Friday, February 28, 2014

Dad and Pop - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

      I wanted to love this book.
     And I was so happy when I did!
     If you're wondering why I didn't hold this review for Father's Day, I know, it isn't a new release, so I wasn't rushing it for that. It's simply that we don't do Perfect Picture Book reviews in the summer. And this book deserves some reader love. Put this one on your list.
Title: Dad and Pop
Author: Kelly Bennett
Illustrator: Paul Meisel
Publisher: Candlewick, 2010
Intended Audience: 4-7
Themes: Step parents, family
Opening: "I have two fathers.
               I call this one Dad,
               and this one Pop.

Synopsis:  A girl describes how her two fathers are different. The reader learns that the girl's parents have divorced and remarried in the second set of spreads where she is a baby in a picture with Dad and a young girl standing next to a woman in a wedding dress with Pop. There is no judgmental approach in how the two fathers are different-just the facts. And they're alike in more than one important way.
Dad likes to fish. Pop is a fish.
What I liked about this book: I grew up in a step-family, and although it was the result of death and not divorce, I think step parents often get a bum rap. Granted the merger of two families isn't always the Brady Bunch. Families are all different. But blended families aren't complete disasters either. The tension that existed before a divorce or during a single parenting phase is tough, too. That's another thing I particularly liked in this book. There is no hint of hostility about the divorce. It just "is." While I'm sure there is a place for books that explore the conflicts that do arise in these situations, it's nice to see a totally upbeat book on the subject. This is a blended-family focused on providing loving support for each other. If you're looking for a story with conflict and resolution--you aren't going to find it here.

Activities and Resources: Ms. Bennet's author page has an activity pack to download with mazes and more fun. She also reads the book on her website (the author link above takes you to the page).
     When I check online, everyone from Dr. Phil to WebMD has weighed in on the subject of step parenting. I don't have the expert qualifications to tell which advice carries weight and which does not. I did find it interesting that the Kids Health site has a tab for information on the topic for parents AND a tab for kids to click on that brings up links like "living with step parents" and "what to do if my family fights."
     Read Dad and Pop and compare it to a book Julie Rowan-Zoch reviewed a few week's back: Mary Ann Hoberman's All Kinds of Families.
  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, February 21, 2014

Commumity Soup - Perfect Picture Book Friday

     This was another case of love at first sight! 
     And I fell hard.
      My selection this week is a visual delight! It also tells a good story. AND it has a recipe to try. Yum-yum-yummy on so many levels.

     Title: Community Soup
     Author/Illustrator: Alma Fullerton
     (note for use with young readers: author also writes YA and her profile page
     references suicide. She does not have a teacher's guide for Community Soup on her site.)
     Publisher: Pajama Press, Inc., 2013
     Intended Audience: 4-7
     Theme: Kenya, Gardens, Problem-solving
     Opening: "It's soup day! 
                   Outside the schoolhouse, the teachers stir the broth. 
                   But where are the vegetables?"

     Synopsis: Children outside a Kenyan school go to harvest vegetables from their garden, but one classmate's goats escaped their pen and made their way to the garden.

     What I like love about this book: The collage illustrations give an amazing three-dimensional sense to the story. I've seen other great collage work (Knock, Knock springs to mind), but the cover of this book made me want to kiss the goat! (and yes, I'm a goat-kissing kind of person) Just the right amount of fuzzy texture and playful flint in it's eye. For me, this is a book where the illustrations grabbed me and wouldn't let go. Sticks and grass layered with colored sand. Simple items combined into exquisite illustrations. The trees, the children's faces, everything conveyed a joyous, playful feeling. Don't get me started on the hoof prints that pepper the text. The only thing that stopped me, for a moment, was the goat-owning child's reaction to the goat's mischief. Thankfully, one of her classmates has a MUCH better idea. (can't give away the ending!). To top off the book love fest, the back jacket flap says "A portion of the proceeds of this book will be donated to the Creation of Hope Project, which supports schools in Kenya in the building of community gardens." Smitten.
How could you be mad at this face?! p.14
     Activities and resources: The last page of the book is a recipe for Pumpkin Vegetable soup. Need I say more? With the snow this weekend, I haven't gotten to the store to get all the ingredients to try it yet, but it looks delish. And a great "excuse" to eat more vegetables if you don't already. 
     Plant your own garden. If it's still too cold to get started where you live, plan the garden out on paper and order the seeds from one of the big online retailers like Burpees or buy them (my local supermarkets have a good selection of vegetable seeds - but they sell out early!). 
     Make collages. Extra points for recycling items from nature.
     Visit a local petting zoo and scratch a goat behind its ears! I bet you'll both enjoy it.
     Learn more about Kenya. Time for Kids had great comprehensive content including a fun read and speak lesson in Swahili and a quiz on the site's content that home-schooling families might find useful. National Geographic Kids included an interesting video about the flamingos of Kenya. But DO NOT MISS Kids-4-Kenya. This site is offering a FREE 32-page workbook for teachers who request it during 2014. The site is a resource for their fund-rising effort, and I'm not a teacher, so I didn't want to use their funds to have it sent to me. Even without the workbook there is a wealth of information and links to recipes and online exercises. A real winner!
     Kirsten Larson reviewed another book by Ms. Fullerton for Perfect Picture Book Friday (thanks for introducing me to this author!). Compare Community Soup with A Good Trade.

     We are FINALLY seeing above-freezing temperatures that have me in the mood to think about the garden again. I enjoy fresh-picked leaf lettuce. Do you grow a favorite veggie?

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


Monday, February 17, 2014

The Can Man - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

     With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I thought it was the perfect time to share this book. This isn't a "flashy" title, and adults may find the plot predictable, but it captures the spirit of the season perfectly.

     Title: The Can Man

     Author: Laura E. Williams

     Illustrator: Craig Orback

     Publisher: Lee & Low, 2010

     Audience: 5-9

     Theme: Charity and generosity, Homeless people

     Opening line: "The homeless man slowly pushed his battered shopping cart down the sidewalk. At the corner, he stopped and poked through the garbage with a long stick."

     Synopsis:  A boy who wants a skateboard sees a homeless man collecting cans and realizes that there is money to be made by taking cans to the recycling center.

     Why I like this book:  I'm a big fan of recycling, so that part of the plot is an instant winner with me. I also think the boy in this story is a great role model for kids. The illustrator chose to paint a biracial family, which is also a nice choice. I think the cityscape he paints is cleaner than most I've been to (!), but otherwise the story feels very realistic. Kids want things that they can't always afford, and it's nice to see the main character taking the initiative to earn some money himself. The ripple effect of the boy's actions at the very end are a nice bonus. (I don't want to give the ending away!) When I picked up the book, I didn't realize all of the awards it had won.

     Activities/Resources: While the author doesn't have teaching materials available for this book, there is a great interview with Mr. Orback and Ms. Williams on the Lee & Low website that discusses The Can Man. I learned there that the man in the sporting goods store is a self-portrait of the artist!
     The internet has many sources of information about homelessness. The link to one site that gathered a number of child-appropriate lesson plans and activities is Durham Opening Doors Homeless Prevention & Services in Durham, North Carolina.
     This time of year there are many organizations collecting canned goods or looking for volunteers to purchase holiday gifts for the less fortunate. Making this a family activity is a worthwhile experience.
     Start a gratitude bowl. During the week leading up to Thanksgiving every day each member of the family can write down something they were thankful for (or dictate it to someone who can write for them). At Thanksgiving dinner, take turns reaching into the bowl and reading the papers out loud.

      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

     Wishing you the joy of home and friends and family this Thanksgiving.  

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Mark of the Dragonfly - Book Review

     First, my thanks to Delacorte Press (Random House) and Shelf Awareness for the Advance Reader's Copy of THE MARK OF THE DRAGONFLY by Jaleigh Johnson. This is an unbiased review.
    Note that the official publication date for this book is scheduled for March 25, 2014 and some details in the copy I read may have changed.

     Title: The Mark of the Dragonfly.
     Author: Jaleigh Johnson
     Publisher: Delacorte Press
     Intended Audience: Middle grade (8-12)

     Opening:   "Micah brought the music box to her on the night of the meteor shower. Piper never slept on these nights, when debris from other worlds fell from the sky."

     My overall takeaway impression of this book?
     There are so many questions left unresolved, it feels like the start of a series. And if it is, I wish the author and publisher said so up front. It would set different expectations for the book. Judging it as a stand-alone, it has fascinating parts and is a quick read. But why introduce cities and worlds that are never used in the story? What significance is the dragonfly? If the king lived in Squid City could it just have easily been the mark of the squid? We'll never know. Unless this isn't the whole story.

    The opening of the book had a distinctly dystopian tone. Set on the world of Solace, where there is a class structure of haves and have-nots, the main character, Piper, is a thirteen-year-old girl who lives in a city of have-nots. The citizens scavenge among the debris the plunges to the ground from other planets to find goods of value. Piper has been recently orphaned and has to rely on her own wits. Luckily, the town appears quite orderly despite the poverty and no one is preying on Piper. Reminiscent of the main character in Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicle series, Piper is a machinist of unparalled talent.

     About a quarter of the way through the book, the tone changes to a steampunky adventure. Piper boards the local steam train ( the 401) hoping that she can return a girl (Anna) she found in the debris field to the King in exchange for a reward, because Anna bears the King's mark- a tattoo of the dragonfly. From this point on, the story moves faster, but I kept wondering what happened to the best friend, Micah, Piper left behind? And the characters felt so naive and young that the small bit of romance that is hinted at between Piper and Gee, the boy/dragon creature known as a chamelin, was off-putting. Like if Harry Potter had suffered pangs of love and lust for Hermione in Book One.

     I'm also not keen on the back cover blurb. "One is smart. One is brave. And one is hiding a secret that could cost them their lives." If this refers to the three main characters, that means two of them aren't smart. Two of them aren't brave. And after reading it is clear that Anna isn't hiding her secret. She just doesn't remember her past or understand what has happened to her.

    I should note that Kirkus gave the book a glowing review. I would have to say-neither thumbs up or thumbs down. A 3 out of 5. It's a well-written book with an interesting premise that makes a lot of unfulfilled promises.  Maybe all the snow and cold has put me in a bad mood because I did enjoy reading this. The world-building is well done and the characters are interesting. If there is a book two and three that flesh out and give closure to the parts that were left in question--I'm on board!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Tadpole's Promise - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

     This week we have Valentine's Day AND the winter Olympics to celebrate. Being the softie that I am, I went with the Valentine's Day theme of love for my picture book selection.
     But be forewarned--this is a Grimm's fairy tale kind of love story. The kind of story where happy endings aren't a given. So maybe I'm not such a big softie after all.
     While I often review new releases, so we can share the thrill of discovery together, this week, I'm looking back to 2005, to the re-discovery of a book I enjoyed before I started reviewing perfect picture books. For my U.K. friends, this was a 2003 book, but those of us who live across the pond didn't get to read it until two years later!
     Title: Tadpole's promise
Note: new editions have a different cover

     Author: Jeanne Willis
     (also the author of Bog Baby, another favorite of mine!)
     Illustrator: Tony Ross

     Publisher: Atheneum Books for young readers, 2005 (U.S.)

     Audience: 5-12 HUGE Caveat:
     While the subject is simple, and some listings say the book is for ages 5 and up (Scholastic lists this as a K-2 interest book), I think older kids will enjoy the wry humor. The laugh out loud ending may NOT be suitable for many younger readers.
     Themes:  Humor, Love, metamorphosis

     Opening Lines: "Where the willow meets the water, a tadpole met a caterpillar. They gazed into each other's tiny eyes. . . ."

     Synopsis: A tadpole and a caterpillar fall in love and promise each other that they'll never change. Then metamorphosis takes place. Are the lovebirds still a perfect match?

     What I like about this book: The story AND the structure. The photo of the book cover above isn't a mistake. I didn't "forget" to turn the camera sideways. If you sit with the book in your lap and the title reads correctly, you open the book by lifting the pages up, not right to left. While this is harder to do than a "normal" page turn, it allows the illustrator to have the two spreads show action simultaneously above water and below water.
Crease in the middle - showing a partial top and bottom spread!
     See! It's genius.
     The text playfully recounts how, despite their best intentions, the creatures' can't escape their destiny: metamorphosis. And if you're expecting a happy ending? If you love slightly bawdy humor, this book is for you. [SPOILER ALERT: Tender-of-heart butterfly lovers may want to skip this book]

     Activities/resources: The book is read on Youtube here. Honestly, I don't like the reading. I don't like the "voices" the reader used. He uses a French accent for the tadpole, which is borderline racist in my book. But you can see the illustrations as he goes along. A less accurate portrayal, but way cuter, is this Vimeo video where Grade 2 students re-tell the story with their own illustrations. The "think educate share" blog from the U.K. has several great resources for this book but you do have to register with their site to view them. Texas librarian suggests using this book with 5th Graders to discuss their transition to middle school and what happens when you're not prepared for change. The book is a perfect way for science teachers to bring the subject of metamorphosis alive. At the high school level, teachers could use the book in a discussion of tragedies and ill-fated romances such as Romeo and Juliet. 

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



Monday, February 3, 2014

A HUNDRED HORSES - Book review

    I'm reviewing a book today. And it isn't a picture book.  
    Don't sound the alarms! I'm an adult, so it makes sense that I read books for adults, too. What some of you may not know is that I also read a lot of middle grade and young adult children's books. 
    If it's a good book, I want to read it. And honestly, I usually enjoy the middle grade and young adult books better than the adult tomes that often seem to me to be trying overly hard to impress. Go figure, I'm an attorney that likes plain language.
    Over the next week, I'm going to try to highlight a few NON-picture book titles that I've enjoyed.
     Don't worry--on Fridays it will be perfect picture books.
     First up, in honor of the Year of the Horse:
     Title: A Hundred Horses

     Author: Sarah Lean
     Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books, 
                             Jan. 2014
     Middle Grade - 217 pages (ARC)
     Intended Audience: Ages 8-12
     Themes: Friendship, Belonging
     Synopsis: Nell, an eleven-year old girl has to spend her vacation on a farm with relatives she doesn't know well. When a mysterious girl takes Nell's prized metal toy carousel, Nell stumbles onto a secret about the girl and the horses that are awaiting sale on a nearby farm.

     What I liked--and didn't like:
     I don't like the opening. 
             "Mom was late picking me up from drama
             club again. Which meant another twenty minutes of not wanting to  
             be there."
     For me, this opening was a bit whiny in tone, and after reading the entire book the drama club was no drama. Nothing pulled me in here.
     I also expected a bit more about horses. While horses are part of the plot, in large part you could have substituted any animal in their place and the story still would have worked. 

     I do like the magical realism, reminiscent (to me, anyway) of SKELLIG. I don't want to give the plot away entirely, so suffice it to say that this is a friendship story that also has an element of the supernatural. 
     The friendship element of the story worked well. It's the rare friendship that doesn't face obstacles, and the unlikely pairings that are often the most satisfying. My favorite lines from the book:
     "And I thought about magic and fairy tales. They are not real. It's just that beautiful things make you feel full up inside. As if nothing is missing. And that feels like a miracle." (p.178)
      Good stuff!

     I would recommend this book. Note: I received the ARC of this book from the publisher with no expectation or requirement for a positive review.