Monday, September 20, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: Don't Touch that Toad

Don't Touch That Toad and Other Strange Things Adults Tell YouDon't Touch that Toad and Other Strange Things Adults Tell You, written by Catherine Rondina, illustrated by Kevin Sylvester.  KidsCan Press, 2010

There is always a cluster of kids who check out the Guinness Book of World Records every week.  When they cannot get one they settle for the Scholastic Book of World Records. They also go for the joke books.

Rondina's book would be a nice fit for those children. The book is divided into five sections, Healthy Habits, Weird Science, Food Falllacies, Animal Tales and Parentisms.  A premise or truism is presented and explained and then affirmed or debunked on the verso.  

  • "Don't swallow bubble gum because it takes your body seven years to digest"
  • "Cracking your knuckles can cause arthritis"
  • "Humans only use 10 percent of their brains" 
  • "Wait an hour after eating before you go swimming or you'll get a cramp and drown" 
  • A dog's mouth is cleaner than a human's  
The explanation of the truism: "Lemmings will follow each other right off a cliff" did completely amaze me. ALL my ideas about lemmings WERE completely formed by the Walt Disney 1958 movie, White Wilderness.  The image of those lemmings surging over a cliff is a vivid memory. 

Kevin Sylvester's drawings are comical and fun.  The book is well sized and at 96 pages, just about the right length for "just the facts" kids.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

In and out the garden...

Some new books about gardens and growing things.

My Friends the FlowersMy Friends the Flowers by William Lach, illustrated by Doug Kennedy. Abrams, 2010.

This splendid picture book channels Ub Iwerks and Max Fleischer while imparting real facts and information about roses, hollyhocks, snapdragons, morning glories and more. 
Lach's writing bounces with rhyme and highlights a quality of each featured bloom.

Marigold SCARES all the bugs
He  likes to make them run.
Sunflower's big happy face basks in the morning sun. 
Doug Kennedy must have draw some inspiration from Disney's Silly Symphonies. His flowers preen and smile. Bugs add comedy to the scenes.  The book ends with a glossary of featured flowers, complete with photographs, facts and the scientific names.  Directions for growing  a bug scaring garden (marigolds,) a sun loving garden (sunflowers,) and a fast growing garden (morning glories) are also included. 

A Garden of OppositesA Garden of Opposites by Nancy Davis. Schwartz & Wade, 2009

Books that introduce the concept of "opposites" are a tradition in the picture book landscape for very young children.

Nancy Davis offers familiar images from the world of gardening translated into bright colors and simple, mostly symmetrical shapes.  

Worms, spades, garden shears, bugs and butterflies are used to present  opposite concepts like, inside and outside (the inside of an apple and the outside,) open and closed (an open flower and a flower bud,) big and little (a big bug and a little bug) and more. 

The book feels good in the hands with a satiny finish on the cover and no book jacket to worry about. The pages are heavy paper stock that will stand up to small hands and robust handling. 

Good Garden, The: How One Family Went from Hunger to Having Enough (CitizenKid)The Good Garden: How One Family Went from Hunger to having Enough, written by Katie Smith Milway, illustrated by Sylvie Daigneault, Kids Can Press, 2010

Part of the CitizenKid series, Milway addresses the issue of food security.  In Honduras,  Maria Luz's family faced a crisis that threatened their survival. Her family could not to grow enough food to feed themselves because of poor soil and middlemen (coyotes) who only paid a pittance for the family's harvest, not even enough to cover the cost of seeds and supplies for a new crop.  When a new teacher arrived in the village to teach soil amelioration and new farming techniques, the community began to thrive along with their improved crops.  They learned to eliminate the middleman and sell their products themselves at market.  The story of the teacher is based on the real life of Elĺas Sanchez, an agronomist who worked along with international organizations to help Honduran farmers improve their crops and their lives. 
Sylvie Daignealut's illustrations glow with gold light and suggest the traditions of Latin American art. 

Information on international agriculture organizations like Heifer International, World Vision and others is included as well as a glossary of Spanish words.   

Up We Grow!: A Year in the Life of a Small, Local FarmUp we Grow: A Year in the Life of a Small, Local Farm, written by Debora Hodge, photographed by Brian Harris, KidsCan Press, 2010.

The seasons of life on a farm are presented through the photographs of Brian Harris.  Baby animals and seed sowing in the spring, tending the crops in the summer, harvesting in the fall and resting the soil in the winter are described.  The focus is on sustainable farming and best practices like composting, seed saving and selling at farmer's markets.

The book would be very useful in a communities, nutrition or environment units  The presence of children doing chores in the photos brings the images to life and will help young readers identify with life on the farm.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Eragon's Guide to Alagaesia

Eragon's Guide to AlagaesiaEragon's Guide to Alagaesia  by Christopher Paolini, illustrated by Fred Gambino, Larry McDougal, Ian Miller & David Wyatt.  Knopf, 2009. (review copy from publisher)

Teacher's  kids are a poorly served, school population.  Especially, if they are unfortunate enough to attend the same campus where their parental unit works. These poor children, are trapped, trapped likes rats in a maze, on campus while their hard working educator parent strives to wind up the loose ends of the day, prepares for the morrow, attends meetings...and the list goes on.  

Eragon (Inheritance)Alas, these children must resign themselves to doing homework, sleeping, reading or otherwise entertaining themselves until their mother packs up for the day and heads home. One way of coping is to go "visit" other teachers which is how I first heard about Eragon.  One of my students would come by, regularly, to urge me to read this wonderful new book her family had purchased, from the author himself, at a local bookstore.  "It's Eragon," she said. "Aragorn?" I would answer.  "Nooooo, ERAGON!" 

She was one of the readers who found the book when Paolini was still self-publishing it.  Oh, how she LOVED this book. Once I discerned the difference between Aragorn and Eragon, I read the it. I had to push my eyeballs across the page for the first quarter of the book but was able to finish it and could see its appeal though I prefer The Professor myself.  

Brisingr (Inheritance)Eldest (Inheritance)Paolini drew on every fantasy novel he had ever read to write the series. He was just a kid when he wrote Eragon.  It is hardcover fanfiction, essentially.

What has been interesting to me is the following the series  has continued to enjoy. I've had students tell me, earnestly, that Eldest is their favorite.  I personally do not know anyone who actually read Brisingr

Eragon's Guide to Analgaesia is designed in the style of the "Ologies" books (like Pirateology, Dragonology, Wizardology) with maps, fold-outs, mini books, flaps etc. Dragons, weapons, landscapes, abodes and creatures are all rendered as encyclopedic illustrations. 

Illustrators, Gambino et al are no Alan Lee/John Howe, but their fantasy illustrations are lush and detailed. The book had a textured iridescent blue cover that recalls Saphira, the dragon from the first book.  So, are they implying the book is bound in dragon skin?? Yikes!  (I think "my" Dragon just fainted.)
I sent my young friend, who is now in graduate school,  my copy of this book.   She has a new apartment and a new coffee table that needs a coffee table book.  I told her that this book will be no match for the images in HER imagination or HER memories of reading and loving this book but it might be a fun souvenir of that time. 

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Love is the Higher Law

Love Is the Higher LawLove is the Higher Law by David Leviathan, 2009
(review copy from publisher)

David Levithan tells a story of three teens, Claire, Peter and Jasper whose lives entwine following the tragedy of September 11.  The three live in NYC and they experience the day in different ways.  Peter sees the second plane hit the World Trade Center.  In the confusion and panic following the attack Claire is just trying to find her little sister. Jasper sleeps through the attack completely, waking up to a different world.  

Peter and Jasper met at a party "before" and had planned a date for the evening of September 11 but the events of the day push normal aside.  Claire's home is so close to Ground Zero that her family cannot return home.  Levithan's story follows these three through the days and weeks after the attack. Images of candles, memorials, handbills asking for information about the missing weave through their story.

I read this book soon after its publication.  It evoked such vivid memories and emotions that it has taken some time to review.  Levithan's characters mirror the shock, the hollowness, the fear, the unbearable sadness and grief, as well as  the compassion and wish to do something -- anything to help, that were present in every heart.

Bustling at the beginning of school, we heard the news about the first strike at the World Trade Center from a parent but we were busy with classes.   I was reading to a class of fourth graders when their teacher walked over to whisper the news of the Pentagon attack in my ear.  I had to keep reading. My library became a gathering place as we rigged a sort of antennae on the television to catch the broadcast news.  Today, every classroom in the district can bring up a choice of news channels by pushing one button on the TV remote. That day,  like the rest of the world, we were scrambling.

A teacher aide who had family working in and around the World Trade Center came by frequently to check in.   Many of us had college kids who had just started their freshman year at school.  Away from their families, our cell phones rang as they watched the news from residence hall lobbies and student centers.

Parents streamed to the school, not to take their children home, but to just be with others and hold each other up as the horror unfolded. My library office was the site for these gatherings.  We all kept teaching, kept reading and tried to keep our voices level and maintain a sense of normalcy for the young people in our care. I was proud to be part of that faculty that day.

At a nearby campus in our district, a teacher realized that her husband was in one of those towers, there on business day trip.  He did not return home. 

Although it has been over a year since I read this story, Levithan's writing has stayed with me.  His story takes place in New York City but it also took place across the country. Claire and Jasper and Peter are not deeply compelling  characters in their own right but their story contains many of my memories of that day in crystal clarity.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Heist Society

Heist Society
Heist Society by Ally Carter. Hyperion, 2010

Loved this book.
Audrey Hepburn
It is "the caper" genre,  à la How to Steal a Million. The cover photo even evokes Audrey Hepburn.

Katarina was really trying to escape the family business.  She had even made a new start at a posh boarding school when she is accused of a crime there that she did not commit. Who set her up and why? 

Upon leaving school, she learns that her father is suspected of an art theft (THAT is the family biz) he did not commit. The owner of the paintings is very very angry and he wants his paintings back. He is also a very scary bad guy.  So, who did steal the art work and can Kat find out in time to save her dad?  She puts together a team of next-generation teen art thieves to try. 

Like every good caper, the story unfolds in traditional fashion from building the team to the job itself.  Each member of the team has their specialty.  Kat's return to the shady world of art thievery has also brought her wealthy friend, Hale, back into her life.  What is her relationship with him now? Are they friends, teammates or something more?  Art, museums, security systems, Interpol, international travel:  this book has it all.
Angela Dawe capably narrates the Brilliance audiobook.  Carter blogs that there is a Heist Society 2 coming.   

Sign me up!  I am a fan.