Showing posts from April, 2017

Little Cat's Luck by Marion Dane Bauer, illustated by Jennifer A. Bell, 224pp, RL 3

Little Cat's Luck by Marion Dane Bauer, with marvelous illustrations by Jennifer A. Bell, is a gem of a book, and not just because it's a verse novel . I have long loved the genre of the verse novel, both for the precise beauty of the language and the ability to tell a complex story in a compact format. Recently, I have also discovered that verse novels are an ideal format for the students at the school where I am the librarian, the majority of whom are English language learners who are reading below grade level. Verse novels allow them to access a longer, more challenging book that looks less intimidating because there are fewer words on the page. With Little Cat's Luck, readers are in for an exciting, suspenseful emotional story about cooperation, kindness and learning to accept each other.
Patches is a little calico cat with a happy, cozy life, yet, she is searching for a "special place to be her very own." A loose screen and a falling leaf lead to an outside a…

May B. by Caroline Starr Rose, 240 pp, RL 4

I love stories of life on the prairie, circa Laura Ingalls Wilder and I also love verse novels, which makes May B. by Caroline Starr Rose the perfect book for me, and for any reader who likes a story about survival, bravery and perseverance. 
When we first meet twelve-year-old Mavis Elizabeth Betterly, May B. for short, she has just dared her beloved older brother Hiram, who can do no wrong in his parent's eyes, to chop off a hank of her braid and lost some hair in the process. At dinner that night, May learns that her father has hired her out to newlyweds, the Oblingers, until Christmas. This means May will not be able to return to school and she might have to give up her dream of taking the teacher exam in two years. She was probably going to have to give up the dream anyway, since she can't read. On top of this, she knows she will not be missed on the small soddy farm her family is homesteading. Hiram, a year older, can help in ways she can't. Pa tells her she is helping…

Unbound: A Novel in Verse by Ann E. Burg, 352pp, RL 4

Unbound: A Novel in Verse by Ann E. Burg is the first person narrative of nine-year-old Grace, a enslaved girl living in with her mother, her husband, their two toddler sons and the elderly Aunt Sara. Burg uses Grace's questioning voice to tell the story of her family, and the stories of other enslaved peoples, with Southern tone that is not quite dialect and often lyrical.
While their lives are bleak, Grace and Aunt Sara tend to the small cabin, the "moonlight garden" and Willy and Thomas while Grace's Mama and her husband, the man Grace calls Uncle John, work the fields from before sunrise to after sunset. With he fair skin and blue eyes, Grace is called up the hill to work at the Big House. Unbound begins with her tantrum and refusal to leave her home. Mama tries to comfort her, but, in the middle of the night, Aunt Sara cautions her, warning that the Missus is "as hateful as a toad," and always looking for any reason to punish. This proves true enough an…

Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar, 256 pp, RL 4

Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar, with absolutely beautiful cover and spot art by Penelope Dullaghan is a book I will not forget. The heart of the story is Ruthie Mizrahi and the year she spends in bed recovering after a horrible car accident, but Behar fills her story with a rich cast of characters, making this one of those rare books that is organically diverse.
It is 1966 and Ruthie has just moved from Cuba to Queens with her parents and younger brother to join mother's parents, Baba and Zeide, and her Aunt Sylvia. In fact, Sylvia has an American husband and children, Dennis and Lily. Ruthie and her classmate Ramu, whose family immigrated from India, are anxious to get out of the "dumb" class and prove that they are smart even if English isn't their first language. Ruthie is also yearning for go-go boots, just like her elegant neighbor Danielle, who is from Belgium. A fatal, multi-car accident leaves Ruthie in a full body cast, in bed for a year and being taken care…

The Doodle Book of Feel Good by Charice Mericle Harper

The coloring and doodle craze never really grabbed me, but, working with kids, I am continually surprised by how much they love to draw and color. I bowed and gave them what they wanted, printing out countless coloring pages (mostly Shopkins and Minecraft) and watched them speed through the process of filling in the picture. Then, while enjoying a Cosmic Kids Zen Den (guided mindfulness meditation) with my students, Ms. Jamie (if you have and/or work with kids and don't know this amazing website, I highly recommend it) was suggesting activities to help kids learnt o focus, and coloring a detailed picture was one of them. And I lightbulb went off. Happily, around the same time, The Doodle Book of Feel Good by Charice Mericle Harper appeared. Not only are Harper's doodles characteristically quirky, detailed and adorable, Harper has included thoughtful, empowering, inspirational and celebratory sayings in each doodle. Not only does The Doodle Book of Feel Good allow me to give my…

Lucía the Luchadora by Cynthia Leonor Garza, illustrated by Alyssa Bermudez

Lucía the Luchadora by Cynthia Leonore Garza with illustrations by Alyssa Bermudez is one of those rare, great kid's books that is diverse without diversity being the subject.
Lucía zips through the playground in her red cape, clearly braver and more agile than the boys in capes who tell her that, "Girls can't be superheroes!" Hearing this makes Lucía, "spicy mad. A KA-POW kind of mad!"
But, Abuela has a secret past and something that can help Lucía. When Abu was a little girl, she was a special kind of superhero, a luchadora! Abu tells Lucía that a luchadora is, "more than a masked wrestler with swift moves, more tha just a superhero with slick style. A luchadora is agile. She moves and thinks quickly. A luchadora has moxie." With Abu's silver mask on, Lucía finds the courage to go back to the playground and show those boys just how wrong they are. 
Soon, there are all sorts of luchadoras on the playground and Lucía can't wait to play with t…

Tinyville Town: I'm a Librarian by Brian Biggs

If you grew up with the marvelous, magical books of Richard Scary, then Brian Biggs's Tinyville Town Gets to Work will feel familiar to you. And, while you may wonder why we need even the slightest reworking of Scarry's richly detailed books, let me remind you that, during my own, slightly less than half a century lifetime, Scarry's books have been edited and adapted to our changing social norms. Biggs got his version of Cars and Trucks and Things that Go out of the way with his Everything Goes trilogy. With Tinyville, Biggs continues to give kids a look at the working world of adults and all the different jobs there are.

What Biggs does with his Tinyville books is put minorities like people of color and women into the work place while also giving readers a look at more meticulous aspects of the work. These books are important because, if children can see it, they can imagine it. Children's books are mirrors, windows and doors. They allow children to see themselves, in …

The Owl and the Pussy-cat by Edward Lear and The Further Adventures of the Owl and the Pussy-cat by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Charlotte Voake

Julia Donaldson is a brilliant British children's book author who has made her mark in the US with books like The Gruffalo and Room on the Broom. Donaldson writes with a sense of humor and creativity that pairs perfectly with her masterful gift for telling a story in rhyme, making her the ideal choice for carrying on the further adventures of Edward Lear's The Owl and the Pussy-cat with the marvelous Charlotte Voake illustrating.

Edward Lear's story, first published in 1871, reads a bit like an acid trip, what with the bong trees, the mince and the quince and the turkey wedding officiant. Voake plays with these oddities, inhabiting the island that the Owl and the Pussycat sail to with little green and brown folk and a distinct colonial air.  Her style is loose and and fluid, much like Lear's rhymes. The Owl and the Pussy-cat with illustrations by Charlotte Voake is a wonderful way to introduce children to this very famous, very fun lyrical rhyme about a two animals in l…

The Giant Jumperee by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

The Giant Jumperee by Julia Donaldson and Helen Oxenbury is, like every picture book Donaldson writes, an absolute joy to read out loud. This is exactly the kind of book best read with a little listener on your lap, being bounced up and down with each and every exciting page turn.

Rabbit is hopping home one day when a booming voice comes out from his burrow saying, "I'm the GIANT JUMPEREE and I'm scary as can be!"

Each time, with each increasingly larger animal, the Giant Jumperee's threats get bigger and scarier. From, "I'll squash you like a flea," to "I'll sting you like a bee!" to, "I'm the GIANT JUMPEREE and you're terrified of me!" Oxenbury's pastoral illustrations and gentle watercolors perfectly present the animals, taking the edge off them. Their body language is tense at times and the suspense builds as the story unfolds and the fear of the animals builds. Oxenbury mitigates the tension with humor. But, up…

Star Scouts by Mike Lawrence, 192 pp, RL 4

Star Scouts by Mike Lawrenceis an extraordinary story of friendship, scout camp and competition that just happens to take place in outer space. But it begins on Earth with Avani Patel, new kid in town who loves rodeo and country music, unlike the girls in the Flower Scouts troop her father forced her to join. They love talking about boys, the heartthrob Chaz Wunderlip and makeup. Things take a sharp turn when, somewhere in space, Mabel is finishing up her homework. But, instead of teleporting a newt, she mistakenly zaps a "new kid."

Avani and Mabel become fast friends, and soon Avani gets her father's permission to go to scout camp, but not the camp he thinks. Instead of Flower Scout camp, Avani and Mabel head to Star Scout camp where she makes enemies straight away when she steps on the tail of a methane breather, or, as Avani mistakenly calls them, "toot breathers."

At Camp Andromeda, the rivalry between the oxygen breathers and the methane breathers heats up a…

Newsprints by Ru Xu, 208pp, RL 4

Newsprints is the first in a new graphic novel series by Ru Xu and it is entrancing! A fast moving story with mysteries and suspense, this first book sets the table and leaves you hungry for more. And, while the setting and characters are very much fictional, there are aspects to the story that Xu tells that feel almost ominously contemporary.
Set in the port town of Nautilene, Newsprints has a 1920s feel, with newsboys on every corner hawking the Nautiline Bugle and the Grumby Gazette with a territorial ferocity. Heading up the Bugle boys is Blue, an orphan, among several, being raised by Mayor Aric Nancy and his wife, both of whom run the Nautiline Bugle, the only newspaper that tells the truth. The great nation of Goswing has been at war with their neighbor Grimmaea for ten years, leaving many orphans and a struggling city, making sacrifices and living on rations. 
Running from Grumby Gazette thugs, Blue stumbles upon the workshop of a strange inventor named Jack Jingle, and accepts …

Stand Up and Sing! by Susanna Reich, illustrated by Adam Gustavson, Foreward by Peter Yarrow

Stand Up and Sing! Pete Seeger, Folk Music and the Path to Justice written  by Susanna Reich and illustrated by Adam Gustavson is a superb introduction to the life of a great man with a lifelong commitment to human rights. Stand Up and Sing! is also a valuable book to have now, in a time where injustices and opressions are escalating.

Peter Yarrow's introduction to Stand Up and Sing! is an important starting place. While readers might know little about being blacklisted, the civil rights movement and the Anti-Vietnam War Movement and might have never heard of Yarrow's folk trio, these of his words will speak to young readers. Of Seeger, Yarrow writes, 
He was, in a word, the embodiment of courage in the face of great evil. Yet, astonishingly, his love of humankind and his creative personal light continued to grow brighter and brighter through the years.
Reich begins Stand Up and Sing! with Pete on stage, singing and playing banjo to a crowd, leading them in song. She then details…