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Monday, November 30, 2009

Trucktown Truckery Rhymes, written by Jon Scieszka. Simon& Schuster, 2009. $19.99 ages 2 and up

"Little Dan Dumper sat on his bumper,
Taking his break for the day.
Along came Pete Loader,
who revved his loud motor,
And frightened Dan Dumper away."

Well, you know where we are going with this, right? All those little ones who don't like rhymes about sheep, eggs, and whatever are going to eat up these rollicking rhymes about dump trucks, monster trucks, cement mixers, name it! They are familiar rhymes with new words and you will have your little ones chanting them in minutes.

It's said that young children who can remember and recite 8 nursery rhymes when they are four years old are likely to be among our best readers when they are eight. Kids need to hear the rhythm of our language from the time they are born to be able to feel it within themselves as they become readers. Often those children who struggle with reading at a later age are also those children who have no internal, or external, ability to hear or reproduce rhyme. Here's a great way to get them involved, learning something new and enjoying books as they are meant to be.

Three artists share the fun...David Shannon, Loren Long and David Gordon. They bring their own sense of fun to the wickedly funny words created by the National Ambassador for Young People's Literaturs in the United States. Jon Scieszka loves language, writing and encouraging children to be the best readers and the most literate they can be. This is a great idea to celebrate the birth of a new child, or for a holiday gift now that the season is upon us.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

WADDLE! Written and designed by Rufus Butler Seder. Workman, Thomas Allen, 2009. $16.95 ages 2 and up

"Can you waddle like a penguin? slip-slide-swoop! Can you hop like a frog? flip-flop-floop!"

Rufus Seder is an animator, intrigued by old world toys. To that end he uses a new technology called Scanimation to create four wonderful books for young children and their parents. Don’t be fooled…it won’t only be the children who go back again and again to watch the magic as animals and children move across each book’s twelve pages. First he gave us Gallop, then Kick, then Swing and now Waddle. This one again uses actions to intrigue and encourage its young readers to move and to look at color in the animals presented. Get ready to waddle, hop, prance, stomp, slither, flap, scamper and leap! And then do it all over again…and again…and again! It will wear you out!

Sylvie, written and illustrated by Jennifer Sattler. Random House, 2009. $17.99 ages 4 and up

"But Sylvie didn't stop there! She thought she'd look yummy in chocolate! She was right!"

Sylvie is not content for the world to remain the same. When one day she looks at her family and notices that they are all the same, she wonders why. Her mother explains that it is the shrimp they eat, and that gets Sylvie to thinking. What might happen if she eats palm leaves, or grapes, or a stripy towel? She is keen to try anything and so, she does. Eventually the eating catches up with her and her tummy, and Sylvie realizes that she doesn't feel well. She doesn't feel like Sylvie at all. She can remedy that!

The illustrations are filled with brilliance from the endpapers to each stunning page. Sylvie is a most endearing flamingo and she runs the gamut of the color palette. In the end, there is a surprise for all and it is delicious!

Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed, written and illustrated by Mo Willems. Hyperion, HB Fenn. 2009. $18.99 ages 5 and up

"There is so much to learn about the fascinating little creatures known as naked mole rats. But, for this story, you only need to know three things: 1. They are a little bit rat. 2. They are a little bit mole. 3. They are all naked."

Not really...Wilbur is not naked, and he doesn't want to be. He marches to the beat of a different drummer and has no desire to be the same as every other naked mole rat. He loves clothes...their versatility and everything else about them. He loves being clothed and he doesn't understand why the rule is no clothes. The other mole rats will not let him be. They finally complain to Grand-pah who looks so noble and capable without clothing. And he makes a startling announcement after hearing the simple question....why not? One mole rat can make a difference!

Mo Willems' humor can be quite absurd; but kids love it and they love his stories. You know the ones who will love this best...any little one who snickers whenever the word 'naked' is said aloud will absolutely be in hysterics with the idea. And what about the rebels in the classroom? There are always those who don't want to be 'the same' as their classmates. They will appreciate Naked Mole Rat's stand against nudity and for being clothed. Take a close look at the characters and see how this talented and humorous artist can use minor changes in line to create new expressions and responses and note all the white space he leaves in order for the reader to focus on what is important to the story. Kids love hearing this and I love reading it!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Retired Kid, written and illustrated by Jon Agee. Hyperion, HB Fenn, 2008. $18.99 ages 5 and up

"It's hard work being a kid. First of all, there's school. Then there's soccer practice, violin class, voice lessons, walking Sparky, babysitting your little sister, not to mention having to eat your vegetables."

That revelation leads Brian to make a momentous decision about his life. He's going to retire. His first eight years have been great but he wants off the merry-go-round!

I have loved Jon Agee’s work since seeing and reading The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau (Farrar, 1990) when sharing great books with my kids at school. The title for this one is attracts an audience immediately and makes us all wonder about a kid who retires. Just reading it the first time was a charming experience but it was in repeated readings that I started to notice all that this accomplished artist has included in his illustrations that enhance his story. Hidden messages abound and you will not be disappointed to look at it again and again. You know just the kid that Jon Agee is describing. He is finding all the expectations made of him are tiring and trying. It's tough to live in his skin. Does he have time for doing what he loves to do? He always seems to be doing what makes others happy.
He makes a choice that he thinks will work for him and off he goes to the retirement home to begin this new phase in his life. He is welcomed with open arms and an array of characters who each have their own particular eccentricities. I'm sure you will recognize some of them. The pace is perfect, changing according to the demands of story and Jon Agee shows, once again, his brilliant strength in choosing the perfect words to tell it. The idea is not new, but fresh. It is worth a very long look.

I think it would be a perfect gift for an overburdened child, or a friend who is retiring.

Harry and Horsie, written by Katie Van Camp and illustrated by Lincoln Agnew. Harper, 2009. $22.50 ages 3 and up

"It was way past bedtime, but Harry wasn't tired. Neither was Horsie.
The moon was keeping them awake. It was shining on the shelf where Harry's brand new Super Duper Bubble Blooper had been put away for the night."

In an opening note Harry’s Dad, David Letterman, relates to readers that is a story about his son and his best friend and an adventure that might be real or imagined. If you know preschoolers you know that they have an amazing ability to put themselves in places that few of us could imagine. They believe in themselves as 'adventurers supreme' and in their personal ability to make their own dreams come to fruition. Harry is one of those dreamers! He and Horsie are meant to be asleep but they just can’t seem to settle. With deft dexterity they manage to get the Bubble Blooper and the fun begins in earnest, and with a little laughter. Problems are solved with speed and success and the knowledge that no matter what befalls them, they are better off together! Aren’t we all? The illustrations intrigue with their feeling of retro cartoon work, the story satisfies and it will be enjoyed again and again.

The North Star, written and illustrated by Peter H Reynolds. Candlewick. Random House, 2009. $18.50 ages 6 and up

"The North Star is a story for all ages. Whether you are beginning a new journey, have decided to alter the direction of your life, or are starting out for the first time, this book is here to encourage you. Take a moment to slow down to a more thoughtful place, to ponder, reflect, imagine, and envision. Take the time to believe in your dreams, to celebrate possibility."

What an invitation! None of us know exactly where life's journey might lead, but we do know that we have choices to make along the way. When the little boy is born and learns to walk, he makes many discoveries as he wanders, naps, wonders and explores. It is not long until a trying-to-be-helpful cat convinces him that he should stick to the path and follow in the footsteps of all those who have gone before him. His journey rolls along for a while and then becomes quite arduous. Whenever he strays, he is reminded to put his feet upon the path once more. It is not until a bird reminds him that it is HIS journey that he looks beyond the path...and finds his own.

This gentle allegorical story is a reminder to each one of us to take the time to determine what we really want in the life we are leading. It offers a hopeful outlook and would be a perfect book for so many occasions...graduation, birth, a marriage, even the death of a loved one. And it is can provide inspiration upon rereading when we are in need of a little lift in spirits. Buy a few copies and have them on hand for those special events.

Be sure to check out The North Star website at

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Dunderheads, written by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by David Roberts. Candlewick, Random House. 2009. $19.00 ages 6 and up

"Never," shrieked Miss Breakbone, "have I been asked to teach such a scraping-together of fiddling, twiddling, time-squandering, mind-wandering, doodling, dozing, don't-knowing dunderheads!"

Oh, this so reminded me of Matilda and other books by Roald Dahl where the young 'uns outsmart their elders. In this particular case, we cheer them on, for who has ever met a more horrid teacher than the tank-sized, mean-mouthed, degrading Miss Breakbone. She hates kids and they hate her. When someone gets in any little tiny bit of trouble, she takes what treasure they carry and vows that these special items will never see the light of day again. The final straw is when she takes the gift that Junkyard has bought for his much loved Mom. She has crossed the line and pushed too far! It is time for the students to take action. And there is much action, believe me. It is an open and shut case of kids versus a much bigger and oh so malicious villain. There is much humor here for young readers and irreverance. It is a perfect story for repeated hilarious readings.

It is great teamwork that makes it work. Einstein is the brainy one...and the leader. Each member of the team has her/his special skill and each is used to its utmost. While Miss Breakbone entertains her party guests, the Dunderheads steathily make their way into her house and retrieve Junkyard's most prized possession from the strongbox. It is every child's fantasy to one-up a despised adult...and here they get to do just that. We all cheer at their ingenuity and their comradeship.

Meet Wheels, Nails, Einstein, Junkyard, Hollywood, Spider, Spitball, Google-Eyes and Clips...each blessed with an ability to outsmart and outplay Miss Breakbone at her own game. What fun!

Scaredy Squirrel at night, written and illustrated by Melanie Watt. Kids Can Press, 2009. $16.95 ages 3 and up

"WARNING! Scaredy Squirrel insists that everyone check under their beds before reading this book."

If your nighttime ritual has never included a book about Scaredy Squirrel, get out your library card and get down to the public library and check him out. The only problem might be the lack of availability. I assume these books are always in someone’s pleased hands! If you have a tendency to be confident and without fear, you may not understand this fidgety squirrel and his many eccentricities. If you are an insomniac with concerns about bad dreams and wee ghosties, you need to meet this guy. He never sleeps and as a result, he suffers much indignation…poor reflexes, confusion, lack of energy. When his horoscope indicates that all of his dreams are about to come true, he panics and outfits himself with everything he might need to ward off his demons. Oh, such fun! If this is your first foray into Scaredy’s world, I assure you it won’t be your last!

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, written by John Boyne. Random House, 2006. $10.99 ages 13 and up

"But when they asked Bruno what his father did he opened his mouth to tell them, then realized he didn't know himself. All he could say was that his father was a man to watch and that the Fury had big things in mind for him. Oh, and that he had a fantastic uniform, too."

Powerfully written and compelling this is a story of two young boys…each in his way naïve to the gravity of the life that surrounds them. ‘The Fury’ gives Bruno’s father a key post in his government and the family very reluctantly moves from Berlin. Although he is not allowed to talk to them, the people in striped pajamas who live behind the fence next door intrigue Bruno. In time, he meets a boy his own age named Shmuel and they become fast friends. They meet secretly near the fence and share secrets and playtime. When Shmuel’s father goes missing, Bruno is quick to make the decision to help him. He dons striped pajamas and climbs under the fence where all of their secret meetings have taken place. It is heartbreaking to know the fate of both boys, and the agonizing heartbreak that results.

In talking about this book with others, I have heard readers say that it is hard to believe that these boys would have no idea what was going on in their own backyard, so to speak. I disagree. I found the story believable, while being appalled by all that was happening. They were young boys, who had no sense of Hitler's power and his venomous path. They were doing what boys do. Sensing vulnerability in each other and the need for a friend, they bonded and became fast friends who shared so much in the lonely and disquieting places they lived. The story will long live in my memory.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Mother Poems, words and pictures by Hope Anita Smith. Henry Holt, HB Fenn, 2009. $18.95

"I’ve got a momma
who loves me through and through,
and can’t nobody love me
like my momma do."

In this heartbreaking and very personal book the voice belongs to a young impressionable girl whose love for her mother and the joy that is their life floats off the page. When her mother dies, she cannot even cry….her hurt is too deep. Her life is forever changed and all she wants is to hold the memories dear and true as she becomes a young woman. She is twelve when her mother goes to sleep one night and does not waken in the morning. No matter how hard she tries to be good, her mother is still gone and she must live with that knowledge. She does so with strength, with her memories and with enduring love that constantly surrounds her. Now, she is able to build a tree of memories, starting at the bottom and reaching toward that one bright shining star.

As the Christmas season approaches and our thoughts turn to family and family traditions, I find myself thinking more about our Mom. When she died, at almost 88 this past year, we were filled with sorrow for our loss but so grateful for her full and joyful life and all the love she shared. It's hard to imagine a life without that! We were so blessed. While our memories keep Nan alive in our hearts and minds, so do the memories of her wonderful mother give this young woman strength to carry on and find joy in the life she lives.

It’s A Snap! Written by Monica Kulling and illustrated by Bill Slavin. Tundra Books, 2009. $19.99 ages 6 and up

"George thought about hobbies. He liked pictures, but he couldn't’t paint. Maybe he could take pictures with a camera instead. It was 1877. Cameras were the size of a microwave oven. And you needed lots of supplies to take a picture. George was fond of making lists. He set out from home to get what he needed:
Glass plates
A plate holder
A tent
A heavy tripod
A thick piece of black cloth
A water jug
And, of course, chemicals!
George left the store loaded with gear. So far his new hobby was hard work!"

I really liked this book! It works so well as an introduction to biography for children with its look at George Eastman and his life..short glimpses at how he lived, what interested him and his passion for learning. The illustrations are true Bill Slavin. They are very appealing to the reader, filled with detail, humor and a look at life lived in the late nineteenth century. While it provides honest and interesting information, it will also encourage children to ask questions that go beyond what is presented and will lead to further research into this man's life, inventions, and interests. When we share similar information books with children we only encourage them to delve deeper. The text is not ponderous, and will not result in attention lapses. While Monica Kulling provides information about a complicated process, the explanation is accessible to her intended audience. It's truly amazing to see how far we have come in the past hundred years or so. I can barely find my camera among all the other paraphernalia in my purse! As we search the shelves for biography for the young, this will be seen as a great example of what is currently available for school and home libraries.

Words to My Life’s Song, written by Ashley Bryan. Simon & Schuster, 2009. $21.99 all ages

"The morning sun jewels the dewdrops on the grass. Walk with me on this Maine island where I now live as I tell my story. Down the road is a sandy beach lined with boathouses. I have a sketch pad in hand."

Although faced with many challenges---the Depression, being black, the army draft and his action on D-Day, Ashley Bryan’s life work has been to find beauty in nature, in his community and past those many obstacles. He lives a life of thankfulness—for the many blessings in his life—the sun, the weather, the beauty of the trees and his ability to share his life with his friends, to borrow books from the library, and to use his gift of art to entertain and inspire others. He is a mentor, an artist and a man to be admired by all who read his books and this accomplished, exceptional autobiography. Full of scenes from his community, his island life and family times.

What an inspiration Ashley Bryan is to the children who will read and share this book! He shows them how to live with joy, to find beauty in their world and to count the blessings that are ours. Along the way, he includes glimpses of his brilliantly colored, joyful artwork. Accompanied by family photos and those taken by Bill McGuinness that show Ashley at home on his peaceful island, we are honored to share his life story.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Weezer changes the world, written and illustrated by David McPhail. Beach Lane, Simon & Schuster, 2009. $19.99 ages 3 and up

"As a puppy, Weezer was perfectly normal. He did all the usual things that puppies do."

He didn't set out to do it but, when events of the world changed Weezer, he, in turn, managed to change the world! We all have the feeling that one person can't do much. Weezer proves us wrong right here and now. He started out doing all the regular things that we expect dogs to do. When lightning strikes, he makes some remarkable changes. People are very impressed. Then lightning strikes again and the world mourns. It's always surprising the promises that are made when death is imminent and the will is strong. Remarkably Weezer recovers and goes back to what is normal behavior. The people of the world...well, that's a different story.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Drum Calls Softly, written by David Bouchard and Shelley Willier. Red Deer Press. 2008. $24.95 ages 5 and up

"Have you danced the round dance yet?
It's always been my favorite one.
My Moosum and my Kokum
Let me dance it to the rising sun.
We set our tipi by the creek
Where Moosum wakes me every day,
When first the sun caresses the earth
And draws us all outside to pray."

As I sit listening to David Bouchard's voice read the story, to the plaintive call of the flute, to the Cree language and to Northern Cree singing and drumming this story of the round dance, I know that it will find a permanent place in many homes and classrooms...deservedly so.

The narrator dances the round dance through a day and night in the company of his grandparents and is forever changed by the experience. As they sit by the creek sharing food and stories, Kokum begins the spiritual journey with a story of talking waters and the changing of the seasons, how babies are born and elders die and of their history. The call to the dance leads to a nearby arena where many dance and share stories to the beat of the drum. As the young dancer succumbs to exhaustion and is lead back to their tipi, he hears a voice telling him that he is changed and he realizes that the stories and the beating of the drum are heartfelt and forever his. Jim Poitras' adds another dimension to this multi-sensory book with his amazing illustrations. The silhouettes of the dancers as they gather for the round dance are accompanied by bright and beautiful backdrops. As the skies change, the colors become even more brilliant. Four full page spreads add depth to the story told. The text is printed on leather-like papers which give warmth to the two languages...English and Cree. The accompanying CD will be very much appreciated as young readers sit to listen on their own.

Shin-Chi's Canoe, written by Nicola Campbell and illustrated by Kim Lave. Groundwood Books, 2008.$18.95 ages 5 and up

"The morning sun was shining so bright, Shi-shi-etko had to squint. She was on her way back to Indian residential school and this year she wasn't alone. Shin-chi, her younger brother, was coming, too."

As the family awaits the cattle truck that will take their children to residential school, they speak about the long year spent apart. Shi-shi-etko and Shin-chi know it will be summer before the family is together again. Shin-chi would like a dugout canoe of his own. On the truck his sister tries to give instructions that will help him cope with the sadness and separation that they are sure to face during the school year. They will not be allowed to speak to each other again until the following summer. Shin-chi has the canoe his father whittled for him, and he holds it close and safe. When finally the sockeye swarm the river the cattle truck returns the children to their home and to their father's special surprise.

In accepting the Canadian Children's Literature Award for most distinguished children's book this year, Nicola Campbell said she wrote it to honor her parents and her elders who endured life in a residential school. She was overwhelmed with emotion at the honor given she and Kim LaFave for their heartbreaking look at this page from our past. While adults will be reminded of the lasting effects that the residential school experience has had on so many, children will see this story as one of love, and promises kept in a family torn apart by a system that was beyond their control. While they could not be together, that love never wavered. This fine book is so deserving of every award bestowed on it and is destined (along with its prequel, Shi-shi-etko, Groundwood) to become a classic in literature for our children.

Follow That Map! Written and illustrated by Scot Ritchie. Kids Can Press, 2009. $16.95 ages 6 and up

"Maps use symbols to help you find important places, such as the hospital, your school or your home. The symbols are explained on a legend or a key."

Max and Ollie are missing! Sally and her friends use a variety of maps and map skills in their search to bring them home. We have a bird's eye view of the frantic search for the beloved pets, and while we tag along we learn much about the lay of the land. Cartoon drawings will hold the interest of the intended audience and sidebars will add information about map features, types of maps and equipment used when following a map's directions. We move beyond the neighborhood to a map of the earth and finally a look at the solar system. In the end all is well, the searchers are safe and sound and Max and Ollie are home again. Then, readers are given a chance to use the information gleaned from their adventure when creating a map of their own. What fun!

Around the World Cookbook, by Abigail Johnson Dodge. DK Publishing. 2008. $21.99 ages 6 and up (with help)

"You're about to learn to cook your way around the globe! In this book, along with lots of great recipes, you'll find a world of information about food, culture, and more."

That being said, everyone who shares this book begins with the basics. First you need to know about the different kinds of pages in the book. If you aren't sure how to do what is suggested in the recipes, you can return to the basics and get all the facts you need to follow through on the instructions. As each chapter begins, you will find a map and a spectacular photo of the country mentioned, its continent and location and some brief information about it. The recipes are clear, step-by-step and accompanied by a clear and close-up look at the food being prepared. You will be surprised at how common some foods are in all areas of the world. The recipes are appealing, well set-out and easy to follow. I have tried many and will continue to do so.

DK Publishing produces consistently wonderful nonfiction for children of all ages. I often use their books in workshops, with children and teachers. Their design and writing are accessible, the content is always appropriate and the wide variety in topic and theme is awesome.

My Secret War Diary, written and illustrated by Marcia Williams. Candlewick, Random House. 2008. $24.00 ages 10 and up


I am still reading parts of this wonderful book, and have been for a long time. Allegedly written by Flossie Albright as a history of the Second World War, it is a sequel to Marcia Williams' earlier book, Charlie's War. Charlie was Flossie's father and his diary told his personal story about WWI. Building on what we learned about Charlie and how his war affected him, we now see how the next great war has some similar effects on his daughter. The detailed, often humorous pages belie the heartbreak and sorrow faced by children whose lives are torn apart when parents must leave them behind in the care of others. Flossie fills the pages with anecdotes, complaints, drawings, cards, souvenirs and other memorabilia. Interested readers will find much to hold their attention and to share as they pore over the pages and return to favorite entries. The author did detailed research to bring us from the early days of the war through to its end in August 1945 and we feel the joy that Flossie feels when Dad comes home. We know full well that her diary has helped Flossie in the struggles that she has faced, the lonlieness and terror she has felt as she waited for him to return and the incomparable joy she now knows at having the family together again.

My Secret War Diary is an excellent example of a mentor text...a text that we can use to help our young students find their voice through writing. Flossie comes to glorious life for us through her entries.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Notebook Connections, written by Aimee Buckner. Pembroke Publishers, 2009. $23.95 grades 3-8

" Hope is what starts as a feeling and a belief, about my students as learners, an grows into reality. It slowly changes from a vision in my mind to experiences in my classroom as we tend to the complicated act of reading with anticipation and joy rather than dread and the threat of a looming test."

I read this well-written and useful book after reading the author’s first book about keeping notebooks to improve student writing. She has continued in the same vein…writing clearly, using student work and her own experiences to help teachers learn more about reading, comprehension strategies and the ways in which we all go about helping our students become lifelong readers and writers. This is surely a goal that we strive toward daily. Through it all she is not afraid to admit that failure often leads to the best discoveries. She candidly shares her daily life in a classroom community. As she writes she shows her thinking on paper and makes great suggestions for teachers wanting to try reader’s notebooks with their students. As she explains, she makes it clear that the choices are yours, and that you must make the decisions that mean the most to you as you search for ways to make thinking deeply about what is being read a part of your students’ everyday experiences. A great starting point on your journey toward your goal – lifetime readers and writers.

Notebook Know-How, written by Aimee Buckner. Pembroke Publishers, 2005. $20.95 grades 3 teachers and up

"It was September in Georgia, which means it was still hot! My fourth-grade students were filing into the classroom with their first writer's notebooks. The assignment: purchase a notebook that "calls to you" - that yearns for your words to be written down in it. If nothing calls and nothing yearns, then just pick one you like. Everyone must have a notebook for writing today."

I love this book! Aimee Buckner’s ideas for launching notebooks with her students made me want to get right out there and get my own writer’s notebook again. Not only does she talk about strategies for launching notebooks, she also shares great ideas for sustaining daily writing. She and her students talk about sharing their lives. This would be a most helpful book for beginning teachers but also for anyone who has ever struggled with how to make writing more meaningful for their students. As in her book about reader’s notebooks, she provides many suggestions and ideas but encourages writers to make them useful in their own unique ways. Highlighted strategies make for easy reviews and help when needed. This is a book that I would recommend highly to all teachers.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Out of Slavery, written by Linda Granfield and illustrated by Janet Wilson. Tundra Books, 2009. $17.99 ages 10 and up

"The dealers kept up with Europe's demand for slaves by kidnapping Africans or by manipulating the local political leaders. Africans were captured during skirmishes; enemies sold one another to the dealers. Yoked together with crude wooden devices, the captives from the inlands of Africa were marched or taken by boat to the coast."

This illustrated biography is an example of some of our finest literature for children. Linda Granfield is a consummate researcher whose books have encouraged and informed her readers with worthy historical stories. The subtitle for this fine book is The Journey to Amazing Grace. It tells John Newton’s story in straightforward text and peppered with compassion for his life’s callings. Raised by a sea captain and an educated mother whose dreams for their son were different, John was eventually able to please both. He went to sea with his father, and became a successful slave trader. Eventually disillusioned with dealing in human life he turned to the church to assuage his turmoil. His ardent fervor for the teachings of the church led him to write many hymns, the most famous being AMAZING GRACE which is still sung throughout the world two hundred years after his death. That would surely please him; but, he would be very disappointed to know that slavery (which he worked so diligently to abolish) remains a world issue.

Coyote’s New Suit, written by Thomas King and illustrated by Johnny Wales. Key Porter Books, 2004. $11.95 ages 5 and up

"The next day Coyote went down to the pond to lie on a rock and admire himself. When he got there, he saw Porcupine swimming laps. And there on a log, neatly folded up, was Porcupine's suit.

'Hmmmmm, ' said Coyote, touching the ends of the quills. 'It's not classy and it's not impressive, but it is quite sporty - and everybody needs a sporty suit from time to time.' And Coyote gathered up Porcupine's suit and scampered home."

A reissue in paperback will bring this funny trickster story to a new audience. I remember with great delight an assembly performance of King’s first coyote story, Coyote Sings to the Moon. The class did a wonderful job and entertained the whole gymnasium as they brought it to life on stage. In this story, Coyote loves his coat, but is easily convinced by Raven that his might not be the best. So, through trickery and pride, Coyote manages to steal the coats of his forest companions. Raven convinces said creatures that they might like to try the clothing that the humans hang on lines for others to take at their leisure, no longer needing them for their own use. You can imagine the anger felt by those who have been burgled and then duped. But, Raven has a plan to get Coyote into even more hot water. And, as is usual, in the end Coyote does not seem to have learned his lesson. Moral…when you want more than you need, be very careful!

Pieces of Georgia, written by Jen Bryant. Knopf, Random House. 2006. $7.99 ages 12 and up

"All this time I thought you and Daddy named me
for the state you were both born and raised in,
but when I looked at those books
and remembered your sketches, I wondered

if maybe you named me Georgia
for the artist who painted flowers and bones
so that you see them fresh,
like they are secret worlds you can lose yourself inside
if the real ones get too bad.

Momma, I am sure
that's the very first thing I'd ask,
if you were here."

Georgia is 13 and motherless. Since her Mom died six years ago things have not been going so well for the family. Georgia and her father have money problems and Georgia is suffering from frequent stomach aches and a lack of interest in school work. These signs of ‘trouble’ make her an At Risk student and she is scheduled to see the school counselor. Mrs. Yocum is understanding and makes a request of Georgia. She wants her to keep a journal of the things that she would like to say to her Mom. If she does that she can skip the regular counseling sessions and just check in every now and then. Georgia is satisfied with the deal and begins a diary/journal. In her journal the wonderful characters who people this book come to life, most particularly her father and her best friend Tiffany. Her father has not dealt with his own grief at the loss of his wife and can do little to help his daughter. Tiffany is bent on always being the best, and gets herself in trouble while seeking that perfection.

Georgia is such an amazing girl, reeling with grief and loss while trying to address her talent as an artist and working to be removed from the dreaded ‘at risk’ list at school. A gift membership to the Brandywine River Museum is just one of the paths that will lead her to better times ahead.

I think that novels in verse can provide a perfect entry to beautifully told stories for young adults. They offer up impeccable word choice, manageable text and stories that shine with well-drawn characters, deftly described settings and believable events…all in books that beg to be read and then read again. I will reread this fine book, and grieve and grow with Georgia. She is quite remarkable!

The Lit Report, written by Sarah Harvey. Orca Books, 2008. $12.95 ags 12 and up

"In early December, Ruth got sick and missed a few days of school. One Friday morning, Peggy called to ask me to bring Ruth's homework over after school. Peggy still doesn't understand that under no circumstances will Ruth do homework on the weekends. But of course I don't argue. I rarely argue with adults. It seems like such a waste of energy. In my view, childhood and adolescence are non-negotiable sentences. There is no appeal process. No time off for good behavior, no parole. You might as well just wait it out.."

Each chapter begins with a quote from one of Julia’s favorite books and provides connections from the books that she reads and loves to her life and how she lives it. When her best friend Ruth goes to a party and makes a mistake, Julia is called upon to help her deal with the unexpected result. Ruth’s pregnancy must be hidden from her very religious parents and so Julia is the only one she can count on for help. Julia takes her role seriously and learns as much as she can about pregnancy and childbirth. She strives to keep Ruth healthy and ready for the huge change the pregnancy has made in her life. When the ideas that she has from her reading do not quite match what is happening in the real world,she and Ruth have a conflict that must eventually be resolved.

There are many layers to this fine story and the writer deals with them to our great relief, while assuring us that these girls are the exception, not the rule, when it comes to strong friendship and love for each other. I know it will find a wide audience and would be an excellent addition to a high school parenting or family life course. The opportunities for further discussion are many…I would love to hear the conversations.

Thumb and the Bad Guys, written by Ken Roberts. Groundwood Books, 2009. $18.95 ages 10 and up

"Susan laughed. 'Movies aren't about real life, Thumb. They exaggerate life.'
'I know. But movie bad guys are sort of good because without them we'd all be bored. I guess I'm wondering if real life can be more exciting when there are bad guys around. I mean, without bad guys, Harry Potter books would be just stories about school.'"

Thumb and his friend Susan want to see if their tiny fishing village also sports the bad guys they see each week at the movies. They decide that they will do the detective work needed to flush them out and rid the village of their kind. To that end they become suspicious of an old grizzled fisherman named Kirk McKenna. He is always sneaking around town and they decide that he will be their subject of discovery. They follow him up a nearby mountain trail and finally find a locked hidden shack behind a waterfall. Imagine their surprise when they realize why Kirk climbs the mountain!

Inadvertently they make another surprising discovery…an old cannonball and a pewter ring. Why are they there? How did they get there? Who owns them? Did explorers visit their beach in earlier times?

There are many discoveries to be made…not the least of which is that honest, hardworking people can become suspect when imaginations run wild and free. As readers we discover real, yet quirky, characters, funny conversation, and two mysteries solved.

There are two previous Thumb books. Check at the library or your local bookstore for Thumb in the Box and Thumb on a Diamond (Groundwood). Then, look for other books by Ken Roberts. You will never be disappointed!

Stickboy, by Shane Koyczan. Published by House of Parlance Media Inc., Vancouver. 2008. $22.50 ages 14 and up

"grandma told me
'young man you can't be concerned
with whatever it is they've got
the only reason they think they're beautiful
is the same reason
they think you're not
and young man
you have beauty beyond measure
you are a treasure entrenched in this earth
you can't let strangers determine your worth
rise and shine'"

Few books that I have read this year will have the same impact as this disquieting book of slam poetry has had. Shane Koyczan has created a cast of characters that will resonate with readers long after they have read his dark and agonizing story of bullying and his unshakable images. There was absolutely no stopping once I started reading. I immediately bought a copy for both of my kids and have recommended it to friends who work in high school libraries and classrooms. It should be a part of the reading in every high school classroom. It sent me to the internet to find out more about the author and then to YouTube to hear him perform. I have chosen to include many of his observations in my own notebook and would love nothing better than to share some of them with you. I hope I have inspired you to see if you can check it out at the library. It is certainly worth your attention!

In one review of this heartbreaking book, the suggestion was made that it should be picked up by Scholastic and made available on a much larger scale because of its readability and the need to share it with high school students and beyond. I agree.

Find Shane on YouTube and hear this young man as he shares his poetry with his fans all over the world. At 30 he has so much more time to refine his craft and be heard.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Little Audrey, written by Ruth White. FSG, Douglas & McIntyre, 2008. $17.50 ages 10 and up

"It is a golden day in May 1948. The air fairly sparkles with sunshine. The sky is hard and glassy like a marble, and the new green of the hills is emerald. I am eleven years old, but in November I will be twelve, which is nearabout grown up. I am in the sixth grade, and I am walking home with Virgil. He is the new boy, just moved here from Kentucky."

So begins Audrey's story. She is the oldest sister of four sisters in a dirt poor mining family, living in a coal camp in the hills of Virginia. Ruth White lived this life and through its telling, in her sister Audrey’s voice, her readers cannot help but be drawn into the harsh times the family has already encountered. In western Virginia life is tough and seeing it through Audrey’s damaged eyes makes it even more unsettling. Their mother is mourning the loss of a long-dead baby, their father finds solace in the bottle, and the children are just trying to make do until a better life is theirs. At once innocent and experienced Audrey draws the reader into the hunger, the fear and the tenderness that is family life for the Whites. There are real people here and they inhabit a real world…gritty and harsh. Ruth White's writing is always intense in its candor, filled with strong, believable characters who find a place in our hearts and don't let go.

granny, written by Anthony Horowitz. Puffin Books, Penguin. 2009. $7.50 ages 10 and up

"Then there were her table manners. Although it's a sad thing to say, Granny's table manners would have made a cannibal sick. She had a large mouth framed by some of the yellowest teeth in the world. These teeth were stumpy and irregular, slanting at odd angles, and actually wobbled in her gums when she laughed. But how hard they worked! Granny would eat at a fantastic rate, shovelling food in with a fork, lubricating it with a quick slurp of water, and then swallowing it with a little sucking noise and a final hiccup. Sitting at the table she would remind you of a cement mixer at a construction site and watching her eat was both fascinating and repulsive at the same time."

While this funny book was published earlier in Britain, this is the first time it has been published in North America. Kids are so caught up in Horowitz’s books about Alex Rider and the The Gatekeepers that they will be searching the shelves for anything else he may have written. Now, you can hand them this hilarious and wicked book about the Granny from ‘HE...double hockey sticks!’ We meet a very unhappy Joe Warden, whose family is rich, whose parents don’t really acknowledge that they have a son, and whose life is confined mainly to the four walls of the family manor. But none of those circumstances compares to his Granny. She looks abhorrent and MEAN must be her middle name. She looks at Joe with a greedy eye and he wonders if she has some special plans for him. He must discover what her intentions for his life are, and then try to prevent her plan from working. Laugh out loud funny, this short novel will appeal to readers who love Roald Dahl and his irreverent stories about a child’s power over pompous adults.

Deer Sylvia, written by Alan Cumyn. Groundwood Books, 2008. $12.95 ages 10 and up

"Deer Sylvia,

By now you know that I haven't sent any letters to you yet even though my birthday was last month. So I am having a hard time. The mail box is not that far away and quiet often I sit down and write to you pages and pages and its easy to seal the onvlopes. But then I think what are you going to think about Sadie's gooey eyes and me and Fillius? ... Also Mom looked at 1 of my letters and said Owen maybe you should use a dikshionarry. So now I have another thing to worry aobut. Sorry, Owen." '

Yippee! Alan Cumyn is back with his third perfect story about Owen Skye and the events that shape his life. We met him in 2002, then again in 2004 and now we are pleased to welcome him back to our reading lives. And always the laughter! Owen was broken-hearted when Sylvia moved away, leaving him the gift of a mound of writing paper to encourage a continued link. The letters he writes to Sylvia are the stuff this wonderful book is made of…and they reflect the voice of a besotted young man whose charm and warmth fill the pages with humor and emotion. Owen is a skilled teller of tales, whose lack of grammatical conventions does nothing to deter the wonder found in the letters he hopes Sylvia will receive and read. Unless you read this book, you will forever wonder what happened to the letters and when you finish you will be asking for MORE!

If this is your first Owen Skye book, do not make it your last. In fact, I would read the first two before enjoying the pleasure that this one is sure to bring. While it is not necessary to do so, it will provide a worthy lead-up to the events portrayed here...and they offer such reading pleasure. Check out The Secret Life of Owen Skye and After Sylvia (both Groundwood, 2002, 2004). You will not be disappointed. Why not get the three for a favorite son, nephew, friend, colleague for Christmas? What a great gift!

The Amazing Life of Birds, discovered by Gary Paulsen. Random House, 2008. $7.99 ages 12 and up

"Lately I've been thinking a lot about the female body. Not in a weird or sick way but not in an artistic or medical way either. These thoughts aren't intentional. And they happen at the strangest times. I'll be sitting there, thinking of almost nothing, maybe about tightening my loose bicycle pedal and there it will be, bang! Stuck in my mind: part of a woman's body."

At twelve, Duane knows puberty is on its way, and that it will attack without much warning and MESS him up. It is unavoidable. Gary Paulsen will have his readers laughing aloud as they journey through the twenty days in the pages of Duane’s puberty journal. In it he describes his dreams, his obsession with ELBOWS (otherwise known as breasts), giant zits and a constantly changing reality, including voice and other body parts. He trips over his own feet, blathers at girls and constantly embarrasses himself while in public. Luckily he can talk to his grandmother, a friend and confidante. Luckily he knows that this, too, shall pass. After all, he is a normal adolescent. Great format, fast pacing and burgeoning sympathy for his plight make this a quick read. As he gains confidence in himself and accepts the inevitable, he also realizes that he will survive, despite his initial doubts. Light and amusing, this novel is a great way to spend a happy evening.

The dedication is worthy of note and much discussion.

'To my son, James, in gratitude.
Having missed my own puberty,
because I lived through it,
watching you go through yours provided
a wealth of research material.
Thank you."

Peace, Locomotion, written by Jacqueline Woodson. Penguin Group (Canada), 2009. $17.50 ages 12 and up

"I think Peace is pretty - like my sister, Lili.
And I think it's nice - like my friend Clyde.
I think if you imagine it, like that
Beatle guy used to sing about>
Then it can happen.
Yeah, I think
Peace Can Happen."

If you are lucky to know the work of this fine author, you may have met Lonnie in an earlier novel and know about his love for his little sister, and the problems that plague his family life. He is finding peace and joy in his new foster home, while still missing Lili, who has been fostered to another family. He makes the decision to be the ‘rememberer’ for her and in doing so, begins a series of letters to tell her what is happening to him and to help them always remember this time in their young lives. It is a memory log for their future. He is happy that they have good homes, but he worries, too. His foster brother is in the army and Lonnie begins to understand peace in a new and different way. Through his letters he also talks about other issues that impact him in persuasive, emotional language. We are blessed to be listeners as Lonnie considers family, loss, love and his new understanding of peace. This is a book that will make an impression on all who read it.

If you have not yet read any of Jacqueline Woodson's remarkable books, don't wait any longer. She has such a way with words and characters. She draws you straight into their lives and holds you there until the final word is read. She gives us pause to look at the world in a different, more empathetic way...remembering that we are all part of a much larger universe.

Ruby Red, written by Linzi Glass. Puffin Canada, 2007. $12.99 ages 12 and up

"It seemed suddenly incredible to me that, just by changing school colours, I became someone else. A chameleon of sorts. I now wore a new skin that would make people look at me in a different way - I was now a Steunmekaar girl in a uniform that got me accepted in their community. And I wondered how I would be treated if I went home with Loretta in my maroon-and-gold English school attire? Was it our colours that opened and closed doors to us?"

Ruby lives a privileged life in Johannesburg. The colour of her skin in apartheid South Africa offers her many opportunities. For others, the reality is very different. Colour closes many doors to them, and to their dreams. Soweto is a far cry from the luxury that is Ruby’s life. There, hate simmers like a steaming pot of soup and anger is palpable. Ruby can’t resist the blue eyes of the Afrikaans boy who steals her heart, but who also causes others to question her sanity. They obviously do not approve of her interest in him. She does not seem to see their differences, but everyone else does. Sad yet hopeful, this well-told story informs us historically and causes us to stop and think. What more can we ask? Much discussion will result when this book is shared with middle and high school students.

This thought-provoking book was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal. Linzi Glass was born in Johannesburg and lived there through her teen years. Her story is told with the authority of someone who knows her subject well and with authenticity and great respect for those who must face adversity because they are different.

Friday, November 20, 2009

What's the Weather Inside? Poems by Karma Wilson and drawings by Barry Blitt. Simon & Schuster, 2009. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"Herb went in the woods one day.
And now Herb is no more.
He came to an end, or so some say,
when he met a herbivore."

Well, I wore out my sticky note pad when I was reading this book. What a riot! There is so much fun in the language that Karma Wilson has chosen to share with her readers. She takes common and much-loved subjects and makes them fodder for her humorous and uplifting ideas. Kids will love to hear what their dog, cat or hamster might be thinking, how babies affect households and siblings, about spelling and big words...there is no end to the subject of study. There are list poems which are a great model for early years students wanting to try some poetry. I could go on and on, but I think you should take a look at this book to make your own discoveries. I can assure you that it will be on my list of poetry books to take and share whenever I am visiting classrooms. And there will be doubt about it.

Absolutely Wild, poems by Dennis Webster and illustrations by Kim Webster Cunningham. David R Godine, 2009. $17.95 ages 4 and up

"A ptarmigan is a beautiful sight.
In summer she's brown; in winter, white.
Though this little bird has a difficult name
She's very proud of it all the same.
So always remember (I'll be emphatic)
The p is silent, as in pneumatic."

The sixteen poems included in this collection are full of fun, and interesting wordplay. They range from short to longer, none being more than 12 lines. The rhyme and rhythm are just what you want to read in a book of poetry for young children. Yet, they offer exemplary form and meter for those studying poetry in hopes of writing some of their own. These original poems were written by father Dennis and are accompanied by lovely hand-colored prints using linoleum blocks, artistically rendered by his daughter, Kim. The borders used to frame many of the illustrations and poems are boldly red and black, with strong design.

The focus is on a variety of animals, birds and a couple of other creatures whose existence is not so much appreciated by many prairie gardeners...the snail and the ant. This is an entertaining read for all and many of the poems are performance perfect!

Jamie and Angus Together, written by Anne Fine and illustrated by Penny Dale. Candlewick, Random House. 2007. $9.95 ages 4 and up

"Bella's coming to play," he warned his favorite soft toy and his very best friend. "Remember Bella?" Angus looked anxious. Perhaps, thought Jamie, he was remembering the time Bella threw him up so high that he hit the ceiling. Or the time Bella squashed his stumpy little legs. Or the time Bella dropped him in the wading pool..."

The same gentle language and perfect harmony between friends are evident in this next set of six stories about Jamie and his best friend, a Highland bull named Angus. There is nothing they would rather do than be together. That is what makes life fun and worth living. Young children love familiar characters as much as accomplished readers do. And in these stories they will find comfort and joy as they share the daily antics of two firm friends. In these new stories Jamie and Angus talk seriously about the perils entailed in a visit with Bella, play pretend, wait patiently when the must be apart, share chores and even consider that they may not need to spend every day together. Are they growing up? Admittedly though, it is more fun when they are together!

The Jamie and Angus Stories, written by Anne Fine and illustrated by Penny Dale. Candlewick, Random House. $22.99 ages 4 and up

"On Christmas morning Jamie opened his present and he and Angus were together properly for the first time. Angus adored his spacious greeny-brown fields. He felt proud and confident behind his fine painted hedges. He admired his pond. And he was very, very happy in his stall. And Jamie was happy, too. He'd waited so long to bury his face in that magnificent silky coat, as smooth as bath water and white as snow."

I hope you are able to find this lovely book for it is a perfect readaloud in early years classrooms or for starting a chapter book tradition in your family. When Jamie first sees Angus sitting in a shop window, he knows he has to have him. There is nothing he wants more. He convinces his Mom that Angus is all he wants for Christmas and it is not too early to buy him, although Christmas is many months away. As he waits for the magic day when they will be together, Jamie prepares diligently for Angus’ arrival. Destined to be inseparable, the two finally connect and so begins their story. In six ‘fine’ chapters, we share the love of family. Gentle, simple, appealing and heartwarming…what more can we ask?

This award-winning book is the first of two that I have read recently and I will share the other with you in the next post. Anne Fine is such a consistently wonderful writer for all readers. I hope that you will check to see the other titles on her extensive and varied list. You might want to look at her website at

Emmaline and the Bunny, written by Katherine Hannigan. Greenwillow, HarperCollins. 2009. $15.99 ages 6 and up

"Emmaline lived on Shipshape Street in a town named Neatasapin. It was a very tidy place. Very tidy people lived in very tidy houses with very tidy yards. Even the babies were tidy, mostly.
Orson Oliphant was Mayor of Neatasapin. He was bulky and bad-tempered."

In this quiet fantasy, with its short chapters and appealing illustrations we meet Emmaline, a young girl who wants a bunny so badly that she cannot imagine her life without it. Unfortunately, Emmaline lives in Neatasapin, a community that has no acceptance for those who do not adhere to the rules set forward for all who live there…tidiness rules, children should be silent and without fault, all houses daily endure a new regimen of spit and polish. Everyone is dominated by the fastidious mayor, Orson Oliphant, and no one contests what has been proclaimed. Emmaline just does not fit that mold. Loneliness is her constant companion as no one wants to march to her different drummer. All the loneliness dissipates when she spots a bunny who claims her love and allegiance. When the bunny is lost, she is distraught. But, she soon finds it again and her love begins to change her parents, and the townspeople. It is the unusual and imaginative language that makes me want to read this story again and to share it in any early years classroom.

A Very Curious Bear, written by Tony Mitton and illustrated by Paul Howard. Random House, 2009. $18.99 ages 3 and up

"Why does the sun come
and light up the day?
To wake you from sleep
so you come out and play."

And so begins a day filled with the endless questions that small ones ask about their world. Do you remember those days? One of my favorites was asked in the middle of the night…Mom, did cavemen talk? Of course I thought his father should have the needed answer. While the unlimited concern for all things intriguing and unknown sometimes made our heads swim, it was and continues to be a rite of passage for children. They are continually curious, noticing things that we have long forgotten to be curious about….the rain, the wind, the stars, running water. This calm and tender walk through the day in punctuated with play and perseverance…Mom always encouraging her young one to ask questions and seek answers. I wonder if we were so obliging? I like to think so.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Spectacular Now, written by Tim Tharp. Knopf, Random House, 2008. $19.99 ages 14 and up

"But the thing is I'll have to sneak out tomorrow night for the party, so I decide a Friday night in the privacy of my room won't be a bad change of pace. After all, I have my TV, my computer, my phone, and my tunes, not to mention my little blue ice chest for my 7Up and whiskies. Basically, I'm all set."

Everyone loves Sutter! He’s the life of the party and the guy everyone wants to be. He livens each event with his spirit and his charm. While he might not be a star student and has no real dream for a fantastic future, he is liked by the ladies and always willing to sing Dean Martin songs and share his Seagram’s. He thinks his life is quite fabulous, thank you very much. He awakens one morning on an unknown front lawn and meets Aimee…for the first time he wants more than a quick romance and he realizes that he can finally really make a difference in her life. This is a book that should be shared with high school students for its serious look at how teenagers rationalize their drinking habits, while losing control of themselves to the influence of alcohol.

Little Klein, written by Anne Ylvisaker. Candlewick, Random House.2007. $7.50 ages 8 and up

"The most disturbing thing about the library was its lack of sound. To boys used to the continuous racket of their own company, the hush of the library was as frightening as a looming pack of boys was to the librarian. Frangrant summer air swirled in when the boys stumbled through the door."

It is not easy to be a little in the land of bigs. Little Klein has great difficulty measuring up to the rowdy rivalry of his band of big, burly brothers. Their mother is not a lot different…always occupied with the life lived in a house full of boys. Little Klein just doesn’t measure up and he often feels ignored and very ‘small’. Then one day he meets up with a stray named LeRoy and life can begin in earnest for the pair. No longer lonely and alone, they set out on a series of adventures, mainly the result of LeRoy’s very inquisitive and persistent nose trouble. There are a bunch of fine characters here and a perfect late 1940s setting for mayhem and even heroism. I loved this book, and I think you will do the same.

Rex Zero, The Great Pretender, written by Tim Wynne-Jones. Groundwood Books, 2009. $12.95 ages 10 and up

"The scariest intro to any show on TV is in The Vise. There's this silhouette of a guy standing in the jaws of a huge vise. The screw is turning, the vise is closing and the guy is waving his arms in the air because he can't move and soon...soon..."

In his third book. Rex continues his journey as a young man learning the ropes and coming of age in Ottawa in the 1960s. This time he is faced with leaving his best friends behind when his family moves and he is slated to go to a new school. Through perseverance and some creative maneuvering Rex manages to stay at his chosen school until a heart to heart talk with his mother following her meeting with Rex’s principal. The jig is up and Rex must transfer to Connaught, the middle school in his area. The move doesn’t end the bullying that started at his old school, Hopewell. Rex finally resorts to extreme measures to get Spew off his back and end the harassment. A chance encounter with Spew and his father has Rex rethinking his motives and actions. There is sweet revenge in the end and we leave Rex and his friends once more, all the while hoping it won’t be long until we meet them again. This is a great series to share with middle school readers. Tim Wynne-Jones has created a character to be admired and followed into his next adventure. A perfect cover illustration by Simon Ng is sure to capture the interest of its target audience.

The Dear One, written by Jacqueline Woodson. speak, Penguin.1991 $9.99 ages 12 and up

"Grandma said if I ever want to remember stuff about anything in the past, then I have to go back as far as I can, reach down as deep as I can, even if all that reaching and remembering hurts sometimes. She said only after I've gathered it all up can I make sense out of it. Grandma told me that if I hold on to stuff, I can tell it to my children and they can grow up stronger."

Can Jacqueline Woodson write books that keep you reading and leave you more aware than you were before you read that book? Indeed, she can. She writes compelling and thought-provoking books that will keep middle grade and young adult (even ‘old’er women) readers listening to the voices of young people dealing with all those issues that young people the world over must face. I started this book last night when I was very tired and I finished its 137 pages in quick order. She makes me forget the world around me and become one with her characters and their lives. They have such authentic voice in the telling of their stories. When Rebecca arrives, fifteen and pregnant, Feni is furious. How dare she disrupt their life? But, life has a way of throwing curveballs and soon Feni finds herself rethinking her position on Rebecca and a strong friendship develops, though not without its difficulties. A great readaloud for middle and senior years classrooms. And, I guarantee you will soon be looking for other books by this fine author.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Yes Day! Written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld. HarperCollins, 2009. $19.99 ages 3 and up

"Today is my FAVORITE day of the year! YES DAY!"

Don’t we all dream of ‘yes!’ days? Can you imagine the joy of every question being answered by a resounding YES!? I wish…

Well, here it happens and we only have to leave it up to an inventive and very bright young man to come up with just the right questions. What fun to let your kids at home and at school add to the already voiced inquiries! The possibilities are endless. It is in such a story that we learn about the marriage of words and pictures in exemplary fiction. While the author unearths the appropriate words to thrill and delight the questioner, the artist provides hilarious results for the repeated answer…yes, yes and again yes! And, do not miss the endpapers that provide their own sly take on the many responses that adults often give to their children’s requests!

Bird Child, written by Nan Forler and illustrated by Francois Thisdale. Tundra Books, 2009. $21.99 ages 5 and up

"One day Eliza's bus made a new stop in front of an old house. It looked as worn and tired as the clothing on the girl who burst through the door and bounded up the steps of the bus."

From birth Eliza’s mother has given her wings to be the best she can be, and to look to the stars for inspiration and guidance. Eliza in intrigued when Lainey boards the bus with her scruffy coat and unruly hair. She sees in her a joy in life that is not blurred by unfortunate circumstance. When Lainey becomes the target of schoolyard bullies, Eliza stands back, believing there is little that she can do to make the situation better. Lainey’s eternal joy is replaced with sadness and disinterest. Eliza’s concern spills forth in a conversation with her mother who helps the young girl see that she has the skills to teach Lainey ‘to fly’. This is a powerful and uplifting story that helps us realize one person can make a difference in the lives of others. Thisdale’s haunting artwork adds just the right touch.

The Big Elephant in the Room, written and illustrated by Lane Smith. Hyperion. Hachette, 2009. $21.99 ages 8 and up

"Is THE BIG ELEPHANT about Tuesday? When I said your clothes were 'interesting"? That was a compliment! You're super stylish! In, you know, an interesting way. "

The 'big elephant in the room' is described as an idiom for an obvious truth that is being ignored or is not addressed. It can also be applied to an obvious problem no one wants to discuss.

So, when one donkey wonders if he and his friend might talk about the big elephant in the room, it sets the other on a journey of guilt and despair over what he has done to create the problem. Can it be that he ate all the crunchy nut ice cream? Well, he had good reason. Is it that he left his friend to deal with a bully all alone? What can the reason be and why is there an elephant in the room? Through clever wordplay and equally clever artwork, Lane Smith creates a story that will have readers come to understand the whole notion of the idiom and how it is used in conversation. And they will engage in the humor that is so evident in this tale of misunderstanding and mayhem. The events described are great fun, and the surprise ending will have them begging for more.

What Elephant? Written and illustrated by Geneviè̀ve Côté. Kids Can Press, 2008. $7.95 ages 5 and up

"His best friend, Pip, shook his head. 'Elephants don't watch TV, and they certainly don't eat chocolate chip cookies. You were probably out in the sun too long. Why don't you go home and get some sleep?' 'Maybe Pip is right,' George said to himself as he slowly walked away."

Sometimes you just can’t believe your eyes! Such is the case in this inventive and imaginative tale of a lost elephant that finds itself taking up residence in George’s house. No one believes it is possible and George begins to doubt himself. But surely that elephant that sleeps in his bed, blows its nose on all of his sheets, overflows the shower and eats all his favorite foods is real! George doesn’t want people to question his integrity so he refuses to admit that he is still seeing the vast visitor. Now, Pip and Maggie can see him but George refuses to acknowledge its presence. When the circus man arrives to claim his beautiful Shiraz, the apologies are freely offered. No one will doubt George again! But…can that be a pink poodle coming through the door? What poodle?

The old adage 'there's an elephant in the room' is discussion worthy following reading this book with older students. It is a real connection to a saying that they may have heard at some time. Be sure to pair it with The Big Elephant in the Room, by Lane Smith (Hyperion, 2009).

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Messing Around on the Monkey Bars, written by Betsy Franco and illus by Jessie Hartlland. Candlewick, Random House, 2009. $22.00 ages 5+

"Time for recess!
Here we are.

messing around
on the monkey bars!

Hand over hand,
fast or slow,

calling to
our friends below.

In these two-voice poems that celebrate school and its many events, children do what children do when they are in school. They make noises, give reports, tap their pencils and swing wild and high on the monkey bars. Each performance-ready poem is accompanied by colorful characters and bright crayon drawings that cover the double page and encourage our full attention to detail. Those drawings are child-like and accompanied by poems to be shared daily, poems that kids will love to learn. The rhythms ache to be read aloud, and the back and forth of two voices or two groups of voices add such interest and fun. The school day is depicted from early morning bus ride to recess, lunch to the return home when the final bell rings.

These poems are sure to appeal to all students and offer up a wide variety of poetic forms and devices that young poets can use to fashion their own attempts at poetry.
They will quickly learn about onomatopoeia, and be able to spout that new word whenever they encounter sound effects in future readings.

Pair this collection with an earlier post, Laura Purdie Salas’s Stampede. Let poetry be part of your reading every day!

When the Horses Ride By, written by Eloise Greenfield and illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist. Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2009. $14.95 ages 5 and up

"Wherever we are,
we search for a place
to be unafraid.
Wherever we are. "

In this book of poignant and heartfelt poems the children of the world, throughout our history, long for peace. They tell of families torn apart by war, of fathers who cannot speak following their time in combat, of grandmothers who must care for children when they are too tired to do so, and of themselves as they hold onto dreams and believe that their world will change someday. But for their bravery and their faith in the future, they could not go on. The poems are perfect to promote discussion and to share as we speak with children about the effect that war and fighting has at home, on the playground and around the world. The illustrations are rendered in multi media images and bring the children of the world into the hearts of those who read this worthwhile book.

Rules of the Game, written by Marjorie Maddox and illustrated by John Sandford. Wordsong, Publishers Group Canada, 2009. $22.95 ages 10 and up

"lets loose the touted torpedo
trekking toward territory
disputed by the batter’s feet. "

In this collection of 38 poems you will find the precision of a ball game as the ins and outs of baseball are explored in a more technical way than most of the books of baseball poetry I have recommended previously. Nonetheless, it makes for great reading and a better understanding for those interested in the way the game works. The author discusses specifics in her poems and the whole package is stretched tight and securely packaged for baseball aficionados. The alliteration is well constructed and the near rhymes add dramatic tone. Use this fine book when you share Paul Janeczko’s That Sweet Diamond (Atheneum, 1998) and Ron Koertge’s Shakespeare Bats Cleanup (Candlewick, 2006).