Total Pageviews

Thursday, October 30, 2014

IVAN:The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla, written by Katherine Applegate and illustrated by G. Brian Karas. Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Thomas Allen & Son, 2014. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"The one thing Ivan didn't
need to learn was how to eat.

The more he ate,
the more he grew.

The more he grew, the less
he could live a human life
in a human house."

First, let me tell you that I have loved The One and Only Ivan from the first time I read it (and for each of the next five times). I have a few copies left for giving, even after having given a number to both children and adults. It is a story that is remarkably well written, and full of everything you would want in a memorable read. As happens with a story that you have strong feelings about, I was a tad nervous when this book arrived in the mail. I know that Katherine Applegate is a gifted writer. I know that Ivan meant a great deal to her; but, I wondered how she would tell his poignant story in a 32 page illustrated book of nonfiction. I need not have worried one bit!

Ms. Applegate tells Ivan's story with all of the love and honor she showed in her fictional account of  his story. She captures the essence of his character using a third person voice that is well-suited to this nonfiction look at his life. She begins where he began. Born in Africa and raised in a family group of lowland gorillas, Ivan thrived. He learned what his family had to teach him, watching and imitating the older members of his troop. He had no knowledge of humans until:

"Poachers with loud guns
and cruel hands
stole the little gorilla
and another baby."

While Ivan's life was unusual when he first arrived in Tacoma, Washington, he was happy. He learned much about sharing this new reality with his human caregivers. When he grew too big to be kept in their house, he was moved to the mall and for many years he watched people watching him. His life was limited to a cage, and a few distractions.

Eventually, people began to protest his captivity and his life without benefit of family and freedom.
Twenty-seven years after his arrival, Ivan was moved to Atlanta where he was carefully cared for, and slowly assimilated into a more normal life for a grand and gentle silverback.

"In leafy calm,
in gentle arms,
a gorilla's life began

G. Brian Kara creates emotional and telling illustrations to match the changing tone of the story, and to bring Ivan to readers with the many joys and sorrows of his long life. An archival photo of Ivan, and an author's note are included  to give readers a summary of his life story, and to make a plea for more humane treatment of all animals.



Wednesday, October 29, 2014

On the Wing, written by David Elliott and illustrated by Becca Stadtlander. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2014. $19.00 ages 5 and up

"The Japanese Crane

What music do they hear
that makes them flutter so?
It's early spring;
the cranes are dancing,
dancing in the snow."

This is another impressive book of poetry from the talented Mr. Elliott. If you, as I do, appreciate books that teach, awe, and give us mentors to honor and emulate, you are going to read this welcome book more than one time. It is beautifully designed and readers will learn about a wide variety of bird species while it also serves well as a chance to see different poetic forms.

Each bird is carefully rendered in gouache, and placed in a stunning surrounding which adds to the learning being done by young readers. The birds are named in bold print, and then one or more features are presented in the accompanying poem:

"The Cardinal

He's a hotshot
She's a Plain Jane.
But one without
the other...
a song with no refrain."

Perfect for little ones wanting to know more about birds and very entertaining for those who will share it with them. I hope you have seen, or have in your collection his previous books: On The Farm, In The Wild, and In The Sea. Complete your collection of David Elliott's poetry with this often humorous, always engaging book!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

El Deafo, written and illustrated by Cece Bell. Amulet Books, Abrams. 2014. $11.95 ages 8 and up

So, who all's here?
You're the first,
ac-tu-a-lly. But it'll
be Car-rie, Ell-en,
and Miss-y. I can't
be-lieve Miss-y's
com-ing - she is so
The other guests

Fans of graphic novels will not be the only ones who enjoy this new memoir from Cece Bell. Meningitis at 4 causes a loss of her hearing for the young girl. Suddenly deaf, she is scared and she is also confused by her dramatically changed world. Sticking close to her mother for security, Cece is not so sure about the hearing aid that her mother suggests she wear. It straps around her neck, and makes her look funny. Her hearing improves, but it is not perfect!

When she enters first grade, she is given a 'Phonic Ear' which is much better. It is strapped to her chest, and has wires up to her ears. Her teacher wears a microphone to ensure that the first grader is hearing instructions and able to participate in new learning. It is very funny to learn ALL that she hears! The captions that accompany a full-page rendering of the Phonic Ear are many, and funny. Readers will want to stop and enjoy each and every one of them.

When she realizes that her Phonic Ear affords her entrance to the staff room (she can hear everything when her teacher has the transmitter on) and the staff washroom...embarrassing! No one else knows what she can hear and she begins to think of herself as having a superpower...El Deafo is born. She knows exactly when her teacher is returning to the class, and saves the mischief makers from trouble. Those powers come in handy, time and again.


School can be traumatic enough for many children. When you add being deaf, things become even more complicated. Ms. Bell helps her audience see how she often feels ostracized and lonely because of her inability to hear all that is being said. She learns to lip read, and avoids learning sign language (thinking it will make everyone take note of her being deaf). A sleepover with friends is an issue when the lights are out, and she can no longer 'read' what her friends are saying. She only wants to be back home. Her quest is to find a friend who likes her for who she is, not because she lives next door, or is deaf, or for any other reason than they connect and care about the other. It's a tough task, but doable. In the end, Cece finds that 'just right' friend, and is content.
Both funny and poignant, this is a memoir that will give readers pause to think about friendship, and about differences. The terrific color illustrations and the clarity with which the story is told is sure to make this a favorite for many. If you are in a library, you might want to have more than one copy!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Bob's Hungry Ghost, written and illustrated by Genevieve Cote. Tundra Books, 2014. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"Ghosts don't like to
fetch at all. And they
can't actually sit.

"Walking a ghost on
a leash isn't a very
good idea either.
Fluffy can't walk.
BUT he sure can

Well, pets are pets! Bob wants one, and the one he gets happens to be a ghost. Not a lot of people have experience with caring for ghost pets. Bob does his best to provide for its every need, and keep it happy. Named Fluffy, an innocuous and sweet-sounding moniker, doesn't help with the ghost's penchant for ignoring all that Bob wants from his pet.

Fluffy doesn't come, sit or fetch. A leash doesn't work. But, he can fly and he likes to play hide-and-seek. Bob is not too impressed with that little trick. There's not much to do with your ghost then, is there? Fluffy feels boredom setting in. Apparently when ghosts can't find enough to keep them busy, they get hungry. That happens with puppies and kittens, doesn't it? They just may not go to the lengths that Fluffy does.

As Fluffy gets bigger and bigger, Bob's belongings seem to be disappearing. Could it be that Fluffy is devouring them? Bob sets out to solve the problem. His problem solving skills will impress. As well as honing those skills, he also learns an important lesson in caring for a pet.

Rotten Pumpkin: A Rotten Tale in 15 Voices, written by David M. Schwartz and photos by Dwight Kuhn. Creston Books. 2013. $21.50 ages 8 and up

"Some think that mice like me are cute nibbling on a pumpkin, but it's not cute being everybody else's lunch. Weasel, gopher, owl, snake, badger, bobcat, house cat, rat - they all want mouse pie!"

I read about this book last year, and didn't get it in time to share. So, here it is for you now!

It's a great mix of fact and fiction...I call that faction. The pumpkin is happy to be a jack-o-lantern and help the children who come to the door celebrate this exciting time of the year. Following that special night, it is off to the compost bin where a mouse, a squirrel, a slug and even a fly have something to say about how much they enjoy pumpkins. The fly is about as gross as you might assume:

"My keen fly nose smells what I am looking for - dead fish, rotten meat, dog doo - the stinkier, the better! A rotting pumpkin is perfect. I taste with my feet. You're gonna love hearing how I eat. I vomit on the pumpkin flesh. My vomit dissolves pumpkin nutrients so I can lap them up. A delicious, nutritious morning smoothie!"

Again I say....EWWWW!

As the memory of Halloween fades, so does the pumpkin itself.  The molds grow and tell readers what they are and what they do. It is only when the skin has rotted that the sow bug can find sustenance in the rotten flesh. The pumpkin continues to have a voice, despite the changes from that once admired jack-o-lantern:

"Am I still a pumpkin? My top is collapsing, and my skin is a mess of molds. they grow all over each other and right through me, eating my flesh from the outside-in and from the inside-out! Not even winter snows and low temperatures have slowed them down..."
Soon, it is nothing but a 'rotten mess spilling my seeds on the garden soil.' Not good for anything any longer. Or is it?

This is science at its most interesting! David Schwartz gives great descriptions of the whole decomposition process, without lengthy explanation or writing beyond his young audience's understanding. The photographs are visually informative and quite memorable. Watching how the pumpkin's face changes over time might just remind them of other pumpkins from past Halloweens. Now, they know exactly what happened!

 A glossary of terms and useful “Classroom Investigations” are found at the end of the book.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Dog and Bear: Tricks and Treats, written and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger. A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2014. $16.99 ages 4 and up

"I just saw another
bear, and he looks
just like me."

"No way," said Dog.

"It's true. He looks
EXACTLY like me!
Please, Dog, let me
show you."
"Okay, Bear. Show me."

In their fourth book concerning friendship, Dog and Bear are happily preparing for Halloween. In the first of three short chapters, Bear is busily trying on costumes (Dog has already got the perfect one!) when he makes an alarming discovery. There is another bear in his dressing room! And, it looks just like him; it is the same color, does all the same tricks. Calling Dog to the rescue, Bear makes another amazing discovery!

In the second story,  Dog is only too happy to greet the trick-or-treaters at the door. It isn't until Bear notices that their stash of treats is getting bigger, not smaller, that Dog realizes his mistake. Finally, their visitors have come and gone. Dog and Bear are off to collect their own treats, until a ghost stops them in their tracks for not wearing costumes. No costume, no treats! They are more than happy to prove the ghost wrong.

Enormously appealing for all listeners, and for those readers who are just making the move to accessible short stories. It's the perfect size for small hands, colorful, full of expression, and has just the right ending for each of the tales! You'll smile!                                                              

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Brief Thief, written by Michael Escoffier and illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo. Enchanted Lion Books, Publishers Group Canada. 2013. $20.95 ages 3 and up

"They might belong to someone...
But who would come all
the way up here?

And anyway, they're
full of holes.
Leon finishes his business.

Then he throws
the underpants into the bushes
and goes back to his rock."

Leon has caught and eaten his morning 'fly; then nature calls, and he must answer. Once done his business, he cannot find suitable material to wipe his bottom. Leaves and grass are too prickly and messy; what about the underwear that is hanging nearby. Who would leave their briefs (holey ones, at that) hanging on a tree, if they really wanted them? It seems an invitation for a chameleon under stress. He uses them, then tosses them in the nearby bushes.

Done and done, right? You would be remiss to think so. As he strides away, he is cautioned by a faceless voice. The voice explains:

"I'm the little voice
you hear inside your head
whenever you get up
to something naughty."

A conversation ensues, Leon assuring his conscience that he has done nothing wrong...except for the underpants. Leon makes his excuses, and is told in no uncertain terms that he might, in fact, have caused distress for the owner:

"Or that maybe, just maybe, he had washed them
and gone off for a walk in the woods,
while they were hanging out in the sun to dry?'

Oh boy, could his conscience be right? Just in case, he takes direction from 'the voice', and leaves the underwear clean and exactly where he found it.

You, and your listeners, will howl when you learn the source of the voice and the reason for the 'holey' briefs. I guarantee it!

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Iridescence of Birds, written by Patricia MacLachlan and illustrated by Hadley Hooper. Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2014. $19.99 ages 5 and up

"And your mother,
to brighten your days,
Painted plates to hang
on the walls

With pictures of
meadows and trees,
Rivers and birds,

And she let you mix
the colors of paint - "

What a beautiful title for an equally stunning book!

Patricia brings her incomparable gift with words to tell us the story of Henri Matisse, and his childhood dreams. She uses one long sentence that invites her audience to imagine what life might have been like had they been Henri in northern France in the mid-nineteenth century. While his outdoor surroundings were gray and dreary, his mother filled his home with bright colors and an artist's sensibility. Her willingness to let her young son explore the world of color, artistically arrange her market purchases, and care for the colorful pigeons that came to their windows encouraged Henri's inherent gift.

This book celebrates color in our world, finding inspiration in everyday things, and the love of a mother for her gifted son. There is never a doubt in my mind that when Patricia MacLachlan sets out to write a meaningful book, she will do it flawlessly each and every time. The artwork that Hadley Hooper creates using a combination of relief printmaking and digital techniques communicate all that his mother did to inspire Henri's future as an admired and successful artist.

Both author and illustrator add a note in back matter to further describe the artist's life, and to provide information concerning the research that resulted in its amazing images.
 In a recent interview, Hadley Hooper talked about her work:

I looked at every painting of his I could find. What a great luxury! I tried to find fabrics that he may have seen in his hometown, which was a textile town. I looked at the era’s fashion, architecture, even thought about the music he might have listened to. I used Google Maps to knit together the street he grew up on, which really hadn’t changed much, architecturally. For most illustrations, I’ll cut and/or emboss foam and cardboard to make relief prints. I use different transfer techniques and old carbon paper to get interesting line qualities. I’ll scan all the parts in and assemble in Photoshop.

Truly beautiful!