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¡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!

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.

US Books in Eastern Europe

I was recently in Belgrade, Serbia and came upon five bookstores on the main pedestrian street. I went into each and every one, of course, and beelined for the children’s and YA area. Here are some photos of books you might recognize – except that they’re written in Serbian.

IMG_1563The Fault in Our Stars!

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Divergent

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Diary of a Wimpy Kid!

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Judy Moody is Caca Faca in Serbian. I love it!

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Roald Dahl is loved worldwide!

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Olivia!

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….And even the Mr. Men books!

I was really pleased to see our children’s literature represented in foreign bookstores. Kids abroad seem keenly interested in our culture and it shows on their bookstore shelves, Pretty cool, I’d say.

Book Expo America!

BEA_logo_starburstBook Expo America (BEA) is an annual book trade show that encompasses every genre, every format, and every author (well, so it seems!). It’s fairly inexpensive to get in but the real costs come in the housing in New York City. Nevertheless, there are some amazing authors there and the publishers give away free books and you have the opportunity to get them signed by the authors and illustrators. As always, I make note of who is going to be signing and when and then I set off to see who I can see. Some authors I am interested in seeing (literally, like Scott McGillivray from HGTV) but only from afar. Others I want to see but there are so many authors and so many autographing lines that you just don’t get to everyone. You leave exhausted and laden down with books but happy as a clam. It really is hog heaven for book lovers. There are some authors I just have to see like Jarrett Krosoczka and Jon Scieszka who I’ll go see any time. 🙂

This year I am particularly interested in picking up the new Jack Gantos which happens to be another book in the Joey Pigza series called The Key that Swallowed Joey Pigza. You gotta love that title.

9780374300838_p0_v1_s600 Another is Eugene Yelchin who won the Newbery Honor for Breaking Stalin’s Nose. I just read his new book which I thought was fantastic called Arcady’s Goal. It is set in Russia and the story revolves around an orphan (the State killed his parents) who plays soccer and sees it as a way out of the situation he is in. Really, really good. There are no images available yet online so I am putting his Newbery Honor winner there to remind us of how good his work is.

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Jacqueline Woodson is coming out with a memoir called Brown Girl Dreaming – I believe it comes out in August. She’ll be there signing and that’s a must have. I just read it this weekend and it is incredible. It’s told in verse and let me tell you, this verse is exquisite. The memoir follows her from birth to young adulthood and the scope is perfect. You certainly don’t want the book to end but, as I said, the scope imperfect. It’s funny – some things resonated with me and I chuckled as I read them. One was a refrain her mother and grandmother used with her and her siblings when they were warning them to behave. “You know better than that!” If I heard that once, I heard it a thousand times growing up. So our lives had some parallels in some ways but they were so different in many other ways. Growing up black in the South in the 1960s was a world all its own. I am grateful to Jackie for giving us an insight into a world I can only imagine.

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Raina Telgemeir has a new graphic novel coming called Sisters and it’s as good as her two previous Smile and Drama. As with those, this comes from her own life and does a great job of showing the ins and outs of having a sister. I really enjoyed it. It comes out in August.

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Two authors I love have teamed up on a book together: Lane Smith and Bob Shea. Both have serious funny bones so I can’t wait to see what they have come up with. The picture book is called Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toad. Shea wrote and Smith illustrated. I have yet to see it so I am eager to track the two of them down at BEA. Here’s a bit of art from the book. Way cool!

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I will post from the show but, for now, it’s Happy Trails!

Holocaust Literature for Children


I spent Thursday afternoon viewing the new exhibit at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. It’s strange, I had a wonderfully productive day there learning more about the Holocaust but you can’t say you had a great time, can you? What you see is so horrific, the depths humans sunk to in treating their fellow human beings so low, and the senseless loss of life…. you don’t “enjoy” it. But you learn, you know, you bear witness. The new exhibit is “Some Were Neighbors: Collaboration & Complicity in the Holocaust” which focuses on the plight of the Jews at the hands of their friends and neighbors who turned them in to the Nazis for a variety of reasons: fear, greed, personal gain. It really was astonishing. As always, though, the Holocaust Museum creates these exhibits with such control and taste that you can bear seeing it. And see it you must.

 

I went to the gift shop to see what kinds of things such a place would sell. I visited Auschwitz in Poland a few years ago and was surprised to see a gift shop there. “Gift shop” was a misnomer – it was a book shop and they had an incredible array of books written by scholars, survivors, and historians. It was amazing. In the Holocaust Museum in D.C. they had loads of books as well. As always I end up in the children’s and young adult section and I was particularly interested in seeing what they carried. They had books like Snow Treasure (McSwigan), Number the Stars (Lowry), Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust (Bunting), The Number on My Grandfather’s Arm (Adler) and many, many more. A novel I had yet to read was The Last Train: A Holocaust Story by Rona Arato (Owlkids, 2013) so I picked up a copy while I was there. I also saw a brand new graphic novel called Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust which I had just read the previous evening.

The next morning I sat outside and read The Last Train which was wonderful. It is told by the wife of a Holocaust survivor, Paul,  who was arrested in Hungary at age 5 with his mother and older brother and sent to a work camp where they helped raise food on a farm. Their father had already been arrested and taken away and they had no idea where he was or if he was alive. The story tells of their time in the camp and although it was awful, it was not as bad as some of the more notorious camps like Auschwitz. When the crops were in the family was sent to Bergen-Belsen where they stayed until the war was ending. The Nazis, as we know, transported prisoners in empty boxcars with no light, water, toilets, or food for day after day. When the cars were opened many were dead and all were traumatized. Imagine being 5 years-old and experiencing that. When the Nazis knew their defeat was imminent they loaded up as many Jews as they could and took them away from the camps in these death trains. There were stories of death marches and of trains taking them to death chambers. In Paul’s case, they were loaded on the last train from Bergen Belsen and spent four late winter days traveling through Germany before the Nazis abandoned them. It was there that the US Army found them and freed them. The story is remarkable especially because the whole family survived the Holocaust – even their father. This whole story was told because a teacher in Upstate New York did a project with his students about the Holocaust and, while doing so, posted a picture of one of the trains. Paul’s son saw it online and sent it to his mother to show his him. Paul recognized the train as the very one he had traveled on. He decided to be in touch with this teacher which led to a reunion of Paul and other survivors of the train as well as the two Army soldiers he remembered from their rescue. I have read a lot of Holocaust literature for children but I had never read one about the death trains. It was very compelling and, in the end, pretty inspirational. This book is for children ages 9-13 although School Library Journal suggest grades 7 and up. I thought 9-13 was appropriate.

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When I finished The Last Train I returned to Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust (Dauvillier, Lizano & Salsedo, First Second, 2014) for another look. On my first read I was a little confused as to place and time but upon a second reading I realized it’s because I am not as adept at reading graphic novels as kids are. I read it carefully this time and came away with a deep respect for the book. This is the story of an old woman who lives with her son’s family. Her granddaughter finds her crying softly one night and Dounia, the grandmother, tells her the cause of her sadness – the story of her family’s escape from the Nazis. Actually, it was a nice contrast after seeing the “Some Were Neighbors” exhibit at the museum. In this case, Dounia’s family was helped by incredibly brave people in the resistance who put their lives on the line to help the Jews because they knew it was the right thing to do. The book is set in Paris in 1942 when the Nazis took control of France. The same pattern that the Nazis used in Germany was used again here. Jews were ostracized, made to wear the Star of David on their clothes, were turned away from school, and their shops were closed. Dounia’s father is arrested and taken away first and before long her mother is as well. But her mother placed Dounia in a cupboard with a secret cubbyhole as the Gestapo came bursting in. Their downstair’s neighbor looked for Dounia after the Gestapo left, found the child, and took her to live with her and her husband. That family ultimately decides to flee Paris because hiding a Jewish child in Paris was very hard to do. The girl and her new “mother” manage to get away safely but the husband has disappeared. Dounia loses her mother and father and now has to adjust to her new situation living on a farm in the countryside. Dounia is eventually reunited with her mother but her father is lost forever. If you look carefully at the art (which you really are supposed to do with graphic novels!) you can see that the palette is darker as Dounia reminisces with her granddaughter about that dark time and the lighter palette takes place during WWII. The story is terrific and the art is wonderful. This is a great addition to the corpus of Holocaust literature for children. Some reviewers say grades 3-6, others say ages 9-13. I thin it can fit into a elementary as well as a middle school.

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I will finish up by telling you about a book that came out in 2000 called Forging Freedom that remains one of my favorites. It was written and illustrated by Hudson Talbott and based on the true story of a Dutch resistance fighter named Jaap Penraat. When the Nazis occupied Amsterdam, Jaap was a young man and he couldn’t understand the rampant anti-semitism he was seeing. Rather than stand by and let Jews go to their deaths he decided to make use of his father’s printing press and created false documents to spirit Jews out of the country. Jaap ended up saving the lives of over 400 people. Can you imagine? Hudson lives in upstate New York near Jaap Penraat. Jaap never told anyone about what he did during the war because he felt it was no big deal – he did what anyone else would have done. Hudson was listening to NPR one day when he heard his neighbor, Jaap, being interviewed because he had just been added to the wall of “The Righteous Among Nations” at the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, Yad Vashem. Hudson couldn’t believe his ears! This unassuming gentleman he knew was a freedom fighter!  Naturally, this led to their collaboration and the creation of Forging Freedom. 

I had the great pleasure of spending time with Hudson and Jaap when I brought them to the Virginia State Reading Association to present. They made their presentation and people were stunned by their talk. Here we were meeting someone who did the right thing at the risk of his own life and saved over 400 lives! It was remarkable.  It really was an honor I’ll never forget. I told Jaap that I used to read The Lily Cupboard by Shulamith Levy Oppenheim to my 4th and 5th graders which deals with a Dutch family hiding a young Jewish girl. I told him that I told the kids that I hoped I would do the right thing if I were ever put to that test but you never know until you find yourself in that situation. He said simply and surely, “You would do the right thing.” He said that not because he knew that I would but that he assumed everyone would do the right thing. His moral code demanded he work to save those lives and he assumed we all had that same code. I hope he was right. Check out the book – it’s a story that needed to be told and I am so grateful Hudson brought that story to life. Jaap Penraat is gone now but his story lives on.

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Finally, I would like to direct you to an annotated bibliography on books for children that relate to the Holocaust. I used to keep a bibliography going but the task was formidable and ever-changing. I no longer need to do it because the Holocaust Museum has this one which is more comprehensive than mine ever was. Click on the link below for a fabulous list so that you can choose books knowledgeably for the children in your classes.

http://www.ushmm.org/research/research-in-collections/search-the-collections/bibliography/childrens-books

The Pilot and the Little Prince: The Life of Antoine De Saint-Exupery by Peter Sis

Peter Sis is a phenomenal storyteller whose brilliance in illustration is even stronger. Forget that he won the McArthur Fellowship (also known as the McArthur Genius award) and won the 2012 Hans Christian Andersen Award for Illustration. The Hans Christian Andersen award is for an author or illustrator who has made a lasting contribution to children’s literature and it is the highest international children’s book award. He has won numerous Caldecott Honors including one for The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain when I was serving on the Caldecott committee (2008).

The latest book is marvelous in its detail, its scope, and the magnificent art throughout. I think this may be his best work yet. It really is a book to lose oneself in. How do you even begin to tell the story of the creator of the Little Prince? What we find is that De Saint-Exupery was obsessed about everything to do with planes. As a child he hung out at an airfield in his home near Lyon, France. When he was old enough he began working for a company that delivered mail – air mail! He was a reconnaissance pilot at the start of WWII but left France when it looked like all hope was lost in France. He moved to New York and it was there that he wrote the book he is most famous for – The Little Prince.

Each page is meticulously drawn with the running text at the bottom of each page. Readers can choose to read only those bits and they would get a solid story. But what delights they would miss if they did! Each of the pages has a number of smaller drawings that make up the whole and each of these contains interesting facts about the author. This is a book to pore over, put down, and then do it all again and again. 9780374380694_p0_v1_s600

I can’t recommend this book any more highly. It is a perfect picture book with the exquisite balance of text and illustration. The Pilot and the Little Prince comes out on May 27th. Take a look – you won’t be able to put it down. It may just lure you into reading The Little Prince once again.

 

PhotoPlay! Doodle. Design. Draw. by M.J.Bronstein

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I received this book in the mail from Chronicle Books the other day and sat down with it to see what it was. It didn’t scream “children’s book” to me but Chronicle publishes such interesting and innovative books that I had to take a look. I was immediately taken with the book. It contains photographs that are captioned in an open-ended way that makes you imagine a story to go with it almost immediately. Think The Mysteries of Harris Burdick and you’ll be on the right track. I thought it was very intriguing so I brought it to class today and shared it with my students. These students are graduating in just a couple of weeks and will officially be teachers. I’m proud of them – they’re going to rock the classroom! They went nuts for this book! I was really tickled they loved it so much. They think like teachers and they thought that a) the photography was awesome, and b) each of them would make fantastic writing prompts for the kids they will soon teach. I think I just sold 24 copies for Chronicle! Take a look at this book if you are looking for ways to get kids writing or if you want to set your own imagination free. It’s a treat. Go to the following URL to see actual downloadable pages from the book:

http://www.chroniclebooks.com/landing-pages/pdfs/photoplay-chronicle-books.pdf

Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson

Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson

MANDELA BY KADIR NELSON (HarperCollins, 2013)

This picture book biography highlights the life of Mandela from his childhood through to his election as President of South Africa including the 27-1/2 years he spent imprisoned for his political beliefs. It focuses on Mandela’s sense of the injustice of Apartheid and his compulsion to speak out against it. This picture book is a great introduction to a famous and important statesman for young readers. It goes without saying that Kadir Nelson’s art work is striking.

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