Showing posts with label booklog. Show all posts
Showing posts with label booklog. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I Am Going to Paris!

Photo by vizzzual.com

This is really going to happen....I am going to Paris!

Not today. This summer. The end of June. A week in Paris and a week in Provence.

Here's how it came about: My sister has been to Europe several times. She is making all the arrangements. My two nieces are going with us. I love my husband, but he sees no reason to leave Alvin, much less Texas, much much less the US. So I am going to France with my sister and two nieces!

Words of advice? Bookish sites to visit? Bookstore suggestions?


Lots of books read this week, including four lovely review books sent by the publishers:  Dino-Baseball;  Poetry Speaks: Who I Am; How Lincold Learned to Read; and The Way to Stillness.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Racing Across America






I didn't do it on purpose, but this week I read the way I like best. Everything I read fit a theme. I finally finished Blue Highways. A blog post led me to Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck. And then Lois on the Loose came in at the library for me.


Three trips across America (Lois actually traversed the entire North and South American continents.) Three different time periods (Travels with Charley was 1961; Blue Highways was 1981; and Lois was just couple of years ago.) Three different takes on the world.


For all three, there were times when the modern world has taken over our natural world to the detriment of the natural world. I was surprised to hear Steinbeck bemoaning the pollution he saw during his travels; I'd thought this was a more recent phenomenon.


I liked best the people the travelers met during their journeys. Who could forget the cranky woman who decided to ride her motorcycle with Lois for part of her trip? That lady whined about everything. And the brilliant philosophers the author of BH met? (I wonder why he met so many brilliant people....just the luck of the draw?) Steinbeck, oddly, never met someone who recognized him. I find that astonishing.


I had some great travels this week, with nary a sunburn or mosquito bite or scary bear. You want smooth traveling? Head for the library and rummage through the 900's.


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Blue Highways


Sometimes you need to get away. Sometimes you need to get away even though you just got back from two weeks in Utah. Sometimes your son in getting married in six days and you need to get away.

So I'm getting away. Every day. In Blue Highways.

I came across a copy of Blue Highways in the Travel Narrative Bookbox that arrived this week. I read Blue Highways when it first came out and I loved it so much that I've always considered it one of my favorite reads. Had to give it one of my rare rereads.

Blue highways are those roads on maps that come from nowhere and lead to nowhere. Back when this book was lived, the roads were often unpaved. (Would there be many unpaved roads in America, anymore?) William Least Heat Moon learns, in rapid succession, that his job is ending and his wife is leaving him. His response is to take out on the road.

He talks to people about change and meaning and nature and life. He meets some brilliant people and he meets some scary people. But it's a great journey.

I can't wait to get back on the road with this man.

A few quotes: "It's a contention of (my dad's)---believing as he does any traveler who misses the journey misses about all he's going to get---that a man becomes his attentions. His observations and curiosity, they make and remake him."

"Helen Keller...said life is a daring adventure or it is nothing. Adventure---an advent. But no coming without a going. Death and rebirth. Antithetical notions lying next to each other, as on a globe the three-hundred-sixtieth degree does to the first. Past and future."

"My rambling metaphysics was getting caught in the trap of reducing experience to coherence and meaning, letting the perplexity of things disrupt the joy in their mystery. To insist that diligent thought would bring an understanding of change was to limit life to the comprehensible."

And, finally, a conversation:
"'Your little spree sounds nice until you go back.'
'Don't have to go back who I was.'
'Can you get out of it?'
'I'll find out. Maybe experience is like a globe---you can't go the wrong way if you travel far enough.'
'You'll end up where you started.'
'I'm working on who. Where can take care of himself....'"



He fixes up an old van and decides to travel through America, stopping in cafes (calendar count is important in cafe quality). I'm only halfway through the book and I've been reading it all week.

I'm in no hurry to finish it.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Back in the Saddle


I've been MIA for a bit...end of school...library inventory...traveling to Dallas...summer job...Relay for Life...getting ready to leave tomorrow for Utah....but I'm finally back in the saddle, figuratively speaking, in my reading.

And I'm about to climb back in the saddle, literally, when we head off to Utah. Utah presented a challenge to me. I always find some books set in the place we're going to take along with me for my trip. Utah was tough. I finally found a Louis L'Amour western and a Magic Tree House western (in Spanish). I'm bringing along Roughing It to release there, but I've already read it. And I found a children's nonfiction book (copyright 1963) about Utah.

And that's it.

Surely there are other Utah books?!

In the last few weeks, I have finally finished Home by Marilynne Robinson, a Magic Tree House book in Spanish), Nick Hornby's Shakespeare Wrote for Money, and three books about yoga and meditation.

I had checked out Home when it first came out but turned it quickly back in, thinking it was too much like Gilead. The reviews for Home continued to pour in and all of them were good. So I went back to it. And loved it. Robinson knows the Prodigal Son.

Shakespeare Wrote for Money is a collection of Hornby's last columns for the Believer magazine. I'm glad he's given up on these. I must say I liked his earlier columns, but the novelty so vital to the appeal of his approach has dimmed with each column.

I've been playing around with yoga and Christian meditation in recent days. The three books I read all sent me off to try out some new poses, new thoughts. Worthwhile, I think.

So I'm off to Utah tomorrow. Hope I can find some charming bookstores there. I'm pretty sure I will be coming home with some beautiful rocks, some trilobites, and some great pictures...but I'm a bit worried about finding some books. Wish me luck.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Hour 5: Tales from Outer Suburbia



It's not on anyone's classics book...yet. But what a fantastic read! Fantastic is a key word, because every story feels like a fantasy, yet terribly real.

Yes, I, who grew up in suburbia when nobody knew it would take over America like a disease, I always thought of suburbia as a strange world but never ventured into the corners of suburbia that Tan takes us to in this book.

The pictures are perfect and the stories so thoughtful I would love to read them again and again.

Another excellent read. Did I ever pick some great reads for the read-a-thon?!

Hour 4: Breakfast at Tiffany's



Fourth hour, fourth book completed. (Mind you, all my books for the read-a-thon were jump started; I'm not really reading books...I'm finishing them.)

And not just another book completed...another GREAT book completed. I would recommend highly all the books I've read today.

Breakfast at Tiffany's. I'd seen the movie. I've read two other Capote books and was wowed by them. Breakfast at Tiffany's is equally wonderful. The juxtaposition of our narrator and Holly Golightly makes the book. Holly would probably be called manic-depressive today when she was hospitalized but to the narrator and her other admirers she has that rare zest for life that is to wonderous to behold. Others, more thoughtful observers, would also see in Holly the devastation she left in her wake.

A powerful story.

Hour 3: Member of the Wedding


Hour 3 had me responding to a mini-challenge (quite hopelessly as I knew only one of the book covers pictured and made a mad guess at one other...unlikely to win this one).

Then I finished The Member of the Wedding. Third book of the Read-a-Thon. Third excellent book of the Read-a-Thon. I am marvelling at how odd it is that I've finished three books in three hours and they were all three excellent reads.

Frankie provides our eyes and ears for A Member of the Wedding and what a view she gives us readers! Frankie is poised on the edge of childhood and adulthood, that awful spot we now call adolescence, but she is not sitting quietly on the edge; she is teetering back and forth between the worlds and it is not a happy place to be. She has lost her connections to her world. There are only two who try to call her back into the world: Berenice, the housekeeper, and her cousin, John Henry. As Frankie questions the world, Berenice is the voice of the grownup world, trying to ease Frankie into the new world. At the same time, John Henry is the voice of Frankie's childhood, urging her to play, to experience the world, to forget the world of thinking. Frankie's one hope becomes her desire to escape and join her brother and his new wife after their wedding. Of course, this does not happen and Frankie goes back to her world, but she is not the same person she once was.

What a rich, marvelous book! I could read it all over again and I think I would love it just as much. Frankie's encounter with the soldier...the monkey and the monkey owner...the Freaks....the noises and the pictures the author draws of this world...a rich, rich story.

Hour 1: Two Books Completed!


I gave myself a jump start on the read-a-thon: I read deeply into about fifteen books. It's quite possible that I could finish a lot of books today!

At the end of the first hour, I've already finished two.

The first is Good-bye, Mr. Chips. It's the gentle story of a man who taught in a British private boys' school for many decades. I love the way Chips starts out as a very average sort of person and teacher. It's the experiences of life---the death of his wonderful wife, the tragedies of the war, the days, years spent teaching children---that transform Chips into a thoughtful, clever, and exemplary human being.


The second is A Streetcar Named Desire. Whew! What a ride. What a terrible ride into the lives of three sad, miserable lives. Blanche comes to stay with her sister, Stella, after Blanche's life deteriorates. Stella has married and is expecting a baby, but her life is anything but cozy and warm. Stella's husband, Stanley, beats his wife and drinks heavily. Everything in this story echoes, No Way Out, and You are Doomed to Misery.

Whew. Two powerful stories to start this read-a-thon.

Whole truth and nothing but the truth: 47 pages of Mr. Chips and 40 pages of Streetcar Named Desire

So Good-bye, Mr. Chips and A Streetcar Named Desire will be available for prizes when I start my mini-challenge later in the day.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

TSS: Whatever It Takes by Paul Tough



Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America by Paul Tough

Geoffrey Canada is a teacher who came up against the most-difficult-to-educate group of kids a teacher can face: kids who grew up in poverty, with broken homes, surrounded by drugs and guns and alcohol. But Canada was not daunted by this group. As a child, he grew up in the same world and, somehow, he managed to transcend that world and make a good life for himself. Canada, unlike other reformers, found much to love in the Harlem in which he grew up. He found support and love among his fellow African American men, support and love he never really found in any other world. So Canada came to want to retain the strengths of the culture all the while bringing in the strengths of the broader American culture.

And did Canada ever have a dream?! Canada wanted to do more than bring in the superheroes to lift a few children here and there out of poverty. Instead, he decided to work in every area of a child’s life to improve the entire world. He started classes to teach parents from day one how to take care of their children. He created a baby school for the youngest of children to learn in an enriched environment. He began preschools and kindergartens and elementary schools and middle schools. He maintained the superhero programs for the oldest and most jaded and most difficult to reach children of poverty.

Did Canada accomplish his goals? His is still a work in progress. But the early results are startling. What could we do if we all worked together to have poor children experience the kind of lives those of us in the middle class take for granted?

Here are a few brutal facts from his book:

“…significant skill gaps exist---by race, class, and maternal education---and they open up very early. At age one there is not a great difference between the cognitive abilities of the child of a college graduate and the child of a high school dropout, but by age two there is a sizable gap, and at three it’s even wider.”

“…GED recipients earn no more than high school dropouts, on the average, even when their intelligence scores are higher. And why? Heckman says it is because they lack all of the noncognitive skills that a person must possess in order to make it through high school: patience, persistence, self-confidence, the ability to follow instructions, the ability to delay gratification for a future reward….”

“…both cognitive and noncognitive skills are teachable---but it matters a great deal when you try to teach them.”

“There was plenty of research around that showed that poor children not only benefited from being in prekindergarten, but they benefited more than other children.”

“And in reading, as it turns out, the metaphorical rich overlap with the literal rich. Even as early as the beginning of kindergarten, children’s level of ability with the printed word tends to correspond closely to the income level of their parents. As Susan B. Neuman, the education scholar, has reported, more than four out of five children at the highest socioeconomic level recognize the letters of the alphabet on the first day of kindergarten, compared to less than two of five children at the bottom of the socioeconomic scale. Half of all well-off kids can identify the beginning sounds of words when they start kindergarten, while just 10 percent of poor children can do the same.”

“…with very few exceptions, good early readers become great readers, and limited early readers almost always end up as poor readers. Late bloomers are, in fact, quite rare.” (The Matthew effect)

'And then after kindergarten, because of the Matthew effect, the disparities get even worse….Kids who are able to master “decoding,” to grasp the strange fact that black marks on a page connect to sounds…and that those sounds and marks go together to convey information…---those kids think reading is fun. They do more of it. And the more they do, the easier it gets, and the easier it gets, the more they do. For children who have a harder time cracking the code early on, the opposite occurs, a grim process that one researcher calls “the devastating downward spiral.” '

“By middle school, the gap between avid readers and reluctant readers has grown into a chasm. If you rank fifth-grade students by how much time they spend reading on their own, outside of school, you find a huge range. A child at the ninetieth percentile---not the most book-crazy kid in class, but close to the top---will spend an average of twenty-one minutes a day reading…which means that she goes through more than 1.8 million words a year. A child at the tenth percentile---not the most reading-averse kid in class, but close---will spend an average of six seconds a day on independent reading, which works out to just eight thousand words a year.”

‘Joseph Torgesen, a researcher at the Florida Center for Reading Research at Florida State University…looked at a dozen or so experimental studies of intensive reading interventions done in different parts of the country and targeted at different ages. When he analyzed the interventions aimed at nine-to twelve-year-old struggling readers, he found results that were mixed at best. With enough time and work, it seemed, it was possible to push these middle school-aged kids forward on the reading basics, like decoding, accuracy, and word comprehension. But the news was much more discouraging when it came to “fluency”---the ability to read with ease. Torgesen’s conclusion: by the end of elementary school, “if children’s impairments in word-reading ability have reached moderate or severe levels,” catching kids up may be simply impossible. But when Torgesen looked at early interventions with delayed readers---in first and second grade---his mood brightened….The interventions were remarkably effective; each one brought at least half of the targeted students up to an average level of reading ability by the end of the grade, and in one study, 92 percent of them hit that level.’
Other reads this week:

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sunday Salon: Gulliver or Gulliver?


Gulliver?


Or Gulliver?


Will the real Gulliver please stand up?

Is it an authentic Gulliver experience to read the children's picture book?

Or is it a more genuine experience to read it, unedited, without pictures, on a Kindle?

I read both this week. I liked the children's version better. The pictures were fun and the edited text included the best of the original and omitted the extraneous material that seemed irrelevant to the heart of the book.

I'm happy I read the original as well as the edited version. I can see the appeal of this book for readers. Funny. Thoughtful. Gulliver visits places in the world that make his entire worldview shift and crumble and, finally, evolve.

A wonderful book.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A Plethora of Cybils, Read and Reviewed


Trout are Made of Trees by April Pulley Sayre

An intriguing title like this one would have been enough for me to seek out and read this book. And the author is able to show, by describing a series of events that take place in a stream, that the title is not only intriguing but also true.

The text tells the story of the transmogrification of trees into trout, from the death and decomposition of their leaves to their absorption in the bodies of fish. The author uses simple text to tell the story of a complex process. She provides an extensive bibliography for a young reader and gives a list of ways the reader can help this natural process continue without intrusion from the human world.

Finding Home by Sandra Markle

This book is the story of a mother koala and her baby who survived two terrible fires in Australia. It was a compelling tale of the mother's search for a way to escape the fire and of her subsequent search for food for herself and for her child.

I found it to be a valid nonfiction story, based on eyewitness reports. The mother wore a tracking collar, making it easy for people to follow her movements.

It would be an appealing book for children, giving an inside look at the details of the life of a koala and providing the drama of escape from danger.

Winter Trees by Carole Gerber

Growing up along the Texas Gulf Coast, I was at a loss as a child to comprehend the ideas of leaves changing color during fall and the loss of leaves on trees during a snowy winter. We simply did not have traditional autumn leaves nor leafless trees in winter. This book would have been very useful to me as a girl in trying to visualize changes in trees during markedly cold weather.

Each tree common to the northern sections of the United States is illustrated and described in rhyming text. I wish the author had made it clear where these winter trees are located; my Gulf Coast version of Winter Trees would have been radically different.

I also wished there had been some information about where the author obtained her facts about each tree.


Dignity Rocks! by Stephanie Heuer

Another nominee that arrived with a distinctly amateurish look was Dignity Rocks! The text is a juxtaposition of comments by children to fill in the blank, "I feel like nobody when...." and "I feel like somebody when...." The comments have an authentic feel and would resonate with children.

It's a simple book, but a book that might help children better be able to express their positive and negative feelings.

I hope to share it with a group of children and see what their responses are.

Yours for Justice, Ida B. Wells: The Daring Life of a Crusading Journalist by Philip Dray

I'm seeing a common theme in nonfiction biographies: fighters of injustice. Ida B. Wells was one such heroine.

Wells was born a slave but became free after the Civil War. The early deaths of her parents necessitated Wells' movement into the work world at a young age. She became first a teacher and then a journalist. Always she fought for those who were treated unfairly. She spent many years promoting the enactment of laws against lynching.

The pictures give a dreamy quality to idealistic Ida's life. The text is clear and written showing the dramatic difficulties Wells faced.

The author concludes with additional information about Ida's life, lynching, and a detailed bibliography.

Down By The Sea by Marilee Crou

This book is yet another book that gives an amateurish first impression. All the words in the title are capitalized, even "the." The entire book is written in script, something that is difficult for children to read. It might have made a better book for adults than for children.

Each page has a photograph and a sentence describing the photograph. The sentences are quite long and flowery.

The photographs are stunning and are the best part of the book.

No information is provides about where the author gets her facts.

Fabulous Fishes by Susan Stockdale

Fabulous Fishes is a Seuss-like look at the world of fish, with simple text and lots of rhyme. The illustrations, like the text, are simple and don't provide a lot of detail. The author follows up her rhyming textual overview with a few pages of additional information about each fish pictured. She also provides a long list of resources she drew upon.

Fabulous Fishes might be a nice introduction to the wide variety of fish living in the ocean for very young children.

Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator by Sarah C. Campbell

Wolfsnail is a very close look at a snail that lives in the southern part of the United States and, unlike most snails, which eats meat. The story is presented using a series of photographs, though the photographs do not always depict completely the text.

Unexpectedly, I found myself being drawn into the story of the wolfsnail, seeing him as he violently hunts for and devours his prey.

I'm not certain there is a wide audience among children for this book, but young readers may enjoy reading the simple story of the wolfsnail's daily activities.

Please Don't Wake the Animals: A Book About Sleep by Mary Batten

Initially, I thought this was to be a book about hibernation. Yes, hibernation is part of the book, but not all of the book. The book is actually about the sleeping habits of various animals in our world.

A sentence summarizes the text at the top of each double page spread. The author uses examples of various animals' unusual sleeping patterns to highlight the oddities of sleep. It makes for a compelling book, filled with interesting information about a phenomenon most know little about. The author gives a list of books and websites where more information about sleep can be obtained.

Before John Was a Jazz Giant: A Song of John Coltrane by Carole Boston Weatherford

What inspired John Coltrane to become a great jazz musician? That question is at the heart of this book. The author, using words shaped like jazz itself, lists the sounds that Coltrane heard as a child and young man.

This book felt more like a poem than a biography, but perhaps a jazzy poem is appropriate for a man like Coltrane.

The pictures and shapes of the text add to the jazzy feel of the book.

An author's note at the end of the book serves as a short biography of the author's life. In addition, the author provides both a list of books for more information and a list of CDs in order to hear Coltrane's work.


Astronaut Handbook by Meghan McCarthy

How does one become an astronaut? McCarthy shows children how to become astronauts in this book.

I like very much how the author directly addresses the reader, using questions the reader might be thinking and answering in clear ways children would understand.

The illustrations offer ways to understand information that would be too difficult for the target audience had it been presented only in text.

I went away from the book feeling like being an astronaut would be a fun job and that, with a little hard work, it was something anyone could become.

Duel! Burr and Hamilton's Deadly War of Words by Dennis Brindell Fradin

I could easily see this book used in history classes all across America. Wouldn't history be so much more cool to kids if they could read text like this instead of deadly dull textbooks?

Though the story of the duel between Hamilton and Burr is dramatically told, it is also historically accurate and doesn't talk down to the older student. Hamilton and Burr are cast as well-rounded human beings with flaws and strengths. Both are shown to be at fault for the duel.

The book concludes with a lengthy bibliography.

Flip, Float, Fly: Seeds on the Move by JoAnn Early Macken

This is exactly the kind of book the preschool and kindergarten teachers are looking for to introduce seeds. The text is filled with sound words that children love, but it also contains a nice array of information about seeds and the way they travel from place to place.

Illustrations of vocabulary words related to seeds are given in the back.

No sources for the information are provided by the author.

Sisters & Brothers: Sibling Relationships in the Animal World by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

Do animals have brothers and sisters? How do animal brothers and sisters get along?

Children are interested in these questions, the focus of this book.

It's amazing to see how much interesting information about brothers and sisters the authors have squeezed into this small book. Some animals have no brothers or sisters. Some have hundreds. Some have only sisters. Some live in enormous colonies where every member is a sibling and all have the same mother.

There is a small list of references at the conclusion of the book.

Frogs by Nic Bishop

Is there any information about frogs that has not been included in this book? Frogs by Nic Bishop is filled with data about these fascinating amphibians. What child wouldn't enjoy reading all the cool facts this book presents about frogs?

The photographs add tremendous value to this book. They show frogs of all sorts, in all settings, from all angles.

The book contains an index and a glossary, but it has no list of references.

Molly the Pony by Pam Kaster

Every child, every adult who saw the photo on the cover of this book instantly went, "Ahhh." Apparently, there is something very touching about a horse that has been able to overcome disability and be fitted with a prosthetic foot.

The book tells the troubles that faced Molly. First she struggled to survive Hurricane Katrina. Later she was badly bitten by a dog and lost her hoof and leg. Usually a horse cannot exist without the use of his legs.

A team of vets decided to take a chance and fit Molly with an artificial leg. To their surprise, she thrived.

A story of overcoming adversity and the ability of science to improve the world, even for horses.

The Art of Freedom: How Artists See America by Bob Raczka

I saw this book last spring in a book fair, but I wasn't even interested in it enough to open it. I wish I had.

This book has simple text that accompanies a series of pictures that illustrate various aspects of America. Its simplicity is powerful. It could be used with children of all ages to talk about what America is and how it is perceived.

Two pages in the back of the book provide more information about the artists who drew the artwork used in this book. No information is given about where that information was obtained.

In many ways, the book feels more like poetry than it does informational text.

"Mrs. Riley Bought Five Itchy Aardvarks" and Other Painless Tricks for Memorizing Science Facts by Brian Cleary

I love this book. I've never seen a children's book like it. I immediately began thinking of people who would like to have a copy of this book.

The author lists idea after idea for helping to learn key science information. Some of these are commonly known, but most were unknown to me.

The illustrations add to the fun. The ideas are playful and creative. This could be a bestseller among science teachers.

Used Any Numbers Lately? by Susan Allen and Jane Lindaman

An alphabet book with a numerical twist. Allen and Lindaman bring their sense of fun to an alphabet book about the ways numbers are used in the world.

The illustrations are humorous and include some inside jokes to readers of Allen and Lindaman's other books.

Children would enjoy reading through this book and think of their own ways numbers are used in the world.

No references are given, but the information presented is so widely known that none is really needed.

A Boy Named Beckoning: The True Story of Dr. Carlos Montezuma, Native American Hero adapted and illustrated by Gina Capaldi

Capaldi took the text of a letter Montezuma wrote to a professor at the Smithsonian and used it to create this book, the story of Montezuma's life. There are so few books about Native American heroes outside of cowboy and Indian folklore that this book needed to be published.

Montezuma was stolen from his parents as a small boy. He was adopted by a kind and compassionate man who saw that Montezuma received an excellent education. Montezuma became a medical doctor and a leader of his people.

Capaldi adapts the letter Montezuma wrote to create a first-person narrative of a life of great struggle and courage. She tells how she came to write the book and provides an extensive list of sources.

What to Do About Alice? by Barbara Kerley

Alice Roosevelt was the daughter of president Theodore Roosevelt. As a child and even as an adult, Alice was considered a pistol. Her father wrote that he could run the country or control Alice, but he couldn't do both.

Alice lived life to the fullest, eating unusual foods, roaming around spots throught unsuitable for woman, dancing, singing, playing, learning. She was full of energy.

This book reflects that energy with its pictures and the composition of the text.

Alice was apparently the Hannah Montana of her day. She finally grew up and began using her amazing energy to help her political causes.

A fun and lively read.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

This Isn't Going to Be as Easy as I Thought

How hard can it be to choose the best ten of sixty-one nonfiction picture books? Hard, as I've discovered after reading the first four and finding them all to be very good books.

It isn't going to be as easy as I thought to be a Cybils panelist.


Sparkles the Fire Safety Dog by Firefighter Dayna Hilton

The first Cybils book to arrive in the mail was this book, Sparkles the
Fire Safety Dog. Initially, I was struck by its amateur appearance; it
arrived as a soft cover book, with simple photographs used as
illustrations. I decided to set aside these reservations and take a look
at the book with fresh eyes, the eyes of a child reader.

Dogs have immediate appeal to children. There is something about
animals that draws the child in. Sparkles benefits from dog appeal.

Children also love to read about firefighters. Firefighters are heroic
figures to children. Sparkles benefits from firefighter appeal.

The text is simple, perfect for its target audience. The author is a
firefighter herself, so she has credibility. She focuses on teaching two
skills that will save children in a real fire and uses her dog,
Sparkles, to reinforce the teaching.

Don't let first appearances stop you from reading this book. It
accomplishes its task in a simple yet appealing way.


Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai by Claire A.
Nivola


Sometimes we adults wonder if there are any heroes left in our world,
any people who act not out of self-interest or greed, but out of love
and concern for others. Wangari Maathai is one such hero.

Maathai is a woman born in Kenya who left her beautiful country to go
to college in America. When she returned to Kenya, she was struck by the
destruction that had taken place in Kenya during the short time she was
away. Maathai was determined to do more than complain or seek blame. She
created a program for her countrymen to work together to restore
Kenya's natural beauty by planting trees.

I loved reading this simple story of an honorable person. The details
of the Kenyan world the author presents reveal a world both like my own,
but also fascinatingly different. The illustrations are a perfect
companion to the text. The author's note provides information about
where she obtained her knowledge of Maathai. The appeal to children will be the story of a woman who dared to make the world a better and more beautiful place.


As Good as Anybody: Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel's Amazing March Toward Freedom by Richard Michelson

Simple text...great illustrations...and a compelling story I'd never heard before...These all combined for me to make reading As Good as Anybody a wonderful experience. I ended up reading it again as soon as I got to the end. Amazing to think that the magnificent Martin Luther King Jr. would team up with another such magnificent human, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and work together to improve the world.

The book begins with the early life of Martin Luther King Jr., highlighting the suffering he incurred as a black child in a predominantly prejudiced white culture. The story then moves to the early life of Abraham Joshua Heschel, showing the suffering he incurred as a Jewish boy in a predominantly prejudiced Nazi German culture. The early lives of both men neatly parallel each other. The men come together later in life in their joint effort to march for freedom.

The book ends on a strong note, though it is jarringly unusual; the men take their first step on the march and the reader is left wondering what will happen next. The author discloses in summation form the concluding events of the men's lives. I was unable to find any documentation of sources consulted to write the story, however.

A very powerful book.


Amelia Earhart: The Legend of the Lost Aviator by Shelley Tanaka

This is the kind of nonfiction that I love best: nonfiction that reads like a fiction story. Amelia Earhart covers the entirity of Earhart's life, with little vignettes about this moving incident and that moving incident in Earhart's life. The details the author adds to the story bring the story camera zooming in on each individual scene, making the events come alive.

The story really kicks into high gear when Earhart begins to make her attempts to fly first across the Atlantic and then around the world. For children of today who see a trip in an airplane as routine, the author is able to emphasize the life-threatening dangers that Earhart experienced. Earhart comes across as a heroic and brave figure, a role model for girls and women especially.

The book has lots of text and I must question whether it would be eagerly picked up by most elementary students because of its length. However, the author uses sidebars to break up the text in many places and that might help make a reluctant reader find his way through the entire book.

The index and the bibliography are quite extensive, and they add an air of deep scholarship to the book, a quality not usually found in a children's book.