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.


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