Do you love Marcia Williams? I love Marcia Williams. Marcia Williams is a British illustrator and author. She writes large-format, intensively-illustrated adaptations of classical literature for kids.
Let me tell you how great this is: lots of little kids get into tales of adventure, and then their parents think to themselves, "Oh, I'll bet he would love Robin Hood!" Or King Arthur, or the story of Troy, etc. And then they ask the librarian - "I want him to read King Arthur." Whereupon the librarian is like, "Errr... you know that adultery and patricide play a big part in that story, right? Is he ready for The Sword in the Stone?"
The Ramayana is the ancient epic story of the exiled prince Rama and his beautiful wife, Sita. When Sita is kidnapped by a love-struck demon king, her husband’s efforts to rescue her result in a war that eventually involves not only demons and mortals, but also gods, monsters, and even animals. This story has been told and retold, painted, performed and translated in every medium imaginable.
We are well shut of the twentieth century, I think. That was the first thing that crossed my mind as I closed Between Shades of Gray at about 1:30 in the morning last night. Good god. This is historical fiction that grabs you by the throat.
Where are we? We are in Lithuania in June of 1941. Stalin has annexed the country and part of his strategy for integrating it seamlessly into the Soviet Union is to round up anyone who might object and send them to Siberia.
Who are we? Fifteen-year-old Lina, upper middle class, a gifted artist, with a ten-year-old brother and a beautiful mother. Papa, a university administrator, has already disappeared when soldiers pound on the door and throw Lina's family into a truck.
The Akkadians of Central Iraq, hungry for new lands to conquer, have set sail for the great cities of Sind, in what is now southern Pakistan. Prince Meluha and his teacher Chandrayaan are out hunting when the invaders launch their assault upon Meluha’s city, and so it becomes the handsome (and quite often shirtless - hell, everyone's shirtless in this thing!) prince’s responsibility to travel to the other Indus Valley cities and rally their rulers to stand together against the hostile armies of Akkadia.
The Three Pandas by Valerie Mih and See Here Studios
Little Mei Mei goes walking in the forest and smells something yummy. Why, it's the three bowls of bamboo porridge that Mama, Papa, and Baby Panda left on their table while they took a walk! Mmm, that baby panda's porridge is 只是权 (just right)!
Layered photo collage is the medium for the gorgeous but friendly illustrations. Not too flashy, with homey interiors featuring Chinese furnishings and decor, and lovely misty exteriors depicting a sunny clearing in the bamboo forest. Mei Mei is adorable, with a giant toothy smile, and the pandas are just the giant balls of fluffy fur that pandas always are. I like the unobtrusive music, all tinkly piano and clarinet notes, though I confess I might have wished for more Chinese instrumentation.
AND IT'S BILINGUAL. Why does not every single dang iPad app give the user multiple language options? (Note: IT'S EASY.) The Chinese narration is clear and expressive. My picture book app review buddy, four-year-old Baby A, got a big kick out of listening to the app in Chinese and telling me the story, as if she were translating.
Sometimes I get a request from a library customer or a friend that is so inspiring, it sticks with me for days. Our friend Doug, who is finishing up a master's in education sometime in the next decade or so, is working up a model English class for middle schoolers who have been studying ecology. He figured he'd read them The Lorax as a discussion starter, but wondered if I had any other suggestions.
Now, The Lorax is pretty much on the nose for this purpose, but it's long, and sing-songy, and might already be familiar to middle schoolers as an environmental cautionary tale. So I rubbed my hands together and thought.
Oh, the pleasures of an old-fashioned Something Is Not Right in the Town of Stepford/Sandford/Antonio Bay/Milburn/Celebration novel. It's a premise that allows an author to explore themes of conformity and artifice while creating a claustrophobic, paranoid atmosphere in which the protagonist becomes increasingly convinced that the familiar, friendly fixtures of his or her youth might be harboring Terrible Secrets.
Not a bad metaphor for a teen novel, wouldn't you say? And perfect reading for a hot summer night.
So, I was mock-complaining last week about all the graphic novels cluttering up my hallway, so to speak. I can't possibly review each of them, so I'm rounding 'em up and running 'em down in a couple of portmanteau posts. Therefore:
Graphic Novels, April 2011, Part Deux: This Time it's Historical
This week I've grouped together a number of graphic novels set in the past. Or in an alternate past. Or... in places that people habitually wear hats, in the case of Dapper Men. Oh whatever, they just all go together and you're going to have to take my word.
Many of the items up for review today are adaptations of classic works. And, uh, I have kind of strong feelings about g/n adaptations of classic works. This is going to surprise you. Heck, it surprises me. My strong feelings are mostly along the lines of: why?
Two families - one in Sydney, Australia, and one in Morocco. Jeannie Baker takes us through each family's day, showing us warm domestic scenes and sweeping landscapes, making subtle, everyday connections across the seemingly vast gulf of difference separating the two settings.
The Moroccan family gets around by donkey, while the Australians drive a yellow minivan. The Australian kid wears a red t-shirt and jeans, and the Moroccan kid wears his jeans under a red djellaba. Both boys have a baby sibling in a fuzzy yellow sweater. Tea is poured, pets are fed. The Moroccan boy likes to draw: the Australian one writes a story. Maybe they'll write a book together one day.
I find it a little odd that I love boys' boarding school memoirs so much. I'm an American woman who walked to public school every day for twelve years - the British-style boarding school experience could not be further from my reality.
But then I pick up Moab Is My Washpot and I collapse with laughter. Roald Dahl's Boy is dear to my heart. Hogwarts School is my favorite place in Harry Potter. And doesn't J. M. Coetzee attend boarding school in his memoir Boyhood: Scenes From Provincial Life, which I only remember as being devastatingly naked and sad?
Whew. I am not usually a summarizer, but I think in this case, the only way to introduce this book is to introduce you to its main character, Hamish Graham.
Hamish is a smart, middle-class New Zealand boy of European descent, and, at the age of fourteen, he's already killed a man. And a poodle. And those are just the incidents that made the papers. There's more.
He is, quite naturally, boarding at a facility for troubled youths - boys with violent tendencies and/or brushes with the criminal justice system. The trouble with Hamish's brand of 'troubled' is that nobody can figure it out. He's not a product of an emotionally damaging environment. He doesn't have autism, nor any other disorder that he's been tested for. He has baffled the teachers and counselors charged with his care for years, developing a hearty contempt for them along the way, a contempt that occasionally bursts into violence.
I am not a teacher, but I used to do a lot of training - I taught museum staff how to use the database software that helped them keep track of all their stuff. Because of that experience, I now feel comfortable addressing any group not actually armed with edged weapons. Let me put it this way: you ever read From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler? Of course you have. How would Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler react to having her files transcribed into database entries, so that they could be searched, shuffled, and read... by strangers?
Yeah. These were people who had avoided anything that even faintly smelled of maths or science since, sometimes, freshman year of undergrad. Many used a computer for email, but plenty affected a contemptuous and disdainful attitude, and considered it unfair that now, in addition to being profoundly knowledgeable about, say, Heian period sword guards, they were expected to operate machinery.
Not unlike teaching social studies to high school students, I'm thinking.
I'm staring at the cover of this book and wondering what to say about it. The cover is awfully busy, in its overly geometric way - a giant factory looms over a little red brick schoolhouse, smokestacks rising into the gray clouds, from which descend feathers, like snow. Below the school, stairs descend into a darkness in which half-lidded yellow eyes lurk.
Also, the O's in the word "School" are eyes. And there's a... you know what? I'll quit with the cover. Except to point out the one enticing element of it, the one element that you should pay attention to and use as your barometer when you consider whether you need it for your kids, or your library.
The obvious and inevitable comparison that this book will invite is to Vikas Swarup's Q & A, aka Slumdog Millionaire. So let me just get that out of the way. If you enjoyed Slumdog Millionaire, if you were not so distracted by its images of radiant children amid filthy squalor and nearly hopeless generational poverty that you were unable to enjoy the story, you will appreciate this book.
That doesn't look right. I guess I should say I loved that movie, love Vikas Swarup. I love India, and I didn't think that Slumdog Millionaire was about poverty. Not that poverty isn't an important subject. Sigh. I give up. Why don't I just review She Thief.
She Thief is the story of Demi and Baz, boy and girl, best friends, orphans, about 11-12 years old, living in the slums of a hot, crowded Latin American city. I was thinking São Paulo until I realized they called people Señor. So, B.A.? Bogotá? Quito? Like that.
Believe it or not, sometimes I get a little tired of picture books. The tiny little morality plays, the brightly-colored cartoon children and their brightly-colored antics... I only read about twenty of these things a week, you'd get a bit jaded too.
But then Elisha Cooper comes out with a new book (or Marla Frazee or Oliver Jeffers or Linda Smith or Lane Smith or...) and I am starstruck again, savoring every word, staring deep into the witty detail of each drawing, and, in Cooper's case, kind of wondering how the heck he DOES that - that thing with his pencil, how a little wavery line is a cat, or a kid, or a cloud, or a tractor.
Let me back up. This book deserves a little perspective. Lord knows Elisha Cooper has employed it - about half the pages in this yearlong portrait of a family farm are long, lean landscapes, full of sky, with an inch of flat earth at the bottom of the page. Have you ever been out in the true Midwest? It is a marvel to me that such an astringent landscape can be so luxurious in color and texture, as if the sky has to put on a better show to compensate for the lack of earthly features. It suits Cooper's style - in books such as A Good Night Walk and Beach, his large, clean forms kept his little wiggly details from ever looking fussy, and the little wiggly details kept the large volumes from looking too austere.
Barn : bean as Big : little.
Not to slight the text. Cooper is
as talented almost as talented a writer as he is an artist, and his narrative choices reflect the same little/big aesthetic as his drawings do.
After a storm, the farm swells with sound. The corn rustles. The cattle bellow. A tractor echoes in and out. Birds quarrel. Bugs hum. Their hum is constant.
This language is plain and calm but never boring. There's too much going on for it to be boring: the boy throws tomatoes at birds, the cattle poop. The imagery - "The rows look like wet hair just after it's combed" - is beautifully apt, domestic and understated, and above all, authentic. Very authentic: the family loses a rooster in September, the farmer uses pesticide and fertilizer, and some of the chipmunks don't make it across the road. You almost expect a little sketch of the farmer meeting with a banker.
To sum up, here are some of the things that I love about this book:
There is no reason any school or public library should be without these two books. Yeah, I said it. The beautifully textured and colored illustrations are of the highest quality, made in paint and pencil by artists who invest their work with detail and thought. The selected folktales and nursery rhymes - some new, some traditional - are interesting and unusual and have a lyrical quality in both languages, good for reading aloud. My hat is off to Harper Collins for putting this kind of investment into bilingual picture books this year.
Posted on Thursday, April 22, 2010 in age: Grade 1 and up, animals, cultures around the world, diversity: race, religion, ability, gender, folk and fairytales, funny, picture books, poetry, Review copy supplied by publisher, storytime, superstar books | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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Here's one for my antipodean girlcrush author Karen Healey, who wrote the excellent Guardian of the Dead (reviewed on Pink Me a couple months ago). Karen is always complaining that I find YA books and talk 'em up too well, and she is running out of book money. This is not criticism that I am too broken up about - push the sheep out of your way and go to the library!
So, for Karen, a book that I do not especially recommend:
Itacate is a teenage Aztec girl in the splendid city of Tenochtitlan, the daughter of a goldsmith, raised by him and by a nurse since the death of her mother. When we meet her, she is miserably navigating the inflexible rules, ironclad beliefs, and harsh punishments of Aztec society, at odds with the future decreed her by the circumstances of her birth and gender. She's terrible at weaving and making tortillas and wants to be a craftsman like her father.
Then the conquistadors show up, and everything is tossed into a cocked hat. As far as plot disruptors go, the arrival of conquistadors is right up there. Itacate's father, whose skills are waning, is called upon to provide more and more gold to appease the vicious and brutal Europeans, and Itacate must masquerade as a boy so that she may fill in for him. This is a dreadful transgression in Aztec terms, but gives the author the chance to place Itacate into situations she would not ordinarily witness.
There is a lot to like in this book. Ms. Landman skilfully works a luxury of detail into the story. All five senses are engaged by descriptions of the crowded marketplace, the floating fields, the smelly conquistadors and meticulously-groomed Aztec nobles, the gold and turquoise treasures - even the fighting and the food are depicted in vivid language. It is difficult, however, to shake one's distaste for Itacate's love life.
It goes like this: before the arrival of the conquistadors, who will eventually destroy her city, killing everyone she knows, Itacate has a vision of a blonde and blue-eyed youth. And what do you know, she meets this curly-haired young man on the very day that the bad guys march into town. His name is Francisco, and before he became a soldier in service to the Spanish crown, he was a goldsmith like herself. Itacate and Francisco get to know each other while creating a big gold Virgin Mary. He confesses that he despises his countrymen for their greed and brutality. He alone of all the soldiers eschews raping the locals, and he even bathes. He's a good Nazi.
One of the nice things about this book is that the Aztecs are depicted as living in close proximity to their spiritual beliefs, yet are not depicted as ignorant superstitious yokels, even as Itacate begins to examine her faith. In this context, Itacate's vision seems to lend the Spanish conquest a predestined quality. I suppose it is a difficult trick when writing historical fiction to present known events with any element of novelty or surprise. But the mystical quality of a vision is I think a bad choice - there is an implied authority that seems to excuse the Spanish just a little.
In addition, Itacate's response to Francisco's physical appearance feels blatantly Eurocentric: he is described as having "gleaming gold hair" and eyes "blue as the sky". Compared to every human being she has ever seen or could imagine, I would think that this would translate to "monster". The Chinese thought white men were walking corpses - that seems like a much more believable response. And while I accept that it is not outside the realm of human experience for a member of an occupying force and a terrified native of an occupied city to fall in love, in this case I found it both trite and insulting to a character I came to like.
Stunningly atmospheric, this simple, dramatic tale reads a bit like Jorge Luis Borges for kids - realistic and immediate, but with a drop of magic and luck. Tashi lives with her mother, a tea picker in the foothills of the Himalayas. Their day is described in beautifully descriptive sensory terms, from the sweet scent of their morning tea to the "blurred red globe" of the sun on their walk home from work.
Every day, Tashi shares her lunch with the monkeys who frequent the tea fields. When her mother becomes too sick to work, Tashi tries to take over the picking, so that there will be money for a doctor, but she is too small to manage the heavy basket and reach the top of the tea bushes. Despondent, she takes refuge under a tree with the monkeys and cries until she falls asleep. She awakes to find that her kindness has been repaid - the monkeys have filled her basket with the rarest wild tea, the tea that the Royal Tea Taster will pay for in gold, enabling Tashi and her mother to live out their days in peace and health. It's magic realism, Himalayan style.
In an Author's Note, Mal and Elspeth say that they came up with this story after having read many tales involving tea from the Himalayas. They do not say that they've traveled to the region, but I've been to tea plantations in India, and I find it hard to believe that they could so sensitively describe the light, the mist, the way the day progresses without having been there. I could almost smell the tea growing.
The ink and gouache illustrations are likewise marvelous. Juan Wijngaard has a lovely light touch, and great dexterity in capturing the muted colors of early morning, the tea fields in the strong midday sun, and dappled shade alike. His fine-line ink drawings are breathtaking. I'm looking for more from him as we speak.
This book is absolutely a must-have, no-discussion, gimme-gimme purchase for the school library, the public library, or for any animal-loving kid. The story of U.S. and Iraqi military and civilian volunteers rescuing and caring for zoo animals in post-invasion Baghdad, it is full of wondrous moments: peril, as when a convoy transporting animals on an hour-long journey across town encounters sniper fire; tragedy, when a soldier ventures too close to the tiger cage; nobility, bravery, and humor.
Sidebars give information on the animal species, background about the war, and first-person reminiscences by Major William Sumner, the civilian affairs officer assigned the duty of "doing something about" the zoo. An archaeologist by training, Major Sumner had expected to be assigned to the Baghdad Museum. Surprise!
Not only did Sumner and his team find and care for the animals in the Baghdad Zoo, they gathered abandoned exotic animals from all over the large city, from private petting zoos and palace menageries. In a chaotic six-hour fracas, they rescued sixteen of Saddam Hussein's priceless Arabian horses from a racetrack in the most dangerous part of town. They assisted in the birth of six lion cubs even as fighting continued in the city.
This team worked hard, improvised, begged, went undercover, did research, going far beyond the call of duty to feed and care for these creatures. It's a fascinating story, a terrific discussion starter, an inspiration.
Brightly written and augmented with activities, Web resources, and fun facts, this book profiles 20 European artists. Each entry, from Giotto to Van Gogh, begins with a summary paragraph and a portrait before dropping readers into the artist's life. They accompany J.M.W. Turner as he sells a painting, and wait with Goya for the Spanish royal family, who are coming for a portrait sitting. Facts about each artist's life, technique, and importance are skillfully blended into these present-tense vignettes, which are recreated from documented sources.
The works of art chosen to represent each artist are heavy on the drama and detail, resulting in high kid appeal and interesting captions. In some cases, sketches are included. The book's design merits special mention: each artist's entry has its own palette, drawn from the works of art used as illustrations, and, despite the multitude of sidebars, the layout is clean and clear. Back matter includes "Chronologies of the Artists," locations of major collections of each artist's work, a glossary, and picture credits.
In the school library, the 700s (art and culture) must be the whitest section of the library. I am SO SICK - literally ill - when I look at the ranks of art survey volumes (artist monographs are a little better, with decent books on Noguchi, Foujita, Jacob Lawrence, Clementine Hunter, Augusta Savage, Jerry Butler, and Frida), and see all Europe, all the time. Asia, anyone? Africa?
"Lives of the Great Artists." Pshaw. "Lives of some great European artists of the last 600 years" would be the more accurate title, and would reflect the scope that the author states in her introduction.
I don't blame Charlie Ayres here - she has written a graceful, thoughtful book about a very specific place and time in art history. I am disappointed, rather, with the publisher, for tagging this book with a title that gives the misleading — and offensive — impression that the only important artists are European. Also, if I'm beating on this book, I'm going to go ahead and say it - that cover is an eyesore. Sloppy text in clashing colors makes it easy to find on the shelf, true, but the cover has no relationship to the content of the book, especially given the exciting and tasteful page design. Charlie, you got robbed.
You know, I miss rock stars.
Nowadays, when there's a good-looking, seemingly unattainable, arrogant boy in a teen novel, he's not Peter Frampton. He's not Morrissey. He's not even Dave Grohl, who, after all, is all daddied-up nowadays and so I suppose is not nearly as unattainable as he used to be. No, nowadays that gorgeous bad boy is bound to be a vampire. Or a werewolf. A changeling, say. In Guardian of the Dead, he's patupaiarehe.
He's WHAT?! Patupaiarehe?! Dude, man, I was totally going to use native Maori fairy legend when I wrote my Twilight-y teen paranormal romance novel, and now? Dang.
Lower left-hand corner of this block of stamps. That's a Maori fairy, a patupaiarehe. Boy is cut, right? And, like most things Maori, Maori fairies are fierce. Strong and heartless and full-sized. No wings. Bearing no resemblace to a Disney fairy, except I suppose that, presumably, because they're supernaturally gorgeous, they also have cute butts and big eyes. Maybe Lady Gaga is patupaiarehe. Would explain a lot.
Am I dwelling on the Maori fairy thing? I am. Here's why: this book may be a teen paranormal romance novel, but it has about as much in common with other teen paranormal romances as the Maori fairy does with Tinkerbell.
Our protagonist in Guardian of the Dead is Ellie. She's expert in tae kwon do, socially inept, and, apparently, actually overweight. This is rare. Usually, when a girl character describes herself as plain, or fat, or ugly, it is because she lacks the perspective (or the self-esteem) to see herself as she really is... and at some point somebody points this out to her, often someone who doesn't like her, so you know it must be true. Nobody corrects Ellie when she calls herself fat, and I love that. She is not beautiful, and she is still a hero. Still worthy of love.
Ellie kicks ass. Ellie gets exasperated. Ellie falls in love, and cannot trust herself (or him, and for good reason). Ellie also gets beat up kind of a lot. Ellie is Orpheus - not Eurydice.
Ellie's best friend is Kevin. Kevin is big and handsome and athletic - and totally impotent, in several important ways. Kevin describes himself as asexual, and is allowed to be so. He's not under a curse, or merely immature, and he doesn't wake up one morning and decide that he's in love with Ellie. He is what he says he is. Ellie saves his ass.
Ellie's crush is Mark. Mark is secretive and doesn't wash his hair enough, does well in school but shuns social contact. When Ellie begins to figure out Mark's secrets, he bewitches her so hard she gets a migraine that makes her puke. Mark is by no means perfect. Ellie saves his ass, too.
The plot, by the way, is also good. Unpredictable, full of interesting bits of myth, with lots of well-scripted action. Did I mention Ellie gets beat up a lot? Man. Healey's writing makes you feel it every time Ellie gets tossed in a stream, every time she gets clawed by supernatural Maori scaries. Also, we are in the land of the funny teens. Their dialogue is both natural and witty - Ellie in particular does self-deprecating wit with easy grace.
Karen Healey is a first-time author, and, as such, could this book use a little polish? Maybe, especially in the dialogue-heavy scenes. But her command of myth and geography, her sprightly plotting, and my god, those wonderful characters more than make up for it. Look for this one in April.
AvLong Way Gone by Ishmael Beah
Just a quick review. Ishmael Beah's memoir of his time as a boy soldier in Sierra Leone, A Long Way Gone is somewhat outside my usual scope for Pink Me. It's not terribly new, and it's usually shelved as adult nonfiction. I'm including it only because I read it recently, and it frequently appears on summer reading lists for middle and high school students.
I know there's some controversy about whether or not Ishmael Beah has been entirely truthful in this memoir - but I do not care. There's some controversy about whether or not lots of people are truthful in their autobiographies. I once read Zsa Zsa Gabor's autobiography (get it on audio if you can, it's a scream), and she claimed to have been deflowered by Kemal Ataturk.
When I was a little girl, I yearned for an Easy Bake Oven. Pined for one. Asked every year at Christmas when the big Sears book came to the house. And every year, my mom would reply, "But we already have an easy-bake oven! It's downstairs! In the kitchen!"
At the time I was all like, "Yeah just because YOU can't make a piecrust, grumble grumble boo!" but now that I have my own kids - and more importantly, now that I am familiar with some of the great great children's cookbooks available, I see her point. Why bake two mingy little cupcakes from a crappy mix under a light bulb when you can make your very own Lickable Wallpaper, like in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Or actual Stone Soup (recipe in Jane Yolen's Fairy Tale Feasts)?
These are the cookbooks I recommend most strongly. Some of them I have field-tested. I have checked all of them for clarity and easiness and appeal. If a book can lay flat on the kitchen counter, that's a plus. If it includes actual photos of actual children actually preparing food, that's a BIG plus.
After my family's experiment with Vegetarian Summer, I am more than ever convinced that intermittent vegetarianism expands kids' edible horizons, increases their awareness of what they eat and where it comes from, and is an interesting topic of dinner table conversation. The recipes also tend to be pretty foolproof, and noted vegetarian chef Roz Denny is an excellent guide. Unfortunately, this pup is out of print in the U.S.
Disgusting Food. Miller, Connie Colwell.
This one is for all you young men out there. Snails, grasshoppers, grubs... there are tons of protein-rich invertebrates here to use as perfect fast fact grossout material. Be warned - you will hear about these at the dinner table!
What The World Eats. Menzel, Peter & D'Aluisio, Faith.
Not a cookbook, but a phenomenal addition for anyone interested in food. From the team who brought us the eye-opening grownup book Material World: A Global Family Portrait, What the World Eats surveys families around the world, showing us how they eat, what they eat, where they buy it, and who prepares it. Big, colorful, beautifully printed photographs and easy to understand graphics, including maps, make this not only an important resource for establishing global awareness, but also a damn entertaining, browsable read. I hope none of my libraries will ever be without this book.
Green Eggs And Ham Cookbook. Brennan, Georgeanne.Some of the recipes in this book are easy.
Betty Crocker's Cookbook For Boys And Girls. Crocker, Betty.
This is the cookbook to which my mother was referring when she suggested I hie my little heinie into the kitchen and try cooking for real. I have made most of the recipes in this book - some of which are a little disgusting, to today's eyes - I remember mini meatloafs with a well of ketchup in the middle? Is that right? Anyway, there's an updated version, but I think the pen and ink drawings in this one are easier to follow (think America's Test Kitchen) And it is still good advice to suggest that a child wear an apron in the kitchen!
Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes. Dahl, Roald.
This cookbook, illustrated with attractive phood photos and Quentin Blake's acrobatic, jivey illustrations, provides recipes for some of the wacktastic, bananagrammatical foods mentioned in Monsignor Dahl's books. Yup, most of it looks entirely gross when you're done, but that is certainly part of the appeal. Best to do with a grownup as some of the steps are a little fiddly. There's a sequel, just as good.
Salad People And More Real Recipes: A New Cookbook For Preschoolers And Up. Katzen, Mollie
Every one of the recipes in this book and its sequels has been prepared by preschoolers in my house. The instructions are extremely easy to follow, and emphasize skills like counting and measuring. There's a strong emphasize on healthy food - yogurt and tofu are frequent ingredients - and a minimum of recipes that require a stove, making them good possibilities for classroom cooking too. Tips to minimize mess (put the mixing bowl on a cookie sheet so that spills are localized) are included - and if you're like me, that takes a lot of stress out of the prospect of letting little kids prepare food themselves.
Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook For Young Readers And Eaters. Yolen, Jane.
Spatulatta Cookbook. Gerasole, Olivia and Isabella Gerasole.
This one has it all. The photos are bright and appealing and lively and make the food look fantastic. The spine is spiral, so it lays flat. The steps are pretty easy, but best of all, Olivia and Isabella Gerasole, the authors, are pictured doing all the work, and they make the work look like play. The Spatulatta website is pretty great too, with lots of video instruction.
Kids' Multicultural Cookbook: Food & Fun Around The World. Cook, Deanna F.There are a few of these out there - multicultural cookbooks for kids. I found this one to have instructions that are easy to follow and a nice variety of foods. I am going to keep looking though - this one didn't rock my world.
World Religions Cookbook. Schmidt, Arno.
I love this book. It's a grownup cookbook, but what the heck - some kids want to stretch in the kitchen, and I am happy to provide them that opportunity. I myself don't subscribe to any religion, but I believe in food with meaning. This book teaches kids to not only make the traditional foods that may be favorites in their house, but also explains the reasons and the meaning behind the ingredients and processes involved. Plus, when you're teaching kids about cultures not their own, you want to explore as many sensory avenues as possible. Music is good, but I'm going to argue that food is better.
Chocolate: A Sweet History. Markle, Sandra.
And come on - you have to have a chocolate book! This one has a few recipes, a little history, and nice pictures.
Hey, I can't make a piecrust either. But my kids can make muffins, soup, salad, and pretty soon I'm going to train the big one to run the rice cooker. Then, I'll sit back on my butt and laugh like a king! Aaah ha ha haaa! Fix me some rice!
What's Inside by Giles Laroche
This beautiful book presents interior and exterior views of fourteen extraordinary structures from around the globe, from King Tut's tomb (1327 BC) to the Georgia Aquarium (2005). Each building is first shown and described from the outside - but not identified - and before the reader turns the page, the question is asked: "What's inside?" The next page answers the question and identifies the building, and offers specifics about what is happening in this picture.
Salient facts about the building: name, location, date, materials, etc. are listed in the margin. The text is good, the structure is clever, and the art - the closer you look at each page of What's Inside, the further you fall into Giles Laroche's layers and layers of cut and painted paper. You've got to call this sculpture - the visible dimensionality of the art gives each page a deep tactile quality.
In the author note, we learn that Mr. Laroche works in a 230-year-old barn in New Hampshire. Do we think he's just a little bit obsessive? Hmmm, yes we do! And in kind of a cool way. We know mosaicists and puppeteers that are obsessive like that, and it's always tantalizing to imagine what they are thinking about.
Click on this thing to see it bigger. You will not be disappointed.
Animals, people, domestic scenes, and landscapes both natural and man-made are depicted with skill and charm: the intricacy of this art will hold readers spellbound. The book is brought to a satisfying close with a loving recreation of a North American small-town street, and the interior of a lighted room in which two children create ziggurats and temples out of blocks, and read a book. What are they reading? Why, they're reading What's Inside? by Giles Laroche.
Late this summer an entire library of books was delivered to a new school in Baltimore. I should know - I picked all 2,254 of them. It was what you might call a labor of love. Emphasis on the "labor". Actually, emphasis on the love.
As we shelved what amounted to thirty thousand dollars worth of brand-new beautiful books, one of our parent volunteers said, "I bet you've read half the books in this room!" I did a quick scan of a few shelves and admitted that actually, I have read probably upwards of 75% of them. Most of the fiction, all of the picture books, and one heck of a lot of the nonfiction. Wow. I am either really really sad or really really dedicated.
You may hire me to create or maintain your school library collection, and I will certainly not object, but I thought it might be nice to share some of the lists I created. I'll do a series of about a dozen posts, at least the nonfiction, starting with the 000's. This will be my own version of School Library Journal's Series Made Simple issue (which is a great resource, by the way).
The 000's are kind of a weird little miscellany area of a school library. Every school should have a set of the World Book, and please do buy an almanac every year, but if you have the bucks, try to get a few "strange but true" reference books in there. Some kids really respond to Ripley's Believe It Or Not and Guinness World Records. Books like these have a sneaky added benefit - the indexed entries introduce kids to a nonlinear method of approaching a book, important when they're doing real research later.
Gee, Joshua. Encyclopedia Horrifica: The Terrifying Truth About Vampires, Ghosts, Monsters, & More. A kind of weird book to start off with, but, as the kid says in Beetlejuice, "I myself am strange and unusual."
Teitelbaum, Michael. Bigfoot Caught on Film: And Other Monster Sightings!. The 24/7: Science Behind the Scenes series from Scholastic is... it's ok. Little niblets of info, good for hooking readers, but it's nice to have something with a little more depth to back these books up, in case your readers do get interested in the subject. I picked carefully through this series and selected just a few titles.
Prieto, Anita C. B Is For Bookworm: A Library Alphabet. These alphabet books from Sleeping Bear Press are a bit uneven. This one is pretty dry, but I wanted to fill out a small suite of library-themed books. If you're tempted by the ABC book for your state, or about a particular subject, be sure to get your hands on it and read it through first. Some of the words can be awfully obscure.
Ruurs, Margriet. My Librarian Is A Camel: How Books Are Brought To Children Around The World. How people live around the world is a particularly important theme in this school, and one that I personally find important. Kids find the juxtapositions fascinating, too. The pictures in this book are very nice.
Farndon, John. Visual Encyclopedia (DK). I keep buying and buying this book, and they keep loving and loving it until they love it to pieces. I'm not the world's be-all end-all fan of Dorling Kindersley - I don't think they fact-check hard enough - but this single-volume encyclopedia + elementary school kids = LOVE.
Aronson, Marc. For Boys Only: The Biggest, Baddest Book Ever. Frankly? I bought this on Jon Scieszka's recommendation. More graphically interesting and up-to-date looking than that other "dangerous" book, which I swear was written for parents.
Farndon, John. Do Not Open. Irresistable, full of fun facts about freaky stuff, several activities and suggestions for bringing the info in the book to life. Worth the few extra bucks. My 8 year old got a copy of this for his birthday and was enraptured. His little brother is learning to read just as fast and as hard as he can so he can have a turn with it.
Macdonald, Guy. Even More Children's Miscellany: Smart, Silly, and Strange Information That's Essential to Know. Same stuff, but for smaller kids.
McDonald, Megan. Stink-O-Pedia: Super Stink-y Stuff From A To ZZZZ. I like Stink Moody. I like him better than his sister, Judy. I buy Judy Moody, but I buy Stink too. He's funny, he's good-hearted, he's a 'second chapter book' for boys who think fantasy is pointless. Stink reads encyclopedias in his spare time, so I thought I'd offer his fans Stink's very own encyclopedia.
Murrie, Steve & Matthew. Every Minute On Earth: Fun Facts That Happen Every 60 Seconds. I never can seem to find enough books about time. Time is hard to explain. So when this book arrived at the public library, I snatched it. I stood and read it between customers at the information desk and I figured if I was fascinated enough to read it all the way through, surely somebody in that school would be too.
Mark, Jan. Museum Book: A Guide To Strange And Wonderful Collections. This is Baltimore, baby. We've got a light bulb museum and a teeth museum and we used to have a dime museum. We are to strange and wonderful as Paris is to lovely and inspiring.
Marcus, Leonard S. Side by Side: Five Favorite Picture-Book Teams Go to Work. Marvelous funny anecdotes, lots of illustrations showing all steps of the creative process, a very nice introduction to the concept of collaboration. Terrible cover though.
Tsunami! by Kimiko Kajikawa, illustrated by Ed Young
Breathtaking. Pass-around-the-workroom-and-marvel-at-it gorgeous. Intense. Gripping. A terrific story. I seem unable to describe this book except in tiny movie-blurb phrases. It's that good.
I am grateful that the story is set "long ago" in Japan. If this book had been about the more recent tsunami, it would have been too emotionally wrenching for me, and possibly for younger readers too.
Snow Falling in Spring by Moying Li
I have to say, I always found the story of Mao's War on Sparrows to be a little far-fetched. Leader of one of the world's largest countries, and he takes aim at... sparrows? Seems a little petty. On the other hand, commanding every man, woman, and child in China to go outside, 24 hours a day, for weeks, and frighten off millions of tiny birds so that they have nowhere to land and drop dead out of sheer exhaustion? Inconceivably arrogant. Almost an arbitrary exercise of power. Also, I know it was 1958, but surely somebody must have realized that eliminating such a widespread species might have complicated consequences.
All in all, it sounds exactly like the kind of thing some short-sighted, delusional monarch might decree in a fairy tale.
I recently read about it in Sparrow Girl, a picture book set during the Cultural Revolution, written by The Talented Sara Pennypacker (the Clementine books, Pierre In Love) and illustrated by the likewise talented Yoko Tanaka. A little girl rescues a few sparrows from the Sparrow War and keeps them in her family's barn. In spring, when it becomes apparent that the absence of sparrows has caused a proportional increase in the insect population, and crops all across China are being ravaged because of this, she releases the last sparrows in all of China, and there is hope.
It's a lovely book and a sweet story, but it reinforced my "Naw... really? Oh come on," attitude about this event.
But I think Moying Li's memoir (the book I'm actually reviewing), subtitled "Coming of age in China during the Cultural Revolution," finally has me convinced.
And so, day after day we watched the battle unfold as vigilant Beijingers stood their ground. Then, suddenly, sparrows started to fall from the sky, utterly exhausted. Soon there were hardly any left. At dinner one evening, flushed with pride as he waved a copy of the People's Daily, Baba announced that in our city alone we had eradicated over 400,000 sparrows!Moying Li takes us along as, step by step, her country moves from the excitement and hope that accompanied The Great Leap Forward to the paranoia, zealotry and despair of the Cultural Revolution. Her family goes hungry, is split up, endures denunciation, but ultimately survives and moves forward. The kindness and loyalty that she encountered during these years brought tears to my eyes as I read.
The pace never falters in this gripping memoir. Not too demanding, the book includes some photographs and a helpful glossary (which would have been enhanced by pronunciations - my favorite axe to grind), and would be a spectacular class read, in addition to being a great leisure read.
Into the Volcano by Don Wood
Into the Volcano is an intense mystery-adventure coming-of-age chapter book in comic book style - something of a departure for Don Wood, the illustrator of such picture books as Piggies and The Napping House.
Two brothers, Duffy and Sumo, visit their mysterious aunt in Hawaii, who sends them off on a perilous expedition into the bowels of an erupting volcano, accompanied by strangers whose skills are obvious, but whose trustworthiness is not.
The dangers faced by the boys are terrifying, especially an interlude during which Sumo, wracked by guilt and indecision after he thinks his brother has fallen to his death, is trapped in the dark on an underground cliff, and is visited by the specter of Death. That the children have been exposed to such peril knowingly by the adult who has been entrusted with their care is a dark vein running through the story.
A prose book with this content would probably be suitable for children in grades 3 to 5, and in fact, Sumo and Duffy appear to be no older than nine or ten, but Wood’s artwork brings the perils they face into startling focus, making the book more suitable for grades 5 to 7.
Keenly observed depictions of the Hawaiian landscape and geological processes lend an impressive veracity to this exciting and unusual offering; Into the Volcano is a rare example of a graphic novel for young people that is neither manga nor mainstream.
When the Shadbush Blooms, by Carla Messinger, with Susan Katz, illustrated by David Kanietakeron Fadden
"My grandparents' grandparents walked beside the same stream where I walk with my brother, and we can see what they saw."
Clever. Not to mention interesting, cadenced, and grounded. This book takes us through the cycles of the year as defined by the Lenni Lenape people, Native people who originally lived along the eastern seaboard of North America. Each page spread shows the sights and activities of the season - on the left, as experienced by "my grandparents' grandparents" and on the right as experienced by a modern-day Native girl and her family.
Carla Messinger, an educator and museum professional, links the past with the present in a homely, happy, and extremely skillful way. Much of the American landscape has been altered in the six generations expressed by "my grandparents' grandparents," but this book encourages families to look beyond the built environment to discern what has persisted, and to think about how that landscape might have been experienced by those who lived here before. There's a place outside of Cleveland, quite near the nuclear power plant, actually, where you can see lush green forests and Lake Erie in the distance. Every time I passed by Perry, Ohio, I would think, "If I were a hunter-gatherer, I would take one look at this spot and call it home."
There's more information about the Lenni Lenape in the back. "American Girl," indeed!
Junk Man's Daughter by Sonia Levitin with illustrations by Guy Porfirio
This is from the Tales of Young Americans series, which I think is not part of the American Girl empire. Just the same, it is a straightforward little historical fiction picture book of a family coming to America, facing poverty, and becoming successful through perserverence, ingenuity and hard work. I am sure there are kids for this book. All due respect to Sonia Levitin? but not really any that I know though.