Archive for June, 2012


rachel carson and her book

Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World by Laurie Lawlor, illustrated by Laura Beingessner

This is a biographical picture book about the environmentalist Rachel Carson.  The book covers her childhood, which she spent outside in her family’s woods, orchards and fields.  Her mother loved nature and passed her passion on to her daughter.  Though times were tough and her father struggled to make enough money to support the family, Rachel was able to attend Pennsylvania College for Women in Pittsburgh.  It was during this time that she started to be concerned about the environment. Rachel decided to become a biologist and received her Master’s Degree, becoming one of the few female biologists.  After some time jobless due to the Great Depression, her two skills of science and writing came together in a job for the Bureau of Fisheries writing radio scripts about sea life.  After World War II, Rachel became alarmed at the chemicals being sprayed everywhere.  Though she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, she continued work on Silent Spring which caused such a reaction that new laws were created to protect the environment.  This book tells the story of a woman who was smart, scientifically gifted, and passionate about the natural world she loved so much. 

Lawlor pays real homage to Rachel Carson here.  It is the story of her entire life, from the early days of connecting with nature through her years of study to the final, vital book she wrote.  Hers is an inspirational story of what can be done by someone who is smart and passionate about a subject.  It is also a great story about a woman who defied the conventions and followed her dreams.  Lawlor makes Carson both intensely human but also heroic.

The illustrations are done in a simple style with ink and watercolor.  They celebrate the natural world around Carson with plenty of the greens of the woods and the blues of the waters.  And in each, Carson is observing and making notes.  It’s a glimpse of a woman who is a scientist first and foremost.

This is a celebration of a groundbreaking book by a groundbreaking woman.  Appropriate for ages 5-8. 

Reviewed from library copy.

jimmy the greatest

Jimmy the Greatest by Jairo Buitrago, illustrated by Rafael Yockteng

Jimmy lives in a small village in Latin America where there is nothing but a small church and a little gym.  Thanks to that little gym, Jimmy and the other children in town spend their time learning to box.  Since Jimmy didn’t have much else to do, he started to train.  He wanted to become a famous boxer and get his mother the icebox she needed.  It all changed though when his trainer, Don Apolinar, gave Jimmy a box of clippings and books about Mohammad Ali.  Jimmy started reading all about Ali, started wearing his glasses, and even shadowboxed while continuing to read.  Jimmy learned about respect and dignity from Ali, creating his own sayings from Ali quotes.  He grew into a great boxer.  When Don Apolinar left the village for a larger city, Jimmy stayed behind and kept up the gym and opened a library.

This picture book took my breath away with its ending.  As Don Apolinar headed to the bus to leave town, I assumed that Jimmy was joining him or following close behind.  Instead, Jimmy stays where he is and continues to pass on the training he received and share his inspiration and learning with others.  It is a tribute to those who stay in their home communities and make a difference.  Jimmy learned a lot, let his dreams flow, and still stayed, not because he felt trapped or stuck, but because he wanted to. 

Yockteng’s illustrations are filled with warm, yellow light.  They display the barren environment around the village, the lack of things to do, and yet they also show a community of bright-colored shacks and friendly people.  There is a beauty to the barren landscape and certainly a beauty to the people themselves.

Highly recommended, this book pays homage to the local hero, the person who stays and makes a difference.  It’s one character that is often missing in children’s picture books and it’s great to see such a wonderful tribute.  Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

Here are the links I shared on my Twitter and Pinterest accounts that you might find interesting:

You can also check out the tweets and pins I did this week about libraries, e-books, and management on my other blog, Sites & Soundbytes.

11 Authors Who Hated the Movie Versions of Their Books – Mental Floss http://buff.ly/LoPVGT

Divergent movie in pre-production http://buff.ly/Q6uf2g #yalit

Flavorwire » 10 Important Life Lessons We Learned from Children’s Books http://buff.ly/Liv5e7 #kidlit

Know Your Vampire Hunter

Raschka and Gantos Deliver Moving Caldecott, Newbery Speeches| ALA Annual 2012 http://buff.ly/LxkuMx #kidlit #libraries

Summer Reading Resources A to Z « Imagination Soup | Fun Learning and Play Activities for Kids http://buff.ly/MCIVBD #reading#kidlit

A Very Middle Grade Summer: 10 Titles Even Adults Will Love! | BlogHer http://buff.ly/LCpBLb #kidlit

Your first library card: a defining moment for a reader http://buff.ly/Lw9kYp #libraries

bird talk

Bird Talk: What Birds Are Saying and Why by Lita Judge

Incredible displays of feathers, bright-colors and complex songs are all ways that birds communicate and try to find a mate.  Some birds puff and strut, others have large wattles, and still others drum on a branch with a stick.  Once birds have found that mate, they communicate their pairing to others using dances, clattering bills, or by providing food for one another.  When eggs and baby birds arrive, the parents use flashing wing colors, trickery or pretending to be wounded to lead predators away from their young.  The parents teach their babies to eat, fly and more with clucks, demonstrations, and plenty of talk.  Celebrate the birds that live around your house as well as exotic birds that have amazing ways of communicating.

Judge has written a very detailed but also very readable book about birds.  It has a wide range of species that are all intriguing in the way they communicate with one another.  This makes the book engaging and great fun to read.  At the end of the book are even more facts about the birds, that share their habitat and range.   Judge’s illustrations have a wonderful playfulness to them, but also display the beauty of the birds with accuracy and skill. 

A great pick for children’s nonfiction collections, this is an inviting book about wildlife that will give new and intriguing information to young nature lovers.  Appropriate for ages 8-10.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.

path of stars

A Path of Stars by Anne Sibley O’Brien

Dara has a close relationship with her grandmother, Lok Yeay, who tells her stories about life in Cambodia when she and her brother were growing up.  She remembers Cambodia as a place of beauty, filled with moon and star light.  Lok Yeay also shared her darker memories of the soldiers coming and hiding in the jungle until they could make their way to Thailand.  But when the phone call came and Lok Yeay found out that her brother had died, she stopped telling stories.  In fact, she stopped getting out of bed entirely and stopped eating.  The entire family was worried.  Dara went to the garden and picked a rose and a ripe tomato.  Then she put them on a tray along with a photograph of Lok Yeay’s brother and went into the darkness of her grandmother’s room.  They shared the tomato and prayed for her brother, and Dara shared a story of the future and going back to visit Cambodia.

Commissioned by the Maine Humanities Council, this book reflects the story of a family that survived the Killing Fields in Cambodia and came to Maine afterwards.  According to her author’s note, O’Brien did extensive research not only about Cambodia’s history but also about its culture and environment.  As a reader, it is clear that she took Cambodia into her heart and showed its beauty.  O’Brien focuses on the intergenerational relationships in the family, demonstrating the importance of the grandparent in the Cambodian culture.  Additionally, the book is about war, families torn apart, and grieving. 

The art in the book is done in oil paints and oil crayon.  It has a wonderful jewel-tone and great depth and richness.  The illustrations focus on the family relationship, none of them showing the atrocities of war at all. 

This is a strong picture book that looks at the Cambodian Americans and the violent history that they fled from.  Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Charlesbridge.

i too am america

I, Too, Am America by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Bryan Collier

Collier marries the famous poem by Hughes with the story of the African-American Pullman porters, who served the wealthy white patrons aboard trains.  The poem speaks to the dream of freedom and equality that we are moving towards but have not yet attained in America.  It tells of servants sent to eat in the kitchen but also that in the future that will change and no one will again be sent to eat separately.  Collier’s illustrations depict the real work of the Pullman porters and the rhythm of the train seems to appear in Hughes’ poem too.  These men who worked in a racist world long after slavery was abolished are a fitting match to this strong poem that sings.

Hughes was able to write with such spare poetry, that it gives a strong vehicle for illustrations.  Collier built an incredible story around those lines, one of porters and a small boy who has new chances in the modern world.  He wraps his illustrations in the flag, playing with stars and stripes and the blue of the open sky throughout the book.  There is a gravity, a seriousness to his work that is truly fine.  It lifts up to the level of the poem, creating a harmony that is very special.

This is an extraordinary picture book about freedom, African Americans, and the struggle that still goes on every day for equality.  Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from library copy.

under the baobab tree

Under the Baobab Tree by Julie Stiegemeyer, illustrated by E. B. Lewis

Brother and sister, Moyo and Japera, travel to a neighboring village to gather under the baobab tree, the tree of life.  Different people gather under the baobab at different times.  Sometimes the market wagon is there selling pots, pans and cloths.  Other times, the elders are gathered there talking.  Sometimes it’s a storyteller sharing stories.  As the children walk to the tree, they see all sorts of wildlife like weaver birds, gazelle, and a termite mound.  The siblings reach the baobab tree and more and more people join them, along with the minister and his Bible for church under the tree.

The setting of this book is clear from the very moment you open it.  For some people, from reading the title.  The setting stays true throughout the story, as details about Africa are woven into the story.  The children pass all sorts of creatures as they travel.  The different people under the baobab tree are shared in detail as well.  Clues about what will happen under the tree today are also shared in the text, so religion is tied nicely throughout as well.

Lewis’ art really make this book appealing.  He uses soft lines and almost gauzy colors to tell the story.  The watercolors seem to shimmer in the heat of Africa.  At times there is clarity in the images and great detail, other times the reader is moved further back and the scene itself is captured in its vastness and heat.

A picture book that embraces religion with a gentle touch, this book is a heartfelt welcome to Africa.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

ocean sunlight

Ocean Sunlight: How Tiny Plants Feed the Seas by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm

Following her Living Sunlight book, this continues the story of how the sun makes life on earth possible.  Here, the focus is on the ocean and the role that sunlight plays even in the darkest depths of the sea.  The story starts with photosynthesis and food chains on dry land, then moves to the water.  Bang asks where the green plants in the ocean are except for the seaweed.  Then she shows the tiny phytoplankton that make up the plants of the sea.  The food chain is shown and the book then turns to the darkness of the deep and how the food chain works even in blackness.  It is beautiful science. 

Bang successfully combines poetry and science in this enticing picture book. Her tone is inviting, inquisitive and filled with wonder at the amazing things that happen due to our sun.  The book is written from the point of view of the sun itself and how its energy reaches everywhere on earth.  It is a celebration of the sun and of the oceans themselves too.

Chisholm’s art ranges from the glow of the yellow sun to the black deep of the ocean.  Everywhere, even in the darkness, you can see the energy of the sun.  When the phytoplankton are displayed, Chisholm shows them up close in all of their wonderful detail.  Then the energy of the sun dances above the waves in yellow dots.  The entire book sings with energy and light.

This book is a tribute to science and nature.  It’s a readable and very understandable look at the complex systems that make our lives possible.  Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

alek

Alek by Bodil Bredsdorff

This final book in The Children of Crow Cove series has Doup as the main character.  Doup came to Crow Cove as a child with the Crow-Girl.  He has lived there all of his life but misses his older brother Ravnar who has moved away.  Doup reclaims his birthname of Alek and heads off with his father to town to find Ravnar.  They discover his empty home that is dirty and dank. Ravnar only appears when his boat is in harbor, otherwise he is out fishing for a living.  Alek’s father leaves him with Ravnar and returns to Crow Cove.  But one night, Alek witnesses a shipwreck on the beach where the sailors were tricked into beaching the boat.  He then sees a man murdered and discovers a young girl hiding away from the beach.  Alek takes the girl home with him, though she doesn’t speak his language.  Young Alek has to figure out what happened and then what to do about it.

I’ve adored this series for some time.  The writing is so natural and easy.  It is steeped in its seaside setting and filled with small details that bring their world to life.  This final book has plenty of action to move the story along, but it still remains a book about everyday life and creating a family out of the people who are with you.  From the small details of hunting and farming to information on meals and shopping, this book like the others in the series is a small book filled with the largeness of a life well led.

Definitely start with the first in the series.  As the series moves forward, the characters grow and age, offering a look at the results of their decisions in earlier books.  The strength of these books are in the complex characters, the fine details and the glory of the natural setting.

This is a fittingly strong final volume in a delight of a series.  Appropriate for ages 10-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Farrar Straus Giroux.

keeping the castle

Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl

Althea has grown up in a castle built by her great-grandfather who was much more about appearances than about functionality.  Now the castle is falling apart and repairs are too expensive for Althea and her mother to bear.  Her stepsisters could give them some of their money, or at least pay to cover their own costs, but instead they live in the castle too, for free.  There is eventual hope when Althea’s small brother grows up and can take charge, but she has to figure out how to get them to survive to that point.  All of her hopes lie in finding a wealthy young man to marry.  However, she lives in Lesser Hoo in Yorkshire, which makes eligible men unlikely and those who have ventured near have been turned off by her sharp tongue.  So when a young, handsome Baron moves in nearby, Althea is ready.  She’ll have to figure out how to pull together outfits that are fashionable but infinitely cheap, how to keep her mouth in check, and how to outmaneuver her stepsisters too.  This delight of a romantic book pays homage to Austen yet is entirely fresh and funny.

Kindl captured my attention immediately with the wry tone of her heroine.  Althea is what makes this book really work.  She is intelligent, slightly modern, resilient, and ultimately logical.  The romantic part of the book also works well, though lovers of Austen will immediately recognize the man who is her real match.

The setting is also a very compelling one with the castle itself playing a major role in the development of the story.  Just the frantic search for enough sturdy chairs to seat visitors and the desperate rummaging for food for them adds so much to the story.  This is not a family of genteel poverty, but one that is on the threshold of ruin.  That added to the need to keep the front in place while participating in a whirlwind of activities make for a book that is vibrant, romantic and great fun to read.

Perfectly timed for the fans of Downton Abbey, this book is the ideal combination of historical fiction and humor, making it a delight of a confection.  Appropriate for ages 13-15.

Reviewed from copy received from Viking.

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