for our youngest readers Rubin Pfeffer has penned a charming look at growing, harvesting and selling the food that goes from the farm to our table. It begins with soil and seeds, moves forward through every phase of growing, harvesting, selling and finally, preparing food for the family. 

The words are as important as the artwork in helping little ones understand the full cycle of producing the real foods that grace our tables. Using only words that begin with the letter 's', the author cleverly connects one part of the process to the next. Words in large font are placed on banners at the bottom of each spread, encouraging children to quickly pick up the clues that will help them read the text independently. It is such fun to read, and to observe each step along the way.  The graphic digitally collaged double page spreads are filled with bright color, quiet action and many small stories to tell as the book is shared.

You will definitely read it more than once!

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Outlaw, written and illustrated by Nancy Vo. Groundwood Books, 2018. $17.95 ages 6 and up

"Children were warned,
"Be good or else the Outlaw
will get you!"

Then, one day, the Outlaw
stopped coming into town
entirely.
Everyone was relieved.
Everyone believed that he was as
good as gone.

Many seasons passed ... "

It is quite extraordinary the impact that one person can have! In a small town in the Old West, the Outlaw has such power. They had all heard the rumors and knew what he had done. His reputation caused them to live in trepidation of what he might do. Villagers boarded up businesses, children were given dire warnings, and the relief was palpable when he no longer came to town.

When a stranger rides into town after much time has passed, the town itself has changed.

"The town was a shadow of
itself and in need of repair.
Deftly, decisively, the stranger
went to work.
First he built a water trough
in front of the inn where he
was staying."

He went about doing good work every day ... until someone recognized him as 'the outlaw.' Despite all he had done, memories of his past came to the fore and he was treated miserably by many. Leave it to a child to take the adults to task, reminding them that the man was doing his best to improve things. Some were willing to hear the child; others were not.

Was the outlaw willing to stay? What do you think?

Using essential text to tell this story of redemption makes it all the more powerful. The ink and watercolor artwork conveys emotion at every turn of the page, and provides context for young readers. The simplicity of the stark scenes allows all readers to know about time and place. As dramatic and unconventional as this is for young readers, it is an exceptional book.
                                                                       



Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Cardboard Kingdom, by Chad Sell. Alfred A. Knopf, Penguin Random House, 2018. $27.99 ages 9 and up

"What are you thinking? 
Why would you wear
something like that? 

This is my lab gear, Dad!
I don't understand! 

That THING! 
The MUSTACHE!

What!? This? It's just ... "

On a recent road trip, my brother and I talked a lot about our old neighborhood and how lucky we were to spend our childhood there. We were always outside, with friends galore. Our next door neighbor built a rink at the side of their house every winter and we spent endless hours skating there. Only one family had a television set in the late 1950s, and it was put out on the lawn each Friday so all the kids from the neighborhood could watch for a while. Talking about it sparked wonderful memories for the two of us!

The Cardboard Kingdom is the story of a pretty special neighborhood, too. The children who live there build costumes that allow them to be whoever they want to be ... new personalities with extraordinary powers! It begins with masks and three kids; then moves on to others from diverse backgrounds and cultures. They are characters who deal with complications in their homes, with gender roles, and with their peers. They are kind and tender, ruthless, struggling with identity, and dealing with expectations from beyond themselves. They each have a chance to tell their own story, expressing feelings good and bad.

Their imaginations carry them through countless adventures. The reality is not always as they would like it to be. They persevere, support each other, find joy in their friendships, and pretend, pretend, pretend. Hooray for the cardboard box and all it brings to imaginative play! Meet new characters? You bet they will, and  your readers will be delighted to meet each and every one of them.

Chad Sell and 10 friends worked together on these tales to create a cohesive and outstanding collection of linked stories that celebrate the differences inherent in a diverse group of children from varied backgrounds. His artwork is filled with striking color, expressive characters, and relatable scenes. Impressive in style and action-filled, this is sure to attract new fans to the graphic novel.

A quick introduction to each of the writers offers a chance to see who they are and to check out other work done by them. Be sure to add this book to your classroom collection. 

Saturday, September 15, 2018

In-Between Things, written and illustrated by Priscilla Tey. Candlewick Press, Penguin Random House. 2018. $22.99 ages 3 and up

"If you travel outside
and then back in once more,
an in-between thing
you will need is a door.
Doors take you through walls
separating kitchens from halls,
and you from
that pie filled with
scrumptious meatballs.
In-between things can
transport you somewhere,
take you to places ... "

Priscilla Tey explains the meaning of in-between right at the beginning: “An in-between thing is a thing in the middle.” Then, in engaging and detailed artwork, she has a furry feline and a seemingly disgruntled canine lead readers from page to page as she explains just what in-between looks like.

"The dog is between 
the floor and the cat
(and does not enjoy being
in the middle like that!)"

The fact that said cat is on his back might be the problem. Shrewd in its presentation of a concept that can be difficult to explain, Ms. Tey shows her target audience the many ways the word can be used. There is humor in the presentation which uses bright colors, familiar scenes and many little 'stories' to bring clear understanding. All occur right where the two live. I am impressed with the mood created by the new ideas that pop up constantly. Kids are encouraged to look closely at every inch of the double page spreads, ensuring talk about all that is going on there.

"If you build a fort and fill it with light,
it will separate you from the monsters at night."

How cool an idea is that for little ones? A flashlight fills the blanket fort with warmth, while sad monster-like creatures pout in the surrounding darkness. They learn about the combinations created when you put a skirt and a pair of shorts together, or a spoon and a fork. Between the two, they make something brand new! So much fun, and definitely encouragement to let the imagination soar when considering other prepositions ... on, in, off, over, under. What are the possibilities? 

The rhyming text works, the fun is much appreciated, and the learning goes on and on! Young kids will need a discerning eye and a patient reader to find all the many ways that 'between' can be used to help describe their world. 
                                                                         


Friday, September 14, 2018

The Parker Inheritance, written by Varian Johnson. Scholastic, 2018. $22.99 ages 9 and up

"Well, I'm telling you now. Not that Reggie had any better chance than you. Dub's not about to let his daughter date some high-yellow poor kid from Vista Heights. Boy doesn't even know who his daddy is." He checked his watch. "I'll be home late. It might take a while to convince Reggie to come back." "Why can't you just call him?" Chip asked as they exited the stands. He didn't want his father talking to that boy. His ... rival."

WOW! I just finished reading this mysterious, thought-provoking book early this morning, and am anxious to pass it on to a friend so that he can read it, too. I know he will like it as much as I do. It is a story about family, pride, grief, longing, bullying, racism and abiding friendship. So, what's not to like about that? It would be an excellent read for all middle grade classrooms, providing opportunity for deep thought and engaging conversation.

Candice is sure that her summer is ruined when she and her mother move into her grandmother's house in Lambert, South Carolina. They will be there while their home in Atlanta is being renovated. She could have stayed with her father in his apartment. She could have been with her friends enjoying the many plans they had made for summer fun. Instead, she is in Lambert, wandering around her grandmother's house which has been rented out since her death two years ago. When she finds a letter addressed to her among her grandmother's belongings, things change!

She learns that her grandmother, Abigail Caldwell, was at the center of a scandal. As city manager, and without permission from the powers that be, she had ordered city workers to dig up the tennis courts at Vickers Park in search of treasure. Nothing was found. Ordered to destroy all research she had done concerning the contents of the letter, she was dismissed from her job. She kept only the letter itself and had left it to her granddaughter, knowing how much she loved puzzles and in hopes she would 'follow the path' and find the $40 million herself.

Suddenly, summer seems so much more intriguing. Enlisting the help of Brandon, the boy who lives across the street, the two embark on a search that reveals much about the city, its history of racial intolerance, and the violence that led the Washington family and Reggie Bradley to leave town and never come back. The two young African American friends find themselves drawn in to a history lesson from the past, and an understanding of the experiences that are still playing out today. The clues are all there; it is a long, winding and eventful search that will keep readers guessing from start to finish. They may never solve the mystery themselves. The ride is definitely worth it!

The characters are worthy and credible, the plot moves seamlessly from past to present and makes the connections needed to serve the story well.  I love the link to The Westing Game, Brandon's favorite book. Those who love puzzles and mystery will find it fascinating. Reading it to the class might just win other such books new fans!

You might want to have The Westing Game (Raskin), Chasing Vermeer (Balliett), and Holes (Sachar) at the ready.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Rough Patch, written and illustrated by Brian Lies. Greenwillow Books, Harper. 2018. $21.99 ages 6 and up

"Evan shut himself away
inside.

Without his best friend,
the garden was a bitter
and lonely place.

One morning, he found
himself with a hoe in his
paws."

With anger in his heart and a hoe in his paws, Evan destroys everything he has worked so hard to create. The death of his dog and best friend has caused Evan to withdraw into himself, no longer seeing joy in life or in the garden. He wants it gone. So, it is!

He cares for the weeds that grow there now. His own rough patch in life is matched by the rough patch that grows where beauty once bloomed. He works all of his sadness into the space he creates without his beloved canine companion. It is a desolate place.

Then one day a pumpkin vine pokes its way under the fence and into his heart. He cannot destroy it, although it is his original intention. He lets it flourish; it responds to the attention he affords it. Soon, a large pumpkin makes an appearance. Evan feels excited, once more. He enters the pumpkin in the county fair, and takes time to enjoy the rides, games, food, and to talk with friends and neighbors.

His third place prize is quite the surprise!

Heartbreaking loss and eventual healing are shown with grace and beauty in the exceptional artwork that graces this book's pages. The textures and bold colors grab attention and hold it for the entirety of the story. There is healing after loss; Brian Lies proves that is so in a story listeners will long remember.
                                                                   

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Dreamers, written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales. Neal Porter Books, Holiday House. Penguin Random House. 2018. $24.99 ages 4 and up

"There were so many things
we didn't know.
Unable to understand
and afraid to speak,
we made lots of mistakes.

You and I
became caminantes.

Thousands and thousands of steps
we took around this land,
until the day we found ... "

What a wondrous cover this is! It offers an alluring invitation to open the book and see what's inside. This is Yuyi Morales' story of coming to the United States from Mexico more than twenty years ago. She brought her young son with her, and the two began a new life in San Francisco. It was a brave move for someone who could understand little of the language she heard, knew nothing about her new home, and experienced a terrible homesickness for all that she left behind to make the journey that would change her life completely.

The two became immigrants together. They learned from the mistakes they made. Their journey finally led them to the library ... a place they had never seen. The books on its shelves made all the difference.

"Books became our language.
Books became our home.
Books became our lives.

We learned to read,
to speak,
to write,
and
to make
our voices heard."

What joy and freedom the two found there! 

Her boldly colored, detailed artwork is quite astonishing. The library itself is festooned with books by favorite authors and will be recognizable to many children who read it. Many of our favorite books are placed lovingly on shelves throughout its lovely, welcoming main room. Images from her Mexican heritage are evident and add context and beauty.

Beautifully told, perfectly presented, it is a book that speaks of the immigrant experience for children of all ages. Back matter includes My Story, and an extensive list of Books That Inspired Me (And Still Do). Exceptional!

If you would like to know more of Yuyi's story and her love for picture books, enjoy this keynote address:

https://youtu.be/HF8Qb6S2RME