Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Map To Everywhere

Booklist starred (October 1, 2014 (Vol. 111, No. 3))
Grades 4-7. Marrill is used to adventure; she and her parents travel the world so much that she has never lived in one place for more than six months. But after a sailing ship emerges in the wavering heat mirage of an Arizona parking lot, and Marrill finds herself stuck aboard, she is in for her biggest adventure yet. Desperate to find a way back to her family, she recruits the help of the wizard Ardent and his crew, as well as a young boy, Fin, whom everyone except Marrill forgets as soon as he is out of their view. While sailing on the Pirate Stream, a body of water that connects the known universe, the adventurers race to find pieces of a cleverly imagined map to everywhere, before an evil wizard can get them first. Ryan and Davis’ swashbuckling quest features fantastic world building, gnarly creatures, and a villain who is both spooky and formidable. Each new location is a treasure, and even the ships themselves are full of character. Ardent’s ship, for instance, is manned by a giant made of rope (he handles all the rigging, naturally). The unique details, expert plotting, charming characters, and comic interludes combine in a tantalizing read that’s made even more appealing by the promise that the story will continue in future volumes.

Chengdu Could Not, Would Not Fall Asleep

Kirkus Reviews starred (March 1, 2014)
In a twist on numerous picture books about little animals who are determined to stay awake, Chengdu the panda is trying his hardest to get to sleep. Droll illustrations accompany spare, lulling text, leading to Chengdu's success and a humorous surprise near the book's end. The cover art is an immediate draw: The small panda's oversized paws cling to a tree branch as his expressive, sleep-deprived face stares at readers, expertly matching the "could not, would not fall asleep" of the title. Initial pages establish a soporific mood, showing utterly relaxed, drowsily smudged pandas snoozing against a star-studded black sky, muted green bamboo branches the only spots of color. Large, softened white letters murmur, "It was late, and it was quiet, // and everyone in the bamboo grove was sleeping."The next double-page spread consists of white space with only two wide-awake, black-masked panda eyes and the words, "Everyone except...."Of course, the page turn leads readers back to wide-awake Chengdu, staring plaintively from his moon-washed tree branch. Varied compositions and a couple of gatefoldsadd to the fun for readers as poor Chengdu tosses, scrunches and climbs his way to sleep...almost but, happily, not quite at the expense of his brother, Yuan. Little sleepyheads will love chanting along with the words, and no one can deny the appeal of the art. A bedtime winner. (Picture book. 1-5)

The Almost Fearless Hamilton Squidlegger

Kirkus Reviews (February 15, 2014)
With his dad's help, a young frog conquers nighttime fears by harnessing his imagination. Hamilton Squidlegger and his wooden sword thwart the (imaginary) threats looming in the swamp, be they fire-breathing frackensnapper, clawed skelecragon or twining bracklesneed. Hamilton's bravado disappears at sunset, though, as his prodigious imagination animates those same fictive monsters. He flees his own mud for his "secret hideaway"--wedged between his sleepless parents. While Hamilton wakes refreshed and ready for more fearless exploits, his beleaguered dad's weary of this pattern. He bakes Hamilton's luscious fave, a "double-decker grasshopper worm-cake," offering it as breakfast in exchange for Hamilton's successful overnighter in his own mud. As a storm threatens, Hamilton worries: "What if a l-l-lightning monster comes tonight?" Dad encourages Hamilton to enlist his mind to turn the tide: "Think good thoughts is what I say. Monsters are silly, and they love to play!" More than a dozen full spreads, including a double gatefold, spool out Hamilton's ensuing dream-adventure. A junked TV spews a pink-lemonade sea; a flying ship with a striped-bass cook unites Hamilton, his dad and the now-friendly monsters, who all sleep in their "very own cabins." Ering's pictures splice together spindle-legged, popeyed creatures, etchy linework, and lush layers of washy, brushy, splotchy, gorgeously colored paint. In the last image, Hamilton digs into that yummy worm cake at sunrise. Appealing--and empowering. (Picture book. 3-7)

A Poem in your Pocket

Kirkus Reviews starred (November 1, 2014)
Mr. Tiffin is back, just in time for National Poetry Month at school. The third in what's becoming a series about life in Mr. Tiffin's class (The Apple Orchard Riddle, 2013, etc.) celebrates both a poet's school visit and Poem in Your Pocket Day. By the time poet Emmy Crane visits, the children have learned all about metaphor, simile, concrete poetry, haiku and acrostic verse, as well as using a "poet's eye." Almost all the children are excited and ready for the big day, heads full of words and pockets full of poems. Elinor, who is thought to be the best poet in the class, has struggled with an epic case of writer's block and arrives at school with no poem at all. As each child shares a poem with the famous poet, Elinor's misery grows until she finally speaks with the kind writer. Karas' gouache, acrylic and pencil illustrations sensitively extend the story, showing both the enthusiasm in the classroom and Elinor's frustration in trying to compose the perfect poem. Sprinkling circular spot illustrations with double-page spreads of the friendly classroom, Karas shows each child joyfully looking, creating, sharing and writing. Gray and yellow are used to reflect Elinor's moods. Gentle and subtle, this sensitive story teaches a lot about poetry, perfectionism, and the power of a teacher and a poet. (Picture book. 4-10)

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing

Horn Book (January/February, 2014)
Those who visited Tupelo Landing previously (in Newbery Honor book Three Times Lucky, rev. 7/12) are familiar with the numerous colorful inhabitants of this small North Carolina town. Newcomers, though, will need more than a smidgen of time and patience to sort them all out, time that would be more enjoyably spent reading the first book. But once readers get the lay of the land, their efforts will be rewarded. Mo LoBeau (accent on the final syllable) and her best friend Dale find themselves slap-dab in the middle of another mystery. When the abandoned Tupelo Inn goes up for auction, Mo and Dale accompany Miss Lana (who, along with The Colonel, form Mo's "family of choice") and Grandmother Miss Lacy (no relation, but the nicest old person in town) to the sale. Fearing that a snippy banker will buy the property, the two women outbid her and take ownership of the ramshackle inn and all its history, including a strange apparition. Mo's distinctive voice, full of humor and Southern colloquialisms, narrates a tale with as many twists and turns as North Carolina's own Tar River, giving readers a sweet, laid-back story that reveals a ghost who, bless her heart, just wants to set the record straight about her death. betty carter

Grandfather Gandhi

Kirkus Reviews starred (January 15, 2014)
This first-person account presents Mohandas Gandhi through the eyes of his then--12-year-old grandson. Arriving at Sevagram, the ashram Gandhi lived in as an old man, young Arun and his family greet their famous relative and start participating in the simple lifestyle of morning prayers, chores and pumpkin mush. It is challenging for the boy, who misses electricity and movies and dreads language lessons. The crux of the story hinges on the moment Arun is tripped and injured during a soccer game. He picks up a rock and feels the weight of familial expectations. Running to his grandfather, he learns the surprising fact that Gandhi gets angry too. Grandfather lovingly explains that anger is like electricity: it "can strike, like lightning, and split a living tree in two.... Or it can be channeled, transformed....Then anger can illuminate. It can turn the darkness into light." Turk's complex collages, rich in symbolic meaning and bold, expressive imagery, contribute greatly to the emotional worldbuilding. Watercolor, gouache and cut paper set the scenes, while fabric clothes the primary players. Gandhi's spinning wheel is a repeated motif; tangled yarn surrounding Arun signals frustration. Never burdened by its message, this exceptional title works on multiple levels; it is both a striking introduction to a singular icon and a compelling story about the universal experience of a child seeking approval from a revered adult. (authors' note) (Picture book/memoir. 4-8)

Separate is Never Equal

School Library Journal (May 1, 2014)
Gr 2-5-When the Mendezes moved to Westminster, CA, in 1944, third-grader Sylvia tried to enter Westminster School. However, the family was repeatedly told, "'Your children have to go to the Mexican school.' 'But why?' asked Mr. Mendez.'That is how it is done.'" In response, they formed the Parents' Association of Mexican-American Children, distributed petitions, and eventually filed a successful lawsuit that was supported by organizations ranging from the Japanese American Citizens League to the American Jewish Congress. Younger children will be outraged by the injustice of the Mendez family story but pleased by its successful resolution. Older children will understand the importance of the 1947 ruling that desegregated California schools, paving the way for Brown v. Board of Education seven years later. Back matter includes a detailed author's note and photographs. The excellent bibliography cites primary sources, including court transcripts and the author's interview with Sylvia Mendez, who did attend Westminster School and grew up to earn the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Tonatiuh's illustrations tell a modern story with figures reminiscent of the pictorial writing of the Mixtec, an indigenous people from Mexico. Here, the author deliberately connects his heritage with the prejudices of mid-20th century America. One jarring illustration of three brown children barred from a pool filled with lighter-skinned children behind a sign that reads, "No Dogs or Mexicans Allowed," will remind readers of photographs from the Jim Crow South. Compare and contrast young Sylvia Mendez's experience with Robert Coles's The Story of Ruby Bridges (Scholastic, 1995) to broaden a discussion of school desegregation.-Toby Rajput, National Louis University, Skokie, IL (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Monday, January 5, 2015

I Don't Want To Be A Frog

Kirkus Reviews (November 15, 2014)
A tiny frog desperately wishes to be any other animal.After reading a book about a cat, the young frog stretches open his mouth as wide as it will go and decidedly declares, "I want to be a CAT." His father patiently explains, "You can't be a CAT....Because you're a FROG." But frogs are too wet and slimy. The little frog then decides to be a rabbit. After all, he can already hop. But father points out that he does not have long ears. The young amphibian is not deterred. There are many other options--a pig, perhaps? Or an owl? But his no-nonsense father explains away each one. Until a wolf, who enjoys eating many animals--except wet, slimy frogs--comes along and changes the young frog's perspective. Debut author Petty presents a droll take on this oft-explored wish of being different. But what shines the brightest is Boldt's expressive frog duo. Question-weary grown-ups will understand the father's heavy-lidded eyes, and nothing embodies a childlike curiosity (and/or crazy, determined declarations) more than the tiny frog's wide-open mouth. Colored speech bubbles distinguish the speakers' words and tumble over each other on the page. A lively look at self-acceptance. (Picture book. 3-6)

What the Moon Said

Booklist (December 15, 2013 (Vol. 110, No. 8))
Grades 4-7. When Depression-era hard times send Esther’s family from their Chicago home to try their luck on a small Wisconsin farm, the 10-year-old learns that there are many ways people show love. Esther’s mother never hugs or kisses her. Does she even love her? Over the course of their year in the country, Esther tries desperately to be a good daughter, but the practical realities of their near-pioneer life (no electricity or running water) leave her mother little time to notice. And while the bookish child admires her fearful mother’s ability to read signs, she can’t bring herself to give up her new friend Bethany, even if her mother says the girl was marked by angry fairies. Eventually, Esther finds much to enjoy in her new farm life. Debut author Rosengren weaves plenty of Old World superstitions into her heartwarming story, contrasting those who fear the future with those who embrace it. Esther’s positive attitude offers a fine model for readers of this engaging historical fiction.

Digby O'Day In the Fast Lane

Booklist (July 2014 (Vol. 110, No. 21))
Grades 1-3. Digby the dog loves to take drives with his best friend Percy. When the two enter the Didsworth auto race, they encounter several obstacles along the way, including Digby’s ruthlessly competitive neighbor, Lou Ella. Broken into six short chapters with charming illustrations and only a few sentences per page, this book is perfect for beginning readers starting to move beyond the picture book. Duos such as Elephant and Piggie and Frog and Toad come to mind as Hughes’ hounds embark upon their tortoise-and-hare-style adventure. Sweet and simple, the illustrations and story will amuse young readers as Digby and Percy drive through town meeting other residents in their race for the finish line. A section of “fun extras” follows the story, complete with car games, activities, and a reading challenge. The first of three planned adventures, this is a delightful addition to early chapter books.

The Ninja Librarians The Accidental Keyhand

Booklist (April 15, 2014 (Vol. 110, No. 16))
Grades 4-6. Dorrie wants so badly to be a hero, to fight with her sword and triumph over evil. Sadly, she’s stuck fencing local bullies like Tiffany Tolliver, the middle-school mean girl, to protect the honor of her favorite librarian and swordplay teacher, Mr. Kornberger. Things get terribly interesting when she and her Star Wars–loving older brother, Marcus, fall into Petrarch’s library, a magical portal to libraries throughout time and space and home to a secret society called the Lybrariad. These heroic lybrarians are trained to conjure objects out of thin air by reading descriptions from books and to rescue any outspoken individual from censorship or worse (while still shushing, of course). Delightfully funny from the first page, where Dorrie laments having never been bitten by anything more bloodthirsty than her little sister, this middle-grade time-travel adventure is surprisingly full of fun and action (and a madcap mongoose). Downey’s hilarious debut is perfect for any library-­loving reader as well as those who never considered librarians to be cool.