The Rain Wizard

Rain Wizard.jpgTitle: The Rain Wizard: The Amazing, Mysterious, True Life of Charles Mallory Hatfield
Author: Larry Dane Brimner
ISBN: 9781590789902
Pages: 119 pages
Publisher/Date: Calkins Creek, an imprint of Highlights, c2015 (Larry Dane Brimner, Trustee, Brimner-Gregg Trust)

On December 15, 1904, he set up his cloud-attracting apparatus on the grounds of Esperanza Sanitarium, a hospital for people with lung diseases. […] The hospital was located in the foothills northeast of Los Angeles, near Altadena. Rain began to fall almost immediately and continued through Christmas. […]
Soon, though, local newspapers were pleading with him to give them a dry, sunny day on Monday, January 2, 1905, so the annual Tournament of Roses Parade could go on as scheduled in Pasadena. When rain fell in the morning but cleared in time for the parade, organizers publicly expressed thanks. (38-39)

Charles Hatfield was not the first to claim that he could control the weather, and bring down rain from the sky during a drought. Rather than using the war paint and rain dances of Native American tribes, or the ringing of bells like eighteenth century English towns, Hatfield used a secretive mix of heated chemicals. To this day, no one knows what he used or has concrete evidence that it even worked, but he succeeded in making a name for himself as a Rain Wizard or conjurer for a decade. His techniques might have proven too successful when an attempt to fill a San Diego reservoir at the request of the city resulted in the 1916 flood that resulted in death, damage, and destruction, including washing houses and train tracks away. Was Hatfield responsible for the rain, and if so was he then responsible for the damages it caused?

Having never heard of Charles Hatfield, it was a unique person to feature in a biography. Readers though will be left scratching their heads, as Brimner, like the people who actually lived during that time, is unable to answer the question of if he actually made it rain or not. There is no known record of Hatfield’s secret formula, so curious readers will be unable to replicate the results. However, based on the inclusion of rainmakers who came before and after Hatfield, and details about their methods, it seems a safe conclusion that there is some truth to the practice of both rain making future efforts to collect moisture from the sky.

I must say I was slightly taken aback by Brimner’s inclusion of a Wikipedia site in his list of resources for readers looking for more information. I showed it to several coworkers and they were equally flummoxed by the inclusion. Our assumption is that he was merely including easily obtained and readily available resources. For someone who went to the effort of tracking down the family descendants and first hand newspaper accounts of the events, we were shocked that he would even mention a website that is not vetted or reliably credible and is routinely frowned upon by teachers when assigning research projects to their students. Especially when his works cited and photo credits lists are so thorough, although I do question the necessity of quoting a reference librarian’s email in describing the state of things at that time. Brimner even talks about the inaccuracy of first hand accounts in his author’s note, so maybe he is stressing that no source is one hundred percent reliable. It is definitely a shock to my system that an author who has received recognition with starred reviews and a Sibert Honor would stoop to referencing Wikipedia and casts a shadow on what I felt was a well presented narrative on a little-known and still-disputed event.

nonfiction mondayThis review is posted in honor of Nonfiction Monday. Take a look at what everyone else is reading in nonfiction this week.

 

Building Our House

 

Each month for a previous job, I wrote a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ve expanded that idea to the blog in a feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post. This one (along with some others) never made it into the blog, so forgive me while I play catch-up.

Building Our House.jpgBuilding Our House
Author/Illustrator: Jonathan Bean
ISBN: 9780374380236
Pages: 48 pages
Publisher/Date: Farrar Straus Giroux, c2013

Based on his parent’s experience building their house, Jonathan Bean brings to life the entire construction process. Starting with a blank unbroken field, the family toils and perseveres. Through rain, wind, and snow, they lay the foundation, raise the frame, and add the roof, windows, siding, and insulation, until they can finally move in. Lots of muted colors lend an understated tone, and the illustrations and story combine to bring a warm feeling to your heart. Look for the tiny details (such as a pregnant cat and kids playing with the wheelbarrow) as this family makes a house a home.

Slade House

Warning: This review contains things that some may consider minor spoilers.

Slade House.jpgTitle: Slade House
Author: David Mitchell
Narrators: Thomas Judd and Tania Rodrigues
ISBN: 9781101923672 (audiobook), 9780812998689 (hardcover)
Discs/CDs: 6 CDs, 7 hours
Pages: 238 pages
Publisher/Date: Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC, c2015.

Keep your eyes peeled for a small black iron door. Down the road from a working-class pub, along a narrow brick alley, you just might find the entrance to Slade House. A stranger will greet you by name and invite you inside. At first, you won’t want to leave. Later, you’ll find that you can’t. Every nine years, the residents of Slade House extend an invitation to someone who’s different or lonely; a precocious teenager, a recently divorced policeman, a shy college student. But what really goes on inside? For those who find out, it’s already too late… (back cover)

I don’t think I could have more efficiently summarized the plot or the tone of this novel which is why I quoted the back cover rather than reveal any of the details that are slowly spooled out. David Mitchell’s story is masterful and I need to add him to authors that I need to read more often. The suspense and intrigue are palatable, as readers slowly gain knowledge of how Slade House works. In the first chapter, we meet Nathan Bishop and his mother, and every subsequent story builds on the first. That I think is the first mistake, as the connections between the events every nine years spiral outward.

Narrators Thomas Judd and Tania Rodrigues invoke an appropriately eerie mood and captures the unique personalities with equal skill. Judd’s younger Nathan Bishop has the naiveté of a young man, possibly with Asperger’s, who doesn’t understand social cues and probably makes him the most humorous character:

“The next three windows have net curtain, but then I see a TV with wrestling […] Eight house later I see Godzilla on BBC2. He knocks down a pylon just by blundering into it and a Japanese fireman with a sweaty face is shouting into a radio. Now Godzilla’s picked up a train, which makes no sense because amphibians don’t have thumbs. Maybe Godzilla’s thumb’s like a panda’s so-called thumb, which is really an evolved claw.” (5)

Detective Inspector Gordon Edmunds is the stereotypical English “copper”, with clipped, no-nonsense, jaded sarcasm who takes his job seriously, even if it’s just to avoid his boss. Chloe Chetwynd’s voice is also appropriately whispery and tentative. Rodrigues’ is tasked to provide not only the majority of the book, but also has her voice slightly modulated to provide voice to electronic recordings. Between Sally’s confusion, Freya’s trepidation, and the cautious professionalism of Marinus, she showcases an impressive range. The shift in narrators for each chapter is understandable but the choice in narrator for the last chapter is jarring and questionable until the chapter progresses, and especially when you get to the last page and fresh goosebumps arise at the ending’s implications.

The only quibble I have is that the nature of Slade House necessitates huge revelations of information in the guise of investigations, by both amateurs and professionals. It’s like watching a spider weave its web around the prey, and then gloating about how easy it was to catch the fly in the sprung trap. The reason these summaries don’t grow boring is that new information is always provided, leading readers to a nesting dolls affect where each layer is unveiled. Readers are yelling at the victims the entire time to get out, watch out, and just when you think you have it figured out, the next layer is revealed. While I was slightly disappointed by how that last chapter progressed and the new information that explained everything seemed slightly contrived, that previously mentioned last page almost makes up for the easy out. When you get to the end, you realize just how much foreshadowing has been sprinkled like breadcrumbs through the entire novel, and you want to go back and identify the clues. I predict this might end up on Adult Books for Teen Readers lists. There’s definitely appeal for those intrigued by the mysterious, spooky, and unexplained horror found in the plot.

Fraidyzoo

Each month for a previous job, I wrote a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ve expanded that idea to the blog in a feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post. This one (along with some others) never made it into the blog, so forgive me while I play catch-up.

Fraidyzoo.jpgTitle: Fraidyzoo
Author/Illustrator: Thyra Heder
ISBN: 9781419707766
Pages: 48 Pages
Publisher/Date: Harry N. Abrams, c2013

Although Little T’s excitable older sister is ready to go to the zoo, Little T is not. Remembering she was scared by something there but not remembering what, her family tries to help her identify what frightened her the last time. How do they do this? By designing two dozen different and elaborate animals out of cardboard, recyclable goods, and household items, of course! Read the book once for the story and the surprise ending, then go through the book again to truly appreciate Thyra Heder’s creations, which could serve as inspiration for your own “staycation” to the zoo.

How to Train a Train

Each month for a previous job, I wrote a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ve expanded that idea to the blog in a feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post. This one (along with some others) never made it into the blog, so forgive me while I play catch-up.

How to Train a Train.jpgTitle: How to Train a Train
Author: Jason Carter Eaton
Illustrator: John Rocco
ISBN: 9780763663070
Pages: 48 pages
Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press, c2013.

Illustrator John Rocco earned a Caldecott Honor in 2012 for his book Blackout. His detailed pictures shine as he complements Jason Carter Eaton’s instructions on how to catch and train your very own locomotive. Treating the subject like a pet’s guide, readers are informed that “A warm bath can help calm a nervous train… and few trains can resist a good read-aloud.” Featuring all sorts of trains with expressive eyes and mouths made out of the existing train features (think the headlights in the movie Cars), this book is begging to be shared with young and old train enthusiasts.

Fish in a Tree

Fish in a Tree.jpgTitle: Fish in a Tree
Author: Lynda Mullaly Hunt
ISBN: 9780399162569
Pages: 276 pages
Publisher/Date: Nancy Paulsen Books, published by the Penguin Group LLC, a Penguin Radom House Company, c2015.

She shakes her head a bit as she speaks. “I just don’t get it. Why in the world would you give a pregnant woman a sympathy card?” […]
I stand tall, but everything inside shrinks. The thing is, I feel real bad. I mean, I feel terrible when the neighbor’s dog died, never mind if a baby had died. I just didn’t know it was a sad card like that. All I could see were beautiful yellow flowers. And all I could imagine was how happy I was going to make her.
But there a piles of reasons I can’t tell the absolute truth.
Not to her.
Not to anyone.
No matter how many times I have prayed and worked and hoped, reading for me is still like trying to make sense of a can of alphabet soup that’s been dumped on a plate. I just don’t know how other people do it. (9-10)

Sixth-grader Ally Nickerson has moved a lot because of her father’s military job. Her mother and older brother work long hours at their jobs, so she’s spent an enormous amount of time smartly playing dumb. She hasn’t told a single person how difficult it is for her to read, and gets out of doing assignments and reading by being funny, causing distractions, and sometimes just flat out refusing. When her teacher goes on maternity leave and they get a substitute for several months, he starts to see through her attempts to blend in with the rest of the class. Ally realizes she might not be the only one who stands out, and starts to make friends with no-nonsense Keisha and science-obsessed Albert. Her safely guarded secret is about to become not so secret, and Ally’s biggest fears may come true.

This book has sat on my night-stand for too long, especially considering how good it is. I meant to read just a few chapters and sat up for several hours into the night devouring it. I’ll warn you there will probably be more than a handful of quotes sprinkled throughout this longer review as I try to gather my thoughts.

A little librarian love here: I absolutely love Ally’s new teacher Mr. Daniels. The title of the book comes from the quote that if “you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid.” When I wanted to be a teacher, this was the kind of teacher I wanted to be, recognizing the fish in a sea of monkeys and helping them learn to climb, or at least recognize their own abilities. He’s engaging, he’s spirited, he’s invested in his kids, aware of their needs, and willing to alter his teaching to accommodate those needs. He rules his classroom, and the kids know that he means business with very little introduction, which seems slightly unrealistic, but I’m okay with that. I wish Mullaly had included some of Mr. Daniels book recommendations for books, since his book talks are mentioned repeatedly and I used to do book talks to sixth grade students and would love to have received recommendations. His ideas of hands on learning are replicable and impressive, like boxes with mystery objects where in one he suspends an item inside the box in with tape and string in order to fool the students. He also presents an entire list of famous people who exhibited signs of dyslexia, even if not officially diagnosed at that time, including Alexander Graham Bell, George Washington, Henry Ford, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Pablo Picasso, Patricia Polacco, Whoopi Goldberg, Henry Winkler, Muhammad Ali, John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill, John Lennon, and Walt Disney. I included the whole list here for future reference.

Albert and Keisha are great contrasts to Ally, and each other, and they make an excellent trio of friends. Neither one of them allows the opinions or the teasing of others affect who they are, what they like, nor how they act. That attitude eventually starts to impact Ally the more she socializes with them. Keisha’s no-nonsense attitude is admirable, and her creativity is as subtle as the messages she bakes into her cupcakes. She is the only one to initially stand up for Ally and Albert and anyone who gets picked on by the classroom, but she is also aware that she herself is different. Albert’s comebacks against Shay and Jessica’s snark and just plain meanness are laughably geeky but also laughably good zingers.

“Actually, I don’t take my appearance lightly. I take you lightly” (62)
“You know, logically, if a person was to pull another down, it would mean that he or she is already below that person.” (71)
“You say purple is the color of royals. They only wore purple because it was the most difficult and expensive color to make. In medieval times, they needed to collect three thousand Murex brandaris snails to have enough slime to make one cloak. So, good for you. I prefer beige. What about you, Ally? Slime or beige?” (121)

Ally is a sympathetic character, and I love her philosophy of life and introspective way of thinking. She stands up for her big brother when her classmates are teasing her about him by distinguishing that “An older brother is older. A big brother looks out for you and smiles when you walk into a room.” (113) Her family does just that, and is supportive of her in every way they can, even if they don’t recognize her inability to read. She recognizes it though, and when others start to realize it she reacts just as any kid would who sees her inability to read as a problem that she can’t solve. There are some heartbreaking scenes when you want to reach through the pages of the book and hug her. She’s asked to define the difference between alone and lonely.

“Well . . . alone is a way to be. It’s being by yourself with no one else around. And it can be good or bad. And it can be a choice. When my mom and brother are both working, I’m alone, but I don’t mind it.” I swallow hard. Shift in my seat. “But being lonely is never a choice. It’s not about who is with you or not. You can feel lonely when you’re alone, but the worst kind of lonely is when you’re in a room full of people, but you’re still alone. Or you feel like you are, anyway.” (123-124)

But she struggles and puts in the hard work in order to triumph, and although I’m not sure most kids would, it serves as an excellent role model for kids who find themselves in the same situation. Give it to fans of Wonder, fans of Rules, fans of Out of My Mind, and buy multiple copies as I feel like this one is going to become an instant favorite with those readers. Hopefully not just with those readers, but with non-readers as well, who really need the message of hope and perseverance, and of making the impossible possible.

Toys Story Time

I did some out of the box story time program planning this week on the theme of toys. I thought it was thematic without being specific to a holiday, and it can be a good opportunity to talk with children about sharing, losing, or forgoing toys they have outgrown as times for new toys approach, like birthdays or the holidays. Many thanks to Story Time Katie for a starting point.

We danced to Toy Boat by Jim Gill from his Irrational Anthem CD and found our missing teddy bear hiding under different colored circles. Use this song (you can play it twice it’s so short and encourage the kids to sing along the second time through) as a dance break and a transition after reading Train. (“We talked about trains, cars, planes and diggers, now we’re going to sing a song about a boat.”)

I used a flannel board, but I told parents they could do the same thing with pots, boxes, or pillow cases. I adapted the rhyme from several different sources, including what I could remember from a rhyme involving a mouse and houses from a previous job. The rhyme transitioned nicely after reading Where’s My Teddy?

Little Bear, Little Bear
Where is Little Bear?
Could he be hiding under
the blue circle there?

We did this one three times, with bear hiding under a green, and then a red circle. For the third time, I put the bear under a purple triangle, and then put the green circle on top of that. Both the parents and the kids were surprised when there was a triangle instead of a bear! I’ll have to remember to do that again.

Where's My Teddy.jpgTitle: Where’s My Teddy?
Author/Illustrator: Jez Alborough
ISBN: 9781413173420
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press, c1992. (first published in Great Britain by Walker Books Ltd)

I can’t believe I’ve never featured this book on my blog in the time I’ve been blogging. A staple for usually bear themed story times, I held off on using it until my toy theme idea sprang up. Eddie has lost a teddy named Freddie, it just so happens in the same forest where a bear has lost his teddy. They find first the other’s bear, and then there is a terror filled exchange where both Eddie and real bear run back to their beds, snuggling their appropriately sized teddy bears. Parents and kids alike love the surprise of the overstuffed bear, which they do not see coming until Eddie stumbles upon it. Be forewarned, when first introduced you may have to walk around so children can find tiny Freddie in the over-sized bear’s arms.

Train!.jpgTitle: Train
Author/Illustrator: Judi Abbot
ISBN: 9781589251632
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Tiger Tales, c2014 (originally published in Great Britain by Little Tiger Press)

This was a fabulously adorable story all around. The pictures were bright  and easily distinguishable. Elephants expressions could have been a little clearer, but it was quite obvious his single-mindedness towards his favorite toy. Some kids were thrown by the tunnel scene, I think because they forgot the characters were on a moving train for the whole story. It solidifies sharing without actually using the word, and broadening your mind to new experiences. Plus the two page spread where the animals are finally getting along is just fun to read.

Mine!.jpgTitle: Mine!
Author: Shutta Crum
Illustrator: Patrice Barton
ISBN: 9780375867118
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

This one I don’t think went over so well. They sat and they listened as I tried to narrate this nearly wordless picture book about a set of toddlers and a dog learning how to share, but  The pictures were too soft and pastel and insubstantial and I think everyone was just a little lost by the plot, as in so what that the dog and babies were playing with toys and romping in the water bowl. I don’t think it was the favorite of the night.

Knuffle Bunny Too.jpgTitle: Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity
Author/Illustrator: Mo Willems
ISBN: 9781423102991
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Disney Hyperion, c2007.

You’ve previously seen the first and third books in the series mentioned in this blog, but all three of them have been used repeatedly by me for story times. I think the kids were sitting too far back to really notice the slight differences between the Knuffle Bunnies that Trixie and Sonja bring to show and tell. I have had previous success with kids noticing before the narrative tells them that something has happened and the bunnies have been switched, which didn’t happen this time around. The older kids usually enjoy this one more than the younger kids.

Stay tuned for more toy books! A separate post will have other books considered but not used, mostly due to either time constraints or because of the length of the book.

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 132 other followers

%d bloggers like this: