Friday, April 11, 2014

Tudley Didn't Know - Perfect Picture Friday Review #PPBF

     Some books get a lot of hype in the press. I'm not sure how the media decide on their darlings, but I love to discover books that I love that I haven't heard of before. This week's pick is one of those. Originally published seven years ago, it's a charming story that weaves fiction and nonfictional elements with a message of exploration and self-confidence. 

     Critters are reappearing in our yard again after the lo-oong winter. I'm keeping my eyes open for Tudley!

Title: Tudley Didn't Know
Author/Illustrator: John Himmelman
Publisher: Sylvan Dell 2006
[Note that Sylvan Dell has changed its name to Arbordale]
Audience: age 3-7
Themes: Possibility, Turtles

               Tudley was a young turtle who lived in a great big pond. He and all the other turtles liked to spend the warm summer afternoons lying in the sun. 

[Honestly, if I only read this far, I would put the book down. It doesn't draw me in. But keep reading and be rewarded!]

Synopsis: Tudley is a young turtle who doesn't know what turtles can and can not do. And so he helps the creatures he meets, including a sodden firefly and a hummingbird building its nest. He needs the other turtles to come to his aid though when he gets stuck on his back on a rock high in the air.

What I like about this book: It reads like a fable about following your dreams---not letting notions of the impossible stand in your way. It also uses the word lichen on the second page. I love that the author uses concrete specific language and realistic images of the creatures in the story (realistic except for Tudley's "impossible" achievements!).

Resources/Activities: The author includes a recipe for hummingbird feeder solution and a hopping paper turtle craft in the back matter. On Mr. Himmelman's website there is a cool video of a boy reading/presenting a different one of the author's books in ASL (sign language) as well as a link to an interview on "Just One More Book" (episode 180) with the author talking about the origin of his story ideas and prolific production as well as the role of illustrations for an author/illustrator (the author had had sixty five books published in twenty-five years at the time the interview was done!). [Note: the interview is 24 minutes long-I could only get audio, I'm not sure if there is video that I couldn't see]. The publisher, Arbordale Publishing, has Common Core Alignments and quizzes on their website page for the book.
     Go visit a pond.
     Pinterest has hundreds of turtle crafts for kids! The delicious looking apple-grape edible frogs look like super snacktime fun. Footprint frog looks like a great keepsake. 
     Talk about the difference between improbable and impossible. How has time and scientific discoveries changed our view of the impossible? What is an "impossible" that a child would like to be able to do?

I love to hear what you think about my selection in the comments! :)

 This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. Along with tons of writing wisdom, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. #PPBF

Friday, April 4, 2014

Muktar and the Camels - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

     First, "Thank You" to everyone who voted for my fractured fairy tale during Susanna Leonard Hill's March madness contest. There were so many great stories, winning first place was an honor! I learned a lot, reading everyone's entries.
     But now it's back to Perfect Picture Book Friday! I love thinking about picture books, and pointing out my favorites.
     The book I'm reviewing this week is from my local library. I like to think that the reason I discover titles several years old that I haven't read yet is because during my previous library visits they were being enjoyed in children's homes! You'll want to find this one, too.
     I have been fortunate to travel outside the United States, but I've never been to Africa. And I hadn't read a picture book about Somali orphans before. Although I didn't know that was what this book was about when I picked it up. I picked it up because of the camel on the cover. Ever since I got to feed the camels at the San Diego zoo I've had a soft spot for camel lips. Yes, lips, not a typo. Up close, the animals don't smell particularly delightful, and the fur on their sides is coarse, but their lips are velvet. As long as they aren't aiming a gob of spit my way, I understand Muktar's attraction to these creatures.
Title: Muktar and the Camels
2009 Smithsonian Notable Book for Children
Author: Janet Graber
Illustrator: Scott Mack
Publisher: Henry Holt/Christy Ottaviano Books, 2009
Intended Audience: 4-8 
Themes: Orphans, Somalia and Kenya, Camels
     Bare feet slap across the hard earthen floor of the Iftin Orphanage as children gather in the dining hall to gobble down bowls of warm posho.

Synopsis: An eleven year-old boy who lives in an orphanage on the border of Kenya and Somalia misses the nomadic life he shared with his parents and dreams of tending camels again when a librarian brings books--and three camels--to his school.
What I liked about this book: The book is poignant, but not sad. This is one instance where I thought the use of a flashback in a picture book was effective. In just one spread it took me to the world where "Camels are treasure." They are transportation, food and fabric. The camel meant life to Muktar. And now he has neither his parents nor the camels.
     The author's note at the end of the book touches very briefly on the political situation in Somalia that gave rise to orphanages like Muktar's. The book is based on real libraries that are transported by a three-camel convoy eight times a month to orphanages in these areas. I grew up in an area that had a bookmobile and remember how I waited excitedly on the street corner for the books to arrive. (they have since built a library!)
     The illustrations done in oil on canvas lend a dreamy feel to the spreads. At times, it was as if I could feel the shimmering heat and drought.

Activities and Resources: The publisher's link above takes you to a page that shows three spreads from the book. You can also click on the author link on that page for an interview with Ms. Graber (the illustrator link leads to a blank page). Pinterest has a wealth of camel crafts for kids. I loved the egg carton camels and the handprint camels. On youtube, an art teacher named Abbeth can show you how to make a camel out of six pipe cleaners. (I never liked working with pipe cleaners, always poking myself, but maybe you are more coordinated!)
     In February, Roberta posted on the Nonfiction Monday blog about My Librarian is a Camel.  Read (or reread!) both books and talk about the value of libraries and getting books to those without them.
Go through your books at home and select a few to pass along. If you are in Georgia or Minnesota you might consider dropping the books off to go to kids in Africa like Muktar through the Books for Africa program! Better World Books has dropoff locations in many areas, too and local libraries are often on the lookout for books for their second hand sales.
     Learn more about Somalia. I like to start with a map and overview at National Geographic, but searching the country name brings up hundreds of results.

    This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. Along with tons of writing wisdom, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. #PPBF

I rode a camel when we were in Lanzarote. Have you ever ridden one?

Friday, March 28, 2014

No Perfect Picture Book Friday today - March Madness

    There is no perfect picture book Friday review today. Susanna Leonard Hill, our fearless Friday leader, is awash with the March Madness fractured fairy tale contest.
    There were a LOT of great stories in the bunch. If you get a chance, stop by Susanna's blog to read and vote for your favorite! The greatest joy for me as a writer is hearing that someone enjoyed what I wrote.  That's really what it's all about. :)

Thursday, March 20, 2014


     Springtime is here!
     How do I know? I don't need to listen to the weather forecast. Susanna Leonard Hill told me it's here!
     If you don't follow Perfect Picture Book Fridays, you should. Not just for the great picture book reviews, but also because Susanna shares fun writing contests for pitches and short stories. Today is the kick-off (I know, imagery for the wrong season)--okay today is the first pitch (but that could be confused with a writing pitch)--today a new challenge SPRINGS forth, hosted on Susanna's blog. Can you tell I'm giddy with excitement?
public domain image by Vera Kratochvil
     The challenge was to write a fractured fairy tale of less than 400 words, post it on our blogs and link to Susanna's. I chose to incorporate the theme of Springtime in my story. It's based on TWO fairy tales. Can you guess which two?
     So here is, drum roll please: THE THREE WIGGLY WORMS BLUFF


“Melting snow is swamping the soil! Time to head to higher ground,” said Papa Worm.

Papa, Mama and Baby Worm squirmed to the surface and wiggled up the grassy slope to face—
the dreaded sidewalk.

“Ow! It’s rough,” said Baby.
“Go as fast as you can.” Mama gave him a pat. “And keep a lookout for birds.”

Baby wiggled as fast as he could.
But he was only halfway across when a robin swooped down.

“I’m going to gobble you up and take you to my babies!” the robin squawked.

“I’m a baby myself. Barely a bite, and not worth your flight. Mama is coming, she’s more than a morsel. Why don’t you wait for her?” said Baby.
The robin thanked Baby and sent him on his way.

When the coast looked clear, Mama wiggled as fast as she could.
But she was barely halfway across when the robin hopped out from a bush.
“I’m going to gobble you up and take you to my babies!” the robin squawked.

“I’d make an adequate dinner, but if you want to treat your babies to a feast you might want to wait for Papa worm. He’s coming next,” said Mama.
The robin thanked Mama and sent her on her way.

Papa did calisthenics, warming up his wiggle. Between the birds and the pavement heating up, He needed to be fast!

Papa wasn’t halfway across when the robin landed in his path.
“I’m going to gobble you up and take you to my babies!” the robin squawked. “You are plump perfection!”

“Is it true that the early bird gets the worm?” asked Papa.
“That’s true.” The robin opened wide.

“Stop! How do I know you’re the early bird? Maybe someone else is supposed to eat me,” said Papa.
A second bird saw its chance. “I was here first.”
“No, you weren’t!” the robin screeched.
“I’m the early bird!” they both insisted.
The two birds went beak to beak, pecking and pulling feathers.

While the birds quarreled, Papa wiggled,
across the concrete and—Ploop!—down a hole in the grass.

“No worm for the early bird today.” Papa hugged his family.
They wiggled down to enjoy their damp, but not flooded, springtime home. . .

until summer heat baked the soil and they had to return across the sidewalk again.

For those of you who are counting-that's 383 words! Welcome to Spring. :))

Monday, March 10, 2014

Trouper - Perfect Picture Book Friday

      I would have bought this book based on the cover alone.
      Mr. E. B. Lewis lives in New Jersey and I was fortunate to hear him speak when he came to the elementary school my kids attended. I don't know if "room parents" go to a lot of the school assemblies, but I made sure I went to his! He is an extraordinary artist, adept at capturing emotions in watercolor brushstrokes. 
     This is the author's debut picture book, but she's no slouch either! 
     I have to stop myself-- I don't want to give all the juicy tidbits away in my opening. On a scale of 1 to 5, this book is a 6.

Title: Trouper
Author: Meg Kearney
Illustrator: E.B. Lewis
Publisher: Scholastic, 2013
FICTION based on real events
Audience: age 4 and up
(an author's note inside the front page mentions
a "kill shelter" but that is not part of the story)
Themes: Dogs, Pet adoption, Kindness

               "Back in the before time,
                before I licked your nose
                or sniffed your shoes,
                before you bought my bed and bowl,
               before the place you picked me out,
               I ran with a mob of mutts.
Synopsis: Told from the dog's point of view, Trouper tells the story of a feral dog waiting to be adopted. The reader isn't told why Trouper is homeless. The book follows his journey to the animal shelter and his wait to find a home.

What I like about this book: Everything. Nowhere in the text does it say that the dog is handicapped. And although the handicap is shown in the illustrations, this is a handi-capable dog that plays with the other strays and acts like any other dog. As someone who has owned "special needs" pets, I adore the way the issue is a non-issue here. And oh-h-h those doggie eyes. Without being pedantic, it also addresses the tough issue of animal cruelty ("dodging stones thrown by boys who thought the world was mean, and so they had to be.") and the reward of adopting an older pet. Once again, the dog's age isn't mentioned in the text, but the graying muzzle in the illustrations lets the reader know Trouper is no puppy.
Resources/Activities: I covered this topic when I reviewed Nancy Furstinger's picture book, Maggie's Second Chance. You can read that post here. Susanna Hill also covered the topic and listed activities in her review last week of JJ The American Street Dog. I am a firm believer that kindness to animals develops kindness in other parts of life. The author, Meg Kearney, adopted the dog who is the "real" Trooper. Her website has a short video (keep the box of tissues close by!) about how Trooper joined her family. And she explains why her dog's name is spelled differently in the book.

Interesting side note:
I have an unpublished manuscript about a dog waiting to be adopted, also told from the large black dog's point of view. It was the very first picture book manuscript I wrote, several years ago.This subject is personal to me and I am always thrilled to see the big black dog get a home and story, even if it wasn't mine!

 This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. Along with tons of writing wisdom, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. #PPBF

Thanks for taking the time to leave me thoughts and comments!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

How to Hide a Lion - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

     Sometimes I read a picture book and the topic or underlying theme is what draws me in. Sometimes it's the vibrant illustrations. The book I selected this week has sweet illustrations, and a nice theme, but it was the story itself that gave me a serious case of book love. Helen has a second book in this series coming out in July (2014) that I will want to take a look at!
Title: How to Hide a Lion
Author/Illustrator: Helen Stephens
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company, 2012
Intended Audience: 0-5
Themes: Prejudice, Friendship

     One hot day, a lion strolled into town to buy a hat.
     But the townspeople were scared of lions, so the lion ran away.

Synopsis: The townspeople are frightened by a lion that comes into town looking for a hat. Luckily, when the lion runs off to hide he finds a little girl called Iris who isn't afraid of lions. Despite her parents' cluelessness, their luck eventually runs out when Mom stumbles upon the sleeping feline. What's a nice lion to do?

Why I liked this book: Except for the fact that the lion doesn't eat people, he looks like a wild lion. He doesn't wear clothes or talk. And despite the fact that he is never named in the text and we never see him communicate with humans (we're told that he asks for a hat and he interacts with Iris without dialogue), his personality shines through. He lets Iris comb the leaves out of his mane, he bounces with her on her bed. This book made me believe that everyone could interact with lions like Kevin Richardson aka "the lion whisperer." (see the first three minutes of the embedded video. I think Joanna Marple shared this with me first and I have watched it multiple times!) A magical feeling reminiscent of Robert the Rose Horse (who wore clothes) -- almost so much so that I wondered if the remarkably similar ending was in homage. Although the book starts with the lion, it ends with Iris and cements the logical innocence of their relationship. I also love that Iris never changes clothes. Silly? Maybe. But it makes sense to me.

Resources:  You can page through many of the spreads and read the text on the Publisher's webpage for the book. Read an interview with author/illustrator Helen Stephens about her book.
Lion crafts are popular! Prepare to get your mind boggled by the lion crafts on Pinterest. There are several youtube videos on making lion crafts, too, too much to embed here. Just google youtube lion crafts for kids and there they are! The D L T K's crafts for kids has a super easy paper plate lion. Danielle's Place has a slightly more complex paper plate lion as well as 3-D lions made with styrofoam cups, stuffed lions, paper bag lions--you get the idea. There's a bunch!
Flickr has a vintage paper lion doll with clothes to put on! The image is copyright reserved and the owner didn't respond to my request to get permission to post it here, but you can search the term vintage paper lion doll to see it. It is absolutely adorable!
Talk about the differences between wild and domestic animals.
Visit a zoo.
Talk about what it means to have an open mind. Most kids this age do! Perhaps it's the adults (as in the story) who let experience teach us too much. 
Play hide and go seek. 

This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. Along with tons of writing wisdom, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. #PPBF

 Thanks for visiting! Is there an animal you would like to hide in your house?
 I'm fond of lemurs and otters, but I'm content to let them live in the wild.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A Snick of Magic - Book review

     When I read this book, I wondered if the author ever took her manuscript to a First Pages session. I imagined the faces of everyone in attendance and the quiet that would have fallen over the room during the reading, followed by the chaos at the end as the editors and agents vied in hand to hand combat to secure the rights to be associated with the project.
     Yes, it's that good.
     As a writer, it simultaneously makes you want to put your pencils away and leave writing to the masters, and inspires you to work that much harder to make your own voice come alive on the page. Because for me, the book wasn't so much about the plot (although that worked too!) as it was about the voice. The glorious voice.

Title: A Snicker of Magic
Author: Natalie Lloyd
Publisher: Scholastic, February 25, 2014
Audience: 8-12
Themes: Home, Confidence, Finding magic in your heart and mind
    "They say all the magic is gone up out of this place," said Mama.

Synopsis: This is a VERY condensed synopsis. No spoilers. If you want to read a more complete synopsis of the book I suggest you head to the reviews already posted on Kirkus or Publisher's Weekly.
Twelve year-old Felicity Juniper Pickle arrives in Midnight Gulch in a broken down van with her mother, younger sister and their dog. Although it's Mom's hometown, there's no logical reason for the connection that Felicity feels for the town. But then this book isn't about logic. It's about magic! And for a girl who has traveled across the country in moves propelled by Mama's wandering heart, the magical feeling of belonging is something worth hanging onto and fighting for.

What I like about this book: The book transported me to Midnight Gulch. The lyrical small-town voice of all the characters brought the town alive. And Felicity's sense of longing was palpable. The magical realism worked especially well because it was interesting, but not essential to the plot. At first, it felt a bit coincidental that a girl who "sees" words around people meets a boy in a wheelchair who "sees" colors in music. But the story teller voice was so strong I found myself saying "why not?" The book explores the possibilities and potentials in places and people. Felicity has had more than a few setbacks in life but at her core she's definitely a glass half-full person. (and if there's magic in ice cream, I'm ready to volunteer for the research!)
     My only gripe? I wish Aunt Cleo wasn't a chain-smoker. Or maybe she could have given the cigs up as part of her transformation. In a book about the power of optimism, the death sticks made my nose wrinkle every time they appeared.
     My favorite quote? There's a lot to like here but this message of empowerment was a winner.
     "Maybe sometimes the words I say are as magical as the words I see."

Resources: Scholastic has an 8 page activity booklet for A Snicker of Magic. I especially like the prompt to invent your own ice cream flavor and name its characteristics!
 Look at photos of strangers and "pretend" you have Felicity's power. What words do you see above them? Start a Beedle club and do an anonymous good deed for someone (or some organization).
If you want to learn more about the author, there's a super interview with Natalie Lloyd on Literary Rambles.

I was fortunate to snag an ARC of this title from Shelf Awareness. My review is based on that uncorrected proof. I was not required to provide a review in exchange for the copy. The opinions in this review are my own.