Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Press Here

Press Here
Herve Tullet
ALA Notable Books

I am long overdue in reviewing this book; we loved it so much last fall that it made an appearance under the Christmas tree for one of our boys (when we choose to buy a book, we really think it's special!). This book is disarmingly simple and capitalizes on the willing suspension of disbelief in toddlers and preschoolers. Readers are instructed to do a series of very simple tasks (i.e. "press here") and something "happens" when they turn the page (dots get bigger, more in number, different colors, etc.). The directions get progressively more involved (tipping the book in a certain direction so the dots all "fall" to one side; blowing on dots; clapping; etc.) as do the special effects. At the end, the reader is invited to begin again. Toddlers and preschoolers love it!! They will quickly be able to "read" it on their own, but it's also a fun one-on-one activity.

Recommended for toddlers and preschoolers

Monday, January 30, 2012

Mr. and Mrs. Green

On the Go with Mr. and Mrs. Green
Keith Baker
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

On the Go with Mr. and Mrs. Green is not the first installment of the lovely early chapter books about Mr. and Mrs. Green, but it was our first introduction to the likable pair--hence its featured cover.

Along the lines of my beloved George and Martha books by James Marshall, Baker has crafted a funny early chapter book series about two alligators who love each other, have quirky adventures together, and who will delight the newly independent readers in your life. This particular volume touches on the concept of doubling (similar to The Lion's Share), magic tricks and clockwise v. counterclockwise, and inventions (both Mr. and Mrs. Green invent things!). Like the best early chapter books, these work well as independent reads and make great read alouds. The illustrations are marvelous and fill in the text nicely.

Recommended especially for kindergarten and early elementary.
Cover image and publication information from goodreads

Thursday, January 26, 2012


John Rocco
Caldecott Honor

I meant to review Blackout this past fall when I first had the chance to read it. This is one of those picture books I'd like to own--personally, I think it is a better book than A Ball for Daisy, the book that took Caldecott gold. I think its story/message is much more profound, and I really love the illustrations.

In Blackout, Rocco shows us what happens to a city apartment building when the power goes out. Oh no! All the gadgets/devices/screens/"tasks" that have lured folks inside their homes are no longer wielding any power. It happens to be summer, which means that the heat quickly infuses the previously air conditioned homes. It's also dinner time. People start emerging outside, on the roof, and... talking with their neighbors!

At the end of the book, when the power comes back on, what did they learn from their sudden blackout? You'll have to read it to see.

A Ball for Daisy

A Ball for Daisy
Chris Raschka
Schwartz and Wade
Caldecott Winner

A Ball for Daisy is a wordless book and, like the best wordless books, will delight not only the youngest child in the house, but probably his/her older siblings (and parents) as well. If you've ever owned a dog, you will enjoy this sweet story all the more. Daisy has a favorite red ball that goes with her everywhere. One day, while she and her owner are out for a stroll, a bigger dog comes along and starts playing with the ball. Oops! The ball pops. Daisy is grief stricken and mopes around. I won't give away the ending, but let's just say this tragedy is resolved completely and toddlers will rejoice in Daisy's good fortune.

This book is charming, to be sure, but I confess that I didn't think it quite as medal worthy as, apparently, the Caldecott committee did.

publication data and image from goodreads.com

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Lion's Share

The Lion's Share
Matthew McElligott
Walker Childrens

The Lion's Share is a marvelous, boldly drawn picture book that portrays both a charming story about sharing and greediness as well as illustrating essential math concepts. A lion invites the jungle animals to a dinner party every year, and this is the ant's first time to attend. He is horrified by the other guests' behavior and greediness....When the cake is passed around, the elephant goes first and cuts the cake in half. Each animal, in turn, cuts the remaining cake in half; all that is left for the ant to cut in half simply turns to crumbs when he tries to cut it.  In an effort to make amends for there not being enough cake left for him to share with the lion (after the other animals have had "their share"), he offers to make the lion a cake. Not to be outdone, the animal next in line promptly offers to make twice the number of cakes as the previous animal. By the time the elephant is volunteering, he commits to a large number of cakes! Illustrations nicely capture the shrinking and growing numbers.

Recommended for older preschool and up!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Books Children Love

Books Children Love
Elizabeth Laraway Wilson
Susan Schaeffer Macaulay

Another must have resource for parents! Those familiar with Francis Schaeffer may recognize his daughter's name as one of the co-authors. Wilson and Laraway have put together a terrific collection of book lists in the educational spirit of Charlotte Mason who advocated "living books" as a means to educate children (instead of "dead textbooks"). Thus, the book is filled with lists of nonfiction books that are really interesting to children and accurate enough to be good sources of information. There are nonfiction categories as well (fantasy, fairy tales, etc.), but I think the nonfiction sections really shine. So many other lists for children ignore these types of categories or under-represent them. Nice, succinct summaries of books are provided so that readers can know what the book is about. Lists are categorized and well-organized.

Again, a print-based book of book lists can only include books published before its own publication date. Megan and I seek, on this blog, to direct you to recent books that might be included in such worthy resources as this when next they are updated. (And critically evaluate current resources in general) We also enjoy reviewing books that have already been covered in such books as Books Children Love and examining whether they have stood the test of time.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Newbery, Caldecott Awards--2012

The results are in, ladies and gentlemen! This morning, at the ALA mid-winter conference in Dallas, the 2012 Youth Media Awards were announced. I'm proud to say that I've reviewed a couple of these works in the past year and noted their worthiness in one way or another--and I'm EXTRA glad to see one of my all-time favorite authors win the Margaret A. Edwards award for lifetime achievement. I keep meaning to review Susan Cooper's fantasy series, but haven't had the time to do her justice. Thankfully, others are also recognizing her! (I should admit that she featured prominently in my MA thesis, so perhaps "doing her justice" in blog form would take me a while.... )

I'm not necessarily recommending these works; remember, a committee made up of people chose these works. The National Book Award and the Boston Globe-Hornbook Award have been announced within the past few months as well. It's worth reading these books and knowing "what's hot" and "what's not."

At any rate, here is the shortlist of the most well-known awards. Check the link above to see the full list. If a book has been reviewed on this blog, I'll link to it below.

Newbery (most outstanding contribution to children's literature)

  • Winner: Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos
  • Honor: Inside Out and Back Again by Thanha Lai
  • Honor: Breaking Stalin's Nose by Eugene Yelchin
Caldecott (most distinguished American picture book for children)
  • Winner: A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka
  • Honor: Blackout by John Rocco (I've been meaning to review this one--it's GREAT)
  • Honor: Grandpa Green by Lane Smith
  • Honor: Me...Jane by Patrick McDonnell
Printz (excellence in literature written for young adults)
  • Winner: Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley
  • Honor: Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler
  • Honor: The Returning by Christine Hinwood
  • Honor: Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey
  • Honor: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
I'll be checking out these and other award winners when I get the chance and will then review them here! I've also read/reviewed Between Shades of Grey which was an honor book for the award for first novels. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Confessions and the "Canon"

First, my two confessions:
  1. Despite my desire to "keep short accounts" and finish the books currently on my bookshelves, I have already been bitten hard by the bug to keep reading others' (new) recommendations.... I have 4 books in process right now, one of which has languished on my bookcase for a few months, one of which was a library checkout prompted by some review somewhere, and two are Advance Review Copies (ARCs) on my Nook. (sigh) The plus side is that they're all GREAT, so stay tuned!
  2. I've never read Jane Eyre.
I know, right?! How can someone carry on with a literature blog, profess to have been an English major in college, a former English teacher, and have a literature-based MA... and NOT have read Jane Eyre? It's a shocker. (Thankfully, I'm not the only one with this dark and dirty little secret.)

So, I'm going to redefine my goals for this year. First, I'm not going to attempt to read every book that sits on my bookshelves, hitherto unread by me. Second, I'm really going to make an attempt to finally read Jane Eyre. My secret lurks in the back of my mind, calling out "fraud!" 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

I did NOT mean to publish this post yet, so you'll have to bear with me while I edit it "live" as it were....

January is definitely a time for wintry reading, even if you're in a part of the country (like me) that doesn't see much snow. Check out these wonderful snow-y picture books--some new and some old--during your next library visit. I'll include a link to making your own snowflakes at the end as well--a very fun, inexpensive way to enrich your reading experience.  (all images and publication info taken from goodreads)

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
Robert Frost, author
Susan Jeffers, illustrator

Frost's poem unfurls against the backdrop of Jeffers' marvelous illustrations. There's a Christmas-y twist to this one, but it's still worth reading in January. Good read aloud to all ages.

Snowflake Bentley
Jacqueline Briggs, author
Mary Azarian, illustrator
Houghton Mifflin
Caldecott Medal

I have Megan to thank for my autographed copy of this gem. A picture book biography of Wilson Bentley, a key researcher into snowflakes (he first discovered that they have 6 sides and are all different). Side bars give more information than the storyline text, making this book suitable for multiple ages. Azarian's woodcuts really make the story stand out (as evidenced by her Caldecott Medal!).

No Two Alike
Keith Baker
Simon and Schuster

Two little birds--who look almost alike--marvel at how no two things are alike...even if they look almost alike. Snowflakes start them off, and they continue their explorations against a beautiful, simple winter backdrop. This is one that will delight the youngest readers! To make a six-sided snowflake, check out the author's great tutorial.

The Snowy Day
Ezra Jack Keats
Caldecott Medal

Here's a classic that still delights young readers/listeners 50 years later. Keats deservedly won a Caldecott for his illustrations in this simple story of a young boy exploring the night's snowfall.

Houndsley and Catina and the Quiet Time
James Howe, author
Marie-Louise Gay, illustrator

I've mentioned Houndsley and Catina before, but it's worth a reminder here to point out this particular volume--Houndsley and Catina enjoy the softer side of winter in this wonderfully gentle book. An early reader that works for a quiet read aloud to older preschoolers as well.

Poppleton in Winter
Cynthia Rylant, author
Mark Teague, illustrator
Blue Sky Press

We're big Poppleton fans around here! Another easy reader series that's wonderful, but this particular volume shows Poppleton in the snow as well dreaming up ways to entertain himself indoors.

Frog and Toad All Year
Arnold Lobel

Since I've mentioned some early readers, I can't NOT mention my FAVORITE early reader series, can I? This book covers more than just snow/winter... but it's a great romp through each season with Frog and Toad.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Way Back Home--more Jeffers love...

The Way Back Home
Oliver Jeffers

Wow! I like this one maybe even more than Lost and Found or Up and Down. The art is so charming. The storyline is just right for preschoolers. The boy in the story finds an airplane in his closet and decides to fly it (of course! what else would you do with it?). He ends up on the moon, out of gas. A friendly little martian lands on the moon, too. Together they figure out how to help each get home.

The pacing is pitch perfect for preschoolers and kindergartners. The art is wonderful. I'm going to seek out more of Jeffers' books for sure! (They've passed the kid test with flying colors, too--my kids gleefully followed the narrative through the pictures (some pages have few words) and pointed out the penguin from other books of Jeffers').

Recommended read aloud to toddler/preschooler and up

Valentine's Day Cards... be still my beating heart!!

OK, I know I could get all crafty and such with my kids for Valentine's Day... and maybe we will for a few select folks. But, how's THIS for a terrific option for the bibliophiles among us?? They're a wee bit pricey, I confess, but I'm sorely tempted....

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Honey for a Child's Heart

Honey for a Child's Heart
Gladys Hunt

This book is a must for Christian parents. Hunt gives a marvelous rationale for why we should be reading to our children--and what we should be reading to our children--in the light of Scripture. Fully half of the book is her philosophy of reading and her encouragement to us to read to our children.

The second half of the book is comprised of lists--suggestions of what to read to your children that meet her standards given earlier. The books are divided up by age and category. I use these lists often to put books on reserve at the library. I'm rarely disappointed. This is one of the few books I think is definitely worth owning.

But a print-based book inevitably falls behind. While there are truly wonderful books published in the past that shouldn't be missed, there are also new, truly wonderful books being published all the time. I suppose what Megan and I hope to do here on this blog is direct you in one of two ways: to books we think are truly wonderful and shouldn't be missed (both past and present)--in the spirit of Honey for a Child's Heart. The other direction is to critically evaluate some of the new books that are bestsellers or garnering praise from the biggies in the publishing/library worlds (sources such as Horn Book, Scholastic, ALA Awards, etc.).

A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls
Patrick Ness, inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd
Jim Kay, illustrator

From the book cover: An unflinching, darkly funny, and deeply moving story of a boy, his seriously ill mother, and an unexpected monstrous visitor.

That about sums it up, folks. I'm not sure how to describe this book, except to say it is NOT a book to simply hand willy nilly to the avid young reader in your life without first looking into it yourself. I'm not sure it's a kid's book (or that it's an adult book).

Friday, January 13, 2012

Literary Favorites: Beginning Readers

My friend Brandy has a great little category on her blog titled "My Favorite Things." She regularly posts on her favorite (something) in literature, most recently her favorite literary mothers. I love this idea--such a great way around the inevitable (and totally unanswerable) question posed to bibliophiles: "What's your favorite book?" I mean, really. Who can answer that? So, to start off our own favorites section here and to highlight an oft overlooked category of children's literature, I'll list my favorite Beginning Reader series. These are so worth seeking out and, unfortunately, (as Brandy and I were bemoaning today) you'll have to head to a library. The "beginning reader" category at the big box bookstores usually stars pop culture remakes that are worthless as far as actual literature goes. But these books are the first ones a child actually reads and they will remember these books. These books will help shape their future literary experiences, so make these early experiences good ones! Great stories! Well-crafted text! Well-executed illustrations (which must walk that fuzzy line between illustrations that help carry picture book texts and merely subtle illustrations occasionally in a chapter book).

A truly great beginning reader series is a work of art. Any author who can craft a well-written (and often well-illustrated) book for this reading level is a genius. Try writing a story someday using such a limited vocabulary and make it something even a grownup wants to read. Try... just try. In the meantime, here are some to look for in your library (in no particular order):
  1. Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel (OK, I lied. These are my faves. And my all-time favorite Frog and Toad is Frog and Toad Together; the cookies story is especially appropriate as Girl Scout Cookie season approaches....)
  2. Little Bear by Minarik (and illustrated by Sendak; my all-time favorite and the best read aloud of this series is Little Bear's Visit--especially the goblin story)
  3. Elephant and Piggie by Mo Willems (and his single story Amanda and her Alligator)
  4. Poppleton and Friends by Cynthia Rylant
  5. Henry and Mudge by Cynthia Rylant (and the ones about Henry's cousin, Annie and Snowball)
  6. Cat in the Hat and other Seuss beginning readers*
  7. Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same by Grace Lin (single book, not a series) 
  8. Danny and the Dinosaur by Syd Hof (incidentally, this was the very first book I read on my own--I still remember the experience vividly... it was the page with the monkeys on it where the letters suddenly coalesced and became meaningful and I've never been the same!)
  9. Are you My Mother? and The Best Nest by P. D. Eastman (just for the record, Go, Dog Go! drives me crazy)
  10. George and Martha by James Marshall (and I can't even pick a favorite here--they're all awesome!)**
*The most phonetic and approachable for new readers--still, after all these years!
**The George and Martha books are not as phonetic as the others on this list, just so you know.

Lost and Found and Up and Down

Lost and Found (2005)
Up and Down (2010)
Oliver Jeffers

I discovered one of these books at my friend Brandy's house a few weeks before Christmas. I was instantly captivated by Jeffers's illustrations--charming! The storylines are just as good. These books make wonderful library check outs and potential gifts/books-to-own.

They chronicle the developing friendship between a boy and a penguin. Illustrations and text are simple and direct--yet full of depth. Stories are appropriate for young children, but older children will enjoy them as well.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Keeping Short Accounts

One of my "themes" for this semester (or, maybe the whole year!) is to "keep short accounts." To finish what I start in a timely fashion, to not take on new projects until I've finished what I've already started, and get caught up on the current open-ended issues (Megan should be chortling heartily about now--she and I are two peas in a pod when it comes to taking on new projects... or, at least, dreaming them up).

At any rate, what this means for my reading is twofold:

-potentially not as much (after all, the children do need to be fed, the house cleaned, the homework done, and the clothes cleaned)

-to read the books in my own house that I haven't read yet!! Therefore, fewer "new releases," as it were, and more "old favorites" (I have stacks of books that have been loaned to me and/or picked up at thrift stores and are still unread....). I truly can't bear to part with books that I haven't even read yet! Must read at least part in order to determine if the book  needs to vacate the premises or earn a spot on the already, over-crowded shelves.

Hopefully, I'll catch up by summer and can start tackling new releases again.

The Adventures of Sir Lancelot the Great

The Adventures of Sir Lancelot the Great (The Knights' Tales)
Gerald Morris
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children

I flew through this book on my Nook and chortled the whole way through. I thoroughly enjoy Morris's irreverent take on the Arthurian legend. Kids who are bored with the usual romantic treatment of this era will appreciate Morris's wry authorial intrusions throughout; in describing a fight scene, he often makes comments such as (not a direct quote), "I won't describe the entire fight in detail since fights are always more interesting to watch than to actually read about."

Sir Lancelot quests and adventures his way through this short, illustrated volume, rescuing damsels in distress, fighting jousts and duels, and learning a bit about character development along the way. Prose is perfect for newly independent readers; I think struggling older readers would appreciate these books as well.

Recommended for elementary and up

Sir Gawain the True

Sir Gawain the True (The Knights' Tales Series)
Gerald Morris
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children

A tongue in cheek, witty portrayal of one of the most famous knights of Arthur's round table. This book is perfect for newly independent readers who have a basic familiarity with Arthurian England (you know, knights in shining armor rescuing damsels in distress and fighting gallant jousts/duels for the sake of their honor and their king). Morris's prose is pitch perfect and gives readers a great feel for Sir Gawain and his world. Small line drawings appear throughout the book as well. (The same author wrote Sir Lancelot the Brave, and I can't believe I never reviewed that! Stay tuned....)

Recommended for elementary and up (or read aloud to younger folks).