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Skunk on a String by Thao Lam

When a skunk is spot51-wjQyJ9FL._SY406_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgted among the floats during a parade, panic ensues. After all, skunks are not known for being the life of the party, are they? But poor skunk is not a float – he got caught in the balloon’s string and is unable to steer his balloon. What will happen and who will help him return to earth? This is a wordless picture book so readers have to look carefully at the pictures to get the story. Much of the story is told in skunk’s eyes which make it clear he is not where he intended to be! Skunk eventually saves himself but…wait….what is he up to now? This is a fun “read” for little ones and a great way to get them writing about where their balloon would take them.

Little Penguins by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Christian Robinson

Another gem! Put together two artists with a Newbery and a Caldecott between them and this is what you get…perfection! Five little51udZlcf2VL._SY388_BO1,204,203,200_ penguins look out the window of the igloo and see the first snowflakes starting to fall. Every child knows the thrill that the promise of a real snowstorm brings. The penguins get their boots, their mittens, and matching scarves and off they go to explore. Then it’s back to the house with Mama followed by jammies, cookies, and a sippy – off to bed. Winter has arrived! Rylant’s prose is lovely and evocative and Robinson’s art is splendid in cut paper collage and acrylics. I love the three penguins on the cover forming a perfect triangle – a stable image that readies the reader for the journey ahead. It’s gorgeous! Christian Robinson isn’t yet thirty and he won both Coretta Scott King and Caldecott awards. Watch out for him.

Think about pairing Little Penguins with Pak’s Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn when talking about seasons. They are perfect together.

Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn by Kenard Pak

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I like everything about this book and know that both children and teachers will love it. I was unaware of Pak’s work until someone asked me who created the cover art for Patricia MacLachlan’s newest, The Poet’s Dog. I knew he was an artist to look for. Consisting entirely of double-paged spreads, the story follows a child walking throughout his/her town and saying hello to all the creatures and plant life she encounters. There is always a reply from each thus providing their own particular point of view. Not only does this show children the slow, steady , and inevitable change of the seasons nut what happens to the animals and other living things as the transition occurs. The double-paged spreads are a perfect way of pulling your eye along on the child’s journey. This is one of those books where the art and the story completely dovetail. It’s just gorgeous. It comes out on August 16th just in time for back-to-school when the summer is, in fact, leaving and autumn will be arriving.

¡Olinguito, de la A ala Z! by Lulu Delacre

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This is an extraordinary Alphabet book for all children and is an essential buy for all schools and libraries. It’s an alphabet book but so much more. First of all, it is in Spanish and English and, wonder of wonders, the Spanish comes first. Take that English supremacy!!! 🙂

Second of all, the alphabet is part of a larger story. The creature, the Olinguito, is the most recently identified new mammal in the cloud forest in Ecuador and readers explore the forest with a Lulu Delacre is such a lovely writer and her commitment to sharing her language of origin, Spanish, shines in this book.  I learned so much! As Delacre takes us through the cloud forest she presents the flora and the fauna along the way and then identifies and explains each of them in the back matter. That is an author who cares about the child reader and knows what they will be wondering about.

This is an alphabet book, a bilingual story, a habitat book, a non-fiction book, and it is all beautifully illustrated with graphic paintings and collage. This book has something for absolutely everyone!

A Child’s First Book of Trump

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When I first saw the publisher of this book holding it up for all to see on Facebook I had a very scary moment when I thought perhaps Justin Chanda had gone over to the dark side. Thankfully his feet are fully on the side of the light and this book is priceless. Written by the actor/comedian Michael Ian Black in a Seuss-like rhyme pattern, the Trump is a rare species out in the wild. This book, then, is the field guide to tracking the wild Trump. Of course, it’s not terribly difficult because the Trump will run towards any TV camera he happens to see. This is a hilarious parody. An excerpt:

“The beasty is called an American Trump.

It’s skin is bright orange, its figure is plump;

Its fur so complex, you might get enveloped.

Its hands are, sadly, underdeveloped.”

And just look at that cover illustration – a perfect match for the topic and tone. Remember, this is a parody and, as such, is aimed at adults for the most part. You have got to check it out!

I’m back….finally!

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Here it is July 21st and I am finally getting around to blogging once again. I have been posting about some outstanding books on Facebook but, in the end, I think it is worthwhile opening this blog back up.

If not for anything else than to talk about my extraordinary experience on Newbery. I have posted the winner above followed by the three honors in no particular order. You should read or listen to each and every one of them right away! Interesting that I point out listening because two of the Newbery Honor winners walked away with Odyssey Awards as well! The War That Saved My Life, read by Jayne Entwistle (narrator extraordinaire), won the main award and the multi-voiced Echo won the Honor. Echo stands out for the harmonica music (see below) that flows in and out throughout the book as well as marvelous narrators. Both were absolutely extraordinary!

As you can see, our committee chose a picture book, Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De la Pena, as the Newbery winner. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the book has spectacular art by Christian Robinson either. I have heard some chatter about the appropriateness of a picture book for the Newbery but I should point out that the age range for Newbery consideration is 0-14. That is quite an age span, isn’t it? In addition, picture books have won before. Does that surprise you? Two that come to mind are Show Way by Jacqueline Woodson in 2006 and Nancy Willard for A Visit to William Blake’s Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers in 1982.

And what about that crazy year when The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick won the 2008 Caldecott Award? I think looking outside the box is a good thing. Of course, I served on that committee as well. 🙂

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is an astonishing read (there is no one I have given it to that hasn’t loved it, truth to tell) set during WWII in London during the Blitzkrieg. Ada has a club foot and is unable to leave her flat to go to school or see her little corner of the world up close. Her mother is a nightmare but it is actually the evacuation of children to the countryside that changes the course of Ada’s young life. The road is diffcult, to be sure, but the journey is so worth reading.

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan was amazing as well. It’s also set during the WWII era and focuses on three different children whose lives are altered by the war. Believe it or not, the story connects these characters by a harmonica. Who would have thought it! The harmonica starts off in Germany at the factory where it is made and played by a young boy, Friedrich, living in fear of persecution. It next appears with two boys in an orphanage in Pennsylvania. Mike becomes entranced with the harmonica and hopes it will help him earn money to keep his brother safe. Ivy Lopez moves around a lot in California following the crops that need to be tended to. Ultimately they find themselves caring for a small farm whose owners are incarcerated at a Japanese Internment camp. The interconnectivity of the plot provides cliffhangers that will keep any young reader engaged.

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson is in a category all its own. It’s a coming of age story that follows Astrid as she realizes that she and her best friend are growing apart. Nicole loves ballet and Astrid follows her lead. But when Astrid’s mother takes them to a roller derby match, Astrid is hooked? What happens to the friendship? Can we change and still be friends? Astrid works her rear end off all summer learning roller derby and while she finds that it has its challenges, she loves it. Kudos to the author for not making her the best at it and tying it all up in a bow at the end. All this, by the way, in a graphic novel format. The cover alone sells this novel and the what’s in between the cover dazzles.

Now we are all on to reading the next great books and I already have some great ones to share with you. More soon!

Eye to Eye: How Animals See the World by Steve Jenkins

You’re probably sick of me writing still another great review of a Steve Jenkins book. Well, too bad, I say! This recent book looks at the eyes of creatures we know of (in some cases) but have never looked carefully at. It’s all about using our eyes, isn’t it. As usual, Jenkins uses paper collage to illustrate his strong text and, as usual, I am blown away but how amazing his art is.

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In Eye to Eye, he tells the reader that there are four kinds of eyes at the outset which allows children to put each eye in the book into context. He provides a close up view of the eye on each page but also provides a collaged image of what the whole creature looks like. I love the design of the book – each page is consistent in its design and is appealing throughout. He focuses (no pun intended) on eyes in this book and in a way that is really compelling to children. There is abundant backmatter that scientists-to-be will pore over. It’s that kind of book. I swear you can never go wrong with a Jenkins book and this new one makes my point perfectly.

Blue on Blue by Dianne White, illustrated by Beth Krommes

What first drew me to this book was the cover art. You might remember Krommes’s work from her Caldecott Award-winning book, A House in the Night. It was magnificent and this artwork utilizes the same technique: scratchboard and watercolor. Gorgeous, is it not?

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Caldecott committees aren’t necessarily looking for the best written books (the award is for illustration, after all) yet I can’t think of an award winner that is poorly written. This book is a beautifully poetic story that follows a young girl and her family through a sunny day that turns stormy and rains and rains and rains. The descriptive words will delight teachers who want children to use words with a little more oomph than usual. This is a book where the text and the artwork dovetail completely to create an absolutely stellar book. I keep going back to it just to enjoy the whole package. Indulge yourself.

Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal by Margarita Engle

We have all heard of the Panama Canal and how it made trade from East to West so much easier. It truly opened up the world. What I have never really thought about is how it was created. The canal was finished in August 1914 so think about how it must have been dug. Yep, by hand. And who did the digging? If you guessed people of color you’d be dead right. This marvelous novel in verse is done beautifully by Margarita Engle whose work is always outstanding. She follows Mateo, a Cuban boy barely into his teens, who left Cuba to escape his abusive father. Working on a canal and getting paid for it seemed a great idea. Mateo soon realizes that he signed on for much more than he originally thought. Mountains had to be moved, literally, and men from all over the Caribbean were the ones whose backbreaking work made the dream come alive. It was dangerous, the living conditions abominable, the pay was horrible, and the men were subject to yellow fever and malaria. The amount of men who died over the course of its construction was astounding. Mateo meets a young girl named Anita who knows how to use the herbs in the jungle to help those who are sick. Henry is another man of color who works side by side with Mateo who eventually runs off into the jungle to escape the contract everyone had to sign when they started work. The poems are well-crafted and the language beautiful. This is a story of the divide between dark and light people and the brutality and misery that went into the building of the Panama Canal. It was fascinating reading and a joy the whole way through. It’s perfect for middle school and up.

 

George in the Dark by Madeline Valentine

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I swear, every child is afraid of the dark at some point. I remember starting to  read to my 2nd grade students (years ago now) a book on that very topic. I asked if anyone was afraid of the dark and, to a child, they all said that they weren’t. Really. Really? I told them when I was a kid I was afraid of monsters climbing up into my bed so I was careful every night to make sure my covers weren’t hitting the floor because, of course, that’s how the monsters would arrive. Once I told them that they all started confessing that they were afraid of all kinds of things. It was hilarious. That led to talk about how sometimes we’re afraid of things that we really don’t need to be afraid of. It was awesome. This book, George in the Dark, is about a little boy who hates for the lights to be turned out when it’s time for bed. He imagines all kinds of scary things around him when, in fact, it’s the very same toys he played with that day that only look scary in the shadows. He reaches for his teddy bear and teddy isn’t in the bed. He scans the room and sees teddy all alone in a corner of the room. That’s when George starts getting brave. He wouldn’t want to be all alone in a corner in the dark so he makes a run for it and saves teddy! When he’s safely back in bed with teddy tucked in George starts feeling pretty darn brave after all. Kids will like this one and it provides them a way to talk about fears without feeling like a nincompoop. Try it out. 🙂

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