If you are into American history at all, you know the photograph: a weary young girl standing in front of rows of bobbins, a smock askew, hair pulled up, leaning on one elbow, a child pausing from her twelve hour workday. This moment captured in black and white by artist, social reformer and advocate Lewis Hine was the inspiration for Elizabeth Winthrop's latest historical novel. Grace and her best friend Arthur are forced to leave school to work in a mill, replacing full bobbins with empty ones. Grace is glad to have the chance to earn some extra pennies for her family, who depend on this contribution for their very survival. When a teacher encourages the children to write a letter of complaint to the National Labor Committee, Grace understands that outcomes of such an action could put her family in terrible jeopardy. Arthur, however, cannot bear the conditions in the mill. He sees opportunity in education and he is willing to do anything to get it, even if it means purposely mangling his hand in a machine. It seems the work of Lewis Hine has come too late for some. The experiences of the people around her, however painful, lead Grace to make a stunning choice about the path of her own life. There are so many strong points about this novel. One is the tension. We care about all the characters, and every one of their choices reverberates in the lives of those they love. It is a powerful thing to read, as a child, the impact of decisions upon others in ways we don't expect. The situations, though painful, are done realistically, and convey the conflict of child labor so very powerfully in the context of the character's place and time. Which brings us to the research, which lends both believability and flavor to the prose and does just what good historical fiction should do: carry us away, make us feel as if we are there. The inclusion of Lewis Hine as a character in the story will lead children to delve deeper, in books like KIDS AT WORK: LEWIS HINE AND THE HISTORY OF CHILD LABOR by Russell Freedman (Clarion), KIDS ON STRIKE! by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (Houghton Mifflin), and the wonderful picture book KID BLINK BEATS THE WORLD by Don Brown (Roaring Brook). And the last great feat of this book is voice, which she has given to this Vermont farmgirl faced with the need to do the right thing in the face of contradictions. If you enjoyed the bold candor of the period writing in Jennifer Holm's OUR ONLY MAY AMELIA, you will love Grace's genial, colloquial point of view as well. I'm very excited for author Elizabeth Winthrop, who gained acclaim for her unique mix of fantasy and historical fiction, CASTLE IN THE ATTIC, and has over fifty books under her belt. It just goes to show that the writer's mind is indeed a muscle, because her work is stronger than ever. This is a special contribution to the shelves of children's literature, and offers children a first-person view into their own history. A book deserving of Newbery consideration. (10 and up) Also of interest: Read an article in Smithsonian about the real "Grace," Addie Card! (Photo from the Smithsonian collection) On a personal note: Book-A-Day will be back Tuesday, October 1st! Have a good weekend.
Young Bruce Lee doesn't like to sit still at school. But at the school of the martial arts master, he doesn't have to. When Bruce uses his new skills to fight others, his sage teacher ignores him, then advises him. "Big branches of a tree snap under the weight of snow, while weaker and suppler reeds bend and survive." What lessons are there in this master's riddles? How can Bruce learn to be calm while exchanging blows and kicks, how can he learn to be gentle in his world where so many blows were thrown? It is not until he tries to lay his fist on water that he realizes his own power to break through anything in the world. The enlightenment of this wild child is gradual and believable, and so hopeful, as children often make mistakes and need chances at a fresh start. Older children will be inspired by this book as well as younger children, so share it in high school classrooms along with the third grade! Sepia-colored renderings from acrylic/wax scratchboard are unusual, and evocative of the time period. This beautiful multicultural biography with universal appeal packs a real one-two punch. (7 and up) Also of interest: More martial arts translate into the literary arts! Give reluctant reading a karate chop with these black-belt books. LEGEND OF HONG KU DONG by Anne Sibley O'Brien (Charlesbridge) A graphic novel/picture book chronicles the reversals of fortune of the 17th century Korean hero who fought for the rights of peasants in an unfair feudal system. A great entrée for kids into what was the first novel written in the Korean language! Unique! (8 and up) THE MASTER SWORDSMAN AND THE MAGIC DOORWAY: TWO TALES FROM CHINA by Alice Provensen (Simon and Schuster) A young apprentice learns the hard way how to be the master, and a masterful artist uses his craft to protect his people. The virtues of a job done well are exalted in this hard-to-find but worthwhile gem. Two for one! (6 and up) BEAUTIFUL WARRIOR: THE LEGEND OF THE NUN'S KUNG FU by Emily Arnold McCully (Scholastic) Wu Mei helps Mingyi escape a forced marriage to a bullying bandit with the help of mastery in "qi," or vital energy. McCully's stunning illustrations are inspired by her study of traditional Chinese art. You go, girls! (7 and up) BLUE FINGERS: A NINJA'S TALE by Cheryl Aylward Whitesel (Clarion) 16th Century Japan is the backdrop of this smart story in which twins exchange fates. Great information on the real, non-movie ninja culture is woven throughout this adventure. (10 and up) THE TIGER part of the FIVE ANCESTORS series by Jeff Stone (Random House), a crazily exciting series in which children trained in martial arts and named for animals who possess their inherent skills kick butt in honor of their foster brothers and the monks who care for them. Adventure with a major manga feel! (11 and up)
PICTURE BOOK THE LOUDS MOVE IN! by Carolyn Crimi, illustrated by Regan Dunnick (Mashall Cavendish) The Loud Family laughs loud. HA HA HA! They dance loud. CHA CHA CHA! They sing loud. LA LA LA! They are living large. Unfortunately, the neighbors do not share their joie de vie. "They are upsetting my fish," complained Miss Shushermush. "My china is always shaking," said Mr. Pitterpatter. "They're disturbing the plants," worried Miss Meekerton. How can such different personalities learn to live together in peace, with or without quiet? Perhaps distance will make the heart grow fonder. Get your throat lozenges out, because there's no holding back when you deliver this as a keystone in a literally screamingly funny storytime. Chummy, chuckly cartoon illustrations accent the deadpan, pot-and-pan humor; I love how the family's mouths take up most of the their faces. (5 and up)
Carolyn Crimi is one of my all time favorite authors of humorous books (and one of my favorite live presenters as well), and she, along with other children's book comics Andrea Beaty and Julia Durango have newly constructed my favorite laugh shack in the blogosphere: Three Silly Chicks. All silliness aside, it is an amazing, regularly updated resource for finding humorous children's books, and who could ever have enough of those? This week, they are hosting an easy-to-enter contest you won't want to miss! Don't be chicken, cross that road and check it out! Also of interest: More difficult neighbors! You can hold a storytime at your next condo association meeting. OKIE DOKIE ARTICHOKIE by Grace Lin (Viking) A monkey kindly tells his giraffe neighbor to knock on the ceiling whenever he's being too noisy, but when the antlers keep sending the wrong message, it's monkey who hits the ceiling. When monkey decides to retaliate with the silent treatment, how can this misunderstanding be resolved? (6 and up) NOSEY MRS. RAT by Jeffrey Allen, illustrated by James Marshall (Viking) For the good of the neighborhood, Mrs. Rat likes to keep tabs on things, until Brewster Blackstone decides it's time for the tattletale to get some payback. (5 and up) Ummm, hi, Viking, why are these book out of print? Do we have too many books about conflict resolution out there? Am I going to have to come down and get tough?! Just kidding. Luckily, I read these books before they went under, so I know how to play nice with others. Anyway, these are worth a trip to the library.
Johnny Appleseed is my American hero. I talk about him all year long. His birthday is a very holy day on my calendar, because he was a remarkable and singular man, a visionary and an inspiration. Though the details of his life are sometimes mixed with legend, there is one thing I feel in true: every day, he planted at least one seed, and by doing one small thing every day consistently, he changed the landscape of our nation. I believe that read-aloud is one small "seed" we can plant, and by sharing a book with a child every day, we, too, can change the landscape of our nation. I hope we can all pause for just a moment on this special day and think of what we can commit to doing consistently, in his memory and in the interest of our wonderful country. Every year, my family makes a resolution of one small thing we can do every day. You are invited to join in this tradition! What can we do? Read aloud? Recycle something? Do some small kind act anonymously? Feed someone? The saying goes, "Anyone can count the seeds in an apple. Who can count the apples in a seed?" Plant your seed and watch what grows and grows and grows.
One of my friends, in a moment of faltered patience with my long-winded adoration, nicknamed me "Jappy Appleseed." I wear that moniker with pride (even if I don't drink Tab or have a credit card, Sheila!).
FLETCHER AND THE FALLING LEAVES by Julia Rawlinson, illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke (Greenwillow) Fletcher the Fox is distressed to discover that his favorite tree is losing its precious leaves. He tries tying leaves to the tree, catching them as they blow in the breeze, even assisting the tree in holding on to its last leaf as long as it can. But when nature takes it course, Fletcher feels like he has failed, until he sees the glittery garb in whichthe tree is adorned after the first frost. The transformation of the seasons is fully celebrated in this gentle picture book, featuring dear and unpretentious watercolors and a story full of the sincerity and eagerness of one friend trying to help another. I was already a fan of Tiphanie Beeke after her storytime charmer BOOK! BOOK! BOOK! by Deborah Bruss (Scholastic), but this latest seasonal surprise had me "falling" for her all over again. (4 and up) Also of interest: FALL IS NOT EASY by Marty Kelley (Zino Press) In this book, a tree tries to change color, and ends up looking like a rainbow, a hamburger, a smiley face and more! Children will love drawing their own trees in the midst of changes! One of my fall favorites, this book is by smaller publisher so the book is perhaps a little bit more obscure, but don't give up, it's as wonderful to find as a leaf with five colors.(5 and up) A LITTLE BIT OF WINTERby Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell (HarperCollins) A rabbit is asked by a hibernating hedgehog to preserve for him a little bit of the season. The profound characterization of the animals in this book evokes a comparison to the great Warner Brothers animator Chuck Jones; just as funny and expressive. BLUE BURT AND WIGGLES by Derek Anderson (Simon and Schuster) Two friends try to stop summer fun from fading by using colorful art supplies to disguise autumn's approach.
On a personal note: Advance review copies of VIVE LA PARIS are now officially all gone, so I cannot honor any further requests. To those who participated, your books are en route, and thank you for your enthusiasm and also your willingness to get the word out about this book, it is very important to me. I wanted to write a book that would introduce children of all colors and creeds to some of the background knowledge of WWII in a way that preserves optimism and hope. You'll let me know if I managed! I am so excited for you to meet Paris, her family of four brothers, her worst enemy Tanaeja, and her unexpected ally, Mrs. Rosen. Of course, our friends Sahara, Darrell and Miss Pointy that some may remember from SAHARA SPECIAL are back as well!
Even if you did not get an advance review copy, you will still have an opportunity to don your rose-colored glasses...it is now available in bookstores! Hooray!!!
A middle school teacher recently asked me if there was something he could read to a class he might only have for about twenty minutes once a week. What perfect timing for such a question...here's a book that's solid platinum for anyone with not a lot of time but with a true booklover's heart! Great short story collections for children are few and far between, but just released is a title that's like a box of the most delicious chocolates, two layer's worth, so you just wont be able to help yourself from sitting back like a reclining maja and squishing each and every delicious one. The collection is just brilliant, pulse-perfect and page-turning, from Louis Untemeyer's "Dog of Pompeii" about a pet who gives his all to save a blind boy during a volcanic eruption, the opening story "Rogue Wave" by Theodore Taylor which will leave readers as breathless as if they were watching any movie on the big screen, the time-travel brain-boggler "Lafff" by Lensey Nokoma, and ghostly stories to tickle both your funny bone and skeleton bone such as Andrew Benedict's "To Starch a Spook" or "The Caller" by Robert D. San Souci, in which a spoiled girl gets her come-uppance from the great beyond (who doesn't love a story like that?). I will not even describe the story by Megan Whalen Turner called "The Baby in the Night Deposit Box" because with a title like that, don't you want to read it and find out for yourself? You and your class or your family will not! Be able! To resist! There are classics, too, like Washington Irving's "Rip Van Winkle," excerpts from The Peterkin Papers by Lucretia Hale and The Town Cats by Lloyd Alexander and the memorable and hard-to-find "The Lady or the Tiger?" by Frank Stockton. There is thoughtful multicultural representation, such as Issac Bashevis Singers' snowy adventure in a Jewish shtetl "Zlateh the Goat," and Francisco Jiminez account of being a young migrant worker excerpted from The Circuit. As a short story collection for intermediate and upper grade readers, I would have to say it is perfect. And why wouldn't it be? If you ever heard Newbery-winning author and reader's theater proponent Avi read aloud (which you will if you request a free cassette from the teacher section of his website), you would trust that you are in the hands of a master, one who really knows the worth of every word. In the meantime, these two dozen selections of humor, adventure, survival, historical fiction, science fiction and fantasy will make you the master. It's one of those rare books that makes anyone who reads it a better person, and anyone who reads it aloud a better teacher. (9 and up)
Also of interest: EVERY LIVING THING by Cynthia Rylant (Aladdin) Short stories about people whose lives are changed through their contact with animals. (9 and up) SING A SONG OF TUNA FISH by yours truly, Esme Raji Codell (Hyperion)Funny vignettes from 1970's Chicago that will inspire children to value and write their own real-life stories. (9 and up)
PICTURE BOOK WOLVES by Emily Gravett (Simon and Schuster) When you need information, what should you do? Look it up in a book, of course! So when a rabbit wants to wise up to the ways of wolves, he checks out a volume from the West Bucks Public Burrowing Library and we have the pleasure of knowing what he knows, page by page. But is he aware that a real wolf is just footsteps away, or will he find out too late? Don’t worry, there is an alternative vegetarian ending for sensitive readers, and the author assures us: no rabbits were eaten during the making of this book. Droll and subversive and with all sorts of clever items mixed into the collage illustrations (please mind rabbit’s overdue notice on the last page), this artful look at the importance of the power of information will arch an eyebrow. (6 and up)
Also of interest: WHO'S AFRAID OF THE BIG BAD BOOK? by Lauren Child (Hyperion)Wild and wonderful fantasy of a boy who bests the big bad wolves when they escape their storybook bindings. (7 and up) WOLF! by Becky Bloom, illustrated by Pascal Biet (Scholastic) A wolf learns the hard way from a unruffled and literate barnyard that there's more to reading than sounding out the words. As a teacher, this is pretty much my favorite picture book. (5 and up)
We probably know less about the bottom of the ocean than the surface of the moon, but this book is a trip ticket into a research submarine traveling a murky mile below the surface, where no light can reach...but when the lights do go on, they reveal a colorful and dynamic "underwater universe." This book joins pioneer marine biologist Rich Lutz as he explores what we know about the mid-ocean ridge, where most volcanic activity on earth occurs, and where creatures withstand poisonous hydrothermal vent fluids and thrive under water pressure so intense that it would crush an army tank. Unrelenting detail, surreal, full-color photos, sidelines, websites, a complete glossary, and language that never talks down to the young enthusiast make this a markedly excellent addition to the already important SCIENTISTS IN THE FIELD series, allowing readers to vicariously accompany renowned scientists as they do their work. These books put science in an exciting real-world context and are sure to ignite interest. (9 and up)
This was my real-life Sunday to-do list: prepare Vive la Paris review copies for mailing Prepare author study for Gail Carson Levine Prepare middle school myth/fable/folktale lesson Blog-a-day Gather picture books for the week (undersea theme) Finish painting bedroom Go shopping, get: Coffee pot New appointment book Blue watercolor/sponges (for undersea art) Wet wipes (for cleanup of undersea art) Paper Toothpaste Drop cloth Laundry detergent Pomegranates (for mythology lesson) Lunch stuff for week Call guys about getting e-mail fixed Russell's soccer game at 2:30 So much for a day of rest! I'll bet your t0-do list is at least as long. Oh, the pain of this modern condition! That is why Peter Reynold's latest book is a special gift to all overscheduled children and grown-up listmakers gone awry. Leo is a busy lad, and "no matter how hard he worked, there was always more to do." So he does what anyone in his situation would: he wishes for a clone. Two is better than one, but what if there were three? Or four? Five Leos could get the job done...and eight work furiously (who knew eight Leos would be eight times the work?). The spread of nine Leos trying to write, play soccer, make phone calls, practice music, take care of pets, clean up and go shopping is a hoot (albiet a painfully familiar hoot). Exhausted, Leo finally falls asleep, and awakens to a chiding: "Dreaming was NOT on the list!" But what would happen if Leo held on to his dream? "What if I did less--- but I did my best?" Huh, Peter Reynolds is one to talk, being among the most creative and hard-working people in the industry: writing and illustrating children's books, running a bookstore, facilitating creativity seminars, running an animation/media company...I am sure his to-do list is as long as Santa's! I can only imagine this book must have been inspired by a very timely dream to have more time to enjoy every minute, and not just fill it. Be sure to stop and smell the endpapers, too; the front pages are a to-do list to end all to-do lists, and the other side, well, what can I say? It's a salute to the to-don't list. Sigh! Teachers and type-A's, please, please, treat yourself, and consider Leo's inspiring, life-altering question. (6 and up)
Here's a book for a happy Monday! There is a Zen koan that asks the question, "is flag moving, or is mind moving?" In this book, mind is definitely moving! "There is a road/At the bottom/Of my/Foot/Walking me." "There is a song/Deep in/My body/Singing/Me." "There is a story/At the end/Of my arms/Telling/Me!" Everything is part of us and we are part of everything, reciprocating the energy it takes to make it all so wonderful. Though I am sometimes suspect of flights taken by adult authors who make forays into children's book, Walker's language really does sprout wings. She calls this book a thank-you note, and indeed it sings with gratitude, inspiration, and a joyfulness that is at the heart of every child. Vitale's illustrations don't do any harm, either; he managed to capture all of the colors of every beautiful sunset you have ever seen and rest them on these pages. Write your own thank-you's, Walker style. There's a book in your eye reading you! (3 and up and up and up)
BALLET OF THE ELEPHANTS by Leda Schubert, illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker (Roaring Brook) Fifty elephants dancing ballet? No, you're not dreaming. It really happened in 1942, the conglomeration of three geniuses: Stravinsky, Balanchine, and John Ringling North, three men who all wanted to make something beautiful. Sketchy, expressive watercolors mixed with pen-and-ink are the free-flowing medium well-matched to this celebration of the creative process. The elephants enjoyed the choreography so much, the would perform even when the music wasn't playing! Very finely researched by an author/librarian and featuring a finale photograph of the real performance, this title belongs in the center ring. A book like this can bring home the truth to the magical promise: if you can dream it, you can do it. (6 and up)
And if you are mid-pirouette, stop spinning and leap into your bookstore to get a copy of TO DANCE: A BALLERINA'S GRAPHIC NOVEL by Siena Cherson Siegel, illustrated by Mark Siegel (Aladdin) Okay, toodle-oo to Noel Streatfield's charming old chestnut BALLET SHOES, here is a dance love-affair novel for a new generation. Little girls will be blown away by the passionate story of how one Puerto Rican girl really gets to the point...toe shoes, that is! Seigel should have seriously gotten more notoriety for his masterful picture book operetta SEADOGS, but this diamond of a book should establish him as an indisputable A-list illustrator. Get your front row ticket to reading, and be prepared to stand in ovation...this thing of beauty will undoubtedly inspire many new art appreciators and ballerinas of tomorrow. (7 and up)
Also of interest: CARNIVAL OF THE ANIMALS edited by Judith Chernaik, illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura (Candlewick) Thirteen poets contributed works inspired by the menagerie of music by Saint Saens. Use the accompanying CD to encourage children to create their own creative masterpieces "to the tune of"! (5 and up)
On a personal note: I will be appearing at The Bookstall in Winnetka, Illinois on Saturday, 9/16, around 11:30, as part of their teacher inservice (great booktalks given by the staff, too!). Come by if you are able!
Farah feels reticent at a school field trip to an apple orchard. Besides not being fluent in the language, she is further set apart by her dupatta, traditions of her conservative Muslim culture and admonishments by her father to be on guard, that "we are not always liked here." When she contributes an unripe apple into the cider, she gets an angry response from her classmates, but it turns out that the cider is delicious...and a metaphor for the many flavors we need in the mix that is our country. The anxiousness of being new and feeling different will be a point entry and empathy for all readers and listeners, and Farah is an observant and intelligent protagonist; it's easy to imagine the likes of her contributing a lot more than unripe apples to our land. Mottled photorealistic paintings add to the recognizability of the situation. Though Bunting can be a little heavy-handed (albeit moving)for some tastes (THE WEDNESDAY SURPRISE about adult illiteracy, FLY AWAY HOME about homelessness), her work is always a spark for discussion. This immigrant story is as fresh and American as apple pie and will be a warm literary welcome to a culture that is underrepresented on the children's bookshelf. (7 and up)
Also of interest: IN THE YEAR OF THE BOAR AND JACKIE ROBINSON by Bette Bao Lord, illustrated by Marc Simont (HarperCollins) One of my very favorite novels, this funny,poignant award-winner chronicles the year of a new Chinese immigrant, Shirley Temple Wong, who is inspired by a legendary baseball player to find a place of belonging in her new land. (9 and up) SALAAM: A MUSLIM-AMERICAN BOY'S STORY by Tricia Brown, illustrated by Ken Cardwell (Henry Holt) A straightforward, sensitive peek into the window of a Muslim American family's daily life. (6 and up)
On a personal note Alert! If you requested a review copy of VIVE LA PARIS per the offer earlier this week, and you did not e-mail your mailing address to esme-at-ripco-dot-com (hint: I have to write it out like this so I don't get spammed, so use @ for at and . for dot), then you won't end up getting a copy. Sorry, but I can't send a book to your e-mail! Thanks! This is the very last week to get a review copy...after this, you'll have to go to the bookstore! So get 'em while they're hot, and please, tell your listservs, librarians and book clubs!
Thanks for the blog, it is awesome! Do you think you could profile some Hispanic/Latino biography type books? These seem VERY difficult to find. One of the few people I have had luck finding is Cesar Chavez. I would like to get a wider variety. Thanks for your blog. It's the first thing I check on the computer each morning!
Dear Gentle Reader,
I have to confess, my all-time favorite biograpy is about Cesar Chavez, one that can and should be read-aloud to every child in every grade:
HARVESTING HOPE: THE STORY OF CESAR CHAVEZ by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Yuyi Morales (Harcourt). On a ranch in the Arizona desert was a family thriving on eighty acres, until the great drought drove them all to migrant work. Though their crops may have withered, a seed was germinating in young Cesar Chavez. The indignities he experienced as a shy Spanish-speaking student and the grueling conditions are honestly portayed. Children will be stirred by these indignities, and their hearts equally swelled by the huelga, Chavez's peaceful movement against threatening overlords. His three-hundred mile march from Delano to Sacramento was the longest in U.S. history, and resulted in the first ever contract for farmworkers. This is an extremely powerful book that underscores the bravery and resolve it takes to engage in non-violent protest, and rightly puts Chavez on the same scaffolding as Martin Luther King as a champion of civil rights. The lush illustrations roll across double-pages horizontally set, thoughtfully designed as to emphasize distance: how far the people had to travel both spiritually and physically to achieve the goal. A page-turning read-aloud about an important chapter of Latino history, this is a welcome and well done contribution to the shelves of children's biography. Viva la Causa!
But there are more out there, though not nearly enough...you're right, we need way more biographies, especially ones that deal with contemporary Latino and Hispanic lives in a way that can inspire the next generation! In the meantime, at least we have these:
A LIBRARY FOR JUANA: THE WORLD OF SOR. JUANA INÉZ by Pat Mora,illustrated by Beatriz Vidal (Knopf) This exquisite volume pays homage to the great poet of the seventeenth century and one of the greatest booklovers of all time. While children today still recite her poetry throughout the Spanish-speaking world and her face appears on Mexican currency, many North American girls will find a new and worthy heroine between these bindings. Juana Inéz is a child prodigy, her thirst for knowledge so great that she follows her sister to school when she is three years old and learns to read. So begins an unusual childhood for her time; though girls were not permitted at university, at ten years old she went to Mexico City where she was privately tutored, ultimately becoming a lady-in-waiting at the viceroy's palace and wowing the court and an assemblage of forty scholars. She ultimately left the palace and became a nun so that she could concentrate on her pursuit of knowledge and create one of the largest libraries in all of the Americas, and one glorious day, her own book of poetry would be added to those shelves. Children will be inspired by her cheerfulness and insistent spirit, and intruiged by how someone so long ago could have had such modern sensibilities. Nearly every page is graced with borders of delicate fruit and flowers, and the illustrations are crisp and elegant, painted using small brushes under a magnifying glass. A jewel of a book about a jewel of a woman. (7 and up)
FRIDA by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Ana Juan This phantasmagoric picture-book tribute to artist Frida Kahlo celebrates the imagination that helped her endure her troubled life, and allowed her spirit to endure after death. The author portrays the loneliness and misfortune that plagued Kahlo in brief and straightforward text, balanced by amazing illustrations in which everyday things seem to fly, and eyes and smiles peek out in unexpected places. The double-paged spreads are surreal, wild in color and splayed with motifs from Kahlo's work and Mexican folk art. Through it all, Kahlo's character eminates a calm in the fray. Her eyes are illustrated as sleepy, often closed, as if this story of her life was a dream she once had. This book is ambitious and accomplished, a fitting tribute to a woman who knew how to turn her pain into something beautiful. An outstanding picture book for older readers. (9 and up)
BREAKING THROUGH by Francisco Jiménez (Houghton Mifflin) The sequel to THE CIRCUIT: STORIES FROM THE LIFE OF A MIGRANT CHILD stands solidly on its own. Told in a straightforward, genuine style, this book continues the Mexican author's memoirs through middle and high school. The voice has an unusual dignity as the author candidly reveals his own innocence and growing ambition in the face of "the American Dream." In Jiménez's world, school is not a right but a privilege, and Jiménez describes a heroic effort working as a teenager both in the fields and cleaning offices to help his family while trying to succeed at school in such a matter-of-fact manner that it is humbling to read. Jiminez's frustrated relationship with his unhappy father is surprisingly tender; indeed, family relationships even in the bleakest situations are rife with humor, patience, and optimism. There is precious little available for Spanish-speaking children to relate to in children's literature, and this book fills that niche, but it is also is far more universal than that. Jiménez is a model and inspiration for all children who have obstacles to overcome, and he is a great champion of mutual respect between races and classes. I can't imagine a better book to share with someone who sees high school on the horizon, and it is also a must-read for all English-as-a-Second Language teachers. Viva Jiménez! (12 and up)
Dizzy Gillespie started out as a roughneck, lashing ut after the outrageous slings and arrows that his father delivered. "Then one day, his music teacher gave himn a trumpet. he picked it up/and blew that thing as hard as he could. That felt GOOD! He took all the anger he felt inside and blasted it out through the end of his horn. IT WAS REALLY LOUD!" What started out as musical retaliation becomes a joyful noise, as young Dizzy practices his way down the path of a young musician, making notes that soared like birds, blew like a fire extinguisher over a fire, notes so high, so fast, so low, diddly diddly bop...brick by brick, creating a house of bebop, and a nation of appreciative listeners.
"If melody was like a rule, jazz was like breaking the rules, like inventing new rules. Jazz was like getting in trouble-- it was FUN!"
This true story of an American original has musical language that plays on the tongue in a way that children will find a pleasure to hear. The illustrations are folksy and retro, geometric and flowing, blues and mauves, oh so cool; listen to Gillespie's "Salt Peanuts" while you look at the pictures, because that's what the illustrator listened to while he painted them! In every way, this book hits the high note. (7 and up) Also of interest: JAZZ ABZ: AN A TO Z COLECTION OF JAZZ PORTRAITS by Wynton Marsalis, illustrated by Paul Rogers(Candlewick) This collection of poetic biographical "singles" by one of our country's most enthusiastic music educators is too beautiful to keep on a shelf; put it on the coffee table. A great gift for anyone who loves the kind of music that gets your fingers snapping. (8 and up)
Spectacularful ideas are always sproinging up in Clementine's head, and she follows up on every one of them...perhaps that is why her best friend has no hair left, or her own skull is decorated with marker, or the first pair of bologna eyeglasses had to be invented. This exuberant little girl might exasperate her parents and her principal, but she will delight readers with the spunk of Junie B. Jones and Ramona Quimby. Short, action-packed chapters will have kids making high-pitched noises, screeching "yes, do it, do it!" and "no, don't! Stop!" in every chapter. Though Clementine may not always use the best judgement, she is a true blue friend from the bottom of her heart, and one that readers will be happy to have (especially with the distance of the written page). Spunk with a capital "S" makes this perfect pick for second and third graders. (7 and up) And. May I just say. Marla Frazee. Is. PERFECTION. Every spot illustration. Oh, have mercy! So hilarious! So nuanced! So expressive! I have gone through this book just to look at the pictures three times? Four times? I love these drawings, they are so timeless. Can they give a Caldecott for a chapter book? That would make up for the other times her picture books might have been honored. For example:
WALK ON: A GUIDE FOR BABIES OF ALL AGES (Harcourt), a how-to for how to walk and persevere, which is equally meaningful for anyone of any age who needs to pull themselves up and move forward after a bad time (encouragement a la Seuss's OH, THE PLACES YOU'LL GO)(and yes, I know she's still eligible for awards on this one); MRS. BIDDLEBOX by Linda Smith (HarperCollins), in which a spirited biddy wrangles with a bad day and manages to put it in its place; ROLLER COASTER (Harcourt), of particular illustrative power, deftly following the highs and lows of everyone riding on a rollicking route. On a personal note, Marla, are you out there? You're a genius. Can we do a book together? I heart you. XOXO. Also of interest: If you like Clementine (which you will), you will also like these stories featuring girls with unforgettable personalities: GOONEY BIRD GREENE by Lois Lowry (Houghton Mifflin) A born storyteller shares her gifts with the class, with mesmerizing results. Great read-aloud featuring a modern-day Pippi. (8 and up) HENRIETTA, THERE'S NO ONE BETTER by Martine Murray (Scholastic) Who can resist a little girl with underpants on her head? Not me. Notably irreverent, this is an invitation for readers to join a wildly creative girl on a tour of her stream-of-conscious world ("even ants and beetles and cockroaches get lonely," "I said please, which always ups your chances," "kings can't fart,""my dad's like my dog," "I'm Henrietta, that's half a hen and half a Rietta". Sketches throughout add to the imaginative romp, and oh, it's a laugh-a-minute, like having the cutest little girl in the middle of the room putting on a show just for you. (7 and up)
Fans of Beverly Cleary's DEAR MR. HENSHAW and Sharon Creech's LOVE THAT DOG will appreciate this reader/author friendship story, in which correspondence with a celebrated wordsmith both illuminates the process of pen to paper and helps a boy work through his problems. To avoid disappointment, children should be forewarned that such lengthy letter-writing connections between author and reader are largely fictitious, and that it often takes a while for authors to write back once; if authors spent so much time with correspondences, they would not have time to write their books! However, we can benefit from this imaginative relay, especially in appreciating the growth and value of Max as a character: a gentle, imaginative boy who is the unlucky target of a school bully, trying to get over the loss of a parent and his own health concerns. As the famous author values the Max's story by viewing it through the writerly eye, children can learn to value their own stories. (8 and up) Also of interest: WINNIE AT HER BEST by Jennifer Richard Jacobson, illustrated by Alissa Imre Geis (Houghton Mifflin) In this latest of the fetching series that features realistic girl situations, Winnie sees her friends being "the best" at things, and wonders at what her own special gift might be. (8 and up) WRITING MAGIC by Gail Carson Levine (HarperCollins) The author of ELLA ENCHANTED and its recent sequel, FAIREST, shares some of her most valuable writing strategies for children (and the young-at-heart). (9 and up)
Good scientific inquiry starts with a hypothesis, and Wally has one as earth-shaking as a T-Rex! Wally believes that dinosaurs are not extinct, but rather, in disguise, hamming it up all around town...and Wally has the photos to prove it! Read Wally's observations (before the dinsoaurs eat his homework) and draw your own conclusions. This crazy mix of fantasy and school assignment is dressed up with saucy illustrations reminsicent of Mark Teague and maybe early Hudson Talbott. Be aware that part of the appeal for younger readers when it comes to dinosaurs is that they are extinct (and therefore not scary), but this is a dandy pick for high-energy dudes who have been around the block, or as a spirited springboard into science. With lots of angles for appeal, this title will not be extinct anytime soon! (7 and up)
On a personal note: What are you reading aloud these days? Teachers, what are you excited to share with your class? You ideas help our ideas...
I know prayer is not part of the secular circles in which I generally work, but Hallelujah! Whenever the start of school rolls around, I have to give thanks to a higher power. What a great gift to be a teacher in America. What a great gift to be able to freely teach girls and women. What a great gift to be able to work in racially integrated classrooms. What a blessing to raise a child at a time and place in which this is taken for granted. Though we still have so far to go towards fully realizing the end of "separate but equal," especially in terms of intergrating our schools by socioeconomic class, children's literature is a powerful source of hope; remember, a great book is the same in the hands of an economically poor child as it is in the hands of a wealthy child, and every time you read aloud or promote literacy, you are working towards equalizing eduaction in America.
In celebration, introduce this generation to the work and heart that paved the way with these stories of how we got over:
REMEMBER: THE JOURNEY TO SCHOOL INTEGRATIONby Toni Morrison (Houghton Mifflin) This is one of the best books for introducing children to the Brown vs. Board of Education decision. Powerful black and white photographs from the period focusing mostly on children are captioned with rambling, stream of consciousness captions that mirror the way a child might have felt (actual events depicted are described in notes at the back of the book). This unusual approach is impressively effective. This is a book that raises so many questions that will connect children to this chapter in our history. How did if feel in those days? How would I have felt in that situation? How did the problem get solved? How can we keep the problem from ever happening again? Children will remember their own power to do the right thing after walking this pictoral timeline. Pair with SEPARATE BUT NOT EQUAL by Jim Haskins (Scholastic), LINDA BROWN, YOU ARE NOT ALONE: THE BROWN VS. BOARD OF EDUCATION DECISION by Joyce Carol Thomas, illlustrated by Curtis James (Jump at the Sun)(stories, memoirs and poems from people who remembered when it happened) and THROUGH MY EYES by Ruby Bridges ( or watch the movie if you want tears through your eyes!). (All ages)
And new on the shelves: DEAR MR. ROSENWALD by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie (Scholastic) Inspired by the leadership of Booker T. Washington, Julius Rosenwald, the president of Sears, Roebuck and Company donated millions of dollars as matching grants to build schools in the rural, reconstructionist South. Based on this true unfolding of events, here is a rendering of an honest-to-goodness "school raising" from the point of view of a girl from a sharecropping family ("this school is the first new thing I ever had to call my own"). From the new school rally at the church to the box party (great fundraising concept!) to the cutting of the lumber ("those trees about to make history"), the excitement is palpable, just look at the illustration of those smiling faces of the whole community as the blueprints are laid out! More than history, more than lovely, thoughtful prose, this is a poignant book that will remind children of all races what a wonderful gift it is to be able to go to school.
Hope everyone had a lovely Labor Day, sans too much labor! Before we dive back into a continuation of our back-to-school celebration, I have an important announcement for teachers, librarians, bloggers and book groups! A very limited supply of VIVE LA PARIS advance readers copies are left for people who want to share and/or review (i.e. with your local independent bookseller, on Amazon, on your blog, in a classroom or library booktalk) before publication next month! VIVE LA PARIS is the companion novel to SAHARA SPECIAL, and is appropriate for ages 10 and up. Send your request to esmeatripcodotcom, subject heading "Vive la review copy"! Please feel free to share this offer with appropriate listservs and friends. Also, if you signed on for the VIVE LA PARIS round robin earlier this summer and for some reason never got your copy, now's the time to let me know! While supplies last. And many, many thanks for those of you who have been so kind in helping me get the word out so far. This book is very important to me and I want it to find its audience.
Now, raise your hand if you're ready for some not-so-oldies and still-very-goodies that you'll want to add to your school supply list:
STAND TALL, MOLLY LOU MELON by Patty Lovell, illustrated by David Catrow Molly Lou is the shortest girl in first grade, has a voice like a boa constrictor, buck teeth like a beaver, and the grace of a left-handed gorilla, but Molly Lou also has a secret weapon: her loving grandmother's good advice, which helps her shine like the star she is, even when she attends a new school. This is easily the most encouraging back-to-school book that I know. Besides a formalistically flawless story, David's Catrow's illustrations are hilarious, imaginative and perfectly married to the text. Molly emanates a cuteness that is first-cousin to Dr. Seuss's "Cindy Lou Who." The illustration of Molly Lou standing in the middle of a paper snowflake that is exponentially larger than she is is breathtaking, the image of Molly Lou barreling past the school bully to make a touchdown will illicit cheers and the close-up of Molly Lou's smile is completely contagious. On the last page, Molly Lou writes a letter to her grandma telling her how it's going, and wait until you see grandma! Children will laugh out loud and cherish this book until they have grandchildren of their own. Take my advice and don't miss this winner! (6 and up)
MILLICENT MIN, GIRL GENIUS by Lisa Yee (Scholastic) It is very rare to find a book in which you cannot manage to turn a page without laughing, but this meets the laugh-a-page challenge. Millicent's tentative, earnest steps toward achieving every pre-teen girl's dream--making and keeping a real best friend--loom larger even than Millicent's goal to win the Field's Medal, the highest mathematical honor a person under forty can achieve. ("It would be great to do all this by age twenty but I don't want to put too much pressure on myself. Therefore, if it doesn't happen until I am, say, twenty-three, that's fine with me.") As Millicent tutors a jock named Stanford, survives her first sleepover, spikes a point for her volleyball team and tries valiantly to hide her genius from her ebullient friend Emily, she learns that there are book smarts and people smarts, and both are important. It's nice to have a heroine who is more concerned with learning curves than body curves, and her character's development is gradual and convincing and a pleasure to read. Millicent is the valedictorian of the intermediate reading list (no Field's Medal, I know, but it will have to do for now). Fans will also enjoy the companion novel, STANFORD WONG FLUNKS BIG TIME, in which basketball camp becomes a distant dream for our floundering hero. (11 and up)
THE BEST CLASS PICTURE EVER by Denis Roche (Scholastic), deals interestingly with the common situation of being in-between teachers. Here it is, picture day, and the class pet is missing and the children don't even have a substitute. No wonder Olivia can't gather the gumption to grin! It's up to Mr. Click the photographer and Olivia's classmates to find a way to turn that frown upside down, and in doing so, Mr. Click discovers some competencies he didn't know he had. Listeners will have fun locating Elvis (the guinea pig) in each of the rowdy pictures, and smile at the surprise ending whether or not they say "cheese!" (6 and up) If you like this, you'll also love Stephanie Calmenson's THE TEENY TINY TEACHER also illustrated by Denis Roche (Scholastic), which is a teeny-tiny bit spine-tingling for your teeny-tiniest storytime listeners. (4 and up)
RATTLESNAKE MESA: STORIES FROM A NATIVE AMERICAN CHILDHOOD by Ednah New Rider Weber, photographs by Richela Renkun (Lee & Low) Almost as soon as Ednah adjusts to life at the Navajo reservation, she is sent to a strict government-run school where the authoritaian teachers try like gangbusters to get these kids wise to the ways of white folks. Luckily, the pulse of her own culture beats too hard within her own veins to be shanghaied. In her first book, Ednah New Rider Weber has what so many authors dream of: an authentic and original voice, and it's put to good use here, sharing a recollection of childhood that is hilarious and chilling in turn, and always honest. This book puts into first person perspective a dark chapter of American history in a way that both chilren and adults can appreciate. I savored her beautiful language, realistic and lively dialogue and knack for pulling together her chapters like the last threads of a perfectly woven cloth. Wether sharing the haunting descriptions of watching boys get punished or the fond reminicences of a little girl named "Old Thunder" passing gas as a form of rebellion, you'll look forward to reading this book aloud to children. Subtle descriptions of children bonding together to preserve a thing that they can't name but deeply value tell so much about the human condition, and is hard to find outtside these pages. Besides having a school theme, it is highly recommended as a must-read for anyone interested in Native American history or memoir-writing. (7 and up)
George's pithy free verse is a pass in and out of the hallways of a tricky 'tween year. What is really special about the point of view presented here is that it is not particularly edgy, but more realistic in it's tentative, self-conscious quality, captured in the lines, "So, where is she,/this amazing/Other Me?" Whether it's the harmless rebellions like wearing a rubber pig snout to lunch, clumsiness in the band room or a first crush, this book of poems reads more like finding a secret insider's binder full of small distractions and successes. Any middle-schooler reading this will feel less alone, and any adult reading this will remember the days. A graceful gathering of thoughts, and booklovers, don't miss the tiny treasure of a poem "School Librarian" tucked inside! You can also check out more of George's work at her Children's Poetry Corner, which happens to be my favorite poetry website. (9 and up)