Archive for June, 2009


Alice in Wonderland Movie

Breathtaking images from the upcoming Alice in Wonderland film by Tim Burton are now on display at Rotten Tomatoes.  They also have an intriguing website for the film.  I can’t think of a better director for a film based on such a surreal book.  And even better, it has a superb cast!  Johnny Depp as The Mad Hatter, Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen, Stephen Fry as the Cheshire Cat, and Alan Rickman as The Caterpillar.  You can check out the entire cast on IMDB

OK Go by Carin Berger

This whimsical tribute to recycling and the environment is perfect for toddlers and young children.  The book shouts Go! immediately and readers are off following bright red sports cars as they race across the page, each filled with strange pointy nosed or beaked creatures.  Turn the pages and they get more crowded with vehicles, all clever and funny, but all pouring out exhaust.  Eventually the page is simply filled with the word “go” repeating over and over again.  Then come the dark clouds of smog, filling the page and a declaration to Stop!  The little creatures figure out many ways that they can help the environment and still get around. 

The words here are so very simple and accessible.  Older children will enjoy the fold-out page with its short rhymes about what to do to be more green.  Younger children will enjoy the cars screeching across the page.  Berger’s illustrations, all done in recycled materials, are very clever.  Even the final tips on the last page are done in a friendly tone just right for children.  Berger has taken a complex subject and made it clear, clever and concise. 

A very successful green picture book, this could easily be incorporated into preschool units on nature and storytimes as well.  Appropriate for ages 2-5.

Egg Drop by Mini Grey

Grey returns with another fantastical tale about an inanimate object. This time it is an egg.  An egg who would not wait.  An egg who would not listen.  The Egg wanted to fly – like a bird, like a helicopter, like a round brown blimp.  But it did not understand aerodynamics, so it headed up a tower to soar.  At first the egg thought it was flying.  But it was falling instead.  Don’t despair, it did not go to waste.

Grey is wonderfully quirky in all of her picture books.  Mixing in Bernoulli’s principle and aerodynamics just adds to that strange surrealism in her picture books that make them both very different and very intriguing.  Her illustrations are mix graph paper with flying eggs, what’s not to love!  With this book, Grey has once again expanded what picture books can be about and what they can say. 

A strange and interesting picture book that does not nicely fit into units or story times, but is wonderful nonetheless.  Share this one with any quirky kids you know.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Goodbye Season

The Goodbye Season by Marian Hale

Released September 2009.

This is Hale’s third historical novel.  Set during the 1918 epidemic, it follows young Mercy.  The member of a sharecropper’s family, she is so poor that her family is forced to send her away to work for someone ten miles from them just to have her fed.  Mercy works hard and soon bonds with the couple she serves and their two hired men.  But after one trip to town, one hired man is dead and Mercy is sent away for her own safety.  She returns home to her family, finding the house empty and her mother and three siblings buried near the house.  Mercy is now alone and penniless.  She finds a job taking care of a woman and her two small children.  But something is strange about the family and Mercy finds herself drawn to the older stepson who may know the answer to the mystery.

An intricate tale of loss, grief, mystery, and love, this book is well plotted and filled with surprises.  Mercy is a heroine who never despairs, works incredibly hard, and makes her own way.  She is gentle, sweet and yet strong and resilient.  At the same time, she is conflicted and unsure often.  She is a character worth spending time with in her complexity.  The 1918 epidemic will fascinate teens who are hearing about swine flu around them.  The devastation of the epidemic is clearly evoked without becoming graphic or overwhelming.

One quibble I have is with the cover art.  Why, why, why is Mercy wearing lipgloss and mascara?!  Love the hair, the face, the look, the setting.  But the makeup just doesn’t work.

An historical novel that is sure to please, this book while about a 17-year-old character would be appropriate for readers as young as 12.

A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck

Released September 2009.

Head back to the wonderful character of Grandma Dowdel.  In this third novel, it is 1958 and a family has moved in next door to her.  They are poor as church mice, appropriate since the father is a Methodist pastor.  The children include Bob, who immediately falls prey to the town bullies in remarkable fashion.  There is his older sister Phyllis, who is obsessed with Elvis and with one of the bullies who bears a resemblance to The King.  And then there is his younger sister, Ruth Ann, who is a little lost until she meet Grandma Dowdel.  This delightful novel tells the story of the year the family spends next door to Grandma Dowdel who insists that she is neither neighborly or church going, yet manages to always be both.

Peck’s characterizations are as always clever and revealing.  He has such a gentle touch with his characters even as he is showing far more of their psyche and personality than one might realize.  Peck’s humor has a vintage feel as is appropriate to the time and place.  It is uproariously funny.  After reading two werewolf books (and setting both aside) it was a real breath of fresh cold air to read Peck’s novel.

Tightly plotted, humorous and beautifully wrapped up in the end, this book is a real treat.  Appropriate for ages 8-12, I can see entire families enjoying this one as a read aloud.  Classrooms would also enjoy the escapades and fun while learning a touch of history along the way.

Also reviewed on Sarah Miller’s blog.

This is last week’s news, but it’s important enough to repeat!

Siobhan Dowd has won the Carnegie Medal for children’s literature, making her the first author to win posthumously.  She won the medal for Bog Child.  Her first novel, A Swift Pure Cry, was also shortlisted for the Carnegie. 

Dowd began writing in 2003 and died in 2007.  In those four short years, she created four books for young people.  Amazing.

What a Good Big Brother! by Diana Wright Landolf, illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher.

So many new sibling books are about angst and worry.  This book doesn’t mention that at all.  Cameron loves his little baby sister, so he is eager to help stop her crying.  When his father changes Sadie’s diaper, Cameron helps by handing him wipes.  When Sadie is hungry, Cameron fetches the nursing pillow.  And when no one can get Sadie to stop crying, Cameron manages to get her settled by rubbing her tummy gently and kissing her toes.  It is a pleasure to see an older sibling not bubbling with jealousy, happily being included in the new routines, and able to solve a problem through loving contact. 

The text has a nice repetition, as Cameron wonders why Sadie is crying and then is asked to help out.  Cameron also kisses the baby’s toes often, his own personal way of relating with Sadie.  And mothers will be pleased because that is so often the safe spot for older siblings to shower with love.  The illustrations are a mix of collage and paintings that tell the story in paintings and then are reinforced by the collages.  The word kiss appears often in the background as well as other small words like nap.  On the pages where Sadie is crying, there are watery marks on the page and drops of color.  And there are also hand outlines and foot outlines as Sadie is being soothed.  Here the illustrations are a true extension of the story. 

Clever illustrations and a positive look at being an older sibling make this worth putting into every library collection.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

A Tree for Emmy by Mary Ann Rodman, illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss.

Emmy loves all kinds of trees, but her favorite is the mimosa tree at her Gramma’s pasture.  In spring, it had strong branches perfect for swinging on.  In summer, it had fuzzy pink blossoms.  In fall, it dropped seedpods that rattled.  And best of all, according to Gramma, Emmy and the mimosa tree were very similar: “stubborn and strong and a little bit wild.”  When Emmy’s birthday comes, she asks for a mimosa tree of her own.  But mimosa trees are not sold in nurseries, they are wild trees.  Just when Emmy is about to give up hope, she finds a tiny start of a tree growing near the mimosa tree at her grandmother’s house.  Now if it will just grow faster!

This could be seen as a fluffy little book about loving trees, but it is much more.  First, it is a great book on native species and how you can’t buy them in stores.  Second, it is a joy to have a book with a girl who is not shocked or worried by being called stubborn, strong and wild.  Hurrah!  This is a little girl with a big imagination, her own opinions, and a great sense of style.  She’s a treat to spend time with. 

Rodman’s text sets just the right tone here.  Nothing big is made of this unique little girl.  She is just herself.  The illustrations combine painting and collage into an interesting mix.  The collage is used most often for plants and for Emmy’s outfits and it works very well.

Recommended for gardening or tree story times or reading to slightly older children and discussing native species and what isn’t available in stores.  The time is right for a picture book that can lead us effortlessly into these discussions.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Almost

Almost by Richard Torrey

Jack is almost six. He is also almost a big boy.  Almost ready for a big bike.  Almost able to make his own breakfast.  Almost grown up in so many ways.  The text of the book repeats the fact that he is almost capable of all these things, but the illustrations tell the real story.  Jack fails at each of these, hence the “almost.”  Along the way, he is accompanied on most pages by his older brother whom he is eager to emulate.  The older brother is driven mad by Jack a lot of time, but when he gets hurt he is right there. 

This book cleverly captures the essence of a child eager to be bigger right now.  Nicely, the book also manages to show the point of view of the older sibling at the same time.  And all of this is accomplished with few words, vivid illustrations and plenty of humor.  The illustrations are bright, funny and will work well with a large group. 

Don’t save this one for almost six-year-olds.  Four year olds will be equally enchanted by the book and understand the eagerness to be bigger.  This one would make a great read aloud for a sibling story time or a mixed age group since both sides are portrayed so well.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Crazy Hair by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean

Hurrah!  Another picture book from the creators of The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish and The Wolves in the Walls!  Enter at your own risk, but also know that you will see something amazing and unique!

Bonnie tells the man that he has crazy hair.  The man turns to her and starts telling her just how crazy his hair really is.  Birds nest in it, gorillas leap, tigers stalk, dancers dance, and pirate ships sail.  All in his head of hair.  Bonnie offers a comb to help make it less crazy and despite his warnings, she does comb his hair.  But this is crazy hair, remember, and the results are not what she expected.

Gaiman’s words have great rhythm and embedded rhymes that swirl around in poetic forms and lines.  His writing echoes the wildness of the hair, waving, mysterious and unknowable.  McKean’s illustrations are equally wild.  The hair in them is so very real even when a yellow-green, that it is spellbinding.  Intermixed with the vividly real hair, are Picasso-esque broken faces and characters.  The effect is captivating and chilling.

Highly recommended for those who like their picture books odd and interesting.  But what else could you expect from them?  Appropriate for ages 6-10.

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