Month: April 2014

Review: Separate Is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh

separate is never equal

Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh

Explore an early battle for desegregation of the California public schools in this picture book.  In a court battle that took place seven years before Brown v. Board of Education, Sylvia Mendez and her family fought the system.  Having been placed in a Mexican school rather than a “whites only” one due to her Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage, Sylvia and her family realized that she was being given a second-class education because the facilities and teachers were much better in the white school.  After appealing the school placement, the full extent of the racism of the system was revealed as the school proceeded to inform Sylvia who spoke perfect English that the other school would help her learn English better.  Sylvia’s parents took the battle to court and also organized the Hispanic community to find other students who were being clearly discriminated against.  This is a book where people took on a fight for what was right and managed to get things changed. 

Tonatiuh emphasizes the small and poor vs. large government and wealth throughout this book.  He makes sure that young readers understand the extent of the racism against Hispanics and the reality of the policies that they were living under.  The issue is complex, but he keeps it clear and concise, offering a solid view of the courage that it took for the Mendez family to fight the system and also making it clear why they were able to fight back when others could not.

Tonatiuh’s stylized illustrations pay homage as always to folk art.  His characters have glossy hair in different colors that are cut-outs of photographs.  The same is true of the fabric of clothes and other objects.  This is paired with a flat paint and clear black outlines making a combination that is modern and ageless. 

An important addition to the civil rights history of the United States, this nonfiction picture book tells a story of courage and determination.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Abrams.

Review: At the Same Moment, Around the World by Clotilde Perrin

at the same moment

At the Same Moment, Around the World by Clotilde Perrin

Travel around the world all in a single moment and explore the time zones in this picture book.  It all begins at 6:00 in the morning in Senegal where they are counting the fish caught the night before.  Then the book moves one time zone after another, so at the same exact time it is 8 am in Bulgaria where a boy chases a school bus.  It is also noon in the Himalayas where they are eating lunch.  On the pages turn, hour by hour, yet each in the same exact point of time.  This book is a tour of not only our world but of the time zones and how we structure time on earth.

Perrin has very cleverly created a book that truly displays how time zones work around the world.  She has also worked to make this a very inclusive book that celebrates our diversity as well as the time structure that holds us all together.  Each page is another country, another way of life, another glimpse into a lifestyle.

Perrin’s art is fine-lined and detailed.  She plays with light and dark as the day passes as we move around the world.  There are details on each of the images that also speak directly to that country.  I would have appreciated more information at the end of the book about these touches.  At the end of the book is a fold-out map that is very useful and will be critical in getting children to truly understand time zones.  It’s a very welcome addition.

A clever way to approach time zones, this book comes full circle by the end, returning to the same moment in Senegal.  Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

Review: Firefly July selected by Paul B. Janeczko

firefly july

Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems selected by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

There are just over thirty poems in this collection and as promised in the title, all of them are very short.  These short poems though each have power and perfection in just a few words, offering insight into the way that language can be edited and played with to make it speak much more than the few words on the page.  Readers will find poems that are well-known mixed with others that are delightful new surprises.  Through it all, there is a feeling of joy that comes from the page and from the words as well as a pleasure of traveling the seasons through poetry.

Thanks to the brevity of all of these poems, this is a very child-friendly book to introduce children to poetry.  Their condensed format also gives them a lot of power and bang per word, which makes them easy to discuss with children.  Readers will also want to try their hands at creating short poems and are sure to quickly realize that while they read easily, they are very difficult to create.  That makes this book all the more impressive with its high level of quality of poem and a perfect level of accessibility for youth.

Sweet’s illustrations frame the poems into one cohesive unit.  They celebrate the small things, like these poems and their themes, looking at leaves, butterflies, fog and lots of other bits of nature.  Her work is playful and yet not too light, bringing depth into each image.

A beautiful collection of short poems, this belongs in every library and would make a perfect way to start every day with a poem.  Appropriate for ages 4-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Goodnight Songs by Margaret Wise Brown

goodnight songs

Goodnight Songs by Margaret Wise Brown

A new collection of previously unpublished poems from the master Margaret Wise Brown are illustrated here by twelve different illustrators.  According to the introduction by Amy Gary, the editor of the Margaret Wise Brown Estate, these poems were part of a trunk of unpublished manuscripts that Margaret’s sister had in her barn.  They reflect the interest that Margaret developed towards the end of her life in creating music for children.  The book is accompanied by a music CD that brings the poems into song.  This book is just as enjoyable as a song book or a poetry book, make sure to try it out both ways!

Brown’s poems are simple and lovely.  Some of them read like nursery rhymes with plenty of repetition of phrase and style.  Others are a bit looser but still musical even as words.  She created small worlds in each song, offering lovely gems of moments in each one.  I have a handful of top favorites from the book:  “The Mouse’s Prayer” which is a beautiful wintry poem, “Wooden Town” that evokes a childhood joy of creating a little world of blocks, and “The Secret Song” which is a question and answer poem that is quiet and lonely.

The twelve illustrators make up some of the top illustrators in today’s picture books.  There is a great pleasure in turning the page and seeing an entirely different feel with the next poem.  Some are bright and sunny, others deep colored like the night, and still others filled with snow.  The styles reflect each of the illustrators and as a whole the book works extremely well, giving each poem a distinct note of its own on the page.

A top pick for children’s poetry, these songs are a dazzling collection from a very talented writer.  Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Fly Away by Patricia MacLachlan

fly away

Fly Away by Patricia MacLachlan

Every year Lucy and her family head to North Dakota to help Aunt Frankie on her farm.  This year the farm is being threatened by a flood, and they are heading to the farm even though Frankie told them it was dangerous.  On the way, Lucy’s family stops and camps, listens to opera, and sings.  But Lucy can’t sing at all and she knows it.  Her little brother is a different story, no one else believes Lucy but Teddy can sing perfectly and even talks a bit, though he refuses to do so except with Lucy.  Though she can’t sing, Lucy loves to write and she is trying to create a poem to prove to her father that a poem can be just as nice as a cow.  Her father had dreamed of being a poet himself, but became a farmer instead.  As the family gets to North Dakota, they face a dangerous river and Lucy has to find her own strength to save her little brother.

Told in a strong and clear voice, this novel invites readers into a family that is pure joy to spend time with.  All of the family members have their own specific gifts and quirks, they communicate effortlessly with one another, and the entire book feels like you have entered someone’s home and are spending time with them.  MacLachlan creates dialogue that feels real, but even more so she has created characters that are alive and honest on the page.

Thanks to the larger font and short chapters, this book will be welcoming for newer readers who may be trying their first chapter book without pictures.  The warmth of the characters, the riveting danger of the river, and the thrilling ending will keep young readers fascinated until the end.  This is also a great pick for sharing aloud with an elementary class.

MacLachlan has created a simple book that contains bountiful riches in setting, character and voice.  It is a stellar read.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Margaret K. McElderry Books.

Review: Lindbergh by Torben Kuhlmann

lindbergh

Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse by Torben Kuhlman

Translated from the original German, this picture book takes a mouse-sized look at Charles Lindbergh’s flight.  A little mouse loved to spend time reading human books but when he emerged from reading he discovered that all of the other mice had left Europe for America.  He was left alone.  He tried to board a steamer ship to cross the Atlantic, but there were cats waiting and guarding the door.  Then the little mouse had a great idea, he would fly across the Atlantic.  His experiments proved dangerous as the cats and owls emerged to hunt him down.  The little mouse did not give up he kept redesigning the wings, the engine, the frame.  But would it be enough to get him across the Atlantic to freedom?

The story of this book is entirely captivating, even for those not interested in airplanes or flight.  It is both a celebration of the small overcoming the powerful and also of ingenuity overcoming adversity.  It also shows how much of a force resilience in when solving a problem.  Even better, the book itself is a history lesson about human (and mouse) flight and how it progressed from wings to full aircraft.

Kuhlman’s art is radiant.  He creates pages with no words that are panoramas of cities, of train stations, of clock towers.  Other pages are filled with mice, owls and cats from various perspectives that add drama.  Then on other pages, you can see his skill with drafting and the diagrams of various inventions.  The art here takes the book to another level, creating a world where you believe that a mouse was the first to fly across the Atlantic. 

Beautiful and memorable, this picture book celebrates flight, ingenuity and perseverance.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern

meaning of maggie

The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern

Everything changed in Maggie’s life when she turned eleven.  She was one year closer to college and one year closer to finding out the things that her father said he’d explain in ten years.  Though she knew she’d never be closer to understanding her two gorgeous, leggy older sisters who were mostly interested in boys and ignoring Maggie.  But something else happened that year too.  Maggie’s father had arms and legs that were falling asleep, and now his arms and legs were starting to stay asleep for longer and longer periods of time.  Then Maggie’s mother got a job and her father stayed home.  Now Maggie’s mother was always tired and not around and her father was always around but not able to help with much.  As Maggie steadily figures out what is really happening to her father, this book reveals the impact a serious medical condition can have on even the strongest of families. 

Sovern has written a smart and intriguing heroine into the heart of her book.  Maggie is very bright, gets nearly perfect grades, asks for Coca-Cola stock for her birthday present, and loves to study ahead in her classes.  But she is also wonderfully flawed with her addiction to sugar and her ability to look past what is right in front of her until she is forced to see it.  Sovern excels at family dynamics.  Refreshingly, Maggie relates to each of her parents very differently and the two older sisters in different ways as well.  There is room in this brief book for all of the family members to be individuals.

Sovern also makes sure that though the book deals with serious issues to inject just enough humor into the story.  Maggie doesn’t manage to get everything she wants in the classroom or in life.  She has to learn that there is much outside the scope of her own determination to solve it.  Throughout the book there is clear and organic growth in both Maggie and in her entire family as they all come to terms with her father’s illness.

A book about having a parent with multiple sclerosis, this is also a book about one amazing young woman and her strong family that is filled with love.  Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Chronicle Books.