Sunday, November 29, 2009

Top 10 of 2009


I'm edging toward 300 books read this year.

Hard to pick my favorites.

Okay, I'll just jump in.

Here's my list of favorite books published in 2009, along with genre:

Zeitoun (Nonfiction)

Catching Fire (Young Adult: Fantasy)

What I Thought I Knew (Memoirs)

Tales from Outer Suburbia (Graphic Novels and Manga)

Guess Again! (Children's)

Thing Around Your Neck (Contemporary Literature)

Also Known as Harper (Young Adult)

The Help (Women's Literature)

Bad Things Happen (Mystery)

The Guinea Pig Diaries (Nonfiction)

Disclaimer: Since I am serving as a Cybils judge, I purposefully omitted any children's nonfiction picture book titles (my category) from my list.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Champion of Children

The Champion of Children: The Story of Janusz Korczak by Tomek Bogacki

Serving on a panel for the Cybils Award has been wonderful for me; I have visited many intriguing places, I’ve learned about many fascinating events in history, and I have met many exemplary people.

Janusz Korczak is one of those exemplary people. He ran an orphanage for poor children in Poland during the Nazi years. His orphanage was a model for others. He allowed the children to make their own laws which everyone, even the adults, were expected to follow. He started a newspaper to which children were asked to contribute. He spent time with the children and taught them gardening, sports, and, most importantly, love.

The author of this book of Korczak’s life tells his story in simple words, with simple pictures. There are historical notes, author’s notes, and a list of sources and acknowledgments to provide information about how the book came about.

River of Dreams

River of Dreams: The Story of the Hudson River by Hudson Talbott

I must be honest. I was not really interested in finding and reading this book. What did I care about the Hudson River?

I was wrong. This is a fascinating story of a river and the life it has supported over the years, Native Americans, the Dutch, those who used its link with the Erie Canal, the railroaders, writers, artists, and, now, environmentalists.
The pictures are beautiful paintings. The author also includes diagrams and maps and timelines to help the reader better understand the story.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thankfully Reading Weekend

A Kindle read.

One on CDs.

Tried this four times. Fifth time is the charm?

Poems. Good poems.

A mystery. Unusual for me.

Make a Kid Happy...Buy Him a Book for Christmas!

I'm crazy about the idea of giving everyone you know a book for 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 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 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 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.

(Reposted from November 2008)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Horses and Space and the Human Body

We want to give children books for Christmas, right? But what can we give that can compete with all the cool toys out there?

Well, cool books, of course.

Cool books like the three I received this week in the mail. Cool subjects: Horses, space, the human body. Cool formats: 3-D, see-through layers, giant foldouts. Cool additional materials: stickers, info cards, masks.

And to those who say, That's all just bells and whistles....I say, That's the way kids learn these days. Give these and more a look-see at the publishers' website, Silver Dolphin Books.

Dragons Love by Stephen Parlato

Last year, I received an unexpected gift in my mailbox. It was The World That Loved Books by Stephen Parlato. I was delighted with it. But what, I wondered, would kids think?

I took it to school and showed it to the first class. They, like me, loved the stunning pictures. It has been continually checked out ever since.

So what a happy surprise to find Parlato's latest book, Dragons Love, in my mailbox this week. It is just as delightful as World. What do dragons love? You will be surprised to find out.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Yellowstone Moran

Yellowstone Moran by Lita Judge

Tom Moran wanted to visit the West. He was a painter who longed for adventure. Unfortunately, he had never ridden a horse nor camped out. So when he decided to travel with a group bound for Yellowstone, he experienced many trials. It was all worth it to him when he finally arrived and was able to paint the wonders of the West for those back East who would never get to visit Yellowstone themselves.

The book is illustrated with pictures that imitate Moran’s style. The author includes both a bibliography and an author’s note that explain where she obtained her information.

A little:
“Tom Moran had dreams as big as the Montana sky.
He stood in a camp in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, waiting nervously. Though Tom knew the men in the camp were scientists, they looked more like bandits. They eyed him suspiciously. He worried he must look like a greenhorn, but he wasn’t about to admit that he had never ridden a horse, never shot a gun, and never slept in the open air. Tom had just traveled two thousand miles to join this expedition into the land called the Yellowstone. He had to convince the team’s leader, Dr. Hayden, to let him join them.”


The Twelve Days of Christmas in Minnesota

The Twelve Days of Christmas in Minnesota by Constance Van Hoven

This book sounds like the book is a silly parody. After all, what do you think of when you think of Minnesota? Well, perhaps snow. What else? The mind of this Texan draws a blank.

Using a twelve days of Christmas format, the author reveals there is much more to Minnesota than just snow. Like Norway pines. And hockey sticks. And lumberjacks. And walleyes. Lots more. Just so you know.

The pictures are bright and colorful. The text is written in the format of letters, making it very kid-friendly.

I can see that this is a book I’d love. If I lived in Minnesota.

And that's the point: It's a book written for those who live in Minnesota to bask in the wonders of the state. There are apparently plans for books for every state.

A sample:
“Hey, Mom and Dad,
We went up north to the lake! That’s what Minnesotans say when they head out to one of the more than 10,000 lakes in the state. The most common lake names? Mud and Long. There are hundreds of those. There are lots of Twin Lakes, too, but only one Lake Hannah and two Lake Sarahs….”

Beautiful Ballerina

Beautiful Ballerina by Marilyn Nelson

With beautiful pictures and beautiful words, Beautiful Ballerina presents the beautiful story of those who dance at the Dance Theatre of Harlem. The text is concise and the photographs used to illustrate the text eloquently depict the beautiful movement that is ballet.


A little:
“To the traditions of port de bras and
arabesque, of pirouettes,
jetes, and pas de deux,
you bring a tiny hint of Africanness,
juju and beautiful joy danced in your every move.
Beautiful ballerina,
you are the dance.”

Sunday, November 22, 2009


It's Turkey Time here in the States. Thanksgiving sneaks in so close to the Christmas rush---hurry, hurry, hurry---that I forget to slow down and sit in the wonder of thankfulness.

So before I forget...

I am thankful for...

My Lord. My God, my Savior. Magnificent. Powerful. Loving.

My family. My mom and dad, who loved me and taught me the important things in life. My sister and brothers who are always there and who are full of love for others. Great in-laws, too. A family that always keep me in hysterics. (Anyone else have families that can really, really tell good stories?)

My town. I've lived in my same little town most of my life and my town is full of wonderful people.

My husband. A good man. He makes every day sparkle.

My sons and my new daughter-in-law. It is such a happy feeling to see my little boys grow up into strong men. And I am so lucky to have a daughter at last, and what a wonderful daughter she is!

My school. How blessed I am to get to work with such amazing teachers, such sweet children, with a fantastic principal, each day! I am so happy to be here at my school.

My friends. I can't believe how many wonderful friends I have in my life.

Thank you, Lord, for all these blessings. Don't ever let me forget to be thankful for all the good things You have given me.

*Photo: jen_maiser at Flickr Creative Commons

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Could I Read 300 Books This Year?

It's still a month and half to the end of the year and I'm sitting pretty at 276 books read so far. I could, possibly, hit 300 this year.

Wait. Let me say that again: I could, possibly, hit 300 books read this year.

That's more than the average American adult reads in...well, 300 years! I'm a reading machine!

After reading sixty-six children's nonfiction picture books in a row, I must say I am eager to read a few grownup books soon. I'm working my way slowly through Gone With the Wind. And I'm thinking about The Book Thief again as yet another copy has found its way to me. (Every time I get a copy of Book Thief, I try a little and give up and pass it on only to read a rave review within hours of sending the book out into the world. Sigh. I must plug ahead and really read the book this time.)

What else?

Perfect Fifths. Somehow this book's arrival slipped past my radar.

East. I'm halfway through. Get with it, Debbie.

Snow. I hope to read this before Pamuk's visit to Houston after Christmas.

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey. See East.

Shop Class as Soulcraft. I'm toying with setting this one aside. Everything I've read so far seems apparent. So, to finish or not to finish?

And another fifty or so books started but not completed, awaiting me under my bed....

Think I'll spend the rest of this day reading...and maybe visiting a few blogs....

Mind Your Manners, Alice Roosevelt!

Mind Your Manners, Alice Roosevelt
by Leslie Kimmelman

I love this book. In simple words, it tells the story of the eminently capable President Theodore Roosevelt, a man who fought in wars, dealt with business leaders, and ran America, but failed to rein in his daughter, Alice. The story neatly parallels Teddy’s successes with his failures to control Alice. The pictures show a mischievous Alice and a bewildered Teddy and include bubbles of their conversations.

I would have loved this book more if I hadn’t already read last year’s book about Alice Roosevelt, a remarkably similar story of Alice’s exploits.

A sample:
“Teddy knew how to handle the Russians and the Japanese
when they couldn’t stop fighting each other.
Teddy got them to shake hands and make up.
He got a Nobel Peace Prize for that.
Teddy knew how to handle the planet.
He helped create a system of national parks
so that the land and wildlife were protected.
But Teddy Roosevelt didn’t always know
how to handle his oldest daughter, Alice.
He told her that while she lived under his roof,
she had to obey his rules. What did Alice do?
She simply decided to spend her time over his roof!”

In Her Hands

In Her Hands: The Story of Sculptor Augusta Savage
by Alan Schroeder

Augusta Savage, even as a young girl, loved to play with clay, to shape figures from it. Her father, a preacher, disapproved and punished Augusta when he caught her.

When the family moved, she was happy to discover a potter who shared his clay with her and encouraged her work. A teacher at her school suggested she go to New York and there she was admitted to a prestigious school where she learned to sculpt.

In Her Hands tells Augusta’s story, in little scenes with her parents and teachers. An author’s note at the end tells more of Augusta’s story and provides photographs of two of her most famous sculptures.

From the book:
‘”Tell me, Miss Savage---what do you know?”

Augusta was confused. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Oh, I think you do.” Mr. Borglum smiled. “What matters most to you? When you think about your life, what comes to mind?”

Augusta had never been asked that kind
of question before. She closed her eyes and
thought for a moment. Green Cove Springs---
that was what she cared about. The place where
she’d grown up, with its clay pits and its smelly
sulphur springs, and the school she’d gone to,
and all the kids she used to play with---Maisie and
Margaret and Pee-wee….’

Balarama: A Royal Elephant

Balarama: A Royal Elephant
by Ted and Betsy Lewin

Every year a special elephant is chosen to lead the parade in a big celebration in India. Balarama is the latest elephant to be so honored.

Both Ted and Betsy Lewin are children’s picture book illustrators. In this book, both draw parts of the story. They have very different styles, with Ted painting big beautiful and realistic illustrations, and Betsy doing cartoon-like drawings.

A little:
“Balarama moves majestically toward one of the palace gates, leading a mile-long procession. Band after band and unit after unit of guards and soldiers march smartly past the stage, following Balarama onto the packed streets of Mysore. Throngs of people push forward to see Balarama in his first ceremonial parade.
We are bursting with pride. He is doing great.”

A Young Dancer

A Young Dancer: The Life of an Ailey Student
by Valerie Gladstone

Iman Bright is a young dancer. She has been taking dance classes at the Ailey School in New York since she was four. The story is told from Iman’s point of view. She matter-of-factly describes the rigors of learning dance. But Iman comes across as a girl who enjoys many other activities---friends, the violin, her studies at school---a well-rounded girl.

The photographs reveal the astonishing moves Iman can make, with great beauty and joy. The text is easy to read. Who wouldn’t want to meet this young dancer?

A little:
“Ms. Jamison is considered one of the most famous members of the Ailey company. I’ve seen her dance in videos and she is amazing.

She’s very direct and funny when she gives corrections. In one part of the dance, she said I looked more like I was delivering groceries than proudly showing the way to God. A big difference.”

The East-West House

The East-West House: Noguchi’s Childhood in Japan by Christy Hale

Isamu Noguchi spent many years of his childhood in Japan as a biracial child. His experiences there led him to become a sculptor who combined the best of both worlds in his art.

Using a minimal amount of text with large illustrations, the author-illustrator tells the story of Noguchi’s childhood.

A sample:
“At school he tried to join in play
but others teased and turned from him.
Left out and alone, Isamu made
a different kind of joy.
He molded clay to form a wave,
then painted it blue like Mama’s eyes.
Holding soft earth in his hands
he almost forgot his loneliness.”

Where Else in the Wild?

Where Else in the Wild?
More Camouflaged Creatures Concealed…and Revealed
by David M. Schwartz

Where Else in the Wild? is a book of clever photographs with camouflaged animals hidden among the world in which they reside. Each photograph contains a clue written as a poem. The camouflaged animal is revealed by lifting the page.

The poems are delightful. My favorite has to be “Ambushed.” The information about the animal is expounded upon on once the reader opens up the oversized page. Each animal selected is fascinating and remarkable.

A bit:
“If there were Olympic Games for underwater camouflage, the scorpionfish would take the gold! One of nature’s camouflage champions, the scorpionfish is the opposite of what most people expect of a tropical fish. It is not sleek, graceful, or brightly colored. Its color is a mottled mixture of gray, brown, and black. This strange-looking fish blends so well into a reef or rocky ocean bottom that you’d have trouble finding one, even if you knew exactly where to look!”

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Green Books Campaign: Easy to Be Green

This review is part of the Green Books campaign. Today 100 bloggers are reviewing 100 great books printed in an environmentally friendly way. Our goal is to encourage publishers to get greener and readers to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books. This campaign is organized by Eco-Libris, a a green company working to green up the book industry by promoting the adoption of green practices, balancing out books by planting trees, and supporting green books. A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on Eco-Libris website.

I'm a school librarian. Last year, I must have had fifteen teachers ask to checkout books about ecology on Earth Day. What did we have in our library? Nothing.

I decided to change that. I've been actively seeking out books on recycling and ecology. Easy to Be Green is one of these.

Easy to Be Green is printed on 100% recycled material, with vegetable-based inks. It's filled with activities for children to do to help the Earth, all promoting the 3 R's, reduce, reuse, recycle.

I'll be reusing this book by adding it to the books in my school library!