Monthly Archives: February 2016

Wink, The Ninja Who Wanted to be Noticed

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Wink, The Ninja Who Wanted to be Noticed

by J. C. Phillips
Viking, 2009

I love a good story where a child finds a way to express his most inner self and be accepted by others.  This one is especially good for ninjas!

Wink dreamed of being a ninja and attended Summer Moon School for Young Ninjas.  As he learned each lesson, like “Silence is the weapon of the ninja”, he had a difficult time following them.  Instead of being silent, for example, he jumped on a ball, raised he ‘sword’ and hollered, “Look at me!”  Master Zutsu clapped like thunder and raised one angry finger to his lips to reprimand the young ninja.  Everything Wink learned, he pushed beyond the limits of a studious ninja, and Master Zutsu continued to shake his head, until one day Wink was so out of line, that Master Zutsu sent Wink away.  On his way home he heard some noises and saw a boy practicing tricks.  With his ninja training he could see right away what the boy needed to do and demonstrated.  Soon the boy’s family trained him and Wink went on to perform in the circus as, “The Nimble Ninja!” When Master Zutsu saw the circus performance, he acknowledged Wink’s strengths when he said, “Free-flowing water will always find its way.”

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Out of the Woods, A True Story of an Unforgettable Event

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Out of the Woods, A True Story of an Unforgettable Event

By Rebecca Bond
Margaret Ferguson Books, 2015

Based on a true story, a four-year-old boy lives with his mother in Ontario, Canada when, in 1914, something miraculous happens.

Antonio, one of a few children, lived in a tall hotel where lumberjacks, fisherman, trappers and miners made their home.  He was friends with everyone.  When not following the hotel workers doing their chores, he roamed the forests.  He rarely saw animals, for they knew to stay away from the dangers people brought to the forest.  Then, one day smoke appeared in the forest and a bell sounded.  The winds whipped the smoke and flames around and soon everyone headed for the lake.  Standing in the water up to their knees, their waist or their shoulders, the people watched the flames roar through the trees.  Then, the animals arrived and they, too, entered the water to watch the flames.  Rabbits stood next to foxes, raccoons next to bears and moose next to people.  They stood quietly next to each other for hours, maybe days, until the fire burned itself out.

The rich pen and ink drawings with smoky, muted watercolors highlight the era and the isolation of forest dwellers.  The story is so rare, the drawings are so animated and filled with minute details of 1914, that it is the kind of book that sends young minds into dreams and wonder of another world.

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Whispers of the Wolf

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Whispers of the Wolf

by Pauline Ts’o
Wisdom Tales, 2015

Whispers of the Wolf quietly, deeply engulfs the reader into the story.  Supported with wind-swept pastel illustrations the reader virtually experiences the boy’s emotions of finding, raising, protecting and, eventually releasing, a wolf.

Two Birds is a quiet Pueblo boy, always last when running with the other boys, so he doesn’t run.  When he hears whimpers one day, he discovers an abandoned wolf pup destined to die.  Determined, he cares for the pup and it finds its strength.  When the other boys discover the pup, they want to hold it, but Two Birds cries out no, it is too fragile.  As the pup grows, Two Birds becomes adept at hunting rabbits to feed the animal.  When it Is finally big enough, Two Birds takes the wolf hunting with him.  The other boys are eventually allowed to hold the pup and Two Birds shares stories he heard from the wolf.  The boys listen to his stories and learn other ways to hunt rabbits.  Then the day comes that the wolf wants to follow the other wolves and Two Birds must decide between keeping the wolf or setting him free.

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Our Gracie Aunt

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Our Gracie Aunt
by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrations by Jon J Muth
Hyperion Books, 2002

Again, Jacqueline Woodson tells a heart-wrenching, yet heart-warming story, this one of children who have parents unable to care for them.  Told with love and dignity, children not familiar with this lifestyle can get a glimpse into what it’s like for abandoned children.  For children who have been abandoned, it reminds them they are not alone.

Two children refuse to open the door for Ms. Roy, ’cause their mama told them not to open the door to strangers, even though they had not seen their mama for several days.  After returning several times, Ms. Roy seemed to know things about them, and they were hungry.  They hoped foster care had toys when they let Ms. Roy in.  The children were taken to their aunt Gracie’s house and they learned to love the safe, comfortable, dependable house.  After several weeks they visited their mama, but she wasn’t able to take them home.  They decided they liked aunt Gracie’s house better.  Someday their mama could take them, but not now.  They returned to Aunt Gracie and gave her a long, deep hug.

Illustrations by Jon J Muth bring visual richness and highlight the children’s plight and emotions in warm, comforting tones.

Read more reviews on Amazon.

Don’t Throw It to Mo!

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Don’t Throw It to Mo!

by David A. Adler, illustrated by Sam Ricks
Penguin Young Readers

This Level 2 Progressive Reader book will enthrall and bring a cheer to any young football lover.

Mo loves football, his mom even gets him out of bed by throwing him a ‘long throw’. Mo is the smallest player on the Robins football team and primarily warms the bench.  One day, playing a game against the Jays, his coach butters up a football and tosses it to Mo.  Of course, it falls to the ground.  He does this several time while the game is going on.  Then the coach tells Mo to wash his hands, and tells Mo to ‘go deep’; he tells the other players ‘don’t throw the ball to Mo.’  When Mo runs deep, the Jay player guarding him, who had seen Mo’s butterfingers, knows this small kid is no threat.  Mo is send out the second time.  The third time, the last play of the game, when the Robins are losing, the coach asks for the same play, but this time the team is to throw it to Mo.  Of course, you can guess the Jays didn’t believe Mo to be a threat and Mo makes a touchdown. Football players will love it!

This book is ideal for reluctant readers who like sports.

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Gordon Parks, How the Photographer Captured Black and White America

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Gordon Parks, How the Photographer Captured Black and White America
by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Jamey Christoph
Albert Whitman and Company, 2015
NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Children’s Literary Work

The youngest of 15 children, Gordon Parks was born into a time when African-Americans were thought to be only suited for porter and waiter jobs.  When he was 25 he saw a magazine spread about migrant farm workers and he was inspired to purchase a camera for $7.50 at a pawn shop.  The camera changed his life.  Talented and self-taught, Gordon Parks decided to take pictures of his America.  He soon earned a position with the federal government to take pictures to tell the story of Black America.  He soon became famous and made many creative contributions, including many beyond photography, that helped change African-America’s place in America.

One of the many stories children won’t hear in their studies, but of real people who made a difference to many others.  An afterward includes photos and more details about Gordon Parks.

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Voice of Freedom, Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

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Voice of Freedom, Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement
by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes
Candlewick Press, 2015
2016 Caldecott Honor Book
2016 Robert F. Sibert Honor Book
2016 John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award Winner

Written in free verse poetry this was my introduction to Ms. Hamer, the spirit of the civil rights movement.  I had not heard her story, but the riveting poems brought me into her world and shed light on a person instrumental in both building the movement and holding it together.

Born in 1917, her mother was paid $50 by the plantation owner for producing a future field hand; the money helped them get through the winter as sharecroppers.  Fannie Lou was six when she started picking cotton.  As a child, she never understood why black people were poor and whites were not.  She married, adopted two girls, and when the battle over voting began, took the ‘literacy’ test.  After that, she had to go on the run.  She sustained a severe beating that was to affect her the rest of her life.  Figuring she had nothing to lose, she continued speaking up and singing to inspire others to stand up for themselves.

A well written and inspiring, as well as educational, book.

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Sewing Stories, Harriet Powers’ Journey from Slave to Artist

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Sewing Stories, Harriet Powers’ Journey from Slave to Artist
by Barbara Herkert, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Alfred A. Knopf, 2015

Harriet Powers’ biography introduces young readers to the life of a slave in the early 1800’s.

Harriet was an artist and quilts were her medium.  As a young child she watched others card cotton, spin thread and dye and weave cloth.  As she grew, she helped with stuffing quilts and eventually making them.  Quilts made of scraps, sewn after a long day of work for their master, were often the prized possession of the slaves.  Harriet married and after the Civil War gained her freedom, but lived in poverty.  Jennie Smith saw Harriet’s first story quilt and offered to purchase it.  Harriet refused, but created a quilt for her.  The quilt was displayed at the Exposition in Atlanta.  Admired, she received an order to make another.  Harriet passed in 1910, but her quilts are displayed in the National Museum of American History and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

Photos of the quilts fill the end papers and friendly illustrations rendered in gauche with Corel Painter 11 and Photoshop.  The text gently introduces readers to the hardships slaves and newly freed African-Americans faced after the Civil War.

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Trombone Shorty

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Trombone Shorty
by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, illustrated by Bryan Collier
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2015
2016 Caldecott Honor Book, Coretta Scott King (Illustrator) Award Winner

A great celebration of a great musician, written by the musician!  Trombone Shorty played music way before he had an instrument. When he found an old beat-up trombone, twice the size of him, he played it everywhere he went.  Raised in New Orleans, he was born to play music.  While in the audience of a Bo Didley concert, he started playing his trombone.  The show stopped.  Bo asked who was playing the trombone.  He was so short, his mother had to raise him up so Bo could see him.  Trombone Shorty was passed up to the stage and played with Bo Didley at a young age.  Soon after he formed his first band, The 5 O’Clock Band, as that’s when the practiced after they completed their homework.

Readers can feel the joy of music, the love of rhythms, and the passion Trombone Shorty has for his music.  Bryan Collier’s illustrations further enhance the story bringing color and passion to each page.  A wonderful introduction to music, the Mardi-Gras, and following your passion. An afterward includes more details of the musician’s life

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