Monday, February 25, 2013

The Humming Room

Booklist starred (February 1, 2012 (Vol. 108, No. 11))

Grades 4-7. Small, wild, and stubborn, 12-year-old Roo keeps her emotions close, and she prefers the constants of the natural world to the transience of people. When her drug-dealer father and his girlfriend are killed, she is sent to live with an unknown uncle in his isolated, cold island home. There Roo’s explorations uncover mysteries—an intriguing boy with unique ties to the sea; an elusive humming sound; a long-dead, walled-off garden; and, surprisingly, a frail, petulant cousin named Phillip. Secrets unfold, as do revelations about the power of compassion, as well as how relationships—between past and present and people and nature—matter. As such connections are made, Roo finds a sense of belonging. Inspired by Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, this noteworthy novel stands wholly on its own, as Potter, with classic and contemporary storytelling flair, deftly interweaves fantasy, mystery, suspense, and realism. Beautifully wrought, eloquent prose combines with vivid setting details and diversely drawn characters to affectingly portray themes of loneliness and grief. Roo is a memorable character—her experiences prove transformative in unexpected ways, and ultimately her complexities and growth ring true. Poignant without sentimentality, this is a compelling read that is certain to resonate—and linger—with young readers.

Remarkable: a novel

Booklist starred (March 15, 2012 (Vol. 108, No. 14))

Grades 3-7. This whimsical debut takes readers to the town of Remarkable, which is the most perfectly perfect town in the world, filled with extraordinarily talented citizens, the best organic fruit jelly, and amazing weather. And then there is Jane. Plain Jane is 10 years old, of medium height, and rather forgettable: “if she were a color, she’d be beige or maybe clear.” While the rest of the children in town, including her genius brother (a photorealistic portrait painter) and sister (a mathematician), attend Remarkable’s School for the Remarkably Gifted, Jane is the only student enrolled in the public school. But Jane’s dull life takes an exciting turn when the devious Grimlet twins wreak havoc and a sweet-toothed pirate named Captain Rojo Herring arrives. Add in a psychic pizza-maker, more stinky pirates, a Loch Ness Monster–type lake dweller, and a search for a missing composer, and you’ve got one seriously fun romp. With the help of Grandpa John, the only other overlooked member of the family, Jane learns something important: “the best things in life are often quite ordinary.” Filled with clever wordplay, wholly unique situations, outlandish characters (with names like Penelope Hope Adelaide Catalina), and short, plot-propelling chapters, Foley’s novel is a remarkable middle-grade gem.

Helen's Big World The Life of Helen Keller

Horn Book (September/October, 2012)

Though different in scope, these picture book biographies both give powerful introductory looks at the huge challenges Helen Keller and her teacher, Annie Sullivan, faced and surmounted. Beginning with an excerpt from one of Annie’s letters to a former teacher about first meeting Helen, Annie and Helen provides a more detailed look at Helen and her teacher’s early years together. The text considers Annie’s point of view as much as Helen’s, and Annie’s strength of character is highlighted. Peppered with excerpts from Annie’s letters, the book comes full circle by concluding with the first letter Helen writes home on her own. Meanwhile, Helen’s Big World covers the whole span of Helen’s life from birth through her many years with Annie and after. Rappaport characteristically uses quotes to extend and heighten the emotion. A timeline at the end helps put important dates in perspective. Though this book focuses more on Helen than on Annie, readers get a more acute awareness of how much Annie sacrificed for Helen: "Teacher read many books to me. In spite of repeated warnings from oculists, she has always abused her eyes for my sake." In contrast to Colón’s rather too-sedate line and watercolor pictures for Annie and Helen, Tavares’s illustrations (ink, watercolor, and gouache) for Helen’s Big World are, per the title, big and bold and often in intense close-up. Stirring and awe-inspiring, both books are appended with acknowledgments and further reading and include a chart of the finger alphabet Annie used. In addition, Annie and Helen’s endpapers provide real photographs, and the back cover has a raised Braille alphabet; the cover of Helen’s Big World includes the title in Braille. julie roach

About Average

Kirkus Reviews (June 1, 2012)

How can a plain girl with few talents possibly achieve the triumphal moment of a sixth-grader's dreams? Organized, orderly and all-around average, Jordan Johnston has a more pressing problem than fame in her last few weeks at Baird Elementary School. Classmate Marlea Harkins' bullying seems as unwarranted as it is emotionally painful. Jordan's solution is surprising: She fights back with niceness; at least it distracts. The tension rises as the warm, late-spring weather becomes more threatening and the heat frays tempers. The tornado that finally comes offers relief as well as an occasion for Jordan to demonstrate her strengths. As he has done so often before, Clements (Troublemaker, 2011, etc.) offers a comfortable third-person narrative, a convincing school story full of familiar sights and sounds, as well as a believable cast of characters. Unusually, Clements also models grown-ups with fulfilling, if ordinary lives--a radio-station meteorologist who weekends with the National Guard, an English teacher who provides books from his childhood collection for his students. Even the setting in central Illinois seems ordinary. What is extraordinary is how Clements can continue to produce realistic examples of kid power year after year. More than a feel-good story with a message, this is another good read. (Fiction. 9-12)

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

Booklist (July 2012 (Vol. 108, No. 21))

Grades 1-3. First it was an Academy Award–winning animated short. Then it was an intuitively interactive iPad story app. And now it’s a regular old book, which is fitting given that the story is all about the lasting power of books to transport and nourish the soul. Our hero is a bibliophile modeled after legendary children’s-literature advocate William Morris (in spirit) and Buster Keaton (in looks), whose gray-colored world is colorized when he sees a woman fly past, pulled by “a festive squadron of flying books.” One such book leads him to take custodianship of a house full of rambunctious stories. As the years pass, he writes one of his own, which in turn inspires a young girl after he is gone. The message-heavy narrative is lifted by Joyce’s superb artwork, presenting nostalgic, picket-fence scenes with a modeled, dimensional feel built on the animation but given a lustrous polish for the printed page. Perhaps most fascinating, the movie, app, and book taken together present an entirely kid-friendly opportunity to talk about the interplay between content and format. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: The movie and app iterations of this work have attracted gobs of acclaim and attention for the book to capitalize on.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Lulu Walks the Dogs

Booklist (June 1, 2012 (Vol. 108, No. 19))

Grades 2-4. Last seen demanding a dinosaur for a pet (Lulu and the Brontosaurus, 2010), my-way-or-the-highway Lulu is determined to raise the money she needs for a certain unnamed purchase. After her parents reject her logical pleading (example: they can save money by skipping the dentist!), she concocts a plan to raise cash as a dog walker. Oh, but there are problems. Each of her canine clients—Brutus, Pookie, and Cordelia—have idiosynchrasies she can’t master. Enter the one person who can help: annoying brainiac goody-goody Fleischman. Will the tortures never end?! The highlights here are Viorst’s constant authorial intrusions as she skips entire topics and chapters (“I really don’t feel like discussing that right now”), offers “Time-out” Q&As for readers’ inevitable questions, and provides the occasional encouragement (“hang in there, please—this sentence is long!”). The sarcastic, biting, self-aware tone never goes too far, and Lane’s exaggerated pencil illustrations make readers feel every bit of Lulu’s frustrations—and joys. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Take Viorst (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, 1972), add Lane (It’s a Book, 2010), and you’ve got a recipe for serious interest from anyone who knows their kid lit.

Dragons Love Tacos

Booklist (August 2012 (Online))

Grades K-2. Tacos are high on the list of dragon-friendly foods. Who knew? There is, however, a major qualification: the salsa must be mild (“even a speck of hot pepper makes a dragon snort sparks”). Rubin and Salmieri, the creators of Those Darn Squirrels! (2008), offer up a how-to guide to throwing one heck of a dragons’ taco party. First, you’ll need tacos—“pantloads of tacos”—and mild salsa, of course. Then, throw in a few decorations (taco-shaped balloons will work) and some music and—voilà. Unfortunately, in this tale, someone didn’t read the fine print on the Totally Mild Salsa jar, and the hosts are in for a toasty surprise. The slight story meanders a bit, but the humor is helped along by Salmieri’s cartoonish watercolor, gouache, and pencil illustrations, which extend the text through small details, from an “I Love Tacos” T-shirt to a No Spicy Salsa: A Guide to Dragon Cuisine cookbook. The whole thing is over-the-top ridiculousness, and kids will most likely warm to it for that very reason.

Fifty Cents and a Dream Young Booker T. Washington

Horn Book (January/February, 2013)

The emphasis of this brief biographical portrait of Booker T. Washington is on his quest for knowledge: as a young boy living in slavery, wanting to learn to read, and then as a young adult attending the Hampton Institute. In 1872, with only a few coins in his pocket, Washington made the five-hundred-mile journey on foot to get to the school, working along the way to earn money for food. Once he was admitted, he worked as a janitor to pay his room and board. Asim's poetic text underscores Washington's determination to get an education and then to see to it that others would have the same opportunity. A fascinating author's note discusses Washington's political views -- especially his willingness to compromise -- as controversial among African Americans in his own time; the author also tells why he chose to focus on the journey to Hampton as symbolic of Washington's legacy. Collier's watercolor and collage illustrations show the powerful determination on his subject's face, while in many of the pictures, light, abstract shapes rise into the air above Washington, representing his dreams. Everything about the bookmaking here -- from the carefully chosen typography to the look of parchment paper to the endpapers taken from Webster's American Spelling Book -- reverberates with the importance of books and learning. kathleen t. horning

Forget-Me-Nots Poems to Learn by Heart

Horn Book (May/June, 2012)

Former Children’s Poet Laureate Hoberman has selected more than 120 poems that are good choices for memorization. She divides the poems into eleven sections, beginning with "The Short of It" -- very short poems, such as limericks, perfect for building confidence. Other sections include "Happiness," "Weather and Seasons," and "The Long of It" -- very long poems such as Edward Lear’s "The Jumblies" and Hoberman’s own "The Llama Who Had No Pajama." Poets include some who wrote originally for adults (Frost, de la Mare, Tolkien) as well as many famous children’s poets both old (Milne, Stevenson) and new (Kuskin, Schertle, Grimes, and others). The collection altogether is a treasure trove of the familiar and the fresh, including Nancy Willard’s evocative "Magic Story for Falling Asleep": "When the last giant came out of his cave / and his bones turned into the mountain…" In a few cases Hoberman has excerpted from a longer poem for a more manageable length. Emberley’s watercolor, pastel, and pencil pictures both embellish and illustrate the poems, sometimes providing one picture for a poem and sometimes tying multiple poems together with a larger illustration. The collection concludes with an index of first lines and tips on memorizing a poem. A wonderful gift book for poetry lovers, but even children who have never considered learning a poem by heart will find much to love here. susan dove lempke

A Rock Is Lively

School Library Journal (October 1, 2012)

Gr 3-6-Another beauty from Aston and Long, creators of the equally eye-catching An Egg Is Quiet (2006), A Seed Is Sleepy (2007), and A Butterfly Is Patient (2011, all Chronicle). This time they take on the seemingly sedentary world of rocks and minerals, showing them to be anything but (when you know your geology). Boiling underground, freezing in space, colorful or drab, enormous or minuscule, health food (grits for gizzards), tools for prehistoric man and modern chimps, canvas for paleolithic art or construction material for the Taj Mahal-rocks get around. Aston's quiet text follows their morphings from magma to various incarnations and back again, while Long's meticulous, elegant watercolors record their astounding diversity. Rocks are "surprising" as geodes. They are "creative" when viewed as pigments for a prehistoric palette. Rocks are "lively." A handsome piece of bookmaking from the artistically rock-strewn cover to the glorious azurite endpapers, this is an elegant window into the hitherto static existence of rocks and minerals. Eye-catching and eye-opening.-Patricia Manning, formerly at Eastchester Public Library, NY (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.