Friday, October 26, 2012

Weekly Round-up: Baseball Bios in Picture Book Form

I like to do weekly round-ups on Wednesdays, but I just couldn't get this one done by Wednesday this week. However, I don't want to wait until next week because we're in the middle of the World Series!! A great time to mention these recent baseball picture books.

You may have heard of the new Common Core State Standards for education. If you haven't, don't worry--I plan to discuss them in more detail in the coming weeks. Whether or not your children are in public schools, these standards will affect you; after all, standardized tests are based on things exactly like this! One of the big distinctives of the new standards is the increased emphasis on "informational texts." So far, it's been hard to determine if that includes narrative nonfiction (think: biographies) as well as more information nonfiction.

At any rate, there has been a real boon of well done information picture books as of late. Three of the ones published recently center around a famous person (or persons) in baseball. Check these titles out if you have children interested in baseball, sports in general, or just for some fun "informational" reading.

There Goes Ted Williams: the Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived
Matt Tavares

Ted Williams could hit a ball...consistently into home run territory. His story is one of hard work, determination to be the best, consistent practice, and service to his country (WWII and Korea). The author provides a bibliography at the end as well as a note which mentions some of Williams's less-than-stellar attributes. It's a terrific story,  nicely illustrated, and a great one to read with a young, aspiring baseball player. Recommended for elementary, particularly those with some prior baseball knowledge.

Brothers at Bat: the True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team
Audrey Vernick, author
Stephen Salerno, illustrator

Well told and wonderfully illustrated, Brothers at Bat tells the story of 12 brothers who formed an all-brother baseball team (the longest playing all-brother team in history). Terrific family dynamics (they also had 4 sisters!), a nice slice of American history (early 20th century, including WWII), and interesting details about particular brothers make this a winner. Recommended for elementary (or earlier if they have some baseball background).

She Loved Baseball: the Effa Manley Story
Audrey Vernick, author
Don Tate, illustrator

Did you know that there is a woman in the Baseball Hall of Fame? Just one actually: Effa Manley. She was an amazing woman, loved baseball, ended up owning a baseball team, and just had such an interesting life. This one's for those girls in the family who are out in the backyard hitting balls with their brothers! Recommended for elementary.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Golden Goblet (Retro Reads)

The Golden Goblet
Eloise Jarvis McGraw
Newbery Honor Book

The Golden Goblet is an older book that might be easy to overlook--but don't pass it by! Set in ancient Egypt, The Golden Goblet tells the story of young Ranofer, an orphan who desperately wants to be a goldsmith. It's not that he doesn't have talent; no, it's that his stepbrother (Gebu) is cruel and refuses to pay to apprentice him to a goldsmith. In fact, Ranofer is a lowly worker in a goldsmith's shop until he discovers Gebu's thievery. Once the deception is brought to the attention of the goldsmith, Ranofer is sent to work in the stonecutter's shop--a job that poses risk of harm to Ranofer's skilled artisan fingers in addition to its other hardships.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Shades of Grey

Shades of Grey
Jasper Fforde
Viking Adult
(originally published in the UK in 2008; also published by Penguin in US in 2011)

This is NOT the Fifty Shades of Gray that has stirred up so much discussion--and rightly so--this summer. Nor is it Ruth Sepetys' lovely historical fiction titled Between Shades of Gray (note the different spellings of Gra/ey). No, no, this is a completely different beast altogether. I recently reviewed the latest Fforde offering to hit US shelves (The Last Dragonslayer), but I've long wanted to review this earlier work of his. I've been waiting (waiting!! Hint Hint Mr Fforde!!) for the sequel, but alas...

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Summers of Gypsy Moths and Mariposas (Butterflies)

Two books from two well-recognized authors, both targeted to middle grades, both with fluttery creatures in their titles and throughout the book in metaphor, both dealing with renewed understandings of maternal relationships, both including grandmotherly figures who garden, both involving a corpse which the girls must disguise, and both taking place near bodies of water. Weird, huh?

Summer of the Mariposas
Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Lee & Low Books

McCall won the Pura Belpre Award for her earlier verse novel, Under the Mesquite, a book I've been wanting to read (but our library doesn't have it!!??). So I jumped at the chance to read an ARC of her newest novel, Summer of the Mariposas.

As a fun adventure story of 5 Mexican American sisters living on the border between Mexico and the U.S., this book has definite merit. There is a lot of between-the-lines information about Mexican and Mexican American culture (including such events as quinceaneros parties), a nice glossary of the some of the Spanish terms used, and terrific little Spanish proverbs or sayings at the beginning of each chapter. McCall also uses as her foundational inspiration an old Aztec legend of a woman named Llorona. I learned a lot!

However, this novel feels a bit too long to me. Also, even though I thoroughly enjoy fantasy and magical realism, this felt a bit much. Perhaps it was too realistic in some parts while melding too many spiritual/supernatural elements on the other? I'm not Catholic, nor am I very mystical; perhaps readers from those traditions might enjoy this type of novel more. I think part of my reaction may stem from the simple fact that the traditions reflected in this book are not my own (which means that it's great I read it and learned about another culture!); my more conservative readers will need a heads up on the spirits from the past--both good and evil--that crop up in this story as well as the mystical element in general. [Look for this book in bookstores in the next week or so! If you're interested, you might also request your local library to acquire it as well ☺}

Summer of the Gypsy Moths
Sara Pennypacker
Balzar + Bray

I'm a huge fan of Pennypacker's Clementine series, a modern day Ramona. If Summer of the Gypsy Moths is any indication, Pennypacker's talents are best reserved for the likes of Clementine. Don't get me wrong--this isn't a bad book. It just doesn't "shine" like it could. As with Mariposas, above, it's a touch too long. 

Pennypacker's strengths in this book are in the plot itself (which is far-fetched but funny), her characterization, and her general portrayal of relationships between folks . These are her strengths in the Clementine books as well. But Gypsy Moths is firmly in the middle grades camp, and, therefore, contains more introspection about life, about parents, about people as individuals, and about self than do the chapter books of which Clementine is an example. And the introspection in this book gets a touch too much for me--it slows down an otherwise hilarious plot (I'll just say that two foster kids end up having to bury a corpse under a pumpkin patch....).

All in all, both Summer of the Mariposas and Summer of the Gypsy Moths will find some definite fans. But they aren't books I'll end up recommending far and wide to any soul within hearing distance. Both feature broken families, estranged parents, siblings (and foster siblings) learning more about each other and how to cope/survive, and moderately resolved endings. But, sadly, those resolutions are for the plot; the families continue somewhat estranged and definitely broken.

Recommended ages: Summer of the Gypsy Moths for Middle Grades and Summer of the Mariposas for upper Middle Grades and Young Adult. 

Thanks to Lee & Low Books for the netgalley ARC of Summer of the Mariposas and to my local library for Summer of the Gypsy Moths! And thanks to goodreads for the cover images.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Sharing a Cup of Tea...

We're sharing a cyber cup of tea with our friends, Janie and Emily, over at Redeemed Reader today! (And if your weather is anything like mine, a cup of tea is just about the best antidote I can think of! That and a good book shared with a snuggly child.)

We were tapped by Janie and Emily to help out with their Web Newberys today, so we contributed links for book lists (of course!), some home library organization tips, and some blogs that keep up with what the nation is reading. We also listed a couple of hot beverage links ☺. So, hop on over there and check it out--if you've never checked out their website, plan to stay awhile!

Friday, October 5, 2012

A Leaf Can Be...

We've been using My Father's World for our Kindergarten curriculum and reading not only the recommended books on each topic (sun, moon, leaf and apples thus far), but also just about anything we can find at our libraries on the subject.

My favorite leaf book came out this year. It's called A Leaf Can Be by Laura Purdie Salas with illustrations by Violeta Dabija. This is one I hope to add to our home library because it is beautiful, creative, poetic, informative and concise. Who would have thought that God made leaves so multi-functional?!

Here are the first few examples:

A leaf can be a
Soft cradle
Water ladle
Sun taker
Food maker

These descriptions are accompanied by soft, colorful illustrations that seem to glow, with detailed explanations and glossary at the end.

The rest of the brilliant observations are even better. Among them "skin welter," "hill glow-er," "fine healer," to mention a few. Can you imagine?! Read the book!

Best in the leaf show--well done, Salas and Dabija!
Cover image from goodreads

What other leaf books can you suggest?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Last Dragonslayer

The Last Dragonslayer
Jasper Fforde
Harcourt Children's Books
2012 (this week, actually!)
Published in the U.K. in 2010*

*I read the UK version of this book at least a year ago (pictured below--and a much more exciting cover it is, too), wondered why I hadn't seen many reviews of it, and didn't realize until THIS WEEK that it's only JUST NOW coming out in the United States. Man. England gets all the fun books first (ahem, Lulu and the Duck in the Park...when will we get the REST of THAT series?). But I digress.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Bright Island (Retro Reads!)

Bright Island
Mabel Robinson
Random House
2012 (re-issue of 1937 copy)
Newbery Honor

I really appreciate it when publishers re-issue older books. The market isn't as wide, no doubt, for these old-fashioned favorites, but they're worth reading and keeping in print. Bright Island is a great example; the 75th anniversary edition hits stores this month.

One of my favorite books growing up was Ruth Sawyer's Roller Skates (another 1930's Newbery title); Bright Island reminds me of that same type of old-fashioned fiction. It's historical fiction now, but was written as a contemporary title. Thus, it's a great picture into another world. In Bright Island, our heroine, one Thankful Curtis, has grown up island bound and can sail as good as anyone. She can do just about anything she puts her mind to, and has no intention of putting her mind to going to school on the mainland. Homeschooled all her life by her capable mother (of Scots descent!), Thankful does indeed end up finishing school at an elite boarding school on the mainland despite her dread.