29 June 2009

Rave Review: One Giant Leap by Robert Burleigh; paintings by Mike Wimmer

This summer marks the 40th anniversary of the first lunar landing. I wish it was an event I could look back on--I missed out by a year--but my husband can clearly remember it; a little boy in England watching from the cafeteria at school on televisions set up specially for the occasion. The juxtaposition of an everyday activity as mundane as eating lunch, with the truly otherworldly occurrence of men walking on the moon, is part of the incongruity of this event in history: the astronauts nationalistically planted an American flag, but the famous "giant leap" was recognized as significant for all mankind; they were able to reach the moon, but there was no guarantee that they could leave it; the people at NASA were able to send Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins into the majesty of space, but their return was an undignified drop into the ocean, completely at the mercy of gravity. Today, in an age where shuttles can fly into space like airplanes, and space tourists actually exist, the achievement of the Apollo 11 mission seems almost quaint.

In the hands of Robert Burleigh and Mike Wimmer, however, there is nothing quaint about the first lunar landing. The breadth and ambition of what those pioneer astronauts set out to achieve is clearly and poetically described. The book is devoid of all scientific jargon and instead focuses on the wonder of the mission. Author and illustrator take advantage of seminal moments from the event, utilizing Armstrong's famous commentary, for example, and recreating his iconic photograph of the American flag reflected in Aldrin's visor. But they also infuse a thoughtful perspective of their own. Burleigh spares a moment for third crewman Michael Collins, orbiting the moon by himself for over twenty hours, waiting and wondering if the Eagle will be able to return to him. He describes the smell of the moondust as Armstrong and Aldrin finally remove their spacesuits, a subtle reminder that the fear of lunar pathogens was a legitimate concern and that the astronauts would immediately be quarantined upon their return to Earth. And Wimmer's paintings have the realism of a photograph and the spontaneity of, well, two boys playing on the moon. This is non-fiction that reads like an adventure story, perfectly suited for the picture book format.

Perhaps where this book succeeds most is in portraying space exploration as an amazing opportunity, and not just a news update scrolling along the bottom of a tv screen. In the quiet majesty of Burleigh's exact prose and Wimmer's transcendent paintings, is the realization that the Apollo 11 mission was important not just for what it achieved scientifically, but for what it represented in terms of reaching for goals and achieveing them. An Author's Note at the the end spells out as much, but it is unneccessary to enjoy this magnificant book.

New life for Finn Family Moomintroll?

According to a report in Publisher's Weekly, 2010 is the 65th anniversary of Tove Jansson's classic series about a family of sprites that look like adorable anime hippos, and there is a big marketing drive planned for the occassion. While Finn Family Moomintroll does not have the strong following in the States that it does in Europe and, particularly, Japan there is hope that the new campaign, which will introduce a line of adapted Moomin books for the pre-k set, will build a new generation of fans from the ground up.

I am usually skeptical about books of one reading level adapted for another. In fact, let's be honest--I generally hate them! I feel strongly that adapted books simply rob the reader of the full, satisfying experience of reading the book as it was written, when they are able to understand it. The seven year old who reads the "illustrated, adapted" version of Moby Dick will never take the time to sit down and read the proper version, because they will feel like they already know the book. And of course they don't. However......I love the Moomins. I want so much for the Moomins to find a following here (and I have tried like the dickens to get kids to read the books!) I first read them about a decade ago and was absolutely charmed. Since the Moomins have proven themselves adaptable-Tove Jansson herself wrote about their adventures both as a comic stip and then as a series of chapter books. So perhaps, in the right hands, with the original artwork intact, they can be made relevent to young listeners who will then want to revisit them when they can read the books themselves.

If you want to be one step ahead of this oncoming Finnish invasion, I suggest you go to your local library and check out the Moomintrolls for yourself. Then you'll be ready for any potential trips to Moomin World , the official Moomin theme park (should Disney World prove too cliche for a family vacation!)

28 June 2009

Blueberries for Sal back in print!

This is kind of old news, since Publisher's Weekly wrote about it back in April, but I just found out today. Huzzah! Blueberries for Sal was selected by booksellers in 2008 as the title they were must sorry to see go out of print. Thank goodness it was a short lived exile for Sal and the bear and those delicious Maine blueberries. I'm ordering new copies first thing tomorrow, cause we haven't got any at work after I had to weed our last dog-eared copy a few months back. Not my happiest moment as a librarian....So happy I can rectify that!

25 June 2009

You Read to Me, I'll Read to You

It's an even ten this week!

NMD read to me:
Humpty Dumpty Climbs Again by Dave Horowitz
No Bows! by Shirley Smith Duke, illus. by Jenny Matthson
Worst Best Friend by Alexis O'Neill, illus. by Laura Huliska-Beith

I read to NMD:
A Book by Mordeicai Gerstein
Busy Bea by Nancy Poyder
Library Mouse: a Friend's Tale by Daniel Kirk
Maybelle, Bunny of the North by Keith Patterson
Spoon by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illus. by Scott Magoon
Thank You Bear by Greg Foley

We Read Together:
Crocodile Blues by Coleman Polhemus

This week's list has already received a fair amount of coverage, with Humpty Dumpty Climbs Again as my book of the week, and a number of other titles highlighted as books in which I see elements of my daughter. So what of what's left? This week's "read together titles" Crocodile Blues, is an odd, wordless picture book which tells the story of a man and his parrot (and he's not even a pirate!) who get an egg out of a vending machine, take it home, and are then faced with the dilemma of "what to do" once the egg hatches and reveals a crocodile. Illustrations are rendered completely in contrasting inky black and electric blue. So while the story leaves both the characters and the readers scratching their heads, it is a striking book too look at .

A Book is a piece of meta fiction which doesn't work as well, for me, as Who is Melvin Bubble by Nick Bruel or the high-energy Ivan the Terrier by Peter Catalanatto. This latest offering by Mordecei Gerstein tells of a character in search of a story (wait--I'm getting flashes of Pierendello!) The little girl leads readers through numerous storybook scenarios, many of which will be familiar to readers, before finally finding her true story. Perhaps if the interplay between the character and the reader had been more engaging I would have enjoyed this book as much as I expected to. Still, kudos to Gerstein for playing with the picture book format-I always appreciate that.

Probably the most traditional book we read was Library Mouse: a Friend's Tale, which continues the adventures of Sam, the shy mouse who lives in a library and has literary aspirations. When a boy from the Writer's and Illustrator's Club, which Sam himself inspired, discovers Sam's true identity, the question of "Is Sam's identity safe" is posed. Well, what do you think? Beautiful illustrations and tributes to numerous children's literary classics, old and new, surface in this one, which makes for a fun "I Spy" experience on top of the more traditional buddy tale.

Make sure to check out what others are reading at the Well-Read Child Meme which inspired this post in the first place!

22 June 2009

Rave Review: Humpty Dumpty Climbs Again by Dave Horowitz

Now this is what you call a fractured fairy tale, quite literally. Humpty Dumpty Climbs Again tells the continuing story of Humpty Dumpty, who wasn't just an egg hanging around the King's kingdom, but a daring and sometimes careless mountain climber who had one fall too many and consequently suffered a severe lack of confidence. As written and illustrated by the always humorous Dave Horowitz (The Ugly Pumpkin is my hands down fave Thanksgiving book, by the way) this book has two elements guaranteed to appeal to readers: recognizable references to other nursery rhymes (for that "Ah ha!" moment,) and an egg in his underpants. What's not to love?! In terms of humor and appeal, this version works better than 2007's Dimity Dumpty, by Bob Graham, which sidelined the Humpty story in favor of his quieter, sensitive sister, Dimity and seemed to be more of a morality tale than nursery rhyme. Horowitz, however, by working with the visual and theoretical joke of an egg who likes to climb, presents to his readers a tale of foolhardy yet admirable behavior. This Humpty is, indeed, a good egg.

The Gruffalo Coming to TV

Awww, another reason to wish I was going to be in England this Christmas (aside from the introduction of the 11th Doctor!) The BBC reports that an animated version of The Gruffalo, a story time favorite in my library and with my daughter, will hit TV screens in the UK in December. Relying on the formula of a wily critter who outwits larger predators, The Gruffalo is hugely successful in the UK and has spawned a fairly healthy cottage industry of books, cuddly toys, and related paraphernalia. It also marks one of the highly successful collaborations between author Julia Donaldson and illustrator Axel Scheffler.

19 June 2009

Rave Review: Horrid Henry by Francisca Simon, illus. by Tony Ross

And you thought Junie B. Jones was naughty.....

"Henry was horrid. Everyone said so, even his mother."

So begins this new series by Francesca Simon. When I say "new" I mean new to the US; Henry has been a huge hit in the UK for many years. And after being subjected to the Rainbow Magic books--also from Britain--the playing field has been leveled with this series which will appeal to both boys and girls. Case in point: they have been flying off the shelf at work, and when my review copies arrived I pretty much had to wrestle my daughter for access to them.

The premise of the books is fairly straightforward; each volume contains four stories about Horrid Henry, his younger brother Perfect Peter, and their hand-wringing parents. The stories are funny, accessible and expertly illustrated by Tony Ross. Just in case Henry's actions weren't enough to convince a reader that he is indeed horrid, Ross has illustrated the point quite clearly, dressing Horrid Henry as a shaggy haired yobbo, while Perfect Peter seems to live in his school uniform. Just as it is nearly impossible to think of a Roald Dahl book without imagining a Quentin Blake illustration, so is Horrid Henry synonymous with the prolific Ross.

Author Francesca Simon has done an expert job of balancing within each book the moments when Henry truly is Horrid, with the times when he is simply a kid thwarted by adult expectations. This balancing act keeps Henry from becoming intolerable. A great example of this is in Horrid Henry and the Mega-Mean Time Machine. In the eponymous story Henry is playing imaginatively with a box and, for once, not causing any trouble. Things go awry when Peter, who has his own plans for the box, is able to win his mother's support by simply being the perfect child. Horrid Henry's revenge on his brother is creative, funny, and, in essence, harmless. But he wouldn't be Horrid Henry if his mom actually saw him as anything but horrid. And so the blame shifts to the mother, and Henry is free to be legitimately horrid in the follow-up story with the audience firmly on his side.

Perhaps the best thing about the Horrid Henry series is that it provides a subversive alternative to the goody-goody Magic Treehouse books, which have had a popularity stranglehold on this reading level for far too long. More Horrid Henry books are scheduled for release, just in time for summer reading.

18 June 2009

Picture Book Profile

I've had a lot of fun today reading the different responses to the Well-Read Child's What Are You Reading Meme. This is the third week now that I have been contributing, and I'm enjoying not just the recommendations by all the different bloggers, but the conversations created by the comments left on this blog, and the comments I am leaving for others. One of these comments, which I left for the author of Teaching Young Children, set me thinking about picture books in which I have found my own daughter. I'm sure all readers recognize characteristics of people they know in the books they read. Well here's a list of four titles that, when I put them down upon first reading them, made me think, "I know this little girl/pig/bear!"

No Bows! by Shirley Smith Duke, illus. by Jenny Mattheson

"No bows......BRAIDS
No pink.......PURPLE
No puppy....LIZARD"

Now as it happens, my daughter loves bows and hates braids. However, this straightforward point/counterpoint book about a girl with her own flair who knows exactly what she likes is my 8 year old in 50 words or less. There is even a certain physical resemblance between the little girl in the book and the little girl in this house. And this tub shot ....well....says it all really.

Busy Bea by Nancy Poydar
This was a recent discovery for me, made while weeding the P section at work. I am pretty familiar with Nancy Poydar's work, having used many of her picture books in story time, but this debut offering clearly slipped past me. It tells the story of Bea, a little girl who doesn't mean to lose all her stuff......sound familiar to anyone? It's just that Bea is so busy enjoying life that she forgets to remember to bring home her lunchbox and her raincoat and her sweater. This book reminded me of an incident at school where I literally followed a trail of gloves, hats and scarves from my daughter's class room to the entrance where the headmaster was greeting the kids as they arrived. That was slightly embarrassing. But the book was a gentle reminder to me that my daughter's just a kid with a lot of enthusiasm and interests who simply cannot be tied down by such mundane, earthly concerns as remembering to pick up an abandoned jacket. Her mind is busy with much more fantastic possibilities. which brings me to.....

Olivia by Ian Falconer
The similarity between Olivia and my daughter is so obvious that even she picked up on it; she has always demanded that, when reading any of the Olivia books, her own name is inserted in place of the porcine protagonist's. To be honest, Olivia is much more focused and driven than my daughter, but they both share rich inner fantasy worlds inspired by outside influences. In Olivia's case she is inspired by art (think of the scene when the pig family is at the art museum, and when Olivia looks at the Degas painting and she is imagining herself as the ballerina.) For my daughter it is music that triggers a withdrawal into whatever story she is imagining for herself. Like the narrator of Olivia, I often wonder what she is imagining, but I'm always sure that it is wonderful.

Thank You Bear by Greg Foley
Bear is sensitive. Bear is a worrier. Bear has found the most wonderful box for his friend Mouse, but he is so dismayed by the reaction and responses of all to whom he shows it that he is beginning to doubt the value of his gift. Fortunately, Bear is also steadfast, and it's a happy ending for Bear and Mouse who know a good thing when they see it. This book brings back fond memories of perfect sticks and just right pebbles and spectacular seashells, all rescued and treasured by a little girl who saw beauty and value in them all. (She also cluttered the house no end, but the sentiment was genuine.)

So there you have it--my little girl as defined by picture books: a free-spirited, forgetful, swashbuckling, worrying bear. More or less :)

You Read to Me, I'll Read to You Meme

NMD Read to Me
Elephants Cannot Dance! by Mo Willems

I Read to NMD
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett, illus. by Ron Barrett
Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin; illus. by Harry Bliss
Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship and Survival by Kirby Larson and Mary Nethery, illus. by Jean Cassels
Wombat Walkabout by Carol Diggory Shields, illus. by Sophie Blackall

We Read Together
There was a Man who Loved a Rat and other vile little poems by Gerda Rovetch, illus. by Lissa Rovetch (you can see what I've said about this book prevously here.)

We revisited some classic titles this week, just because :) Diary of a Worm is a particular favorite because illustrator Harry Bliss visited my daughter's school this year, and her copy is autographed! The diary format of the book prompted the discussion, "how does a worm write?" The answer was easily answered by a glance at the front cover, but when you apply the question to the premise of worms having noteworthy lives, as opposed to their physical limitations when trying to hold a pencil, it becomes a more interesting debate. "Two Bobbies" also generated much discussion, since the events of Hurricane Katrina are contemporary to my daughter's life, but she doesn't remember having lived through it (as a newsworthy event, not as an actual experience, since we do not reside in New Orleans.) Plus, as a fan of non-fiction, she has a soft spot for anything based on a true story.

My personal favorite this week was Wombat Walkabout, which takes the format of a counting book and uses it to introduce readers to the wildlife and fauna of Australia. The counting is almost incidental, for the teaching moments come not during the counting, which never advances beyond six, but as the reader is introduced to new and wonderful creatures, charmingly illustrated by Sophia Blackwell (known to us previously via the Ivy and Bean series of books by Annie Barrows.) "Wombat" also has elements of the trickster tale as the wily marsupials outsmart the hungry fox. Lots of fun!

12 June 2009

Coming Soon to a Theater Near You

This must be the summer of picture book adaptations making their way to the big screen. Last time I went to the pictures I saw a preview for Where the Wild Things Are. This afternoon, as I prepared to enjoy "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian" (recommended, by the way,) I was treated to the preview for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, based on the classic picture book by Judi and Ron Barrett. This is one of those books that I know by reputation only--unbelievably, I've never read it! However, after a quick stop at the library on the way home, that situation will soon be rectified. You can look for it on the "Read to Me" list later this week......

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs Movie Trailer | /Film

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11 June 2009

You Read to Me I'll Read to You week 2

Slightly less mutual reading this week, what with the end of the school year and doctor's appointments--curling up separately with chapter books was more the trend. But my daughter and I did manage to share a few fun picture books, as well as a couple of chapters from the wildly amusing Horrid Harry series (who will be returning to this blog soon.)

NMD Read to Me:
The Doghouse by Jan Thomas
Yes Day! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal; illus. by Tom Lichtenheld
I Read to NMD:
Great Paper Caper by Oliver Jeffers
Horrid Henry's School Project by Francesca Simon, illus. by Tony Ross
Horrid Henry's Sleepover by Francesca Simon, illus. by Tony Ross
It's a Secret! by John Burningham

We Read Together:
Doctor All-Knowing retold by Doris Orgel from the Grimm folk tale; illus. by Alexandra Boiger

In terms of pure read-aloud fun, The Doghouse was the hands down winner this week. With it's reliance on cumulative storytelling, vibrant colors, and humorously building tension, a reader can really throw themselves into performance mode with this one. This week's new discovery was Doctor All-Knowing. I thought I was pretty well-versed in the Grimm canon, but I had never come across this tale before. It reminded me very much of Lloyd Alexander's excellent The Fortune-Tellers, in which a wily protagonist is able to rise above their station with a few well-placed words and some good old-fashioned luck thrown into the mix. (Note to self--reread The Fortune-Tellers this week!) And I think "oddest book of the week" goes to The Great Paper Caper. It's one part environmental-morality fable, one part who-done-it, and all parts goofy premise, starting with the lack of substantial legs on the animals! Good fun, though, and worth a visit.

10 June 2009

Millionth Word "declared"

The millionth word on the internet has been declared. That's all well and good, but have they taken into account Frindle?

09 June 2009

Anthony Browne named new Children's Laureate (UK)

Well here's some fantastic news--Anthony Browne has been named the new UK Children's Laureate! I adore Anthony Browne's books, and I applaud what he has to say about picture books in general:

"Picture books are for everybody at any age, not books to be left behind as we grow older......We have in Britain some of the best picture book makers in the world, and I want to see their books appreciated for what they are - works of art."

Browne is a writer (he illustrates his own books) who uses the page like a canvas; words are sparse in his books, always well-chosen and never wasted, and as such they allow the illustrations to carry the bulk of the storytelling. Here is a list of my recommended Anthony Browne masterpieces:

Little Beauty: His most recent book, which tells the story of the friendship between a gorilla and a tiny kitten, is a testament to understated loyalty.

Gorilla: Possibly Browne's most touching book. A lonely little girl who loves gorillas gets a special visitor on her birthday.

Piggybook: A thoughtless husband and his two loutish sons tend to act like pigs around the house, never appreciating the hard work of the wife/mom in their lives. You can only act like a pig for so long before behavior becomes reality.....

My Mom: An ode to the most important woman in any child's life, and a sentimental favorite, because I'm a mom. There is also its counterpart, My Dad.

06 June 2009

Rave Review: It's a Secret! by John Burningham

English author John Burningham returns to whimsical form with this picture book which answers the question, "Where do cats go at night?" Burningham's previous offering, Edwardo: The Horriblest Boy in the Whole Wide World (2007) was rather message-heavy. But It's a Secret! is a straight forward fantasy (if that's not an oxymoran) in the same vein as Come Away From the Water Shirley (1977) and The Magic Bed (2003), stories in which the child protagonists are perfectly in tune with a magic that grown-ups simply can no longer perceive.

Marie Elaine has always wondered what her cat gets up to at night. She finally catches him out when, making a late-night call to the fridge, she discovers him all decked out in fancy clothes. Once she learns that he is going to a party, she demands to be included. The cat and Marie Elaine are joined on their midnight soiree by neighbor Norman Kowalski and head to the roof of a nearby building to participate in a cat party. I can't decide what I liked best about this book--perhaps the similarity to Esther Averill's Jenny's Birthday Book, with its late-night dancing moggies; or the fact that when the cat demands that Marie Elaine must get small to accompany him (how else to fit through the cat flap?) she does just that--gets small; or the sheer silliness of the cat queen, in her regal gown and tiara, checking her common wristwatch at the end of the night. So many details combine in a sophisticated manner to tell a simple but satisfying story of one magical night. The mixed media illustrations bear the hallmark of Burningham's distinctive style--rough and sketchy, but ever fresh on the page. And the slightly oversized format provides an expanded backdrop for the unfolding events, so that the reader is not cheated out of the full impact of the late-night escapade.

This book has imense appeal--may it sell a million copies!

04 June 2009

Look what's coming in August......

My day just got a whole lot brighter! New Babymouse--huzzah!

You Read to Me, I'll Read to You: Week 1

So the first week of participation in the Well-Read Child's reading meme breaks down as such:

You Read to Me:
* Alice the Fairy by David Shannon
* Sam Starts School by Barbara Taylor Cork, illus. by Nicola Smee
I Read to You:
* Alfie and the Big Boys by Shirley Hughes
* Beckoning Cat by Koko Nishizuka, illus by Rosanne Litzinger
* Chicken Cheeks by Micahel Ian Black; illus by Kevin Hawkes
* Cow That Was the Best Moo-ther By Andy Cutbill, illus by Russell Ayto
* Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau by Jon Agee
* My Red Balloon by Eve Bunting, illus. by Kay Life
* Put it on the List! by Kristen Darbyshire
* Retired Kid by Jon Agee
* Tough Chicks by Cece Meng, illus. by Melissa Suber

Looks like I did most of the reading this week! The breakdown didn't seem so unbalanced at the time, but never mind! My daughter and I are unapologetic picture book fans, so even though she has moved on to chapter books for her personal reading, bedtime is still picture book time. This week's star read was Touch Chicks, with its story of three newly hatched chicks not content to simply loaf around the farm and be cute, as chicks are supposed to do. Honorable mention goes to Alfie and the Big Boys. This long-running series continues to charm with its quiet wisdom and "every-child" protagonist. It seems that Alfie, like Charlie Brown, will never age but stay a winsome preschooler for eternity. And that's okay with us!

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