Monthly Archives: October 2015

Strange Fruit, Volume I: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History

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Strange Fruit, Volume I:  Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History
by Joel Christian Gill
Fulcrum Publishing, 2014

In a graphic novel format, Strange Fruit introduces nine stories of people who did astonishing things in their time.  From Henry “Box” Brown, who mailed himself in a box to get out of slavery, to Lawman Bass Reeves, who apprehended 3,000 of the most dangerous outlaws in the old west.   These stories give a new understanding of black history and include stories children will never find in history books.

Storyteller Joel Christian Gill celebrates each person or group’s achievement, in times when Negroes lived in constant fear of Jim Crow.  He focuses on the good, even while much discrimination negatively impacted their success.  For example, in the late 1800’s, Marshall Taylor discovered the bicycle and his life changed.  With natural talent and hours of practice, he soon became a champion cyclist, in spite of Jim Crow continually trying to stop him.  He eventually expanded his racing to Europe.  He did very well financially.

Shared in a positive manner, Strange Fruit uncovers little known stories about people who, in their own way, did great things.  The title, Strange Fruit, comes from Billie Holiday’s song, and that story is in the book, too.

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Creepy Carrots!

carrotsCreepy Carrots
by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Peter Brown
Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2014
Caldecott Honor Book

Jasper Rabbit loves carrots and eats them every chance he gets.  But one day the carrots start to follow him.  He sees them in his bathroom.  He finds them in the shed.  He’s certain they are in his bedroom.  His parents don’t believe him, so Jasper is forced to take things into his own hands.  He builds a formidable fence around the carrots so they can’t get him and he is safe from the ‘creepy carrots’.  But the last page tells another story when the carrots cheer for at last getting rid of the pesky rabbit who’s been invading their carrot patch!  A hilarious ending.

The illustrations tell much of the story, when Artist Peter Brown exaggerates Jasper’s fears and personifies the carrots.  A visual delight!

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Littlebat’s Halloween Story

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Littlebat’s Halloween Story
by Diane Mayr, illustrated by Gideon Kendall
Albert Whitman & Company, 2001

This is a non-scary Halloween story, perfect for the youngest reader.

Littlebat and his mother live in the attic of the library.  One day Littlebat discovers the librarian reading stories to children.  He becomes fascinated with the story, but frustrated when he can see the pictures of the porridge.  One day a story of a caterpillar that turned into a butterfly lured Littlebat further and further out of his hiding place.  When a little moth flew by, be became so excited he lost his grip and fell into the room.  The children screamed and ran and Littlebat zipped back to his mother.  Littlebat wanted so much to see the pictures up close, his mother finally relented and said maybe there’s a time when you can get closer, but that he’d have to wait for changes.  Many changes happened, like the Fourth of July, hot summer days, and cool fall days.  As pumpkins appeared in the cool air, Littlebat started slowing down for his long winter’s sleep.  He had stopped looking for changes, when his mother said, “It was time,” and encouraged him to have fun.  And he did.  The final illustration shows the librarian reading stories to children dressed in their Halloween costumes with Littlebat in full sight of the children.  Displayed with the Halloween decorations, Littlebat wasn’t noticed!

A sweet story with a terrific surprise ending—and readers learn a bit about bats!

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My Grandfather’s Coat (A Contemporary “Recycling” Story!)

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My Grandfather’s Coat
By Jim Aylesworth, illustrated by Barbara McClintock
Scholastic Press, 2014
Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner

Expecting the traditional tale of My Grandfather’s Coat, where grandfather’s coat is transformed into a jacket, a vest and a tie, I was surprised and delighted at the story’s new, fresh ending!  And illustrator Barbara McClintock did a beautiful job of breaking the story into spreads with large drawings and scattered small drawings, highlighting Jim Aylesworth’s rhymes and repetition.  Plenty to delight a young listener into this multi-generational story that emphasizing families and thriftiness.

While the story has always focused on being frugal, in today’s world of recycling cans, food, and cloth, the story underscores the message that we use our resources until there is nothing to send to the landfill!  A wonderful message!

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Noah Webster and His Words

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Noah Webster and His Words
by Jeri Chase Ferris, illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2012

In the mid-1700’s Noah Webster was raised to be a farmer, but his mind took him different places—he loved words.  He knew how to grow everything, but he wanted to become a scholar and study new words, like those in Greek and Latin.  Fortunately his teacher convinced Noah’s father to send him to Yale.  After college, Noah decided to be a teacher.  Soon he wanted to write an American speller for kids to learn how to read.  He did, and the Blue-backed Speller became America’s first speller and was used for many decades.  The story goes on to tell how Noah decided America needed a true American Dictionary.  For twenty years he read every book in libraries and even traveled to libraries in England and France to discover and define every word.  In 1828, Noah’s dream came true when the American Dictionary of the English Language was published.

A small bit of history written in a compelling story, readers learn how Webster’s first dictionary was published nearly 200 years ago.   The ink, graphite and watercolor illustrations wrap the story in the 1700 and 1800’s, bringing it an authenticity and inviting readers into the story.  A wonderful way to introduce the ‘dictionary’!

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The Circus

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The Circus
by Sarah Kaufman
Greenleaf Book Group, 2015

Artist Sarah Kaufman brings together 36 of her dreamlike and surreal oil paintings to create a beautiful book of fantasy for children.  Entitled The Circus, she uses simple, clear words inviting readers into her fantasy.  She encourages them to use their imaginations to interpret the illustrations through their own experience and wonder.  Each painting a surprise and splashes of brilliant colors bring a feeling of magic to each scene.

To attend the show, animals and people travel in imaginative ways, arriving on flying houseboats and walking machines.  The show begins, bringing in animals about to perform, then features several acts that sing to the reader’s imagination, including a pig who flies and a lion who trains a mouse to jump through a golden ring.  She includes the usual circus acts of juggling and riding/standing on horseback, as well as unusual acts that feature rhinos and camels.  In the final page, she reassures readers that the circus will return next year.

To create her paintings, Kaufman first lays down plaster on canvas and builds it up to create a texture.  She then seals that with many layers of translucent acrylic colors before she begins painting with oils.

Her book is so beautiful, many display it on the coffee table for all to enjoy.

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Sleep, Big Bear, Sleep

sleep bearSleep, Big Bear, Sleep
by Maureen Wright, illustrated by Will Hillenbrand
Marshall Cavendish Children, 2009

Written in loose rhyme with a gently flowing rhythm, Old Man Winter tells Big Bear to, “Sleep, Big Bear, Sleep.  But bear is hard of hearing and thinks he is to drive a jeep.  Which he does, causing all sorts of havoc.  Bear heads to a bed when he hears Old Man Winter remind him to sleep.  Mis-hearing him, Big Bear thinks he was told to sweep, then leap, and dive deep.  Finally, in exasperation, Old Man Winter cries out something else, and bear finds his sleep.

A great read-aloud, where kids see the humor when bear mis-hears and routes for Big Bear to go to sleep.

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Is This Panama? A Migration Story

panamaIs This Panama? A Migration Story
by Jan Thornhill, illustrated by Soyeon Kim
Owl Kids, 2013

A lovely story to introduce the concept of migrating birds, insects and mammals.

Sammy, a young Wilson Warbler, discovers his friends have already left the Arctic Circle for Panama, and starts out on his own for his ‘first’ migration.  Without the guidance of other warblers, he joins other birds, insects, and mammals to make his way to his winter home.  I love this story.  Sammy is young and doing a lot of ‘firsts’ in his young life.  His innocence and love for everything shines on every page. The art is exquisite.  Soyeon Kim uses fine sketching and painting techniques to produce three-dimensional pieces showing the journey.  After reading the words, I returned several times to savor the illustrations.

After asking a ptarmigan and caribou for help, Sammy eventually joins a flock of Sandhill Cranes and ‘hops on the back’ of one on a flight toward Texas.  He eventually separates, but after meeting a garter snake, he determines he is not safe and flies eastward with green darner dragonflies who follow a shoreline.  Then he joins a flock of Restart Warblers who travel at night following the stars.  By this time he is way off course, but has no way of knowing.  With the assistance of Monarch Butterflies, whales, and others, he finally makes it to his winter home.

Adults will love reading the story to piece together where young Sammy might be on his journey.  Children will explore the wide world of migrating creatures.

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Wait

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Wait
by Antoinette Portis
Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, 2015

For a book that has only 17 words, and 16 of them are hurry and wait, the book tells a touching story.  A young mother is rushing through her day to get her many duties done.  In doing so, she is pulling along her son who continually wants to stop and ‘smell the roses’ so to speak.  He wants to pet a dog, watch street workers, watch fish at a pet store, all the things so fascinating to a young child, that the mother has long forgotten their wonder.  It starts to rain.  The son wants to catch raindrops on his tongue, but the mother only wants to get in out of the rain.  Before entering the train, the boy points to the sky.  Mother stops.  She gets it.  They stand, taking a moment together, to enjoy a double rainbow.   A subtle reminder to parents to honor the wonders around them, wonders that their child may be seeing for the first time.

Lovely book with a gentle reminder.

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Kindred Souls

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Kindred Souls
Patricia MacLachlan
Katherine Tegen Books, 2015

I couldn’t put it down once I started and I was crying by the end.  Another wonderful read by Newbery-award-winning author Patricia MacLachlan.

Readers peek into the relationship 10-year old Jake has with his grandfather, Billy.  They have a special relationship and visit the special places on the farm, including the remains of an old sod house his grandfather lived in many years before.  His grandfather says they have kindred souls, something Jake doesn’t quite understand in the beginning.  His grandfather asks Jake to build him a sod house; Jake doesn’t want to.  Then one day a dog appears and Grandfather knows it has come for him and claims it.  Soon, Grandfather takes sick and is eventually taken to the hospital.  The dog bolts to follow the ambulance taking Grandfather.  Grandfather asks Jake to sleep with the dog until he returns.  The doctor gives the family special permission to allow the dog into the hospital.  The family seems to know Grandfather’s time may be coming soon, but never say that.  Instead, they build him his sod house.  Grandfather returns to enjoy his house and Jake learns that he and grandpa do have kindred souls.

A touching story I finished in one read.  Kindred Souls is a beautiful book about a quiet boy dealing with the death of his grandfather, his kindred soul.

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9-12, quiet hero, dog, death/etc