1.29.2016

The Imaginary by A. F. Harrold, illustrated by Emily Gravett, 224 pp, RL 4


I had never heard of the British author and poet A. F. Harrold before I encountered The Imaginary at a bookstore just before Christmas but I was definitely familiar with illustrator  Emily Gravett, a longtime favorite of mine (read my reviews of her picture books here.) Gravett's playful, detailed style is perfectly paired with Harrold's engrossing, creative, slightly creepy story of a girl, her imaginary friend and the fiend who is trying to eat him, making The Imaginary a truly stand out book.

Amanda Primrose Shuffleup has an incredible imagination. And, when she opens up her wardrobe door one rainy evening to hang up her wet coat and finds a boy named Rudger, her imaginary world gets even bigger. From landing a spaceship of alien planets (the thorn bushes in the backyard) to a hot air balloon that lands them in the "sticky, steamy South American jungle" to a "complex of caves, deep and dark, that stretched out for unknown miles underneath the stairs," Amanda and Rudger go everywhere and do everything together. And Amanda's mother, while she can't see Rudger, is perfectly accommodating, serving him bowls of cereal and making room for him in the backseat of the car. And, while Amanda can be careless with Rudger's feelings from time to time and very self-absorbed, Rudger wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

Rudger - and Amanda's - worlds are turned upside down when Mr. Bunting arrives at the front door, claiming to be conducting a survey about, "Britain today. And children." His strange behavior is disconcerting enough, but what's more disturbing is the fact that he has a miserable looking girl with him who can see Rudger. Mr. Bunting and his gloomy imaginary friend are after something, and they seem to turn up everywhere Amanda and Rudger go until their relentless pursuit puts Amanda in the hospital and Rudger Fading from existence and in a strange kind of imaginary friend limbo.


This limbo, which the imaginaries call the Agency, is housed in a library - the one place with enough imaginings housed inside of it to keep the imaginaries alive until they can find a new human. Rudger makes a few missteps before he figures out how to get to Amanda and save her and himself, but not before a very harrowing, sinister battle in Amanda's hospital room. It turns out that Mr. Bunting can only be fed by the, "slick, slippery slither of fresh imaginary." For Mr. Bunting, just as "imaginaries needed t be believed in to go on, so he needed to eat that belief to keep himself going." Not since I read Neil Gaiman's Coraline and the Other Mother, have I been so creeped out by a character in a book.





The Imaginary is an absolutely fantastic, unforgettable book. Harrold's writing is superb and the rules by which the imaginary friends exist and cease to exist make sense. He creates a world immediately and efficiently - there is no part of The Imaginary that I felt could have been edited down, which is not the case with most books I read. Harrold is also gifted at capturing the way children think and talk. There is an especially fascinating and funny turn in the book where Rudger, in his efforts to get to Amanda, takes on the job of being the imaginary friend to her classmate, Julia Radiche. However, since Julia is doing the imagining, Rudger is now Veronica, who needs to get used to wearing a dress and having long hair. Emily Gravett's illustrations, which are black and white, mostly, with perfect pops of color here and there, bring to life Harrold's writing in a way that makes this book all the more memorable. 

And did I mention what a beautiful book The Imaginary is? From the slightly smaller trim size to the fantastic endpapers to the thick pages, this book calls out to be picked up and enjoyed!

Originally published in the UK in 2014, The Imaginary is newly out in paperback there with this intriguing new cover!


Source: Purchased

1.28.2016

The Most Wonderful Thing in the World by Vivian French, illustrated by Angela Barrett


Prolific British picture book author Vivian French teams up with the reigning Queen of the art of the fairy tale, Angela Barrett to create The Most Wonderful Thing in the World, a contemporary story that feels like a classic fairy tale.

The story begins, "Once, in the time of your grandmother's grandmother, there was a kingdom." Looking very much like Venice, Italy, the kingdom sits on a lagoon dotted with islands. The king and the queen are very proud of their kingdom and of their daughter, Lucia. Realizing that she will someday rule the kingdom, they determine that they must start the search for a husband who will reign with her. They send a letter to Wise Old Angelo who lives on the smallest island in the kingdom to ask exactly what they should do. Angelo thinks long and hard and tells the king and queen that they must find the young man who can show them, "the most wonderful thing in the world," and has his grandson, Salvatore, hand deliver this missive.



Lucia has also realized that she will be queen one day and asks permission to explore the city and get to know her future subjects and realm. As Lucia is leaving the castle, the first person she meets is Salvatore! Upon being asked, Salvatore says that nobody knows the city better than he does and he will spend "Today, tomorrow and the next day, until you have seen all that you want," guiding Lucia. Meanwhile, suitors from all over the world are arriving with marvels that include airships, pyramids and mermaids in tanks. The king and queen "grew grey with exhaustion," but nothing seemed to be the most wonderful thing. Meanwhile, Salvatore has fallen in love with Lucia, although, he tells his grandfather, his face "wet with tears," that he can never marry her. Wise Old Angelo tells Salvatore to show the king and the queen the most wonderful thing in the world and then he can.


It may seem wrong to tell the ending of The Most Wonderful Thing in the World, but I think that it's very difficult to pull off a believable, successful ending to a contemporary fairy tale -  which this book does. Together for their final day touring the city, Lucia and Salvatore are on Angelo's island - the only place she has not yet been. Looking for their daughter, the king and queen head to Angelo's island also. Exhausted by their trip, on top of days and days of looking for the most wonderful thing, the royals stop to rest on a bench. Salvatore approaches and asks if he may show them the most wonderful thing in the world. They agree, even though he is so unlike the others. Salvatore presents to them . . . Lucia! 

And, as wonderful as this twist is, I really, really love the ending of The Most Wonderful Thing in the World. Lucia and Salvatore marry with the pomp and ceremony to be expected, "your grandmother's grandmother would remember." As the new king and queen, Lucia and Salvatore walk through their city every day, talking with the people. They are so beloved, that the people of the city build a statue in their honor. In the middle of a fountain, carved out of stone, stand Lucia, Salvatore and their first born child, carved underneath are the words, "The Most Wonderful Thing." The only thing more charming than the ending of this fairy tale are Angela Barrett's Edwardian influenced illustrations that fill every page. A sumptuous story, gorgeously illustrated - The Most Wonderful Thing in the World is a very special book. 

Source: Review Copy

1.27.2016

Anna Banana and the Chocolate Explosion by Dominique Roques, illustrated by Alexis Dormal


Anna Banana and her band of stuffed animals are back! And this time, they are hungry. Anna Banana and the Chocolate Explosion starts off with Pingpong, the penguin, who is as hungry as a bear. And he wants chocolate cake. Of course things get out of control, and quickly. My favorite spread, below, finds Fuzzball energetically, if not efficiently (or cleanly) stirring the batter with verve. 

Meanwhile, Pingpong is still hungry. Fortunately, Grizzler has headed into a different room to bake, alone. Intrigued by his process, they sneak after him when he retreats to bake another cake . . .

Only to discover that Grizzler has been visiting the bakery! They all head back to Anna Banana's idyllic house on a tree lined street where they manage to scrape some batter into a pan and bake another cake.

The comic book format of Anna Banana and the Chocolate Explosion makes the action all the more expressive and the expressions of the characters even more hilarious. Anna and her gang are completely endearing and reminiscent of the Muppets. I love this format and hope that there are more picture books like it on the way, and more from Anna Banana and the gang!




Source: Review Copy

1.25.2016

A Tiny Piece of Sky by Shawn K. Stout, 319pp, RL 4


A Tiny Piece of Sky by Shawn K. Stout is set in Hagerstown, Maryland in 1939 at the start of summer. I love a great historical fiction novel and Stout delivers a story that is filled with interesting people, places and events with an omniscient narrator and direct addresses to the reader sprinkled judiciously throughout. While the climax of  A Tiny Piece of Sky wasn't quite as dramatic as I had anticipated, it didn't make it any less memorable or enjoyable.

Frankie Baum is the youngest of three sisters with an impressive scab collection that she is hoping to expand over the long, hot summer months. Joan, the second sister, is headed out to Aunt Dottie's farm for the summer and Elizabeth, the oldest, always has her nose in a book. It's up to Frankie to tend to their pony and former rodeo star, Dixie, and hook her up to the cart and take her out for a spin. But, before Frankie can even settle into missing her sister, Mr. Baum has a surprise for the family that will keep them all very busy. He has bought a long vacant, alpine-style (just like Bavaria, where Hermann's parents were from) restaurant on the "edge of Jonathan Street -the three blocks in Hagerstown that are an historically African American neighborhood and the site of the first African American churches, city homes, and businesses in Washington County," as Stout writes in her Author's Note.

Mr. Baum is a hardworking optimist with big ideas for Baum's Restaurant and Tavern, which is heralded as an "Eating Place of  Wide Renown" on the fancy color menus he has printed up. Despite this, there are bumps along the way. The manager Mr. Baum has hired, Mr. Stannum, is harsh with the mostly African American kitchen staff and angered by Mr. Baum's refusal to put a second, segregated bathroom in the kitchen. He is even more upset when he learns that Mr. Baum plans a practice-run-pre-opening party for the whole staff and their families on July Fourth. Add to this the fact that Mr. Sullen Waterford Price, Esquire, is about to end his term as the President of the Hagerstown Chamber of Commerce and has plans to segue into the role of Mayor of Hagerstown. Price has run the Chamber of Commerce with a menacing, prejudicial hand that includes after hours visits to new businesses in town to dig up personal information about owners.

When Mr. Baum, who drives a 1937 Studebaker Dictator, doesn't bend to Price's strong arming, Price begins spreading rumors that Baum is a Nazi sympathizer and possibly even a German spy. This is fueled even further by a flyer, written in German, that Mr. Stannum steals from Mr. Baum's office and hands over to Price. Frankie, working in the kitchen, overhears just enough of these dark rumblings to begin to worry and doubt. She starts poking around at home and tailing Mr. Stannum, all the while being bullied by Leroy Price, who parrots his father's words. The night of the pre-opening family party, things come to a head - and fall apart - as waitresses call in sick, the band backs out, family friends don't show up - and Frankie runs away, sort of. She ends up in the town square where the Fourth of July festivities are underway and there she sees the "sick" waitresses, the band that bailed on Baum's playing and fliers telling the townspeople to boycott "German Businesses!" And it's there that Mr. Baum, looking for Frankie, collapses.

A Tiny Piece of Sky feels like it loses a bit of momentum at this point, but ends on a positive note, especially when you read the Author's Note and learn that Stout's grandparents and their restaurant in Hagerstown were the models for the Baum family. In fact, the press kit includes letter of support written to Stout's grandfather, copied almost verbatim in this book. I think I was hoping to see all the pieces of this story fit together with more assertion and deeper meaning than what Stout delivered. In spite of Frankie's mother's nervousness (and despite the fact that she worked in a restaurant since she dropped out of school in sixth grade to help support her family) Baum's reopens. Mr. Stannum, thanks to a secret nudge from Frankie, tries to right his wrong. And a family secret (a secret family) is revealed. All these add up and, as I said, make for a sweet ending. But my heartstrings weren't tugged and there wasn't quite the catharsis - or the downfall of Price - that I craved. Frankie Baum is a wonderful character, but I would have liked to see her develop more over the course of the story, especially after she takes a misguided outing with Dixie and ends up in the African American part of town. The episodes in A Tiny Piece of Sky remind me of the material in the press kit - more like snapshots, or vignettes, loosely tied together. As such, they are lovely and make for a very enjoyable read.

Source: Review Copy



1.22.2016

The Terrible Two Get Worse by Mac Barnett and Jory John, illustrated by Kevin Cornell, 215pp, RL 3


A year ago saw the debut of The Terrible Two by Mac Barnett, Jory John and illustrator Kevin Cornell. A standout for being laugh out loud funny (not as common a trait in kid's books as you might expect), The Terrible Two began the story of Miles, new kid in Yawnee Valley and master prankster, and his nemesis, Niles, the rule-following, goody-two-shoes, sash-wearing School Helper. The Terrible Two took a terrific turn when (SPOILER ALERT) it turned out that the angelic Niles was actually the secret prankster challenging Miles's status. The two teamed up, repeated the prankster's oath and shared a secret handshake before going on to pull off the greatest prank at Yawnee Valley Science and Letters Academy ever against their favorite target, Principal Barkin. Niles, Miles, Principal Barry Barkin, and his entitled son Josh are back in The Terrible Two Get Worse, along with Principal Barkin's father, retired Principal Bertrand Barkin. 

The new school year seems to be off to a great start for the Terrible Two, who begin by smearing Limburger cheese all over the undercarriage of Principal Barkin's yellow hatchback as he enjoys Sunday brunch with Josh at Danny's Diner. The pranks continue into the school year until Bertrand Barkin decides to put an end to it by forcing his son out of his job and returning to his old job. Even worse, Bertrand Barkin, who sets up a giant sign to show how many prank-free school days have passed, has the personal motto, "It is only a prank if we react." As Principal Barkin the elder continues to refuse to react to Niles and Miles's pranks, the Terrible Two begin to get desperate. Niles even has an existential crisis that causes him to vomit and retreat to his room for several days. But, the Terrible Two are not down for long, and they come up with a crazy plan to take down Bertrand Barkin that includes expanding the Terrible Two to Three...



As before, The Terrible Two Get Worse is hilarious and hard to put down. What I love about Barnett and John's series is that the humor is smart. What other kid's book can throw out concepts like Chekov's Gun and Occam's Razor? And, happily, the presence of two items that seem to be Chekov's guns (a spool of thread and the suspenders-belt combo worn by Bertrand Barkin) are explained by the end of the book. And, in a wry and kind of eerie scene, Ms. Shandy, the social studies teacher, unveils a lesson during which the class will be living in a totalitarian state for two days, divided into groups that will create propaganda and samizdat in the style of Alexei Khvostenko. Of course Miles, Niles and their pal Holly Rash, school body president and a character I hope we see A LOT more of in the next book, decide to create samizdat, that is, until Principal Bertrand Barkin shuts the project down. Also, Cornell's illustrations that show Barry Barkin as he ticks off items on his list of projects to complete while he is unemployed, which begins with, 1. Start a list of projects, 2. Discover who you truly are, through projects.

I can't wait to see what the next book in this fantastic series brings! Until then, I will thoroughly enjoy discussing the pranks of the Terrible Two with my students, who love these books!

Be sure not to miss the equally hilarious website , which you could spend a serious amount of time pouring - and laughing over. The shop, where you can buy the books, of course, also offers up the Brooklyn Bridge for purchase! There is also a "plog," a blog of pranks, a video of a commercial for the book in Greece and covers of the books in translation in many languages!

Source: Review Copy



1.21.2016

How the Sun Got to Coco's House by Bob Graham




How the Sun Got to Coco's House is the fifth book by Bob Graham that I have reviewed now, and each one is as magically universal as the next. A picture book by Graham can go all the way around the world and never leave a single room. And, perhaps because of the nature of the stories he tells, Graham can tell the same story over and over, making it new and enchanting every single time.



With How the Sun Got to  Coco's House, the sun is the main character. Graham begins, "It had to start somewhere. While Coco slept far away, the sun crept up slowly behind a hill, paused for a moment, and seemed to think twice . . ." The sun skids giddily, touching a fisherman's cap and, "with the help of the wind . . . blew it off!" The sun tumbles, makes shadows, balances on the wing of a plane, "just for young Lovejoy, off to visit his grandma."

The sun shines on Jung Su and her mother, trekking through the woods before it catches Kosha and his father on the way to the market. High over the desert, the sun meets rain and Graham's accompanying illustration is a wonderful, two page spread showing a family of four leading their camels in a line. The sun breaks over a mountain as Alika's toe breaks the ice on her puddle and the illustration shows a family of women and girls in head coverings walking down a narrow alley.


When the sun does make it to Coco's, it comes straight through the window, follows her down the hall and makes itself "quite at home on her mom and dad's bed," just like Coco! Graham ends How the Sun Got to Coco's with the sun, who has some time on its hands, spends the whole day with Coco. The final illustration is a bird's eye view of Coco and her friends playing in the backyard, showing rows of row houses and factories and busy streets.

This review ends with the perfect final line I have to repeat here, "It's great to be able to count on something, readers can count on both the sun and Graham." So true!


More books by Bob Graham






April and Esme Tooth Fairies


1.20.2016

Worm Loves Worm by J. J. Austrian, illustrated by Mike Curato



The Publishers Weekly review of Worm Loves Worm by J. J. Austrian, illustrated by Mike Curato, begins, "How do you explain a revolution to a young audience?" This is how - with a sweetly simple story (with sweetly simple illustrations) about two worms in love. What amazes and surprises me most about Worm Loves Worm is how subtle message that love is love and how powerful the excitement and joy (along with preconceived ideas) of a wedding is. Austrian and Curato achieve the nearly impossible accomplishment of creating a picture book that teaches, or, more precisely (hopefully) opens minds and shifts perspective, while also being a wonderfully illustrated, engaging story.

Two worms fall in love and decide to get married. The officious Cricket steps in saying, "You need someone to marry you. That's how it's always been done." This is a refrain he will repeat often over the course of Worm Loves Worm as other bugs get involved in the wedding planning. Beetle insists on being the best man and the Bees insist on being the "bride's bees." When Cricket says they must have rings for their fingers and the Worms point out their lack of digits, they decide to wear their rings as belts. With every traditional demand placed on them and every hoop that they jump through, the Worms ask repeatedly, "Now can we be married?"


Finally, one of the Bees asks, "But which one of you is the bride?" The Worms respond, "I can be the bride," and "I can, too," and they both don the traditional attire for brides - and grooms. The wedding party looks a little shocked and surprised by this, and of course Cricket chirps, "That isn't how it's always been done." To this, finally, the Worms reply, "Then we'll just change how it's done." Austrian ends his book, "And so they were married . . . because Worm loves Worm."

There has been a vocal push in the world of kid's books in the last few years for diversity on the page. With Matt de la Peña's picture book Last Stop on Market Street winning the Newbery Medal last week, this slow change seems to be picking up pace. Add to this Alex Gino's book from last year about a transgender fourth grader, George, and now Worm Loves Worm, which probably began its official path to publication almost two years before the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, and it feels like change is really happening.

Source: Review Copy

1.19.2016

2016 ALA Award Winners

I thought I try something different (and hopefully easier) this year for my post of the ALA Award winners: a Pinterest Board. Not sure if it was the timesaver I wanted it to be, but I hope you enjoy it as much if not more!





Reviews of these ALA Winners coming soon: 

The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B
Gone Crazy in Alabama
The Ghosts of Heaven

1.18.2016

Reading Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena with illustrations by Christian Robinson, Out Loud


More than a review, what follows are my thoughts on a picture book winning the Newbery, my experience reading Last Stop on Market Street to my students, and how this changed and shaped my understanding of and experience with this book.

A week ago, Last Stop on Market Street, a picture book by YA author Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson, won the Newbery award. Traditionally, this award is given to novels, although this is not specified in the criteria, which states that the award be given to the "most distinguished contribution to American literature for children." Last Stop on Market Street also, very deservedly, won a Caldecott honor, an award given to the "most distinguished picture book for children." I received a review copy of this book when it came out and, as sadly sometimes happens with great books, I read it but didn't get around to reviewing it. When I heard that Last Stop on Market Street won the Newbery, I did a double take, rereading the announcement on the American Library Association's website. I was surprised and a little angry, thinking about the amazing novels that had come out in 2015, and began writing, in my head, a heated response to the librarians on the committee that made this out-of-the-box choice. Then, I decided to take the book to school and read it to as many kids as possible over the course of the week and my opinion changed, almost immediately.



Last Stop on Market Street tells the story of CJ and Nana as they leave church and head, by bus, to a soup kitchen where they volunteer every Sunday. Over the course of the trip, CJ asks Nana all kinds of questions, the way kids do. He wants to know why they don't have a car, why he can't have an iPod, why can't the man with the cane and dog see, why it's so dirty in the neighborhood near the soup kitchen? Nana answers CJ's questions, not always directly, but with wisdom, creativity and sensitivity. And, although he didn't want to go there at first, CJ finds he is happy to be at the soup kitchen with Nana once they arrive. As de la Peña writes in an essay titled, "How We Talk (Or Don't Talk) About Diversity When We Read with Our Kids," his book is, among other things, about, "seeing the beautiful in the world and the power of service," something that is rarely touched upon in picture books. 



The student body at the school where I am the librarian is almost 90% Hispanic, with African Americans, Asians and whites making up the other 10%. Almost 90% of the student body at my school qualifies for free lunch and many of them live in a home with multiple families, are foster children or do not live with both parents. The majority of my students speak English as a second language and struggle to read at grade level. Last Stop on Market Street is a book that, unlike most, shows my students people of all colors (and their colors) as well as people who share their socioeconomic status. In his essay, de la Peña says that he strives to "write books about diverse characters, but now I try to place them in stories that have nothing to do with diversity, not overtly anyway," and this is definitely true here. As I read this book over and over to my first through fifth graders, I came to share the belief of the ALA that Last Stop on Market Street is indeed worthy of the Newbery Medal, in large part because it is accessible for my students, many of whom cannot read Newbery winners because the reading level is too high for them, but also because it is intimately, immediately relatable. Also, it is very cool to be able to tell my students that, not only did Matt de la Peña, who is half Mexican and half white, grow up in National City, which is in San Diego county, where our school is, but that Matt is also the first Latino author to win the Newbery Medal. And then I get to give a shout-out to another San Diego county writer and winner of the Newbery Honor medal this year for her book Echo, Pam Muñoz Ryan, who is also half Mexican.


Besides being accessible because of the reading level, I value Last Stop on Market Street because reading it has opened doors to so many amazing conversations with my students. With the younger students, I didn't talk about the diversity of the characters, but we did talk about volunteering time and what a soup kitchen is. We talked about who has ridden the bus and who has seen a street performer. With my older students, we were able to have a discussion about diversity in the books they read, why there isn't a Latina Junie B. Jones and how maybe some of them will grow up to write kid's books with diverse characters. We even touched on socioeconomic diversity, which I also am grateful to be able to talk about when I read Eve Bunting and Lauren Castillo's amazing book Yard Sale to students. Yard Sale is about a family who, after losing their house, is having a yard sale before moving into a small apartment. Having an opening to talk about diversity in kid's books with the fifth graders also allowed me to gently, hesitantly, bring up gender diversity. Last summer I read and reviewed George, by Alex Gino, winner of the 2016 Stonewall Award, which is given to "works of exceptional merit for children and teens relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender experience." I decided not to put Gino's book on the shelf in the library, not because of the content, but because I was not sure if my students would understand it. However, once I mentioned gender diversity, right away, one of my students asked, "Like transgender?" and a brief conversation followed where I was able to talk about the book George. More than a few students expressed interest in reading it and it was on the shelf and checked out the very next day. Without Last Stop on Market Street winning the Newbery, this might have never happened.

While I wish I had reviewed and taken Last Stop on Market Street to school to read to students right when I received it, and also that I had not had an initially negative reaction to hearing that it won the Newbery (and not the Caldecott) I am deeply grateful that this series of events brought me to the experience I had (and will continue to have) with my students last week after it won the Newbery. I am deeply grateful that Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson created this uncommon book, one that I hope opens the doors to many, many more like it.


Source: Review Copy




Yard Sale by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Lauren Castillo



Yard Sale, written by Even Bunting and illustrated by Lauren Castillo begins, "Almost everything we own is spread out in our front yard. We are moving to a small apartment." Yard Sale is a rare picture book that addresses socioeconomic status, and, working in a school where almost 90% of my students qualify for free lunch, I am grateful for it. 


Over the course of the day Callie experiences a range of emotions as she sees the things she has grown up with leave her life. Chagrined, she watches as a woman talks down the price of her headboard because "someone has put crayon marks on it." Callie made those marks to show how many time she read Goodnight Moon



She is angry as she sees a man loading her bike into his truck. Her father rushes over, explaining to her that they have to sell her bike - there is no place to store it and no place to ride it at their new apartment. Callie tells her friend Sara that they have to move because it's "something to do with money." A shiver runs through Callie, from her toes to her head, when a woman playfully asks if she is for sale.
























Walking back inside their now empty house, Callie feels OK. It's "OK because we don't really need anything we've sold. And those things won't fit in our new place anyway. But we will fit in our new place. And we are taking us."

With Yard Sale, Bunting and Castillo tell this story of a difficult transition with simplicity, sensitivity, honesty and dignity. Castillo's illustrations are washed with warm colors, outlined in black. The yard strewn with the family's belongings is hodge-podge but also somewhat comfortable. Yard Sale broke my heart and it took me several months before I could think about reviewing it or reading it out loud to my students. But, this is the reality that many children live with these days, especially the students at the school where I am a librarian. My students are constantly moving from apartment to apartment, house to house, as their parents lose jobs, change jobs, return to Mexico or go to jail. There are always yard sales going on in my community and I know that Bunting and Castillo's book is one that I will read again and again to my students.

Source: Review Copy

1.15.2016

Mouse Scouts written and illustrated by Sarah Dillard, 128 pp, RL 2



With Mouse Scouts, Sarah Dillard has created a series that my 8-year-old self would have gone bonkers for. Besides fantastic stories about best (but opposite) friends Violet and Tigerlily and their adventures with their Mouse Scout troop, Dillard's books are filled with fantastic illustrations, maps, songs, and passages from the very important Mouse Scout Handbook, including a very doable chapter on how to make a duty chart. There is just so much going on in these tiny, mousey little books!  


In the first book we meet Violet, a quiet mouse who is prone to nervousness, and her best friend since their first day as Buttercups, Tigerlily. Tigerlily is the opposite of Violet, boisterous and talkative. Violet and Tigerlily are on the verge of becoming Mouse Scouts, but Violet is nervous that they won't make the cut. Happily, they become Mouse Scouts and, under the guidance of Miss Poppy, they, and their fellow scouts, embark upon their first project: earning their "Sow It and Grow It" badge.


Mouse Scout Handbook at the ready, the girls raid the garden shed for seeds and just escape the cat. They consult the Handbook for tips on what to plant and how to prepare the soil, including the use of chopsticks, a comb, and a grapefruit spoon. When Violet needs help watering the newly planted garden Tigerlily is too busy sliding down the drain spout to help out. But best friends come through in the end! Tigerlily invents the best sprinkler system ever - a water bottle with holes punched in it that she jumps up and down on to activate. The Scouts face their biggest challenge when they discover that they have to defend the garden against thieves, but Violet devises a scarecrow that gets the job done.

Dillard's books are filled with action and adventure, friendship and frustration and fantastic illustrations that are sure to enchant, engage and inspire readers!


Out now! Mouse Scouts Make a Difference!




More books by Sarah Dillard!




1.13.2016

My Two Blankets written by Irena Kobald, illustrated by Freya Blackwood


My Two Blankets is a stunningly powerful debut picture book about the experiences of immigrating to a new country by Irena Kobald. Kobald is a multilingual Austrian immigrant to Australia who teaches aboriginal children in Australian outback communities. The children she teaches use English as a fifth language. My Two Blankets was inspired by a friendship that developed between Kobald's daughter and a Sudanese child. Working in a school near the Mexican border, the majority of my students are immigrants or the children of immigrants. I have read My Two Blankets over and over to students from all grades and the way that Kobald and Blackwood bring this experience to the page resonates with them, whether it is their personal experience or not - it could be their parents' experience, their cousin's or their grandparents'. And, as someone who has never experienced this kind of challenge, Kobald and Blackwood made this experience immediately tangible for me as I read this amazing book. My Two Blankets is a book that needs to be in every school and every classroom in America, a country built on, but not always at peace with, cultural diversity and the immigrant experience.


Kobald's text for My Two Blankets is poetic and sparse as she tells the story of a girl nicknamed Cartwheel by her Auntie. But after the war came, Auntie didn't call her Cartwheel anymore. Cartwheel says, "We came to this country to be safe. Everything was strange. The people were strange. The food was strange. The animals and the plants were strange. Even the wind felt strange." Freya Blackwood's magnificent illustrations also tell Cartwheel's story, from the opposing warm and cool color palettes she uses to represent Cartwheel's world and her new home, as well as her blankets, to the way she visually represents intangibles language barriers and the emotions that accompany them. As she walks through the streets with her Auntie, the strange languages and sounds Cartwheel hears appear as symbols and shapes flying about in a confusing muddle. Cartwheel says that when she goes out it is like "standing under a waterfall of strange sounds. The waterfall was cold. And it made me feel alone. I felt like I wasn't me anymore."

When Cartwheel is home, she says that she covers herself in a blanket of "my own words and sounds." This blanket, like Cartwheel's clothes, are warm oranges, reds and yellows. The images on the blanket were from her homeland and made her feel safe. When she was wrapped in its warmth, she felt safe and "didn't want to go out. I wanted to stay under my old blanket forever."


But she does go out and one day, at the park, a girl waves and smiles at her. The girl is illustrated with pale blues, yellows and greens in opposition to Cartwheel's warm oranges and reds. Cartwheel is shy and she must return to the park three more times before she sees the girl again and works up the courage to smile back. However, even this new joyful friendship brings sadness for Cartwheel when she does not know the words to tell the girl that she is happy they are friends.





But, as they spend more time together, the girl "brings some words for me. She made me say them over and over." Blackwood illustrates this beautifully, showing Cartwheel holding what looks like a paper bird, then a tree, then leaves, the girls trading them back and forth. Soon, inside Cartwheel's warm, comfortable old blanket we see a new blanket emerging, made from the cool colors of the girl and her world and the symbols that she shares with Cartwheel. After time, this new blanket becomes "just as warm and soft and comfortable as my old blanket. And now, no matter which blanket I use, I will always be me." The final illustration shows Cartwheel and her friend in the park, turning cartwheels.

With My Two Blankets Kobald and Blackwood have created a book that makes cultural displacement, loneliness and sadness immediately palpable and graspable for children. At the same time, they have given us a book about patience, perseverance, friendship, sharing and kindness that will leave you feeling that same burst of joy that completing a cartwheel can give you. 

Source: Review Copy