American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL): Dear Teachers: An Open Letter about Images of Indians http://buff.ly/20ZsbhX
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Josh Cowles: What needs to be said about ILEAD USA – Wisconsin
A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond
The Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is transformed into a tale of modern English teens in this masterful novel. Claire and Ella are the closest of friends, in fact Claire is in love with Ella. The two spend all of their time together and with their larger group of friends. When Ella is forbidden to go on the trip with all of the friends to the beaches of Northumberland, Claire goes without her. Throughout though, Claire is longing for Ella. Then she meets Orpheus, a strange and handsome musician whose music is so powerful that all of nature seems to stop when he plays. She calls Ella and holds the phone out so that Ella can hear the music too. That one impulsive moment sets in motion a story of profound love, deep loss, death and beyond.
Almond’s own writing is like the music of Orpheus. It creates an intoxicating blend of timeless Greek myth and wild modern teens. The girls become legends, their longing the desire of ages, their love the love to last all time. Orpheus is directly from myth, a wanderer who is captured in a love that seems to have been in existence for all time. There is such beauty here, not only in the myth itself but in the characters too. This book speaks to the power in each of us to live a story, a legend, a myth and to love in that way too.
Almond’s language is exquisite. His writing flows around the reader, inviting them into the magic that is happening on the page. He focuses on small things, showing how the tiny things in life are the most profound from falling rain to trees in the wind to sand drifting by. It is Orpheus’ music that brings these things to life for his listeners. And the reader falls in love with him alongside Ella, never having heard the music itself but having felt its impact to their bones.
Beautiful, mystic, and mythical, this book is a love song for young people, capturing the tumultuous feeling of tumbling into love and the tenuous nature of life and death. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from ARC received from Delacorte Books for Young Readers.
The little dog knows when people are heading to bed. The light clicks off, quiet night noises start, and the moon comes up. But even though he has a wonderful warm bed, the little dog is not sleepy. He remembers his day filled with playing outside in the sun, running on the grass, and eating. He’s still not sleepy though, so he explores the house with the sleeping people. He climbs into his round bed, still not sleepy. Well, perhaps a little. And before he realizes it, he has slept all night and it is day again with plenty of time to play and eat once more.
This book is magnificent. It is simple yes but also offers a lot of depth. The writing is very special, using symbolism in a way that is appropriate for very small children. Ray beautifully ties together the quiet round of the moon with the warm round of the puppy’s bed with the hot round of the sun during the day. Yet this is not a concept book, it is a book about the magic of night and the lure of bedtime even if you are not sleepy. It is a book that explores words and emotions, that is dreamy and quiet and lovely.
The illustrations by Malone are done in acrylic. They are big and bold, the objects clearly outlined in black and just asking to be pointed to by small fingers and talked about. The little dog is enchanting, his head tipped to the side thinking or listening. He is childlike in his unwillingness to sleep and in his daydream of the day. The book is warm, quiet and cozy.
A delight of a dog story, this bedtime book has a quiet charm that is very special. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick, illustrated by Sophie Blackall (InfoSoup)
Told by the great-granddaughter of Captain Harry Colebourn, this is the true story of the real bear who inspired Winnie-the Pooh. The book takes the format of a mother telling a bedtime story to her young son. It is the story of his great-great-grandfather, after whom he was named. Harry was a veterinarian sent from his home in Winnipeg to care for the soldier’s horses in World War I. On the train in Canada, he saw a little bear cub at a station and purchased the bear, even though he was headed into war. Winnie soon charmed all of the soldiers and got her own post to climb in the tent city. Winnie stayed with Harry when they were posted in England, but he had to make a difficult decision and put her in The London Zoo when he was headed to the war zone. It was at The London Zoo that a little boy named Christopher Robin Milne met Winnie and inspired his father to write the beloved stories of Winnie-the-Pooh.
Lindsay Mattick has shared the story of her great-grandfather in different formats through the years, including a radio documentary and an exhibition. In this very personal story, she shows real pride in the great heart that her grandfather showed by seeing something special in a small bear cub. It is clear that it is his dedication and care for Winnie that helped her become the loving and approachable bear that could inspire a series of stories. Mattick’s writing contains just the right amount of detail to keep children fascinated.
Blackall is an incredible illustrator and here she shows a beautiful touch for recreating historical scenes. From the expanse of Canada to the big city of London, she offers just enough visual detail to anchor the scenes in those distinct places. She also shows again and again the bond between Harry and Winnie, from sleeping together to sharing food. The historical photos at the end of the book add to the story, letting readers see the real Winnie.
A wonderful read, this book is an inspiring look at what small choices in our lives can lead to if we only follow our hearts. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Lee is the son of the President of the United States, but he isn’t a teen who is particular positive or popular. A year ago, he tried to take his own life and now is left with a fear of heights. So when he sees a new boy at school balancing on his hands only inches away from the edge of his elite school’s waterfall, Lee is shaken. Later, the boy approaches him and the two become friends. It helps that Lee is immediately attracted to Nico with his Chilean accent and loud laugh. It’s an attraction that his ultra-conservative father will not approve of and one that his father’s national policies has made illegal. In order to get to know one another better, the two boys manage to lose Lee’s security detail a couple of times. But things at school are starting to get weird with one of Lee’s robotic creatures attacking him and a threat from a sentient computer program promising continued attacks. Lee finds himself at the center of the battle for robot rights as the robots begin to turn on him.
Floreen has set his novel in the near future. It’s a future filled with clever devices that keep people connected to the internet at all times, robots that are nearly flesh and blood, and one where terrorist attacks are created by sentient computers. He keeps a tight rein on the setting, an elite prep school where security is tight and the security around Lee is even tighter. This creates a wonderful claustrophobia as well as a paranoia about being watched and spied upon. It’s a great setting for this nail-biting adventure.
Lee is a character I adored immediately. I love his morose sadness and his unwillingness to display emotions unless he is feeling them. He is deeply grieving for the loss of his mother and his suicide attempt is an adept mix of tragedy and humor. He is honest through and through, a complete disappointment to the men in his family, and they don’t even know that he’s gay. Floreen incorporates that aspect of his character throughout the book. His romance with Nico is wonderfully hot and deeply romantic.
A great mix of LGBT, robots and science fiction, this book offers a bleak look at America’s near future with the spiciness of one hot romance. I’m hoping there’s a sequel on its way! Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from ARC received from Simon and Schuster.
Goodnight, Grizzle Grump! by Aaron Blecha
Grizzle Grump is a huge bear who is ready to hibernate for the winter, but he has to find the right quiet place to do that. He’s so big that even his yawns can blow the other animals around. He tries to sleep in the trees first, going through an elaborate ritual of scratches, wiggles and flopping. Then he is asleep and snoring until the noises of the woodpeckers wake him up. He heads off to find another spot. But when he sleeps near the stream, the beavers are too loud. The gloomy swamp seems like a good choice until the frogs start to croak. He finally finds a snowy cave, far from everyone else. Then it is his turn to make huge snoring noises that drive everyone else away.
Blecha has created a great book to share aloud with a group. The humor is flawlessly presented in a way that makes it effortless to share. The ritual that Grizzle Grump goes through each time will have children giggling and is also something that you can get the audience to participate in. Inventive story time librarians will have children help make the noises of the woods and swamp with hands and feet.
The illustrations add to the humor from the bucktoothed squirrel who watches it all to the frenzied reaction of the bear every time he is woken once again. The wild energy of the story line is reflected in the illustrations with the noises themselves part of the art. Even the proportions of the huge bear and his little blanket and pillow add to the humor.
A glorious read aloud for autumn months or any bedtime, this picture book is a silly and cheery delight. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.
Badger girl was weeding the garden when she noticed something odd. It was a huge turnip! She tried to pull it out, but it would not budge. Soon their whole family of badgers were trying to pull the turnip out with no success. Hedgie tried to use his prickles to get it out, Mr. Ram tried using his horns, and Vanya the horse hitched up and pulled too. Nothing worked. Then Rooster strutted up and insisted that he try all by himself. Meanwhile, down in the cave below a family of bears had also discovered the turnip and pushed hard to get it out of their bedroom. The turnip sailed into the air with a triumphant Rooster flying along too. Then it was turnip pancakes for everyone!
Brett excels at retelling folktales, enlivening them with her animal characters. This is a traditional cumulative tale that sticks very close to the original. The family of bears living under the turnip is a great addition that allows strutting Rooster to claim victory over the stubborn turnip. The pacing of the tale works well, each new attempt has a longer and longer line of animals trying to help and also dreaming of what delicious things could be made out of the turnip.
As always, Brett’s illustrations are filled with fine details. She again uses her framing on each double-page spread, showing the next animal to arrive before they come in. Readers will notice the bear family on these panels too, a subtle introduction prior to them taking center stage. The illustrations show that this is Russia where the badgers and bears live. They wear traditional Russian clothing and the frames on the illustrations show a similar influence.
Another winner from Brett, this picture book will make a crowd pleaser of a read aloud, but with Brett’s detailed illustrations it’s also a winner of a lap read. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.