Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Soccer Fence

Booklist (February 1, 2014 (Vol. 110, No. 11))
Grades 1-3. Hector tells of apartheid’s gradual breakdown, which happened while he was growing up in South Africa. As a young black boy, he watches white boys playing soccer, but they ignore his request to join their game. Years pass and changes come. After the first open election, Nelson Mandela becomes president. Later, South Africa hosts a soccer tournament and wins with an integrated team. And, at long last, a white boy invites Hector to play soccer with him. Bildner overcomes some of the problems inherent in a picture book with a time frame extending over several years. Roughly four years old in the opening scenes, Hector is in his early teens at the end, but the illustrations convincingly portray the boys as they grow up, while the narrative thread connecting the story’s events is strong. Combining pencil drawings and acrylics, the illustrations are colorful and expressive. An appended apartheid timeline, aimed at a much older audience, briefly discusses significant events. This unusual picture bookshows social change as it affects one boy.

Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood

School Library Journal (June 1, 2014)
Gr 3-7-In the newest addition to this inventive series, Revolutionary War figure Nathan Hale tells the story of World War I with the support of two sidekicks who help shine light on some of the nuances of the historical event. The narrative explores why the war began, each country's role, battle tactics and technology implemented, and the lasting impact of the conflagration. Each country is represented by an animal, bringing to mind Art Spiegelman's iconic Maus (Pantheon, 1986). The facts are well researched and include statistics, as well as direct quotes from historical figures. The drawings are detailed and engaging, and the sparse use of color matches the tone of the tale. Not for the faint of heart, the book doesn't mince the gruesome, tragic reality of the Great War. The format lends itself as an effective presentation through the lens of Hale's sidekicks: a serious soldier who serves to clarify details, and an irreverent executioner who provides some much-needed comic relief. A mixture of textbook and slapstick, this essential read makes history come alive in a way that is relevant to modern-day life and kids.-Jenna Lanterman, formerly at The Calhoun School and Mary McDowell Friends School, New York City (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

President Taft is Stuck in the Bath

Booklist (March 15, 2014 (Vol. 110, No. 14))
Grades K-3. No amount of squeezing and shimmying or hefting and stretching will do: President Taft is stuck in the bath. Even if the entire event may not be true, Barnett turns the nonetheless legendary story into a hilarious cabinet-level fiasco as the president calls in one secretary after another to help, with the secretary of agriculture ready to grease the sides with butter, and the secretary of war even offering to blow up the tub. Only the level-headed First Lady suggests all the assembled men pull Taft out of the bath at once. The combination of Barnett’s repetitive assonance (“‘Double blast!’ said Taft. ‘Blast and drat!’”) and Van Dusen’s gouache caricature illustrations (with strategically placed water and bubbles) sets the hilarious tone. A concluding author’s note reveals an archival photo of four men sitting in Taft’s custom-built bathtub for the White House and presents the actual facts pertaining to the president and his numerous commissioned bathtubs. Studying the presidency need never be dull again.

Crankee Doodle

Booklist (June 1, 2013 (Vol. 109, No. 19))
Grades K-3. In this laugh-out-loud reworking of “Yankee Doodle,” Angleberger introduces a miserable and argumentative colonial fellow whose goofy-toothed pony tries to talk him into going to town. At first, Crankee has lots of reasons not to make the trip: “There is nothing good to do in town. Why would I want to go to town?” The pony suggests a shopping adventure, and then lists the things that they could purchase, and for each suggestion, his grouchy companion responds with a stream of whining answers. Eventually, the pony is brought to tears, and a contrite Crankee agrees to the trip after all, with an unexpected turn that puts the pony behind the wheel of a car. In his first picture book, the author of the Origami Yoda series puts a witty, accessible spin on the familiar song, while Bell’s bright, bold gouache images extend the zany humor. One final delightful twist: it’s Crankee’s pony who narrates the postscript about the tale’s traditional origins.

Firefly July

Booklist starred (January 1, 2014 (Vol. 110, No. 9))
Preschool-Grade 3. Celebrated poet and anthologist Janeczko has collected 36 very short poems (none is longer than 10 lines) about the seasons. The selections are by both children’s poets (Charlotte Zolotow, April Halprin Wayland, J. Patrick Lewis, Eve Merriam, and more) and adult poets (Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost, Ted Kooser, William Carlos Williams). In their brevity, the poems remind us that less can often be more and that there is art in economy. Every reader—or listener—will have his or her favorite poem, but some that are outstanding include Gerald Jonas’ “In Passing,” Joyce Sidman’s “A Happy Meeting,” J. Patrick Lewis’ “Firefly July,” April Halprin Wayland’s “Sandpipers,” and Ted Kooser’s “Snow Fence.” Only a few of the poems are universally familiar: William Carlos Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow,” Carl Sandburg’s “Fog,” and—arguably—Robert Frost’s “Dust of Snow.” For young children, most of the others will be agreeable surprises, and each entry offers a happy encounter with words put beautifully together. Caldecott Honor Book artist Sweet’s pictures are, in a word, gorgeous. Executed in watercolor, gouache, and mixed-media, they capture and expand the spirit and sensibility of the verses they illustrate to wonderful effect. The harmonious cooperation of words and images provides a memorable reading experience for each season and for the whole year round.


School Library Journal (February 1, 2014)
K-Gr 4-The subtitle "Crazy Car Poems" correctly describes the contents of this collaboration-22 pieces of pure fanciful nonsense by two of America's cleverest and most inventive poets currently writing for young people. Offerings include a "Giant Bookmobile of Tomorrow," driven by the Gingerbread Man; a pirate-operated, ocean-going "Fish Car"; and a "Dragonwagon" that "feeds with greed on rusty bikes." The child whose dad navigates the 'Balloon Car' says ".boy, does he he get mad at me/When I call out- 'Hey, POP!' .and the elderly lady operating the first-prize, supersize 'High-Heel Car' ".wins every footrace/Then honks her shoehorn." It's quite possible that Holmes had the most fun of all creating his spot-on, detail-laden illustrations of bizarre imaginary worlds ranging from above the rooftops to beneath the sea. Parts of his digitally-colored pencil and watercolor paintings appear to be formed from mixed media: polymer clay, paper/cardboard collage, a folded sheet of lined notebook paper with a paperclip grille and ballpoint bumper. The number of clever eccentricities in the illustrations is eye-boggling. For example, in the scene accompanying 'Bathtub Car', the duck/king's 'royal throne' is the kind found in the bathroom. Younger children will like the silliness of the poems; older kids and adults will enjoy poring over the pictures. This highly entertaining collection is fun to read and will provide inspiration for youngsters trying to create their own humorous poetry.-Susan Scheps, formerly at Shaker Public Library, OH (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Absolutely Almost

Booklist starred (May 1, 2014 (Vol. 110, No. 17))
Grades 4-6. Albie almost understands why he is starting fifth grade at a new school. It’s got something to do with the things he can’t quite do, like subtract numbers inside his head or figure out the words in books. Fortunately, Albie also gets a kindhearted new sitter named Calista, who can turn Albie’s sadness into happiness simply through the magic of donuts. But even Calista can’t stop the mean kid at school from calling Albie names, or make Albie’s parents see how hard he tries in school. As every kid knows, some problems take more than donuts to solve. Graff (A Tangle of Knots, 2013) creates a heartfelt portrait of a child searching for nothing more than a safe place to thrive. The story is parsed into short chapters that can stand alone as mini-stories, perfect for young readers who aren’t ready to tackle full pages of text. This format is also well suited to presenting the incremental steps of Albie’s evolution from bewildered victim to hero of his own story. Beautifully written, Albie’s story is accessible and dignified, with a gentle message that will touch any reader’s heart. Middle-grade readers will love the references to Dav Pilkey’s inexhaustibly popular Captain Underpants series, which has introduced so many children to the fun side of reading. A perfect book to share with struggling readers.

Musk Ox Counts

Booklist (October 15, 2013 (Vol. 110, No. 4))
Grades K-2. In A Is for Musk Ox (2012), Zebra tries (unsuccessfully, but hilariously) to assign Musk Ox to the M page of the alphabet book. Now putting together a counting book, Zebra knows enough to give his costar top billing as “1 musk ox,” but the contrary creature steps out of line again. Not only is he AWOL from his own page (“My page is lonely”), he creates chaos on every other page, stealing the show and rewriting the book all while bickering with Zebra. Those seeking a conventional counting book should look elsewhere, but kids who are bored with predictable fare will find plenty to amuse them here, from the main characters’ banter to the absurd logic of Musk Ox’s arithmetic, in which “8 snakes + 1 musk ox + 1 whiny zebra = 8 legs.” The clever text is playfully illustrated in a varied series of scenes featuring well-realized, comical characters. A witty addition to the Musk Ox series.