Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sunday Salon: Pumpkin Bread Time

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

Cybil Nonfiction Picture Book Nominees + Two

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.

Highly recommended.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Prize Package Arrives!

Thank you, Dewey and Hatchette Books!

Sunday Salon: More Texas Book Festival


Doreen Rappaport, author of Lady Liberty

Robin Preiss Glasser, illustrator of Fancy Nancy


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.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Cybil Nonfiction Picture Book Reviews

Looking Closely Inside the Garden by Frank Serafini
Learning seems to take place most often when children are deeply engaged in a task. Serafini sets up his book in such a way that the reader is drawn into thinking about and analyzing pictures of plants and animals and objects in a garden.

Each close up picture is followed by a complete picture and a page long description of the pictured animal or plant or object. The informational text presented is composed of bits and pieces of data that children might like to know.

I tried the book out with a small group of kindergarten through second grade children yesterday and they universally enjoyed trying to guess what the object was, especially when they were correct. The accompanying text was of a length was satisfactory for even the youngest students.

I wasn’t sure exactly what the author meant by a garden, as he included (sorry…spoilers ahead) both flowers and vegetables in his photographs. Perhaps he meant to include many kinds of gardens, though he provides a full picture of a flower garden only.

I could find no references for the informational text though the author explains a little about his love for photography and his interest in nature in a note at the back of the book.

It’s Moving Day! By Pamela Hickman
A burrow in the woods provides a home for many different animals over the years. That’s the idea behind It’s Moving Day.

The repetition of an animal moving out followed by a new animal moving in is sure to be a draw for children. The chorus, “It’s moving day!” is perfect for young elementary children.

The drawings are clear and help explain the text. The final page, with a short paragraph of informational text about each animal, provides more information for readers who would like to know a little more.

There is no source material given, though it is mentioned in the author’s bio on the back jacket flap that the author is a naturalist.

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams by Jen Bryant
I was expected to call this a junior high book rather than an elementary book, but I was wrong. Though I think of William Carlos Williams as a poet students might read in junior high or high school, this book showed me that he might have appeal to younger kids as well.

The illustrations closely compliment the text making for a book that exudes the spirit of Williams in every way. The author goes beyond “The Red Wheelbarrow” and “This is Just to Say” to include poem after poem written by Williams that will be enjoyed by younger children.

The biographical information which is the focus of the book is presented in a way that children will identify with, showing Williams’ activities as a young boy and as he was becoming a poet.

The book concludes with timelines of both Williams’ life and world history during Williams’ life. Both the author and the illustrator have notes explaining their rationales for writing and illustrating the books the way they did. There is also a list of books and websites for a reader to go if they want more information. All the quoted information in the book is referenced in a short list near the end of the book.

Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau by Jennifer Berne
I feel like I just came back from a lovely dive in the ocean with Jacques Cousteau.

Manfish is the story of Cousteau’s life, as he went from a young child who loved to invent and build to a man who created the aqualung and explored and filmed the deepest mysteries of the ocean.

The story is told in a way that is both simple and revealing about Cousteau’s life. The artwork, with its dark blue background and mysterious appearance, adds to the feeling of otherworldliness that Cousteau’s life seems to present. The foldout page brings a sense of depth to the pictures.

In the author’s note at the back of the book, the author provides a list of places to go for more information, though it was not clear whether or not these were the places the other obtained her information.

Farmer George Plants a Nation by Peggy Thomas
Even very young children know that George Washington was the first president of the United States. But how many people know of Washington’s life as a farmer?

Washington, it seems, was quite the innovator in the world of farming. He created a plow that saved his workers time and money. He experimented with fertilizers and types of farm products to maximize production. He encouraged the use of mules to replace the weaker horses and oxen as farm animals.

Looking at Washington as a farmer shows how the same strong character traits that made Washington such a successful leader made him also a successful farmer.
The paintings used to illustrate the book are lavish. The illustrator even provides as note to explain the process he used to make the illustrations feel authentic.
The bibliography at the end of the book is extensive.

Elizabeth Leads the Way: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Right to Vote by Tanya Lee Stone
The book has a great first page. The reader is immediately drawn into thinking about how one might feel if one was not allowed to do something simply because of one’s gender. It is a situation young children in America have never had to face. That is the challenge of the book: the author must find a way to show the miseries of the world as it was before Elizabeth Cady Stanton arrived to change things, miseries unknown to most of today’s young readers. Stone does this.

Stanton shocked the world when she met with a group of other women and proposed that women are equal to men. It took many years for her proposals to be enacted into law, but Stanton never let fear or the condemnation of others stop her.

The text of the book stops with Stanton’s proposal to allow women to vote, but the rest of Stanton’s life is related in a brief summary at the end of the book. The author provides a list of sources here as well.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Sunday Salon: The Texas Book Festival

Author Jon Agee draws pictures from his books.

The author of Elizabeth Leads the Way reads her book.

John R. Erickson celebrates Hank the Cowdog's 25th anniversary.

The illustrator of El Gato Black on Halloween shows off her dog.

Rick Riordan announces the 2009-2010 Texas Bluebonnet nominees.

R.L. Stine tells a ghost story.