Monthly Archives: April 2015

Waiting is Not Easy!

Waiting is Not Easy!
by Mo Willems
Hyperion Books for Children, 2014
Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Award

Maybe it’s because ‘waiting’ struck a strong cord with me, but I found “Waiting is Not Easy!” hilarious and read it several times over the course of a week.  I read it originally because it won the 2015 Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Award.

The beauty of “Waiting is Not Easy!”, is the words set up the story and the pictures show us the punch lines with humor lavished on each page—they are just plain fun to read!

In studying what makes this books special, I noted it had 57 page books, 25 more pages than the typical picture book.  In doing some research, I discovered Willem’s first career was in stand-up comedy, producing videos, and later he was asked to work on PBS’s Sesame Street, where he garnered 6 Emmys.  He has a talent of seeing each slight visual change in an interaction, exaggerating it for children (and parents) to enjoy.  And he has a talent of bringing humor to the page, through both words and art.  This book is great for parents to read to young children 2-4 and perfect for early readers, 4-6.

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Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin

Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin
by Chieri Uegaki, illustrated by Qin Leng
Kids Can Press, 2014
2015 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award

A story of a gentle spirit who creates a brilliant way to succeed at her dream, despite her newness to the craft.

After three lessons on her violin, Hana decides she want to be in the talent show.  Her brothers laugh at her and say she will be a disaster.  But inspired by her grandfather, a 2nd violinist for a great symphony orchestra in Japan, she pursues her dream.  She remembers her grandfather’s beautiful music she woke to each morning when she visited him last summer.  She also remembers the fun sounds her grandfather made in the evening for her brothers and her.  She practices and practices for the show.  The day of the show she is scared.  Thinking her brothers were right, she wants to turn into a “grain of rice and slip between the floorboards.”  Imagining her grandfather sitting before her for support, she shares with the audience music they can enjoy and she can perform, even as a beginner. Everyone enjoys her performance.  When she and her family return home, her brothers ask for an encore!   Find out what she does to succeed as a beginner!

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Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming
by Jacqueline Woodson
Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Books, 2014
Newbery Honor Book
Coretta Scott King Award
Siebert Informational Book Medal
National Book Award 

Written in open verse, Jacqueline Woodson provides a rich view of herself growing up in the 60’s in South Carolina and New York.  In a time where she is still referred to as a colored girl, she takes readers on a leisurely stroll, inviting a deep excitement to swell inside as they digest her phrases, images, dreams, and yearnings.  Walking in her shoes, readers can feel the joy of freedom and the confusion of racism poking at the young girl unable to respond, but knowing it’s wrong, just plain wrong.  Woodson’s writing is vivid, startling, fascinating, and from the heart.  It’s easy to see why she’s won so many writing awards.

A special treat for writers, Woodson walks readers through the inside thoughts of a young writer in the making, including the joy of her first composition notebook well before she could even write.  She shares the secret to her writing—listening—and with each story, she spills delectable foods across the table for readers to taste, savor, and digest.  This is not a book readers will want to breeze through, it is one in which readers will want to linger, contemplate, and experience.  Sure to be an award winner.

Originally published in San Francisco Book Review, December 2014

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Sequoia

Sequoia
by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Wendell Minor
A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, 2014

I love being in forests and when I read Sequoia, I had to re-read it.  In its poetic voice, it breath-takingly describes being a Sequoia.  It stretches the reader’s imagination of what it’s like being thousands of years old, towering above everything else.  As readers, we watch birds in flight at eye level, touch the stars, and listen to a single bumble bee buzz in the quiet.  Using a few words, award-winning author Tony Johnston opens the Sequoia’s world to readers,

“He feels
in his ringed
heart
the earth grow
still.”

I read it a dozen times the first day I found it.  If a child has an opportunity to visit a Sequoia, it’s a must read.  I was not raised with Sequoia, and I related the descriptions to the firs and pines of my home state.  Sequoia is one of those rare inspiring books on nature.

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Sleep Like A Tiger

Sleep Like A Tiger
by Mary Logue, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012
Caldecott Honor Book

A clever bedtime story where the parents agree with the child who says she’s “not tired.”  “They nodded their heads and said she didn’t have to go to sleep.  But she had to put her pajamas on.”  And she did.  She learned that, yes, everyone slept.  Her dog slept, her cat slept, her whale, snail and bat slept.  And she learned the tiger slept the most so he could be strong.  After she learned of many animals slept, one by one, she copied each animal.  She snuggled deep like a bear, she folded her arms like a bat, and she curled up like a snail.  And finally she slept like a tiger.  A gentle way to go to sleep.

The illuminous illustrations by Caldecott award-winner Pamela Zagarenski complete the book with patterns, textures, and wheels moving the listener to sleep.  They make the book an art piece and a pleasure to study.  A comforting, nurturing story for bedtime.

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Henry’s Freedom Box, A True Story from the Underground Railroad

Henry’s Freedom Box
A True Story from the Underground Railroad
by Ellen Levine, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Scholastic Press 2007
Caldecott Honor Book

Henry’s mother asks him, “Do you see those leaves blowing in the wind?  They are torn from the trees like slave children are torn from their families.”  And so Henry is soon taken from his mother.  In time he marries and has children, but one day they are sold.  Henry can no longer live this way and creates a plan to mail himself to a free state.  A white man who thought slavery was wrong made the arrangements.  As an excuse to stay home from work and cover his absence giving him enough time to get out of the city, Henry poured vitriol (sulfuric acid) on his hand.  In the early morning he was hammered into a box and sent to Philadelphia.  While traveling on a steamboat, he was upside down and very hot, until a couple men rolled him on his side and then rolled him in an upright position.  He was transferred to a railroad car and eventually delivered to supporters in Philadelphia.

This richly written story helps young readers begin to understand the pain and risks people in slavery took to become free.  Henry succeeded.  Award-winning illustrator Kadir Nelson beautifully shows the emotions people in slavery felt when with family and when treated like objects.

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Knock Knock, My Dad’s Dream for Me

Knock Knock, My Dad’s Dream for Me
By Daniel Beaty, illustrated by Bryan Collier
Little Brown & Company 2013
Coretta Scott King Award Winner

A young boy plays “Knock Knock” with his father every morning, until one day the boy no longer hears the “Knock Knock.”  Nor the next day, or next.  Thinking his father may be at home while he’s at school, he writes his father a letter.  It sits on his desk for more than two months and then one day his father responds to his son’s letter.  In the briefest of words he instructs his son on the boy’s concerns.  Then he shares, “No longer will I be there to knock on your door, so you must learn to knock for yourself.  Knock Knock down the doors that I could not.  Knock Knock to open new doors to your dreams.”  “Knock Knock” is for any boy who has a missing father and needs encouraging words from a missing father.

Author Daniel Beaty played Knock Knock with his father, until he was incarcerated.  He knows from experience the pain of not having a father to guide him through life.  Illustrator Bryan Collier creates rich portrayals of the loneliness and emptiness—yet hope—of missing a father.

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First the Egg

First the Egg
by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, 2007
Caldecott Honor Book

In big, soothing colors, author/illustrator Laura Vaccaro Seeger introduces the youngest reader/listeners to the concepts of ‘first’ and ‘then’.  She begins, of course, with “First the egg, then the chicken”.  And she adds an extra fascination for toddlers and carves out an egg-shaped hole, connecting the egg with the chicken.  She repeats the idea with “First the tadpole (with a cut out of a green tadpole), then the frog.”  Young readers are introduced to seeds and flowers, caterpillars and butterflies and even words and stories.  Award-winning author/illustrator’s ending brings the story back around to the egg; a subtle reference to which comes first, a chicken or an egg.  Very clever concept book on “first” and “then”, and a comforting book to read.

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Rough, Tough Charley

Rough, Tough Charley
By Verla Kay, illustrated by Adam Gustavson
Tricycle Press, 2007

The story opens to a runaway orphan hiding in a barn.  The farmer decides if the boy wants to sleep in the barn, then maybe he can be of help, and offers him to stay on.  Among other things, the boy becomes a stagecoach driver, known for his bravery.  Written in Verla Kay’s tight verse, coupled with Adam Gustavson’s detailed illustrations, it’s an easy, yet fascinating, read of a life in the 1800’s.

As he gets older, Charley retires, buys a house, votes and does all the things a man of his time would do.  After Charley passes, the doctor only then discovers: he is a she!  Quite the surprise to the reader—a surprise that lingers.  I, probably like most readers, went back and studied the illustrations to see if I could tell ‘he’ was a ‘she’.  (I couldn’t.)

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Balloons Over Broadway, The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade

Balloons Over Broadway,
The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade

By Melissa Sweet
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011

Everyone knows about the Macy’s Parade on Thanksgiving and this is the story about how it got started.  And it’s likely, that without the specific talents of Tony Sarg, the traditional holiday event may not exist today.

Anthony “Tony” Sarg loved to see how things worked when he was a boy.  At age six, he announced he was going to be a marionette man.  He was very clever and when his father asked him to feed the chickens at 6:30 in the morning—every day!—Tony rigged up a system that he could do so from his bed, and sleep in!  Impressed, his father never asked him to do another chore.

As a young man Tony began making marionettes and ended up in New York City and performing on Broadway.  Macy’s heard about Tony’s puppets and asked him to design a ‘puppet parade’ for the store’s holiday windows.  The first outdoor parade was for the employees, and it was such a hit, it only grew from there.

Melissa Sweet’s brilliant illustrations take the reader back in time.  The book includes a photo from an early parade balloon, as well as Macy’s original advertisement in the New York Times in 1933.

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