7.31.2011

A Goal for books4yourkids.com

Books to the ceiling, 
Books to the sky, 
My pile of books is a mile high!
How I love them! How I need them!
I'll have a long beard 
by the time I read them.

Arnold Lobel from Whiskers & Rhymes

Since I have been working with, reading and loving kid's books for much longer than I have been writing about them, my hope when I started this blog was to introduce readers to older books that might not be getting the shelf space and attention at your local bookstores and libraries that the newer books always demand. Despite my lofty ideals, I frequently find myself both starstruck and awestruck by the new books that arrive on the shelves at the bookstore where I work (and on my doorstep when I am fortunate enough to receive review copies.) And, I must admit that my sense of wonder for the new has kept me from reading as much of the old as I had originally intended to. The piles of books in my house are constantly growing, but lately I have noticed that the piles of older books I want to read and review are getting especially large and demanding of my attention. As an avid trader at PaperBackSwap I have been building my library of older titles over the last three years and I cannot ignore these books any longer. So, this is my longwinded way of telling you that I am committing myself to reading ONLY from the pile of books pictured below for at least a month, hopefully two. This will not be easy though. I have seen the fall catalogs for my two favorite publishers of kid's books, Candlewick Press and Amulet Books and I am very excited. Until those new fall books start rolling in, this is what awaits me! 


And, for those of you interested, below is a picture of my bookshelf. While there are bookshelves loaded with books in every room of my home except the bathrooms, this is MY shelf that is overflowing with kid's books, almost all of which I have read. The books piled on the top (aside from the three complete sets of Harry Potter, two US versions, one UK edition) are adult books from the days when I actually used to read more mature works. To the left of the picture is a NEW BOOKSHELF waiting to be assembled by my husband! Hopefully this will be large enough to hold the 150+ books that I still have not read.

Overloaded bookshelf about to get some relief.

 After many hours and shuffling of books, I made them all fit and even managed to tidy it up a bit! Note the new bookshelf on the left, assembled but sagging under the weight. A new bookshelf is going up in my 6 year old son's room that will hold all the books he can read now, all the books he should be able to read by the end of first grade and, the carrot on the stick to keep him developing that reading muscle, all the Harry Potter books. While he has seen the first three movies in the series, we have not allowed him to see the rest so that when he does read the books the story will be quasi-fresh for him.


This groaning new bookshelf holds all the books I want to read and review. Much more than that pile in the picture above and sure to expand. Hope I don't really grow a beard trying to read them all!

7.29.2011

The Chalice of Immortality: Book 3 of The Magickeepers, by Erica Kirov, 174, RL 4


With The Chalice of Immortality, Erica Kirov completes her Magickeepers Trilogy. Book one, The Eternal Hourglass, introduces us to Nick Rostov, a thirteen year old skateboarder living in Las Vegas with his second-rate magician father. Thinking he has a whole summer of skateboarding and playing video games ahead of him, he instead learns that, through his mother who died when he was a baby, he is related to the master magician Damian and the rest of his performing family who reside at the Winter Palace, the grandest hotel in Las Vegas designed to look just like the home of the Russian Tsars that the family is descended from. The family lives on the top floor which is always blanketed in a magical snow that melts long before it reaches the ground. Because the Shadowkeepers, the dark branch of the family tree headed up by Rasputin, are after him, Nick is taken into the fold, despite the fact that his mother broke away from them. Nick meets his cousin, Isabella, who, like all the women in the family has a magical way with animals, as well as many other interesting family members including the ancient but still alive Anastasia Romanov. Magical artifacts and historical figures play a wonderful part in these books and Kirov does a superb job weaving fact and fantasy throughout the stories with flashbacks that reveal that people like Shakespeare and Poe just might have had their creativity bolstered by magic.   In book two, Pyramid of Souls, we find Newton, his fourth Law, PT Barnum and Alexander the Great's stories interwoven with those of Nick and his family as they try to track down a magical pyramid before it falls into the wrong hands. 

The Chalice of Immortality begins in 1921with Harry Houdini arriving at the door of his good friend, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, for a seance lead by none other than Madame B, owner of the Magical Curiosity Shoppe in present day Las Vegas. From there we follow a restless Nick and a his father and grandfather as they take a dangerous trip to Madame B's for some answers about his past. While Nick gets some answers, he and his family are also attacked by the Shadowkeepers and Nick's father is thrown into a near death state. In order to save him the family cancels their shows at the Winter Palace and travels to England in search of the Chalice of Immortality, a magical object created by three ancient Egyptian magicians. When wine is drunk out of the chalice, death is the result. When water is drunk life is returned. In the hands if Shakespeare, this chalice allows the actors in Romeo and Juliet to move the audience to tears and the edge of their seat during the death scene. Nick and his family track the chalice from Shakespeare to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Harry Houdini to Liberace. Putting the pieces together, the group follows the chalice through the life of Howard Hughes and finally Amelia Earhart, all the time pursued by the Shadowkeepers and a final climactic meeting between Nick and Rasputin.

Kirov keeps her story filled with interesting historical figures and a fast paced plot making this a great book for younger readers who are interesting in Harry Potter-type fantasy but not ready for the darker aspects that often come with books of this genre. 

Readers who enjoyed this trilogy might also like RL La Fever's Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist series, which is great for third grade level readers and her Theodosia Throckmorton series for slightly older readers. Both are chock full of mythical beasts, great geographical locations and historical artifacts and art.

7.22.2011

Sidekicks, by Dan Santat, 216 pp, RL 3

Sidekicks by the amazing Dan Santat is awesome!! I was vaguely familiar with Santat's cover illustrations and the few picture books he had done, but it took Mac Barnett's OH NO!, published in 2010, for me to truly tune into his artistic storytelling genius. A wonder of a book, both for text and illustrations, OH NO! was definitely a harbinger of great things to come from both Barnett and Santat. And, here we are, a year later, graced with this vibrant, funny, exciting graphic novel, Sidekicks. If there is anyone in your life, you who likes (or liked) superheroes, both the comic and television/movie variety, you MUST buy him/her this book! If there is anyone else in your life who just likes a great story and fabulous artwork, Sidekicks is also a must. If you need anymore convincing, the book trailer, while a bit more intense in presentation that the book itself, which is frequently very humorous, is a better presentation of Santat's book than I anything I can write or show below.





According to Betsy Bird at fuse #8 (and the Society of Superheroes Sidekick application at the back of the book that serves as the author info and dedication page) Sidekicks took seven years to complete! While this does not surprise me, the artwork is very detailed and colorful, it does sadden me a bit. Does this mean that we will have to wait another seven years before Mr Santat graces the shelves with another graphic novel? As long as he keeps up occupied with more great picture books and (please, possibly??) a movie version of Sidekicks, I guess my son and I can wait somewhat patiently. Speaking of my son, he "read" this book from cover to cover immediately when I brought it home. A week or so later we squeezed into an armchair together to read SOME of the book. I had no intentions of reading ALL of the book to him, but that is what happened. Once we started there was no way to stop. So, prepare yourselves and clear out 30 - 45 minutes of your day if you plan on reading Sidekicks out loud to your kids.

Sidekicks begins with a dog and a hamster waiting patiently for their master to return home. While they wait, we learn that Captain Amazing has had a minor set back while chasing down thieves. It seems that he is allergic to peanuts and a crashed into a street vendor selling the nuts sends him into a month long recovery period. This time off leads Captain Amazing to the realization that maybe it is time for him to take on a sidekick again, despite the heartbreak he experienced when his last sidekick left him.
As the story unfolds, we learn the history of Captain Amazing's last sidekick as well as the secret training that his other pets, Roscoe, Fluffy and newest addition to the family, Shifty the chameleon, are undertaking in the hopes of becoming Captain Amazing's new sidekick. Santat is a great story teller and Sidekicks has a very satisfying completeness to it. This super ability could be in part because Santat created the animated series The Replacements for the Disney Channel, but, if you read any of the picture books he has illustrated, you can tell that his has a gift for visual story telling that is perfectly suited to the graphic novel. As Bird writes in her review, "Visual storytelling is a difficult art to master, but storyboarding your own plots can help. What is can't do is teach someone how to shake up points of view, panel sizes, and more. Mr Santat handles such visual games with aplomb. He even works in a couple little instances of mild manga-related techniques for spice. As a result, the book on a visual level leaves a lot of its competitors in the dust."

I don't want to reveal too much of the plot here - Santat shares an interesting backstory and bits of information as the story unfolds and part of the pleasure of the book is discovering these things as you go, but I can share two of my favorite parts. The first comes when Manny, aka Static Cat, takes Fluffy (and Shifty) under his wing. They visit his favorite nightclub, The Igloo, found in the penguin encounter at the zoo,  for drinks, peanuts and herring. Below is a preliminary sketch Santat did for the scene.
As a fan of the movie Mystery Men, based on the comic books by Bob Burden, I especially loved the pages the depicted the Sidekick Auditions at the Society for Superheroes Headquarters. Along with the legitimate hopefuls, Santat slips in a potential sidekick in a narwhal costume, which is hilarious. Then, there is a sidekick sporting a big red A on his forehead and the logo for Arthur A Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic and publisher of Sidekicks and the Harry Potter series, on his musclebound chest. Who could this hero be and what exactly is that weapon that he carries on his back?



I really hate being one of those people who is always suggesting that a book be turned into a movie, but if you are a genuine lover of storytelling then you can't help wanting to have more of a good thing that you love. I realize that the transition from book to film frequently goes awry, but, in Santat's obviously capable hands I think that a Sidekicks movie definitely could be more of a good thing. As he says in his sidekick application, his super ability is to "function normally with little or no sleep" so maybe taking on yet another project might not be too much for this super talented guy?

7.18.2011

Page by Paige, written and illustrated by Laura Lee Gulledge, RL: Middle Grade



When I read and reviewed my first graphic novel, Rapunzel's Revenge, written by Shannon and Dean Hale and illustrated by Nathan Hale, back in January of 2009 I was skeptical of the importance of the genre but fully aware of its growing popularity and presence among readers. Drawn to the often amazing artwork (Shaun Tan's The Arrival, Kazu Kibuishi's Amulet series) and vibrant characters (Barry Deustch's Mirka, sword wielding Orthodox Jewish girl and star of the Hereville series and Ben Hatke's determined Zita the Space Girl) I have slowly continued to navigate my way through this new territory and am always pleased with what I read. However, I have not been able to answer the question I often find myself asking, "Amazing artwork aside, what is this graphic novel doing that a traditional novel can not do?" Page by Paige, written and illustrated by Laura Lee Gulledge answers this question for me. Gulledge is a superb story teller who excels, through her art, at taking the reader into the mind of main character Paige and showing us exactly what she is thinking and/or feeling. This is perfect since main character Paige Turner, the artistically inclined daughter of two writers, admits that she is often living inside her head.
Moving to New York City from Virginia over the winter break, Paige decides to battle her loneliness with the purchase of a sketchbook. After she grabs the book from the display, the sign changes from "Sale Sketchbooks $10" to "New Friend $10." Inspired by her grandmother who "came up with her own rules as she taught herself to be an artist," Paige starts the book with a set of rules to help her with her artistic pursuits. These rules turn out to apply just as well to her life, helping her to adjust to her new surroundings, break out of her shell a little and grow as a person.
Paige misses her best friend Diana, with whom she feels she can be "100% undiluted Paige." Even though she has her parents, they, "like most everybody else, see this version of me: the quiet redhead who draws stuff. But when I close my eyes, I'm more like THIS under the surface: I'm laughing and screaming and scheming and daydreaming."


Gulledge has an amazing way with visual metaphors, and they just get better and better as Paige starts school, makes friends and begins to open herself up to them. When she follows her Rule #5 (figure out what scares you and DO IT!) she decides to share her sketchbook with her new friend, Gabe. Gabe, his sister Jules and their friend Longo bond over a love of graphic novels, but it still takes Paige a while let her friends know that she is an artist. When she does hand her sketchbook over to Gabe, it momentarily turns into a heart, her heart, intensifying the moment. 
When Paige finds out how talented her friends are she has a crisis of confidence but rallies, telling herself, "I can't keep being this way! I need to change. But to rebuild something new, you need to first take apart the old... So what parts do I need to change? What is it that I don't like about myself?" I love how Gulledge depicts Paige as a Lego mini-figure going to pieces.
When she shares her sketchbook with Gabe and he notices a drawing that might be about him, she reveals that it is about how he is "the first person here I'm myself with. We have clickage... Like LEGOS."
Number one on the list, "I don't ask for help. I'm stubborn and get frustrated easily." This leads Paige to enlist her friends in some acts of creative expression. Paige and Jules head to Central Park with some sidewalk chalk and some great quotes. They draw happy faces on a bed of tulips and fill old plastic Easter eggs with drawings, fortunes, chocolate kisses, origami cranes and other unique things and leave them around town. Doing this gives Paige the confidence to really put her art out into the world, but she still feels insecure and alone at times.
Paige also explores her sense of self within her blossoming relationship with Gabe. She admits that her family just isn't affectionate and when Gabe touches her or hugs her she feels a little weird. She says, "This is all so new for me. It's wonderful and terrifying. Why does he like me? What if things go wrong? What if, what if, what if..."
By the end of the book Paige is able to hear Jules when she tells her they aren't hanging out enough and do something about it instead of putting herself down for not doing it right.  With the help of her friends Paige has the courage to plan to a display of her artwork on the walls of a building along with other artists and, best of all, share her new found inspirations and creations with her parents, whom she had been keeping out of the loop. She even stands up to them when they question the legality of her planned showing. 

The book has a great ending, with Paige and her friends all finding their creative grooves and supporting each other in their endeavors. Paige finally opens up to her mother, from whom she had felt estranged after the move, and shares her sketchbook with her. Knowing that her parents had hoped Paige would follow in their footsteps, there are some rocky moments. Paige realizes that, "all moms have an idea who they HOPE their daughters will be. Like a connect-the-dots picture where you think you know what shape it will become. But then it's the daughter who draws the lines, and she might connect the dots you didn't intend, making a whole different picture. So, I've gotta trust the dots she's given me, and she's gotta trust me to draw the picture myself." As a daughter who felt like I often disappointed my mother when I was growing into myself and as the mother of a daughter who is fledging, Gulledge's words and images mean so much to me. With twenty plus years of hindsight, I can see now that my mother is very proud of the way I connected the dots she laid out for me and it is exciting to think that there are still more dots out there, more of the picture to create. It is still scary for me to reveal myself and share my artistic endeavors with people, but it is so inspiring and rewarding to read about other people having the same experience and navigating it successfully. 

Laura Lee Gulledge has done a masterful job of expressing the inner life of a burgeoning artist with pictures and words and, while art is at the center of this magnificent graphic novel, I have no doubt that it will appeal any girl, regardless of her interests, who picks it up. Even if we don't all have an artist inside us, we do all have many things in our minds and our hearts that we want to share with others and sometimes just don't know how to. Page by Paige, feels like the big sister to Amy Ignatow's endearing girls from her Popularity Papers, Lydia and Julie, and I wouldn't hesitate to give  Page by Paige to any middle school age girls who are fans of these books or who are just exploring ways to connect their dots.

Here are a few more of the wonderful and charming illustrations from  Page by Paige...







7.15.2011

StoryWorld Create-A-Story-Kit: Fairy Magic, by John and Caitlín Matthews, 28 Cards, RL: ALL AGES


If you remember my review of StoryWorld: Create-a-Story-Kit, then you know how much I love it and you also know that there are several different StoryWorld kits available in England and though some online resources in the US. For those of you happy to wait for Candlewick Press to release them on at a time, your wait for StoryWorld: Fairy Magic is over! Also, there is a new website, storyworldcards.com that is an added resource with more ideas, if you really need them...








Magnificent illustrators Wayne Anderson and Tomislav Tomić return along with  Matilda Harrison Ian Penney Debra McFarlane. As before, each card comes with a title and description as well as a few story prompts on the back. Once again, a booklet is included to guide and inspire, suggesting games to play with the cards as well as providing a list of the clues that are hidden within the intricate artwork that adorns each card. 









The Valley Beyond Time: Where Time Never Passes presents the story-maker with the questions, "Why has time stopped here?" and "What is making the music that the people are dancing to?" and "How do you enter and leave the valley?" 

The Fairy Messenger: The Messenger Between the Fairy and the Human Worlds asks, "What messages does he carry under his arm, and who are they for?" and "What will happen if he blows his horn?" and "Who might try to stop him and why?"


Best of all, the decks can be combined to make bigger, better longer stories!



There's More! 
STORYWORLD: LEGENDS OF THE SEA!!


StoryWorld Create-A-Story-Kit: Legends of the Sea, by John and Caitlín Matthews, 28 Cards, RL: ALL AGES

If you remember my review of StoryWorld: Create-a-Story-Kit, then you know how much I love it and you also know that there are several different StoryWorld kits that are slowly being released here in the US.For those of you with pirate loving treasure hunters, those intrigued by mermaid magic or anyone who wants to learn more about selkies and krakens, StoryWorld: Legends of the Sea is a MUST! Magnificent illustratorsWayne Anderson and Tomislav Tomić return along with Philip Hood, Virginia Lee and Nicki Palin to creates these watery scenes. Also, there is a new website, storyworldcards.com that is an added resource with more ideas, if you really need them...

As always, a booklet is included with the cards that gives an introduction, prompts, games and a list of the clues hidden within the cards, linking their stories.
The Selkies card, illustrated by Virginia Lee, shows these seal-people who live in the sea but can walk on the land. The back of the card asks storytellers, "What happens when the selkies come ashore?" and "what makes them change into human shapes?" as well as, "Why is the Great Whale following them?" The Great Whale has a card of his own that shows the King of the Sea riding the crest of the waterspout from his blow hole. It's probably hard to spot the characters from other cards here, but before we start any story my son and I always look through the cards finding the links and sorting accordingly and this proves almost as fun as the storytelling itself.


The Mermaid: Can Guide or Mislead Travelers asks, "Why has she left her home?" and "What creatures have come to visit her and why? as well as, "What does she see in her enchanted mirror?"

The King of the Sea: Rules Over the Oceans From Beneath the Waves asks, "Where is he going so swiftly in his chariot?" and What power does his trident hold?" as well as "Who made his crown of coral and starfish?"


The Cabin Boy: The Youngest of the Crew, He Always Finds Adventure 

asks, "What has he found in the cabin?" and "Where are his mother and father?" as well as, "Whom does the monkey belong to?"


The Stowaway: Hides on Ships So She Can Sail the Seven Seas 


7.11.2011

Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds, A Civil War Hero written by Marissa Moss and John Hendrix




Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds, A Civil War Hero written by Marissa Moss and illustrated by John Hendrix is one amazing book. The incredible story of Sarah Edmonds and her service to the nation alone will make your jaw drop and the dynamically detailed illustrations of Hendrix will take your breath away. My singular complaint about this book is that it is too short. Not only do I want to know more about the life of Sarah Edmonds as told by Moss, who is a thoughtful and precise writer, but I want to see more of her life and her adventures illuminated by Hendrix. Happily, Marissa Moss is currently working on a middle-grade novel about the life of Sarah Emma Edmonds to be published by Abrams/Amulet Books, publishers of this beautiful book!  And, if all goes well, John Hendrix should be doing the cover art and chapter headings. Can't wait to read it!

Sarah Edmonds was born in Canada and raised on a farm, doing many of the same chores that her brothers did. In order to escape a marriage arranged by her parents when she is sixteen, she cut her hair, dressed as a boy and crossed the border into America, changing her name to Frank Thompson. Of this event Moss writes, 

She had run away, crossing the border from Canada into the United States, trading a bridal gown for trousers, trading countries, without a single regret. Once she discovered the freedom of taking big strides unhindered by heavy skirts, and the freedom to travel when and where she wanted, she couldn't put a dress back on.

At nineteen, "eager to give back to the country that had given her a new life," Sarah joins the line of men "snaking around the Michigan courthouse" waiting to join the Union Army but is turned away for being too young. A month later when more men are needed the recruiter doesn't even look twice at the smooth young face of the "man" standing before him and Sarah/Frank becomes a soldier.
A skilled marksman and horseman, Frank "felt at home in the army, living with a large group of men, practicing drills together, learning the discipline of a fighting force." The rugged, outdoor life of the soldiers allowed Frank to keep her secret and the camaraderie and jokes, including calling Frank "our little woman" because of her small boots, helped her to fit right in and make friends, something she hadn't done for years.
Frank trained to be a nurse, a job only men with the strongest stomachs took on because of the "long, draining hours and the horrors of surgery without anesthetic." Frank was a dedicated nurse who fought in the Battle of Bull Run and the Battle of Fair Oaks, pulling wounded men from the battlefield. Moss shares one story from the Battle of Williamsburg in which Frank and another nurse carried a wounded soldier off the field only to discover he was faking injuries to avoid the battle. Frank confronted the man, who turned out to be a colonel, roaring, "You, sir, are a fraud! Get up this instant and back into battle before I report you as a deserter!" Seething, Frank resolved never to be fooled again. There were too many real soldiers in need of her help.
As if being a dedicated, tireless nurse were not enough, Frank was recruited to fill the place of a spy who had recently been captured and killed. Frank dresses as a freed slave and heads into enemy lines where she does back breaking work to keep her cover but is able to discover that a peddler who visited the Union camps weekly is in fact a Confederate spy.

Frank makes the dangerous journey back to camp to report what she's learned and the book ends with these words,

Freedom, she knew, wasn't something to take for granted. It was something to fight for, to cherish. And, so long as her heart was beating strong that's just what she would do.

Sarah Edmond's story does not end there. There is a detailed author's note from Moss as well as a fascinating artist's note from Hendrix detailing the rest of Edmond's life and her accomplishments as well as describing the travel, research and practice that went into creating authentic illustrations for this book. One interesting aspect of the book that both author and illustrator had to deal with was the shifting gender of Edmonds. Moss navigates this well, referring to her as "Frank" but using the pronouns "she" and "her." As Hendrix says of his task, "There are only a few images that still exist of Sarah. So I had to guess at much of her clothes, her posture, and her freckles. She needed to look different from the other characters in the book but still appear strong and confident in her abilities." And, finally, this magnificent, incredible book has a glossary, author's bibliography, artist's bibliography AND an index!!! I have no doubt that, besides stirring the imaginations of readers, Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds, A Civil War Hero will undoubtedly spark an interest in the Civil War and this amazing American hero for all who read it.

Sarah Edmonds disguised as Frank Thompson


This is not the first picture book from Marissa Moss featuring heroic American women. Click here to see her other historical works. Readers who enjoyed Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds, A Civil War Hero might also like:

Lincoln and His Boys by Rosemary Wells, illustrated by PJ Lynch
For older readers, Rosemary Well's Red Moon at Sharpsburg is a stunning novel of a young southern girl and her struggle to survive the war.


For those of you who want to see more of John Hendrix's work, check out his blog, Drawing on A Deadline, where you can see a sneak peek of his spectacular next book that I can't wait to get my hands on, A Boy Called Dickens by Deborah Hopkinson due out in January of 2012.