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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Archive | Reading Ahead

Explorer Academy: The Nebula Secret

Explorer Academy: The Nebula SecretExplor­er Acad­e­my: The Neb­u­la Secret
Tru­di Truett
illus­trat­ed by Scott Plumbe (with a blend of pho­tos)
Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Part­ners, 2018
ISBN 978−1−4263−3159−6

Done with the Har­ry Pot­ter series, maybe not quite ready for the Alex Rid­er series, what do you sug­gest?

Explor­er Acad­e­my. Emphat­i­cal­ly. 

The book opens in Hawaii, where Cruz Coro­n­a­do (not quite 13) is get­ting packed and say­ing good­bye before he heads to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., to attend Explor­er Acad­e­my. His moth­er worked there. His aunt Marisol is a pro­fes­sor of anthro­pol­o­gy, pale­on­tol­ogy, and cryp­tol­ogy. Cruz des­per­ate­ly wants to go. Out for a last surf before his dad dri­ves him to the air­port, some­one grabs his ankle and tries to drag him down. Cruz sens­es dan­ger and man­ages to escape.

That’s just the first few pages. Arriv­ing at the Acad­e­my, we are treat­ed to sat­is­fy­ing descrip­tions of Cruz’s fel­low stu­dents, his teach­ers, the fan­tas­tic build­ings of the Acad­e­my, and the library with its spe­cial col­lec­tions room. Cruz meets his room­mate, Emmett Lu, who is inven­tive and great best friend mate­r­i­al.

The stu­dents are vying for the North Star award, giv­en to the most promis­ing stu­dent at the end of their first year. That sets up some ten­sion but it’s the sim­u­lat­ed envi­ron­ment explor­ing they do, much of it to aid in con­ser­va­tion efforts, that proves to be risky and turn-the-page engross­ing.

There are sev­er­al lay­ers of sto­ry here. Cruz’s moth­er died at the Acad­e­my sev­er­al years ear­li­er but no one knows why. She left clues in code for Cruz because she’s con­fi­dent he’ll fig­ure out what’s going on. Some­one always seems to be fol­low­ing Cruz and there are sev­er­al char­ac­ters who pop up along the way who are unset­tling. All of this and his class assign­ments are dif­fi­cult but fas­ci­nat­ing. Who wouldn’t want to go to this school?

The char­ac­ters will become the reader’s friends: Sailor, Bryn­dis, and Emmett will become close friends, a team, and Dugan, Zane, Ren­shaw, and Ali round out their explor­er group. Back in Hawaii, Cruz’ best friend Lani helps him  think things through, do inter­net research, and whips up life-sav­ing mea­sures because she sens­es he needs them. There’s even a dog! 

Each of the chap­ters is chock full of cool gad­gets, cut­ting-edge sci­ence, astron­o­my, anthro­pol­o­gy, every bit of which had me look­ing things up on the com­put­er. At the end of the book, there’s a thought­ful sec­tion of real-life sci­en­tists pur­su­ing the research and inven­tions described in the book, let­ting us know what’s real and what’s near­ly real. 

As always, this Nation­al Geo­graph­ic book is so well designed that it becomes anoth­er ele­ment of the sto­ry, pulling us through. (At one point, I flipped through to see what oth­er intrigu­ing illus­tra­tions there might be.) Scott Plumbe com­bines good char­ac­ter stud­ies with cool maps and exam­ples, some of which are blend­ed with pho­tos. Alto­geth­er the look and feel of the book sup­port this fast-paced, well-writ­ten thriller of a sto­ry.

I can’t wait for book two, The Falcon’s Feath­er, because Cruz’s moth­er chal­lenges him to a quest that will take him and the explor­ers all around the world and this read­er wants to be by their side.

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed.

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imagine

ImagineThere are times when I open a new book that my pulse quick­ens and times when I need to be con­vinced. Some­times I can sense myself slid­ing com­fort­ably into the sur­round­ings of a pic­ture book, feel­ing wel­comed, under­stand­ing every­thing about the book because it is so well craft­ed. That’s this book.

First off, this is an auto­bi­og­ra­phy … so as a men­tor text it is ide­al. 

Bookol­o­gy has been focus­ing on sto­ries of immi­grants and refugees this fall and this is an excel­lent sto­ry to share for engag­ing empa­thy.

Most of all, it is writ­ten so lyri­cal­ly, so evoca­tive­ly, that you and your stu­dents will be charmed by Mr. Herrera’s sto­ry. He paints word pic­tures so well—and cap­tures emo­tions we all share in common—that we believe in this lit­tle boy. We can imag­ine our­selves tak­ing a jour­ney like his, attain­ing our dreams. 

If I helped Mom­ma feed
the hop­ping chick­ens
and catch the crazy turkey 
in the front yard
of our new vil­lage,

imag­ine”

This lit­tle boy, Juan Felipe Her­rera, grows up to become the Unit­ed States Poet Lau­re­ate (2015−2017) and win recog­ni­tion far and wide. This is the jour­ney he takes from a small child play­ing among chamomile to stand­ing on the steps of the Library of Con­gress, read­ing his poet­ry to the nation. (It’s also a good men­tor text for telling a life sto­ry in an under­stat­ed man­ner, with­out brag­ging.) It is an encour­ag­ing book, a fine exam­ple of what can come true if you imag­ine, if you work to make your dreams come to life.

Lau­ren Castillo’s illus­tra­tions are at once soft and strong, using a defin­ing black line against a warm, tex­tured back­ground. I found myself reach­ing out to touch the pages to expe­ri­ence the set­tings as they changed through­out Mr. Herrera’s life. Each illus­tra­tion invit­ed me to linger, to look at the home the boy is leav­ing behind, the creekbed he explores, the fre­quent changes in his sur­round­ings. These illus­tra­tions pro­vide depth and won­der and detail in all the right places. 

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed. This book belongs on tables in libraries, class­rooms, and homes where it can be eas­i­ly picked up and read again and again.

imag­ine
Juan Felipe Her­rera
illus­trat­ed by Lau­ren Castil­lo
Can­dlewick Press, 2018
ISBN 978–0763690526

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Anna and Johanna

Anna and JohannaAnna and Johan­na: a Children’s Book Inspired by Ver­meer
Geral­dine Elschn­er
illus­trat­ed by Flo­rence Koenig
Pres­tel Pub­lish­ing, 2018
pub­lished in French in 2016
ISBN 978−3−7913−7345−4

Delft. Delft blue. The book begins
with blue and yel­low. 1666.

Two friends born on the same day.
This day, their birth­day.
They are each mak­ing gifts for the oth­er.
Lace and choco­late.
One the daugh­ter of the house,
the oth­er the daugh­ter of the maid.

This is how the sto­ry begins. It unfolds with a sur­prise. A very dra­mat­ic sur­prise. It makes for a mem­o­rable sto­ry.

And yet, this book is more than that. It unwraps itself in lay­ers, invit­ing us to dig deep­er, turn pages back and forth and then again, exam­in­ing close­ly, uncov­er­ing those reward­ing lay­ers.

You prob­a­bly noticed the sub­ti­tle. This is a sto­ry devel­oped by the author from two of Jan Vermeer’s paint­ings, The Lace­mak­er (1665) and The Milk­maid (1658÷60).

Imag­in­ing a sto­ry about what’s depict­ed in a paint­ing is a sat­is­fy­ing way to under­stand the work when the artist leaves no notes, no mem­oir.

The author points out in the book’s back mat­ter, which is crit­i­cal for this book, that almost noth­ing is known about Jan Ver­meer. He did not leave notes.

Ver­meer paint­ed every­day peo­ple doing ordi­nary things with extra­or­di­nary results. He saw, and con­veyed, light in a way which illu­mi­nates life, no mat­ter how mun­dane the task he depicts.

Anna and Johanna, illustration by Florence Koenig, Prestel Publishing, 2018

Anna and Johan­na, illus­tra­tion copy­right © by Flo­rence Koenig, Pres­tel Pub­lish­ing, 2018

Shar­ing this book at home or in the class­room will inspire young lis­ten­ers, young read­ers to write their own sto­ries about art­work. The back mat­ter will inspire teach­ers. A trip to the muse­um to see the art in the prop­er light, the depth of the paint, the tex­ture of the brush strokes? While it may not be pos­si­ble to see a Ver­meer paint­ing in per­son, going to an art gallery or muse­um to see paint­ings in per­son will add to the inspi­ra­tion and the under­stand­ing.

This is a beau­ti­ful book. The art­work tells the sto­ry as much as the words do, all the while evok­ing Ver­meer while true to Koenig’s style. The col­or palette con­veys the city of Delft, a time long ago, draw­ing our eyes to the water, to the sky … there is much to admire.

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed.

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Summer Reading

When I say “sum­mer read­ing,” you think about … a good nov­el, right? I have a cou­ple of sug­ges­tions.

Every kid should have these two books tucked in their beach bags, ready for a car trip, or packed for sum­mer camp. Seri­ous­ly.

In between the read­ing out loud of those nov­els you’ve been sav­ing up all year, or the lis­ten­ing to an audio book on the car radio, or the flash­light read­ing in the pitched tent in your back­yard, I hope you will share these books. They’re stuffed with facts pre­sent­ed in the most deli­cious ways.

Some­times a sto­ry is over­whelm­ing dur­ing a busy day but your read­ers and non-read­ers can dip into these books, read one para­graph … and they’ll be hooked. If they only read two pages at a time, so be it, but the dis­cus­sions that will fol­low can be price­less. 

I have not failed 10,000 times; I’ve suc­cess­ful­ly found 10,000 ways that will not work.” (Thomas Alva Edi­son)

Life will be up, life will be down … You can laugh at it or you can cry at it, and laugh­ing feels bet­ter.” (Rachael Ray)

I love that there are inten­tion­al mis­takes on these pages, dar­ing the read­er to find them … and I appre­ci­ate that there’s an answer key.

There are out­ra­geous inven­tions memo­ri­al­ized. Red­di-Bacon? Coca Cola, that headache reliev­er? McDonald’s Hula Burg­er?

Many peo­ple stand firm­ly on these pages. Michael Jor­dan. Tina Fey. Albert Ein­stein.

You can read about one top­ic, laugh, learn, ques­tion, dis­cuss … and find it irre­sistible to turn the page for more.

Every­thing is pre­sent­ed in a high­ly visu­al way with graph­ic design and lay­out that makes read­ing eas­i­er.

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed.

Happy Accidents from Famous Fails

Hap­py Acci­dents” from Famous Fails, Crispin Boy­er, Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Kids

For your sec­ond mag­ic act, you can add Mas­ter­Mind, anoth­er Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Kids book. In case any­one won­ders why you’re hand­ing them a book on fail­ures, this book finds your inner genius.

Once again high­ly visu­al, this book relies on read­ing, math, sci­ence, and com­mon sense to address the games and puz­zles. Many of the pages include a lit­tle-know fact. Do you know about super­tasters? Do you sus­pect you are one? Enjoy that next anchovy piz­za.

While you’re play­ing the games and tack­ling the exper­i­ments, you’ll learn about how the brain works … and we all need to fig­ure that out.

It’s anoth­er ide­al book­ing for dip­ping into when time allows, but espe­cial­ly per­fect for lazy days at the cab­in and long car trips. 

Don’t miss out on pro­vid­ing a well-round­ed read­ing expe­ri­ence for your young ones.

Secret Sens­es” from Mas­ter­mind, Stephanie War­ren Drim­mer, Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Kids

Both books will work well for that mid­dle grade, ages 8 to 12 group, but I sus­pect the adults in your fam­i­ly won’t be able to keep their hands off of them either.

Famous Fails!
Crispin Boy­er
Nation­al Geo­graph­ic, 2016
ISBN 978−1−4263−2548−9

Mas­ter­mind: Over 100 Games, Tests, and Puz­zles to Unleash Your Inner Genius
Stephanie War­ren Drim­mer
Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Kids, 2016
ISBN 978−1−4263−2110−8

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What’s So Special about Shakespeare?

What's So Special about Shakespeare?We cel­e­brate William Shakespeare’s birth­day on April 23rd (or there­abouts). Con­sid­er read­ing excerpts of this book to your class­es.

In What’s So Spe­cial about Shake­speare?, the author, Michael Rosen, walks into a house with us, peek­ing into rooms where Shakespeare’s plays are being enact­ed. Such vari­ety! It’s an inspired way to place young read­ers among the peo­ple of Shakespeare’s time.

Here’s a strik­ing state­ment: “All this may sound extra­or­di­nary, but Shake­speare lived in extra­or­di­nary and dan­ger­ous times.”

Rosen shows us those dan­gers, the propen­si­ty for war over land, mon­ey, and pow­er, and the very real threat of hav­ing one’s head chopped off.

Reli­gion and pol­i­tics were all mixed up in Shakespeare’s day, in Eng­land and on the Con­ti­nent. It was easy to be found guilty of trea­son, to lose your life. Rosen’s live­ly text helps us under­stand that when Shake­speare wrote his plays, there was polit­i­cal and reli­gious com­men­tary woven into through his dia­logue. He placed him­self in dan­ger.

It’s inter­est­ing to won­der what effect this might have had on audi­ences in Shakespeare’s time. After all, when the play was writ­ten [Mac­beth], many peo­ple still thought that kings and queens were almost like gods. What hap­pens if they’re also crim­i­nals?”

What was school like for Shake­speare? How did ordi­nary peo­ple live? Why did they go to the the­ater? What do we know about Shakespeare’s life? (Not much.)

Plac­ing Shake­speare with­in his world, explain­ing that world, we see that print­ed books were rel­a­tive­ly new, and peo­ple who knew how to read … that was fair­ly new as well. Shake­speare was well read. He was often inspired by oth­er texts, some­times bor­row­ing the ideas and the sto­ry. Rosen shows us a com­par­i­son between a Plutarch pas­sage and Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopa­tra. It is evi­dent that Shakespeare’s ver­sion is more inter­est­ing. He was a very good writer who knew how to hold an audi­ence.

Then you’ll see that Shake­speare didn’t real­ly write books, he wrote scripts—scenes and speech­es for peo­ple to say out loud and act out in front of oth­er peo­ple.”

There are in-depth expla­na­tions of four plays: Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream, Mac­beth, King Lear, and The Tem­pest. In-depth? Four to six heav­i­ly illus­trat­ed pages are devot­ed to each play. This is read­able!

Sarah Nayler’s draw­ings are down­right fun­ny, often reit­er­at­ing the text but under­lin­ing it with broad and ram­bunc­tious humor.

The type is big with a good deal of space between the lines, mak­ing this quite easy to read. And those draw­ings! They break up the text.

A pre­vi­ous ver­sion of this book, Shake­speare: His Work & His World, writ­ten by Michael Rosen, was pub­lished by Can­dlewick in 2006. That vol­ume was intend­ed for ages 12 and up. What’s So Spe­cial About Shake­speare? sees a change in book design and it’s appro­pri­ate for younger read­ers. The trim size is just right for tuck­ing into a back­pack. A Shake­speare time­line and bib­li­og­ra­phy are appre­ci­at­ed.

Do you have stu­dents who love the the­ater, act­ing, plays? This books tells the his­to­ry of the­ater in a much short­er fash­ion than the semes­ters I sat through in col­lege! For stu­dents who are reluc­tant to study Shake­speare, this book will enliv­en their curios­i­ty about his plays. High­ly rec­om­mend­ed.

Here’s an effec­tive book­talk for this book by the author him­self!

What’s So Spe­cial about Shake­speare?
Michael Rosen
Sarah Nayler, illus­tra­tor
Can­dlewick Press, 2018
ISBN 978–0763699956

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The Enchanting Boggarts

The Dark is Rising

When­ev­er any­one asks the title of my favorite book, it’s a toss-up between two: A Wrin­kle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle and The Dark is Ris­ing by Susan Coop­er. A Wrin­kle in Time because it opened the whole wide uni­verse to my young mind and The Dark is Ris­ing because I under­stood for the first time what a per­fect sto­ry could be. I admire the writ­ing of these two women enor­mous­ly. But there are books by each of them that I had not read.

Fol­low­ers of this col­umn will rec­og­nize that I don’t enjoy books in which ani­mals talk. I love fan­ta­sy but I couldn’t bring myself to read Water­ship Down or The Wind in the Wil­lows. (I know. Gasp. I have now read The Wind in the Wil­lows. And I didn’t care for it.)

So when I saw that Susan Coop­er had pub­lished a book called The Bog­gart (1993), I made the assump­tion that it was about a cute crit­ter. I didn’t read it. When the sequel came out, I couldn’t moti­vate myself to read The Bog­gart and the Mon­ster (1997). Even though I have such great respect for The Dark is Ris­ing.

Now the third book in the series has come out. The Bog­gart Fights Back was released in Feb­ru­ary of this year. The pub­lish­er has made the cov­ers of all three Bog­gart books look even younger with their car­toon-like illus­tra­tion draw­ing. But some­thing about the phrase “fights back” made me curi­ous. Isn’t it inter­est­ing how you can pick up a book years after it has tak­en up res­i­dence on your shelf, read it, and won­der what on earth took you so long?

WHY did I not read these books before? I fin­ished The Bog­gart Fights Back in one sit­ting (it was that good) and imme­di­ate­ly knew I need­ed to read the first two books. And even though The Bog­gart was writ­ten 25 years ago and it has a dif­fer­ent feel­ing, I loved all three books.

In the first Bog­gart book we meet the chil­dren who live on the Loch in the west­ern Scot­tish High­lands. The own­er of Cas­tle Keep has just died and the heirs, who live in Cana­da, come to vis­it. What will become of the Cas­tle? What will hap­pen to the tra­di­tions of this vil­lage, the close-knit com­mu­ni­ty? And the Wild Thing that lives in the Cas­tle, the Bog­gart? Invis­i­ble, not at all human, the Bog­gart is a trick­ster. He enjoys play­ing pranks on humans and ani­mals, with­out care for feel­ings or destruc­tion of prop­er­ty. He caus­es hav­oc! The sto­ry is live­ly, smart, and engag­ing. Susan Coop­er writes with Wild Mag­ic her­self … and this book is imbued with the sto­ry­telling that young read­ers who crave more fan­ta­sy sto­ries will gob­ble up.

In The Bog­gart and the Mon­ster, Emi­ly and Jes­sup Vol­nik vis­it Scot­land once again, stay­ing with the new own­er of Cas­tle Keep, explor­ing with Tom­my Cameron, but they have a prop­er vaca­tion, tour­ing to Loch Ness in order to see Nessie, the mon­ster.

It turns out that the Loch Ness mon­ster is anoth­er bog­gart, a cousin to the bog­gart of Cas­tle Keep! This book is excit­ing as Nessie hunters and chil­dren and bog­garts are drawn to the same area. Will they be able to awak­en Nessie to pro­tect her? I real­ly enjoyed this plau­si­ble expla­na­tion for the Loch Ness mon­ster and, of course, this read­er was cheer­ing for the bog­garts. (Who could have pre­dict­ed that?)

And now, twen­ty-five years lat­er, it’s the chil­dren of Tom­my Cameron, twins Allie and Jay, who are stay­ing with their grand­fa­ther, Angus Cameron, and explor­ing Cas­tle Keep in The Bog­gart Fights Back. Angus owns a com­mu­ni­ty store on the shores of the Loch. The Bog­gart and Nessie are time­less so they are dream­ing up new pranks. In a sto­ry that is all too real for many peo­ple around the world, an Amer­i­can devel­op­er, William Trout, decides that the pris­tine charm of the Loch, the Cas­tle, and the sur­round­ing envi­rons is the per­fect place for his lux­u­ry resort and golf course. He moves right in and begins demol­ish­ing every­thing the res­i­dents cher­ish. Bull­doz­ers, con­struc­tion crews, they tear up the land­scape. Can the chil­dren moti­vate the two bog­garts to help stop the destruc­tion? This book is grand. It’s fun­ny, it’s appalling, and it is enveloped with enough mag­ic to sat­is­fy any­one who craves the very best in fan­ta­sy writ­ing.

Why did I wait so long? I rec­om­mend that you do not.

The Bog­gart Fights Back (Book 3)
writ­ten by Susan Coop­er
Mar­garet K. McElder­ry Books, Feb­ru­ary 27, 2018
978–1534406292

The Bog­gart and the Mon­ster (Book 2)
writ­ten by Susan Coop­er
Mar­garet K. McElder­ry Books, 1997
978–0689813306

The Bog­gart (Book 1)
writ­ten by Susan Coop­er
Mar­garet K. McElder­ry Books, 1993
978–0689505768

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With My Hands

Some­times, a book comes across my desk that sparkles like a gem, attract­ing my atten­tion, insist­ing that I stop what I’m doing and read it. This hap­pened when With My Hands: Poems about Mak­ing Things arrived last week. I thought I’d take a peek. Next thing you know, I was clos­ing the last page of the book, sigh­ing with con­tent­ment. And then I knew I had to read the book all over again.

I’ve been inter­est­ed in mak­ing things since I can first remem­ber. Whether I was cre­at­ing a peg­board town with my Playskool set or help­ing my grand­moth­er make pie crust or giv­ing my grand­fa­ther a hand in his shop, or sewing small items to dec­o­rate my Bar­bie doll house … I still feel best when my hands, mind, and heart are busy. When cre­ativ­i­ty is awake and sat­is­fied.

This book will serve as inspi­ra­tion, recog­ni­tion, and encour­age­ment. It will awak­en a dor­mant mak­er and help a per­sis­tent mak­er sit up and feel good about what they do.

VanDerwater’s poet­ry is under­stand­able. It reads out loud well. It is often brief. Her word choice is pal­pa­ble … I find myself cheer­ing her selec­tions.

The illus­tra­tions by Steve John­son and Lou Fanch­er are bril­liant. From the first spread, “Mak­er,” with the art based on fin­ger­prints (I can do that!) and a hill­side of clover, to the last spread “Shad­ow Show,” with its exam­ple of a shad­ow pup­pet that echoes spi­rals, the inspi­ra­tion for art-mak­ing is full of detail and sub­tle ideas to launch your own work. I par­tic­u­lar­ly enjoy those spreads where two dis­parate poems are unit­ed by the illus­tra­tions. That pro­vides inspi­ra­tion, too!

My excite­ment lev­el after read­ing this book was high. Much like the Olympics cre­ate pos­si­bil­i­ties in young minds, this book encour­ages the can-do spir­it.

Poet­ry? Give the dif­fer­ent forms a try. Craft with words. Origa­mi? Leaf pic­tures? Mak­ing a piña­ta? Tie-dying? Soap carv­ing? The sub­tle humor in VanDerwater’s poet­ry and the John­son Fanch­ers’ art keeps read­ers’ spir­its high.

Para­chute

I cut a para­chute from plas­tic
tied my guy on with elas­tic
threw him from a win­dow (dras­tic)
watched him drift to earth—fantastic!”

The Army Guy tied to the plas­tic para­chute, drift­ing down to the boat fea­tured in the next poem … this is the kind of poet­ry every­one can enjoy, the inspi­ra­tion every­one needs.

With My Hands: Poems about Mak­ing Things
writ­ten by Amy Lud­wig Van­Der­wa­ter
illus­trat­ed by Steve John­son and Lou Fanch­er
Clar­i­on Books, March 27, 2018
978–0544313408

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The Magic Misfits

The Magic MisfitsI’m one of those peo­ple that often reads a celebri­ty-writ­ten book because I’d like to find one that defies the odds. How about you? Did you get over the won­der­ing at a cer­tain point? Or do you still give a new star-pow­ered book a try?

Sad­ly, I don’t often find a celebri­ty book I can rec­om­mend. This time, though, I’m prac­ti­cal­ly shout­ing: Read this book! It’s that good.

Neil Patrick Har­ris wrote The Mag­ic Mis­fits. As pres­i­dent of the Acad­e­my of Mag­i­cal Arts from 2011 to 2014, I sus­pect­ed the “mag­ic” might be more than a word for fan­ta­sy. It’s an inte­gral part of this mys­tery, woven deft­ly into the sto­ry. What’s more, there are mag­ic tricks after many of the chap­ters, pro­vid­ing step-by-step instruc­tions and tips for mak­ing the illu­sions seem real. And Har­ris intro­duces the book by let­ting read­ers know there are codes and ciphers with­in the text. Pay atten­tion!

Carter Locke is a young boy who loves mag­ic … and he’s taught him­self to be good with illu­sions. When he’s quite young his lov­ing par­ents dis­ap­pear, after which he goes to live with his uncle … who is a crook! Sylvester “Sly” Beat­on is self­ish and cru­el. He demands that Carter act as his shill in con­fi­dence games. Carter learns all of Uncle Sly’s moves but Carter makes a firm rule that he will nev­er steal. He has a strong com­pass for right and wrong. Life is intol­er­a­ble with Sly and Carter runs away, with­out hav­ing any idea where he’s going.

Rid­ing the rails, he ends up in Min­er­al Wells (There’s a MAP! I love maps.) where he meets Mr. Dante Ver­non, which is a very lucky hap­pen­stance. Carter is intro­duced to five oth­er young peo­ple his age, all of them prac­tic­ing some form of mag­ic. They are the Mag­ic Mis­fits, the first friends of his young life.

Min­er­al Wells is cur­rent­ly caught up in the fer­vor over B.B. Bosso’s Car­ni­val Spec­tac­u­lar. Tempt­ing peo­ple with cir­cus acts, sideshow odd­i­ties, and promis­es of prizes, Carter quick­ly real­izes the show is all based on fak­ery. When Bosso invites him to be a part of the Spec­tac­u­lar because of his mag­ic skills, Carter feels uncom­fort­able. He refus­es. Carter and the Mag­ic Mis­fits are deter­mined to save Min­er­al Wells from Bosso’s spell. There’s a strong sense of dan­ger in Har­ris’ sto­ry. He’s writ­ten a true page-turn­er.

I enjoyed the way the author speaks direct­ly to the read­er. From the begin­ning of Chap­ter Two:

Sur­prise! It’s time for a flash­back!

I under­stand how frus­trat­ing it is to pause a sto­ry right in the mid­dle of the action, but there are a few things you should know about Carter before I tell you what hap­pens next. Things like: Who is this kid? And why was he run­ning? And who is the man he was run­ning from? I promise we’ll get back to Carter’s escape soon enough. And if we don’t, I’ll let you lock me up in a tight strait­jack­et with no key. Oh, the hor­ror!”

The book reads like a movie: Lis­sy Marlin’s illus­tra­tions are pep­pered through­out, help­ing the read­er visu­al­ize just enough. Her char­ac­ters’ faces con­tribute depth to the sto­ry.

I hope this book wasn’t ghost-writ­ten. I want to know that Har­ris wrote the whole thing. I could hear his voice through­out the sto­ry, so I’m choos­ing to believe this is a celebri­ty-writ­ten book that far sur­pass­es oth­er star-pow­ered efforts. It’s a sol­id mid­dle-grade book. It’s charm­ing, fun­ny, com­pelling, and a tes­ta­ment to the pow­er of friend­ship. And I can learn mag­ic. Mag­ic Mis­fits: The Sec­ond Sto­ry comes out in Sep­tem­ber 2018. I already have it on order.

Mag­ic Mis­fits
Neil Patrick Har­ris
Little,Brown Books for Young Read­ers
Novem­ber 2017
ISBN 978–0316391825

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The Secret Kingdom

The Secret KingdomThis book is irre­sistible. For all kinds of rea­sons.

Remem­ber when you were a kid, or maybe you do this now, how you’d take what­ev­er was at hand and cre­ate a house, a camp, an entire set­ting for you to play in? Where you could act out your sto­ries? Did you do this with found items from nature? Or things your fam­i­ly was throw­ing away? Did you scoop up cool fab­ric or papers to use when you need­ed them? Then this book is for you.

The author and illus­tra­tor tell the sto­ry of Nek Chand. It begins this way:

On the con­ti­nent of Asia, near the mighty Himalayas, in the Pun­jab region of long ago, sat the tiny vil­lage of Berian Kalan, the place Nek Chand Sai­ni called home.”

Claire A. Nevola, who is, I con­fess, one of my favorite illus­tra­tors because she knows how impor­tant the details are and seems to read my mind about what I need to know, begins with this illus­tra­tion.

from The Secret Kingdom, illustrated by Claire A. Nivola

sculp­ture by Bri­an Mar­shall

As you can see on the cov­er of the book, there are bro­ken pots and rib­bons and warped bicy­cle wheels, just the sort of thing you and I might have col­lect­ed. Per­haps you still do. (Anoth­er con­fes­sion, I have a Pin­ter­est board where I keep exam­ples of char­ac­ters made from Found Objects, so col­lect­ing bits and scraps is always on my mind. Here’s one of the char­ac­ters I find so charm­ing.)

Barb Rosen­stock tells the sto­ry. Nek Chand is born a sto­ry­teller. He notices the peo­ple and the world around him. He appre­ci­ates his vil­lage and the peo­ple, the com­mu­ni­ty, with whom he lives. Until the Pun­jab is split into two coun­tries, Pak­istan and India. Nek’s vil­lage is in Pak­istan, which is now Mus­lim. His fam­i­ly is Hin­du. “The Sai­ni fam­i­ly fled at night, walk­ing for twen­ty-four days across the new bor­der into India. Nek car­ried only vil­lage sto­ries in his bro­ken heart.” 

We have seen cur­rent pho­tos. The night­ly news tells us sto­ries (not enough of them) of the peo­ple who are leav­ing their much-loved homes. The Secret King­dom takes place in 1947. It could be tak­ing place today.

What is most impor­tant about this book is that it the true sto­ry of what one man does to wrap him­self in the mem­o­ries of home. With much effort, Nek finds a spot in the jun­gle near his new town. Patient­ly, he begins to clear a space, col­lect dis­card­ed trea­sures and boul­ders from riverbeds, and “half-dead plants from the city dump.” He began to tell his sto­ries by cre­at­ing art, a sanc­tu­ary, a place he could feel at home. 

He’s built all this on gov­ern­ment land. After many years, he is dis­cov­ered, and the gov­ern­ment intends to demol­ish all of his art­work. 

Every­one in Chandi­garh learned his secret. Offi­cials were out­raged. Nek Chand Sai­ni should lose his job!

His King­dom would be destroyed.

Until the peo­ple of Chandi­garh came.”

That stopped my breath­ing. It was the peo­ple who rec­og­nized imme­di­ate­ly how impor­tant this secret king­dom of Nek Chand’s tru­ly was. And it was the peo­ple who worked to save it. 

At the end of the sto­ry, there is a tru­ly appro­pri­ate fold-out sec­tion with pho­tographs that will have you say­ing, “Yes! I under­stand why this had to be saved. I would have worked with the com­mu­ni­ty to do this.”

Nek Chand (pho­to: Gilles Prob­st, Wiki­me­dia Com­mons)

A biog­ra­phy of Nek Chand is in the Author’s Note, help­ing the read­er under­stand how impor­tant and vital this man was. He died at age 90 in 2015. His art remains.

This is the sto­ry of what one per­son can do to pre­serve our sto­ries. It is also the sto­ry of how a com­mu­ni­ty of peo­ple can pro­tect, defend, and pre­serve what is tru­ly impor­tant to them. It is an irre­sistible true sto­ry.

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed for school and home.

The Secret King­dom: Nek Chand, a Chang­ing India, and a Hid­den World of Art
writ­ten by Barb Rosen­stock
illus­trat­ed  by Claire A. Nivola
pub­lished by Can­dlewick Press, 2017
ISBN 978−0−7636−7475−5

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Mighty Jack

Mighty Jack and the Goblin KingWe are thrust into the midst of the action, which nev­er stops until the epi­logue. This is how Ben Hatke tells a sto­ry.

We don’t know what’s going on. There’s no set­up. Instead, we quick­ly learn that Jack is climb­ing some veg­e­ta­tive mat­ter to find the ogre who kid­napped his sis­ter Mad­dy and take her home. His friend, Lil­ly, no side­kick, is climb­ing along­side him.

The vil­lains of the piece are rats, giants, and that ogre. They have con­trol of a nexus point that exists out­side of time and space, a con­nect­ing link between worlds. It looks like the tow­er of a cas­tle built on an aster­oid. The place has lost its lus­ter because of the giants’ nefar­i­ous choic­es, among them the need to feed a human child to the machine that blocks the bridges between worlds. It’s sat­is­fy­ing to dis­cov­er these plot points through­out the sto­ry.

Jack and Lil­ly are split up when Lil­ly falls from the vine (a rat is respon­si­ble). Jack vows to come back for her but he is com­pelled to find Mad­dy.

This is not earth,” illus­tra­tion from Jack and the Mighty Gob­lin King by Ben Hatke

The adven­ture takes off in two direc­tions. Lil­ly is seri­ous­ly hurt by the rats … and saved by the gob­lins who inhab­it the low­er reach­es of the nexus point. The Gob­lin King demands that Lil­ly will be his bride. She has oth­er ideas. In the “trash from all worlds,” she finds a Shel­by Mus­tang. She will find a way to take it with her. Lil­ly is a hero in the truest sense of the word.

The gob­lins are the most endear­ing char­ac­ters in the book. They are fun­ny, resource­ful, knowl­edge­able, and they care for Lil­ly. Their lan­guage is not exact­ly Eng­lish and it suits them. Now we know how gob­lins com­mu­ni­cate.

There are unan­swered ques­tions. Why can’t Mad­dy talk? Where did the mag­ic seeds come from that give Jack and Lil­ly short bursts of need­ed pow­er? Why is Jack’s mother’s house being fore­closed? These are the intrigu­ing bits that encour­age the read­er to fill in the sto­ry, becom­ing one with the sto­ry­teller.

Hatke’s art­work is so much a part of the sto­ry that the book couldn’t be read out loud with­out show­ing the frames of the graph­ic nov­el. His brain cre­ates exot­ic set­tings that invite lin­ger­ing to absorb their odd­ness. His vil­lains are das­tard­ly, fear­some, invit­ing us to defeat them. The gob­lins are oth­er-world­ly but a lit­tle cud­dly. (Just a lit­tle.) The col­or palette is spacey where appro­pri­ate,  con­vinc­ing­ly sub­ter­ranean when we’re in the goblin’s habi­tat, and quite rich­ly appeal­ing when the veg­e­ta­tion trans­forms. And that Shel­by Mus­tang!

The book is filled with sur­pris­es. A turn of the page often brings an unex­pect­ed turn of events. Even the epi­logue, often used to wrap up a sto­ry and tell us about the future, leaves us with a  sense of urgency: what will hap­pen next?

There is a first book, Mighty Jack, which I have not read. It most like­ly cre­ates the world in which Lil­ly, Jack, Mad­dy, and Phe­lix the drag­on (!) live, but I’m very glad that a read­er doesn’t have to first read that book to enjoy this one. I always hat­ed going to my cousin Sig’s house, read­ing his com­ic books, nev­er know­ing where the sto­ries were com­ing from or how they would end because they were pub­lished episod­i­cal­ly. 

This is sto­ry­telling at its very best. Appeal­ing, fun, hold-your-breath sto­ry­telling. I could have revealed that this is a re-telling of the Jack and the Beanstalk sto­ry but it is so much more than that. Ben Hatke’s pow­ers enchant his read­ers once again.

(Please be advised that this might have a PG13 rat­ing because of some vio­lence and one swear word. You’ll know best if this fits for your fam­i­ly.)

Mighty Jack and the Gob­lin King
a graph­ic nov­el by Ben Hatke
col­or by Alex Camp­bell and Hilary Sycamore
pub­lished by First Sec­ond, 2017
ISBN 978−1−6267−226−68

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Me, All Alone, Reading This Book

Me, All Alone, at the End of the World

Some­times, the illus­tra­tions are won­der­ful but the lan­guage is cap­ti­vat­ing. You know how you read a pic­ture book and you can’t decide which part to focus on? Should you look at the pic­ture first? Should you read the sto­ry because it’s the thread that’s pulling you through?

Well, when you read “He was a long-leggedy man with a wide, wide hat and a beard in a cir­cle around his head. His glass­es reflect­ed the clouds,” the impe­tus is strong to read the sto­ry first and come back to look at the illus­tra­tions lat­er.

But then you peek at the illus­tra­tions and you real­ize there is always some­thing extra-ordi­nary going on in them. A branch is real­ly a worm-like crea­ture about to devour a pot of gold.

There is being alone, and there is lone­ly, and there is being busy, and there is a world of daz­zle and FUN. This is a book that explores each of those parts of life. The noise and the qui­et. The rau­cous gai­ety and the art of lis­ten­ing. The fun you sign up for and the joy you find and the nev­er-before-noticed amaze­ments you explore.

Me, All Alone, at the End of the World

This is a sto­ry book. It has a longer text which I believe is just right for read­ing out loud. The lan­guage is a rev­e­la­tion. It’s a para­ble of our mod­ern world. And then you real­ize, the sto­ry and the illus­tra­tions are vital to each oth­er. You can read this book again and again to notice a new phrase in Mr. Anderson’s writ­ing, a small ele­ment of won­der in Mr. Hawke’s art. This is a book that tells a sto­ry that means some­thing. It’s a trea­sure.

I missed this book when it was first pub­lished in 2005. Can­dlewick has reis­sued it. Don’t you miss it now.

Me, All Alone, at the End of the World
writ­ten by M.T. Ander­son
illus­trat­ed by Kevin Hawkes
Can­dlewick Press, 2005; reis­sued, 2017

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The Best Wish of All

World PizzaOnce in awhile I find a book on my read­ing pile that I’ve passed by a few times. It might be that the cov­er doesn’t make sense to me and I shuf­fle through to choose anoth­er title. Or the title might be sil­ly (in my mind) and I don’t open the book because some­thing else catch­es my inter­est. And then one day I open that book and I dis­cov­er that I shouldn’t judge a book by its cov­er. (Is there a truer tru­ism?)

This time that book is World Piz­za. It’s going to be about the dif­fer­ent kinds of piz­za around the world, right? It is not. There’s a clever play on words in the title which I wouldn’t have dis­cov­ered if I hadn’t opened the book and read it. (Note to self: open the book and read it!)

You see, World Piz­za is a love­ly book. It’s a tiny bit sil­ly, enough to keep those being read to smil­ing, but it’s real­ly a book about peace (I can’t fig­ure out how to rec­om­mend this book with­out giv­ing that away). A moth­er makes a wish and sneezes, result­ing in piz­zas for every­one, every­where. It’s a book about what we have in com­mon and how that brings us togeth­er and how that’s more impor­tant than what keeps us apart.

Cece Meng’s sto­ry is told with the right kind of words, words that tell the sto­ry as it should be told, which are words that get the read­er think­ing. And smil­ing. They are not preachy words. Not at all. It’s a hap­py book and we all need hap­py books.

Ellen Shi’s illus­tra­tions of a diverse pop­u­la­tion of char­ac­ters around the world eat­ing and cel­e­brat­ing piz­za, as well as piz­za com­bi­na­tions you’ve nev­er con­sid­ered before, open the reader’s mind to all the pos­si­bil­i­ties of World Piz­za. They are some­times fun­ny and some­times gen­tle in all the right ways, cre­at­ing a sto­ry that leaves an impres­sion. And her col­or palette is yum­my.

I can eas­i­ly see this book being asked for again and again. Who doesn’t want to hear a sto­ry about piz­za for every­one? And who doesn’t want to be reas­sured about the good­ness in this world we live in?

World Piz­za
writ­ten by Cece Meng
illus­trat­ed by Ellen Shi
Sterling’s Children’s Books, 2017

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Summer Travel

Kids' Book of QuestionsHere are three words that may be loom­ing large in your mind: Long. Car. Trip. You’re pack­ing games, snacks, an audio book or two, sev­er­al books to take turns read­ing out loud, and … The Kids’ Book of Ques­tions.

I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid and we went on long car trips (near­ly every week­end), I read a lot (which must have been bor­ing for my mom), but the two of us also sang songs, talked over the week we had just explored, and, if we were head­ing to fam­i­ly, expec­ta­tions for behav­ior. But that only took so long.

It would have been great to have this book to delve into. Depend­ing on your kids’ ages, it would be a good idea to let fam­i­ly mem­bers browse through the book to pick a ques­tion to have each per­son answer in turn.

TKids' Book of Questionshe author, Dr. Gre­go­ry Stock, Ph.D., has an inter­est in life sci­ence, med­i­cine, tech­nol­o­gy, and dis­cus­sions about val­ues. He speaks fre­quent­ly at schools and on radio and tele­vi­sion. This book was first pub­lished in 1988, a fol­low-up to the adult ver­sion, The Book of Ques­tions. Now it’s been updat­ed to include ques­tions about the inter­net and school vio­lence and cli­mate change.

If you were rid­ing your  bike and acci­den­tal­ly ran into some­one else’s bike and wrecked it—but no one saw you—what would you do?”

What is the wildest and cra­zi­est thing you’ve ever done? Would you like to do it again?”

Whether you use them as con­ver­sa­tion starters, com­po­nents of a game, or just a way to pass the time, you might find this book a handy tuck-in for your Long. Car. Trip. this year. I know we’re tak­ing it along.

The Kids’ Book of Ques­tions
writ­ten by Gre­go­ry Stock, Ph.D.
Work­man Pub­lish­ing, 2015

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Superheroes and Bad Days

Even Superheroes Have Bad DaysI don’t know about you, but I’ve been wish­ing for an hon­est-to-good­ness super­hero to save the day.

If adults are feel­ing that way, kids, who pick up all of our emo­tions, are wish­ing for the same thing. Bat­man and Won­der Woman led the list of most pop­u­lar Hal­loween cos­tumes in 2016. The pro­lif­er­a­tion of super­hero movies is hard to ignore. But there are very few books about super­heroes that are appro­pri­ate for the 3–7 year age range.

With rhyming text and a car­toon illus­tra­tion style that has a sophis­ti­cat­ed palette and deli­cious details, Even Super­heroes Have Bad Days is a book every­one can use right NOW. For kids of that cer­tain age, Shelly Beck­er and Eda Kaban have teamed up to give us a row­dy, exu­ber­ant book filled with images of super­heroes in action.

We first learn what they could do when they’re hav­ing a bad day: kick­ing, punch­ing, pound­ing, shriek­ing. They could be quite destruc­tive with their super­pow­ers.

But upset heroes have all sorts of choic­es …
Instead of destruc­tion and loud, livid voic­es
They burn angry steam off with speed-of-light hik­ing
Or super-Xtreme out­er space moun­tain bik­ing. “

They clean up oth­er people’s mess­es, they pro­tect peo­ple from harm.

Even Superheroes Have Bad Days

There’s no deny­ing that super­heroes could use their pow­ers to wreak hav­oc, make may­hem, but:

Instead they dig down to their super-best part,
The strong super-pow­ers con­tained in their heart!”

There are lots of images to look at while you read togeth­er, includ­ing eight super­heroes cre­at­ed just for this book. Beast­ie, Zing, Thrash, Laser­man Mag­nifique, Screech­er, Typhoon, and Icky are good writ­ing prompts, espe­cial­ly for dif­fi­cult days.

Every sin­gle one of us has those crab­by days, down days, exas­per­at­ed days. How are we sup­posed to act? We can look to these super­heroes for inspi­ra­tion to be our best selves.

Cap­tain Amer­i­ca and Avengers star Chris Evans chose to read this book on the CBee­bies ‘Bed­time Sto­ry’ on the BCC!

Fun and emo­tions and resilien­cy and good read­ing all in one pack­age! It’s a mes­sage book but one that will res­onate with many kids. Rec­om­mend­ed for school libraries, pub­lic libraries, and exu­ber­ant book­shelves every­where.

Even Super­heroes Have Bad Days
writ­ten by Shelly Beck­er
illus­trat­ed by Eda Kaban
Ster­ling Children’s Books, 2016

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Chef Roy Choi’s Story

Chef Roy ChoiEvery time I re-read this book, it makes me hap­pi­er. I’ve grown quite fond of the books being pub­lished by Read­ers to Eaters and I eager­ly antic­i­pate each new book.

Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix is anoth­er food arti­san biog­ra­phy from Jacque­line Brig­gs Mar­tin, this time co-writ­ten with June Jo Lee. Jack­ie writes the fla­vor­ful essence of the artist in an irre­sistible recipe of words. June Jo is a food ethno­g­ra­ph­er, “study­ing how Amer­i­ca eats,” and the co-founder of Read­ers to Eaters. As a kid-at-heart, I want a biog­ra­phy writ­ten about her next. Study­ing food?

But this book is about a boy born in South Korea who trav­els to Amer­i­ca at age two with his fam­i­ly and attends school in Cal­i­for­nia. His moth­er is a tal­ent­ed cook, spe­cial­iz­ing in kim­chee, a Kore­an food sta­ple. Her cook­ing is so good that she and her hus­band open a restau­rant. And Roy is fas­ci­nat­ed by what hap­pens there.

He becomes a chef. The authors relate his jour­ney in a way that every kid will under­stand. Even­tu­al­ly, Chef Roy Choi launch­es the Kogi BBQ Taco Truck with a mix­ture of Kore­an and Mex­i­can food. He pre­pares ingre­di­ents by hand, with love, to share with his com­mu­ni­ty. Healthy fast food is a rare thing in his neigh­bor­hood and Kogi is a hit.

One of the main ingre­di­ents for this LA-con­nect­ed book is street art turned into book art by Man One. Don’t miss the authors’ and illustrator’s notes in this book. They will have your stu­dents want­i­ng to know more about these tal­ent­ed book cre­ators. The art in this book (I’m para­phras­ing from his Note) start­ed with spray-paint­ing the back­grounds on large can­vas­es, pho­tograph­ing them, and then work­ing with them dig­i­tal­ly, adding pen­cil and Sharpie to cre­ate tru­ly unique pic­ture book art. He includes many scenes from his community—you can sense the love imbu­ing these pages. His palette, the tex­tures … they’re yum­my.

This is a book filled with so much respect for read­ers, eaters, and kids with aspi­ra­tions … it’s com­plete­ly sat­is­fy­ing.

Don’t miss this for your inspi­ra­tional school and class­room library!

Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix
writ­ten by Jacque­line Brig­gs Mar­tin and June Jo Lee
illus­trat­ed by Man One
Read­ers to Eaters, 2017.

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March Shorts

Oooo! Here in Min­neso­ta, shorts in March mean chills. These books will give you chills–in a good way!

Cat Goes Fiddle-I-FeeCat Goes Fid­dle-I-Fee
Adapt­ed and illus­trat­ed by Paul Gal­done
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 1985
(reis­sued in April 2017)

I rec­og­nized the title imme­di­ate­ly as I song I know well, sung as “I Had a Roost­er” by Pete Seeger on Birds, Beasts, Bugs & Lit­tle Fish­es in 1968. Turns out, I remem­ber the rhyme more than the words. Gal­done wrote a dif­fer­ent adap­ta­tion of this folk tale, one that is irre­sistible for read­ing out loud. In fact, even if you’re sit­ting alone in a room by your­self, you’re going to want to read this out loud. The words and the rhyme scheme are fun. Kids at sto­ry­time and kids in a class­room and kids sit­ting on your lap will want to sing along … and quite pos­si­bly dance. In this new edi­tion, Galdone’s illus­tra­tions are friend­ly. Find the snail. Who shares the page with the dog? There are many ani­mals to exam­ine and they don’t always make the expect­ed sounds: “Hen goes chim­my-chuck, chim­my-chuck.” As the tale builds cumu­la­tive­ly, it’s a good exer­cise in mem­o­ry and rep­e­ti­tion, and just plain fun. Turns out it’s a dif­fer­ent sto­ry than Seeger’s so both of them could be used. 

Hoot & Honk Just Can't SleepHoot & Honk Just Can’t Sleep
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Leslie Helakos­ki
Ster­ling Children’s Books, 2017

Two eggs, one from an owl’s nest and one from a goose’s nest, tum­ble to the ground dur­ing a wind storm. When the mamas take home the wrong eggs, the hatch­lings are con­fused. The owlet doesn’t like the food the oth­er goslings like and the gosling doesn’t want what the owlets are hun­gry for. And their sleep pat­terns are quite dif­fer­ent. A won­der­ful way to open up the dis­cus­sion about dif­fer­ent birds with young lis­ten­ers, this is a gor­geous book with a hap­py-go-lucky spir­it. Illus­trat­ed by Helakos­ki with pas­tels on sand­ed paper, the col­or is sump­tu­ous, the views have depth, and everyone’s going to want to touch the bird’s feath­ers. And who can resist the main char­ac­ters’ names? Hoot. Honk. Hoot and Honk. 

Charlotte the Scientist is SquishedChar­lotte the Sci­en­tist is Squished
writ­ten by Camille Andros
illus­trat­ed by Bri­anne Far­ley
Clar­i­on Books, 2017

I squealed after I read this book. This is exact­ly the book I would have read and re-read when I was a kid. The fly papers are dia­grams of the inside of a rock­et, labeled care­ful­ly so there’s much to pon­der. Char­lotte is a bun­ny rab­bit with a prob­lem. She is a seri­ous sci­en­tist with no room to con­duct her work. She has a large fam­i­ly, as some bun­nies do, and they’re always under­foot. So Char­lotte employs the Sci­en­tif­ic Method to solve her prob­lem. She cre­ates a hypoth­e­sis and tried her exper­i­ment and draws a con­clu­sion. And all of this is done with a great amount of humor sup­plied by the author and the illus­tra­tor, a seam­less sto­ry. That car­rot-shaped rock­et is delight­ful and so is the bun­ny in the fish­bowl. At the end of the book, there’s a fea­ture “In the lab with Char­lotte,” that uses Charlotte’s exper­i­ments for a dis­cus­sion of the sci­en­tif­ic method. High­ly rec­om­mend­ed.

Anywhere FarmAny­where Farm
writ­ten by Phyl­lis Root
illus­trat­ed by G. Bri­an Karas
Can­dlewick Press, 2017

Where can you farm? Any­where! Togeth­er, Root and Karas present con­vinc­ing argu­ments for grow­ing your own food wher­ev­er and how­ev­er you can. “For an any­where farm, here’s all that you need: soil and sun­shine, some water, a seed.“With soft vignettes that look close­ly at ways and means to plant seeds, “Kale in a pail, corn in a horn,” to cir­cu­lar depic­tions of neigh­bors tend­ing their small-scale farms, to two-page spreads that show an urban com­mu­ni­ty involved in gar­den­ing, the blend of poet­ry and illus­tra­tions make this book an appeal­ing invi­ta­tion to try your hand at farm­ing … any­where. Read­ers will have fun detect­ing all the places grow­ing plants can be sup­port­ed. As kids and adults of all ages and abil­i­ties work togeth­er, the lush end to this book is a sat­is­fy­ing one. Excuse me, won’t you? I’m off to ger­mi­nate my seeds!

Peg­gy
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Anna Walk­er
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 2017 paper­back

I pro­nounce this a Pic­ture-Book-of-the-Absurd, delight­ful­ly so. “Peg­gy lived in a small house on a qui­et street.” Her chick­en coop in the back­yard of a sub­ur­ban house has a tram­po­line out­side. “Every day, rain or shine, Peg­gy ate break­fast, played in her yard, and watched the pigeons.” In a series of nine “slides” (do you remem­ber slides?) on each page, we observe Peg­gy doing just these things … with joy and When Peg­gy is blown off her tram­po­line by a strong wind into the unfa­mil­iar envi­ron­ment of down­town, does she pan­ic? No. She takes the oppor­tu­ni­ty to explore. In vignettes, Peg­gy eats spaghet­ti, she rides an esca­la­tor, and she shops for bar­gains. The soft, mut­ed water­col­or palette of the book is punc­tu­at­ed by Peggy’s black feath­ers, mak­ing her easy to fol­low as she ulti­mate­ly decides she’d rather be at home. But how will she get there? Clues plant­ed ear­li­er in the sto­ry give her ideas and ulti­mate­ly she finds her way back to her chick­en coop with new-found friends. This is an ide­al book for shar­ing one-on-one, exam­in­ing the humor on every page as the intre­pid Peg­gy shares her sto­ry.

RoundRound
writ­ten by Joyce Sid­man
illus­trat­ed by Taee­un Yoo
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 2017

Do any of us spend enough time notic­ing the nat­ur­al world around us? Do we look at the shape of things? Do we won­der enough about why they are in the shapes they are? What about all of the round things in the world? The moon. water, lily pads, rocks … so many spe­cif­ic things to notice, observe, and appre­ci­ate. Joyce Sidman’s poem leads the lis­ten­er into this explo­ration: “I love to watch round things move. They are so good at it!” Yoo’s illus­tra­tions find things to show us that are not in the text … words and illus­tra­tions blend­ing togeth­er into a book that is more than its parts. Col­or­ful and charm­ing, the book’s design gets every­thing right. Even the author’s bios on the back jack­et flap are pre­sent­ed in round shapes! Two pages in back ask “Why are so many things in nature round?” Short para­graphs from the author will broad­en your vision, lead­ing to dis­cus­sions and notic­ing more each time you walk out­side.

If You Were the MoonIf You Were the Moon
writ­ten by Lau­ra Pur­die Salas
illus­trat­ed by Jaime Kim
Mill­brook Press, 2017

From the glossy cov­er to the moon’s expres­sive face to the brack­et­ed, you-didn’t-know-that facts, every­thing about this book is appeal­ing. Salas has a way of look­ing at some­thing as famil­iar as the moon while encour­ag­ing us to think about it in fresh ways, poet­i­cal­ly obser­vant, wak­ing-you-up ways. The moon as a bal­le­ri­na? Of course, and for very good rea­son. In brack­ets, the facts: “The moon spins on its invis­i­ble axis, mak­ing a full turn every twen­ty-sev­en days.” Kim illus­trates this spread with a con­tent­ed, bal­let-danc­ing moon that can’t help but make the read­er smile. “Weave a spell over won­der­ers.”? The brack­et inspires us with “Claire de Lune” and “The Moon is Dis­tant from the Sea.” The illus­tra­tion shows the Baule peo­ple of the Ivory Coast in fes­ti­val masks. All of this is set in the vibrant col­ors of a moon­lit night. It’s an inspir­ing book pre­sent­ed with the right bal­ance for kids who love a poet­ic pre­sen­ta­tion as well as fac­tu­al infor­ma­tion.

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I’ve Been Enchanted

The Hotel CatThis is a rare admis­sion from me because it’s about a book whose main char­ac­ters are ani­mals. I’ve stat­ed before in this col­umn that ani­mal books have nev­er been a favorite of mine, even as a child. Sure­ly there are oth­ers of you out there who are too shy to admit the same thing?

In my deter­mi­na­tion to read old­er children’s books that I haven’t read before, I’ve just fin­ished a book that has shown me I can adore books about ani­mals: The Hotel Cat by Esther Aver­ill, a Jenny’s Cat Club book. First pub­lished in 1969, this is the penul­ti­mate book in Averill’s 13-book series that begins with The Cat Club, pub­lished in 1944.

I liked this one so well that I’m going to track down all of the oth­er books that come before it and some of Averill’s oth­er books as well.

Her cats are always cats. Even though they speak cat talk, and at least in The Hotel Cat they can talk with a human who under­stands cat talk, their thoughts and dia­logue and actions always seem cat-like.

Tom, the stray who wan­ders into the Roy­al Hotel, an old­er but gen­teel 300-room hotel in Green­wich Vil­lage, is wel­comed by Fred, the jan­i­tor, and giv­en a place to stay. Tom even­tu­al­ly explores the hotel, stay­ing out of sight of the humans, until kind and thought­ful Mrs. Wilkins, a long-term res­i­dent of the hotel, dis­cov­ers him in the ball­room. The two become ten­der-heart­ed friends because Mrs. Wilkins is that char­ac­ter who under­stands cat talk. She meets Tom late each night for a con­ver­sa­tion, always remem­ber­ing to bring Tom a treat.

It’s the win­ter of the Big Freeze, and neigh­bor­ing res­i­dents are mov­ing to the hotel with their cats because their boil­ers are burst­ing. Tom is very pro­tec­tive of his hotel until Mrs. Wilkins encour­ages him to be friend­ly, an accom­mo­dat­ing and com­pas­sion­ate host. Three of the new hotel guests are Jen­ny Lin­sky and her broth­ers Edward and Check­ers.

Esther Averill

illus­tra­tion copy­right Esther Aver­ill

It’s a book about mak­ing friends and shar­ing and learn­ing how to talk in a kind and thought­ful way. Tom wor­ries about los­ing his new friends when all the boil­ers are fixed. He learns about the Cat Club and tries hard not to feel left out. These are all feel­ings every child knows well.

Because Averill’s writ­ing is so spare, with words appro­pri­ate­ly evoca­tive, this book (and pre­sum­ably the oth­ers) would make a great read-aloud for class­rooms and fam­i­lies. What fun it is to read the cat talk out loud!

Esther AverillAnd now that I’ve fall­en in love with her writ­ing, I had to know more about the author and illus­tra­tor. I’ll keep look­ing for more infor­ma­tion about Esther Aver­ill but I’m already fas­ci­nat­ed by what I’ve found.

She grad­u­at­ed from Vas­sar Col­lege, wrote for Women’s Wear Dai­ly, then moved to Paris. There, she found­ed Domi­no Press to pub­lish children’s books with Euro­pean illus­tra­tors. She paid as much atten­tion to book design and pro­duc­tion as she did to con­tent and illustration—the books were top­notch. When Nazis threat­ened to over­take Paris, Aver­ill returned to the Unit­ed States and once again pub­lished books through Domi­no Press. She went to work at the New York Pub­lic Library and then began writ­ing and illus­trat­ing her own books. Don’t you want to invite her to lunch?

Here’s an arti­cle that Ms. Aver­ill wrote for The Horn Book in 1957. If you won­der about the dis­tinc­tion between pic­ture books, illus­trat­ed books, and pic­ture sto­ry­books, this arti­cle will enlight­en you. In it, she crit­i­cal­ly reviewed the Calde­cott win­ners from 1938 to 1957. 

I enjoyed this arti­cle by Ani­ta Sil­vey about Jen­ny and the Cat Club for Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac

You can research Esther Averill’s work, includ­ing The Hotel Cat, at the Ker­lan Col­lec­tion at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta and at the DeGrum­mond Col­lec­tion at the Uni­ver­si­ty of South­ern Mis­sis­sip­pi.

______________________________________________

The Hotel Cat 
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Esther Aver­ill
The New York Review of Books, 2005
orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in 1969

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Those Kennedys

Patrick and the PresidentAmer­i­ca has a fine tra­di­tion of elect­ed offi­cials who care deeply about the peo­ple, places, and poli­cies of the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca. Two recent books high­light the good works of, and respect for, Jacque­line Bou­vi­er Kennedy Onas­sis and John Fitzger­ald Kennedy, the First Lady and Pres­i­dent from 1961 to 1963. Although Pres­i­dent Kennedy was assas­si­nat­ed just two short years into his term as Pres­i­dent, the First Lady con­tin­ued her work for the ben­e­fit of the peo­ple through­out her life.

In Patrick and the Pres­i­dent, Ireland’s Late Late Show host, Ryan Tubridy, has writ­ten his first children’s book about Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy’s vis­it to his ances­tral home­land, Ire­land. In June of 1963, Pres­i­dent Kennedy spent four days in var­i­ous cities, vis­it­ing sites and meet­ing peo­ple. This book shares one boy’s expe­ri­ence of meet­ing the Pres­i­dent.

Patrick Kennedy, John’s great-grand­fa­ther, left Ire­land in 1848 aboard a famine ship. Many peo­ple in Ire­land relied sole­ly on pota­toes as their food source, so when a blight affect­ed the pota­to crop, near­ly one mil­lion peo­ple starved to death and one mil­lion peo­ple emi­grat­ed to Amer­i­ca. The immi­grants retained a strong love for their orig­i­nal coun­try, which they passed along to their chil­dren and grand­chil­dren. John F. Kennedy’s deci­sion to vis­it Ire­land was her­ald­ed by Irish peo­ple on both sides of the ocean.

The lan­guage of this sto­ry beau­ti­ful­ly por­trays the excite­ment the entire town felt as they wel­comed this world-famous Irish descen­dant back to the land of his roots. Patrick, the boy in the sto­ry, will be part of the children’s choir singing “The Boys of Wex­ford” when the Pres­i­dent vis­its … and his father nego­ti­ates a chance for Patrick to help serve tea to the Pres­i­dent when he vis­its the Ryans and Kennedys in New Ross. Emo­tions are high and expec­ta­tions are tense: who will get to talk with “Him­self”?

Tubridy is the author of a book writ­ten for adults: JFK in Ire­land: Four Days That Changed a Pres­i­dent. The infor­ma­tion here is dis­tilled in a way that feels per­son­al and imme­di­ate. Every child will iden­ti­fy with young Patrick, know­ing full well what it feels like to have high hopes for some­thing.

P.J. Lynch, cur­rent­ly the Children’s Lau­re­ate of Ire­land, con­tributes near­ly pho­to­graph­ic illus­tra­tions of Patrick, his fam­i­ly, the heli­copters, the Pres­i­dent, and the food.

There are two pages in the back mat­ter that list Kennedy’s itin­er­ary dur­ing his four-day vis­it, along with three sepia-toned pho­tos. Don’t miss read­ing this information—it’s quite inter­est­ing.

The close­ups and focus on Patrick and his fam­i­ly bring a pal­pa­ble excite­ment to the book, which encour­ages read­ing through­out a some­what long but ulti­mate­ly sat­is­fy­ing text. This would make a good read-aloud for dis­cussing sev­er­al things in class. Who was Pres­i­dent Kennedy? What do fam­i­lies mean to us? From where did our fore­bears immi­grate? What do these con­nec­tions across oceans and time mean for our world?

Patrick and the Pres­i­dent
writ­ten by Ryan Tubridy, illus­trat­ed by P.J. Lynch
Can­dlewick Press, 2017
ISBN 978−0−7636−8949−0, $16.99

The inte­ri­or of Grand Cen­tral Sta­tion in New York City, © Char­lotte Leaper | Dreamstime.com

Natasha Wing wrote one of my favorite pic­ture book biogra­phies, An Eye for Col­or: the Sto­ry of Josef Albers, so I was excit­ed to learn that she has writ­ten a book about his­toric preser­va­tion, star­ring none oth­er than Jacque­line Kennedy Onas­sis.

When Jackie Saved Grand CentralAs First Lady of the Unit­ed States for two years, she cap­tured the atten­tion and imag­i­na­tion of every news­pa­per, mag­a­zine, and news­reel in the land. Women adopt­ed her fash­ion sense and hair­style. She did a great deal to restore the grandeur of the White House and would undoubt­ed­ly have done more had she been in res­i­dence there longer.

Return­ing to live in New York City, the city in which she grew up, Mrs. Kennedy learned that Grand Cen­tral Sta­tion was in dan­ger of being altered with a sky­scraper built on its roof!

Like a pow­er­ful loco­mo­tive, Jack­ie led the charge to pre­serve the land­mark she and New York City loved. She joined city lead­ers and found­ed the Com­mit­tee to Save Grand Cen­tral. She spoke at press con­fer­ences and made head­lines.

She inspired cit­i­zens to donate mon­ey. When peo­ple across the Unit­ed States saw their fash­ion­able for­mer First Lady cham­pi­oning her cause, New York City’s fight became America’s fight.”

In oth­er words, only Jacque­line Kennedy could pro­mote a cause in a way that result­ed in the Nation­al His­toric Preser­va­tion Act of 1966, under which Grand Cen­tral Sta­tion could find the pro­tec­tion it need­ed to be restored to its for­mer grandeur. 

The text is writ­ten with such clar­i­ty and verve that the read­er will want to look for an his­toric build­ing of their own to save! An exten­sive author’s note pro­vides more infor­ma­tion that will prompt some chil­dren to adopt this as a cause of their own.

The illus­tra­tions by Alexan­dra Boiger are ener­getic and whim­si­cal, all the while using col­or to sub­tly empha­size parts of the sto­ry. In “A Note from the Illus­tra­tor,” you’ll find much to dis­cuss about the col­ors she uses while you pore back over the book to find exam­ples.

For a class­room, this is a ter­rif­ic way to begin talk­ing about the build­ings we see every day, why they are impor­tant to a com­mu­ni­ty, and what they mean for our future.

When Jack­ie Saved Grand Cen­tral:
The True Sto­ry of Jacque­line Kennedy’s Fight for an Amer­i­can Icon

writ­ten by Natasha Wing, illus­trat­ed by Alexan­dra Boiger
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 2017

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Graphic Storytelling

 

Fish GirlA good graph­ic nov­el should pose a mys­tery.

As it opens (last pos­si­ble minute), the read­er often has no clue what’s going on.

It’s often an unknown world, even if it looks like our world.

This isn’t that dif­fer­ent than the open­ing of a con­ven­tion­al print book but, for some rea­son, peo­ple often react to graph­ic nov­els by telling me, “I can’t read them! I nev­er know what’s going on.”

What is there about adding con­tin­u­al visu­als that caus­es some oth­er­wise avid read­ers to throw a graph­ic nov­el aside with such dis­fa­vor?

This ques­tion is an intrigu­ing one for me. In our Chap­ter & Verse Book Club, we read at least one graph­ic nov­el each year, usu­al­ly with an under­cur­rent of grum­bling. I know which of our mem­bers won’t like the book, which of them won’t open the book, and which of them will do their best to like the book. Some will even love the book.

Why such a wide range of respons­es based on the visu­al aspect of the book? And the dia­logue nature of the sto­ry?

I recent­ly fin­ished David Wies­ner and Don­na Jo Napoli’s Fish Girl. The open­ing is bewil­der­ing. What is going on? I find this sat­is­fy­ing.

When I fin­ished, I turned imme­di­ate­ly to re-read it, to fig­ure out where I first fig­ured it out. What were the clues? Were they visu­al or ver­bal or a com­bi­na­tion of both? I’m not going to tell you, of course. That’s your read­ing jour­ney. But I was par­tic­u­lar­ly fond of the way in which Fish Girl (dare I say it?) unwinds.

As a long time fan­ta­sy read­er, I’m famil­iar with sto­ries in this seg­ment of the genre. (I’m try­ing not to reveal too much so I’m pur­pose­ful­ly not nam­ing that seg­ment.) 

About the  book, David Wies­ner writes, “I tried sev­er­al times to devel­op a pic­ture book around these com­po­nents (draw­ings of char­ac­ters, scenes, and set­tings to go with an image of a house filled with water where fish are swim­ming) but the house full of fish turned out to be a com­plex image, sug­gest­ing sto­ries too long and involved for the pic­ture book for­mat. The log­i­cal next step was to see it as a graph­ic nov­el.”

Many of the peo­ple who don’t care for graph­ic nov­els love pic­ture books. Per­haps under­stand­ing graph­ic nov­els as a pic­ture book for telling longer, more com­plex sto­ries will help them appre­ci­ate this form more?

In Fish Girl, the water­col­or-paint­ed frames are clear and visu­al­ly beau­ti­ful. The char­ac­ters are well-delin­eat­ed. The dia­logue is involv­ing. The mys­ter­ies lead the way. Why does this girl, who lives with fish and an octo­pus inside of a house filled with water, named Ocean Won­ders, seem to be a pris­on­er? Why can’t she leave? Why does Nep­tune set so many rules? Are sto­ries the true rea­son that Fish Girl stays in her prison?

Wiesner’s paint­ings pro­vide focus in an involv­ing way through­out the book. The ocean is brood­ing, beau­ti­ful, and beck­on­ing. Fish Girl is lone­ly, a lone­li­ness every read­er will rec­og­nize. The expres­sions of lone­li­ness, bewil­der­ment, friend­ship, and long­ing are beguil­ing. When I con­sid­er how long it would take me to draw and paint just one of these frames and then look at how many frames are employed to tell this sto­ry, I could well imag­ine that David Wies­ner has been work­ing on this book for five years. I won­der what the truth of that is? 

It’s a book that many read­ers, young and old, will enjoy. I believe it would be a good read-aloud if all lis­ten­ers can see the book and help turn the pages. Fish Girl is high­ly rec­om­mend­ed. And I will keep look­ing for graph­ic nov­els that will con­vert even their most reluc­tant read­ers!

Fish Girl
David Wies­ner and Don­na Jo Napoli
Clar­i­on Books, March 7, 2017
(I read an Advanced Reader’s Copy.)
ISBN 978−0−544−81512−4 $25 hard­cov­er
ISBN 978−0−547−48393−1 $18 paper­back

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The Delight of Reading Older Books

Who Stole the Wizard of Oz?

One of my favorite types of read­ing is to go back and read books I’ve missed from years ago. I once spent an entire sum­mer read­ing books that were pub­lished in the 1950s. I had such a strong feel­ing of the decade after read­ing those books that I felt more con­nect­ed to peo­ple who lived then. That feel­ing of con­nec­tion is very sat­is­fy­ing to me.

Do you do a sim­i­lar kind of read­ing?

This last hol­i­day sea­son, I did anoth­er dive into books pub­lished in decades past. There’s some­thing very com­fort­ing about read­ing these books. I fre­quent­ly scout out arti­cles where peo­ple talk about the books they’ve loved from their child­hood. If I haven’t read them, they go on a list and I seek them out. Some­times I have to scout used book stores but the books are all eas­i­ly obtain­able.

My most recent delight was Who Stole the Wiz­ard of Oz? by Avi. It was first pub­lished in 1981. I hadn’t read it before. It holds up well today. In fact, I would read­i­ly put this book in the hands of any child, aged 7 and old­er, who enjoys a mys­tery. Set in a small town, twin sib­lings Becky and Toby set out to solve a crime that’s pre­sent­ed on page one and is wrapped up neat­ly 115 pages lat­er.

The crime takes place in a library and so does much of the action. Becky and Toby solve the crime on their own, with­out help from grown-ups. They ques­tion adults. They apply their brains. They dis­cuss (and bick­er) and ulti­mate­ly end up on a stake-out.

To arrive at the solu­tion, they read five clas­sic books: Through the Look­ing Glass, The Wind in the Wil­lows, The Wiz­ard of Oz, Win­nie-the-Pooh, and Trea­sure Island. By the time they’re done dis­cussing what they’ve read, I knew I’d have to re-read each of those books myself! (I’ve nev­er read Win­nie-the-Pooh. I know. Gasp!)

What do each of those books have in com­mon? That’s the deli­cious part of the sto­ry so I won’t spoil it for you. Read this book!

We focus on new books because peo­ple love to guess which books will win awards.  We for­get that there are thou­sands (mil­lions?) of kids who are read­ing these books for the first time. Draw­ing books off the shelf from the rich canon of children’s lit­er­a­ture is a gift we can keep giv­ing again and again.

Stay tuned. I’ll share more of my read­ing-of-books-past in upcom­ing columns.

Who Stole the Wiz­ard of Oz?
Avi
Alfred A. Knopf, 1981
(I read a Year­ling paper­back.)
ISBN 978–0394849928, $6.99

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Irresistible Reading: How Things Work

How Things WorkNow, if that Sci­ence Ency­clo­pe­dia wasn’t cool enough, here’s anoth­er sure-fire hit for kids who love to read facts, true sto­ries, and know how things work.

In fact, the book is called How Things Work and it’s anoth­er pow­er­house from Nation­al Geo­graph­ic.

As the book admon­ish­es, “PUT THIS BOOK DOWN NOW. It’s dan­ger­ous. It might make you think you can do impos­si­ble things.” Fol­lowed close­ly by “You must be one of those. The kind of kid who thinks ‘just because’ isn’t a real answer.”

Do you know one of those kids? End­less ques­tions? On the trail for the real sto­ry? Won­der­ing all the time? Lucky you. Lucky them if you give them this book.

How do hov­er­boards work? This comes with a “Try This!” that encour­ages exper­i­ment­ing with the attrac­tion and repelling of mag­nets.

How do microwaves work? There are info­graph­ics, fun facts, dia­grams, anoth­er Try This with ice cubes, Myth vs. Fact, a short biog­ra­phy of Per­cy Spencer whose melt­ing peanut clus­ter bar sparked his imag­i­na­tion … and it’s all ter­ri­bly excit­ing.

The visu­als that accom­pa­ny every fact in this book, the lay­out, the col­ors, all of this put togeth­er makes me want to devour this book. There are so many cool things explained that it makes me breath­less.

Don’t you want the kid in your life to feel the same way about learn­ing?

How Things Work
T.J. Resler
Nation­al Geo­graph­ic, 2016
ISBN 978–1426325557, $19.99

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Feeding the Naturally Curious Brain

Science EncyclopediaYou’ll dis­cov­er mouth­less worms and walk­ing ferns … ” (pg. 13) And with those words, I’m charged up for the hunt. Along the way, I can’t help being dis­tract­ed by a sat­is­fy­ing amount of irre­sistible infor­ma­tion in Nation­al Geographic’s Sci­ence Ency­clo­pe­dia.

If you learn best visu­al­ly, there is a sur­feit of images to stim­u­late a curi­ous mind. If you learn best ver­bal­ly, then this book is chock full of words arranged in the most inter­est­ing ways. And the pho­tos! This is Nation­al Geo­graph­ic, after all.

The book is so visu­al that infor­ma­tion leaps into the reader’s brain. Col­or­ful text box­es help the eye and mind focus.

You’ll find page-long intro­duc­tions to the var­i­ous sec­tions on mat­ter, ener­gy, forces and machines, elec­tron­ics, the uni­verse, life on Earth, plan­et Earth, and the human body. The way I approach these is to look at all of the pho­tos in the sec­tion, read the text box­es, and then go back to read the intro­duc­tions because by that time I would need to know every­thing on this sub­ject.

Each dou­ble-page spread (and some­times a sin­gle page) includes “Try This!” for prac­ti­cal, do-at-home-with-sup­plies-on-hand exper­i­ments, “Per­son­al­i­ty Plus” fea­tur­ing a small, true, bio­graph­i­cal tid­bit about some­one impor­tant in that field, “LOL!” a rid­dle per­tain­ing to the sub­ject (!), and a “Geek Out!” fact with which you can amaze your friends and draw new friends into your geek cir­cle.

One set of pages fea­tures a time­line: Amaz­ing Sci­ence! Mile­stones, Atom Smash­ing. The ear­li­est entry from 1897 is “Eng­lish­man J.J. Thomp­son dis­cov­ers the first sub­atom­ic par­ti­cle, the elec­tron, using a gas-filled tube that cre­ates a glow­ing beam.” The lat­est entry is “2012−2015, in which the Large Hadron Col­lec­tor “accel­er­ates pro­tons to just below the speed of light and smash­es them togeth­er.” (pgs 22–23)

The way the pages of this time­line are laid out helps the read­er focus and absorb infor­ma­tion. It’s not a straight line with words on tick-points. Oh, no! It’s a vibrant, image-filled, dou­ble-paged spread of com­plete­ly cool tid­bits. A time­line to get excit­ed about!

Every­thing about this book is a launch­pad for fur­ther inves­ti­ga­tion.

I grew up believ­ing that I didn’t like sci­ence. What a nut! How can you not like this stuff?

The Sci­ence Ency­clo­pe­dia is such an excit­ing pre­sen­ta­tion of infor­ma­tion that it belongs in every house­hold, whether or not there are chil­dren in said house.

Don’t have any chil­dren? Buy your­self a copy of this book.

Then, buy a copy for each ele­men­tary school and mid­dle school where you live. This book is that good. You’ll be charg­ing up the curios­i­ty of young minds for years to come.

Sci­ence Ency­clo­pe­dia:
Atom Smash­ing, Food Chem­istry, Ani­mals, Space, and More

Nation­al Geo­graph­ic. 2016
ISBN 978–1426325427, $24.99

Read more...

Essential Holiday Giving: Books

Hands down, there is no bet­ter gift for hol­i­days or birth­days than a book. You can find a book to suit every inter­est, every taste, and your bud­get. You can always feel good about giv­ing a book (unless you’re giv­ing a gift to some­one who lives in a Tiny House … ask first). 

pl_books_best_gifts

Here’s my list of sug­ges­tions for the hol­i­days. It’s filled with books that are infor­ma­tive, beau­ti­ful­ly illus­trat­ed or pho­tographed, use­ful, well-writ­ten, but most­ly books that can be savored or cher­ished, with uplift­ing sto­ries.

And if you’d like more sug­ges­tions, my best advice is to walk into your pub­lic library and talk to the children’s librar­i­ans there. Tell them about the chil­dren in your lives, their inter­ests, the kind of books they like to read, or if they haven’t yet met the right book to turn them on to read­ing. You’ll be amazed by the good sug­ges­tions these library angels will give you.

I’m going to break these out into the type of read­er I think will be most appre­cia­tive. You’ll find links to longer reviews scat­tered through­out. And I’m going to keep adding to this list up until the end of the year. Peo­ple are cel­e­brat­ing hol­i­days at many dif­fer­ent times.

In love with pic­ture books

Before MorningBefore Morn­ing
writ­ten by Joyce Sid­man
illus­trat­ed by Beth Krommes
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 2016

I think this ranks up there in my list of favorite pic­ture books of all time. It works on so many lev­els, but most­ly it speaks of love and yearn­ing and beau­ty and grace. It is a sim­ple sto­ry of a lit­tle girl who wish­es for a snow day so her fam­i­ly can be togeth­er. Joyce Sidman’s sto­ry is exquis­ite. Beth Krommes cre­ates a win­ter every­one can love and appre­ci­ate with her scratch­board illus­tra­tions. The col­or palette, the tex­ture on the page, and the snow! Has there ever been such glo­ri­ous snow? A per­fect gift book for young and old.

Frank and LuckyFrank and Lucky Get Schooled
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Lynne Rae Perkins
Green­wil­low Books, 2016

One day when Frank could not win for los­ing, he got Lucky. And one day when Lucky was lost and found, he got Frank. Both of them were just pups. They had a lot to learn.” Life, at its best, is one big learn­ing adven­ture. Frank and Lucky grow togeth­er, each teach­ing the oth­er. We hear the sto­ry in both of their voic­es. Life is explore through learn­ing: Chem­istry, Tax­on­o­my, Read­ing, Math. So many ques­tions and so lit­tle time. Learn­ing fol­lows these two wher­ev­er they go. They have fun. But how does it all fit togeth­er? Ah, that’s the adven­ture. There is so much to look at and think about in this book … and Lucky makes the adven­ture fun. A great book for explor­ing togeth­er as the first step in plan­ning your own learn­ing adven­tures. Inspired!

Henry & LeoHen­ry & Leo
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Pamela Zagaren­s­ki
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 2016 

This is such a won­der­land of a book. I fin­ished it and imme­di­ate­ly start­ed again at the begin­ning. And yet again. The pages are filled with details that are irre­sistible, incit­ing curios­i­ty and sto­ry­telling. The sto­ry is a com­fort­ing one about a young boy, Hen­ry, who fero­cious­ly loves his stuffed lion, Leo. The fam­i­ly goes for a walk in the Near­by Woods and … Leo is lost. Hen­ry is beside him­self, wor­ried about Leo alone in the woods. His fam­i­ly com­forts him by say­ing that Leo isn’t real, which is no com­fort at all of course. But some­thing very real and mys­ti­cal hap­pens in those Woods and Leo finds his way back to Hen­ry. Pamela Zagaren­s­ki paints this book with lucious foresty and night-time col­ors, with pages so soft and tex­tured you know you can walk into the scene. She includes her trade­mark crowns, crit­ters large and small, win­dows, and those teacups. What does it all mean? As our brains look for answers, we cre­ate our own sto­ries. It’s mag­i­cal.

Ganesha's Sweet ToothGanesha’s Sweet Tooth
writ­ten by San­jay Patel and Emi­ly Haynes
illus­trat­ed by San­jay Patel
Chron­i­cle Books, 2012

A sto­ry based on Hin­du mythol­o­gy, an adorable Gane­sha and his friend Mr. Mouse are all about the can­dy. In par­tic­u­lar, Gane­sha wants a Super Jum­bo Jaw­break­er Ladoo (can­dy) and he wants to bite down on it. Mr. Mouse warns him that it’s a jaw­break­er. And soon Gane­sha has bro­ken his tusk. Luck­i­ly, he hap­pens upon a poet who advis­es him to use his tusk to write down the Mahab­hara­ta, a long, ancient, San­skrit poem about the begin­ning of things. Gane­sha is described as a “Hin­du god. He’s very impor­tant and pow­er­ful. And a tad chub­by.” And that sets the tone of the book. Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth is a feast for eyes, mind, and imag­i­na­tion. Patel, an artist and ani­ma­tor with Pixar, cre­ates illus­tra­tions unlike any­thing I’ve ever seen before … you’ll enjoy por­ing over them.

Luis Paints the WorldLuis Paints the World
writ­ten by Ter­ry Far­ish
illus­trat­ed by Oliv­er Dominguez
Car­ol­rho­da Books, 2016

When an old­er broth­er enlists in the army to “see the world,” young Luis is uncer­tain. How could his broth­er want to leave their fam­i­ly and their neigh­bor­hood? How could he want to leave Luis? Will he come back again to play base­ball and eat his Mama’s flan? Luis begins paint­ing a mur­al on a wall in their neigh­bor­hood, hop­ing to paint the world so Nico won’t need to leave home. He paints and paints with a good deal of skill. Yet Nico does leave home. Miss­ing his broth­er, Luis con­tin­ues to paint his heart onto the wall. Soon his friends, fam­i­ly, and neigh­bors join him in paint­ing. Will Nico come home again? The author, Ter­ry Far­ish, based her sto­ry in Lawrence, Mass­a­chu­setts, where she was a pub­lic librar­i­an. The city is famous for the murals and out­door art found through­out the town. For a heart­warm­ing sto­ry of love and artis­tic expres­sion, this is the right choice.

Monster & SonMon­ster & Son
writ­ten by David LaRochelle
illus­trat­ed by Joey Chou

This is an ide­al book for dads to read aloud to their lit­tle sons. Yetis, were­wolves, mon­sters of every shape and shiv­er, this is a bed­time sto­ry in spite of the sub­ject mat­ter. The illus­tra­tions are calm­ing and detailed, even sparkling, yet per­fect­ly suit­ed to the mon­ster fan. David LaRochelle’s text is fun to read out loud and Joey Chou’s art­work is paint­ed with calm blues and pur­ples and sleepy mon­sters.

NorNorth Woods Girl
writ­ten Aimée Bis­sonette
illus­trat­ed by Clau­dia McGe­hee
Min­neso­ta His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety Press, 2015

For any­one who loves the North Woods, no mat­ter where those woods may be, this is a heart-call­ing tale of a grand­moth­er who knows she belongs in the woods and a grand­daugh­ter who is fas­ci­nat­ed by what her grand­moth­er knows and how she lives. Aimée Bissonette’s sto­ry is so well told that it feels uni­ver­sal. We all know some­one like this girl and her grand­moth­er. We hope we under­stand what it means to be so con­nect­ed to place. Clau­dia McGehee’s scratch­board illus­tra­tions are an inte­gral part of the expe­ri­ence of this book. The ani­mals, trees, plants, the bound­less night sky, the warm fire … there’s so much to love here. North Woods Girl will lead to good inter-gen­er­a­tional dis­cus­sions and fos­ter good mem­o­ries of your own spe­cial places.

On One Foot

On One Foot
writ­ten by Lin­da Glaser
illus­trat­ed by Nuria Bal­a­guer
Kar-Ben Pub­lish­ing, 2016

A famil­iar tale to many Jews, this sto­ry of the not-quite-a-fool who seeks a rab­bi (teacher) who can teach him while stand­ing on one foot (I’m guess­ing because the stu­dent would like the teach­ing to be short, even though he says it’s because he wants his teacher to be the best) is an active para­ble for the most impor­tant les­son in the world. Each suc­ces­sive teacher derides the stu­dent for ask­ing them to teach the Torah on one foot, telling him that not even the famous Rab­bi Hil­lel could do such a thing. When the stu­dent final­ly meets Rab­bi Hil­lel, he is astound­ed by the sim­plic­i­ty of the les­son, one that each of us can live and share. The cut paper and mixed media illus­tra­tions are fit­ting for long-ago Jerusalem, show­ing both wit and empa­thy.

A Poem for PeterA Poem for Peter
writ­ten by Andrea Davis Pinkney
illus­trat­ed by Lou Fanch­er & Steve John­son
Viking, 2016

Prob­a­bly my favorite pic­ture book of 2016, A Poem for Peter tells the sto­ry of the grow­ing up and old­er of Jacob (Jack) Ezra Katz, who is “Born under Hardship’s Hand, into a land filled with impos­si­ble odds.” He began paint­ings signs for stores when he was eight years old. An intro­duc­tion to the Brook­lyn Pub­lic Library opened the world to him. It’s a biog­ra­phy writ­ten poet­i­cal­ly and every word is worth savor­ing. We know him now as Ezra Jack Keats and he cre­at­ed A Snowy Day, which is one of the most beloved books of all time. His life is paint­ed here by Fanch­er & John­son, who small touch­es on each page of their illus­tra­tions that remind us of Keats’ genius, his work with col­lage and col­or and shapes and tex­tures. It’s a love­ly, beau­ti­ful, mag­i­cal book. It should be on your family’s book­shelf, ready for read­ing again and again.

Storm's Coming!Storm’s Com­ing!
writ­ten by Mar­gi Preus
illus­trat­ed by David Geis­ter
Min­neso­ta His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety Press, 2016

The weath­er! In many parts of the coun­try, it is increas­ing­ly a fac­tor in our every­day life. Here in Min­neso­ta, it is what strangers talk about before any­thing else. Friends exclaim in e-mail and by phone about the effect weath­er has on their lives. When fam­i­ly gath­ers, the first top­ic of con­ver­sa­tion is the weath­er (and how they drove to the gath­er­ing place). Mar­gi Preus tells the sto­ry of a storm approach­ing with tra­di­tion­al weath­er signs and folk say­ings. Bees fly­ing in large num­bers into their hive? “Look at those busy bees,” Sophie exclaimed. “They know it’s going to storm.” Dan watched the bees fly­ing into their hive. “That’s true,” he said. “You know what they say: A bees was nev­er caught in a show­er.” All kinds of intrigu­ing tid­bits are woven into this weath­er sto­ry, set at Split Rock Light­house on Lake Supe­ri­or at the begin­ning of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. David Geister’s oil paint­ings are suf­fused with light, fam­i­ly love, the vary­ing moods of the Lake, and the final, sat­is­fy­ing storm scene. You know the weath­er-watch­ers in your fam­i­ly. This will make a wel­come gift.

savors poet­ry

Emily Dickinson: Poetry for KidsEmi­ly Dick­in­son: Poet­ry for Kids
edit­ed by Susan Snive­ly, PhD
illus­trat­ed by Chris­tine Dav­e­nier
Moon­Dance Press, Quar­to Pub­lish­ing Group, 2016

For a beau­ti­ful intro­duc­tion to the poems of Emi­ly Dick­in­son, this book invites read­ing out loud, dis­cus­sion, and turn­ing the pages in appre­ci­a­tion of Chris­tine Davenier’s art. The poems are acces­si­ble by chil­dren and their adults. Arranged by the sea­sons of the year, the pages offer com­men­tary and def­i­n­i­tions for impor­tant words to aid in your con­ver­sa­tions about the poems. It’s a book that will be read and re-read in your home.

Miss Muffet, or What Came AfterMiss Muf­fet, or What Came After
writ­ten by Mar­i­lyn Singer
illus­trat­ed by David Litch­field
Clar­i­on Books, 2016

Think you know all about Miss Muf­fet? That tuffet? That spi­der? Think again, mes amis!

This oh-so-delight­ful book will have you smil­ing, laugh­ing, heart fill­ing with awe at the poet’s and illustrator’s mas­tery … but most of all falling in love with a sto­ry you nev­er knew. That short nurs­ery rhyme? Pull back from the scene (I eas­i­ly see this as a staged play, read­ers the­ater or with props and cos­tumes) and real­ize that Miss Muf­fet (Patience Muf­fet) and the spi­der (Web­ster) live in a larg­er world of sis­ter, moth­er, roost­er, fid­dlers, a king, and many live­ly neigh­bors. These are eas­i­ly under­stand­able poems and poet­ry that is fun to say out loud and poems that tick­le our fun­ny bones. David Litch­field man­ages to use mixed media in a way that pulls us into the sto­ry and has us tour­ing Pat Muffet’s world. Just gor­geous. It’s all so sat­is­fy­ing. Chil­dren will enjoy read­ing this them­selves, with friends, act­ing it out, and tak­ing part in a class­room per­for­mance. Such pos­si­bil­i­ties!

good fam­i­ly read-alouds

Garvey's ChoiceGarvey’s Choice
writ­ten by Nik­ki Grimes
Word­Song, 2016

Gar­vey feels as though he’s con­stant­ly dis­ap­point­ing his father. Sports are his dad’s way of relat­ing and he has high hopes for Gar­vey becom­ing a foot­ball play­er or a base­ball play­er or … some­thing in a sport uni­form. Gar­vey, on the oth­er hand, enjoys read­ing and music and sci­ence. How does he show his dad what mat­ters to him? This is a book that is opti­mistic and fun­ny and hope­ful. Even though Gar­vey con­soles him­self with food, becom­ing heav­ier and heav­ier, he is drawn out­side of his funk by his inter­ests. He can’t resist. And his father final­ly sees what’s impor­tant to his son. A nov­el writ­ten in verse, this makes a good book for the fam­i­ly to read out loud. 

Making Friends with Billy WongMak­ing Friends with Bil­ly Wong
writ­ten by Augus­ta Scat­ter­good
Scholas­tic Press, 2016

When Azalea’s moth­er and father dri­ve her to Arkansas to help her injured grand­moth­er, Aza­lea is not thrilled. She con­tem­plates being lone­ly for an entire sum­mer and hav­ing noth­ing to do … and her grand­moth­er, whom she hard­ly knows, is cranky. Even though she yearns to go home, she is drawn into the neigh­bor­hood by a boy with a bound­less spir­it and a curios­i­ty to match her own. There is a mys­tery to solve and the two kids become friends while they’re fig­ur­ing things out. It’s a heart­warm­ing book and one that brings to light an immi­grant sto­ry that isn’t well-known. 

Saving WonderSav­ing Won­der
writ­ten by Mary Knight
Scholas­tic Press, 2016

Cur­ley Hines lives with his grand­pa in Won­der Gap, Ken­tucky, set­tled in the Appalachi­an Moun­tains. His Papaw gives him a word each week to learn and decide where it fits into his life. For peo­ple who love words, this is a book that enchants with its word choic­es. Cur­ley has a best friend. He believes he’s in love with Jules but at 15 it might be a lit­tle ear­ly to know. And then Jules is entranced with the new kid in town, an urban kid, J.D., and Curley’s life is tak­ing an unex­pect­ed turn. Even these changes pale in the face of a more threat­en­ing change: the coal com­pa­ny that employs so many of Won­der Gap’s res­i­dents wants to tear down Cur­ley and Papaw’s moun­tain in order to get at the coal inside cheap­ly. All three of the kids get involved in Sav­ing Won­der. This is an uplift­ing sto­ry that will have you cheer­ing while you’re read­ing.

WishWish
writ­ten by Bar­bara O’Connor
Far­rar, Straus & Giroux, 2016

Char­lie Reese is a girl whose par­ents have aban­doned her. Her father is in jail and her moth­er suf­fers from a depres­sion that has her for­get­ting about Char­lie for days on end. Child Pro­tec­tion Ser­vices sends Char­lie to live with her Uncle Gus and Aunt Bertha who are as nice and lov­ing as any kid could want. But Char­lie wants to go home. She wants a fam­i­ly who loves her. In fact, she search­es every day for some­thing lucky that allows her to make that wish. She’s angry about her new home. She hopes it’s tem­po­rary. So she’s resis­tant when Howard, a kid with an up-and-down walk, does his best to reach her, to make her his friend. And she’s a lit­tle resis­tant when a stray dog, who she names Wish­bone is as hard to reach as she is. It’s a won­der­ful sto­ry of a group of peo­ple com­ing togeth­er to form a fam­i­ly that’s made with love. These char­ac­ters will take up a place in your mind and your heart for a very long time. And isn’t that a mag­i­cal book cov­er?

can’t get enough of biogra­phies

Let Your Voice Be HeardLet Your Voice Be Heard:
The Life and Times of Pete Seeger

writ­ten by Ani­ta Sil­vey
Clar­i­on Books, 2016

At this very moment, many of us, chil­dren and adults alike, are look­ing for a way to make a dif­fer­ence in our world. We’d like to show that love is stronger than any talk or action done in hatred. Young and old, we’d like to show that we are will­ing to stand up and let our voic­es be heard. There is no bet­ter exam­ple than the life of Pete Seeger. Ani­ta Sil­vey writes this book in a way that shows how hard it was for him to perser­vere but he stood by his prin­ci­ples for near­ly nine decades! Even when he was beat­en down by the gov­ern­ment, he was res­olute. And he sang songs by the peo­ple, for the peo­ple, to inspire the peo­ple and bring them togeth­er. This book is writ­ten so it can be read by any­one ages 9 and old­er (adults will find this book worth­while, too). I high­ly rec­om­mend it as a fam­i­ly read-aloud and dis­cus­sion starter but it’s so good that read­ing it indi­vid­u­al­ly works, too.

Six DotsSix Dots: a Sto­ry of Young Louis Braille
writ­ten by Jen Bryant
illus­trat­ed by Boris 
Ran­dom House, 2016

When a ter­ri­ble acci­dent blinds him as a child, Louis Braille’s world turns dark. He sets out to get along in the world. “My fam­i­ly did what they could. Papa made a wood­en cane. … My broth­er taught me to whis­tle … My sis­ters made a straw alpha­bet. Papa made let­ters with wood­en strips or by pound­ing round-topped nails into boards” With his moth­er, he played domi­noes. But he want­ed to read books. Six Dots is the sto­ry of Braille’s jour­ney to cre­ate a code that the blind could read. Louis Braille was a child inven­tor and this biog­ra­phy leads us to appre­ci­ate how sig­nif­i­cant his inven­tion was and how much it con­tin­ues to mat­ter in the world today. Bryant’s text, writ­ten in free verse, makes the read­ing lyri­cal. Kulikov’s illus­tra­tions give an under­stand­ing of the dark­ness and the light in this blind inventor’s world. Six Dots fits well into our list of uplift­ing gifts. [Hid­den Give­away: the first per­son to send us an e-mail request­ing this book will receive a copy of Six Dots, signed by the author. Be sure to include your mail­ing address so we can send you the book.]

Some Writer! The Story of E.B. WhiteSome Writer! The Sto­ry of E.B. White
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Melis­sa Sweet
Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, 2016

Are you a fan of Charlotte’s Web? Stu­art Lit­tle? The Trum­pet of the Swan? One Man’s Meat? Here is New York? E.B. White wrote books that are con­sid­ered clas­sics today, loved with a fierce won­der for their char­ac­ters and emo­tions. In a work of love and art, Melis­sa Sweet shares the sto­ry of his life from child­hood through adult­hood as he learned to love books and writ­ing. It’s the sto­ry of a man of words who lives so close­ly with them that he co-authors Ele­ments of Style, a stan­dard ref­er­ence. There are details here that every fan of his books will want to know. Best of all, the book is done as per­haps only Melis­sa Sweet could, mak­ing col­lages out of found objects, White’s papers, and orig­i­nal (and charm­ing) draw­ings. There are Garth Williams’ orig­i­nal sketch­es and pho­tos of the peo­ple in E.B. White’s life. This book is a trea­sure, one you can share with many peo­ple on your gift list. Per­haps you can bun­dle it up with a copy of one of his books list­ed ear­li­er, choic­es for both chil­dren and adults.

just the facts, please

Science EncyclopediaSci­ence Ency­lo­pe­dia: Atom Smash­ing,
Food Chem­istry, Ani­mals, Space, and More!

Nation­al Geo­graph­ic, 2016

I think every per­son on your gift list should get one of these! Seri­ous­ly, whether you love sci­ence or don’t want any­thing to do with it, you will like this book. You will dip into the book some­where and then you’ll find your­self thumb­ing through, being caught by this and that tid­bit. Here’s my full review of this ency­clo­pe­dia.

How Things WorkHow Things Work
T.J. Resler
Nation­al Geo­graph­ic, 2016

As if the Sci­ence Ency­clo­pe­dia isn’t cool enough, this book, also pub­lished by Nation­al Geo­graph­ic, has astound­ing infor­ma­tion in it. This quote from the begin­ning of the book wraps things up so well and tempts you to pull at the tail of the bow: “PUT THIS BOOK DOWN NOW. It’s dan­ger­ous. It might make you think you can do impos­si­ble things.” Fol­lowed close­ly by “You must be one of those. The kind of kid who thinks ‘just because’ isn’t a real answer.” Read the full review and buy this book for every kid (and maybe an adult or two) who love to know how things work. Because this book reveals all.

adults who breathe more ful­ly around children’s lit­er­a­ture

Comics ConfidentialComics Con­fi­den­tial: Thir­teen Nov­el­ists Talk
Sto­ry, Craft, and Life Out­side the Box

inter­views by Leonard S. Mar­cus
Can­dlewick Press, 2016

If you have the small­est bit of inter­est in com­ic books and graph­ic nov­els, you will find your­self drawn in by the inter­views in this book. Mar­cus is a vet­er­an at ask­ing the right ques­tions and his cho­sen sub­jects are the peo­ple who cre­ate books that kids and adults stand in line to read. You’ll hear from Har­ry Bliss, Catia Chien, Geof­frey Hayes, Kazu Kibuishi, Hope Lar­son, Dan­i­ca Nov­gorod­off, Matt Phe­lan, Dave Roman, Mark and Siena Cher­son Siegel, James Sturm, Sara Varon, Gene Luen Yang. Each one of them con­tributes a self-por­trait, a com­ic writ­ten and drawn espe­cial­ly for this book, and there are sketch­es that accom­pa­ny the inter­view. It’s a visu­al book about a visu­al medi­um cre­at­ed by visu­al artists who know how to tell excep­tion­al sto­ries.

Picture This: How Pictures WorkPic­ture This (25th anniver­sary edi­tion)
Mol­ly Bang
Chron­i­cle Books, 2016

If you’ve ever felt that you like the art in a book but you don’t know why, this is the book for you. If you know teach­ers who reg­u­lar­ly read out loud to chil­dren, this is the book for them. First writ­ten 25 years ago, Mol­ly Bang has revised her guide to show us in clear lan­guage and pic­tures how the art in our favorite books works its mag­ic. The way a page is arranged, the per­spec­tive, the focal point, the emo­tion, the mood, all of these can change the way we expe­ri­ence a book. We can under­stand what it is that we’re look­ing at in ways we nev­er under­stood before. This is a very spe­cial book to give as a gift to some­one you love or to your­self.

cook it up!

Betty Crocker's Cooky BookBet­ty Crocker’s Cooky Book
by Bet­ty Crock­er (!)
illus­trat­ed by Eric Mul­vaney
Hun­gry Minds, 2002

I received this book in 1964 with an inscrip­tion from my grand­moth­er, who want­ed me to have “the gift of cook­ing food every­one will love.” It’s hard to go wrong serv­ing cook­ies and the recipes in this book are clas­sics. You’ll find Choco­late Chip Cook­ies, Tof­fee Squares, Krumkake, and Sug­ar Cook­ies. Good pho­tographs show you how to dec­o­rate them and sug­gest how to serve them. Your bur­geon­ing bak­er will spend hours plan­ning, con­sid­er­ing which cook­ies to make, and mix­ing things up in the kitchen!

Kids in the Holiday KitchenKids in the Hol­i­day Kitchen
by Jes­si­ca Strand and Tam­my Mass­man-John­son
pho­tographs by James Baigrie
Chron­i­cle Books, 2008

For those who cel­e­brate Christ­mas, this book has loads of recipes that are fun to dec­o­rate, good to give as gifts, and will help to keep the hol­i­day buf­fet well-sup­plied. And it’s not just food. There are crafts includ­ed to dec­o­rate a soap bar for a gift or dress up gift tins. A good idea for the cook­ing-inspired child on your gift list.

Everyday Kitchen for KidsEvery­day Kitchen for Kids: 100 Amaz­ing Savory and Sweet Recipes Your Chil­dren Can Real­ly Make
by Jen­nifer Low
White­cap Books, Ltd.

If your child’s wish is to appear on Food Net­work, here’s a head start.  In addi­tion to being deli­cious and easy to make, these 100 recipes are all about safe­ty. None of the meth­ods call for sharp knives, stove­top cook­ing,  or small motor­ized appli­ances. All the recipes are kid test­ed and each one is accom­pa­nied by a full-col­or pho­to­graph.

crafts are the stuff of life

Ed Emberley's Book of Trucks and TrainsEd Emberley’s Draw­ing Book of Trucks and Trains
Ed Ember­ley
LB Kids, 2005

Using sim­ple shapes and lines and putting them togeth­er in thou­sands of dif­fer­ent ways, any­one can draw. And in con­struct­ing these pic­tures out of those shapes and lines, they will find con­fi­dence in cre­at­ing their own draw­ings. A part of it is prac­tice, but a part of it is see­ing how things are put togeth­er and Ed Ember­ley is a mas­ter at this. He is a Calde­cott Medal win­ner and the author of many fine pic­ture books, but it is his draw­ing books that many chil­dren cher­ish because that’s how they learned to draw! It’s an ide­al book for a gift because with a pack of col­ored pen­cils and paper the fun can begin imme­di­ate­ly!

51 Things to Make with Cardboard Boxes51 Things to Make with Card­board Box­es
Fiona Hayes
Quar­to Pub­lish­ing Group, 2016

Gath­er up cere­al box­es and choco­late box­es and match box­es and large box­es and small box­es and paint and goo­gly eyes … to cre­ate dinosaurs, chick­ens, hous­es, and robots. Then make a giraffe and a hip­popota­mus and a con­struc­tion crane … all out of box­es! The book has step-by-step instruc­tions in both words and pic­tures that will help you and your chil­dren cre­ate fifty-one dif­fer­ent projects. My only quib­ble with this book is that I would like mea­sure­ments so I know which kind of box­es will work best … but per­haps the author want­ed the size to be vari­able. I would have loved this book as a child. I sus­pect there’s crafty and build­ing chil­dren in your life as well. There’s hours and hours of fun (and cere­al-eat­ing) ahead.

Look for this company’s 51 Things to Make with Paper Plates as well. Using paper plates and paper bowls (and goo­gly eyes) there are many more crea­tures to be brought to life with these inex­pen­sive con­struc­tion tools.

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Orbiting Kindergarten

Planet Kindergarten: 100 Days in OrbitThat live­ly, quirky-think­ing duo from Plan­et Kinder­garten have teamed up once again for Plan­et Kinder­garten: 100 Days in Orbit. Many schools use the 100-day mark­er to reflect on how far they’ve come since the first day of kinder­garten. Social graces, eti­quette, mind­ful­ness, assign­ments, singing, pledges … they’re all includ­ed in this new book.

But the extra-fun twist is that our hero recounts the entire sto­ry as a trip into space aboard a star­ship filled with aliens and a thought­ful com­man­der. 

A class­mate who becomes sick doing “anti-grav­i­ty exer­cis­es” is kind­ly accom­pa­nied to the Nurse’s Office by our hero. Shane Prig­more, the illus­tra­tor, reminds us of the excit­ing scene from Star Wars, the first movie, in which Luke Sky­walk­er zeros in on the Death­star, with a hall­ful of doors, slight­ly askew, and the red-doored office at the end. Adults and old­er sib­lings will get the ref­er­ence and con­tin­ue look­ing for more. 

Wait­ing for show-and-tell, our hero says “Then, like the Apol­lo astro­nauts, we wait to be called up. It takes for­ev­er before my turn.” May­hem ensues when there’s a tricky maneu­ver … but these chil­dren aliens are quick to lend a hand, because that’s what they’ve learned in Plan­et Kinder­garten!

Planet Kindergarten: 100 Days in Orbit

The illus­tra­tions are bold and fun­ny and cued-up with plen­ty to notice and appre­ci­ate. The sto­ry is clever but that nev­er gets in the way. It’s a very good sto­ry to read out loud, savor as a child-and-adult read­ing book, or use in the class­room to inspire space-themed play and imag­i­na­tion. Count me in as a moon cir­cling this plan­et!

Plan­et Kinder­garten: 100 Days in Orbit
writ­ten by Sue Ganz-Schmitt
illus­trat­ed by Shane Prig­more
Chron­i­cle Books, 2016

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Tucked In for the Winter

Sleep Tight Farm

Sleep Tight Farm by Euge­nie Doyle illus by Bec­ca Stadt­lander Chron­i­cle Books ISBN 9781452129013

Every detail in this book is heart­warm­ing. You know that the author and the illus­tra­tor and the book’s pub­lish­ing team put a lot of love and respect into bring­ing this sto­ry to read­ers.

From the moment you see the open­ing end papers, a for­est and pas­ture ablaze with fall col­or, until you dis­cov­er the clos­ing end papers, that same for­est with the snowy skele­tons of those trees, you sense the care with­in.

It’s a sto­ry of a farm fam­i­ly who are very busy tuck­ing their farm in for the win­ter. Unless you live on a farm, you like­ly have no idea there’s so much to do! Har­vest­ing, putting food by, pro­tect­ing the fields, prepar­ing the hoop house, keep­ing the bee­hives safe from mice and wind … from big chores to small, this family’s love for their farm wraps around the read­er like a fluffy quilt.

The book will open eyes for chil­dren who don’t know about farm life, but it also neat­ly tucks the details around us, giv­ing us a sat­is­fy­ing look at a fam­i­ly who raise a vari­ety of veg­eta­bles for them­selves, win­ter mar­kets, and their own farm­stand. You sense the family’s deep lev­el of car­ing for the land, the birds and ani­mals, and the farm that sus­tains them.

Dad cuts back the rasp­ber­ries before wind and snow can crack the canes. … The promise of late summer’s plump fruit lies in roots tucked under­ground. Good night, rasp­ber­ries, rest­ing below.” So fine.

I was drawn to this book by the cov­er and illus­tra­tions. It’s those fine­ly detailed, draw-the-read­er-into-the-world-of-the-book, gen­tly instruct­ing paint­ings that com­plete the spell of Sleep Tight Farm.  Those details include the icy white­ness of the book’s title on the cov­er and the infor­mal friend­li­ness of the body text. The farm kitchen is fas­ci­nat­ing with stacked wood, a col­lec­tion of paint­ed pot­tery, rugs on the floor, and a fire in the pot-bel­lied stove.

Sleep Tight Farm

When “We board up chinks in the chick­en coop and set a timer to give the hens the light they need to lay eggs all win­ter” even the straw that lines the chick­en coop and the feed for those chick­ens are includ­ed in the details. We learn a great deal about the farm by obser­va­tion. How are eggs col­lect­ed from the coop? Mom is pound­ing nails to “board up chinks.” There’s a vari­ety of hens and a beau­ti­ful roost­er. The fam­i­ly is wear­ing boots for their work. There’s a fence around the chick­en yard. A chick­en-strut­ting ramp leads from the coop to the ground. “Good night, chick­ens, snug in your coop.” 

After read­ing this book, I feel calmer about the win­ter to come. And I want to vis­it this farm. Warm thanks to author Euge­nie Doyle (whose fam­i­ly oper­ates The Last Resort Farm in Ver­mont) and illus­tra­tor Bec­ca Stadt­lander and the team at Chron­i­cle Books for cre­at­ing this respect­ful, lov­ing, and infor­ma­tive book. What a joy to read! It’s a keep­er.

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Women Can Be Magicians, Too!

Anything But Ordinary AddieIn a sump­tu­ous pic­ture book biog­ra­phy, author Mara Rock­liff and illus­tra­tor Iacopo Bruno give us the life of Ade­laide Scarcez Her­rmann, a real per­son who lived from 1853 to 1932. Dur­ing her 79 years, she was an actress, a dancer, a vaude­vil­lian, and she was shot out of a can­non. As the title says, she was Any­thing but Ordi­nary Addie. In 1875, Addie mar­ried Alexan­der Her­rmann, a magi­cian, and became his assis­tant. They added oth­er acts to their show and trav­eled the world as Her­rmann the Great. When Alexan­der died of heart fail­ure in 1896, at age 52, Addie decid­ed to car­ry on as the magi­cian in the act. A female magi­cian was uncom­mon, so her first solo show includ­ed a dar­ing and dan­ger­ous mag­i­cal feat. It was good enough to keep her on vaude­ville stages as Madame Her­rmann for 25 years. She kept per­form­ing until she was 75. Four years lat­er, she passed away and out of mem­o­ry.

In the Author’s Note, Rock­liff laments that “Gen­er­a­tions of girls grew up think­ing all the great magi­cians had been men.” With a daugh­ter inter­est­ed in mag­ic, Rock­liff says “This project start­ed when I went look­ing for a biog­ra­phy of a woman stage magi­cian for my daugh­ter and found to my dis­may that none exist­ed.” She began research­ing women magi­cians and ran across a very inter­est­ing research sto­ry. (Yes, I think you should read this in her book.)

It’s an inspir­ing sto­ry appro­pri­ate for chil­dren. It doesn’t include the finan­cial ups and downs of the Her­rmanns, focus­ing instead on Addie’s suc­cess­es. A deter­mined lit­tle girl and woman, she accom­plished admirable feats, includ­ing The Bul­let-Catch­ing Trick. Although the book shares the high­lights of her career, I’m intrigued to find out more. Oth­er read­ers will be as well. Isn’t that what we want out of a good book?

gr_addie_shock_600px

Iacopo Bruno’s illus­tra­tions are rich­ly col­ored with glow­ing ele­ments that light the pages much as foot­lights would light a stage. Addie’s cos­tumes and hair adorn­ments are peri­od-per­fect. Even the let­ter­ing on the hand­bills and posters trans­ports read­ers to the Gild­ed Age era. Bruno has a curi­ous way of pro­vid­ing depth to his illus­tra­tions by sur­round­ing peo­ple and objects in the fore­ground with a thick, white bor­der, almost as though they were cut out of paper. It’s a style that grew on me. It adds focus to the page, direct­ing the reader’s eye to tru­ly see what’s on the page. 

I’d rec­om­mend this book for school libraries, class­rooms, and for homes where mag­ic and accom­plished women are inter­ests.

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Everything You Need to Ace Five Subjects

bk_everything_series_300pxI’ve had this TBR pile of five very attrac­tive, come-hith­er-look­ing books beg­ging to be rec­om­mend­ed for weeks now. The spines are bright pri­ma­ry col­ors so I know that even when I shelve them they will be call­ing to me. And I think they’ll be call­ing to your stu­dents as well.

I open what are for me the two scari­est vol­umes (eat your veg­eta­bles first—oops, as an adult, I find I LOVE veg­eta­bles), Every­thing You Need to Know to Ace Sci­ence in One Fat Note­book: Notes Bor­rowed from the Smartest Kid in Class (Dou­ble-Checked by Award-Win­ning Teacher) and Every­thing You Need to Ace Math in One Big Fat Note­book: Notes Bor­rowed from the Smartest Kid in Class (Dou­ble-Checked by Award-Win­ning Teacher). Did you catch that? Bor­rowed from the “Smartest Kid” in the class.

When I was a kid I had ency­clo­pe­dias from the gro­cery store of the high­ly visu­al, dip­ping-in-and-out vari­ety. I could sit for hours, flip­ping pages, look­ing at some­thing that caught my eye, devour­ing infor­ma­tion.

These books remind me of those ency­clo­pe­dias although they’re more focused on a sub­ject area.

If you have kids who suck up facts and infor­ma­tion like a vac­u­um clean­er, these are the books for them. They’re also self-chal­leng­ing. Each chap­ter ends with a list of ques­tions which you can respond to before you turn the page to find the sup­plied answers.

bk_everything_science_200pxSo, in the Sci­ence book, my eyes light imme­di­ate­ly on Chap­ter 5: Out­er Space, the Uni­verse, and the Solar Sys­tem, with sub­sec­tions of The Solar Sys­tem and Space Explo­ration (which every self-respect­ing Star Wars nerd needs to study), The Sun-Earth-Moon Sys­tem, and The Ori­gin of the Uni­verse and Our Solar Sys­tem.

In all of the books, impor­tant names and places are bold­ed in blue, vocab­u­lary words are high­light­ed in yel­low, def­i­n­i­tions are high­light­ed in yel­low, and stick fig­ures pro­vide the enter­tain­ment.

Look­ing fur­ther, I dis­cov­er the first chap­ters in the Sci­ence book are about think­ing like a sci­en­tist and design­ing an exper­i­ment. I need a LOT of help with those activ­i­ties, so I’m glad to be put at ease.

It’s a bright and col­or­ful book, with great eye-appeal. Even for the most reluc­tant­ly curi­ous mind, these books hold a great deal of promise.

Everything I Need to Ace Math

In the Math book, we explore ratios, pro­por­tions, equa­tions, prob­a­bil­i­ty, and more. Although my brain bawks at look­ing at this stuff, I find my eye rest­ing longer and longer on some of the high­ly visu­al infor­ma­tion, want­i­ng to under­stand it bet­ter. The book is work­ing its mag­ic.

Everything You Need to Know American History

Vol­umes on Amer­i­can His­to­ry, Eng­lish Lan­guage Arts, and World His­to­ry sim­i­lar­ly offer an overview of many top­ics with­in their dis­ci­plines. The Amer­i­can His­to­ry note­book begins with “The First Peo­ple in Amer­i­ca EVER” and ends with the George W. Bush admin­is­tra­tion, with many stops along the way for famous and not-so-famous parts of America’s his­to­ry.

Eng­lish Lan­guage Arts explores every­thing from lan­guage and syn­tax to how to read fic­tion and non­fic­tion, includ­ing poet­ry, explic­it evi­dence, and using mul­ti­ple sources to strength­en your writ­ing.

World His­to­ry cov­ers 3500 BC to present times in 502 pages, light­ing on ancient African civ­i­liza­tions, the Song Dynasty in Chi­na, 1830s rev­o­lu­tions in Europe, and so much more.

Everything You Need to Ace English Language ArtsNone of the infor­ma­tion is exhaus­tive. In fact, it’s quite light. Toe-dip­ping is an apt descrip­tion. But the infor­ma­tion is enough to intrigue the read­er and lead them on to oth­er resources.

There are no bib­li­ogra­phies or sources or sug­ges­tions for fur­ther read­ing in the books. I can see where that would have been a mon­u­men­tal task. I sup­pose I’m going to have to look it up myself. Oh, maybe that’s part of the expe­ri­ence? I’m guess­ing it is.

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed for grades 6 through 9 (the cov­ers say “The Com­plete Mid­dle School Study Guide”) and espe­cial­ly for your home library. I think this would be a per­fect start­ing place for choos­ing a research top­ic or enter­tain­ing your­self with read­ing an expos­i­to­ry text. I envi­sion whiling away many hours look­ing through these books. Good job, Work­man and pro­duc­tion team.

 

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Those Alluring Comics Storytellers

Comics ConfidentialWhen I began work­ing as, and think­ing of myself as, a graph­ic design­er, I assumed that all of my ideas would have to spring out of my mind … and that was ter­ri­fy­ing. (Think of the oft-asked ques­tion, “Where do your ideas come from?”) I didn’t think I was cre­ative enough or wide­ly trav­eled enough or even edu­cat­ed enough as a graph­ic design­er to come up with ideas that would trans­late into smart, pleas­ing designs on paper or a com­put­er screen.

Then I talked and worked with oth­er graph­ic design­ers. I learned that they had fold­ers full of “ref­er­ence mate­r­i­al,” designs they admired, cut out of mag­a­zines and news­pa­pers, along with pho­tos they’d tak­en and words type­set in inno­v­a­tive ways. And that sound­ed liked cheat­ing to me. Were they just copy­ing oth­er people’s designs?

I began col­lect­ing my own ref­er­ence mate­ri­als (books, mag­a­zine pages, type, col­or swatch­es) and orga­niz­ing them into fold­ers and note­books.

As I became more expe­ri­enced, I under­stood that look­ing at ref­er­ence mate­ri­als was not copy­ing because some­where dur­ing the cre­ative process my brain added its own con­cepts and my design sel­dom looked any­thing like the ref­er­ences I had used for a project.

So many young peo­ple are inter­est­ed in cre­at­ing their own comics and graph­ic nov­els. They have sto­ries to tell and they want to do it in a visu­al way. There’s a learn­ing curve. They’ve prob­a­bly read enough “ref­er­ence mate­ri­als” when they begin, enough that they intu­itive­ly under­stand sequence, the gaps in time and sto­ry, and the con­ven­tions of dia­logue bub­bles and frames. They may begin by copy­ing their favorites, but what they’ve read informs their sto­ry­telling and what they cre­ate will be entire­ly their own.

Leonard Marcus

Leonard S. Mar­cus

How refresh­ing to have Leonard Mar­cus’ book of inter­views, Comics Con­fi­den­tial: Thir­teen Graph­ic Nov­el­ists Talk Sto­ry, Craft, and Life Out­side the Box (Can­dlewick Press). It’s a ref­er­ence mate­r­i­al of a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent type, invalu­able real­ly, because it shares how these thir­teen much-admired artists tell their own sto­ries. We get a peek into their lives, their expe­ri­ences, their notions of art and the work they’ve done before they achieved their much-admired sta­tus.

Every inter­view, whether I know the work of the artist or not, held me riv­et­ed to their sto­ry, their expe­ri­ences, their gain­ing of knowl­edge. I loved read­ing that many of them worked with a group of like-mind­ed comics artists, learn­ing and devel­op­ing togeth­er. These inter­views instill con­fi­dence and sure­foot­ed­ness. As a young and bud­ding sto­ry­teller, I know that tid­bits from these biogra­phies would change how I work and how I think about my images and scripts.

For instance, Dan­i­ca Nov­gorod­off shares that, for The Under­tak­ing of Lily Chen, “I would envi­sion each scene as a scene in a film. Some­times I would have to stop myself and real­ize, ‘This is not going to work in a draw­ing. I am going to have to write it dif­fer­ent­ly.’ I wrote a scene, for instance, with an emp­ty gray stone city in which mist was ris­ing through the streets. I thought, ‘You can’t actu­al­ly make mist rise in a draw­ing, can you?’ I tried it and it didn’t work out near­ly as well as it had in my mind! It would have looked beau­ti­ful in a film.”

What you see clear­ly in your mind fre­quent­ly doesn’t trans­late well into your draw­ing or screen. You have to do a lot of eras­ing. Much as the con­cept of revi­sion is taught by edu­ca­tors in thou­sands of class­rooms, this idea of work­ing on the frames in a com­ic book page until they are telling the best sto­ry pos­si­ble, both in words and pic­tures, can be enor­mous­ly free­ing and encour­ag­ing.

Comics Confidential, Danica Novgorodoff

Dan­i­ca Nov­gorod­off, “Turf,” Comics Con­fi­den­tial, inter­views by Leonard Mar­cus (Can­dlewick Press)

In this book, each inter­view sub­ject cre­at­ed an orig­i­nal two-page sto­ry. Both the fin­ished com­ic and an orig­i­nal sketch are shared. Mar­cus tells us in the cap­tion for the “Turf” sketch that Nov­gorod­off “not only spec­i­fied more back­ground detail but also moved more action to the fore­ground and turned more of her char­ac­ters to face us.” That’s essen­tial infor­ma­tion!

Comics Confidential James Sturm

James Sturm, self-por­trait, from Comics Con­fi­den­tial, inter­views by Leonard Mar­cus (Can­dlewick Press)

The com­ic artists telling many of our favorite graph­ic sto­ries are inter­viewed for this book:

  • Kazu Kibuishi, who keeps his fans breath­less with antic­i­pa­tion for the next vol­ume in the Amulet series.
  • Hope Lar­son, astound­ing sto­ry reteller of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrin­kle in Time.
  • Matt Phe­lan, who has graced us with excep­tion­al sto­ry­telling and art in books like Bluffton and The Storm in the Barn.
  • James Sturm, the bril­liant sto­ry­teller and instruc­tor behind the Adven­tures in Car­toon­ing series.
  • Sara Varon, well-loved for Odd Duck and Pres­i­dent Squid and Robot Dreams.
  • Gene Luen Yang, whose Avatar, Shad­ow Hero, and Secret Coder series all show the bril­liance for which he was award­ed a MacArthur Genius Grant.

These are just a few of the mighty tal­ents inter­viewed for Comics Con­fi­den­tial. Mar­cus, who is a mas­ter at ask­ing ques­tions that bring forth the infor­ma­tion Every Read­er wants to know, has cre­at­ed a book for­mat­ted beau­ti­ful­ly, brim­ming with ele­ments that read­ers will pore over, with a help­ful bib­li­og­ra­phy in the back mat­ter.

If you’re an edu­ca­tor, this book will open your eyes to the skill and imag­i­na­tion and well­springs of cre­ativ­i­ty from which our very best graph­ic nov­el­ists for young read­ers draw (tired pun, but apt). You’ll under­stand and appre­ci­ate graph­ic nov­els and com­ic books in a way you haven’t done before read­ing these inter­views.

Your youngest bud­ding artists may have a hard time read­ing the book if their read­ing lev­el doesn’t match the book’s vocab­u­lary but Comics Con­fi­den­tial is also a pow­er­ful incen­tive to per­se­vere so you can learn from the mas­ters.

If you have a small group of inter­est­ed comics cre­ators in your room, read­ing the inter­views out loud and dis­cussing them, par­tic­u­lar­ly with some of that artist’s books at hand to review, would inform those stu­dents … and make you look awful­ly smart.

Donald Duck Officer for a DayI have loved comics since I read my first Don­ald Duck com­ic book in the first decade of my life. I quick­ly became enam­ored of super­hero comics. I wasn’t allowed to buy them but thank­ful­ly my cousins were. I often spied one under a cof­fee table and took myself sur­rep­ti­tious­ly into a qui­et room to read it before we went home. As an adult, I con­tin­ue to love the visu­al nature of the sto­ries and the dif­fer­ent, inven­tive ways in which sto­ries are told by comics artists. Comics Con­fi­den­tial is a dream-come-true, allow­ing me to “meet” the visu­al sto­ry­tellers I admire great­ly. I con­sid­er this book an essen­tial pur­chase for every library and class­room.

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Apples, Well-Being, and Family

Bring Me Some Apples and I'll Make You a PieBring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie: A Sto­ry about Edna Lewis is a mem­o­rable book about grow­ing food through­out the sea­sons and liv­ing off the land in Vir­ginia. Wild straw­ber­ry, purslane, dan­de­lions, sas­safras, hon­ey. As spring rides the breeze into sum­mer, this extend­ed fam­i­ly tends to their larder, tak­ing full advan­tage of the fruits, nuts, and veg­eta­bles grow­ing around them. Sum­mer sub­dues itself into fall. Time to bring in the corn and beans, take a last har­vest of pecans before win­ter sets in.

This way of life may be unfa­mil­iar to a large per­cent­age of chil­dren, but even though the book is set in the 1920s, every­thing about the sto­ry feels con­tem­po­rary. Per­haps it is a way of life that with­stands time.

Food is the focus because this is a glimpse of the ear­ly life of Edna Lewis, renowned chef and South­ern cook­book author. As the author and water­col­or illus­tra­tor Rob­bin Gour­ley writes, “But her most sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion was to make peo­ple aware of the impor­tance of pre­serv­ing tra­di­tion­al meth­ods of grow­ing and prepar­ing food and of bring­ing ingre­di­ents direct­ly from the field to the table.” With our cur­rent resur­gence of inter­est in a farm-to-table lifestyle, this book is a good way to talk about food and nutri­tion with your chil­dren.

Bring Me Some Apples and I'll Bake You a Pie

Quite a few tra­di­tion­al say­ings are includ­ed in the book:

Rac­coon up the pecan tree.
Pos­sum on the ground.
Rac­coon shake the pecans down.
Pos­sum pass ‘em round.”

Your mouth will water so much while you’re read­ing this book that you’ll be glad there are five recipes in the back of the book, from Straw­ber­ry Short­cake to Pecan Drops.

The water­col­or illus­tra­tions through­out are charm­ing and infor­ma­tive, warm and lov­ing. The col­or palette of clear, bright tones adds to the feel­ing of health and well-being.

It’s a worth­while addi­tion to your home, school, or pub­lic library.

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Welcome to Roy’s House

Roy's HouseWhat bet­ter way to famil­iar­ize one’s self with the work of pop cul­ture artist Roy Licht­en­stein than to walk through his house from liv­ing room to snack bar, from bath­room to bed­room, and final­ly into his stu­dio, where we can try our hand at paint­ing?

Susan Gold­man Rubin and her team at Chron­i­cle have cre­at­ed a book illus­trat­ed by Roy Lichtenstein’s paint­ings, Roy’s House, which lets us see up close his style of art, the col­ors he used, and the tech­nique of shad­ing col­or in dots.

printer's loupeIf you look at a news­pa­per or a mag­a­zine or a brochure, and you use a loupe (Mer­ri­am-Web­ster def­i­n­i­tion: a small mag­ni­fi­er used espe­cial­ly by jew­el­ers and watch­mak­ers), you can dis­tin­guish among the dots used to lay the col­or down (the “halftone” tech­nique).

Dur­ing print­ing, when the col­or is laid down, those dots grow in size a bit. That’s called “dot gain” and print­ers expect it, com­pen­sat­ing on the orig­i­nal.

Licht­en­stein exag­ger­at­ed those dots, and the tech­nique of cross-hatch­ing, to make his paint­ings bold, bright, and mem­o­rable. His style is instant­ly rec­og­niz­able. As the back mat­ter states, “His first show shocked crit­ics in 1962.”

Roy's House

The text is min­i­mal (in keep­ing with Lichtenstein’s paint­ings) but the author still man­ages to imbue those words with warmth and humor, spark and spir­it. Mak­ing use of the artist’s dis­tinc­tive, jagged-edged thought bub­bles pro­vides ener­gy.

This is a book for the very young, the bud­ding artist or art col­lec­tor, and yet it’s also a book for those who love art, teach art, and are edu­cat­ing them­selves about the infi­nite styles with­in art. Lichtenstein’s work is icon­ic … and so is this book. (Mer­ri­am-Web­ster def­i­n­i­tion: “wide­ly known and acknowl­edged espe­cial­ly for dis­tinc­tive excel­lence”)

Also take a look at the author’s book Whaam! The Art and Life of Roy Licht­en­stein (Abrams), writ­ten for an old­er child.

For read­ers 12 and up, find a copy of Marc Aronson’s Art Attack: a Brief Cul­tur­al His­to­ry of the Avant-Garde (Clar­i­on Books).

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August Shorts

Warn­ing: There’s a lot of enthu­si­asm ahead for these books!

Where Do Pants Go?Where Do Pants Go?
Writ­ten by Rebec­ca Van Slyke, illus­trat­ed by Chris Robert­son
Ster­ling Children’s Books, 2016

Well, this is just adorable … and I can already hear house­holds through­out the Eng­lish-speak­ing world chant­i­ng:

Where do pants go?

On your arms? No.

On your neck? No.

No, no, no.

Pants go on your legs, that’s where pants go.”

We all know how much kids love say­ing “NO!” This book depicts a charm­ing cast of kids in a row­dy les­son on get­ting dressed from under­wear to jack­et and hat. It’s a cumu­la­tive text so lan­guage skills are a part of the mix. The illus­tra­tions are boun­cy and full of humor. Get­ting dressed will be filled with gig­gles.

Sky Stirs Up TroubleThe Sky Stirs Up Trou­ble (Tor­na­does)
writ­ten by Belin­da Jensen, illus­trat­ed by Renee Kuril­la
Mill­brook Press, 2016

I won­der if a sci­en­tif­ic study has ever been done to deter­mine how many kids want to grow up to be the weath­er fore­cast­er on local or nation­al news. Cer­tain­ly the weath­er is just as much a pre­oc­cu­pa­tion for chil­dren as it is for adults. This brand-new, six-book series about Bel the Weath­er Girl is writ­ten by a tele­vi­sion mete­o­rol­o­gist with an eye toward enter­tain­ing and edu­cat­ing the read­er. In this book, Bel and her cousin Dylan head to the base­ment with Bel’s mom when a tor­na­do siren goes off. They learn how to react to the warn­ing and Bel explains, by bak­ing a Tor­na­do Cake, how the atmos­pher­ic con­di­tions must be just so in order to cook up a tor­na­do. A recipe for the cake is includ­ed as are inter­est­ing fact bub­bles. The illus­tra­tions are friend­ly and engag­ing. I know I would have read and re-read this series in ele­men­tary school.

D is for Dress-UpD is for Dress Up: The ABCs of What We Wear
writ­ten and illus­trat­ed by Maria Car­luc­cio
Chron­i­cle Books, 2016

This charm­ing alpha­bet book is just right for some­one who will grow up to col­lect fab­ric, care­ful­ly study fash­ions, and find joy in cre­at­ing “a look.” A won­der­ful­ly diverse group of chil­dren are dressed in cloth­ing and acces­sories that depict each word from apron (for a chef) to zip­pers (for two friends’ jack­ets). In between, we find leo­tards and over­alls and rain­coats. It’s the illus­tra­tions that are most invit­ing: so much for the eyes and brain and heart to notice and absorb. There’s tex­ture and pat­tern and detail (notice those galosh­es) cre­at­ed by a tex­tile and prod­uct design­er result­ing in a warm and enchant­i­ng book. You’ll know just the child to give it to.

This is NOT a Cat!This is NOT a Cat!
writ­ten by David LaRochelle, illus­trat­ed by Mike Wohnout­ka
Ster­ling Children’s Books, 2016

LaRochelle and Wohnout­ka (Moo!) are at it again: a book that has very few words but a lot of laughs! I love these books with few words because kids are so good at telling the sto­ry them­selves. With gen­tle prompt­ing from the adult read­ing with them, kids can be encour­aged to tell the sto­ry in dif­fer­ent ways. Per­haps the most fun is say­ing the five words in the book in so many dif­fer­ent ways with vary­ing empha­sis and LOUD­ness! It’s just plain fun to read this book out loud. And because there are only five words, every child can have the sat­is­fac­tion of read­ing this book on their own. The live­ly, humor­ous pic­tures con­ceived by Mike Wohnout­ka invite study­ing close­ly as the details add to the fun. Bring your own knowl­edge to this book: do cats like cheese?

The Bot That Scott BuiltThe Bot That Scott Built
writ­ten by Kim Nor­man, illus­trat­ed by Agnese Baruzzi
Ster­ling Children’s Books, 2016

Great Scott! I love this book. For any child the least bit sci­ence-mind­ed who loves to exper­i­ment or build things or cre­ative­ly com­pile what-ifs, this is a must-have book. It’s an awe-inspir­ing feast for the eyes and the ears and the fun­ny bone. The set­ting is a Sci­ence Day, in which stu­dents show their sci­ence projects to their teacher and the rest of the class. In a House That Jack Built style, the “what can go wrong, does” sto­ry pro­gress­es with much laugh­ter thanks to the spot-on rhyming text and the col­or-infused illus­tra­tions. The end­ing is inge­nious. I won’t spoil it for you and your small­er read­ers. But Scott’s sci­ence project saves the class­room from the brink of destruc­tion. I’m inspired to make my own “bot” right now and so will you be!

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Books Like This Are Convincing

Lives of the ScientistsI’m more com­fort­able with mag­ic than I am with sci­ence. Mar­ried to a sci­ence guy, I work hard­er to be inter­est­ed in sci­ence. It gives us some­thing to talk about. When I find nar­ra­tive non­fic­tion that tells a com­pelling sto­ry, I’m thank­ful … and intrigued. I’m par­tic­u­lar­ly hap­py to find books that fea­ture less­er-known aspects of sci­ence, there­by taunt­ing my curios­i­ty.

Do you know the Lives of … series, writ­ten by Kath­leen Krull and illus­trat­ed with dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly big heads by Kathryn Hewitt? First pub­lished in 2013 and now in paper­back for less than $10, I had a ball read­ing Lives of the Sci­en­tists: Exper­i­ments, Explo­sions (and What the Neigh­bors Thought). It reminds me of Peo­ple mag­a­zine in tone, lean­ing toward gos­sipy aspects of these most curi­ous of peo­ple past and present but bal­anced by the right amount of tan­ta­liz­ing infor­ma­tion about their work (for many of them, their obses­sion). And you may not have heard of many of these peo­ple.

For instance, William and Car­o­line Her­schel, broth­er and sis­ter, earned their liv­ing as musi­cians until they had sold enough of their hand­made tele­scopes (they used horse dung for the molds!) and their cat­a­log of new­ly dis­cov­ered heav­en­ly bod­ies attract­ed the atten­tion of England’s King George III, who paid them both a salary.

The gos­sipy part? Appar­ent­ly William was a bossy guy who didn’t have his sister’s well-being at the top of his pri­or­i­ty list. Dur­ing a long night of astro­nom­ic obser­va­tion, Caroline’s leg was impaled on a hook but he couldn’t hear her cries of pain. He was con­cen­trat­ing hard!

After each pro­file, there are “extra cred­it” points that didn’t fit into the nar­ra­tive but they’re awful­ly inter­est­ing.

Don’t you love this tid­bit about Grace Mur­ray Hop­per, com­put­er sci­en­tist? “When Grace Mur­ray Hop­per was sev­en, she took her alarm clock apart to see how it worked. Her par­ents were impressed—until she took apart sev­en more. They lim­it­ed her to dis­man­tling one clock at a time, but they ful­ly sup­port­ed her edu­ca­tion.”

Rachel Carson, Lives of the Scientists, illustration copyright Kathryn Hewitt

Rachel Car­son, Lives of the Sci­en­tists, illus­tra­tion copy­right Kathryn Hewitt

Do you know the work of Chien-Shi­ung Wu, Zhang Heng, and Edwin Hub­ble? There are more famil­iar sci­en­tists as well, peo­ple like Jane Goodall, Albert Ein­stein, Rachel Car­son, and George Wash­ing­ton Carv­er.

This book sup­ports curios­i­ty, inves­ti­ga­tion, and the pur­su­ing of dreams … your kids will enjoy these three- to four-page biogra­phies even if they’re more inclined to mag­ic than sci­ence.

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Dear Peacemakers

In recent weeks, we’ve had many requests for books about anger and fear and con­flict res­o­lu­tion.

Book by BookI was imme­di­ate­ly remind­ed of an excel­lent resource pub­lished in 2010 called Book by Book: an Anno­tat­ed Guide to Young People’s Lit­er­a­ture with Peace­mak­ing and Con­flict Res­o­lu­tion Themes (Car­ol Spiegel, pub­lished by Edu­ca­tors for Social Respon­si­bil­i­ty, now called Engag­ing Schools).

Peace edu­ca­tor Car­ol Spiegel has gath­ered a use­ful, impor­tant, and intrigu­ing-to-read list of 600 pic­ture books and 300 chap­ter books that will spark your imag­i­na­tion and help you find just the right book to use in your class­room, library, or home.

When Sophie Gets AngryAs she says so well, “Sto­ries can gen­tly steal into the lives of young peo­ple and show the way to peace and con­flict res­o­lu­tion. Children’s lit­er­a­ture is rich with such tales. As an exam­ple, pic­ture this. Annie strug­gles with her anger and then she hears about Sophie who gets just as angry. Annie is heart­ened when she learns how Sophie copes. Had some­one tried to talk direct­ly with Annie about ways to deal with anger, Annie may have been defen­sive. This pos­ture was unnec­es­sary when Sophie was being fea­tured.”

Of course, the book Ms. Spiegel is describ­ing is Mol­ly Bang’s book, When Sophie Gets Angry—Really, Real­ly Angry … (and check out the 2015 book When Sophie’s Feel­ings Are Real­ly, Real­ly Hurt).

There is an Index of Book Themes in the back mat­ter that will help you find books with themes such as:

  • Elder­ly, respect for
  • Emo­tion­al lit­er­a­cy: accept­ing lim­i­ta­tions and gifts
  • Explor­ing con­flict: nature of con­flict, con­flict styles
  • Friend­ship, inclu­sion and exclu­sion

You’ll find good books that will be use­ful for your read­ing and dis­cus­sions, such as:

  • First Day in Grapes by L. King Perez, illus by Robert Casil­la (Over­com­ing Obsta­cles, Bul­ly­ing)
  • Why Mos­qui­toes Buzz in People’s Ears by Ver­na Aarde­ma, illus by Leo and Diane Dil­lon (Lis­ten­ing, Rumors or Sus­pi­cion)
  • Prob­a­bly Still Nick Swan­son by Vir­ginia Euw­er Wolff (Accept­ing Lim­i­ta­tions and Gifts, Respect for Elder­ly or Dis­abled, Rumors or Sus­pi­cion)
  • The Reveal­ers by Doug Wil­helm (Bul­ly­ing, Prej­u­dice or Dis­like, Non­vi­o­lent Response)
  • REVOLUTION is Not a Din­ner Par­ty by Ying Chang Com­pes­tine (Non­vi­o­lent Response, Oppres­sion)

Book by Book books

In our cur­rent world, where books have a shelf life of less than five years, you may not read­i­ly find some of these books (because they were pub­lished six or sev­en years ago). Get the book you’re inter­est­ed in on inter­li­brary loan from your pub­lic library, read it, con­sid­er whether it’s impor­tant to have it in your school or class­room library, and then find a used copy online.

The folks at Engag­ing Schools were kind enough to send me two down­load­able PDFs that may help to con­vince you to obtain this book: Table of Con­tents and Sup­ple­men­tal Index. You can order the book from Engag­ing Schools online.

I hope they will update this book … it’s a crit­i­cal ref­er­ence in our unset­tled, grow­ing wis­er, open­ing our minds world.

Seri­ous­ly, you’ll won­der why you don’t already have this ref­er­ence book on your shelf.

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Reading Memories

bk_threelittlekittensMem­o­ries of my child­hood are imper­fect. Yours, too?

I don’t remem­ber hav­ing a lot of books as a child. I remem­ber The Poky Lit­tle Pup­py and anoth­er dog book (title unknown) and Three Lit­tle Kit­tens (per­haps a reminder to me to keep track of my mit­tens).

I remem­ber using the school library vora­cious­ly to read books. I had no access to the pub­lic library (too far away) so that school library was my life­line. And our librar­i­an under­stood what I was look­ing for before I did.

But back to the ques­tion of hav­ing books on our shelves. My moth­er had a Dou­ble­day Book Club sub­scrip­tion so a new book arrived each month for the adult read­er in our fam­i­ly. I saw To Kill a Mock­ing­bird, Catch­er in the Rye, The Light in the Piaz­za, and The Sun Also Ris­es added to the shelves, but oth­er than curios­i­ty, I felt no inter­est in those books.

My moth­er also sub­scribed to Reader’s Digest. We had a lot of music in our house in the form of LPs. Some of my favorites were those Read­ers Digest col­lec­tions, clas­sics, folk songs, Broad­way musi­cals. There was always music on the turntable. More impor­tant­ly, Reader’s Digest pub­lished sto­ry col­lec­tions and books for chil­dren.  

Yes­ter­day, I was sort­ing through the three box­es that remain of my child­hood toys and books. We’re down­siz­ing, so the tough deci­sions have to be made. Do I keep my hand pup­pets of Lamb Chop, Char­lie Horse, and Hush Pup­py or let them go?

Reader's Digest Treasury for Young ReadersI know I’ve gone through these box­es since I was a kid but every ten years or so I’m sur­prised all over again by what I played with as a child and cared enough to pack in a box for remem­brance.

I found two Reader’s Digest Trea­suries for Young Read­ers and the three-vol­ume Dou­ble­day Fam­i­ly Trea­sury of Children’s Sto­ries.  My moth­er also sub­scribed to the Reader’s Digest Best Loved Books for Young Read­ers. This is how I read Lor­na Doone and Ivan­hoe and Where the Red Fern Grows.

I was star­tled to real­ize that my famil­iar­i­ty with many of the clas­sic poems, sto­ries, and non­fic­tion arti­cles came from these books. I was intro­duced to Dorothy Can­field Fish­er and Eliz­a­beth Janet Gray and Dr. George Wash­ing­ton Carv­er and Jules Verne and The Odyssey and NASA’s work and more than a hun­dred more sto­ries and arti­cles. I’d like to believe that I’m an omniv­o­rous read­er today because of the wide vari­ety I encoun­tered in these books.

The Family Treasury of Children's BooksThere’s a pen­chant for every­thing new right now. Grand­par­ents pick up the lat­est Dora the Explor­er or Where’s Wal­do? book because they’ve heard of them and have a vague sense that kids like them. Or the book­store clerk sug­gests a Calde­cott or New­bery win­ner of recent vin­tage.

This is a plea to remem­ber those clas­sic books: the sto­ries, the folk tales, the fables, the poet­ry. Chil­dren will read a lot that you wouldn’t expect them to read, espe­cial­ly if you give it to them. Those clas­sics pro­vide a com­mon lan­guage for edu­cat­ed peo­ple.

Can’t find some­thing suit­able? Write to your favorite pub­lish­er and sug­gest that they print col­lec­tions of clas­sics, old and new. There are a few books pub­lished in the last 20 years that sort of approach these col­lec­tions pub­lished in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Here are a few:

Story Collections

Per­haps 50 years from now your chil­dren and grand­chil­dren will open their own box of child­hood mem­o­ries, being thank­ful that you gave them such a great gift.

Thanks, Mom. You gave me a gift that has sus­tained me all my life.

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Visiting Brigadoon

Vermont College of Fine Arts

Steve and I returned ear­li­er this week from Mont­pe­lier, Ver­mont, where we spoke at the Ver­mont Col­lege of Fine Arts, specif­i­cal­ly to the alum­ni of their Writ­ing for Chil­dren and Young Adults MFA pro­gram. We were there to talk about “Mar­ket­ing as Sto­ry­telling,” with the goal of mak­ing these typ­i­cal­ly intro­vert­ed writ­ers feel more com­fort­able about tout­ing their books. Mar­ket­ing is all part of the busi­ness of writ­ing, espe­cial­ly in these times when the social media cacoph­o­ny makes it hard­er to be heard.

We’ve heard about this pro­gram at VCFA for years. A num­ber of our col­leagues are fac­ul­ty mem­bers and a num­ber of our clients have grad­u­at­ed from this col­lege. Did it live up to the many lauda­to­ry state­ments we’ve lis­tened to? The grad­u­ates speak about the school as though these are hal­lowed halls. What is it that cre­ates their reac­tion?

On our dri­ve back to Boston to take the plane home, Steve and I talked about this. We over­heard the fac­ul­ty and staff refer­ring to them­selves as Brigadoon through­out the three days we were there. Are you famil­iar with that leg­end? The city in Scot­land that appears for only one day every one hun­dred years? A step out­side of time? A haven for good and tal­ent­ed peo­ple? 

Set among the ver­dant hills of Ver­mont, the College’s build­ings are arranged around a green grass plaza, a place where dogs catch Fris­bees and foun­tains bur­ble and trees shade stu­dents who are writ­ing, read­ing, and con­vers­ing. 

Stu­dents in the WCYA pro­gram are enrolled in a low-res­i­den­cy pro­gram, mean­ing that they work in their homes and come togeth­er twice a year on the cam­pus to lis­ten to and work direct­ly with fac­ul­ty and vis­it­ing speak­ers. They get to know the oth­er stu­dents in their class, all of whom are work­ing toward the com­mon goal of hav­ing sus­tain­able pub­lish­ing careers. They spend ten days togeth­er in the sum­mer and ten days in the win­ter (anoth­er pop­u­lar time in ski­able Ver­mont) and then they fade away to their own homes, inspired once again to work intent­ly on improv­ing their writ­ing and sto­ry­telling tech­niques.

Brigadoon? Yes. The spell fell upon us, too. What a charm­ing place to learn your craft, to strive toward being the best writer you can be. We look for­ward to great books from the men and women we met dur­ing our brief sojourn. We’re con­fi­dent we’ll be read­ing them soon.

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Going to Camp

Mother Daughter Book CampAs sum­mer begins, it’s pos­si­ble there is no more ubiq­ui­tous expe­ri­ence for Amer­i­can chil­dren than sum­mer camp. Whether it’s a day camp or a sleep­away camp, an art or music camp, a Girl Scout or church camp, there are some things that most camps have in com­mon: the out­doors, get­ting along with oth­er kids and coun­selors, and new expe­ri­ences.

Or, as Heather Vogel Fred­er­ick writes in her lat­est Moth­er-Daugh­ter Book Club book, Moth­er-Daugh­ter Book Camp, the mot­to of Camp Love­joy is “Broad­en­ing Hori­zons for Over a Cen­tu­ry.” Girls are encour­aged to stretch out­side their com­fort zones.

When the sub­ject of sum­mer camp comes up among my friends, the dis­cus­sion turns to crafts learned (mac­a­roni-adorned some­thing), songs sung, injuries sus­tained, fam­i­ly week­ends, and unfor­get­table coun­selors.

Moth­er-Daugh­ter Book Camp cap­tures this expe­ri­ence with spot-on details, the emo­tions of being away at camp (remem­ber that feel­ing of home­sick­ness? who were these strangers? how would you make it through [how­ev­er long you were slat­ed to be there]? how could you ever leave?), the food, the one most mem­o­rable expe­ri­ence, and those won­der­ful friend­ships.

Mother Daughter Book Club Series

I’m a big fan of this series of books which began with The Moth­er-Daugh­ter Book Club, con­tin­ued with Much Ado about Anne, and con­tin­ued through to the recent, sev­enth book, Moth­er-Daugh­ter Book Camp. We’ve grown to care about these five girls, Emma (the most ded­i­cat­ed read­er and writer), Jess (the farm girl and musi­cian), Bec­ca (first a bul­ly, then a friend, high­ly orga­nized, quil­ter), Megan (fash­ion­ista, blog­ger, whose moth­er is obsessed with green and healthy liv­ing), and Cas­sidy (sports, sports, and great love of fam­i­ly). Their moth­ers are famil­iar, too, because of Book Club meet­ings and trips they’ve tak­en. There are even grand­moth­ers with­in these sto­ries. I love it when all of the gen­er­a­tions are drawn into the sto­ry, don’t you? These are five girls who for the most part didn’t know each oth­er before the book club began—and now they’re for­ev­er friends.

In each part of the series, the book club dis­cuss­es a clas­sic book, from Lit­tle Women to Anne of Green Gables to the Bet­sy-Tacy books to the book fea­tured in Moth­er-Daugh­ter Book Camp, Under­stood Bet­sy by Dorothy Can­field Fish­er. The book club shares Fun Facts about the book and the author and so, of course, read­ers are drawn inevitably to read­ing the fea­tured book—how can curios­i­ty not engen­der this result? And the book club is woven skill­ful­ly into the larg­er sto­ry, which pro­vides plen­ty of laughs, a lot of gasps of sur­prise, and heart­warm­ing tears.

I’ve come to care about these girls, their fam­i­lies, their boyfriends. Each of them is head­ing off to a dif­fer­ent col­lege after being coun­selors at Camp Love­joy. The series is done with book sev­en but I know they’ll stay in touch. Their lives are inter­twined. I’m going to miss know­ing what hap­pens next.

Heather Vogel Fred­er­ick has writ­ten char­ac­ters so vivid that I expect them to walk through my front door, plop down on the couch, and tell me all about their lives. I wish they would.

These books are that good. I high­ly rec­om­mend them for fourth grade read­ers and old­er. The char­ac­ters are in sixth grade when their book club is formed. We watch them grow up, grad­u­ate from high school, and spend a spe­cial sum­mer togeth­er at camp before they head off to the rest of their lives.

I’m grate­ful that their sto­ries are a part of my life.

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Summer Adventures

 

Adventures in Cartooning: Characters in ActionThe oth­er day, a pub­lic librar­i­an asked on social media for graph­ic nov­el rec­om­men­da­tions for read­ers aged 6 to 12. I imme­di­ate­ly rec­om­mend­ed the Adven­tures in Car­toon­ing series by James Sturm, Andrew Arnold, and Alex­is Fred­er­ick-Frost.

The first book was Adven­tures in Car­toon­ing: How to Turn Your Doo­dles into Comics, intro­duc­ing us to The Knight, Edward the chub­by horse, and the Mag­ic Car­toon­ing Elf. With humor and breath­less sto­ry­telling, this sto­ry cap­tures both atten­tion and imag­i­na­tion. I can­not envi­sion a read­er who wouldn’t want to pull out a pen­cil and give car­toon­ing a try.

Since then, there have been three more Adven­tures in Car­toon­ing sto­ry/how-to books and four pic­ture books fea­tur­ing the beloved char­ac­ters.

The book I’ve fall­en in love with now is Adven­tures in Car­toon­ing: Char­ac­ters in Action, first pub­lished in 2013. An afford­able paper­back, this is a stealthy way to buy an activ­i­ty book that also encour­ages sto­ry­telling, writ­ing, spa­tial think­ing, and math (yes, math, while fig­ur­ing out how to lay out the sto­ry).

These books are clever because they tell a sto­ry while show­ing how to write a sto­ry. And the sto­ry is good, not didac­tic.

In this vol­ume, many char­ac­ters are intro­duced as a way of show­ing how you can make dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters out of a few shapes and how you describe a char­ac­ter with a min­i­mum of words, cloth­ing, facial expres­sions, and place­ment on the page. And they all move the sto­ry for­ward! With each page turn, some­thing unpre­dictable happens—that’s great sto­ry­telling. I admire the authors’ skill­ful­ness.

Read­ing these books as an adult cracks me up. The jokes are clever, but they’re layered—and they, too, move the sto­ry for­ward, so they also teach while tick­ling the reader’s fun­ny bone.

Summer’s near­ly here. Are you gear­ing up with things to do? Buy the series of Adven­tures in Car­toon­ing books and pull them out of your bore­dom-reliev­er bag at oppor­tune times. They’re a can’t miss for any kids who like to tell sto­ries and draw.

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Light vs Dark

The Dark is Rising

A recent paper­back cov­er, I quite like this. It’s as ele­gant as the sto­ry itself.

Do you have a book that you re-read peri­od­i­cal­ly? At least every few years? Some­times more often?

For me, it’s The Dark is Ris­ing by Susan Coop­er. I have read thou­sands of books in my life­time, but this book stands out as the one that cap­tured my full heart, mind, and imag­i­na­tion. When I think of it, a hush falls over me. I respect this book on many lev­els.

Each time I read about Will Stan­ton, met with chal­lenges that threat­en his fam­i­ly, his vil­lage, not to men­tion his life, I am filled with won­der. How did the author write about such dire cir­cum­stances while keep­ing the read­er assured that good would find a way to defeat evil?

That’s what I notice most about The Dark is Ris­ing, even more than the oth­er books in this series. Coop­er writes about a sky laden with snow, the heav­i­ness of it, the blan­ket­ing of feel­ing and sound. Sur­round­ed by the men­ace of weath­er that shouldn’t be that way, the read­er finds places of com­fort. Fam­i­ly, the church, tra­di­tions, many of the vil­lagers … these are peo­ple and parts of life that we can count on to sup­port us, defend us, and sur­round us with love and secu­ri­ty.

The Dark is Rising

This is the orig­i­nal hard­cov­er dust jack­et.

We’re liv­ing in a time where we’re aware of how much Dark there is in the world. This book is need­ed. Our movies and tele­vi­sion shows and many books are filled with anti-heroes and prob­lems that go unre­solved because that is “real life.” We can change that.

I like to think there are real­ly Old Ones out there, like Mer­ri­man Lyon and Miss Greythorne, who are look­ing out for world, lead­ing the fight against the Dark. We can’t rely on Old Ones: we need to be remind­ed that it’s up to us to push the Dark back so the Light can shine bright­ly.

I enjoyed the romp of the first few Har­ry Pot­ter books, but they are sim­ply not as cap­ti­vat­ing and reas­sur­ing as The Dark is Ris­ing. Susan Coop­er writes with pow­er, ele­gance, and a deep under­stand­ing of the human psy­che. Each time I fin­ish the book, I am con­vinced Ms. Coop­er must be one of the Old Ones her­self, fight­ing for the Light to pre­vail. We need her. Read this book your­self and give it to a young read­er. Walk on the side of the Light.

(A side note: Do not be tempt­ed to watch the movie The Seek­er instead, which was pur­port­ed­ly based on The Dark is Ris­ing. It is noth­ing like the book.)

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The Jungle Book

The Jungle BookThe word exquis­ite once won the game for me while play­ing Pass­word. I have been fond of that word since that time and look for instances where it applies. That is sure­ly the illus­trat­ed edi­tion of The Jun­gle Book, writ­ten by Rud­yard Kipling all of those years ago, and new­ly illus­trat­ed by Nico­la Bay­ley. Can­dlewick pub­lished this edi­tion of the clas­sic sto­ries and their clas­sics are worth col­lect­ing, read­ing, and trea­sur­ing. They should be well-worn on the book­shelves in your home.

I first read The Jun­gle Book when I was ten. I don’t remem­ber any illus­tra­tions in the Reader’s Digest Con­densed Books ver­sion but I remem­ber that this book made a big impres­sion on me. It was so “oth­er.” It was not the world I knew and it was larg­er than the farm dogs and pet cats I observed. It gave me a sense of the world beyond my vision. I believe it can still do that for read­ers today.

Bagheera and Mowgli by Nicola BayleyThe sto­ry of Mowgli and his wolf-pack, of Shere Khan, the tiger who believes Mowgli is his to dis­pose of as he wish­es, of Baloo and Kaa and Bagheera … is as cap­ti­vat­ing now as I remem­ber read­ing it as a child. There is such dig­ni­ty and grace in the words that Kipling wrote, the sto­ries he weaves with fierce­ness and humor and respect, that The Jun­gle Book tran­scends time. Who would not be fas­ci­nat­ed by this sto­ry of a young boy (cub) who is adopt­ed by a wolf pack, grows up believ­ing he is a wolf, and then must re-join the world of man when the ani­mals judge it is time. He lives in the jun­gle, is accus­tomed to the ways of the ani­mal tribes, and this nev­er leaves him, espe­cial­ly in his deal­ing with humans.

Midday Nap by Nicola BayleyThe book is such a treat to read because the visu­al expe­ri­ence is so reward­ing. There are rich­ly-col­ored bor­ders and sump­tu­ous sto­ry-divid­ing pages with pat­terns evoca­tive of India, where The Jun­gle Book takes place. Every spread has some illus­tra­tion it, done in col­ored pen­cil, that set the scene or enhance the sto­ry­telling or give us a glimpse of Mowgli and the ani­mals. The full-page illus­tra­tions are riv­et­ing.

You’ve read before of my fond­ness for “but­ter cov­ers,” dust jack­ets fin­ished with a smooth and tan­gi­bly soft cov­er that invites hold­ing and read­ing. This book has such a cov­er and it is irre­sistible. (I made that term up, by the way. Don’t try Googling it.)

In the “Word” at the begin­ning of the book, Nico­la Bay­ley writes, “I’d been to India and vis­it­ed all sorts of places you wouldn’t nor­mal­ly see, and I went to libraries in Lon­don to find out what the coun­try was like in Kipling’s time.”

In the author’s bio on the jack­et flap, we learn that “Rud­yard Kipling (1865−1936) was born in India and spent his ear­ly child­hood there. He lived a migra­to­ry life: edu­cat­ed in Eng­land, he returned to India in 1882, then met his wife in Lon­don and spent the ear­ly years of their mar­riage in Ver­mont, even­tu­al­ly set­tling in Eng­land. The most famous writer of his time, Rud­yard Kipling was award­ed the Nobel Prize in lit­er­a­ture in 1907, thir­teen years after the pub­li­ca­tion of The Jun­gle Book.” His writ­ing is a look into his world and his time, his expe­ri­ence, his feel­ings about life.

This edi­tion of The Jun­gle Book is exquis­ite. I rec­om­mend it high­ly for your fam­i­ly read-aloud time, for young and old­er. Don’t skip over the poet­ry. Its rhythm and words are part of the expe­ri­ence. It will give you much to dis­cuss and a world to explore.

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Fashion Studio

Fashion Studio Oh. my good­ness. When I opened up this box, I was imme­di­ate­ly trans­port­ed to my grand­par­ents’ back yard, on the blue blan­ket under the elm tree, when a gag­gle of friends brought their Bar­bi­es and Kens togeth­er and we sewed clothes out of fab­ric scraps and held fash­ion shows. Those days are some of my best mem­o­ries of child­hood.

If we had had this Fash­ion Stu­dio from Can­dlewick Press, I’m con­vinced it would have altered lives. This would have amped up the cre­ativ­i­ty lev­el and built con­fi­dence.

You see, we often became frus­trat­ed because we lacked new ideas or didn’t quite know how to con­struct a gar­ment. Fash­ion Stu­dio will crack that dis­ap­point­ment wide open. There are card­board tem­plates to help you make paper gar­ments.

For those who are chal­lenged by spa­tial rela­tion­ships, this will pro­vide many an Aha! Moment as design­ers fash­ion their cloth­ing.

First of all, the Fash­ion Stu­dio itself is chic (and pur­ple!). Well-designed to have wide appeal, it’s made from stur­dy card­board that folds open to reveal a beau­ti­ful shop with its own type of run­way. There are dress stands and a dis­play rail. When design­ing is done for the day, it all folds up into an easy-to-car­ry box that is rough­ly the size of a Har­ry Pot­ter book.

Fashion Studio

Want to make a Skater Dress? Pages 8 and 9 in the Fash­ion Hand­book by author Helen Moslin take you step by step, with a draw­ing for every direc­tion, cut­ting out, glu­ing (no stitch­ing here but there are seam allowances and one can eas­i­ly make the leap between a line of stitch­ing and the glue).

When the dress is assem­bled and the glue is dry­ing, it’s time to make the adorable lit­tle pol­ka dot mules and the small bag.

At the end of each set of instruc­tions, there are ideas for oth­er com­bi­na­tions of paper and trim, just enough to spur the imag­i­na­tion into mak­ing its own designs using these tem­plates and papers found around the house or designed with cray­on or water­col­or. The papers and stick­ers includ­ed with the Fash­ion Stu­dio will appeal to a wide vari­ety of tastes.

Fashion Studio

A glos­sary of Dress­mak­er Words is included—and the text uses them—so that the design and assem­bly process­es are akin to the world of fab­ric and sewing.  

Like the out­stand­ing Can­dlewick Press Ani­ma­tion Stu­dio before it, this Fash­ion Stu­dio will bring big smiles and hap­py hearts to the fash­ion­istas in your life. Lucky kids!

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Perspective

Pippi LongstockingAt Bookol­o­gy, we believe the adage about “the right book for the right read­er.” Those are not nec­es­sar­i­ly the books that we see in adver­tise­ments, in the blog­gers’ buzz, or on award lists. Only by lis­ten­ing to each oth­er, and espe­cial­ly to kids, talk about books do we find those gems our hearts were look­ing for but didn’t know exist­ed.

When you think about your favorite books, what’s your per­spec­tive? Do you remem­ber the sto­ry first? The char­ac­ters? The cov­er? The illus­tra­tions?

For many of us, it’s the book cov­er. Yes­ter­day, I was look­ing for books about cats. I want­ed to rec­om­mend some clas­sics. I remem­ber a book from the 1960s that had a boy and a cat on the cov­er. Both of them were fac­ing away from me, look­ing at a neigh­bor­hood. I remem­ber that the cov­er is yel­low. Do you know the book I’m talk­ing about? I asked Steve, because he fre­quent­ly talks about this book. When I described the cov­er, he knew right away: It’s Like This, Cat by Emi­ly Cheney Neville. (I’m not pub­lish­ing the cov­er here because I don’t want to give it away. Take a look at the bot­tom of this arti­cle.)

Often it’s the illus­tra­tions. Who can for­get the thick black out­lines of My Friend Rab­bit? Or the clear, bright col­ors of My Heart is Like a Zoo? Or the pen and ink draw­ings of Lois Lens­ki?

gr_myheart

Some­times it’s the char­ac­ters. The book with the spi­der and the pig. That one with the adven­tur­ous red-haired girl with pig­tails. That book where the high-school kids share their poet­ry in class. That auto­bi­og­ra­phy of the author grow­ing up in Cuba and the USA. Those char­ac­ters are so mem­o­rable that, once read, we can’t for­get them. (The book cov­ers are post­ed at the end of this arti­cle.)

When we’re meet­ing with the Chap­ter & Verse book club each month, the last half-hour is a time to rec­om­mend books we’ve enjoyed. I always add to my read­ing list. Do you have an inten­tion­al, set-aside time for talk­ing with oth­er adults about the children’s books they’re read­ing and are thrilled to rec­om­mend? I par­tic­u­lar­ly love it when they’re books that aren’t on the buzzers’ radar. I feel as though we’ve shared a secret.

Chapter & Verse Book Club, Redbery Books, Cable, Wisconsin

Chap­ter & Verse Book Club, Red­bery Books, Cable, Wis­con­sin

I also hunt through the state lists. These are books that edu­ca­tors and librar­i­ans are choos­ing because they know they have kid appeal. So often, these are not books that have been on award lists … but they’re passed along, buzzed about among child read­ers, rec­om­mend­ed by the adults in their lives.

State Choice Awards

Not all books need to be new. There are fab­u­lous books hid­ing on the library shelves and in used book­stores. Do a sub­ject search. It’s amaz­ing what you can find by look­ing at a library cat­a­log or doing an online search.

Everyone’s pub­lish­ing book­lists these days. How do you know which ones to fol­low? Do the titles res­onate with you? Do you find your­self eager­ly adding their sug­ges­tions to your TBR pile? Then book­mark those lists! Vis­it them fre­quent­ly or sign up to receive noti­fi­ca­tions when they pub­lish their next list.

The award books and books with stars are one way to find good books but don’t rely sole­ly on those sources. Don’t for­get the wealth of fab­u­lous books that fly under the radar.

Talk to each oth­er. Adult to adult. Child to adult. Child to child. Adult to child. Old or new. Hid­den trea­sure or best­seller. We learn about the best books when we hear rec­om­men­da­tions from anoth­er read­er, anoth­er per­spec­tive.

books described in the article

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Libraries in the USA are at Mission Critical

There is not such a cra­dle of democ­ra­cy upon the earth as the Free Pub­lic Library, this repub­lic of let­ters, where nei­ther rank, office, nor wealth receives the slight­est con­sid­er­a­tion.” —Andrew Carnegie

Hamel Public Library, Minnesota

Hamel Pub­lic Library, Min­neso­ta

Libraries in the USA are at mis­sion crit­i­cal. Those who went before us worked hard to estab­lish free pub­lic libraries so we could have access to what we need to know. How can we let their lega­cy erode?

We’ve already seen our pub­lic school libraries dam­aged by bud­get short­falls in which libraries are deemed non-essen­tial and degreed librar­i­ans are con­sid­ered eas­i­ly replaced by a vol­un­teer.

Pub­lic libraries have suf­fered as well via con­sol­i­da­tion, replaced by pick-up-your-book kiosks, and out­right clo­sure.

For read­ers, it is under­stood how vital libraries are as a free source of edu­ca­tion, essen­tial ser­vices, and enter­tain­ment that might oth­er­wise be too expen­sive for fam­i­lies and indi­vid­u­als. Beyond books, pub­lic libraries offer free pro­gram­ming in edu­ca­tion, craft­ing, music and dance, cit­i­zen­ry, and busi­ness. Some libraries have become a place to check out sel­dom-need­ed but impor­tant items like fish­ing rods, elec­tric drills, sewing machines, and gar­den­ing tools.

gardening tools library

Read­ing is still at the heart of the library. The abil­i­ty to learn, whether by fic­tion or non­fic­tion, and the priv­i­lege of ask­ing a librar­i­an who can help you find what you need and what you don’t yet know that you need—that is a library. No com­put­er algo­rithm, no mat­ter how well-mean­ing, can take a librarian’s place.

Many of us take our pub­lic library for grant­ed. We walk a few blocks, ride our bikes, dri­ve a few miles or 30 miles to check out books and mag­a­zines. We can call the staff on the phone to make sure they know what we’re look­ing for and have it. If they don’t have it, they can order it from a library far, far away. This is one of the most reli­able ser­vices of being an Amer­i­can cit­i­zen.

This access to infor­ma­tion and resources was hard-won. The gen­er­a­tions before us rec­og­nized how vital books and read­ing are to a healthy, cit­i­zen-engaged coun­try.

Down Cut Shin CreekIn Down Cut Shin Creek: the Pack Horse Librar­i­ans of Ken­tucky by Kathi Appelt and Jeanne Can­nel­la Schmitzer (Harp­er Collins, 2001), we learn the riv­et­ing true sto­ry of women, pri­mar­i­ly, who were hired by the Work Projects Admin­is­tra­tion (WPA) in 1935, dur­ing the height of the Depres­sion, to ride hors­es or pack mules to the often inac­ces­si­ble small com­mu­ni­ties and indi­vid­u­als of east­ern Ken­tucky. Even­tu­al­ly these librar­i­ans would serve more 100,000 peo­ple in 30 coun­ties as part of the Pack Horse Library Project. It’s an inspir­ing book. Read­ing the account of how impor­tant these librar­i­ans were because they knew their com­mu­ni­ties, their read­ers’ tastes, and felt a sense of duty … it’s eas­i­er to under­stand why libraries have been so vital in Amer­i­ca.

A con­gress­man from Ken­tucky, Carl D. Perkins, spon­sored the Library Ser­vices Act in 1956 “that made the first fed­er­al appro­pri­a­tions for library ser­vice.” More than like­ly, he was influ­enced by a Pack Horse Librar­i­an while he taught in rur­al Ken­tucky.

That Book WomanFor a pic­ture book about the Pack Horse Librar­i­ans, read Heather Henson’s That Book Woman, illus­trat­ed by David Small (Atheneum, 2008). Writ­ten by a Ken­tucky native, this sto­ry of Cal, liv­ing high in the Appalachi­an hills, depicts a young boy who wants noth­ing to do with read­ing until he real­izes the extra­or­di­nary lengths his Pack Horse Librar­i­an is achiev­ing to bring him books.

Books in a BoxIn north­ern climes, Stu­art Stotts wrote the mar­velous Books in a Box: Lutie Stearns and the Trav­el­ing Libraries of Wis­con­sin (Big Val­ley Press, 2005). Lutie Stearns grew up near Mil­wau­kee, read­ing all the time. She is drawn to library ser­vice where, thank­ful­ly, she has big ideas. She teams up with Frank Hutchins (anoth­er big idea per­son, he start­ed the Wis­con­sin State For­est Depart­ment, and intro­duced East­er Seals to the Anti-Tuber­cu­lo­sis Asso­ci­a­tion) to cre­ate trav­el­ing libraries.

Melvil Dewey (he of the Dewey Dec­i­mal Sys­tem) intro­duced pub­licly-fund­ed trav­el­ing libraries in New York State in 1893. (The first trav­el­ing libraries were like­ly those in Scot­land and Wales in the ear­ly 1800s, but they were part of a school­ing sys­tem.)

The next year, Lutie and Frank peti­tioned lum­ber baron and Wis­con­sin state sen­a­tor James Stout to fund trav­el­ing libraries in Dunn Coun­ty. They want­ed him to intro­duce a bill in the leg­is­la­ture to fun the Wis­con­sin Free Library Com­mis­sion. You must read this book for the engross­ing expe­ri­ences Lutie encoun­tered as she tried to estab­lish trav­el­ing libraries, books in a box, around the state in post offices and stores.

Lat­er, Lutie would help cit­i­zens apply for funds from Andrew Carnegie to con­struct a library. These Carnegie libraries, some of which are still in use, brought edu­ca­tion and enter­tain­ment to gen­er­a­tions of cit­i­zens, tax­pay­er sup­port­ed but oth­er­wise free, through­out the Unit­ed States. Lutie Stearns could cel­e­brate the growth of books-in-a-box to full-fledged libraries through her per­sis­tent efforts and those of Frank Hutchins.

Dunn County

Demo­c­rat Print­ing Com­pa­ny — (1897) Free Trav­el­ing Libraries in Wis­con­sin: The Sto­ry of Their Growth, Pur­pos­es, and Devel­op­ment; with Accounts of a Few Kin­dred Move­ments

The desire to have a good influ­ence and a decent place to go, instead of the many saloons and dance halls, led me to vis­it one com­mu­ni­ty no less than twelve times before I could get the town pres­i­dent, also own­er of a dance hall, to appoint a library board.” (Lutie Stearns, Books in a Box, pg 49)

Twelve times? That’s deter­mi­na­tion.

Can we do less?

MORE RESOURCES

The ear­li­est libraries-on-wheels looked way cool­er than today’s book­mo­biles,” by Rose Eveleth, Smithsonian.com

Trav­el­ing libraries,” by Lar­ry T. Nix, Library His­to­ry Buff

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Telling a Story the Hard Way

Space Dumplinsby Vic­ki Palmquist

I’ve just fin­ished read­ing the graph­ic nov­el Space Dumplins by Craig Thomp­son, with col­or by Dave Stew­art (Graphix, 2015). I am over­whelmed by the work that went into this book. First off, it’s an engross­ing, turn-the-page sto­ry with an appeal­ing cast of char­ac­ters. As read­ers, we care about what will hap­pen. That’s a good start.

Now, imag­ine that you are sit­ting down with a pen­cil to sketch one of the spreads in this book. Per­haps you’ve picked the pages where Vio­let, our hero­ine, first gets a look at SHELL-TAR, the inte­ri­or of the space sta­tion. You start by draw­ing the intri­ca­cies of the gleam­ing steam­punk time clock and then you draw all of the activ­i­ty going on inside the trans­par­ent trans­port tubes, large enough to accom­mo­date per­son­al space­ships. Next you fill in the many habi­tats, the glob­u­lar trees, the peo­ple at the beach. Then you insert our cast of char­ac­ters into the scene along with the robot­ic Chaper­drone (a babysit­ter). Whew. That’s a lot of draw­ing for two pages.

Of course, you’re pro­vid­ing this as a back­drop for the fast-paced sto­ry of three new friends, quick-wit­ted, learn­ing to work as a team, doing their best to save the peo­ple they love and their cor­ner of the uni­verse. You’ve already writ­ten the sto­ry, the script, and worked through the sur­pris­es that will delight your read­ers, mak­ing it a tight and believ­able hero’s jour­ney set in the Mucky Way.

Vio­let, Zac­cha­eus, and Eliot are unlike­ly heroes except that Vio­let has a wel­com­ing heart, a brave out­look on adven­ture, and an opti­mism as big as out­er space. She can see qual­i­ties in her new friends that they can’t see them­selves. Eliot, the chick­en, is stu­dious, intro­vert­ed, wide­ly read, and some­what psy­chic. Zac­cha­eus, the last of the Lump­kins (well, almost the last, because space whales ate his plan­et) is chaot­ic, impul­sive, and ready for a fight. All three of the friends are good at prob­lem-solv­ing, espe­cial­ly when they work togeth­er. The mil­i­tary can’t defeat the space whales: they can only clean up after them. It’s these three who fig­ure out the true heart of the prob­lem.

Craig Thompson Space Dumplins ballpoint

from Craig Thompson’s web­site, copy­right Craig Thomp­son

Once you’ve sketched all of this, applied ball­point pen, then brushed ink, you ask some­one else to col­or every­thing in.  Togeth­er, you’re cre­at­ing a book full of these sto­ry-telling images, rich­ly col­ored, high­ly detailed, and ulti­mate­ly believ­able as a look at life that’s real­ly hap­pen­ing some­where “out there.”

The rest of the main cast of char­ac­ters include Violet’s par­ents, the reformed felon Gar and the fash­ion design­er Cera, Gar’s fish­ing bud­dies Mr. Tin­der and crew, Cera’s boss at the Fash­ion Fac­to­ry, Mas­ter Adam Arnold, and the most inven­tive space vehi­cles I’ve ever seen. Every being (they’re not all human) in this book has a unique look. No cook­ie-cut­ter, repet­i­tive char­ac­ters to save on draw­ing time.

It’s a movie set on paper, except that you’ve had to con­ceive of, write, draw, and col­or every bit of it. There are no cam­eras and crew to bring your vision to life. Exhaust­ed yet?

Even the end­pa­pers are atten­tion-riv­et­ing. The con­stel­la­tions fill the skies of Space Dumplins and they often make an appear­ance, remind­ing us that we share the same space even though the set­ting feels alien and won­drous.

early concept

ear­ly con­cept of space­ship, copy­right Craig Thomp­son

You know those kids who are con­stant­ly doo­dling in class? They’ll love this book. And the kids who stay up long past their bed­times try­ing to fin­ish a chap­ter? They’ll love this book. And the kids who don’t know what to read next but they don’t want it to be bor­ing? Yup, they’re gonna love it. Space Dumplins reads like a TV series, a movie, a video game, and a sol­id, excit­ing sto­ry all between book cov­ers. Bril­liant.

Asides:

Be sure to notice the homage to a num­ber of cul­tur­al icons in this book. H.A. Rey’s The Con­stel­la­tions? Strange Brew? Space­balls? And the real Trike (it exists!).

Be sure to read Craig Thompson’s answers to Five Ques­tions on The Book Rat’s blog. You’ll find out how long it took him to cre­ate Space Dumplins.

For a look at what Craig Thomp­son is work­ing on and where he’s appear­ing, vis­it his web­site.

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Rolling the Storytelling Blocks

by Vic­ki Palmquist

How to tell a storyLook­ing for hours of fun with a book the whole fam­i­ly can enjoy … or one per­son can eas­i­ly study to learn to write or tell a sto­ry … bet­ter? Then you’ll want to give this a try: How to Tell a Sto­ry, writ­ten by Daniel Nay­eri, illus­trat­ed by Bri­an Won, and pub­lished by Work­man Pub­lish­ing in 2015.

This book comes in a box. Inside the box there’s a small-for­mat book (5−1÷4” x 5−1÷4”, 143 pages) with lots of illus­tra­tions and visu­al cues to help under­stand the many ways telling a sto­ry can be not only fun but inter­est­ing and chal­leng­ing.

To help you “get ideas,” which kids often feel is the tough­est part of writ­ing or sto­ry­telling, there are 20 cubes. Each face of the cube con­tains a char­ac­ter, object, place, adjec­tive (descrip­tion or emo­tion), action, or rela­tion­ship. They’re col­or-cod­ed so you can set par­tic­u­lar para­me­ters for your “game play” or the chal­lenge you’ve made for your­self.

How to Tell a Story

 

With chap­ters on con­flict, moti­va­tion, dia­logue, char­ac­ter, plot, and theme, the basics of sto­ry­telling are packed into this guide.

The author has includ­ed a num­ber of games that can be played with two, up to 20, blocks. For instance, in “Debate,” we’ll roll 10 blocks. We’ll choose two blue blocks and one red block. Nay­eri writes, “Oh, no! There’s a dead­ly storm on the hori­zon and Cap­tain Lark has to decide what to do with a ship full of pre­cious (blue block), the crew of (red block), and the mag­i­cal (oth­er blue block), which can only be used to save one per­son or thing. What should Cap­tain Lark save first? Why? Come up with enough sto­ries to argue for sav­ing either the pre­cious (blue block), the crew of (red block), or him­self.” My fin­gers are itch­ing to roll the blocks, aren’t yours?

How to Tell a Story

The blocks can be used in sim­ple ways with young chil­dren or they can be engross­ing for adults. The author is very instruc­tive in the text:

 “As our sto­ry­teller, if you start in the mid­dle, then you’re going to have to intro­duce us to the impor­tant bits of the back­sto­ry as they become nec­es­sary.

The ancient Roman poet Horace called this method IN MEDIA RES, which means “in the mid­dle of things.”  He rec­om­mend­ed telling sto­ries this way so you can jump straight into the action and fill out the details as you go.”

The illus­tra­tions by Bri­an Won are appeal­ing to chil­dren, teens, and adults. They’re the same style as those used on the blocks (and often the same images) so we feel a con­nec­tion. They’re descrip­tive enough so that our brains begin mak­ing sto­ries out of them imme­di­ate­ly, but not so reduc­tive that they only con­vey one pos­si­bil­i­ty.

How to Tell a Story

That’s the beau­ty of this set of sto­ry starters. There’s a myr­i­ad of ways to use them, to learn from them, to play games with them, and to have fun. This is a per­fect gift for the sto­ry­tellers in your fam­i­ly.

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Looking inside

by Vic­ki Palmquist

Today I WillFor sev­er­al years, I have been dip­ping into a book that I keep beside my desk. It’s called Today I Will: a Year of Quotes, Notes, and Promis­es to Myself (Knopf, 2009). Two acknowl­edged mas­ters of children’s lit­er­a­ture, Eileen Spinel­li and Jer­ry Spinel­li, wrote it. They are par­ents and grand­par­ents and one can feel their love and con­cern for future gen­er­a­tions in this book.

When I was grow­ing up, I often received the gift of a day-by-day book that had word def­i­n­i­tions or devo­tions or super-short sto­ries in it. I didn’t have enough patience to read each page on the des­ig­nat­ed day, but I read sev­er­al pages at once, return­ing often for just a few, sat­is­fy­ing min­utes.

This book’s for­mat finds each page with a quote from a children’s book, a thought- and dis­cus­sion-pro­vok­ing state­ment or ques­tions, an illus­tra­tion by Julie Roth­man, and an exam­ple of a promise you could make to your­self (or as a fam­i­ly).

I love books of quo­ta­tions. Do you? This book looks more deeply into the thoughts inspired by the quote.

Once in awhile, the book feels a lit­tle heavy-hand­ed, but I remind myself that I am an adult with many years of expe­ri­ence in my brain. For some­one still in the first decade or two of their life, these are ideas worth con­sid­er­ing. There’s no shy­ing away from the moral com­pass in Today I Will. I find that refresh­ing. Espe­cial­ly now, when all of our wor­ry meters are turned to HIGH, I feel that a book like this is ground­ing.

bk_todayiwill2Eight to 12-year-olds will enjoy Today I Will on their own, but a class­room or home­school or fam­i­ly could use this for a short, dai­ly dis­cus­sion or a writ­ing prompt.

If you’ve been up all night and cried till you have no more tears left in you—you will know that there comes in the end a sort of quiet­ness.” —The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

I hes­i­tat­ed before writ­ing about this book, even though it’s a favorite of mine. It’s no longer in print (and that’s a rant for anoth­er day) but it is avail­able as an e-book. That won’t be near­ly as sat­is­fy­ing as hold­ing this book in your hands (it’s a good size, a good weight, and the paper is real­ly nice) but you can eas­i­ly find this at a used book­seller (I know this—I looked it up).

Not every­thing we read has to be enter­tain­ing. Some­times we want to think and feel and learn to know our­selves bet­ter. This book is a good fit.

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Don’t get took! Read a book!”

by Vic­ki Palmquist

bk_bookitchI go crazy when I hear that Vaun­da Michaux Nel­son has anoth­er book com­ing out. I’m a fan. For my own read­ing life, No Crys­tal Stair: a doc­u­men­tary nov­el of the life and work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem book­seller, is one of my top ten books in the last ten years. I found every aspect of that book sat­is­fy­ing. I learned a great deal. Ms. Nelson’s writ­ing style is well suit­ed to nar­ra­tive non­fic­tion: she makes it excit­ing. 

So, when I heard that a pic­ture book form of No Crys­tal Stair was on the hori­zon, my expec­ta­tions were high. It would be illus­trat­ed by R. Gre­go­ry Christie, whose work I have loved ever since his Stars in the Dark­ness (writ­ten by Bar­bara M. Joosse) found me sob­bing. But how would they com­press all of the great true sto­ries in No Crys­tal Stair into a pic­ture book?

They’ve done it. Even the title appeals to younger read­ers: The Book Itch: Free­dom, Truth & Harlem’s Great­est Book­store (Car­ol­rho­da, 2015).

The book is nar­rat­ed by Michaux’s son, Lewis H. Michaux, Jr., who is just­ly proud of his father. It opens with Muham­mad Ali’s vis­it to the store. Jump right in!

With the longer text in No Crys­tal Stair, Nel­son builds a depth of under­stand­ing for Michaux’s com­mit­ment to books. In The Book Itch, she knows this is not need­ed for young read­ers. We learn the parts that will inter­est this crowd. Michaux start­ed with five books, sell­ing his read­ing mate­ri­als out of a push­cart. He couldn’t get financ­ing from a bank because the banker said “Black peo­ple don’t read.” Michaux believed oth­er­wise. His store became a place to find, and read, books by and about black peo­ple.

Lewis Michaux was a good friend to Mal­colm X. They were both polit­i­cal and believed “Nobody can give you free­dom. Nobody can give you equal­i­ty or jus­tice or any­thing. If you’re a man, you take it.” Nel­son includes the heart­break­ing scene that recounts Michaux’s reac­tion to the assas­si­na­tion of Mal­colm X. His son had nev­er seen his father cry before that day.

bk_bookitch_illus

This book keeps his­to­ry alive and vital by con­nect­ing us to The Nation­al Memo­r­i­al African Book­store, a place which was, in Michaux’s words, “The House of Com­mon Sense and Prop­er Pro­pa­gan­da.” Christie’s illus­tra­tions are at once a record and a rib­bon reach­ing from the past, show­ing us how peo­ple felt. We often for­get about this in our look back … and it’s essen­tial to remem­ber that impor­tant his­tor­i­cal fig­ures were just like us, think­ing, act­ing, laugh­ing, hurt­ing.

Ms. Nelson’s place in my list of Best Non­fic­tion Authors is firm. This is a book that belongs in every library, class­room, and on fam­i­ly book­shelves. Books bring us free­dom.

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Collecting your observations

Welcome to New Zealandby Vic­ki Palmquist

I nev­er kept a jour­nal. Why? It nev­er occurred to me. It wasn’t with­in my realm of famil­iar­i­ty. I start­ed writ­ing many sto­ries on note­book paper and stuffed them into fold­ers. But how sat­is­fy­ing to have a jour­nal, specif­i­cal­ly an obser­va­tion jour­nal to keep track of what you see, hear, and think.

As a child, I was a hunter-gath­er­er. Were you? Did you have a col­lec­tion of rocks? Leaves? Agates? Ani­mals? Per­haps you still do. Or per­haps you know a child who has these ten­den­cies.

I think of Rhoda’s Rock Hunt by Mol­ly Beth Grif­fith and Jen­nifer A. Bell (Min­neso­ta His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety Press). Rho­da col­lect­ed so many rocks on her family’s camp­ing trip that she couldn’t walk—they weighed her down.

Adding to Rhoda’s sto­ry, I think of Lois Ehlert’s The Scraps Book and Leaf Man. Author and illus­tra­tor Lois Ehlert is renowned for her col­lec­tions, her “scraps,” and how she puts them to use. A con­sum­mate hunter-gath­er­er.

Then there’s a brand new, absolute­ly amaz­ing book about cre­at­ing a nature jour­nal, Wel­come to New Zealand by San­dra Mor­ris (Can­dlewick Press). This pic­ture book com­bines the record-keep­ing, visu­al art sat­is­fac­tion, and exam­ples of dif­fer­ent things to observe in nature that will keep a hunter-gath­er­er busy for years. I admire this book on so many dif­fer­ent lev­els.

Welcome to New Zealand

Very clev­er­ly designed as a jour­nal, this book shows exam­ples of dif­fer­ent types of art, ways to arrange things on pages, labels, and note-tak­ing. There’s advice on press­ing leaves, observ­ing clouds and phas­es of the moon, and mak­ing a land­scape study. Every turn of the page brings a new sur­prise and some­thing to try on your own. (And you can do this—none of these excus­es about not being an artist—you are!)

Mor­ris writes, “Cre­ate a lay­ered map of the birds on the shore­line as the tide changes, like my high-tide jour­nal page here. Work­ing from the top of the page down­wards, draw the dif­fer­ent flocks as they advance clos­er.” Much bet­ter than ANY video game (and I like play­ing video games).

Welcome to New Zealand

Exam­ples of cray­on, pen­cil, water­col­or, and char­coal draw­ing will inspire each read­er. Plen­ti­ful sam­ples of cre­ative hand-let­ter­ing encour­age the free­dom to make your jour­nal quite per­son­al. Mor­ris pro­vides ideas, but unless you’re sit­ting on a beach in New Zealand as you read this, your jour­nal will be all your own.

And that’ just it. If you’re not in New Zealand, read­ing this book will teach you a lot about the land­scape, the mam­mals, the trees, the insects, and the sea­sons.

This book is great for any young hunter-gath­er­er and observ­er but any old per­son will like it, too! It’s a trea­sure.

Oth­er Resources

Smith­son­ian Kids has a site devot­ed to col­lect­ing.

Kids Love Rocks Fun Club

Dr. Patri­cia Nan Ander­son, Advantage4Parents, writes “Why Kids Love to Col­lect Stuff.

Now that you know about this book (you’re wel­come), and you try out some of the sug­gest­ed activ­i­ties, send me a sam­ple in the com­ments. Most of all, enjoy the time you spend with nature and your jour­nal.

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Is It a Classic?

by Vic­ki Palmquist

Loretta Mason PottsWhen I was in my twen­ties, I worked at an archi­tec­ture firm. Sev­er­al of the archi­tects were fas­ci­nat­ed by my deep con­nec­tion to children’s books. One day, one of them asked me, “Which books, being pub­lished now, will become clas­sics?” That ques­tion has stuck with me, hold­ing up a sign­post every now and then. How does one pre­dict a clas­sic?

When­ev­er some­one asks which books were favorites from my own child­hood (#book­sthathooked), sev­er­al books push them­selves to the fore­front—A Wrin­kle in Time, Lord of the Rings, and Loret­ta Mason Potts. That last title always caus­es a “huh?” Peo­ple, gen­er­al­ly, are unfa­mil­iar with this book.

The next ques­tion is always, “what’s it about?” Here’s the thing: I couldn’t answer that ques­tion. I didn’t remem­ber a thing about the book except its title. What I remem­bered was the cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the read­ing of that book, the way it made me feel.

In sixth grade, I had a teacher, Gor­don Rausch, who changed my life. He showed me pos­si­bil­i­ties. He believed in me. He made learn­ing and research fun. I was often bored in school, but nev­er in his class. Every day was a new adven­ture. What I remem­ber most is that he read books out loud to the whole class. I remem­ber Pip­pi Long­stock­ing. I remem­ber A Wrin­kle in Time. But he also read Loret­ta Mason Potts to us.

As far as I can recall, he was the only teacher I had who ever read books out loud. Our class had its share of bul­lies and atten­tion-get­ters. No one inter­rupt­ed his read­ing of a book. His choic­es were good, his read­ing skills were exem­plary, and he always knew where to end, leav­ing us crav­ing more.

Loret­ta Mason Potts was writ­ten by Mary Chase and pub­lished in 1958. Thanks to The New York Review Children’s Col­lec­tion, you can read this fine book, too. They reprint­ed it in 2014. I’ve just re-read it and once again I under­stand why it springs to mind as my favorite.

Mary Chase lived in Den­ver. She died in 1981. You may know her because of anoth­er one of her books, Har­vey, which won a Pulitzer Prize and became a movie star­ring Jim­my Stew­art. If you know Har­vey, you will under­stand that the writer has a fan­tas­ti­cal imag­i­na­tion and a good wit. Both of those are evi­dent in Loret­ta Mason Potts.

It’s a charm­ing mix­ture of a Tam Lin sto­ry and a Snow Queen sto­ry, cen­ter­ing on a fam­i­ly of chil­dren, their moth­er, and their long-lost eldest sis­ter, told in a way that will reach into the heart and mind of a child. It has naughty chil­dren, ensor­celled chil­dren, a car­ing but some­what clue­less moth­er, a mys­te­ri­ous bridge, and a cas­tle occu­pied by the bored Count­ess and Gen­er­al, who hov­er on the precipice of dan­ger.

I am so glad that this book is illus­trat­ed. It was the first book pub­lished with Harold Berson’s black-and-white line draw­ings. He would go on to illus­trate anoth­er 90 books.

There are a grow­ing num­ber of titles in the New York Review Children’s Col­lec­tion. I have sev­er­al of them and would put every one of them on my book­shelves if I could. The selec­tion of these books is enchant­i­ng. Do you remem­ber read­ing Esther Averill’s Jen­ny and the Cat Club? How about Dino Buzzati’s The Bears’ Famous Inva­sion of Sici­ly? Or Lucre­tia P. Hale’s The Peterkin Papers? (I had for­got­ten all about this book until I saw it on their booklist—I loved that book.) Or Wee Gillis by Munro Leaf and Robert Law­son?

New York Review of Books Children's Collection

Are these books clas­sics? This, I think, is the inter­est­ing ques­tion. What is a clas­sic? These books are being pub­lished once again … so they’ve with­stood the test of time. Although the writ­ing is some­what quaint, they still hold up as sto­ries that will inter­est a mod­ern read­er. Loret­ta Mason Potts is a book that has lived on in my mind for decades. I won­der if the oth­er stu­dents in my sixth grade class remem­ber it in the same way.

Which books pub­lished today will become clas­sics? It’s a ques­tion worth dis­cussing, isn’t it?

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Museum Feast

HistoriumHis­to­ri­um
curat­ed by Richard Wilkin­son and Jo Nel­son
Big Pic­ture Press, 2015

by Vic­ki Palmquist

In a large, folio-sized book, the cura­tors of His­to­ri­um present a print­ed-page trip through a muse­um, grouped by cul­tures and described in detail so you can under­stand what you are see­ing with­out being rushed along by the crowd. Much like those rentable muse­um audio tapes or the plac­ards on the wall, it’s an enhanced expe­ri­ence of the arti­facts. Unless you are a well-trav­eled muse­um habitué, many of these items will be unfa­mil­iar to you.

There are arti­cles from cul­tures all over the world over a great length of time, rep­re­sent­ed for con­text by a time­line. From one mil­lion years ago, a Stone Age hand ax to the ear­ly nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, a stone stat­ue from Poly­ne­sia, trav­el­ing to Melane­sia, The Lev­ant, Ancient Islam, The Hopewell, and the realm of the Vikings.

This muse­um is open 247, with­out the need for sign­ing a field trip per­mis­sion slip or pay­ing for park­ing.

Historium Ancient Egypt

On page 35, a beau­ti­ful­ly dec­o­rat­ed jug from the Pueblo is explained in this way: “pot­tery skills and designs were passed from moth­er to daugh­ter. Each Pueblo set­tle­ment would try to keep the loca­tion of its clay deposit a secret, to pre­vent it from being plun­dered … they often refer to the clay as female.” This kind of detail pro­vides depth for our under­stand­ing of the world.

On page 50, there is a dou­ble-head­ed ser­pent mosa­ic from the 15th or 16th cen­tu­ry, “intend­ed to both impress and ter­ri­fy the behold­er.” We learn that “the crafts­men best known for their turquoise mosaics were not Aztecs but Mix­tecs …” which results in a tan­gen­tial search to find out more about the Mix­tecs, just as a bricks-and-mor­tar muse­um would do.

I’m not sure I under­stand why the arti­facts are pre­sent­ed against dark­ly-col­ored back­grounds … some­times the con­trast makes it hard­er to study the items, but over­all this is a book that will sat­is­fy the curi­ous in your fam­i­ly or class­room. Like all good muse­ums, it is the begin­ning to a jour­ney of dis­cov­ery.

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Laughter and Grief

by Vic­ki Palmquist

Dragons in the WatersThere are books we remem­ber all of our lives, even if we can’t remem­ber the details. Some­times we can’t even remem­ber the sto­ry, but we remem­ber the char­ac­ters and how they made us feel. We recall being trans­port­ed into the pages of the book, see­ing what the char­ac­ters see, hear­ing what they hear, and under­stand­ing the time and spaces and breath­ing in and out of the char­ac­ters. Do we become those char­ac­ters, at least for a lit­tle while, at least until we move on to the next book? Is this why we can remem­ber them long after we’ve fin­ished the book?

This col­umn is called Read­ing Ahead because I’m one of those peo­ple oth­ers revile: I read the end of the book before I’ve pro­gressed to that point in the sto­ry. I read straight through for as long as I can stand it and then I have to know how the sto­ry ends. I tell myself that I do this because then I can observe the writ­ing and how the author weaves the end­ing into the book long before the last pages. That’s par­tial­ly true. But I also admit that the ten­sion becomes unbear­able for me.

When I find a book that is so deli­cious that I don’t want to know the end until its prop­er time, then I know that I am read­ing a book whose char­ac­ters will live on in me. Their cells move from the pages of the book into my arms and shoul­ders, head­ing straight to my mind and my heart.

The Wednesday WarsFor me, those books are The Rid­dle­mas­ter of Hed by Patri­cia McKil­lip, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (but not The Hob­bit), The Wiz­ard of Earth­sea by Ursu­la K. LeGuin, The Dark is Ris­ing by Susan Coop­er, Drag­ons in the Waters and Arm of the Starfish by Madeleine L’Engle, and every one of the Deep Val­ley books writ­ten by Maud Hart Lovelace. 

There are some new­er books that haven’t yet been test­ed by time. I could feel that I was absorb­ing The Wednes­day Wars by Gary D. Schmidt and Catch You Lat­er, Trai­tor by Avi and Absolute­ly, Tru­ly by Heather Vogel Fred­er­ick.  There are many, many oth­er books that I admire and enjoy read­ing but I don’t feel them becom­ing a part of me in quite the same way.

I sus­pect that you have a short list of books that make you feel like this. They are an unfor­get­table part of you.

Isabelle Day Refuses to Die of a Broken HeartI’ve just fin­ished read­ing Isabelle Day Refus­es to Die of a Bro­ken Heart by Jane St. Antho­ny (Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press). It is a fun­ny and absorb­ing book about learn­ing to deal with grief. That’s a place I’ve lived for the last four years in a way I hadn’t expe­ri­enced before. When my moth­er died, my all-my-life friend, an essen­tial part of me was trans­formed into some­thing else. I don’t yet know what that is.

Isabelle Day is learn­ing about this, too. Her father, her pal, her fun­ny man, her let-me-show-you-the-delights-of-life-kid par­ent has died short­ly before the book begins. Her moth­er is in the throes of grief, pulled inward, not com­mu­ni­cat­ing well. Isabelle and her moth­er have moved from Mil­wau­kee, where close friends and a famil­iar house stand strong, to Min­neapo­lis, where Isabelle’s mom grew up. They are liv­ing upstairs in a duplex owned by two elder­ly sis­ters who imme­di­ate­ly share friend­ship and food and wis­dom with Isabelle, some­thing she’s feel­ing too prick­ly to accept. There are new friends whom Isabelle doesn’t trust to be true.

But for any­one who has expe­ri­enced grief, this book will reach out and touch you gen­tly, soft­ly, let­ting you know that oth­ers under­stand what you are feel­ing. Isabelle comes to under­stand that she doesn’t have to feel alone … the world is wait­ing to be expe­ri­enced in oth­er, new ways.

It’s a beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten book in that the words fit togeth­er in love­ly, some­times sur­pris­ing, some­times star­tling ways. There is great care tak­en with the sto­ry and the char­ac­ters. And yet the unex­pect­ed is always around the cor­ner. Isabelle is a com­plex per­son. She does not act pre­dictably. There is no sense of “woe is me” in this book. There’s a whole class of what I call “whiny books” (most­ly adult) and this isn’t one of them. This book is filled with life, won­der, humor, and most­ly under­stand­ing.

Isabelle and Grace and Mar­garet, Miss Flo­ra and Miss Dora, they are all a part of me now. When I am feel­ing sad and miss­ing the peo­ple I have lost, I will re-read this book because I know it will pro­vide heal­ing. And I can laugh … it’s been hard to do that. Thank you, Jane.

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