Wednesday, April 30, 2008

What I've Been Reading: March and April 2008

Things have been crazy this year. I have been teaching an undergraduate class, taking a graduate class, teaching fourth graders all day, and my parents have been visiting from overseas. I have had very little time to read voraciously, like I normally do. I have been reading for my classes, with little time or energy to read for other things. But the nice thing is I can see the end of the horizon. By next week, almost everything will be done. Whew! Then I can gear up for the summer class I’m taking and the one I’m teaching. But hopefully, I’ll have more time for pleasure reading.


Picture books
Doctor Ted by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by Pascal Lemaitre (my review here)
The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson

Middle Grade
Steal Away Home by Lois Ruby
The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry
The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron

Young Adult
The Game of Sunken Places by M.T. Anderson
A Pack of Lies by Geraldine MacCaughrean
The Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (my review here)
The Princess Bride by William Goldman
The Last Book in the Universe by Rodman Philbrick

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
Hitler Youth by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse


Picture books
City Lullaby by Marilyn Singer
Nettie’s Trip South by Ann Turner
Stand Tall, Abe Lincoln by Judith St. George
The Secret of the Great Houdini by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Leonid Gore
Cinderella’s Rat by Susan Meddaugh
Nothing Ever Happens on My Block by Ellen Raskin
Jazz Baby by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Laura Freeman
So Few of Me by Peter H. Reynolds
The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds
The Butterfly by Patricia Polacco
Dolley Madison Saves George Washington by Don Brown (my review here)
Young Jim Thorpe: Bright Path by Don Brown
Red Butterfly: How a Princess Smuggled the Secret of Silk Out of China by Deborah Noyes, illustrated by Sophie Blackall (my review here)

Family Reunion by Mary Quattlebaum
Boshblobberbosh: Runcible Poems for Edward Lear by J. Patrick Lewis
Jesse Owens: Fastest Man Alive by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Eric Velasquez (my review here)
Mother Goose’s Little Treasures collected by Iona Opie, illustrated by Rosemary Wells (my review here)

Miracle: The True Story of the Wreck of the Sea Venture by Gail Langer Karwoski
Ox, House, Stick: The History of Our Alphabet by Don Robb, illustrated by Anne Smith
What Do You Do When Something Wants to Eat You? By Steve Jenkins (my review here)
Vulture View by April Pulley Sayre, illustrated by Steve Jenkins

Young Adult
Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Made from Scratch: A Memoir by Sandra Lee
Salem Falls by Jodi Picoult

Red Butterfly

Red Butterfly: How a Princess Smuggled the Secret of Silk Out of China
By Deborah Noyes
Illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Candlewick, 2007

First of all, I must say this book is stunning. The illustrations look like an intricate Chinese painting. The details are beautifully imagined and portrayed. I picked this book out because I just fell in love with the illustrations. When I got the book home, I noticed it was on my “to read” list from a few months ago. I love when that kind of serendipity happens at the library.

You can visit Sophie Blackall’s website for some samples of her work from this book.

For as beautifully as this book is illustrated, it is matched by poetic writing that also brings out the beauty of this story.

The story is about a young girl in China who loves the silkworm that feeds on the mulberry tree on her father’s land. China is known for its prized silkworms and the thread it provides. But the young girl is soon to be married off to royalty in Khotan, and she is sad because she will miss her silkworm and her beautiful land. The red butterfly is her outfit that makes her look like a butterfly when her arms are outstretched. She sneaks some silkworms, some leaves, and some seeds of a mulberry tree in her hair and carries it off to her new home.

Here is a passage by Noyes that describes the beauty of the land:

“In my father’s kingdom
there are many splendors.
As we cross the wide
to the summer palace,
sunbeams slice through dark
spilling on moss. Monkeys wail
in maple groves along the
Sparrows peck mud
for their nests.”

I just wanted to read parts of this book over and over again to soak up the poetry of the story. Mixed with the illustrations, this is one of my favorite books I have read in a long time!

This story is based on a true story and the author’s note in the back explains the history behind the story.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Nonfiction Monday: What Do You Do When Something Wants to Eat You

What Do You Do When Something Wants to Eat You?
Written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins
Houghton Mifflin, 1997

I don’t know HOW I have missed this book before. It was published in 1997!! And I just discovered it a few weeks ago. I love Steve Jenkins’ books. They are great for many ages, from toddlers who love the pictures and the shorter text, to upper elementary readers, who love to read the fine print full of facts, and really still love his illustrations.

This book is about animal defense mechanisms. What do animals do when something tries to eat them? Well, Steve Jenkins chooses animals that kids will know, like the octopus that squirts black ink and the puffer fish who puffs out. But he also chooses lesser known facts that kids will find interesting like this one: “The basilisk lizard is known in South America as the Jesus Chris lizard. It can escape its enemies by running across the surface of ponds and streams, using its large feet and great speed to keep it from sinking into the water.”

This book has Jenkins stunning signature cut paper collage illustrations. It doesn’t include extra facts at the back of the book or within the text, like many of his other books do. Still, a fun, fact-filled read. I will be using this with my fourth graders in my animal adaptations unit.
Nonfiction Monday roundup is at Picture Book a Day.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Poetry Friday: Jesse Owens, Fastest Man Alive

Jesse Owens: Fastest Man Alive
By Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by Eric Velasquez

I recently got to meet Carole Boston Weatherford at the VSRA conference. I really enjoyed hearing the stories behind many of her books. One of my favorite genres is picture book biographies. And I really enjoy poetry. Weatherford has composed all three into one book.

Each poem in this book tells the story of Jesse Owens. It doesn’t begin with his childhood, but it does give us a glimpse into where he was from. Jesse Owens was a track and field star during the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, at a time when Hitler was the dictator of Germany. Jesse Owens crushed Hitler’s expectations of the Germans sweeping the Olympic medals. Weatherford gives some historical background in her author’s note.

Here is one of Weatherford’s poems about the day Jesse Owens received his fourth gold medal.

Medal #4: The 400-Meter Relay

With three gold medals,
you could rest on your records,
but the Germans have saved
their fastest for last.
Your coaches need
a secret weapon—

You run the first leg of the relay,
passing the baton and the lead
to the next runner.
By the finish line, the race
and your fourth medal are won.
Who’d have thought
that a sharecropper’s son,
the grandson of slaves,
would crush Hitler’s pride?
Who knew that you would trample
German might like a clod of dirt
in a field of glory?
Who’d have thought your star
would burn so bright?

This week's Poetry Friday roundup is at The Miss Rumphius Effect.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Eric Rohmann: Day 6

A Kitten Tale
By Eric Rohmann
Knopf, 2008

I had to wait FOREVER to get my paws on a copy of this book at my local library. Someone else snatched it up before I did. This book is perfect for preschoolers.

Four little kittens are talking about snow in the middle of the summer. Three of them are dreading and worrying about the coming snow. The fourth kitten can’t wait. Then the fall comes. They continue to talk about snow with trepidation. The fourth kitten is so excited about the possibility. Finally, the snow comes. The fourth kitten jumps right out into the snow and has a rollicking good time. Of course, the others follow out and enjoy themselves too. It is a simple story, told with fun language that reminds me of little kittens frolicking.
Here’s an excerpt of the short, frolicking dialogue that takes place between the kittens:

When autumn winds ruffled the trees, the first kitten said, “Soon the snow will
fall and fall. We’ll be cold and wet and snow will cover everything!”
“Piles and drifts!” said the second kitten.
“Heaped to our whiskers,” said the third kitten.
Still the fourth kitten said, “I can’t wait.”

Eric Rohmann: Day 5

This post is a day late. I was having difficulty with blogger last night. It wouldn't let me post at all. So today, you get the last two installments of Eric Rohmann.

My Friend Rabbit
Written and illustrated by Eric Rohmann
Roaring Brook Press, 2002

This book won the Caldecott Medal in 2003. I remember buying this book and thinking: WOW. The illustrations are so bold and so toddler-minded. The text is simple and has a wonderful cadence to it. Rabbit’s toy airplane is stuck in the tree. He tries to come up with an inventive way to get it out, so he gathers, pushes, and shoves his animal friends on top of one another until they form a tall tower. This of course comes crashing down!

I love his use of perspective in the illustrations. On one spread rabbit is in the far corner of the page pulling on an elephant’s tale. Everything looks so small and the spread is rather bare. Then the next page explodes with a giant elephant taking over the entire spread. When all of the animals are piled on top of one another, you must turn the book vertically to view it correctly. Then they all come crashing down and we see wild animal eyes of every sort as they looked surprised, shocked, and flabbergasted. Then we see those same animal eyes all glaring at rabbit. Every spread is full of surprises and delight. The illustrations are appealing to a very young audience. In fact, a non-reader could figure out what is going on in the story even without the text.

A romping fun read and so well-deserving of the Caldecott Award.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Eric Rohmann: Day 4

By Eric Rohmann
Knopf, 2003

This is a funny book. It would appear on the outside to be a book that really, really young kids would like. However, I think some upper elementary kids would find it funny. There is a boy name Otho who has a pumpkin for a head. His family doesn’t seemed to be worried by it, but one day a bat comes by and wants to scoop up the pumpkin for a place to live. He seizes upon Otho’s head and runs away with it. Otho’s head makes quite a journey. It flies in the air, gets dropped into the ocean, gets eaten by a fish, is found by a fisherman, and finally bought by his own mother at the fish market. It’s an unusual tale. It could be read any time of the year, but would be particularly interesting at Halloween with the bat and the pumpkin (even though it’s not about Halloween). The language Rohmann uses is interesting and would not bore an older reader.

The book itself is small in size and square. Rohmann’s illustrations are small boxes with heavy lines (like My Friend Rabbit--to be reviewed tomorrow). The font cover has a cut out that reveals the pumpkinhead on the title page. The book was an unexpected (and pleasant) surprise.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Eric Rohmann: Day 3

Time Flies
Illustrated by Eric Rohmann
Crown Publishers, 1994

This wordless picture book begins when a bird is inside of a museum where dinosaur skeleton exhibits are displayed. The bird flies around and suddenly the dinosaur is no longer just bones, but a full living creature. The setting changes to a land full of dinosaurs of all kinds. The bird flies around among the dinosaurs until he gets eaten by a dinosaur. Then the dinosaurs slowly began to change back to skeletons.

This book will delight little dinosaur lovers.

Nonfiction Monday: Dolley Madison Saves George Washington

Dolley Madison Saves George Washington
By Don Brown
Houghton Mifflin, 2007

I love picture book biographies. I especially love picture book biographies that don’t follow the traditional biography route. In other words, they don’t tell about the person from birth to death, but rather pick one or two really interesting moments of that person’s life and share that in a picture book. Not that I have anything against the traditional biography. It is one of my favorite genres, but I think picture book biographies make kids really think. They “explode a moment” in Barry Lane’s terms.

This book is no exception. The title alone makes the reader wonder how Dolley Madison, a first lady, save our first president. Why, she saved his portrait of course! Don Brown tells about what most people think of when they hear Dolley Madison’s name: “Everybody talked about Dolley Madison. They talked about her charm and grace. They talked about her beauty, her stunning gowns, and her delightful banquets.” (1). But Don Brown shows what a strong lady Dolley Madison was.

During the War of 1812, when the British were burning Washington, Dolley Madison wasn’t the first person to leave. Instead she stayed behind and ordered that the portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart be saved. The portrait and the historical significance are pointed out in the text. So George Washington WAS saved by Mrs. Madison and returned to the White House years later, where it still hangs.

If you are a history buff, or just love a good picture book biography, you’ll love this book.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Eric Rohmann: Day 2

Clara and Asha
Written and illustrated by Eric Rohmann
Roaring Brook Press, 2005

Amazing things happen when it gets dark. Just as in The Cinder-Eyed Cats where animals move around while we sleep, Clara and Asha is a tale of a girl and her animal friends that visit at night. Clara opens her window at night and Asha, a fish she met as a stone in a park water fountain, comes to visit her. Asha has been her imaginary friend and has been with her on many adventures including Trick-or-Treating and snowman making. Asha even takes Clara on a night flight through the sky.

This book celebrates the imagination of children and their connection with the world. Children are so good at bringing the concrete to life. This book shows how much fun imaginary friends are. Rohmann’s illustrations are large and beautiful. He is an ace at flying fish.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Eric Rohmann: Day 1

I am going to be featuring Eric Rohmann books for the next few days. I wasn't able to get ahold of all of his picture books, but I am doing reviews on the ones I could find. I was first introduced to Eric Rohmann through My Friend Rabbit, but I was thrilled to find other fabulous books by him that I wasn't aware of.

For a really fabulous interview with Eric Rohmann, head over to 7-Imp. They did feature on Eric Rohmann in February.

The Cinder-Eyed Cats
Written and illustrated by Eric Rohmann
Crown Publishers, 1997

I have read some amazing books lately where kids go to imaginary lands. This one is one of the books. It opens with a little boy climbing into a boat in the sky. He sails away in the sky to an island. On this island there are cinder-eyed cats. At night the creatures from the sea rendezvous with the cinder-eyed cats and the boy. The boy gets to watch as the creatures intermingle only until the sun comes up. The little boy sails back home in his flying boat.

The illustrations are large and make the animals appear large and the boy just a small observer in the great big world. I love the fish illustrations and there is even a fish sculpted into the sand. Rohmann illustrates another fish like this in his book Clara and Asha (to be featured tomorrow).

Friday, April 18, 2008

Poetry Friday: Mother Goose's Little Treasures

Mother Goose’s Little Treasures
compiled by Iona Opie
illustrated by Rosemary Wells
Candlewick, 2007

This little collection of Mother Goose rhymes contains some rhymes that readers might not be familiar with. I really love the illustrations by Rosemary Wells. This would make a great gift for a toddler along with Here’s a Little Poem edited by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters.

I share two from Mother Goose today:

What the Goose Thinketh

When the rain raineth
And the goose winketh,
Little knows the gosling
What the goose thinketh.

Little Old Dog Sits Under a Chair

Little old dog sits under a chair,
Twenty-five grasshoppers
Snarled in his hair.

Little old dog’s beginning to snore;
Mother she tells him
To do so no more.

Poetry Friday round-up is at The Well Read Child.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Fall in love with Pippi all over again!

Pippi Longstocking
By Astrid Lindgren
Illustrated by Lauren Child
Translated by Tiina Nunnally
Viking, 2007

I love this new translation and illustrated version of Pippi Longstocking. It had been a very long time since I read the “original” Pippi Longstocking, so I remembered very little about it. I was intrigued by this version simply because of the illustrations by Lauren Child. I really like Lauren Child’s style and I wanted to see what she would do with this classic book.

This will bring Pippi to a whole new generation who will fall in love with her and her spunk. It is a new translation. The story line remains the same, but as far as I can tell, the changes in wording are there but minute (from a quick glance comparing the two). It is an oversized chapter book, almost double the size of the original translation I got from the library. It gives Lauren Child room to illustrate and also provides some white space so that the text doesn’t appear heavy. This has great kid-appeal. The text looks manageable and is enlarged and played with in many areas. Some whole pages are illustrations and sometimes the text just goes right around the illustrations.

I loaned my copy to a friend’s second grade daughter and she loved it! If you are looking for a great gift for a 2nd-4th grade girl, I would highly recommend this version.

Check out Lauren Child's website

Virginia Readers' Choice High School List

Here is the last of the Virginia Readers' Choice lists. This is for high school students.

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

The Christopher Killer: Forensic Mystery 1 by Alane Ferguson

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Last Knight by Hilari Bell

Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Light Years by Tammar Stein

A Room on Lorelei Street by Mary E. Pearson

The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin

Scrambled Eggs at Midnight by Brad Barkley and Heather Hepler

The Trap by John Smelcer

Virginia Readers' Choice Middle School List

This is the list for middle schoolers for the 2008-2009 school year. I posted the primary and elementary school lists a few weeks ago.

Adam Canfield of the Slash by Michael Winerip

Airborn by Kenneth Oppel

Black Duck by Janet Taylor Lisle

Blue by Joyce Moyer Hostetter

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Lawson (my review here)

Hitler's Canary by Sandi Toksvig

La Linea by Ann Jaramillo

The Loud Silence of Francine Green by Karen Cushman (my review here)

The Mailbox by Audrey Shafer

Surviving Antarctica: Reality TV 2083 by Andrea White