Sunday, December 11, 2011


Book du Jour:
TIME FOR A HUG by Phyllis Gershator and Mim Green, illustrated by David Walker (Sterling)

Wash our faces,
comb our hair,
choose the clothes
we like to wear.
Eat from a bowl,
drink from a mug--
What time is it?
Time for a hug!  

Tick tock, hours on a clock click off tidily in verse, taking us through the joys of a preschooler's everyday life (as well as the first ten digits).  A tender addition to any baby shower book basket!

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Thursday, October 27, 2011


Book du Jour:
THE HAUNTED HAMBURGER AND OTHER GHOSTLY STORIES by David LaRochelle, illustrations by Paul Meisel (Dutton)

Seriously.  Do I need to tell you why you need to add a book called THE HAUNTED HAMBURGER to your children's collection?!  For practicing pedagogues, you'll find it will become one of your seasonal go-to's, featuring three vignettes: "The Scary Baby," "The Haunted Hamburger" and "The Big Bad Granny," all told as bedtime stories to frighten a little ghost. The stories conjure up way more laughs than shivers (especially when one poor ghost is fated to become a diaper!  Augghhhh!) and are well-complimented by colorful and cartoonish illustrations.  Most dependable primary pick for Halloween week as IN A DARK, DARK ROOM AND OTHER SCARY STORIES by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Dirk Zimmer (and that's saying a lot).

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Book du Jour:
LOVE TWELVE MILES LONG by Glenda Armand, illustrated by Colin Bootman (Lee & Low)

Inspired by the life of the great orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, a mother separated from her son by slavery visits him, recounting every mile of the journey (first mile for forgetting, fourth mile for looking up, sixth mile for praying, seventh for singing), and giving her son the steps toward his own freedom.  A stirring and hopeful read-aloud, this is a must-have for Black history, history of the American Civil War, the Antebellum South and slavery, and also for great moments in Mom history. 

For story or study, pair with Anne Rockwell's ONLY PASSING THROUGH (R. Gregory Christie, illustrator), Tonya Cherie Hegamin's MOST LOVED IN ALL THE WORLD (illustrated by Cozbi Cabrera) and MAMA SAYS: A BOOK OF LOVE FOR MOTHERS AND SONS by Rob Walker, illustrated regally by Leo and Diane Dillon. (8 and up)

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Saturday, October 01, 2011


Book du Jour:

Ask:  does your child know about the Salem Witch Trials?  How about you?!  Then you need this little chapbook, so chillingly adorned with black, white and red scratchboard illustrations and teeming with the primary sources and historical regret that the subject deserves.  You also need WITCH HUNT: MYSTERIES OF THE SALEM WITCH TRIALS by Marc Aronson, which does a good job of exploring the role of peer pressure in the trials, making it very relevant to tweenagers, and Milton Meltzer's WITCHES AND WITCH HUNTS: A HISTORY OF PERSECUTION, written by a master of non-fiction and putting witch-hunts and their head devils in a historical and modern context (including Hitler and McCarthy). Of course, my favorite nonfiction about witches is contained in WITCHES by Erica Jong, which is full of many dirty and beautiful and disturbing illustrations and writing. I don't think is for children, although I received it on request when I was thirteen, and it is worth noting that I still did enjoy it very much.

And if your older, fiction-loving familiar has somehow wearied of  Elizabeth George Speare's Newbery-winning Salem standby THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND, try Celia Rees's WITCH CHILD for kids needing a more contemporary, and possibly independently accessible approach to the topic. (All for readers 11 and up, except for Erica Jong.)

Happy Banned Books Week.

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Sunday, September 18, 2011


Book du Jour:
CUPCAKE by Charise Mericle Harper (Disney/Hyperion)

I promised you cake today.

I didn't want to like this book.  Was it just adding its dozen to the cupcake craze sweeping every other block?  Was it one of those overly-saccharine books that ultimately says "I'm okay, you're okay?"  No.  It was not.  Yes, It capitalizes on our national love of frosting.  Yes, it ultimately says, "I'm okay, you're okay," okay.   But it also has a double-page spread of different cupcake characters (fancy flower-top cupcake, stripy cupcake, polka-dot cupcake) that is absolutely irresistible; how can you not choose a favorite?  And for gosh sakes, don't we all need a candle, to help us find our inner light?  This story is perfectly adorable, encouraging, and screams for various follow-up projects, whether decorating paper cupcakes or pulling out the pastry bags for some real action.  Three yums up.  (5 and up) And also, for lots of layers and zero calories, add BETTY BUNNY LOVES CHOCOLATE CAKE to your collection, featuring an energetic floppy-eared character that finds her cocoa-covered true love and is enamored enough to stick it in her sock. The thin-lined, watercolor illustrations are expressive and funny, and overall, a is the icing on the cake for a very realistic depiction of a hard-headed little girl in bunny's clothing (not that you might know any yourself). A nice choice for the FANCY NANCY and OLIVIA jet-set of readers. And if you're just in it for the pastry, please don't forget Janet Stein's THIS LITTLE BUNNY CAN BAKE, which lets some boys in the kitchen door, too.  (5 and up)

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Saturday, September 17, 2011


Book du Jour:
THE GINGERBREAD MAN LOOSE IN THE SCHOOL by Laura Murray, illustrated by Mike Lowery (Putnam)
I'm the Gingerbread Man,
And I'm trying to find
The children who made me,
but left me behind.

Looking for the children in this reverse chase, our Gingerbread friend gets a grand tour of the school, and manages to find his friends in the end.  Comic-book framing paired with fun, simple illustration and a limited but snazzy palette of browns, greens, turquoise and red makes for visually active pages that are still easy to follow when sharing with a classroom.   This cookie is genuinely sweet!  (5 and up) For other reads off the cookie sheet, taste-test THE GINGERBREAD GIRL by Lisa Campbell Ernst, or my favorite, Mini Grey's adventurous GINGER BEAR. And don't forget to share the original, newly reprinted with a handsome embossed cover, Paul Galdone's THE GINGERBREAD BOY, which, in combination with the other titles in Galdone's "Folk Tale Classics" series, has comprised my latest baby-gift-of-choice." The children never seem to trust that old fox, no matter how nice he tries to be...for a while, anyway. Oh, well.

And! While we're on the subject of the way the cookie crumbles, there's Jan Brett's busy GINGERBREAD FRIENDS, which is eye candy as much as it is eye cookie, and the Randall Jarrell's beautiful, old-fashioned first chapter-book read-aloud (yes, all you first grade teachers, this is for you!), THE GINGERBREAD RABBIT, illustrated by the great Garth Williams (of whose talents you are acquainted from CHARLOTTE'S WEB.

To be devoured with or without milk.
Cake tomorrow.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Book du Jour:

Save Fairyland, little twelve-year-old-girl!  (No pressure.) With lots of wordplay, a quest to vanquish in the name of good and a whimsical cast, perhaps this is a contemporary nod to Norton Juster's  THE PHANTOM TOOLBOOTH featuring a female protagonist (and how timely, with a 50th Anniversary Edition and an Annotated Edition out and about?)...excepting, September has an enthusiastic spirit all her own, falling in line with the best of the Practical Princesses and other more liberated girls who have wandered--or wended--their way into fairy tales. Smart, lovely, sensory, descriptive language, too, with plenty of vocabulary that means what it says and says what they mean (bedraggled shoes, dense bread), always exciting and never dumb (just like good old William Steig used to about BRAVE IRENE? ).   Isn't it perfect when an author has a high regard for, um....words?  And girls?  Helps a lot. (11 and up)

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Book du Jour: 
TROUBLEMAKER by Andrew Clements (Scholastic)

What could be more exciting than a new title from the master of realistic school fiction?  A poignant story about how difficult it can be to turn over a new leaf once a reputation for mischief is imprinted upon the mind of teachers and classmates.  I have a feeling that Sahara would like this book. (9 and up)

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Wednesday, September 07, 2011


Book du Jour:
HORNBOOKS AND INKWELLS by Verla Kay, illustrated by S.D. Schindler (Putnam)

A trip to an 18th-century one-room schoolhouse in a book, through the magic of terse verse and good-humored pictures!  How about wearing neck yokes for punishment, or ice-skating at recess, or bathroom in the outhouse?  Yeesh, makes young 'uns today look rather milquetoast.  The terse verse is brought to life through the good-humored, detailed drawings, fittingly fettered with straight lines.  Let's write "we love Schindler's mannered illustrations" 100 times, in our best handwriting.  A perfect preface for another historical schoolroom story, Avi's THE SECRET SCHOOL, in which a fourteen-year old girl in 1925 gets to work behind the teacher's desk, or Laura Ingall's Wilder's amazing depiction of 19th century school life in LITTLE TOWN ON THE PRAIRIE. You tell your readers, "When I was a kid, I had to walk two miles uphill in a snowstorm to get to school to read these books, and you get to take the bus to the library!"  That'll learn 'im.  (8 and up)

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Friday, August 26, 2011


Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in HaikuWON TON: A CAT TALE TOLD IN HAIKU by Lee Wardlaw, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin (Henry Holt) 

All right. So far in the past year or so I've seen GUYKU, DOGKU, WABI SABI and THE HOUND DOG'S HAIKU, and the hard-to-find A CAT NAMED HAIKU, and I like checking book reviews on EmilyReads (try that for a book report!), all amicable thematic treatments of the 5-7-5 poetic syllabic form that is haiku, but plentiful offerings all the same, so I hope you will excuse me if I wondered if this latest had anything new and worthwhile to add.  Mee-wow, what sets this one apart is its lovely story arc, as a mysterious Siamese is adopted from an animal shelter and undergoes the indignity of being named:

Won Ton?  How can I
be soup?  Some day, I'll tell you
my real name.  Maybe.

After this feline stretches and claws his way most fetchingly across the pages, deciding inconstantly whether to be in and out of dresses (or yards or cars or under the couch), leaving presents in shoes and finding resting places in socks and on tummies, the pet's real name is revealed; one we should have guessed all along.  In a few short pages and in shorter lines, the author and illustrator conspire to create a strong characterization of what starts out as a cat and ends as a member of the family.  By the last page, this pet is bonded both to his owner and to us, his readers.   What started out as "not another cat book!" ended with "this is not just another cat book," a unique addition to a collection and an excellent storytime read-aloud to boot. (6 and up)

Grass Sandals: The Travels of BashoWith the plethora of haiku books available and the propensity for teachers to let students try the format on for size, please also do consider sharing Demi's biographical picture book GRASS SANDALS:  THE TRAVELS OF BASHO, and COOL MELONS, TURN TO FROGS! THE LIFE AND POEMS OF ISSA by Matthew Golub, illustrated by Kazuko Stone (more of Issa's poems in TODAY AND TODAY illustrated by G. Brian Karas), lest we forget that the format, while short, is far from flippant, requiring a concerted attunement to nature and a thoughtful economy of words that represents real craft. 

Also of interest:
Remember, every month can be poetry month!  Here are more excellent poetry books with a sense of play.

Lemonade: and Other Poems Squeezed from a Single WordLEMONADE AND OTHER POEMS SQUEEZED FROM A SINGLE WORD by Bob Raczka, illustrated by Nancy Doniger (Roaring Brook)
This book promises "part anagram, part rebus, part riddle," and delivers, by inventively rearranging letters from one potent word to create a whole poem:





or how about "Spaghetti?"



Wait, wait, one more!  "Television!"



Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible VerseEach page depicts the letters falling down the page a la cousin to the concrete poem (see Paul Janeczko's A POKE IN THE I for more on that), inviting the reader to decode the clever text which is clearly revealed with minimalist force on the following page.  Not since the board game Scrabble or Marilyn Singer's MIRROR MIRROR:  A BOOK OF REVERSIBLE VERSE has there been such a fresh squeeze on language, and with over twenty examples, how can we resist trying our own?  Maybe using the word "September" for a first day start?  Or "Homework?" (All right, maybe not homework.) (7 and up)

A Little Bitty Man and Other Poems for the Very YoungA LITTLE BITTY MAN AND OTHER POEMS FOR THE VERY YOUNG by Halfdan Rasmussen, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (Candlewick) Published post-mortem by the award-winning Danish children's poet, how can I not recommend a book of verse  with the kind of joyful lilt that I imagine would have been right at home in Margaret Wise Brown's classroom collection?  A bit more fanciful, though...for example, "The Elf":

The elf puts on his winter coat
and puts his winter hat on,
finds a muffler for his throat
in his drawer--puts that on,
packs his pockets full of mice
and then, before he goes,
puts on a empty ice-cream cone
to insulate his nose.

and lines from the title poem, "A Little Bitty Man":

The little bitty man
bought a little bitty house
for a little bit of little bitty money.
The little bitty lady
grew very, very big
with a little bitty baby in her tummy.

Here's A Little Poem: A Very First Book of PoetryHawkes' illustrations, wonderful and jocular as ever (WESLANDIA, LIBRARY LION), might unfortunately be just a wee bit visually small and detailed to be considered a perfect developmental match for "the very young" to which the book is ascribed (see Polly Dunbar's broader strokes and bigger pages in Jane Yolen's HERE'S A LITTLE POEM:  A VERY FIRST BOOK OF POETRY to know what I mean), but this book still is perfectly endearing on its own terms.  It offers invigoration to a tired nursery rhyme repertoire, works well for laptime, and has both a visual and verbal humor throughout with room to grow into, even if you are an itty bitty boy or girl. (3 and up)

Like Pickle Juice on a CookieLIKE PICKLE JUICE ON A COOKIE by Julie Sternberg, illustrated by Matthew Cordell (Amulet)
When Bibi the babysitter has to move away from her job in order to care for her ailing father in Florida, it represents a major loss for Eleanor, who has counted on her all her life.  Starting a school year and transitioning into many more new relationships is part of growing up, Eleanor discovers, as is letting least a little bit.  Cordell, (no relation and with an "R" in his name) is always an illustrator to watch,  and uses line drawings as direct as Eleanor's emotions.  There is a clarity and honesty in everything about this book, and children, even if the situation is not one they share, will appreciate the gravity with which Eleanor's situation is treated, and the high note of hope on which the story ends..  Meanwhile,we in the market can appreciate a thematically-appropriate tome for pre-teen readers (thank you very much, more, please!). 

Okay, here's what I don't exactly "get."  My brilliant high school English teacher advised us once that good prose should read in parts like poetry, as if it could be broken down into lines.  There are a lot of narratives that are formatted into lines of poetry (REACHING FOR THE SUN, JAKE AND MINN), and LIKE PICKLE JUICE, too, is one.  My question is, if my English teacher was right (as she has always been so far), then why?  Why don't the authors just tell a prosaic tale with lines that read like poetry? When is a realistic story suddenly compelled into the arrangement of free verse?  Is it just a feeling?  What would be lost by more conventional structure on a page?  What makes poetry poetry?  Perhaps there is no right answer, but that, mes amis, is a worthwhile discussion... another teachable moment offered by this sensitive book.  (8 and up)

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