Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins

My family room coffee table is covered with picture books of the season.  In honor of Hanukkah, tonight we read Eric Kimmel's marvelous Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins. This is one my very favorite read-alouds to share.  Eric Kimmel is a commanding storyteller. I treasure my signed copy of this classic.

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, 1989

Hershel is courageous and cunning as he faces some evil goblins who ruin Hanukkah for the town folk every year.  In order to break their evil hold over the village, someone must stay in the old synagogue for the eight nights of the festival and light the menorah there each night. Hershel volunteers for the job.This is a story that rivets young (and old) listeners. Kimmel relates this folktale with his full storyteller's voice.  The book won a Caldecott honor in 1990 for good reason. The story and the illustrations beautifully balance humor and "scary." Trina Schart Hyman's finely drawn characters and setting pull the reader into the danger. The shadows in the old building are deep.  Her goblins are at once comical and horrific. A dreidel playing goblin is grotesque with horns and multiple noses yet his dopey expression invites laughter. The skeletal hand of the King of the Goblins is silhouetted against a fire red background as Hershel (and the listeners and readers) look on with horror. Yet, Hershel outwits the demons and when he triumphs each night, the glow of the candles signals the power of faith over the darkness.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
The classic WKRP Turkey Drop.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Enrique Esparza and the Battle of the Alamo

Enrique Esparza and the Battle of the Alamo (History Speaks: Picture Books Plus Reader's Theater (Quality))Enrique Esparza and the Battle of the Alamo (History Speaks: Picture Books Plus Reader's Theaterby Susan Taylor Brown; illustrated by Jeni Reeves, 2011. (review copy)

Texas history is the focus of fourth grade social studies in the Lone Star state. That is a happy year for those students as they study the story of the state's founding and its struggle for independence. Texans regard their state's symbolic birth at the Alamo with a mixture of pride and reverence.  I have observed that by the time they revisit the story in 7th grade with its overlay of government and civics and junior high ennui, their enthusiasm wanes.
I am always on the lookout for books that embrace that high level interest in elementary school.
Susan Taylor Brown's Enrique Esparza and the Battle of the Alamo is part of the "History speaks" series from Millbrook Press. Brown focuses on the family of eight year old Enrique Esparza in the days leading up to and following the battle for the Alamo.  Enrique's father Gregorio Esparza was one of the Tejano defenders who fought along side of the likes of Bowie, Crockett and Travis.

The Esparza family joined Gregorio inside the Alamo for the thirteen day battle.  Gregorio died along with the other Anglo and Tejano defenders as Santa Anna gave no quarter for the fighters inside the mission. Esparza's wife and children survived.  The story acknowledges the role of Tejanos in the fight for independence and their role in shaping the future of the state.

Jeni Reeves uses a warm and vivid Southwestern color palette to illustrate Enrique's story.  She paints with broad brush strokes and captures the tension and fear in the family's faces as they endure the battle and the aftermath. Texas school librarians are always on the lookout for "Texas" books. The reader's theater adds another dimension to the story for classroom use.   This is an excellent addition to the Texas school library.  I wonder if it is available in the gift shop at the Alamo?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

From Zombies to vampires and werewolves.

Bad Taste in Boys by Carrie Harris.  Delacorte, 2011 (review copy provided by publisher)

This incongruous book cover does not begin to hint at the story between the boards.  Kate Grable works as the student trainer for her high school's football team. She is smart, knowledgeable and takes her job seriously.  She takes good care of the players even though the coach is not as concerned with their health as he is the team's performance.
When she discovers vials of drugs in the coach's office, she suspects he is foisting steroids on his team.  When the football players begin falling ill and developing zombie-like symptoms (such as taking bites out of their classmates) she fears it may be something far worse.  This is a very clever story and Kate is a smart and worthy heroine.

Cynthia Leitich Smith  has one of her excellent interviews with Carrie Harris today at her blog Cynsations.  And speaking of Cynthia...

Cynthia Leitich Smith, has extended her story, Tantalize as a  graphic novel, Tantalize: Kieren's Story, Candlewick, 2011 (review copy provided by publisher). This is not merely a redo of the original story in graphic novel format.  Instead she tells the story from the point of view of Kieren, the werewolf boyfriend of Tantalize's main character, Quincie. Quincie is the young Austin restaurateur who has unknowingly hired a vampire as her head chef.  The graphic novel rounds out the original storyline adding more insight into Kieren who is one of the story's most interesting characters.  Ming Doyle's black and white artwork employs close-ups and emotion filled facial expressions that reminded me of the old True Romance comics only with weremonsters.

At a recent author appearance at Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, Cynthia described the process of working with an illustrator in this kind of storytelling.  She described a collaboration which made me think of the relationship between a movie director and cinematographer with each of them sharing both roles.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween 2011 - what's your favorite book?

This year I outsourced the pumpkin carving to the entlings and we ended up with some sort of symbol of the Horde? from World of Warcraft and a face from Minesweeper? I'm clueless.

I obviously need to reawaken my inner reading theme pumpkin carver next year. In the meantime, check out David LaRochelle's stunning work.

But we maintained our tradition of asking trick or treaters to name a favorite book before we doled out the treats. When the parents accompany the children there is general approval of this question. It is very fun to hear a dad ask, "which one of the books we've been reading do you like right now?" to his little one.

I was interested in the mother, carrying and a candy bag on behalf of her 14 year old daughter who was "home passing out candy" for her while she accompanied the younger siblings about the neighborhood. Could she have some candy for her daughter? She said her daughter liked, "mysteries, not the old ones but those new ones." Have a Kit Kat, lady.

Still, most of the kids were fairly cheerful about the question. More than one recalled "oh, I remember this place from last year."

Book titles mentioned in return for Reeses Peanutbutter Cups this year included:

Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Harry Potter were the big winners this year.
George Washington's Socks
Percy Jackson
The Bible
Happenstance Found
Monster High
Agatha Christie
Alvin Ho
Cats to the Rescue
Short Life of Bree
Skeleton Creek
Hunger Games (many)
Green Eggs and Ham
Lord of the Rings
Judy Moody
Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can you?
Everybody Poops
Cat in the Hat
Barbie books
Chronicles of Vladimir
Looking for Alaska (now THAT was interesting. From a very tall and deep voiced group)
Bad Girls Don't

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Turtle in Paradise

Turtle in ParadiseTurtle in Paradise by Jennifer Holm. Random House, 2010 (review copy from publisher)

Jennifer Holm spins the reader back to the perilous economic times of the Great Depression. Set in the 1930s, eleven year old Turtle is sent to live with her Aunt Minerva in Key West, Florida because her single mother has a new job as a housekeeper and the new employer does not want children staying at the house.  Turtle settles into life in Key West, eating new foods and  trying to fit in with her male cousins.

The Our Gang comedies come to mind as her cousin Bean and the neighborhood Diaper Gang work to provide babysitting and diaper changing services for the mothers in the area. The children pull the neighborhood babies in their wagon and provide a secret cure for diaper rash that is a the stuff of legend. Unlike today, these children enjoy a wonderful freedom, safe within their community and extended families.  Turtle meets more of her mother's family for the first time, including her ill tempered grandmother, Nana Philly.  Her grandmother is suffering from the after-effects of a stroke and a lifetime of ill humor.  Happily, Turtle is not fazed by her grandmother's attitude.  Holmes always writes such interesting grandmother characters into her stories. Turtle gains more insight into her mother's early life and the man who might be her father. There is also lost pirate treasure, a hurricane and a cameo appearance from a very famous literary resident of Key West. 

Photos of Key West and some of the real life characters in the story are provided at the end.  Holm's research and meticulous attention to detail pay off, giving the story a rich sense of place and time.

Jennifer Holm's characters, May Amelia (Our Only May Amelia,) Penny (Penny from Heaven,) and now Turtle are girls I love spending time with.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Walking Home in the Dark...

Ever since Ichabod Crane was chased by the Headless Horseman, the real and imagined threats that lurk in the darkest shadows have been celebrated in urban legends, novels and picture books.

Bone Dog by Eric Rohmann. Roaring Book, 2011

Gus loves his dog, Ella, but she is getting old and she warns him that she will not be around much longer.  Before she dies she promises Gus that she will always be with him.  Gus is sad and missing his dog as Halloween arrives but he puts on his skeleton costume and goes out trick or treating anyway. On his way home through a graveyard (of course!) he is surrounded by threatening skeletons. Just as they are about to attack, Ella appears as a bone dog to save him. The skeletons are unimpressed until Gus and Ella begin to howl into the night, calling real live dogs to their aid. The final pages confirm and assure the young reader that love never dies and Gus will never be alone.

Rohamann's visual storytelling is cinematic here. He opens and closes the story, viewing Gus and Ella together before an iconic full moon that frames the two friends. The reader (and Ella?) watch from above as Gus sits alone, rakes leaves alone and heads out for trick-or-treating, alone. Once Ella, the bone dog, returns to the scene, the view returns to ground level. The skeletons are at once comic and scary. Rohmann pans their frenzied retreat across a two page spread as they flee from ... turn the page ... the pack of real dogs in pursuit.  The next page turn will be a laugh-out-loud read aloud moment.  This is a beautiful story told with humor, sweetness and delicious creepy moments. I predict this book will not linger for long on the library's return book cart.   I cannot WAIT to share it with children.

On a Windy Night by Nancy Raines Day; illustrated by George Bates. Abrams, 2010

Outstanding read aloud story about a scary walk home on Halloween night.  A young boy's imagination turns shadows, sounds and dark shapes into terrifying threats until the moon light reveals what they really are. This is a perfect Halloween story that acknowledges the thrilling spookiness of the night but reassures too.  Nancy Raines Day heightens the boy's imagination with a classic chant of  "Cracklety-clack, bones in a sack. They could be yours--if you look back."  The words grow in size, across the pages, as the boy's fear grows.  Bates's pen and ink drawings depict the eerie clouds, the threatening tree branches and menacing cornstalks that become skeletons and jack-o-lanterns chasing the child on his way.  The pen and ink work gives a splendid childlike Edward Gorey-ness to the pictures. 

Dark Night by Dorothee de Monfreid. Random House, 2009

As Felix walks through the dark woods, the scary growl from a wolf sends him into hiding.  Another loud growl from a tiger scares away the wolf who is then frightened away by a crocodile. Along with n unlikely small friend and a clever idea Felix turns the tables on the beasts with a bigger "badder" creature of his own invention. Sometimes the first step in overcoming fear is to find a friend and just walk tall.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Jack for Ambassador!

Today the new novel by Jack Gantos, Dead End in Norvelt, goes on sale! As such, my family has declared it
Jack Gantos Day here in the entwood.  I have been unabashed in my fandom for this man's writing. The humor in his books got my family through a tough time.

I still hear from students (many now in college) who say, "I remember when Jack Gantos came to our school."  His visit was memorable in so many ways, not the least because it was the first and only time I ever saw a teacher almost fall off of her rolling chair because she was laughing so hard during his presentation.

One of the many joys of belonging to the Kidlitosphere community is getting to know folks who share your reading (and felt boarding) enthusiasms. During an email discussion of all-things-Jack with Jules at 7-Impossible things Before Breakfast and Adrienne at What Adrienne Thinks About That, we all agreed that Gantos would be the PERFECT choice for the role of Ambassador. So today, along with them,  I enthusiastically wish to nominate Jack Gantos to be the next National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.

His knowledge of children's literature is "deep and wide" as the old song goes. Listening to one of his presentations is a mini course on the subject. From Rotten Ralph to Hole in My Life, his books span early childhood to young adult.

Gantos's stories takes his characters into the strange, the odd, and the macabre but he always knows exactly how far to go and respects the youngster holding the book.  He overlays his stories with tenderness and affection.

Still, there are moments when the reader cannot believe what just happened. While reading his stories aloud, my listeners have been know to suddenly cover their eyes (not their ears) and exclaim, "I can't watch!"

It is fitting that after years of writing some of his childhood into the Jack Henry stories, his character has stepped out in Norvelt as "Jack Gantos" or "Gantos Boy." 

It is a testament to my dedication to this cause that I have stepped out from behind the dragon to appear here today.  (Well, almost. The new baby dragon wanted to be in the photo and, yes, it is chewing on Rumbaughs.)

I hope Jack can be considered for ambassador.  He would be grand.

Thank you Jules for arranging for our t-shirts. I wear mine with pride. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Baseball

First PitchFirst Pitch:  How Baseball Began by John Thorn. Beach Ball Books, 2011
Review copy provided by publisher

Beach Ball is producing some very well done sports books.  I like their typography and the design which includes a nice balance of white space, text boxes and illustrations. The information easy to read and assimilate.  The pages are numbered which is helpful to students learning to cite facts.  They include an index, short glossary, photo and illustration credits and a list of web resources.

There is a wealth of information here on the origins of "America's pastime" provided by historian, John Thorn, whose credentials are very sound as he is the Official Historian for Major League Baseball.  Thorn's mission here, is to share the background of baseball's origins and examine the real contributions of Abner Doubleday and Alexander Cartwright.  Thorn's conclusions may surprise fans who have seen the plaques at Cooperstown. He traces the history of the game from an early children's game to the year, 1845, when William R. Wheaton wrote down some of the first rules for club play. 

Thor's story reads like a detective tale which engages even casual fans, like myself.  Highly recommend this title for all school library collections.

Shoeless Joe & Black BetsyReview copies from my public library.

Author, Phil Bildner is recalling the great stories and legends of baseball for a new generation.  Beginning with Shoeless Joe & Black Betsy, which was chosen for the Texas Bluebonnet Award in 2004, Bildner tells the story of Shoeless Joe Jackson and his search for the perfect bat.  Charlie Ferguson, the "finest bat smith in all of South Carolina -- and in all the South" made a bat for Jackson which he used throughout his career. Ferguson was also part psychologist as he helped Jackson through various hitting slumps with advice on caring for his bat.  Bildner's after word tells the rest of the Shoeless Joe's famous story. C. F. Payne paints his subjects with caricature-realism and a rich colors.

The Shot Heard 'Round the WorldBildner recounts the epic pennant race between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants in the summer of 1951 in The Shot Heard 'Round the World.  C. F. Payne illustrates again. His paintings and Bildner's words paint a time gone by as stillness falls over Brooklyn and every ear listens to the final game of the series on the radio.  Bildner's young narrator calls the climactic game and the reader watches, in the stands, as the Giant's Bobby Thomson cracks out the game ending home run. 

The Unforgettable Season: Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and the Record-Setting Summer of 1941Bildner is at the top of his game here with polished storytelling in his new book, The Unforgettable Season: Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and the Record-Setting Summer of 1941Here, he covers Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak and Ted Williams's .400 batting average. What little I knew about DiMaggio's hitting streak was from Robert Mitchum as Philip Marlow in the movie, Farewell My Lovely.  "Joltin' Joe" and "The Splendid Splinter" hit their way into the country's hearts during the summer of 1941.  Bildner calls games like a veteran baseball announcer as he highlights key hits and identifies the fields and cities where the games were played. He lets the players speak for themselves with quotes. After hitting a three run homer in the All-Star Game,we "hear" Ted Williams say, "The greatest thrill of my life!"  A list of research sources is also included.
  Illustrator S.D. Schindler presents the visual story like a newsreel combining full page illustrations with vignettes.  The book bolds and color codes Williams's name in red and DiMaggio's name in blue which helps the reader follow the two story lines. Bildner smoothly entwines facts and baseball stats in his writing but he excels at finding the heart of these sports stories and sharing them with a young readers. 

First Pitch:  How Baseball Began by John Thorn. Beach Ball Books, 2011
 Shoeless Joe & Black Betsy by Phil Bildner ; illustrated by C.F. Payne. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, c2002.
The Shot Heard 'Round the World by Phil Bildner ; illustrated by C.F. Payne. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, c2005.
The Unforgettable Season: Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and the Record-Setting Summer of 1941 Phil Bildner ; illustrated by S. D. Schindler. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, c2011.

Amy O'Quinn is hosting the Nonfiction Monday round-up today

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sunny Bunnies

Sunny BunniesGreg Pincus, father of the Fibs poetry form at his blog GottaBook and social media tour guide at Happy Accident, penned an ode to summer with a new poem, "At the Beach - a beach poem"  last week.  His poem inspired me to pick up Margie Blumberg's book Sunny Bunnies from the review stack.

  A rabbit family packs up the car and heads to the beach where they play in the waves, fly a kite, enjoy a picnic lunch and build a sand castle. Blumberg's story rhymes along with a pleasant read-aloud rhythm. She hits all the activities a child enjoys at the beach.  June Goulding's bunnies are picture book sweet and she fills the page with nice details including a sumptuous picnic with foods young children will recognize.  At the end of the day, jars of lightening bugs glow while the family toasts marshmallows around a campfire. She also keeps the geography of the beach consistent in the different views.  Her end papers are a map of Carrot Cake Park where the family has spent the day. I really like presenting maps to young children.  Blumberg and Goulding hit the mark with the book's last pages as the children, who are still not tired, jump out of bed to check on their parents and find them completely zonked, sound asleep from their big day at the beach.
Sunny Bunnies, written by Margie Blumbert, illustrated by June Goulding, MB Publishing, 2008

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Second Fiddle

Second FiddleSecond Fiddle by Rosanne Parry. Random House, 2011

As a veteran of the "I can't hear you practicing" skirmishes,  I am heartened by stories of young people, devoting themselves to music (and practice) which this lovely book cover promises.  Band, orchestra and choir programs play a huge role in many teens' lives.  One of my students used to credit Virginia Euwer Wolff's The Mozart Season for inspiring her to All State success.
Parry begins her book with this cracking opening line: 
"If we had know it would eventually involve the KGB, the French National Police, and the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, we would have left that body in the river and called the Polizei like any normal German citizen; but we were Americans and addicted to solving other people's problems, so naturally, we got involved." 
This is a very cleverly imagined mystery, set in the distant past of 1990, in Berlin, not long after the Berlin Wall came down. Also, as promised, there is music.

Three girls have become friends by playing together in a string trio. Their music has linked them in friendship even though they come from different social worlds.  Giselle's father is the commanding general of the American Forces in Berlin and Vivian's mother is the U. S. consul general to West Berlin.  Jody's family lives in enlisted soldiers' quarters. Musically, Jody also plays second violin in the trio. As political change takes hold  in Germany, many American diplomatic and military families are preparing to leave Berlin. These girls will probably not see each other again.

Their apprehension worsens when they learn their music teacher will not be able to take them to a music competition in Paris,  This is a blow after all their practice and preparation. On their way home from their last lesson, they decide to cross into the East Berlin to console themselves with some gelato.  The ease of their crossing is still somewhat unnerving as this used to be enemy territory.  While there, they witness a terrible crime against a Soviet soldier and despite years of Cold War distrust, the three resolve to help him.  As they plan, Jody sees a way to help the soldier and also get to Paris so they can perform together, one last time.

Parry conveys a sense of what it is like to be part of a military family living overseas.  Despite frequent moves and her father's long work hours, Jody's family enjoys a sweet closeness. The author also captures the time and place perfectly.  One side of the Brandenburg Gate is prosperous and booming, the other side is poor and grim.   Parry inserts lovely detail such as the mouth-watering aroma from a Parisian crepe cart and the quiet interior of a church which puts the reader there, on the streets of Berlin and Paris. Her descriptions are so spot on, we can follow the action with a city map.

A useful and interesting author's note gives additional background on the division of Germany in 1945, the fall of the Berlin Wall and Eastern Europe's struggle to be free from the Soviet Union.

From Pachebel's Canon to Paris street musicians to Cold War intrigue, this book is a virtual vacation. I truly enjoyed the ride.  

Roseanne Parry Website