20 November 2008

Magic Treehouse Musical

While attending a performance of Spamalot last night, I saw a poster advertising this, coming to Boston just in time for February vacation. *Sigh*

I could go on a tirade about the constant trend of transferring successful titles from one medium to another. But that may read as disingenuous in light of the fact that I was attending a stage production based on a highly successful film. I guess the problem is that I just don't like The Magic Tree House series (there, I said it!) File this one under: definitely just for kids.

18 November 2008

Easy Reader Review: Spring is Here! A Story About Seeds by Joan Holub

Another book up for consideration in the Cybils Easy Reader category is this pre-level 1 offering by Joan Holub. According to the level chart on the back of the book, a Pre-Level 1 reader (as defined by publisher Simon and Schuster) is as easy reading as one can get, focusing on word repetition, familiar words and phrases, and simple sentences. With only 21 pages and 97 words, author Joan Holub and illustrator Will Terry attempt to explain the life-cycle of seeds, as experienced through the eyes and hands of a group of ants.

Well, they succeed magnificently! Rhyming text and playful language supported by energetic illustrations makes this a fun read while still conveying the principles of gardening. The book uses sound repetition much more than word repetition, which adds to the exuberance and reduces the stilted effect sometimes associated with the easy reader level (I think of all those earnest phonics books out there. So educational! So boring.) The arrival of spring, hailed in the book's title, is the final result of the ants' hard work. But before that there is the planting, the nurturing, and the waiting, all cheerfully explained and anticipated by the ants. In fact, the planting and growing of seeds is a great metaphor for what books at this level are trying to achieve--getting children to the point where reading is fun while steering them through the ins and outs of language development, accumulated vocabulary, and reading comprehension.

Perhaps the best thing about this book is that it is not a stand-alone title, but part of the "Ant Hill" series. Readers who enjoy Spring is Here! can move on to Picnic! for more ant and reading fun. The use of series fiction with older readers has proven to be highly successful at maintaining reader interest. Little surprise then that the same principal is successfully applied to emerging readers as they look for consistently well-written books with which to practice their new skills. Three cheers then for the ants, and their steady march towards spring and all its rich rewards!

13 November 2008

NY Times Best Illustrated Children's Books 2008

The New York Times has released it's list of the best illustrated children's books for 2008. While I'm thrilled to see the inclusion of Wabi Sabi, what's with the rather cheap looking scans included in the slide show? Could the Times not produce better quality prints from the books? They are supposed to be highlighting the illustrations, after all.

Never one to be outdone.......

Looks like it's going to be a fun January ^_^

On my Reading Radar--Fashion Kitty and the Unlikely Hero

Hurrah for more Fashion Kitty! My daughter and I were just talking about this series this morning. She is currently discovering the joys of Babymouse, and she said that the one series reminded her of the other (must be all the pink.) She'll be glad to know that there's more fashion heroics on the way and on the way soon--Baker and Taylor states a January pup date. Would it be too undignified if I had to wrest the book away from my 7 year old in my own desire to read it?

11 November 2008

Veterans Day title--Anna and Natalie

To be honest, Anna and Natalie, written by Barbara Cole and illustrated by Ronald Himler, is not strictly a Veteran's Day title. But I used it yesterday for a Veteran's Day storycraft program to great effect and was touched by how aware and proud the children in attendance were of veterans in their own families. The book tells the story of a fourth grade girl who wishes to be involved in the team from her class that will be laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington D.C.'s Arlington National Cemetery. There is a completely surprising twist to this story (it would take a remarkably observant reader to guess it before the end.) Anna succeeds in her wish to be selected, and in doing so draws attention to the wartime sacrifices of a group of participants almost completely unrealized by civilians, but valued immensely by service men and women everywhere. I will say no more, other than, thank you.

Easy Reader Review: I Will Surprise My Friend by Mo Willems

One of the nominees for the Cybils Award in the Easy Reader category is this funny offering by Sesame Street scribe turned children's book legend, Mo Willems. Willems was the recipient of the 2008 Theodore Geisel Award for There is a Bird On Your Head, which also features Gerald Elephant and Piggie. In "Surprise", Gerald and Piggie observe a squirrel playing a hide and seek trick on a friend, which they decide to duplicate when they see how much fun the squirrels had. However, the game goes awry because the two friends are so good at hiding from each other (think of a well-orchestrated Marx Brothers routine.) Gerald beings to imagine outlandish disasters which may have befallen Piggie, and Piggie assumes that Gerald has given up on finding her and headed off to lunch. The true surprise comes when they both emerge from behind the same rock and scare the tuna salad out of each other (to quote another Willems' creation, Leonardo the Terrible Monster.)

Willems has taken the same winning combination that he utilizes in his picture books--memorable characters, silly humor, simple wisdom, boundless enthusiasm--and applied it to the easy reader format. But perhaps his greatest achievement here is his ability to take the limitations of the easy reader format and turn them into narrative strengths. The vocabulary in this book is limited, basic, and often repeated. Yet with a well placed exclamation point, bold typeface, or over sized font, the emotion behind the words becomes evident to the young reader. The color-coordinated speech bubbles keep the dialog flowing without the cumbersome interruptions of "Elephant said" or "Piggie said" and also helps to clearly indicate which character is speaking when the action gets frenetic (as it often does!) Piggie and Gerald themselves are extraordinarily expressive characters and go a long way in providing visual clues to the reader, despite the fact that they are often the only images on the page.

At the heart of "Surprise", as with all the Elephant & Piggie books, is the friendship of the two main characters. The episodic nature of the stories keeps the reader focused on the specific moment in time in which Elephant and Piggie are discovering something about their relationship and their value of each other. In "Surprise" they learn that prefabricated fun is not necessarily as good as spontaneous joy--but certainly as unpredictable.

08 November 2008

Wallace and Gromit are back

Yay! And I'll be there to see it! But does it involve cheese?

Satoshi Kitamura

The Guardian recently (well, today, to be precise) ran an article about Satoshi Kitamura. It is a well-written, article but lacking in one vital detail--Kitamura's art! I have tried to rectify that problem by providing a picture of the cover of my favorite Kitamura book, Me and My Cat. Also, a visit to Satoshiland will fill in many illustrative gaps, as well as provide information about his upcoming books. My visit to Satoshiland was an eyeopener; I thought I was familiar with the majority of his work, but I see that I really only touched the tip of the proverbial iceberg. If you want to get a look at his latest offering, The Young Inferno, written by John Agard, check it out here.

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