Friday, February 29, 2008

Poetry Friday: A Poem for My Grandfather

My grandfather, whom I call Daddy Marcus, gave me my first poetry books as a child. I still have them. Here is my poem of reflection:

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

You opened the world
of poetry
to me
through the gift of Shel.

I memorized, chanted and sang
"Ickle Me,
Pickle Me,
Tickle Me Too."
I read The Light in the Attic,
Where the Sidewalk Ends,
until the pages were dog-eared,
yellowed with age.

Important moments,
holidays, calls
were few,
but you gave me the gift of words,
the music of poetry.

Those poems still sit on my shelf
and I visit them
once in awhile.

His words will always inspire me--
my first link
to my love of poetry.

Shel will always be
what connects
me to

Poetry Friday roundup is at Writing and Ruminating.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Nonfiction Monday: Living Color

Living Color
Written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins
Houghton Mifflin, 2007

Steve Jenkins always amazes me. Every book he puts out is truly amazing. His illustrations are always so fantastic. He brings animals to life in a really big way, with details that are perfect.

This book is full of color. It's about animals and their colors. It's full of fascinating facts! I always learn so much from Jenkins' books because he's the master at telling kids unusual things about unusual animals. He brings animal information to kids in unique ways. I teach animal adaptations to fourth graders. I'm always looking for books that present animals adaptations in ways that are interesting and on target with what I have to teach (Sneed B. Collard's books also work great for this unit).

Living Color takes all of the colors of the rainbow and tells about several animals that are that color. Each animal a short phrase that sums up something about them. Then each animal also has a fact-filled paragraph that explains why color is important in their lives.

Like all of Jenkins' books the back of the book has even more information. It answers common questions about animals colors. Then there are little factoids about each animal mentioned in the book. It gives a miniature picture of the animal, it's size, habitat, diet, and another short paragraph full of facts.

This is a teacher's, parent's, and librarian's dream book. When kids have questions about animals or want to know facts about animals, this book has it. But it presents the information in an interesting and beautiful way.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Cinderella by Cynthia Rylant

Walt Disney’s Cinderella
Retold by Cynthia Rylant
Illustrated by Mary Blair
Disney Press, 2007

I really never thought I’d write this review. I don’t spend time ranting about books I don’t like. I really thought I wouldn’t like this book. But I loved it. I will admit Disney’s name on the front of the book biased me against it. Cynthia Rylant’s name on it convinced me to give it a chance. Honestly, I got through the whole book and wondered, “Hmm, what is the Disney connection here.” Yes, it was that good. The front flap lets you know that Mary Blair was the original painter for the Disney Cinderella movie when it came out many moons ago. Disney Press published it. But the Disney saccharine didn’t mess with Cynthia Rylant’s unbelievable writing. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever felt the beauty of this story until I read this retelling.

Here is an excerpt from the scene of the night of the ball and Cinderella wishes she could go:

“Tears have a wondrous magic about them. They often change everything. And for Cinderella, on this night, tears created a miracle.”

Cynthia Rylant spreads her magic of the story with her words, but she also clearly articulates the theme of the story: Love.

Beautifully written! Disney got something right this time around—they hired a phenomenal spinner of tales to bring this story to life again.

5 Random Things About Me

I've been tagged by Kim Norman at Stone Stoop. Here are 5 random things about me:

1) I have lived in 3 countries and 2 states. (USA, Thailand, Malaysia, Kentucky, Virginia).

2) "It's a small world"--that annoying little Disney song really applies to my life. I went to boarding school in Malaysia. I grew up in Thailand. My roommate from boarding school grew up in Indonesia. In college we lived hundreds of miles away from each other in the US. Then she moved to Africa. Last year, she moved back to the USA and ended up 15 minutes away from me. "It's a small world....after all." I also used to run into friends in airports, randomly--like I once ran into a friend from high school in the airport in Seoul, Korea. We were both on layovers. "It's a small, small world."

3) I have an owl living in a tree outside my office. I feel like Harry Potter. It's really kind of cool.

4) I'm terrified of birds (except for the owl that lives outside my office window). When I was a kid I was attacked by a rooster multiple times. He used to make welps on my legs. I tranferred all of that fear to birds of all kinds. On a recent trip to Thailand, my daughter was entranced with the chickens that bobbled everywhere. I kept running away from them.

5) I am a morning person. I don't do things well late at night. I never have. Last night I stayed out until 9:45 at a party--I was so proud of myself. I was also the first one to leave. But I hit the floor running every morning.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Word Play

As a teacher, I often use Brian Cleary and Ruth Heller’s work to introduce parts of speech. Brian Cleary has two new books—one on Adverbs and one about word play. Another book about antonyms is now out in paperback.

The Laugh Stand: Adventures in Humor
By Brian P. Cleary
Illustrations by J. P. Sandy
Millbrook Press, 2008

Do you know a kid (or kids) who love word play? Do they love to think about words, play with words, manipulate, postulate, invent, subvert words? Then you need to get this book. It’s clever. Cleary has clearly spent a lot of time messing with words. Here are some the fun games he plays with words in this book:

Anagrams—rearranging words to create other words.
Example: saint, satin, stain
He takes letters and makes multiple words out of the same letters, but he also takes letters, makes multiple words, and strings them together in funny sentences.

Curl Up and Diagram—he writes rhyming poetry using as many parts of speech as he can, color-coding the words by part of speech.

Tom Swifties—these are fun puns that include adverbs.
Example: “Stop! Thief!” Tom said arrestingly.

Obfuscation Station—Underneath a wordy sentence, there is a simple, rhyming statement. Can you translate them?
Example: “The mongrel canine descended on the back of his hip that form the fleshy part of his backside.”
Translation: “The mutt fell on his butt.”

And there are more word games: math poetry, musical coded words, daffynitions and more. Brian Cleary is amazing at creating these gems that make our language so entertaining. This book would be a great addition to a teacher’s personal collection or as a gift for kid who loves word puzzles.

The back of the book includes answer keys to the puzzles, a list of books for further reading and a list of websites with more word play puzzles.

Lazily, Crazily, Just a Bit Nasily: More about Adverbs
By Brian P. Cleary
Illustrated by Brian Gable
Millbrook Press, 2008

This book is part of the Words are CATegorical series that Brian Cleary has written about words (mostly books on parts of speech).

In this book he plays with adverbs. He gives lots of examples of all types of adverbs. It is written in a rhythmic fashion that causes the words to roll off the reader’s tongue. However, to really absorb all of the examples and explanations that are in this book, you must slow down, reread and think about everything that is packed into this little book.

Stop and Go, Yes and No: What is an Antonym?
By Brian P. Cleary
Illustrated by Brian Gable
Millbrook Press, 2006

This antonym book follows the same style and rhythm of other books in the “Words are CATegorical” series. However, this book is different than most antonym concept books. Most books with synonyms or antonyms are concept books meant for the very young child—to introduce them to these ideas for the very first time. This book takes antonyms a few steps further. Cleary talks about how prefixes can change the meanings of words and create opposites. He also uses bigger words that might require further inquiry, even from older readers like “hefty and diminutive”. Another great book in this series for teachers!

Poetry Friday--Sylvia Plath

Your Own, Sylvia: A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath
By Stephanie Hemphill
Knopf, 2007

I have been dying to read this book ever since it first came out in 2007. I waited and waited and waited for my local library to carry it, but they still haven’t added it to their lists. So I bought it. I’m so glad I did. This is definitely a book I’m glad is now part of my collection.

Stephanie Hemphill has done an amazing job with this book. Not only has she meticulously researched Sylvia Plath’s life and the people that were important to her, but she also has written about her life through the viewpoint of those people through poetry. Each poem is from the point of view of a particular person in Sylvia’s life writing about her. While Hemphill is the one writing, and acknowledges that this is a work of historical fiction, she has researched each event and person carefully. At the bottom of each poem, there are a few sentences or short paragraphs with additional facts or explanations for the reader. She also writes poems about Sylvia Plath in the style of some of Plath’s own poems.

There is an author’s note, source notes, and extensive bibliography at the end.

What I think is most appealing about this book is that is so beautifully written. People might be drawn to the book because they want to learn about Sylvia Plath, or already love her work. But readers will savor this book for the poetic fervor with which it was written.

To celebrate this book, I give you part of one of the poems in the book.

St. Botolph’s Party: Meeting Sylvia Plath
Ted Hughes, poet, Sylvia’s future husband
February 25, 1956

I may be black panther
but she draws my blood,
swirls whiskey-headed
around the dance floor,
dizzy on my poetry.

Her mind traps my lines
with the proficiency
I quote Shakespeare’s.
She adores my words,
whispers that I will be
part of the pantheon.

Poetry Friday Round-Up is at Big A Little a

Thursday, February 21, 2008

And Still More Oliver Jeffers

I have recently done a few reviews of books by Oliver Jeffers. Just One More Book recently did an interview with him. Go here to listen.

Oliver Jeffers book reviews:
The Incredible Book Eating Boy
Lost and Found
How to Catch a Star

Kadir Nelson

I recently reviewed a new book by Kadir Nelson, We Are The Ship. Here is a recent interview with him about the book.

Four Feet Travels the Globe

One of the Cybils fiction picture book titles that made the shortlist was Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed. A recent article in Publisher's Weekly talks about how Khadra Mohammed took the book back to a refugee camp in Pakistan where the book is set. The children in the camp were able to read the book (it had been translated for them). Read this amazing story here.

My review of Four Feet, Two Sandals

Monday, February 18, 2008

Nonfiction Monday: Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman: Words for America
by Barbara Kerley
illustrated by Brian Selznick
Scholastic Press, 2004

This picture book biography take the best of two things: Kerley's poetic prose that describes Walt Whitman and Selznick's illustrations that illuminate the time period and people.

Walt Whitman wasn't just a famous poet we know about today, but a kind, giving man who loved words and people. He worked for a newspaper and even began his own paper. He loved American, but was heartbroken when the Civil War broke out and tore apart the nation. He spend years with the dying and injured soldiers, trying to give them some last comfort. He cared less about himself and more about the boys who had given so much for their country.

But Walt also loved America, and his poetry reflected that love of his country. This book tells who Walt Whitman was as a person, not just as a poet. But the background that Kerley gives paints a picture of how Whitman's love of country so influenced his poetry.

The back of the book includes an author's note, illustrator's note, information about Walt Whitman and Abraham Lincoln, and reprints several of his Whitman's poems.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

More Oliver Jeffers...

Lost and Found
By Oliver Jeffers
Philomel, 2005

The boy in this book looks the same as the boy in How to Catch a Star, so here’s adventure number 2. He finds a penguin, and the penguin wants to be with him. He realizes the penguin is very sad. So he sets out on a quest to take the penguin back “home” to the South Pole. After he takes him back, he realizes he misses him on the boat ride back. The penguin misses him too. They met up with each other again for good.

The writing in this book is still soft, like How to Catch a Star, but it is a very enjoyable read. Young children will enjoy anticipating the ending of the story.

Lost and Found and How to Catch a Star are very different in tone and in illustration than Jeffer’s Incredible Book Eating Boy.

If I were a librarian I would pair this book with Polly Dunbar’s Penguin for a preschool story hour.

Other Jeffers' books I've reviewed:
How to Catch a Star
The Incredible Book-Eating Boy

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Anne of Green Gables

For all of you Anne of Green Gables fans, a few things to take a gander at this week:

Of course, the prequel to Anne of Green Gables has been released. Before Green Gables by Budge Wilson comes at the time of the 100th anniversary celebration of Anne of Green Gables.

Read Elizabeth Ward's review of the book over at The Washington Post. Thanks to Big A Little a for the link.

Also, I just finished listening to Just One More Book's podcast about the release of this book. This is huge! Mark and Andrea have the author, the editor, and L.M. Mongtomery's granddaughter (and more) giving their two cents about the release of the new prequel as well as memories of the original.

I have ordered this book, but it hasn't come in yet. I can't wait to read it. I'll be reporting about it right here as soon as I can get my grimy little hands on it. It's getting really good reviews. I must confess, I was a little hesitant before. I just can't imagine L.M. Montgomery not writing it. But I vow to give it a try after all of the good reviews.

How to Catch a Star by Oliver Jeffers

How to Catch a Star
By Oliver Jeffers
Philomel, 2004

A little boy really wants to catch a star, but he realizes it’s too far away. He waits and waits and waits during the day to see the star. Finally it gets dark. He can’t reach the star, so he climbs up a tree and tries to reach it, and he tries to get into a paper rocket ship to reach it. He can’t. Finally, he sees the reflection of the star in the water. He tries to reach out and grab it, but it can’t be caught. Finally, on his way back home, disappointed, he finds a starfish that he can hold.

The story line is reminiscent of Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes. The watercolor illustrations are simple and geometric, but they fit perfectly with the concept. This is the first of Oliver Jeffers books for kids.

Other reviews of books by Oliver Jeffers:

The Incredible Book Eating Boy (which I reviewed when I was reading for the Cybils)

Friday, February 15, 2008

Color Poems

I love the book Hailstones and Halibut Bones by Mary O'Neill. For years I've used this ancient copy from the school library. The illustrations were faded and outdated, but the poems were wonderful. Each poem is about a different color. This year, I found a newer illustrated version (although still over 10 years old) by John Wallner. I read this with my fourth graders and we write our own color poems.

Here's my Red poem.

What is Red?
by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

Red is a tomato
Ripe in the summer
Red is your skin
Burnt bright--it’s a bummer

Red is a fire truck
Putting out the red flame
Red is an angry face
That’s been called a mean name

Red is a dog’s tongue
With warm, slobbery kisses
Red is a Valentine heart
From someone who misses

Red is cayenne pepper
Hot as fire
Red are the eyes
Worn out and tired

Red is a scream
Piercing and loud
Red is the cut
Of which you are proud

Red is a cardinal and cherries
And bright roses of spring
Red is an apple
And leaves that fall on everything

Red is a candy cane
And Santa’s soft suit
And a stocking that’s filled
With cinnamon candies to boot

Red is the color
Of stripes on our flag
Red is the face
On your mom’s face when she brags

About you!

The Poetry Friday roundup is at HipWriterMama.

Blog Tour: Susan K. Mitchell

Susan K. Mitchell is taking a blog tour. She stops here today. Her new book is Kersplatypus, illustrated by Sherry Rogers and published by Sylvan Dell.

Book synopsis: A platypus finds he is away from his home and he wonders where he belongs. Many helpful animals want to try to guide him to the right place. He meets a Blue-Tongued Skink, a Wallaby, a Kookaburra, a Brush-Tail Possum, a Bandicott and more. They each take him to their home to see if the platypus would fit in. Finally he finds the water, where he feels more at home.

The language in this book is playful and fun as Platypus meets new animal friends. The title itself is ingenious and intriguing. The back of the book has several pages to tie the story to curriculum connections for teachers or parents. There is information about animal adaptations, fun facts about platypus, and animal classifications.

I had the opportunity to ask Susan K. Mitchell a few questions.

W of W: How did you get started as a writer? What were some of the ups and downs on your road to becoming a published writer?

SKM: I always wrote. However, being a “writer” never entered my mind. My parents told me so many times, “You should write for kids” – but I paid no attention. Until, that is, I had kids of my own! Then I got to re-read those wonderful, funny, fantastic children’s books I loved so much as a child with a fresh eye. I decided to give it a try. The road to publication is very, very bumpy. This profession is not for the faint of heart. There is rejection at every turn. Taking it seriously as a business from the very beginning gave me a bit of an edge – well, that and some dumb luck never hurt!

WofW: Your upcoming book, Kersplatypus, is about animals that are indigenous to Australia. The back of your book includes so much wonderful information for teachers to extend your story into the curriculum. Did you set out to write a story that would tie into the curriculum initially?

SKM: No, I set out to write a story that I wanted to read. My publisher, Sylvan Dell, is the mastermind behind the educational material. As a teacher, I can tell you it is a perfect addition to the books.

WofW: Can you tell us your inspiration for writing this book? What kind of research did you have to do (even though it is fiction)?

SKM: My youngest daughter was really the inspiration for Kersplatypus. When she was 2, she fell down one day. Being a good Mommy, I picked her up, dried her tears and said, “Oh baby! Did you go kersplatypus?” I thought it was a cool word. It is really as simple as that! I like to tell students that story when they have trouble finding an idea to write about. This book was born from a single word!

As far as the research goes, YES! Quite a bit of research goes into my books. Everything has to be honest and real. I had to research what animals would be found in the same habitat as a platypus. I had to know the land, its flora, fauna, and weather. It is Tasmania, by the way. A librarian can spot an inconsistency a mile away! Just because something is a fictional story doesn’t mean it can be inaccurate.

WofW: I know you are a teacher and a mom. How do you fit writing into that busy schedule? What’s a typical day for you?

SKM: Utter chaos and bedlam! I do teach 3 days each week, am the Brownie troop leader, the Daisy troop leader, I speak at schools, write at least 6-10 books each year, and have to find time to do all the other things every mom has to do each day. That is the great thing about MOMS … they are absolute superheroes! I am still trying to perfect altering the time space continuum however *lol*. When I get that done, things will be easier!

WofW: I read on your website that you are one of three Susan Mitchells that are writers. Do you all ever get each other’s e-mail or do people mistake you for one another?

SKM: *BOL* Oh, can you believe that one?! I actually think there are more than three – there is an illustrator, a novelist, a poet, a dietician, and me. I would never have made it in publishing if I hadn’t married my husband. I did get mistaken for the picturebook illustrator Susan Mitchell once. Only to be told, “Oh – you’re not her” in disgust. That one put me in my place! I have actually spoken to the illustrator Susan Mitchell a few times in email. She is a sweet and lovely woman. Quite an artist too!

WofW: You have written both fiction and nonfiction for the school market. What project(s) are you working on now?

SKM: I do not have any picturebooks coming in the near future (shame on me). But I have several non-fiction books in the pipe. Seven will be out in 2009 and at least 6 more in 2010. I write on average 8 of them each year. I need to get cracking on the picturebooks however. Those are my passion and where all the fun is!


Thursday, February 14, 2008

And the winner is...

The Chicken Chasing Queen of Lamar County by Janice N. Harrington. It won the best book in the Cybils fiction picture book category. Yippee! A phenomenal book. Check out the other Cybils winners over at the Cybils blog.

I have thoroughly enjoyed being a part of this contest. I have made new blogger friends and fallen in love with a whole slew of books because of this opportunity. Many thanks to the organizers.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Moping and Groaning

Well, guess what I have done this weekend? Nothing. That's right. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Zero. I have made a permanent indent on the couch and on the bed. I have been sick, sick, sick. I was finally able to get a doctor's appointment for 11:00. Fever, chills, cough, repeat. That's what I'm going to tell the doctor. Well, I shouldn't say I did NOTHING. I submerged my misery into 1,192 pages of Bella and Edward, Stephanie Meyer bliss. I read New Moon and Eclipse in the last two days because they have been calling to me ever since I read Twilight over the summer.

What should I have done this weekend?
1) Helped my husband paint my office
2) Graded undergrad papers that were due on Friday
3) Written my assignments for my postmodernism class that I'm taking
4) Taken my daughter outside to play
5) Enjoyed my weekend.

Oh well, there are many thing a high fever will keep you from doing (although it didn't keep me from sinking my teeth into Bella's love life).

Another Cybils illustrator

For another featured illustrator, I direct you to Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast where Jules interviews and features the Go to Bed, Monster illustrator Sylvie Kantorovitz. Go to Bed, Monster was one of the Cybils fiction picture book finalists.

My review of Go to Bed, Monster is here.

By the way, the winners will be announced on Valentine's Day (that's right, this week).

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Janice Harrington Interview

As most of you know, The Chicken Chasing Queen of Lamar County by Janice Harrington was a Cybils fiction picture book finalist. There is a wonderful interview with Ms. Harrington over at 28 Days Later.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Another laugh-out-loud funny book by Adam Rex

Tree Ring Circus
Written and illustrated by Adam Rex
Harcourt, 2006

Let’s start with the cover, shall we? The title is illustrated like a Barnum and Bailey circus billboard. But then one begins to notice all of the strange things up in the bare tree on the front cover. The title page is made to look like an advertisement for the circus, complete with teasers for the author’s performance: “Written and illustrated by Adam Rex as he was bound and suspended one hundred feet above the Earth over a pit of flaming tigers.” This page alone will make the over 8 crowd take a look at this book.

The story begins with a seed in the ground and a tree that grows with only a handful of leaves on it. At first a few birds, a big bee, and a squirrel end up in the tree. Not so unusual (except for the big bee). Then a clown shows up because he has escaped from the circus. The circus shows up, looking for the clown, and in the meantime, all of the other animals escape too. Now the tree is holding a lion, a polar bear, a monkey, a tiger, and more!

You could enjoy this book on pictures alone, but much of the text looks like the announcements for the circus, proclaiming the next amazing thing you will see.

The tree is okay until an elephant climbs up too. Then the tree falls down. The plot is very predictable which makes it a gem for young readers because they can anticipate what is about to happen. But the humor and details Rex adds in makes this book appealing to older readers as well.

Perfect pacing, wonderful illustrating, a laugh-out-loud funny book!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Nonfiction Monday: We are the Ship

We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball
Written and Illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Jump at the Sun, 2008

I love baseball, and I really admire Kadir Nelson, so when these two wonderful entities came together as a book, I had to have it. This is Kadir Nelson’s first book that he has written and illustrated. He is a fabulous illustrator, and now we now he is a wonderful writer.

We Are the Ship is nonfiction, complete with footnotes, bibliography, and author’s note. It is meticulously researched and well written. It is the size of a normal picture book, but much lengthier and for an older audience. Hank Aaron wrote the foreword. The book is divided into chapters designated as “innings”. The illustrations are spread throughout the book. Some illustrations are only one page with text on the opposite page. Other illustrations are full spreads, and one illustration is a four page pull-out. ALL of the illustrations are stunning. This is Kadir Nelson at his very best.

The book is packed full of history and is told from an unnamed narrator, but the reader gets the feeling that you are sitting at the feet of a wise baseball historian telling you everything they know about the history of the Negro Leagues. It is told like the narrator was part of the Negro Leagues as he refers to “we” and “us” throughout the book. Nelson has managed to tell the history—the good and the bad—of life in the Negro Leagues. Despite the horrible way black players were treated, the segregation they faced, they still loved to play the game of baseball and felt privileged to have been given the opportunity.

I have high hopes for this book and for Kadir Nelson. I’m sure the Coretta Scott King committee will recognize this book, but I also hope that NCTE’s Orbis Pictus and ALA’s Sibert Committees will recognize this book too.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Piper Reed Navy Brat

Piper Reed Navy Brat
Henry Holt, 2007
Are you looking for a book for girls (or guys) who have "graduated" from Junie B., but still need a good, short chapter book to keep them reading? This is the book.

Piper Reed is a fourth grader. She has grown up a Navy Brat all of her life, and has to move at least every two years. The book begins just as the family is getting ready to make the move from San Diego, California to Pensacola, Florida.

Piper is full of life and a determined little girl. It deals with the family making the big move, the girls (Piper is one of three siblings) getting adjusted to a new community and school, and saying goodbye to their dad as he goes out on ship within a short time of them moving.

Kimberly Willis Holt, who has wonderful written picture books (Waiting for Gregory) and YA (When Zachary Beaver Came to Town), has now done an excellent job with this early chapter book. Piper's voice is excellent, her emotions true. Holt shows a very loving family with parents who truly care about their kids, but who must still deal with the difficulties of moving.

Holt herself was a Navy Brat growing up. Although I wasn't a Navy Brat, I personally moved a lot as a kid because my parents were missionaries overseas. I grew up around State Department kids and other missionary and business kids who moved frequently. The feelings were universal, but we always managed to make friends wherever we went, as Piper does in this book.
Piper has a Gypsy Club in San Diego, a tight little group of friends, who make up a new saying "Get off the bus!" It's like saying "Get outta town!", an expression of astonishment. Her goal is to make it a saying that everyone in the country is saying. I love this! When I was in boarding school in Malaysia, we used to always say "Hold the phone!" or this is "malaged" (meaning: messed up). When I moved back to the US, no one had ever heard of those sayings. I can totally identify with Piper Reed Navy Brat.
Many thanks to Henry Holt for sending out these free books--I got this one from a drawing sponsored by Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. 7-Imp also had a great interview with Kimberly Willis Holt.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Get this book--Quick

The Quikpick Adventure Society
By Sam Riddleburger
Dial, 2007

This book is about poop. Well, actually about kids who go to see a poop fountain, but still, if you tell any boy that it’s a book about poop, he’ll read it.

Lyle, Marilla, and Dave are friends and they hang out together, usually at the Quikpick. The Quikpick is a local gas station-slash-convenience store where Lyle’s parents both work. They get tired of just hanging out in the break room at the Quikpick, so they really want to find something interesting to do. Lyle’s parents have to work all day Christmas Day, so they plan to do this really-interesting-adventure on Christmas Day.

They read in the paper that the local wasterwater treatment plant is getting ready to get a new upgrade. They will be closing down their “sludge fountain” and opening new equipment. The timeline for this upgrade? Jan. 2. So they have time for their Christmas Day adventure.

They venture out on Christmas Day to the fountain of poop, as they call it. Yes, there are poop-related disasters. There is messiness. There are several “ooh, gross” moments. I’m telling you…give this to a boy you know!!!

Lyle is the narrator and he types his account of their adventure on his used typewriter his parents bought him for Christmas, but there are handwritten parts to the story too, and Lyle adds handwritten notes to his typed pages. It gives the story such a realistic journal feel.

Why do I love this book?
1) Most kids go on mini-adventures with small groups of friends. At least I did. Even if we never wandered far from home, we were able to create drama out of a mundane event. I even dated a guy once in college who showed me home movies of “adventures” he and his buddies had going from home to the local “Orange Market” (Quikpick-ish).
2) Most kids love to get grossed-out with bathroom humor. This book is not raunchy. The whole thing is not poop jokes. It’s poop--well done. (BTW, I can’t believe I just wrote that).
3) It’s set in Crickenburg, a fictional town based on a real place—Christiansburg, VA. I live only 20 minutes from there, so this book is close to home. And it’s written by a local author (and blogger) Sam Riddleburger (who is married to another local author, Sock Monkey writer and illustrator, Cece Bell). In fact, I got this book at a local Barnes and Noble event with Sam and Cece.
4) The kids write poetry—they even write haiku about their poop experience! Awesome!

Do you know a reluctant boy reader? Then go, buy this book!

Feathers--Newbery Honor

G.P. Putnam, 2007

This was the only Newbery book (winner and honors included) that I hadn't read before the big annoucement a few weeks ago. So I bought it and read it last night.

Here's my take:

It's a beautifully written book about a young girl named Frannie. She is learning to think for herself and question her friends prejudices. When a new boy comes to their school, everyone calls him "the Jesus boy" because he reminds them of Jesus. He's white, but insists he's not. Frannie wants to get to know him a little better, even though her friends have many reasons why she shouldn't. It makes a quiet, but effective statement about how we all make assumptions about others that we shouldn't make.

Frannie's momma has had several miscarriages and lost a newborn baby too. She feels like Frannie and her older brother Sean, who is also deaf, are her gifts from heaven. Woodson deals with her Frannie's family so openly and honestly. She doesn't gloss over the reality of the emotions of depression and hope that invade her family. I appreciated Woodson's handling of this matter. Frannie talks openly about death and how her family feels about death, babies, sadness, etc.

As someone who has been personally through some of the same things that Frannie's momma went through, this book was honest, authentic, and deeply touching. But I know that sometimes the Newbery awarded books get branded as ones that are more meaningful to adults but not as kid-friendly. Feathers really does see the whole situation through the eyes of a child. Frannie is honest and open, and shares her kid feelings.

A wonderful choice by the Newbery committee.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Black History Month--Guide to Books

Simon and Schuster sent me an e-mail today announcing their new Guide to Black Literature, called Celebration Song. It's available online.

Shape Poems--Poetry Friday

I am a huge fan of Jane Yolen's haiku book Least Things. Her haiku is paired with her son's stunning photography. I blogged about it here.
Her latest poetry book paired with her son's photography is:

photographs by Jason Stemple
Each photograph highlights the shapes that we find in poetry including hearts, rectangles, triangles, circles, and more. Yolen has paired her poetry with each photograph, but also there are words floating around the page that match with the shape.

by Jane Yolen

Hearts are not always red,
Not always full of love,
Not always beating steadily.
Some hearts fall from above.
Dry, solo, autumn-hued,
The still heart of a tree
Settles on the leafy ground
For all eternity.

(This poem share a spread with close-up photos of heart-shaped leaves).

The Poetry Friday round-up is at Karen Edmisten's blog.