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little melba and her big trombone

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown, illustrated by Frank Morrison

Melba had always loved the sounds of music: blues, jazz and gospel.  Even when she slept notes and rhythms were in her dreams.  When she signed up for music class at school, Melba picked out a long horn that was almost as big as she was.  Melba practiced and practiced, teaching herself to play.  Soon she was on the radio at age 8, playing a solo.  When Melba was in sixth grade, she moved from Kansas City to Los Angeles where she became a star player in the high school band.  When she was 17, she was invited to go on tour with a jazz band.  She played with some of the greats, but she was one of the only women on tour and racism in the South was harrowing.  Melba decided to quit, but her fans would not let her.  All of the top jazz acts in the 1950s wanted her to play with them.  So Melba came back, went on more tours, and her music conquered the world.

This picture book biography of Melba Doretta Liston shows how music virtuosos are born.  Her connection with music from such a young age, her determination to learn to play her selected instrument, and her immense talent make for a story that is even better than fiction.  Melba faced many obstacles on the way to her career but overcame them all.  She survived the Great Depression, found her musical voice early and then professionally.  She also had the challenges of sexism and racism to overcome on her way to greatness.  This is all clearly shown on the page and really tells the story of a woman made of music and steel (or brass).

Morrison’s art beautifully captures the life of Liston on the page.  His paintings are done in rich colors, filled with angles of elbows, horns and music, they leap on the page.  They evoke the time period and the sense of music and jazz. 

Put on some Dizzy Gillespie with Melba Liston playing in the band and share this triumphant picture book with music and band classes.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Lee & Low Books and Edelweiss.

Here are the links I shared on my Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr accounts this week that I think are cool:

Alex Sanchez

CHILDREN’S BOOKS

7 books that will get young boys reading http://huff.to/1w5m7na

BBC News – Dumfries plans for Scottish children’s literature centre submitted http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-south-scotland-29602032 … #kidlit

Diverse voices: the 50 best culturally diverse books | Children’s books http://buff.ly/1EP0xcp #kidlit #weneediversebooks

How Canadian Jon Klassen became one of the most sought-after children’s book illustrators in the world – http://buff.ly/1C7lifa #kidlit

Interview: Oliver Jeffers, Author Of ‘Once Upon An Alphabet’ : NPR http://buff.ly/1scGcaq #kidlit

Molly Idle Talks with Roger – The Horn Book http://buff.ly/1sMqIf5 #kidlit

Nursery rhymes from all over the world – a gallery to share with children | The Guardian http://buff.ly/Zqq7Ue #kidlit

On Creativity and Culture: Yuyi Morales – First Book Blog – http://buff.ly/1w4HkgY #kidlit

Sita Brahmachari: the importance of diverse names in children’s books | Children’s books http://buff.ly/1CrGhcP #kidlit

Where are all the disabled characters in children’s books? | Children’s books http://buff.ly/1CrFyZ8 #kidlit

EBOOKS

Is E-Reading to Your Toddler Story Time, or Simply Screen Time? http://buff.ly/1w1xSef #ebooks

It’s Official: Kobo is Getting Out of Tablets – The Digital Reader http://buff.ly/1yikjvk #ebooks

LIBRARIES

Collections Are for Collisions | American Libraries Magazine http://buff.ly/1z7qTGe #libraries

Public Libraries Add Social Workers and Social Programs http://buff.ly/1s9I57C #libraries

PRIVACY

Edward Snowden’s Privacy Tips: “Get Rid Of Dropbox,” Avoid Facebook And Google | TechCrunch http://buff.ly/1s9FZoj #privacy

TEEN READS

The Maze Runner’s James Dashner: Movies are my first love. And that’s how I write | Guardian http://buff.ly/1C1fy6K #yalit

MORTAL INSTRUMENTS, The TV Series – EarlyWord: http://buff.ly/1z7qYtJ #yalit

rain reign

Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

Rose loves homonyms.  She spends her days looking for new ones to add to her list, and then once she gets home adding them or rewriting the entire list if she runs out of space.  Her dog Rain has a name that has two homonyms: reign and rein, which is why she picked it.  Her father also gave her Rain on a rainy night.  He found Rain wandering around after he left the bar one night.  Rain is one of the best things in Rose’s life, since her father spends most evenings drinking at the bar and Rose spends them alone.  Luckily, she also has her uncle in her life.  He takes her to school, helps her find new homonyms, and protects her when necessary from her father when he loses patience with Rose.  Then a fierce storm hits their town and Rose’s father lets Rain out into the storm and she disappears.  Rose’s father refuses to explain why he let Rain out in a storm and also refuses to help Rose find her dog.  It is up to Rose to find Rain so she devises her own plan and calls on her uncle for help.  But when she finds Rain, she also discovers that Rain has other owners and Rose has to make a heartbreaking choice about right and wrong and love.

Martin captures a truly dysfunctional family on the page here.  Rose’s father is brutal, cruel and a constant threat in her life.  At the same time, the book glimmers with hope all of the time.  Rose herself is not one to dwell on the shortcomings of her life, preferring to immerse herself in her words, her dog and her time with her uncle.  Martin manages to balance both the forces of love and fear in this book, providing hope for children living with parents like this but also not offering a saccharine take on what is happening. 

Rose is an amazing character.  She talks about having Asperger’s syndrome and OCD.  She is the only child in her class with a full-time aide and it is clear from her behaviors in class that she needs help.  Yet again Martin balances this.  She shows how Rose attempts to reach out to her classmates and then how Rain helps make that possible and how Rose manages to use her own disability as a bridge to help others cope in times of loss.  It’s a beautiful and important piece of the story.

A dark book in many ways, this book shines with strong writing, a heroic young female protagonist and always hope.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Feiwel and Friends.

hug machine

Hug Machine by Scott Campbell

A little boy considers himself a hug machine in this fanciful cheerful picture book.  All day long the hug machine goes around giving hugs, because he is simply the best at hugging.  He cannot be resisted.  His hugs do many things, they can calm you down, cheer you up.  He hugs objects, animals, and crying babies.  He even hugs things that never get hugged, like porcupines (but not without the proper protection).  Huge whales are not too big for him to hug either.  What is the secret to his amazing hugging?  Plenty of pizza for power and knowing when he is too tired to hug anymore and just needs to be hugged by someone else.

Campbell uses simple text in this picture book, focusing mostly on the action of hugging a lot on each page.  He uses repeating structures but always throws in a nice little twist or change up that keeps the book fun to read.  The entire book exudes the warmth of a hug and the wry little touches of humor add to that feeling.  I must also say that having a book with a male character who loves being hugged and giving hugs is refreshing.  It’s also a pink book about a boy, hallelujah!

The art in the book is wonderfully warm and cozy.  It captures not only the loving hugs of the boy but the various reactions by the things being hugged.  Readers will find that the text often does not match what is happening on the page, making for more comic moments in the book.  After all this is the hug machine telling the tale, so he thinks people are a lot more excited to be hugged than they may actually be.

A loving and hug-filled book that avoids being too sweet and instead is a bright cheerful picture book perfect for sharing.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

two parrots

Two Parrots by Rashin Kheiriyeh

Inspired by a tale by Rumi, this picture book takes an allegorical look at imprisonment and freedom.  A Persian merchant receives a parrot as a present and places him in a golden cage.   When the merchant heads out on a trip to India, he asks the parrot what gift he can bring back.  The parrot asks him to find his parrot friend and explain that the parrot would love to see him but is unable to due to his cage.  The merchant does as is asked and when he tells the parrot of his friend in the cage, the parrot falls down dead.  The merchant returns home to his parrot and has to tell him about the death of his friend.  At which point the parrot in the cage falls down dead too.  The merchant lifts the dead bird out of the cage and the bird promptly comes back to life and flies out the window to freedom.  The merchant is forced to admit the importance of freedom to living things.  Now he enjoys the beauty of the parrots free in his garden, uncaged.

This is not a straight-forward picture book, rather it is a moral and ethical tale that unwinds in a more traditional way for the reader.  It is a book that is best discussed with others who may see different aspects and different views in the story.  Many children may not have experienced this sort of story before, one that is not difficult in terms of vocabulary but instead presents a more challenging subject in an allegorical way.  Welcome to Rumi!

The art in the picture book is done by a young artist from Iran who has illustrated over 45 books for children.  His work is bright colored and full of texture.  The various papers used in his art have different textures and the colors are so strong and vibrant.  They have a great mix of quirky modern and traditional style. 

A delightful mix of traditional and modern storytelling, this picture book will get readers discussing and thinking about freedom and civil rights.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

2014 National Book Award Finalists

On my way to work today, I got the thrill of hearing the National Book Award finalists being announced on NPR.  I rather enjoy being able to shout with joy on my way to work, and some of the finalists for Young People’s Literature definitely had me cheering:

Brown Girl Dreaming Noggin

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Noggin by John Corey Whaley

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights 

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin

Revolution Threatened

Revolution by Deborah Wiles

Threatened by Eliot Schrefer

emma and the blue genie

Emma and the Blue Genie by Cornelia Funke, illustrations by Kerstin Meyer

Emma often spends her nights out by the sea with her dog, away from her pesky brothers.  One night she finds a bottle floating in the waves and opens it to discover Karim, a very small blue genie inside.   Karim has had most of his magic stolen away when Sarim, the huge yellow genie, stole his nose ring and trapped him in the bottle.  Now Karim has to head back to avenge himself and to save the kingdom from the evil rule of Sarim.  Emma decides to go with him and she sets off aboard his magic carpet for the kingdom of Barakash.  There, she is quickly caught up in the battle against Sarim, but once he sees her yellow hair, he immediately takes her prisoner.  There’s not much that a girl can do to escape from an evil genie who keeps you in a cage, but all is not lost when you have a blue genie and a brave dog on your side!

Funke has written a wonderfully original book for young readers.  The Middle Eastern setting comes alive as Emma walks through the busy castle on her way to see the young king.  Funke incorporates many references to the desert into people’s vernacular, even more firmly setting this book in a specific place.  Emma is a great female character, filled with plenty of gumption and not scared of much.  She doesn’t shrink away from anything in the book, enjoying flying on a magic carpet, seeing new places and having wild adventures.

The illustrations are in full color and add a lot of life to the book.  Used differently from one page to the next, they add a dynamic piece to the book design.  The differences between the two genies could not be more clearly shown, with the calm blue and the wild yellow.  Meyer also manages to show the opulence without things becoming too busy and overwhelming for the eye. 

Fun and original, this book will share aloud well with a class and will be an inviting pick for children reading chapter books.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

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

mitten string

The Mitten String by Jennifer Rosner, illustrated by Kristina Swarner

Released October 28, 2014.

Ruthie’s family was known for their wool and the mittens they created from it.  They sheared their own sheep, prepared their own wool, spun their own yarn.  At night, Ruthie and her mother knitted together, with Ruthie in particular making mittens.  On market days, they traveled to town to sell their fabric and knitting.  One day, they found a woman on the road with her baby where their wagon had broken down.  The woman wrote on a slate to communicate, because she was deaf.  She used sign language with her little son.  Ruthie’s family offered her a place to stay for the night and Ruthie noticed a deep blue piece of yarn around the woman’s wrist.  That night, she saw how the women used the yarn to tie herself gently to her baby so that she would know if he needed anything in the night.  Ruthie had a great idea and quickly went to work creating a mitten on a string with one sized for an adult and the other for a baby.  In return for her kindness, the woman gave Ruthie her string of yarn of the deepest blue and then also showed Ruthie what plant to use to create the blue dye. 

As Rosner says in her author’s note, this book is inspired by her great-great-aunt Bayla who was deaf and used the trick of tying a string to her baby’s wrist from her own.  She also offers a knitting glossary at the end along with some knitting-related sign language signs.  I appreciate that while this book is about a woman who is deaf, she is also a very capable person.  The family may offer her help, but it is more about her circumstances than about her deafness.  It is a pleasure to have a book about a disability address it in such a positive way.

Swarner’s art has the softness of yarn.  Done in the same rich, deep colors that Ruthie knits her mittens out of, the entire world is soft and warm.  There are small touches throughout that add details of homeliness and kindness.  From the different sizes of mittens around the home to the flowers all over the grass. 

This is a picture book about kindness and caring for one another with a brilliant blue thread of love woven throughout.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

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

Bedtime Fail

Google Alerts can be hit and miss, but this one struck me as one of the best children’s lit fails ever:

Google Fail

star stuff

Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos by Stephanie Roth Sisson

This is a picture book biography about Carl Sagan and how he got interested in the stars.  It all started when he went to the 1939 World’s Fair and was inspired.  He started researching stars and space and wondering about the universe around us.  He got his doctorate and worked with other scientists to create machines that would investigate planets and take pictures of them.  Then he went on television with his show Cosmos and told everyone about the universe and how we are all made from the same stuff as the stars.  This is an inspirational story of how a child who loved the stars turning into a man who taught a generation about them.

Sisson keeps this book at the exactly right level for young readers.  She does not dwell on Sagan’s time in college, but instead spends much more time on his childhood dreams and interests.  She focuses too on his work as a scientist and then speaks very broadly about his time on television.  I greatly appreciate that his work was not narrowed to just Cosmos, but instead it is celebrated as a part of what he accomplished in his life.  The book ends with an Author’s Note and a bibliography and source notes that readers looking for more detailed information will find useful.

In her illustrations, Sisson wisely incorporates elements of comic books with panels and speech bubbles.  These give the book a great modern feel and help propel the story forward.  Done in a friendly cartoon style, the illustrations make astronomy approachable and friendly for the reader.

Children will be inspired to see a young person’s dream become their vocation in life.  This picture book is a new way for Sagan to inspire people to learn about the stars.  Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.

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