Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Wallmark

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Wallmark

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Wallmark, illustrated by April Chu (InfoSoup)

Ada Lovelace was born the daughter of the famous poet, Lord Byron. But she was more like her mother and interested in numbers rather than words. As a young woman, Ada invented a flying machine that she did all of the mathematics for. She spent time experimenting with wind and sails to inform her calculations. Despite a health scare that left her blind and paralyzed for some time, Ada continued to learn math and love numbers. When she met Charles Babbage, the inventor of the first mechanical computer, she found a person she could talk to about her love of numbers. It was his machine that inspired her to write the first computer program ever so that others could understand this amazing computer he had built. This makes Ada the first computer programmer.

It is inspiring to see a girl from such an early time period who was clearly a mathematical genius. She had a mother who was also interested in math and supported her daughter’s education and love of numbers throughout her life. This book shows the power of mathematics to inspire new ideas and inventions. It also demonstrates that women in computing goes back to the very beginning.

Chu’s art is done with pencil on paper and then as the copyright information says “colored on an Analytical Engine” also known as a computer. The illustrations are rich and lovely. They have interesting perspectives like looking down on Ada in the bath with her muddy boots on the floor nearby. Ada is shown as an active person, a youthful presence among older people, and shines on the page as she must have in life.

A powerful and inspirational read for children interested in math and science, this picture book will show young readers a heroine that they may never have met before. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu

Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu

Rules for Stealing Stars by Corey Ann Haydu (InfoSoup)

Silly is the youngest of four sisters and the older sisters tend to leave her out of a lot, like the secret boyfriend one of the twins has and what they are doing for hours in their bedroom so quietly. Their family has moved to New Hampshire to a home that used to be used just in the summer, the house where their mother grew up. But the move is not helping their mother who is quickly declining into alcoholism and abusive behavior. It isn’t until their mother turns on Silly too that the sisters bring Silly into their secret: their closet can take them to a different world. The sisters are shocked when Silly joins them and the magic becomes much stronger. As the sisters turn more and more to the closet for relief from their lives, they have to face the darkness they discover there as well. It may just be the answer for them all.

Haydu has created a lush book based loosely on The Twelve Dancing Princesses. She embraces the darkness of family life, offering a family dancing on the edge of something terrible, avoiding the truth about what is happening to their mother and what happened in her past, a father unable to cope with reality, and children trying to hold them all together. It is against that dark backdrop that the closets glimmer and glitter, beckoning the sisters and the reader to a different place where there is wonder and magic. But escaping into that place is not reality and Haydu shows this with a daring climax that speaks volumes about facing truth and being a family.

A book filled with four sisters can be challenging. Haydu pulls it off with grace and style, offering each of the girls a distinct personality but keeping them from being stereotypical. Silly is the main character, a girl who has been left out of much that the sisters have done and feels that she has no special sister to pair with the way the twins do. Silly feels alone even in a bustling houseful of people, which speaks volumes about her family. Silly is also the one protected from much of the abuse, but she witnesses more than the others do.

This brilliant starry novel takes a dark reality and a dazzling magic and creates wonder all its own. Appropriate for ages 11-14.

Reviewed from library copy.

Miracle on 133rd Street by Sonia Manzano

Miracle on 133rd Street by Sonia Manzano

Miracle on 133rd Street by Sonia Manzano, illustrated  by Marjorie Priceman (InfoSoup)

On their first Christmas Eve after moving to the Bronx from Puerto Rico, things are just not going well. Their tree is tiny and now the holiday roast is too big to fit in their tiny oven! So Jose and his father head off to find an oven large enough for their big roast. As they leave their apartment building, they bump into neighbor after neighbor, each having a bad holiday too. The children are too noisy, an older couple won’t be seeing their family this year, and others are having money troubles. They head to the local pizzeria where the Ray lets them put the roast in his huge pizza oven. On the way back home with the meal, the smell of the roast tantalizes everyone they pass, making their day better. And best of all is the sharing of the roast and the sharing of the holiday with everyone.

Manzano played Maria on Sesame Street and has been creating marvelous books for children for the last few years. In this picture book, she captures the diversity of a Bronx neighborhood and the way that you can be neighbors but not know one another well. Then she turns it all around and shows how community can suddenly be created by acts of caring and generosity and how those choices can impact everyone around you.

Caldecott-honor winning, Priceman has brought the urban Bronx neighborhood to vivid life here. The buildings sway, bright colored against the dark night sky that is alive with stars and the milky way. The snow shines on the ground. All is filled with spicy colors that fill the holiday with a unique feeling of a diverse community.

A great pick for holiday reading, this picture book has the rhythm of different languages on the page, the joy of diverse holiday traditions and the beauty of a community coming together. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – The Trailer

An announcement trailer has been released for the next film in the Harry Potter world:

Review: I Am Henry Finch by Alexis Deacon

I Am Henry Finch by Alexis Deacon

I Am Henry Finch by Alexis Deacon, illustrated by Viviane Schwarz (InfoSoup)

The finches live all together in a flock making a huge racket and not thinking at all. They all say good morning, good afternoon, good evening and good night each day, starting over again each day. The only thing that changed their routine was when the Beast came and ate one or more of them. After that, the flock would shout about the Beast and fly higher in the tree. But then something different happened. Henry woke up and heard a thought in his head. He thought and thought, and realized that someone had to stop the Beast and that he could be a hero! But when he tried to best the Beast, it did not go as planned. Can thinking some more save Henry?

I am a fan of strange picture books and this is certainly one of them. It has a philosophical feel to it, changing from what is at first a look at the cacophony of the modern world and the lack of thinking happening in mobs to then the power of thought, the importance of ideas, and the way that thinking alone can change the world. This is a book that is not pat. It will instead inspire discussion. If you are looking for a picture book to inspire a metaphysical discussion with children, this is it. Clever and smart, it allows children themselves to start to think too.

Using thumbprints as the finches is a fascinating choice. Fingerprints are unique but these birds are anything but. The book then moves to darkness where Henry is inside the Beast. The pages black with white lines, all deep and dark and filled solely with silence and thought. It’s a powerful visual transition.

Not for everyone, this picture book will delight some and confuse others. I hope it delights you like it did me! Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: One Today by Richard Blanco

One Today by Richard Blanco

One Today by Richard Blanco, illustrated by Dav Pilkey (InfoSoup)

This picture book version of the inaugural poem for President Obama’s second term is a beautiful example of how poetry can reach young and old alike. Blanco’s poem stretches across the country, speaking to the diversity of our country, the universal things that bind us together, and the aspirations that we all hold dear. Faith, earth, sky, moon and more form a foundation for us all to relate to. This poem uses imagery that children will understand but also makes it bigger and larger and asks readers to see our country as a whole. Beautiful.

Blanco’s language is simple. He writes of “pencil-yellow school buses” and “the day’s gorgeous din of honking cabs.” He ties our every day experiences to larger efforts, to living with a dream, hearing symphonies in the city sounds, giving thanks, feeling praise. Just like with all the best poetry, it begins simple and then reaches up and beyond to the vision that inspires.

Pilkey’s illustrations are lush and lovely. Filled with deep colors, they show diverse people walking the same city streets, feeling the same things, worshiping in their own ways, and being one united country despite our differences. Each page has a young girl and boy witnessing together, seeing how united we can be if we try.

A poem that calls us to be better than we are now by being united and seeing the small things in life that are meaningful to us all. Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Review: Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Richard Simon

Oskar and the Eight Blesssings by Richard Simon

Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Richard Simon and Tanya Simon, illustrated by Mark Siegel (InfoSoup)

Oskar survived Kristallnacht in Nazi Europe and has been sent by his family to live with his aunt in New York City. When he arrives, he has to walk over 100 blocks down Broadway to reach her, hopefully before she lights the menorah at sunset. Along the way, Oskar is reminded again and again about looking for blessings in life. He is given bread by a woman feeding the birds, a comic book by the man who runs the newsstand, mittens by a boy in the park. But most of all in his long walk in the cold, he is given hope once again that he is somewhere safe.

The authors have created a picture book that speaks to the horrors of the Holocaust only in passing. Instead it is much more focused upon feeling embraced by a city even as a newly-arrived immigrant. It is about the small things that we do in kindness each day and the way that those small things build to something larger and more important for someone. This book celebrates New York City and the shelter and home that can be found there.

The illustrations are interesting for a book set in the past. They incorporate comic-like panels on the page that really work well. The illustrations have a sense of wonder about them. They capture small pieces of New York, allowing the snow and city to swirl around the reader just as they do around Oskar himself.

A lovely holiday book that is about more than either Christmas or Hanukkah but about home and hope. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.

Review: You Can’t See the Elephants by Susan Kreller

You Cant See the Elephants by Susan Kreller

You Can’t See the Elephants by Susan Kreller, translated by Elizabeth Gaffney (InfoSoup)

Mascha has been sent to spend the summer at her grandparent’s house. Their neighborhood is perfect in many ways with neat yards, gardens and neighborly gatherings. When Mascha meets Julia and Max at the playground, she is desperate for friends. There’s not a lot for a 13-year-old to do. Soon though Mascha realizes that something is wrong and then witnesses for herself Julia and Max being abused by their father. Mascha tells her grandparents and even other neighbors, but no one is willing to do anything. So Mascha decides to step in herself and stop the abuse.

This German novel has already won several international awards. The writing is haunting and beautiful. My quibble with the translation is that I wish it had maintained its German setting rather than being moved to the United States. It reads as a European book and I’m not sure the story works as well with an American setting. But that is a minor factor in such a powerhouse of a book.

First, the setting in an upper-class community focused on image rather than real warmth is a cunning choice. It reveals the thin veneer of neighborliness, the unwillingness to look deeper at what could be happening, and the ability to turn away from the ugly truth to see only the good. Mascha herself is a brilliant heroine. Facing the death of her mother and sent to stay long term with her grandparents, she is not connected to this community at all. She sees the truth, speaks the truth and then is forced to find her own solution. And what a solution it is. It is clever but flawed, a plan only a child could produce. It is entirely believable and therefore a truly riveting read.

A great book, this novel about abuse, friendship and the importance of protecting the vulnerable in our world is one of the best of the year. It is startling, provocative and timely. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from copy received from G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.

This Week’s Tweets, Pins and Tumbls

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

Reading <3:

CHILDREN’S BOOKS

9 Hanukkah Picture Books For Children That Adults Will Love, Too http://buff.ly/1OOlhaG #kidlit #hanukkah

21 Children’s Books Every Black Kid Should Read http://buff.ly/1N9V8QY #diversity #kidlit

Bringing books to children in Thailand’s remote mountain districts http://buff.ly/1ID1j1b #kidlit

C.S. Lewis’ Greatest Fiction: Convincing American Kids That They Would Like Turkish Delight http://buff.ly/1XMwM82 #kidlit

Meet the Artist Behind the Animorphs Covers That Destroyed Your Mind as a Kid | VICE | United States http://buff.ly/1lMJtOJ #kidlit

A Piggle-Wiggle for a New Generation http://buff.ly/1NY8tzo #kidlit

Publishers Crack Coding for Kids http://buff.ly/1NIS93w #kidlit

A Roundup of 2015’s Best Book Lists for Kids and Teens http://buff.ly/1QyrQ0L #kidlit #yalit

Top 10 unlikely friendships in children’s books http://buff.ly/21RFSQp #kidlit

What are the best children’s books to read at Christmas? http://buff.ly/1TzheOH #xmas #kidlit

Why I want more disabled characters in books http://buff.ly/1ID1sls #kidlit #diversity

Wisconsin School Board Member Tries to Ban Muppets Book http://buff.ly/1TDjX9U

Read:

LIBRARIES

Artist in Residence Program at Appleton Public Library http://buff.ly/1NXOWPG #libraries

How to Make 3D Printed Stuff Without Owning a 3D Printer http://buff.ly/1jQIBaF #libraries

N.Y. Public Library to Host a Reading Recommendation Booth #daily #feedly http://buff.ly/1NFDgLc #libraries

WATCH: 600 People Pack Wisconsin Library for Reading of ‘I Am Jazz’ http://buff.ly/21CAaBP #lgbt #libraries