Monday, April 28, 2014

No Perfect Picture Book Friday

     I forgot to post this last week - but I'll make up by being early this week! There was no Perfect Picture Book Friday last week, and there will be none this week because our intrepid leader Susanna Hill is hosting a contest for illustrators. If you haven't stopped by yet, go see what the illustrators have drawn! (There are a couple 'Wiggly Worms' cover versions!)

Friday, April 18, 2014

Otter and Odder - Perfect Picture Book Friday Review #PPBF

     Maybe it's just me, but picture books seem to be getting larger and larger. I don't mean longer - because the opposite is true. The text is shorter but many of the physical books are actually a larger trim size. And this isn't always a great fit for laptime reading. Without extend-o arms, the lap sitter ends up getting bonked in the face at each page turn. 
     Luckily there are little gems, perfect for laptime. Oddly enough, the little gem I'm featuring isn't for the laptime group. While I think younger readers could enjoy this book, the text is more complex and Publisher's Weekly lists the intended age group as 6-10.

Title: Otter and Odder 
Author: James Howe
Illustrator: Chris Raschka
[link to profile on the National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature]   
Publisher: Candlewick Press  
Intended Audience: 6-10
[this is a 40-page picture book]   
Themes: Love/Tolerance, Otters, Fish

     The river sparkled the day Otter found love. He was not looking for it (love, that is). He was looking for dinner.

Synopsis: When Otter falls in love with a fish he faces peer pressure to act like an otter and eat her.

Why I liked this book: The primitive child-like watercolor and pencil drawings on the cover made me grab this one off the shelf! It is imaginative and creative with just enough realism to ground and carry the story. Playful and silly with a muted texture that reflects the emotional flux of the storyline.       Then the lovely text spun it's magic on me. Never talking down to the audience, the story explores what it means to feel emotions that may not mesh with societal norms (the society being the river creatures) and the tension to follow one's own heart. Look at this beautiful language!
 "Is it the way of the otter, he (Otter) wondered, to be alone." 

Resources/Activities: The New York Times pairs this book with Apple Cake by Julie Paschkis to explore different views of it means to find love. These could lend to a talk about what people give up or trade off for things in their life that they think are more important.
     For young readers, you could pair this book with Aaron Reynolds book, Carnivores, and discuss what the terms carnivore, herbivore and omnivore mean. I reviewed Jeanne Willis' book, Tadpole's Promise that explores a similar set-up--with a different outcome!
     The publisher's webpage has a link to a note about the origin of this story. An AMAZING 81-page curriculum about river otters, commissioned by Amigos Bravos in July 2013 is posted online. It has art projects, discussion questions and one of the cutest otters I've seen on the cover!
     Mr. Howe shares a four minute documentary about the power of words on A biography and additional interview are available on Scholastic's author page. Mr. Raschka also has a video on and a biography on Scholastic's website.

     Mr. Howe is an openly gay author of over 80 children's books. IMHO I don't think this fact affects your reading of this charming book but there is a beautiful interview with Mr. Howe on the Southern Poverty Law Center website that I wanted to link to in light of the hate crime that occurred in Kansas earlier this week. I like to think that our society is moving beyond such events and am shocked and shaken each time I'm proven wrong. Can't we all get along?

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 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?