Sunday, November 30, 2008
I already know what I'm getting for Christmas.
Well, not exactly.
But my husband did this last year and it was my favorite Christmas gift ever and it looks suspiciously like he is doing it again.
What did he do? He went to my wish list at Amazon and picked out twenty used books for me. Some cost as little as $.01. Some were newish. He tried to pick out a variety of books, some fiction, some travel, some books about books, some children's books.
How do I know he is doing it again? Nearly every day there are rectangular packages for him and the return addresses are from all over the country.
I can't wait until Christmas!
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Monday, November 24, 2008
Baby Polar Bear by Aubrey Lang
I was happy to discover that this book is not just about wonderfully cute and photogenic baby polar bears. It actually covers the entire life of a polar bear. The photographs are captivating and the text is kid-friendly, using comparisons with things children are familiar with and providing details children are interested in. Because there are so many photographs, many of them are very small, too small to share in a read aloud, but that is a small gripe.
The author and photographer are a husband and wife team who have worked on books and films about nature for eighteen years. Baby Polar Bear is part of a series including Baby Porcupine, Baby Grizzly, Baby Penguin, and many others.
Animals Robert Scott Saw: An Adventure in Antarctica by Sandra Markle
A better title for this book would be Scott's Adventures in Antarctica. I'm not really sure how "animals" got into the title, though the animals Scott encounters are a big part of the story. But the book is really about all the experiences Scott had in the Antarctic.
This is the kind of book my husband would have loved reading when he was a little boy. I am certain there are many readers today who would love hearing and reading about the dangerous adventures of these explorers. It is full of scary stories about Scott and his men while they were traveling in Antarctica. I couldn't stop reading to find out more about their frightening exploits. The use of a combination of drawings and actual photographs adds a lot to the book. The sidebars with interesting additional information were a plus.
It is not a simple read and there is a lot of text, so if it is to be an independent read, it would be best for older elementary readers or middle school readers.
Lincoln and Douglass: An American Friendship by Nikki Giovanni
The book opens at a big celebration at the White House. President Lincoln is there and he is watching anxiously to see if his friend will come. Then the story segues into parallel stories about Lincoln and Douglass's early years, their common struggles to learn and find out more about the world. The two men meet and form a friendship based on their common beliefs.
The most moving page of the book is a four page fold out; the two pages on top show the inaugural reception but the pages fold out to show what everyone is thinking about: the terrible war that is going on even during the celebration.
Then Douglass arrives and the two men speak together about their hopes and dreams for the future. Were the words the men speak on the pages actual words the men used or were they provided by the author? They are eloquent and inspiring; one can only hope they are genuine.
No information is given about source material.
We the People: The Story of Our Constitution by Lynne Cheney
I don't know about children and this book, but I will say that reading this book made the whole story of the creation of the Constitution very clear to me.
The war had been won and England was starting leave, but the people who had come together to fight a common enemy were not fighting amongst themselves. A need was seen to find a way to have bind the states together so that every state was happy.
It was a difficult task.
The men who worked to form the Constitution made compromise after compromise, sacrificing many individual wishes and dreams for the good of the one nation.
It is an inspiring story. The pictures add an air of authenticity to the book, with detailed depictions of costume and architecture. The author provides an exhaustive list of source material in the back of the book.
The Road to Oz: Twists, Turns, Bumps, and Triumphs in the Life of L. Frank Baum by Kathleen Krull
Kathleen Krull has never disappointed me; her biographies are fun and full of inside information about the people she writes about.
This biography of L. Frank Baum is no exception. Krull presents a picture of a boy lost in his imagination who grows into a man who never really wants to leave the world he loved as a boy. Baum tries to find a way to make a living as a grownup, and has many triumphs along with an equal number of abysmal failures.
I liked Krull's use of parenthesis as asides from the author, though I'm not sure they would be widely esteemed by academics. Krull provides additional information about Baym in a Storyteller's Note at the back of the book and she also briefly lists her sources. But the audience for Krull's book is not academics, fortunately, but children, and I think children would find this to be a fun read.
Smart-Opedia Junior: The Amazing Book About Everything
Kids are wild about this kind of book. I call it a browsable book, the kind of book you can spend hours reading through, though not really reading every sentence, every word. It is full of fun facts about the human body and the home and the city and school, starting with what children know and moving outward in concentric circles of wider experience. It manages to cover pirates and firefighters, insects and plants, ocean life and the planet, everything children want to know about, in 184 pages, with an extensive index.
I have one important question, however, and that has to do with the 184 pages. It was my understanding that this category of the Cybils was limited to books with 48 pages or less. Do we make exceptions for encyclopedic books?
The Last Black King of the Kentucky Derby by Crystal Hubbard
The Last Black King of the Kentucky Derby is a beautifully written story about a man who won the Kentucky Derby two times, Jimmy "Wink" Winkfield. Wink was a jockey during the time in American history when most jockeys were African-American, though that began to change rapidly during Wink's lifetime. Wink grew up poor, one of seventeen children, the son of a sharecropper. His dream was to become a jockey. He worked hard and achieved his dream.
But Wink suffered greatly from the prejudice of the day against African-Americans. He was treated shabbily time and again. Eventually he went to live in Europe where people were less cruel to nonwhites.
I found it fascinating to see that twice Wink did not achieve his goals and both times it was because he pushed too hard too soon.
Wink achieved great victories and suffered great defeats. The struggles of a jockey is depicted in clear detail; for the first time, I could see the terrible difficulties of riding horses.
The author provides a note at the end of the book which gives more information about Wink's life, but little is provided about where she drew her information outside interviews with Wink's daughter.
March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World by Christine King Farris
Christine King Farris tells the story of her brother, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s March on Washington. She tells the story from her own point of view, relating the events of the day as King and five prominent civil rights leaders helped change America by showing the support of millions for equal rights.
The pictures look like photographs. The text, with some words presented in caps, emphasizes the oratory styles of the speakers of that day.
One small irritation to me was that Farris was not there for this day, though she writes of the day as if she were. A small irritation.
Gone Fishing: Ocean Life by the Numbers by David McLimans
McLimans presents a beautiful look at our oceans and ocean life. But it is a beautiful look with a dark underside; the oceans, he writes, are threatened. His book is a look at both the natural beauty and wonder of the oceans and ocean life, but also the dire need for saving our oceans from the dangers that confront them and the creatures that inhabit them.
This book is a counting book and an artistic wonder and a wealth of information about our oceans and ocean life. Delicious and nutritious.
Wangari's Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa by Jeanette Winter
Two books on our list of nominees for the Cybil nonfiction picture book award are about the same person, Wangari Maathai, an environmentalist and the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. That is a testimony to the worth of her work.
This book features Winter's characteristic simple drawings and simple text to create a beautiful picture of a life.
The author adds a final page of text to provide detailed information about Maathai's life.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
I'm crazy about the idea of giving everyone you know a book for Christmas...in theory....The truth is the whole thing could backfire and you could end up with fifty friends and relatives who are furious, quietly steaming because they didn't get anything they wanted for Christmas.
But can you really go wrong giving a kid a book? A book and a toy, of course.
And I've got just the list of kid Christmas book recommendations for you.
First, some words of advice:
(1) No big enormous chapter books you loved as a kid. You giftee may be a poor reader and this will just drive him farther and farther away from Book World.
(2) No big enormous classics. See above.
(3) No books made from popular tv series or celebrities (for example, skip all the awful Hannah Montana books). The cover is great, but it's the only good thing about the book.
(4) No books to teach lessons. Please don't make kids think books are just another way to sneak up on you and try to talk you into following our rules.
(5) Funny is usually best if you are not sure.
(6) The truth is there are boy books and there are girl books.
Girls will read girl books or boy books, but boys rarely read girl books. Just look at the cover. Read the title. You know the difference.
(7) Thinner is better than thick. Lots of pictures is good.
(8) Just because the book says it is a level 1 book doesn't mean
it is a level 1 book or that your giftee can read it. Read it to him one time as part of the gift (or, even better, start reading it and then leave him hanging..."I'm so sorry, but I'm out of time.")
(9) With boys, if you are not sure, stick to nonfiction with lots of pictures. Scary, if possible.
Now, the ideas:
Ages 3-8...Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus...Fancy Nancy...How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night by Jane Yolen (any of this series)...If You Give a Mouse a Cookie (any of this series)...Diary of a Worm...How I Became a Pirate...The Kissing Hand...any dinosaur book...any true book about
animals...Biscuit...No, David!...books about trucks and cars...David Scarry books...princess books...Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?...fairy tales...short Seuss...
Ages 6-9...Frog and Toad books...Henry and Mudge books...Mr. Putter and Tabby series...Magic Tree House series...Junie B. Jones series...A-Z Mystery series...Secrets of Droon series...Horrible Harry series...Arthur chapter books...still with the animal books or dinosaur books...joke books...fairy tales...princess books...book on CDs...In a Dark, Dark Room...
Ages 8-12...Judy Blume books...Roald Dahl books...Harry Potter series...The Lightning Thief series...Andrew Clemens
books...My Weird School series...Diary of a Wimpy Kid series...Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark...Series of Unfortunate Evens books...Tale of Despereaux...Spiderwick books...space books...science experiment books...joke books...Where the Sidewalk Ends...I'm Still Here in the Bathtub...Guinness Book of World Records...Ripley's Believe It or Not...download a book for his Ipod...Jack Prelutsky poetry
I'm sure I left some great choices out, but this should be a pretty good place to start.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Yep, I figure you can tell what I'm going to be doing today....Twelve loaves of pumpkin bread.
And what does that have to do with reading or books? Well, next week we'll be cooking in the library. Since we only have thirty minutes a class, I've got to speed the whole cooking process up.
Pumpkin bread for 600. Now that's a Thanksgiving feast!
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story by Janet Halfmann
Shocker: When Robert Smalls married and had a daughter, the newborn baby did not belong to him and his wife; Robert and his wife were slaves and his child was likewise a slave. Wow. This hit me in the gut.
Robert started saving money to buy his wife and his child. It took three years to get close to the money he needed. But then the Civil War began and a new way to freedom was a possibility. Robert came up with a plan to sneak his family and the families of other slaves to freedom. It was dangerous. Against the odds, Smalls succeeded and his family was free.
Seven Miles to Freedom is a dramatic tale of heroism and courage. The author provides a detailed list of sources for her information. The paintings are dark and tentative, reflecting the times for those enslaved. I wonder what children would think of the paintings.
Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman by Marc Tyler Nobleman
The creator of Superman was Clark Kent. Clark Kent was Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in every way but name. Jerry and Joe were author and illustrator of Superman, created when both were little more than boys. They had a terribly hard time finding a publisher, but when they did, their creation was an enormous hit.
Nobleman goes on to tell the story after the story, a sad story of stolen profits and poverty and struggle for Superman's creators. Fortunately, the true story was told to the public and Joe and Jerry were able to receive some of the money they were due.
The comic book-like illustrations should appeal to all Superman fans. The story is short, but well told. The author lists four print sources of information but also acknowledges help received from many people who provided additional information.
Johnny Appleseed by Jane Yolen
After working in schools for many years, I have the odd feeling that more children know who Johnny Appleseed is than who know the identity of Thomas Jefferson. Thus is born the need for yet another book on Johnny Appleseed; it will sell.
This book is written in short lines, almost like poetry. Yolen clearly knows how to write for children, honing in on all the details that will speak to her audience. She adds "The Fact" at the bottom of each double page spread, adding more information for those who are interested. The author does not tell where she obtained her information other than providing statements within her text such as, "We know for certain..." and " ...some historians believe...." The pictures were full of depth, inviting readers to take a second look.
Making Cents by Elizabeth Keeler Robinson
So you can still buy something with a penny? I was tempted to check this out by actually going down to the old-timey hardware store in my town and seeing if I could buy, as the book states, a nail with a penny.
The children in this book go on to buy a wood screw, a marking pencil, sandpaper, a hinge, a tape measure, a level, a bucket of paint, a ladder, plywood, two-by-fours, a hammer, and a saw. As the pages went on, I kept thinking, Would kids be interested in buying a nail or a wood screw? Oh, but then, everything came together at the end and the kids not only figured out how much money they needed to buy things, but they also provided a wonderful story of working together to build something a whole community of kids could use.
So, we have a book that explains money and might inspire kids to work and create something fun. I like this book. The illustrations clearly help explain the coins and bills and are kid friendly.
What's Inside Your Tummy, Mommy? by Abby Cocovini
I was pretty worried about this book when I saw its title. Books that talk about reproduction almost always end up on various banned book lists.
I can't see how this book would offend. It is designed to be used by a pregnant mom and a child soon to be a big sibling. The illustrations show the baby as it develops month by month. The text tells about the activities of the baby and the shape and size of the baby as it develops. The text is clear and concise. It accomplishes its purpose of letting a sibling watch the development of its new baby before it is born. The pictures and the text stay away from too much information.
The copy I was finally able to obtain is paperback, and it is a library copy, so I suspect it is not available in hardback. (Librarians love hardbacks and rarely resort to purchasing books in softcover.) No information about sources is given except that the author wrote the book when she was expecting her second child.
Sandy's Circus: A Story About Alexander Calder by Tanya Lee Stone
Alexander Calder comes across in this book as a person I wish I had known. Well, I feel happy that I did get to know him a little bit through this book.
Calder was born into an artistic family and he was always encouraged to make and create. The creations he made in later life seemed to come naturally out his life. His circus would be a joy to experience. Somehow, the text and illustrations in this book made me feel like I was there.
Now Stone needs to make a second book, telling about how Calder came to create his famous mobiles.
The author lists the sources she drew upon to create the book and her author note explains how she came to love Calder and his creations.
A bright, fun book about a bright, fun man.
Lady Liberty: A Biography by Doreen Rappaport
How did the Statue of Liberty come to sit in the harbor outside New York City?
Rappaport chooses to tell the story through the voices of many different people connected with the statue. It is a clever way to tell a story and it drew me in. For the first time, I could see the impact the Statue of Liberty had on millions of people who saw it and visited it.
I had no idea how difficult it was to build and finance. The story brought that information to me as well.
The author shifts viewpoints on each page, but that does not seem to confuse but instead provides a variety of ways to see the statue.
Rappaport concludes her book with an author's note, an illustrator's note, a list of selected sources, and places for children to go to find out more about the Statue of Liberty.
Eggs by Marilyn Singer
This is the definitive book on eggs. Somehow Singer is able to skirt around the perilous world of how eggs come to be, explaining but not scaring off fearful adults, and create a book about eggs that is both clear and interesting.
Singer takes on the world of eggs and showcases all the amazing varieties of eggs that exist.
I'd expected in a book of this sort to like the pictures more than the text, but that was not so for me; I liked the text and the pictures equally well. I think children would find the information presented illuminating and fun.
Singer includes an extensive list of sources. She includes a glossary, a list of organizations that work with wildlife, and an index.
A Den Is a Bed for a Bear: A Book About Hibernation by Becky Baines
Not that this is at all important, but how are we deciding what to capitalize in book titles these days? Why "Is" and not "for"? Just curious.
This is the kind of book that kids would love. The text is friendly and is helped tremendously by the illustrations. The book makes the idea of bears hibernating clear and understandable. The author includes lots of fun bear facts ("During the fall, bears may eat up to 20,000 calories a day. That's like eating 65 cheeseburgers in one day!")that children can comprehend. The bear pictures will make children and adults go, "Ahhh."
The only source information is inferred from the name of the publisher, National Geographic.
Corn by Gail Gibbons
Gail Gibbons has never disappointed me. She uses just the right words for her audience of young children. Her pictures are bright and colorful and make the text comprehensible.
If you are interested in learning about corn, this is probably the book for you. Gibbons takes a quick tour through the world of corn: the four main types, the history of corn, how corn is cultivated and harvested, and all the ways corn is used today.
Are children interested in learning about corn? Is corn a worthy subject for Gibbons? I only know I couldn't stop reading this book, though I had zero interest in corn to start.
The House of the Scorpions by Nancy Farmer
I have a kindergartener at my school who only choose books that have award stickers on their front covers.
Luis would love this book; House of Scorpions has three award logos on it.
I wasn't thrilled with it. I expected to be but I wasn't.
Why the disappointment?
The book is the story of Matt, a clone of El Patron, the head of a country devoted to the production of opium. Clones are considered animals in this world and Matt's only salvation is his tie to this powerful man. When El Patron becomes gravely ill and desperately in need of transplants available only from Matt, Matt's nanny is able to save his life and send him off into a new life in another country.
I couldn't seem to get lost in this story, to feel the pain Matt felt and the misery of the world Matt lived in. Not sure why, especially when so many others have loved it....
An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination: A Memoir by Elizabeth McCracken
This is the book any mother who has had a stillborn child should read. It is powerful, making the reader cry and then laugh out loud. It has a wonderful healing quality to it.
You get the feeling it was very healing for McCracken to write this book, but you are left wondering if anything can really make everything okay again.