Tuesday, October 14, 2014

kids recommend The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale

The Princess in Black is a story about a seemingly perfect princess, with a secret.  When a nosy duchess comes to visit, Princess Magnolia has to rush to turn into her alter ego (the Princess in Black), battle monsters from the nearby Monster Land, and make it back to the castle before her secret is discovered.   This comical story with colorful illustrations is sure to delight young readers.

Now, it's time to let our kid readers do the talking.

K. (age 7) wrote:

My favorite part is when the Princess in Black is thinking about the nosy duchess.  If I were the Princess in Black, I would try not to think about the nosy duchess.  I like how cute the Princess in Black looks when she is hoping the duchess will not snoop.

L. (age 7) wrote:

My favorite part was when she switched from the Princess in Pink to the Princess in Black.  If I were the Princess in Black, I would save people all over the WORLD!!!

The Princess in Black
by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale
illustrated by LeUyen Pham
published by Candlewick
October 2014
recommended for ages 5-8

Review copy received from publisher.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Tick . . . Tick . . . Tick

You only have a few more days left to nominate books for the Cybils this year.  Look at this list of some of the good nonfiction books that haven't shown up on the lists yet:
  • Frida & Diego: Art, Love, Life by Catherine Reef
  • Chasing Cheetahs: The Race to Save Africa's Fastest Cat by Sy Montgomery
  • Everybody Paints!: The Lives and Art of the Wyeth Family by Susan Goldman Rubin
  • Freedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi by Susan Goldman Rubin
  • Strike!: The Farm Workers' Fight for Their Rights by Larry Dane Brimner
  • The Dolphins of Shark Bay by Pamela S. Turner
If you haven't nominated your favorites yet, do it now--it only takes a minute.  Here is the link.

Monday, October 6, 2014

danyelle recommends Take Away the A by Michael Escoffier

When I was young (think four or five), my sisters and I were allowed to watch television until Mom rang the dinner bell.  (Yep, we actually had a dinner bell.)  Dinner-prep time was when PBS showed The Electric Company, and I loved the segment called "The Adventures of Letterman" where the villain, Spell Binder, created havoc by changing a letter in a word.  The hero, Letterman, then came to the rescue by ripping a letter off his sweater and changing the word back to the original, or better yet, by changing the word to something else entirely.  Letterman could fix all kinds of perilous situations with the power of a single letter.  Michael Escoffier's new book, Take Away the A, reminds me of that.

In it, each letter of the alphabet is featured on a double-page spread where a word is transformed by taking away just that letter.  For example, "Without the A the BEAST is the BEST" and, "Without the E BEARS stay behind BARS."

The illustrations take the cleverness up a notch, with a droll cast of animals and personified inanimate objects inhabiting small, individual stories that extend the text and are funny, funny, funny.   Jam flirts with Peanut Butter, saying, "Jam I am" as a slice of bread sits on a plate nearby, presumably to become a sandwich when the two jars get together.  "SNOW falls NOW" on two unfortunate pigs who are sitting under their beach umbrella clad in swimwear.  And I won't give away P's story, but trust me, it's good.  In a twist for the letter Z, a curtain call loosely wraps the stories together and provides a tidy sense of completion.

Readers will want to linger before turning pages and may find themselves looking for word pairs of their own.

Take Away the A
by Michael Escoffier
illustrated by Kis Di Giacomo
published by Enchanted Lion Books
September 2014

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Ready, Set, Nominate!

Get yourself on over to the Cybils site where nominations open today and submit the titles you think deserve some attention.  And . . . bring on the books!

Monday, September 29, 2014

September 2014 Storytime Briefly

I am one of those moms who longs for longer summer vacations--library visits, summer projects, and no homework.  However, there are a few good things about school being back in session, and one of them is a return to weekly storytimes.  This year, I am reading to third graders and enjoying slightly longer books.  In September I paired fiction books with true stories.

We talked about books and read
  • The Incredible Book Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers; and
  • With Books and Bricks: How Booker T. Washington Built a School by Suzzane Slade, illustrated by Nicole Tadgell.
At the end of With Books and Bricks, we read Booker T. Washington's words: "Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life, as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed."  We discussed the obstacles he had to overcome to get an education and build a school.

We talked about math and read
  • The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos by Deborah Heiligman, illustrated by LeUyen Pham; and
  • One Grain of Rice: A Mathematical Folktale by Demi.
In spite of the third graders' confidence that the Rani had made a good choice when she chose her reward of a single grain of ice on the first day and then an amount double that of the preceding day on each subsequent day for thirty days, I still heard "ahs" and "wows" as I unfolded the page showing her final payment in One Grain of Rice. Numbers become more real when you can visualize them.

We talked about freedom and  read
  • Two Parrots by Rashin; and
  • Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine, illustrated by Kadir Nelson.
I asked the students to think about the merchant's conclusion in Two Parrots:  "Freedom is more important than food and water and all the wealth in the world."  That can be hard to understand when you have always known freedom.  The students were troubled by Henry's plight, particularly when his wife and children were sold, and despite an unexpected fire drill midway through the story, Henry's Freedom Box was one of my favorite books of the month.

We talked about the joy in finding just the right word and read
  • Nelly May Has Her Say by Cynthia DeFelice, illustrated by Henry Cole; and
  • The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet.
I wished I had had the thesaurus my dad bought for me when I was seven to show the students as I told them how I loved reading through the lists of words.  A thesaurus reminds me of Mark Twain's words: "The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter--'tis the difference between the lightning-bug and lightning."

And finally, we talked about inventions and read
  • Oh No!: Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Dan Santat; and
  • Hoop Genius: How a Desperate Teacher and a Rowdy Gym Class Invented Basketball by John Coy, illustrated by Joe Morse.
We talked about two inventions that had accidental beginnings--chocolate chip cookies and Post-It Notes.  I have been waiting for a good chance to share Hoop Genius, one of my favorite books from last year, and finally found one.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

danyelle recommends A Volcano Beneath the Snow: John Brown's War Against Slavery by Albert Marrin

Some books capture a reader's attention with suspense-filled action, and you can hardly turn the pages quickly enough to find out what will happen next, while others present sympathetic characters that you come to care about.  Still others, render the setting so vividly that you can imagine being there yourself.  Certainly, these strengths are not mutually exclusive, and the books we love to read usually have multiple strengths.  And while Volcano Beneath the Snow does many things well, the thing that makes it stand out in my mind is the remarkable way it engages readers in ideas.

The narrative opens with a speech given by a tall, thin, sunken-cheeked man at a political meeting: "'A house divided against itself cannot stand,' . . . I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free . . .'" (2)  These words spoken by Abraham Lincoln addressed a mid-nineteenth century crisis for our country, but the ideas they convey are still relevant today, as are the other questions introduced in the six-page prologue and explored throughout the text.

Can a man engage in villainous acts and be a hero? Should man act in strict obedience to the laws, thus supporting and upholding the government, or in obedience to his conscience?  Can violence in the pursuit of moral justice be righteous?   Marrin offers conflicting answers posited by Abraham Lincoln,  Henry David Thoreau, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and of course, John Brown.

Brown grew up at the beginning of the nineteenth century when our country was young, restless, and divided by the issue of slavery.  Marrin addresses the rise of slavery, the terrible cost of the slave trade, and gives equal time to the problems facing the country and Brown's role in them.  (In fact, there are entire chapters when you can forget you are reading about Brown.)

Clashing viewpoints of abolitionists, Free-Soilers, and pro-slavery advocates underscore the complexity of the problem, thereby resisting simplification of this historical chapter into good guys versus bad guys.  And Marrin doesn't shy away from the harsh realities of racism and flawed individuals.  The honest portrayal of Lincoln's views in particular may surprise some readers.

In John Brown, readers meet neither a villain nor a hero, but a man whose life was filled with contradiction.  He had little formal education, was a troublemaker as a teen (bossy, aggressive, and prone to lying), and was fascinated by history.  He was deeply religious, highly opinionated, and "admired for his 'invincible honesty'".  (15)  And most importantly (to this story, at least) he firmly believed he was called by God to liberate slaves, and he embraced the use of terrorist tactics to do it.

Brown's execution does not come at the end of the book, just as his death did not end his influence.  The final sixty pages of the book lay out the chain of events that were triggered by Brown's failed plot at Harpers Ferry and end with the eventual abolition of slavery.

Marrin's conclusion looks at Brown's legacy, citing instances of  men who acted on similar beliefs in recent times.  He says, "[Brown] raised thorny questions about the use of violence at a time when democracy seemed ineffective and the road to justice blocked by self-interest, brutality, and racism."--questions readers will ponder long after the last page.  (207)

A Volcano Beneath the Snow: John Brown's War Against Slavery
by Albert Marrin
published by Alfred A. Knopf
April 2014
recommended for ages 12 and up

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Another Excuse to Read

The Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards (Cybils Awards) recognize books with both literary merit and popular appeal.  If you would like to learn more about the Cybils, you can read about the awards here.

This year I'll be serving as a first-round panelist for Young Adult Nonfiction, and it looks like I am in good company.  I'm looking forward to spending heaps of time with the nominated books during the next couple of months, so put together a list of books you would like to see recognized and nominate your favorites starting on October 1.