Category: Elementary School


my heart is laughing

My Heart Is Laughing by Rose Lagercrantz, illustrated by Eva Eriksson

Dani has always been happy, but now that her best friend has moved away to another city, she is unhappy sometimes too.  But Dani tries not to think about being unhappy.  Dani didn’t know anyone in her class when she started school, but now she does.  When two girls in her class both get a crush on the same boy and ask him who likes best, they are amazed when he shows that he’s much more likely to like Dani.  Dani tried to keep being friendly with the girls, but neither of them wanted anything to do with her.  Dani sat by herself at lunch, but she didn’t mind because she just thought about all of the fun she had visiting her best friend.  But then her teacher moved her between the two girls, and Dani was cruelly pinched by them.  Dani finally had enough, and reacted by squirting them (and then the teacher accidentally) with sauce.  Now it is up to Dani to tell the truth about what happened and to figure out how to find happiness without her best friend at her side.

This is the second book featuring Dani, following My Happy Life, which tells the story of how Dani met her best friend and then how she had to move away.  In this second book, the focus is on bullying and the author does a great job with it.  As the situation escalates, Dani remains apart from the situation for awhile, then finds herself right in the middle of it.  I appreciate that Dani is not faultless in the situation in her reaction, but also that she reacts humanly and believably to the situation. 

Set in Sweden, the stories have a universal appeal but also are clearly not set in the United States.  This is a gentle introduction to the subtle cultural differences and a great way to start a discussion about how people are both the same and different in other cultures. 

Fans of the first book will love the next in Dani’s adventures.  This will also find an audience as a read-aloud for teachers wishing to discuss bullying with elementary students.  Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Gecko Press and NetGalley.

mr ferris and his wheel

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis, illustrated by Gilbert Ford

After the Eiffel Tower stunned World’s Fair visitors in 1889, it was up to Chicago to impress people at their 1893 World’s Fair.  So a nationwide contest was announced, but unfortunately many of the designs were just slightly-modified Eiffel Towers, so all of them were rejected.  George Ferris was an American engineer who had already designed big bridges, tunnels and roads across the nation.  He had an idea for a structure that would not just rival the stature of the Eiffel Tower, but would also move and be able to be ridden.  The judges of the contest reluctantly agreed to let him try, but would not offer him a penny of funding.  Ferris managed to find a few wealthy investors to help him and construction began on the huge project of creating a delicate wheel that would be strong enough to turn filled with people.  The tale of the building and invention of this now iconic ride is rich with suspense and the delight of accomplishment.

Davis has written a very successful picture book biography on George Ferris and his delight of an invention.  Occasionally in the text, there are sections in smaller font that offer more details and information.  It is all fascinating and those sections will be enjoyed as much as the main text.  Davis clearly explains differences between today and the late 1800s, such as the lack of Internet to carry ideas.  The story has plenty of dangers, lots of action and the ever-present danger of failure to carry it forward and make it enjoyable reading.

Ford’s illustrations are filled with rich, deep colors that capture different times of day.  They are a winning mix of straight, firm lines and hand-drawn characters and structures.  The play of the two on the page makes for illustrations that are eye-catching and that draw you into the story and the time period.

This is a particularly strong picture book biography that children will pick up thanks to the everlasting appeal of the Ferris Wheel.  Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from library copy.

winter is coming

Winter Is Coming by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Jim LaMarche

A stunningly gorgeous picture book about the changing seasons, this is a perfect way to welcome winter even when you don’t want it to arrive.  The book begins on a cold day in September with a girl out in nature watching the animals.  She has along her drawing pad and climbs into a tree house to see even better.  From that platform, she sees a red fox stealing the last wrinkled fall apple from a low branch.  A mother bear and her cub are also in the woods searching for food.  As fall progresses, she sees different animals: a family of skunks, rabbits, woodpeckers, a lynx, chipmunks, deer and geese.  All are preparing for the approaching winter in their own way.  As winter gets closer, the animals stop appearing until the day the snow arrives when the red fox is out to see it too.

Johnston has created a book that truly shows children what it is like to be surrounded by the wonder of nature during one changing season.  Her poetry sparks on the page, showing not only the different animals but also explaining what is beautiful and special about each one.  Even more mundane animals like the chipmunks get this honor.  Young readers will be inspired to get outside and sit still and just watch.

The art from LaMarche is stunning.  He takes advantage of the length of the pages and creates wide landscapes that embrace the changing colors of the seasons.  They turn from the bright yellows of early fall to the deeper reds and browns and then to the chill grays of winter.  He uses light beautifully throughout and various perspectives that all center around one tree and one girl.  It is extraordinary.

Perfect pick for just this time of year, get your hands on this beautiful picture book and then be ready for adventures outside, hopefully with your own pen and paper along.  Appropriate for ages 4-8. 

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

fathers chinese opera

Father’s Chinese Opera by Rich Lo

A first person account of a little boy who spent a summer backstage at his father’s Chinese opera in Hong Kong.  He watched the actors, the orchestra, and all of the vibrant action of the acrobats.  The boy approached the top acrobatic actor and asked if he would train him.  He promised to work hard to learn all of the complicated movements.  After practicing for awhile, the boy announced that he was ready for the stage now, but his trainer laughed at him.  The boy was heartbroken until his father explained that it had taken him many steps of training to earn the right to lead the opera.  So the boy began again, this time starting in the lowly role of flag boy onstage but also adding his own movements too.

Lo reveals in his Author’s Note that he grew up with his father taking him to the theater for opera rehearsals and performances.  This book captures the dreams of a young boy and his wish to not only be like his father but also to be on stage and perform.  The focus on hard work and determination is clear in this picture book and is presented in an approachable way for young readers. 

The illustrations by Lo are bright and filled with movement.  He captures the acrobats in mid-flip on the page.  The costumes shine on the page, the rainbow of colors rich against the white background.  He uses flowing lines to crate motion and watercolors that are bright and flow together.

An impressive look behind the scenes at a Chinese opera and a lesson in hard work as well, this picture book will be enjoyed by teachers and children alike.  Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

firebird

Firebird by Misty Copeland, illustrated by Christopher Myers

Wow!  Misty Copeland, soloist at American Ballet Theatre, is only their second African-American soloist in their history and the first in more than 20 years.  Here she writes her debut picture book and through it encourages other young dancers of color.  Lest you think this is a book just for dancers, it is not.  It is for anyone who needs to hear a voice of success speak about how important dedication and hard work is to creating that success.  Copeland tells it all in poetry that soars and dances just as she does.  This is a beautiful book of inspiration that reaches far beyond dance.

Copeland’s verse is exceptional.  It is hard to believe that poetry with this much control and beauty comes from someone who has not written many books.  It is shining verse that lifts the reader up and invites them to leap across the page along with Copeland.  She weaves lovely metaphors throughout her words, “stitching worn-out slippers, swift as applause” is one of my favorites and it is just as vivid and unique as Copeland herself.

Myers art is a lush mix of media that is just as radiant as the verse.  The pages are filled with Copeland and young African-American dancers who fly across the pages.  Myers creates motion on the page with his strips of paper that frame as well as enliven the illustrations. 

A magnificent picture book for young dancers that will inspire them to see joy in dance and also to understand the dedication it will take to be a success.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Putnam.

remy and lulu

Remy and Lulu by Kevin Hawkes, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes and Hannah E. Harrison

Lulu the dog finds a new owner in the struggling portrait painter, Remy.  The two head out into the French countryside together looking for new clients for Remy’s work.  He doesn’t get many repeat customers because of his abstract style.  Lulu herself is also an artist and quietly begins to add her own meticulous and smaller paintings to the corner of Remy’s large canvasses.  Her tiny art is of the subject’s pets and once the owner sees the tiny rendering, they absolutely love it.  Remy quickly becomes the toast of the town, but is unaware of what is really happening.  What will happen when Remy discovers that a large part of his fame is Lulu’s talent?

This is a wonderfully rich picture book.  The story has lots of depth to it, filled with creativity of both humans and hounds.  It is a tale of friendship, of artistry, of pride and of forgiveness and acceptance.  Remy is a wonderful character, bearded and smocked; he is a great blend of gruff exterior and a huge heart.  Lulu herself has a wonderful delicacy that plays in delightful contrast to Remy.  They are a solid pair.

Most inventive in this picture book is that Hawkes did the larger illustrations, the ones with rich colors that pop on the page as well as Remy’s abstract work.  Paired with his work is that of Harrison, who is an award-winning miniatures artist and her work is shown as Lulu’s.  The difference in the two artists is gorgeous and striking, perfectly matching what is happening in the story itself.  It’s a delight.

Best for slightly older children, this book will be embraced by art teachers and art-loving children and dogs alike.  Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Knopf Books for Young Readers.

el deafo

El Deafo by Cece Bell

Author/illustrator Cece Bell has created a graphic novel memoir of her loss of hearing as a child.  At age four, Cece contracts meningitis and the disease takes away her ability to hear.  At first Cece attends school with other children who have hearing loss and wear hearing aids, but then she is sent to first grade with a new super-powered hearing aid, the Phonic Ear.  Her new teacher has to wear a microphone, one that she sometimes forgets to take off (even when she uses the bathroom) which leads to some rather interesting sounds!  But along with these superpowers come some ethical questions and some technical problems.  As Cece copes with her hearing loss, she is also living the normal life of a child, attending school, making new friends, all with a big hearing aid on her chest.

Bell writes with a great honesty here, revealing helpful hints about what deaf people need to help them read lips and understand people better, things that other people can help with.  There is plenty of humor throughout the novel, making it very appealing.  Also adding to the appeal is Bell’s transformation from human to bunny in the illustrations, sending herself as an imaginary superhero flying upwards with her long ears.

While this is a book about a disability, it is much more a book about Bell and how her creativity helped her through times that required a real strength of character.  Her sense of humor also helped immensely, and it is her positive take about her hearing loss that makes this such an incredible read.

A top graphic novel for children and libraries, this is a must-read and a must-have.  Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from ARC received from Amulet Books.

turtle of oman

The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye

Aref’s family is moving to Ann Arbor, Michigan from where he has always lived in Muscat, Oman.  After his father heads off ahead of Aref and his mother, the two of them head home to finish packing and for his mother to finish working.  But Aref does not want to leave Oman, leave his bedroom to his cousins who will be living there while they are gone for several years, leave his pet cat behind.  But particularly, he does not want to leave his grandfather.  Aref pretends to pack, but finds himself playing instead, riding his bike, ignoring the packing entirely.  His mother gets frustrated and asks Siddi, his grandfather, for a hand.  So the Aref and Siddi head out on a series of adventures that let them spend time together, but also let Aref say goodbye to his beloved Oman and be open enough to greet the future in Michigan.

Nye is the author of Habibi as well as an acclaimed poet.  Her novel is short and wonderfully vivid, painting a picture of Oman for young readers who will be drawn to the natural beauty.  Readers will also be taken by the loving family, where parenting is done with grace and kindness, and where a grandfather is willing to spend lots of time saying farewell, as much time as a child needs. 

Nye’s writing shows her poetic skills again and again.  Her prose reads like verse, filled with imagery and striking wording.  When Aref goes to the sea with his grandfather, Nye describes it like this:

The sky loomed with a few delicate lines of wavery cloud, one under the other.  It looked like another blue ocean over the watery blue sea.  Aref took a deep breath and tried to hold all the blue inside his body, pretending for a moment he didn’t have to move away or say good-bye to anything or share his room and cat, none of it.

Many of the moments with Aref and his grandfather are written like this, celebrating the tiny pieces of beauty in the world, relishing the time, treasuring the wonder.  Her book is like a jewel, faceted and lovely to turn and marvel at.

This short novel is a vivid and majestic look at the Middle East, at familial love, and at the special relationship of a boy and his grandfather.  Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Greenwillow Books and Edelweiss.

sisters

Sisters by Raina Telgemeier

Released August 26, 2014.

The exceptionally talented and incredibly popular Raina Telgemeier returns with a sequel to her beloved Smile.  This is the story of Raina and her little sister, Amara.  Raina was desperate to have a little sister, but Amara is not working out the way she had pictured.  Now Raina is stuck on a road trip with her sister, little brother and her mother.  They are all stuck in a van traveling from San Francisco to Colorado for a family reunion.  The relationship between the two sisters is tense, not only because they have very different personalities but also because they are both artists.  Then you add in the clear issues of Raina’s parents and you have a dynamic view of a family on the brink of big changes.  It’s just up to Raina and Amara as to how their relationship with one another will change.

Telgemeier has created another breathtakingly honest graphic novel for elementary and middle grade readers.  Through her illustrations and humor, she shows a family at the crux of a moment that could change things forever.  The book though focuses on flashbacks showing the family and how relationships have altered.  Readers may be so focused on the story of the two sisters that they too will be blindsided along with Raina about the other issues facing their family.  It’s a craftily told story, one that surprises and delights.

As always, Telgemeier’s art is fantastic.  She has a light touch, one that invites readers into her world and her family and where they long to linger.  Her art is always approachable and understandable, more about a vehicle to tell the story than about making an artistic statement on its own.  It is warm, friendly and fantastic.

Highly recommended, this book belongs in every library that works with children.  A dynamite sequel that lives up to the incredible first book.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.

hula-hoopin queen

The Hula-Hoopin’ Queen by Thelma Lynne Godin, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Kameeka just knows she can beat Jamara at hula hooping, but her mother reminds her that today is Miz Adeline’s birthday, so she can’t go and hula hoop.  Instead Kameeka has to help get ready for the party.  Kameeka helps sweep, dust, wash floors, clean windows, and peel potatoes.  Her mother makes a cake but Kameeka is so distracted that she sets the temperature too low and the cake is ruined.  So her mother sends her out to get more sugar.  On the way home from the store, Kameeka meets Jamara and the two start competing for who can hoop the longest.  It isn’t until another of their family friends walks up that Kameeka remembers Miz Adeline’s party.  Now Kameeka is going to have to explain why there isn’t a cake at the party.  But some quick thinking finds a solution and then Kameeka herself is in for a surprise, hula hoop style.

This clever picture book shows different elements of a community.  There are moments of good-natured competition, times that you have to put your own wishes aside and think of others, and other times where forgiveness is important too.  Godin manages to wrap all of this into a very readable book that invites readers into the heart of a tight-knit community where the older generation may just has some tricks up their sleeves too.

The illustrations by Brantley-Newton show a diverse urban community with busy streets and brightly-colored stores and shops.  She uses patterns to create the curbs on the road, wall coverings and floor textures.  Despite being animated and dynamic, the illustrations keep a lightness on the page that keeps it sunny.

Community-driven, intergenerational and a great look at personal responsibility, this book has a wonderful warmth and charm.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

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