Posts from the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Nuts to You

Nuts to YouTitle: Nuts to You
Author/Illustrator: Lynne Rae Perkins
ISBN: 9780060092757
Pages: 259 pages
Publisher/Date: Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, c2014.

I was watching the carefree squirrels when, all at once, one of them jumped onto the end of the bench where I was sitting and looked with interest at me, and then, meaningfully, at my sandwich. Quite calmly, he stepped closer. That’s bold, I thought. A little too bold. I tore off a bit of my sandwich and was about to chuck it as far as I could, figuring he would take off after it, when he spoke.
“Please, don’t throw it,” he said. “would you mind just setting it on the bench? I’m not as spry as I once was.” (2-3)

Age isn’t the only thing that has changed the squirrel, as the human is about to find out. The squirrel’s story starts with Jed being picked up by a hawk and escaping it’s clutches. His whole family assumes his untimely end except TsTs, who sees him fall and is adamant that he is alive and needs her help to get home. With Chai following her across the buzzpaths, from huge frozen spiderweb to frozen spiderweb, they quickly realize they aren’t the only ones interested in the buzzpaths and spiderwebs. Humans are cutting trees down, and they are heading towards their home! Now it’s a race against time as Chai and TsTs not only fear for Jed’s survival but also the well-being of the families they left behind. Will they be able to alert them in time, and will they even listen to the unbelievable warnings?

The first thing I noticed about the narration is that Lynne Rae Perkins presents the squirrel’s world in squirrel language, and allows the pictures and contextual clues to let the reader know what is being described. For instance, the buzzpaths and frozen spiderwebs are utility lines and towers. The “great beak that sometimes sings but never opens” is a sailboat, and cars are really big beetles that humans crawl inside and come out of undigested but that move like boulders. She also recognizes regional and species differences, with some of the squirrels not recognizing pine cones and describing the trees as having different shaped leaves and smells. I admired her skill at doing all these things realistically, although she does implant a little magical realism since she’s having a squirrel share this story with a human. Her illustrations also aid in imagining the world from a squirrel’s perspective.

Jed, TsTs, and Chai seem to be more adventurous and smarter than the average squirrel in their group. They can figure things out and are willing to change their beliefs based on current events. Although their characters and personalities are almost indistinguishable from one another, their interactions move the story along at a steady pace. Quick comebacks, author asides, and silly puns leave readers smiling. A fun read overall, possibly a read-alike for Flora and Ulysses fans who are squirrely for more.

Caldecott Honorees and Winner 2014

The American Library Association Youth Media Awards were announced in January, and I’m slowly working my way through the winners and honorable mentions. The Randolph Caldecott Medal is awarded for the most distinguished American picture book for children. There was one winner and three honor books named this year.

LocomotiveTitle: Locomotive
Author/Illustrator: Brian Floca
ISBN: 9781416994152
Pages: 64 pages
Publisher/Date: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, c2013.

I had actually included this title in a local newsletter article about train books, so I will let my earlier comments about the book stand on its own. For older readers, there is the incredibly detailed Locomotive by Brian Floca. Starting with the cover and continuing inside on more than one occasion the watercolor illustrations appear to burst from the page. The book follows the story of a family traveling by rail across the country from Omaha, Nebraska to Sacramento, California in 1869. You’ll find this title not with the picture books, but with nonfiction due to the detailed narration. Packed with information, Floca uses short sentences that mimic the steam engine, and his generous use of onomatopoeia means the pages are filled with banging, clanging, huffing, puffing, and chugging. The various jobs on board are distinguished from one another, and the mechanics of the train are outlined not only in the text but also in the back jacket where steam power is explained with words and pictures. Pay careful attention to the little details too, as each station and location are identified by name and small details such as the cowboy’s horse running away at the sound of the train might be missed on first glance.

Three Caldecott Honor Books also were named, with two out of the three Caldecott honorees this year being wordless and the third one is nearly wordless. Has it ever happened where all the honorees are wordless?
JourneyTitle: Journey
Author/Illustrator: Aaron Becker
ISBN: 9780763660536
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press,c2013.

Bored children have been escaping into other worlds for years, including Max in Where the Wild Things Are, Harold with his purple crayon, Alice and her looking-glass, and the siblings who visit Narnia through the wardrobe. The same applies to this unnamed young lady in Aaron Becker’s wordless picture book. With her dad on the computer, her mom on the phone, and her big sister on a handheld device, the girl draws a door on her bedroom wall with a red crayon and escapes into another world. The red crayon creations, including a boat, a hot air balloon, and a flying carpet, pop against the primarily blue, green, gray and yellow landscapes. The other part of the pictures that is unique is the purple bird that requires the girl’s help to escape its own cage. It is a story of imagination brought to life, and two kindred spirits finding each other at the end.

Flora and FlamingoTitle: Flora and the Flamingo
Author/Illustrator: Molly Idle
ISBN: 9781452110066
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Chronicle Books LLC, c2013.

Personally, this is not my favorite honoree. On minimalistic white backgrounds bordered by pink flowers, a girl in a yellow bathing cap, pink swimsuit, and dark flippers tries to imitate the actions of a flamingo. Initially perturbed by the unwanted admiring copycat, the flamingo eventually extends a wing and they engage in a ballet that ends in a cannonball and a bow. While the fold out spread works for the double page cannonball spread, there are other pages with lifting flaps that I think instead would have worked better as a page turn. But you can definitely see the author’s background with Dreamworks, which is mentioned in the back jacket biography. The emotions are beautifully portrayed through the body language and slight changes in facial features for both the girl and the flamingo.

Mr. Wuffles!Title: Mr. Wuffles!
Author/Illustrator: David Wiesner
ISBN: 9780618756612
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, c2013.

I talked in my Coretta Scott King post about authors and illustrators whose names have come up for awards again and again and again. David Wiesner is one of those people for the Caldecott. He has won the award three times (Tuesday, The Three Pigs and Flotsam) and this honor now makes three honors (Free Fall and Sector 7). Give someone else a turn already! But I do see the appeal and the reason for the ongoing admiration. This latest title appears to be partially influenced by Wiesner’s own cat, and the observations of the cat’s attitudes and movement show. There is disdain towards a handful of toys until Mr. Wuffles the cat stumbles across a tiny silver spaceship occupied by even smaller green spacemen. We can’t say the work is completely wordless, as the cat’s owner courts the cat with new toys at the beginning and end of the story, spacemen talk in geometric symbols and the ants they encounter communicate with tiny dots. But the thing that really caught my attention was how Weisner conveyed the sense of motion with the cat, especially on the penultimate page where we see multiple tails as it flicks back and forth in anticipation. It’s a technique that is repeated several times in the book, designating motion with the cat’s paws and head. The pictures are vibrant, colorful, oversized, and action packed as the aliens try to repair their broken ship and escape the cat with the help of their new ant friends. And those claws on the cat… Watch out! Give this to any cat owner, as they will be able to relate.

Monster on the Hill

Will Eisner Week 2014Did you know it’s Will Eisner Week this week, from March 1st through March 7th? Neither did I until I stumbled upon the announcement of the celebration in January. Will Eisner Week “is an annual celebration honoring the legacy of Will Eisner and promoting sequential art, graphic novel literacy, and free speech.” Looking for more information? Visit the website. In honor of Will Eisner Week, I’m going to take this opportunity to review graphic novels, which I’ll readily admit I don’t read enough of. My third featured book will be last year’s Monster on the Hill, by Rob Harrell.

Monster on the Hill

 

 

Title: Monster on the Hill
Author/Illustrator: Rob Harrell
ISBN: 9781603090759
Pages: 185 pages
Publisher/Date: Top Shelf Productions, c2013.

“That reminds me. Who do you ‘ave watchin’ over your town while you’re here? One of the retired guys? Jimmy the Gomper?”
“Umm…”
“YOU LEFT YOUR TOWN UNMONSTERED?? ARE YOU CRAZY? The Murk senses these things, Rayburn!! He could be on his way there now! What, did you sleep through town guarding 101?”
“Actually, yes. It was dreadfully dull.”
“He Guys. Check out this rock I found! It looks just like Town Father Stevenso… What’s the matter?”
“We may have a problem.” (70-71)

Rayburn is a horrible monster, who really doesn’t venture into the neighboring 1860s English town and certainly doesn’t ravage it like he is supposed to in order to promote tourism. So a disgraced doctor and a loudmouth newsboy embarks on a journey to give him the confidence he needs. Their journey takes them away from town to visit an old friend. But while Rayburn’s gone, the town might have a real monster to worry about. It’s a race to see who gets back to town first, Rayburn who can protect the townspeople or the Murk who wants to terrorize them.

Rob Harrell’s oversized drawings really pack a punch with this story that plays on just about every genre’s stereotypes. I envision Timothy the town crier/urchin/newsboy as a distant ancestor to Loud Kiddington from the 1990s TV show Histeria!, repeatedly shouting in a cockney English that just begs the word “governor” to pass his lips (and it actually does). The distracted and disgraced doctor Charles Wilkie speaks in a prim and proper manner that brings to mind Giles from Buffy, with his stoic face accentuated by his glasses and white hair covering his head, chin, and eyebrows. When Rayburn fights a venus fly trap like plant, your guess is fulfilled when he promptly gets his head stuck in its jaws and is shaken like a rag doll, being flung up and down, at one point doing the splits across its gaping mouth before emerging triumphant and doing a victory dance mimicking an end zone dance at the Superbowl.

The energetic text is filled with exclamation points, which seem to appear on almost every page. Sound effects are thrust into the pictures comic book style, and I’m sure words like “Ka-THOOMP!” and “YEEAAUGH!” would just improve a read-aloud experience in some story-tellers capable hands. My one quibble with the story is the whole premise of cities reaching out to a monster to continually rampage a village doesn’t strike me as a smart PR move. The monsters are treated like athletes, with trading cards and toys made in their likeness. Maybe it is similar to disaster tours of volcanoes and mob scenes, or maybe it’s like the Godzilla movies where as long as it’s another city, it’s fun to cheer on the monster? All I know is that readers who enjoy those types of things will welcome this over the top addition to graphic novel collections. One idea for a curriculum connection would be to have children design a monster for their own town.

Coretta Scott King Awards 2014

The American Library Association announced their Annual Youth Media Awards earlier this year, and I’ve been slowly but surely catching up on reading all the winners and honorees. The Coretta Scott King Awards are a set of three awards that honor African American authors, illustrators, and new talent of outstanding literature for children and young adults. I’ll be focusing on the Illustrator and New Talent Awards in this post, with the longer author winner and honorees in a separate post once I finish reading them. I have to say though, there were really no surprises in these categories, as the same people are continually recognized for their contributions.

For the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Book Award, the committee chose one winner and one honoree.
Nelson MandelaTitle: Nelson Mandela
Author/Illustrator: Kadir Nelson
ISBN: 978006178374
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, c2013.
Publication Date: January 2, 2013

The honor was given to Kadir Nelson, who authored and illustrated a picture book biography on Nelson Mandela, published at the very beginning of 2013. Nelson Mandela’s passing at the end of 2013 serves as an ironic footnote to the book’s publication and award recognition. Kadir Nelson’s name has cropped up a host of times, and his work has been recognized over an over again.
Won the 2012 Coretta Scott King Author Award Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans
2012 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor for Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans.
Caldecott Honor for Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine
Caldecott Honor for Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, for which he also garnered a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award and won an NAACP Image Award;
Won Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for Ellington Was Not a Street by Ntozake Shange
Won Coretta Scott King Author Award for We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball
Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor for We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball

Are you sensing a theme here? Whenever he writes something, he gets recognized by someone! And most people will say rightfully so. In his newest book, readers see Kadir Nelson’s signature style of life-like renderings from the cover (which mimics the design of his biographies on Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King Jr.) all the way to the end. Most striking I think is the first page, where we see a young Nelson playing with the village boys and the sun shines forth from behind the hill with such warmth your eye is immediately drawn to the contrasting shadowed silhouettes. The sparse, poetically formatted text supplements the pictures, that carry the light and dark themes throughout the book.

My one complaint about this and other picture book biographies is that very few specifics are included. Annual biography assignments for school children often have a checklist of facts that need to be contained in the books or require an inclusion of a time line. While this would be a great asset to children studying biographies, especially during February’s Black History Month, readers would be hard pressed to find specifics. Would it have been so hard to add a timeline in the back of the book along side the author’s note, or include specific dates in the text instead of “in early 1990″? Or am I the only person getting frustrated by this oversight?

Knock Knock My Dad's Dream for MeTitle: Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me
Author: Daniel Beaty
Illustrator: Bryan Collier
ISBN: 9780316209175
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc. c2013.
Publication Date: December 17, 2013

More recently published Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me won the Illustrator award. Bryan Collier is another illustrator who has been recognized time and time again, with three Caldecott Honors and four Coretta Scott King Awards over the years. Collier’s collages and Beaty’s text follows a young boy as he experiences the loss of his father’s influence. The author doesn’t specify in the story that the father has been incarcerated until you read the end notes, which I appreciate because it lends versatility to the story and could be used for divorce situations in addition to incarceration. The illustrations follow the boy as he grows into an educated man and an involved father in his own right, but at the end you still see the influence his own father had on him, regardless of or maybe because of his absence.

The more symbolic structure of the illustrations lend the impression this is meant for older audiences, and I can see where this might be a recommendation for patrons specifically looking for material of this nature. Most poignant is the subtle nods to the father’s absence, such as the main character wearing his father’s tie as he peruses his dreams, and an elephant statue peeking out of his office background mimicking the child’s bedroom wallpaper. The ending picture seems slightly out of context with the rest of the story, but although overall I think the less abstract images make the most impact when reading, that last picture makes a memorable ending to a tale of perseverance.

When the Beat Was BornTitle: When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop
Author: Laban Carrick Hill
Illustrator: Theodore Taylor III
ISBN: 9781596435407
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Roaring Brook Press, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership, c2013.

According to the ALA website the John Steptoe New Talent Award was “established to affirm new talent and to offer visibility to excellence in writing and/or illustration which otherwise might be formally unacknowledged within a given year within the structure of the two awards given annually by the Coretta Scott King Task Force.” This award is often overlooked because it’s not awarded every year.

I can understand why this book was recognized by the committee, as it sheds light on the start of Hip Hop, something that most people have never considered. The story focuses on DJ Kool Herc rise from Jamican music lover peering over the fence at party set-ups to hooking up his father’s super-sized speakers to street lamps and christening the break dance style that evolved during his days of being a DJ. While Laban Carrick Hill includes a personalized author’s note and a partial time line of hip hop in the 1970s and 1980s, just like Kadir Nelson’s picture book biography he avoids specific dates and details.

The pictures by Theodore Taylor III are well drawn, with clean lines showing children what the different break dancing moves look like. His work showcases the old technology of speakers bigger than people, boomboxes bigger than babies, and turntables plugged into one another instead of through wireless connections. It’s almost a time capsule for readers, where parents can talk about the music they used to listen to, and I wish it had a compilation CD that featured some of the “Hip Hop” beats that are discussed in the book. I especially enjoyed the scene of community where Herc is playing street parties in the park and we see people of all ages, including one gray haired woman and a small child with a jump rope, listening to the music. As someone who grew up in the suburbs and didn’t have that type of environment, I’m surprised to find myself wanting to seek out that community network.

This post is in honor of Nonfiction Mondays. Check out the blog for other reviews of nonfiction books.

Changes come and go…

I recognize that I’ve been sporadically absent from the blog scene for a while. And while I’m constantly comparing the children’s department during summer reading as Santa’s workshop between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when all the elves are under the age of ten, that’s not the only reason for my absence.

Moving to a different state is hard. Doing it by yourself is even harder. I used to think that people who did that were slightly crazy. Picking up everything you own and moving it to a place where you know no one and nothing. While the language is still English (thank goodness!) there are so many things that you have to get used to, like habits and highways, politics and professional sports, and the distance now between you and all your friends and family.

This past week, I hit the one year anniversary of accepting a full time job outside the state where I was born and raised. I can confirm that you do indeed need to be a little bit crazy. But in a “boom boom ain’t it great to be” kind of way. Things will not go as planned, the transition will not be as smooth as you anticipated, and you will hit some speed bumps. In my case, the first one was a dead car battery within a week of starting the job!

And that’s not to say that I’m done hitting speed bumps. I’m sure there are more to come down the road. But the reason I took the leap was opportunity, possibility, and a chance at a fresh start. And maybe your reasons for taking your most recent directional change are different from mine. But I’ve found that things are easier when I stop asking what if and start asking what next.

So what is next for me and my blog? I have some ideas. But really, who knows? However, I do intend to find the fun again, both in blogging and in “real life”. What changes this next chapter in my life brings is anyone’s guess, but I hope you stick around to find out and I hope no one is disappointed.

Me and Momma and Big John

Me and Momma and Big JohnTitle: Me and Momma and Big John
Author: Mara Rockliff
Illustrator: William Low
ISBN: 9780763643591
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press, c2012.

This slight story features a mother and her three children. Told from the perspective of her oldest son named John, the book makes readers aware of his mother’s job carving stones for the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in New York City. Also called “Big John” and “Saint John the Unfinished”, a afterward more detailed than the actual story talks about how the building of this cathedral has taken over a century and still isn’t completed. Construction was halted for both World Wars and didn’t begin again until forty years later. After resuming construction in 1982 with a program to teach skills to the unemployed which lasted twenty-five years, construction today is again halted due to lack of funds. Even under a temporary roof that probably feels more permanent to the community that utilizes the unfinished structure, people still gather for services and shelter. The illustrations by William Low are appropriately grand in scale, showcasing the size through the use of aerial shots and sweeping landscapes, but I half-expected something more detailed, like David Macaulay’s work. The jacket cover description also makes mention of being “inspired by one of the first women in the United States to learn the traditional craft of stonecutting,” which is not even mentioned much less detailed within the pages. In fact, there are few details about the trade, the history of the building, or information about the family contained in the actual tale.

Overall, I wanted more.

Ship Breaker

Title: Ship Breaker
Author: Paolo Bacigalupi
ISBN: 9780316056212
Pages: 326 pages
Publisher/Date: Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc. c2010.

He called up to her. “Hey, Sloth! I got me a way out. I’m coming for you crewgirl.”
The movement stopped.
“You hear me?” His voice echoed all around. “I’m getting out! And I’m coming for you.”
“Yeah?” Sloth responded. “You want me to go get Pima?” Mockery laced her voice. Nailer again wished he could reach up and yank her down into the oil. Instead, Nailer made his voice reasonable.
“If you go get Pima now, I’ll forget you were going to let me drown.”
A long pause.
Finally Sloth said, “It’s too late, right?” She went on. “I know you, Nailer. You’ll tell Pima no matter what, and then I’m off crew and someone else buys in.” Another pause, then she said, “It’s all Fates now. If you got a way out, I’ll see you on the outside. You get your revenge then.” (33)

Nailer works on the light crew, stripping copper from sunken and grounded rigs and ships in the future’s Gulf Coast region, where oil, gold, and any industrial scrap is even more precious than it is today. Everyone dreams of hitting a Lucky Strike, of hitting an unknown pocket of resources and secretly siphoning and selling it off so they can make their own way instead of crewing up. It’s a hard life, one that gets even more complicated after a big storm strands a rich girl on his tiny island. After his own recent brush with death, it’s impossible for Nailer to kill her and claim her riches. Instead, he finds himself on the run from everyone, including his own father, who are intent on using the girl as their ticket out of Bright Sands Beach. But the girl is hiding secrets of her own, and as she slowly and grudgingly reveals them to Nailer, Nailer’s prospects of getting rescued from his rash actions become bleaker.

I’ve been trying to get to this book for a while now, ever since my coworker finished and raved about it shortly after it was published. My first thought upon finishing is that this book has extraordinary world building. Located in what amounts to a distant future shanty town somewhere in the Gulf, readers are lead to believe that the area finally succumbed to the severe storms that slice through the cities. It’s similar to the movie Water World in that resources are so scarce they are scavenged. What sets it apart though is Nailer. The sheer brutality of this world is both astonishing and frightening, yet completely understandable as it’s every man for himself, and the descriptions bring everything into focus.

Bacigalupi sets up the story so that we have a clear idea of how conflicted Nailer is when he finds his stranded mystery girl. Any other time, he would have had no qualms killing her and taking the Lucky Strike for himself and his good friend Pima, getting them out of the slums. But he is also desperate to distance himself from his father, and he realizes that killing the girl would be the same thing that would have happened to him if he hadn’t been so lucky; killing the girl would be the same thing his father would do, no question, and he hates the idea of becoming his father.

Not knowing who to trust is a common theme running through everyone’s story. Nailer and the girl must trust each other as they flee for their lives. The girl is completely out of her element in this foreign environment and has no one else to rely on. Nailer must trust that she is telling the truth about who she really is, even though time and again that identity changes and her honesty is called into question. Neither one though can turn back once they start, because they know that there’s a better chance of surviving — of keeping each other alive — if they stay together.

I’m not the only one who sees this book as an examination of the humanity, trust and courage. It received a boat load of recognition, including being named a finalist for the 2010 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, winning the 2011 Michael L. Printz Award and the Locus Award for Best Young Adult Book nominated for the 2010 Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy and included on the 2011 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults list put together by the Young Adult Library Services Association.

I read this as an e-book, where they provided a sample of the companion novel Drowned Cities which features one of the secondary characters who I’d definitely be interested in learning more about, as he seems to be an anomaly all his own. A good industrial strength read (pardon the pun).

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