Archive for December, 2010


Happy Holidays!

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Happy Holidays everyone!  Here’s hoping you have a beautiful celebration with family and friends and lots of great books to read. 

This blog will return on January 3rd, after a brief break for cookies, snowflakes, and reading. 

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Sivu’s Six Wishes by Jude Daly

A retelling of an old Taoist tale, this is the story of Sivu, a stonecarver.  Sivu could make amazing things from stone but despite his skill, he never made a lot of money and turned bitter.  One day, when carving a statue for a wealthy man, Sivu dreamed of how great that man’s life must be.  Suddenly, Sivu was the wealthy man.  He had plenty of power and wealth, but everyone despised him.  Then Sivu was stopped by the mayor’s procession and he dreamed of being the mayor with all of his power.  Suddenly, Sivu was the mayor.  But again, everyone hated him.  Sivu looked out over the gardens and saw the sun.  He wished he could be the sun, and he was.  He shone down, far too fiercely, and created a drought.  Then a storm cloud came over the sky and Sivu the sun could not move it.  He wished he could be the powerful rain cloud, and he was.  Now he rained too harshly and caused a flood.  Eventually, the wind blew him out to sea.  Sivu wished he was the wind, and he was.  He blew and blew, until one day he came across something that he could not move.  He wished he could become that, and he did.  He was a huge rock, completely unmovable until one day…

This is a story that makes the themes of power, wealth, and desire come alive.  Daly has created a very readable text that moves briskly from wish to wish, examining each one and then going on.  She has set the story in the present day, making it all the more accessible to modern children.  This is both an old story and a new one, vibrant across time.   Daly has illustrated the book with modern illustrations that are bright colored and busy.  They convey both the hustle of the modern day and the timelessness of the story with ease. 

Recommended as a way to get children talking about envy and contentment, need, wealth and power, this book leaves nothing to wish for.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans.

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Yasmin’s Hammer by Ann Malaspina, illustrated by Doug Chayka

In Dhaka, Bangladesh, Yasmin rides to work in the morning in her father’s rickshaw.  Though Yasmin longs to go to school, she has to help earn money so that her family can eat and her father can someday purchase the rickshaw.  Yasmin thinks about the quiet days in her village before the cyclone forced them to move to the noise and bustle of the city.  Now she must work breaking bricks for use in building roads and buildings.   Even Yasmin’s little sister must work in the brickyard so the family can survive.  Yasmin comes up with a plan of how she can both help her family and make sure that she can be educated too.  Each day she works harder and faster than anyone else, and the boss gives her extra coins.  These she saves for her secret plan that no one in her family knows about.

Sprinkled with Bangladeshi words, Malaspina’s text is poetic and strong.  She captures the city and the country in tangible ways, through colors, sounds and smells.  This is a book about child labor, though it is not overly dramatic.  It is a quiet story of desperation in the face of poverty.  The focus is on the importance of education for children and the struggles that a family must overcome to offer it. 

Chayka’s illustrations are filled with warm light.  They capture the hustle of the city streets, nicely contrasting it with the quiet of the countryside.  Bright colors, enliven his paintings that invite readers into this story.

This is an important book that offers a glimpse of children living in very different circumstances than we see in our part of the world.  It is one that will spur discussions and also have children realizing how well off they are to not have to work and to be able to go to school.  Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Lee & Low Books.

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Shadow by Suzy Lee

This book is all about the power of imagination and creativity.  A little girl heads up to the attic where the light creates shadows.  She starts out with just her own shadow, then creates a bird with her hands. As she plays, a jungle grows in the shadows with a sharp-toothed wolf.  Other animals appear and so does a princess until an entire shadow world is created.  Then the wolf escapes from the shadow world and jumps at the little girl.  But the other animals work together to teach him how to play nicely.  At the end, a voice calls that dinner is ready and everything returns to normal, or does it?

Lee’s illustrations tell this almost wordless story.  Her use of fine lines for the objects in the attic, thicker lines for the little girl, and deep blackness for the shadows is particularly effective.  The book is done in just two colors: black and yellow.  The yellow is particularly spectacular, showing the color of imagination at work.  Lee uses the middle gutter of the book to separate the shadows from real life, so the book is read sideways, just as the cover is shown. 

This book is simple and very evocative.  It is a stunning, sparkling example of a wordless book that children everywhere with relate to effortlessly.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

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Disappearing Desmond by Anna Alter

Desmond and his entire family didn’t like to be the center of attention.  He’d much rather disappear and be ignored.  Sometimes even his teacher could not find him!  But things changed when Gloria came to his school.  Gloria liked to be the center of attention.  After a bit, something strange happened and Gloria said hello to Desmond even though he was hiding.  No one had ever seen him when he was hiding before.  And it just kept happening, Gloria kept on talking to him until one day they read together for the entire morning.  The two of them started playing together all the time, until Desmond came to school on a Monday morning ready to be noticed.  Later, Desmond heard a sound in the bushes and found a kid hiding there.  The three of them played all afternoon, but there were many more kids hiding around the playground.

This is a very nice book about shyness and wanting to be ignored.  Alter found a great solution to the shyness issue by having a once-shy child make overtures to another shy child.  That is the magic in this picture book.  Readers will also enjoy the ending where the large number of other shy children is revealed.  Alter’s illustrations have a similar feel to Nancy Carlson’s Harriet series.  They have simple lines, bright colors, and animal characters. 

A successful book about shyness without the focus on the painful nature of it, this book offers a hand of comfort and friendship to shy children hidden everywhere.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Random House.

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Snook Alone by Marilyn Nelson, illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering

Abba Jacob lived on an island with his dog, Snook.  Each day their routine was the same.  They got up at dawn, prayed, worked together, and spent time in companionable silence together.  Sometimes there were visitors or Abba Jacob headed off to town in his car, but Snook was always there waiting for him.  Until one day, Snook and Abba Jacob headed out in a boat to help catalog plant and animal species on the islands.  Snook was along to help catch the rats and mice that were disrupting the birds and animals of the islands.  It was great micing!  It was so good that Snook got too involved in his work, so when a storm blew up, Abba Jacob was forced to leave Snook behind on the deserted island.  All alone, Snook found his own rhythm of silence, catching food, finding water, silence and waiting.  Sometimes he thought he could hear Abba Jacob’s voice on the wind, but no one came for him.  Snook spent a long time alone on the island, never forgetting his friend, Abba Jacob.  Until one day, a fishing boat returned to the island with Abba Jacob aboard!

This book is such a  delight.  It is a book with such depth, such quiet, such silence that its power builds during those quiet moments, creating a magnificent longing.  It is a book that celebrates the simple, the quiet, the profound in our lives.  It is a book about enduring friendship, continued connection, and at its heart: love.  Nelson writes with such a beauty here that some lines make you stop and you have to remember to breathe again.  They are moments just like in the book itself, moments of simple clarity, embedded in the writing.  This is a book that will be a grand choice for a class to discuss, perfection for advanced students who will enjoy the language but will also enjoy the illustrations.  It is a book to be shared.

Ering’s illustrations echo the themes of the book with their delightful mix of cartoon and painting.  Abba Jacob is a round, merry soul shown in cartoon lines.  Snook on the other hand can be funny and cartoonish, but is also depicted as a noble beast in paints.  The illustrations work exceedingly well to show simple life, the vistas of the sea and the island, and the warmth of the connection between man and dog.

A masterful book about faith and friendship, this is an outstanding picture book that deserves plenty of recognition on best book lists but more importantly a spot in school and public libraries.  Appropriate for ages 5-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Also reviewed by 100 Scope Notes.

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Fleabag by Helen Stephens

Fleabag was a city dog with no name and no home.  He liked to visit the park and see the other dogs with their families.  How he wished he had a person too.  Everyone ignored him until one little boy threw a ball and Fleabag caught it.  The little boy and the dog became friends, playing together when his mother wasn’t watching because she was busy with his little sibling.  Then the little boy found out that he was moving away, leaving Fleabag behind.  The night before they were moving, the boy looked out his window and saw Fleabag waiting there.  So he decided the solution was for them to run away together.  But Fleabag knew that something was wrong.  He refused to go and even woke up the family to the danger.  Now what is a family to do with a dirty dog that saved their little boy?  You know exactly what!

Stephens has written a book with a very classic feel to it right down to the illustrations.  Her text uses subtle repetition to build moods and connections.  It reads aloud effortlessly thanks to the repetition and the clear flow of the story line.   One piece I appreciated was that the boy and the dog build their friendship up over the course of time.  It is a testament to the strength of their connection that it did not happen immediately.  Stephens’ illustrations are filled with soft washes of color.  They have a vintage feel with modern lines and use color to great effect.  She also plays with white space very effectively, using it to isolate but also to be expansive.

A dog-gone good book, this is one friendly pooch that will have young readers cheering him all the way home.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt.

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Pecan Pie Baby by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Gia is not looking forward to the new baby coming.  In fact, she is sick and tired of hearing about the “ding-dang baby” all the time.  That baby is copying her and her mother’s love for pecan pie.  It’s going to take all of her old outgrown clothes.  So when Gia is told that the baby will come with the first snow of the year, she wishes a secret wish for no snow at all.  Her friends at school want to talk about the baby coming just like her aunties, who don’t have the time anymore to play tea party with Gia.  Finally, Gia has had enough and yells “I’m so sick of that ding-dang baby!” at Thanksgiving dinner.  She is sent to her room and when her mother comes up to talk with her, Gia finds out that her mother too will miss all of their special times alone together. 

Woodson’s writing skills translate finely into the picture book format.  She has created a very readable, very engaging book for all of the new siblings out there.  The depth of Gia’s feelings are an important piece of the story as are her worries about her entire life changing because of this interloper.  Nicely, Woodson does not feel a need to “fix” Gia’s feelings, instead she validates them and allows her the anger and concern.  In fact, the lack of a baby at the end and the resolution of Gia’s feelings is not here.  That makes it a much more powerful book.  Though snow has begun to fall as the book closes.

Blackall’s art is warm and rich, depicting a loving relationship between mother and daughter.  This relationship is at the heart of the book and is celebrated on almost every page.  Additionally, the multicultural children and adults make for a book that has a very inclusive feel to it.  

A warm and lovely book, this is an honest look at the conflicting feelings of expecting a new sibling.  Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Putnam.

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The Three Little Dassies by Jan Brett

This fresh version of the classic The Little Pigs tale is set in Namibia and features cuddly, cute dassies instead of pigs.  Dassies are also known as rock hyraxes or rock rabbits.  In this book, the dassies wear bright  colored dresses and Namibian headwear.  The story starts out with the three dassies heading out to find their own place to live.  The three sisters reach the feet of the mountains after crossing the Namib Desert and decide that it is a perfect place for their homes.  A friendly agama lizard welcomes them.  One sister builds her house of green grasses.  Another builds hers out of driftwood.  The third builds hers from rocks.  The wolf is replaced by an eagle intent on eating the dassies, who not only knocks over the grass and wood houses but takes the dassies up to his nest to be eaten.  The rock house stays up despite being buffeted by the wind of the eagle’s wings.  And the other two dassies find a unique way back to safety.  But the eagle does not give up easily, allowing Brett a great way to explain why eagles are black in Namibia.

Brett has created another of her trademark books.  The text reads aloud very nicely, with the rhyming names of the dassies, the rhythm of the classic tale, and the use of just enough detail to bring the Namibian setting to vivid life.  Of course Brett uses her illustrations to great effect here as well in creating Namibia on the page.  Readers will glimpse vistas across the desert sands and to the mountains.  Brett’s illustrations are finely detailed.  She uses images on either side of the main illustration to tell readers what is happening to others in the story.  Brett has framed the images with African textiles, beads, and native plants.  These are illustrations to spend time with an enjoy.

A clever take on a classic story, this new version will be a welcome addition with its feisty heroines and interesting setting.  Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Putnam.

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Llama Llama Holiday Drama

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Llama Llama Holiday Drama by Anna Dewdney

This latest in the Llama Llama series keeps the rhyming and charm of the earlier books and adds a Christmas theme.  Llama Llama loves Christmas, so he finds it hard to wait until the special day arrives.  There is a lot to do to prepare for the holiday with shopping, baking cookies, decorating the Christmas tree.   It all gets to be a bit too much for this little llama to bear.  So Mama Llama takes some time away from the holiday rush to spend a bit cuddling with Llama Llama, making it a special night in a different way.  A celebration of the holidays with just the right balance of what is actually important about them.

Dewdney has a great ear for rhymes.  They dance across the page and add to the celebratory feel of the book.  She also has a nice touch with her illustrations, creating moods with bright colors.  Her images are simple enough to project to a group easily but also detailed enough to make lap reading special.

Get this one for any toddlers on your Christmas list.  It has the potential to become an annual read.  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Viking.

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