“G” Books

Friday, June 10th, 2011

Other alphabet booklists: “A” Books, “B” Books, “C” Books, “D” and “E” Books, “F” Books.

I have gotten so behind on these, I haven’t posted an alphabet booklist in almost 2 months. Well, back to it now.

Garmann’s Summer by Stian Hole.

This is such a strange and lovely little import from Norway. Garmann’s summer is ending, and first grade is on its way. But Garmann’s perfectly childlike thoughts about time and the unknown future ring slightly truer as a back to school book than the traditional stories of anxious anthropomorphic creatures (why are they always mice?) going through the standard catalog of kid feelings. All of these books have their place, and it may take a few reads to really absorb Garmann’s charms, but he’s worth it.

Gator by Randy Cecil.

I’ve read more than one review that finds this book about a nostalgic gator kind of depressing. But I don’t know, I find most of Randy Cecil’s illustrations charming, and there’s something about that Gator. But at the same time, I’m not racing to purchase this one and bring it into a readaloud. Gator used to be part of a popular carousel, but when the amusement park shuts down he sets off on his own little odyssey for company. Complete with a hole in his heart where the carousel pole used to be. Okay, maybe a bit heavy-handed with the loneliness theme, but it has its qualities.
George and Martha by James Marshall.

Well, there’s George. And there’s also Martha. What else can you say about this absolute classic from James Marshall? I’m probably more amused than is appropriate by the shared names with America’s first First Family, and that is solely because Marshall’s pair are hippos. Worlds collide as the 5-year-old in me clashes with the sensible adult who thinks such things make no sense whatsoever. And yet they do. I’m so conflicted! But the adventures of this larger than life pair of best friends are just awesome and timeless.

George Washington Carver by Tonya Bolden.

This is an exceedingly good looking biography of the famous peanut innovator, from an author who excels at that sort of thing. I love children’s biographies, they are full of great stuff that kids love and that I still wonder at as a grownup. Every time I read one I think, “Why didn’t I know that before?” This one helps educate us all about Carver, who was so much more than just the Peanut Man. He was amazing: born a slave and died a brilliant conservationist. This biography is worthy of his achievements, absolutely.

The Giant of Seville: A “Tall” Tale Based on a True Story by Dan Andreasen.

I think this is such a great book that could be tied into a number of subject lessons. Or just for fun, it’s pretty awesome. Captain Martin Van Buren Bates was nearly 8′ tall and almost 500 pounds. And in this biographic yarn, when he moves to the sleepy town of Seville, OH the townsfolk bend over backwards to make him and his wife feel at home. This warmed my heart, it just did. The way the people of his adopted town accept him and help him is just such a great lesson to read to kids. He’s the most exciting thing to happen to that town, and rather than ostracize him they embrace him as a fascinating new friend. I hope he was really treated that way. I Wikipedia’d him, and now I am in awe of his wife. She gave birth to a stillborn 18 pound baby. I want to read this story to the kids and HER story to myself.


“F” Books

Friday, April 8th, 2011

Other alphabet booklists: “A” Books, “B” Books, “C” Books, “D” and “E” Books.

This is a long one, I had no idea how many “F” books I’ve read and loved! Thought this was a good “F” is for “Friday” kind of post.

The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau by Dan Yaccarino.

This is an absolutely gorgeous children’s biography of the famed undersea explorer. Dan Yaccarino’s whimsical style of illustration suits the story of this oceanographer and inventor perfectly. It’s a fanciful book, with just enough of a taste of Cousteau’s life to have kids asking for more books about him and the sea. This is a great one for any little person obsessed with underwater creatures and exploration.

Farm by Elisha Cooper.

I like quiet, pastoral stories, and this one is as quiet and pastoral as they come. Cooper’s books are always beautiful, and I love that he takes everyday things and elevates them to full-on experiences with his art. Instead of focusing on the farm’s animals, which children’s books about farm life often do, this one focuses on the family that actually runs the farm. And the hard work that’s involved, the much-appreciated time relaxing, the real animals that live and work there. It’s a slice-of-life, and it’s beautiful.

Farmer Duck, written by Martin Waddell and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury.

Here is another book about farm life, this one centered on a duck. A put-upon saint of a duck that does all the work while the lazy farmer sits around eating and relaxing. The duck never complains, just quacks when the farmer asks him if all the chores are finished. And then the other farm animals decide enough is enough, they are going to help their hard-working friend Duck once and for all. And they kick the lazy farmer off the farm and live happily ever after. Shades of “The Little Red Hen” make this a great story to pair with it and talk about the importance of sharing the workload.


“D” and “E” Books

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

Other alphabet booklists: “A” Books, “B” Books, “C” Books.

It’s time for the 4th installment of my Alphabet Booklists. These are really forcing me to look back at the books I’ve read and loved but never shared. I should probably say again that the books on this list don’t include every book I’ve ever read starting with this letter. If I’ve already blogged about it, it’s also not on here.

I also realized with the letter “D” that most of the books are about 3 animals I want to make separate booklists for: dinosaurs, dogs, and ducks. So I decided to keep those books off this list and combine “D” and “E” this time. This is a shorter list, but there’s some good stuff on it.

The Daddy Mountain by Jules Feiffer.

I’ve watched my 4 year old niece climb my brother, so I’ve seen firsthand the phenomenon of scaling the Daddy Mountain. I probably got more of a kick out of this one than most kids would, but it is fun for any little girl who loves her daddy but doesn’t like treacly sweet books. The little girl in this story starts at her dad’s toes and works her way up to the top of his head, discussing the challenges of climbing along the way. Dad’s body parts are shown on each page like gray statue pieces until she reaches the top at the end and he is finally revealed. Cute.

The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton, illustrated by Tony Persiani.

I’ve honestly never thought at all about day-glo colors and their origin, but this is a super cool read about the science behind inventing impossible colors. And the way Tony Persiani uses neons to highlight the history of the Switzer brothers’ invention is spot-on. It’s fascinating and totally kid perfect. Bob Switzer, the older brother, was serious and focused. Joe Switzer was creative and a free spirit. He was also a magician who wanted to beef up his act, and he discovered that blacklights gave a great glow. From there he and his brother created something incredible. It’s also a cool story of very different siblings working together.

Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Harry Bliss.

Doreen Cronin is fabulous. She just is. And this book is kid comedy gold, with equally fabulous illustrations by Harry Bliss. And it’s surprisingly packed with information, I learned a lot about earthworms with this one. The baseball-cap wearing worm protagonist keeps a diary of life as a worm, hanging out with his friend Spider, teasing his sister, all the usual kid stuff. But from a worm’s perspective. He teases his sister by telling her her face will always look like her rear end, which…is actually true for worms. He likes being a worm, with perks like no baths and no dentists. This is super clever, with situations and observations totally relevant to kid readers while also managing to be informative. Cronin followed this one with Diary of a Spider and Diary of a Fly.

Eloise by Kay Thompson, illustrated by Hilary Knight.

Who doesn’t love 6-year-old Eloise? And pink hot chocolate? And a glamorous life lived at the Plaza Hotel? No one, that’s who. First published in 1955, Eloise is still beloved. The classic trouble-maker, long before Ramona, Junie B. Jones, and Clementine. She drives hotel guests crazy and spends her life devising new adventures within the most famous hotel in New York City. She has New Yorker sass, and Hilary Knight perfectly captures the slightly askew clothes and hair of a precocious little girl. Love, love, love.

Emily’s Balloon by Komako Sakai.

“One afternoon, Emily got a balloon.” I adore this quiet, nostalgic little book. I’ve wanted to read it to a class for years, but it’s just too young for my students. Emily’s mom buys her a yellow helium balloon, and instantly it becomes her most treasured thing. The balloon is tied to Emily’s finger, and when she nearly loses it her mother ties it to her spoon so it floats but stays nearby. Emily’s mother is very tuned in to the little girl without being a central character in the book, which kind of elevates it’s cozy, safe vibe. Emily plays and plays with the balloon until a gust of wind blows it up into a tree, out of reach. Emily is devastated, and she tries to deal with the loss. She watches the balloon out of her bedroom window and feels comforted that it looks like the moon. Sakai’s touch here is so endearing, and the soft-lined illustrations are just right. This is a gem.

Emma’s Poem: The Voice of the Statue of Liberty by Linda Glaser, illustrated by Claire A. Nivola.

I’d never really thought about the famous poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. I’ve never thought about who wrote it, or why. It’s so ingrained on my subconscious, like it just appeared and has always been. Especially growing up right outside NYC, the lines feel like they’ve always been part of my environment. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” This book is a strong introduction to the history of Emma Lazarus’s life and her poem “The New Colossus.” She grew up privileged but was drawn to those less fortunate, and she left quite  a legacy.

EXTRAordinary Pets by Barroux.

This one is just great to look at. Barroux’s art is gorgeous, but I don’t know if this is a title that will stand up to time or the constant influx of great new children’s books. But it is a looker, especially if you’re a fan of his other books. It’s a fun idea: why just stick to normal, boring, everyday pets? There are so many other animals in the world that would make great pets! This taps right in to kid fantasies of elephants and spiders as companions. The illustrations are brimming with personality, I do like this one.


“C” Books

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

Other alphabet booklists: “A” Books, “B” Books.

Getting sick set me behind on my planned schedule for alphabet booklists, so I’m just now getting to the “C”s. Agh!

Cake Girl by David Lucas.

Originally I thought this was solidly in the Halloween genre, but it’s actually just a fun story any time of year. A very lonely witch decides to bake a girl out of cake to have someone around for her birthday. Already, this book has witches, cake, and friends. It had me at “hello.” But because the witch knows so little about friendship, her plan is to keep Cake Girl around as a servant for the day. And then eat her! This girl should be named Cakerella, complete with housework. But fortunately, Cake Girl is extremely clever and teaches that witch a thing or two. Love. It.

Calvin Can’t Fly by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Keith Bendis.

Calvin the bird is dear to my heart. He would much rather be sitting under a tree with a good book than learning to fly. Flying doesn’t seem nearly as great as reading (I agree!), and the other birds (including his 67,000 starling cousins) tease him and call him “nerdy birdy” and other such names. So Calvin heads to the town library (with great animal patrons), the only place he really feels like he can be himself. I…mean. This book speaks to me! But when it’s time to fly south for the winter, Calvin has no idea what to do. To the credit of his huge teasing family, they don’t leave him behind. Their attempts at getting Calvin south are hilarious, and the hijinks that ensue are winning.

Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina.

What can I say about this one? It’s a classic. But if I read it as a kid, I honestly don’t remember. When I worked at the public library a few years ago, patrons asked for this book nonstop. So I read it. And loved it. What’s not to love about that mustache? Or the tower of hats? Or the monkeys in a tree (where on earth does this guy live?)? Or the hilarious process of retrieving hats off of a tree-full of monkeys? Side note: I imagine that process is a lot like this one. Anyway, this book is fabulous.

Cat the Cat, Who Is That? by Mo Willems.

I will not continue to rant here about my almost religious belief in Mo Willems as the genius of all things picture book, but…he’s a genius. Anyway, this is the second of Mo’s picture books for very young children, introducing them to all new characters and easy text that’s just right. And the story is simple, Cat the Cat (her full name) really likes her friends. And she wants you to meet them all, including Duck the Duck and Fish the Fish. And that strange looking alien kid. Really, truly winsome.

Chalk by Bill Thomson.

This book was a curiosity to me at first. It’s called “Chalk,” but it’s about a dinosaur? Well…yes. Yes, that’s exactly what it’s about. And what’s more, it’s a story without words. I love everything about it, I’m reading it to my 1st graders next month as part of our Wordless Stories unit. Three kids find a bag of chalk on a rainy day at the playground, and it turns out to be magic chalk that makes everything they draw come to life. What follows is told in absolutely gorgeous illustrations, rich, vibrant, fall-in-love-with-them illustrations. How this was passed over for the Caldecott this year, even an Honor, is beyond me.

Chester’s Back and Chester’s Masterpiece by Melanie Watt.

God, how I love Chester. That impossible cat, interrupting poor Melanie Watt’s attempts at writing a book, are everything cats are: self-centered, in the way, and completely lovable. And the mouse doesn’t hurt, either. In these stories Ms. Watt tries to write a fairy tale with hilarious help from Chester (Chester’s Back), and then she has all her art supplies hijacked and is reduced to Post-It notes (Chester’s Masterpiece). Neither of these are quite as magical as the first book, but even not-quite-as-great Chester is still great picture book material.

Children Make Terrible Pets by Peter Brown.

Yep, I still completely 100% adore Peter Brown’s books. Take a moment just to look at that book cover. Go on, look at it. Click on it if you need to see it larger. Got a good look? Okay, then. I defy you not to fall in love with a book about a tutu-wearing bear, with hearts surrounding her, falling in love with a puzzled boy in a striped shirt. I couldn’t stop laughing long enough to start reading, but once I did I was not disappointed. The tides have turned here, and instead of small children cuddling improbably-clothed stuffed bears, we have this. And children really do make terrible pets, as do many of nature’s creatures. Many children have learned this lesson, and they can learn it again here.

Clever Jack Takes the Cake by Candace Fleming, illustrated by G. Brian Karas.

Jack’s story starts off a lot like countless fairy tales and folk tales before it. He is a poor boy living out in the countryside who accidentally receives an invitation to the princess’s birthday party. Although, I guess in true fairy tales she would be throwing a ball. “Party” sounds so un-royal. Anyway, Jack knows he cannot show up to the festive occasion with anything less than a great present, so he manages to collect the ingredients for a really spectacular birthday cake. But on his way to the castle he finds that the forest’s creatures have other plans for that cake. They slowly eat it away, until he arrives at the event with nothing for the princess but the delightful story of the cake. And that turns out to be a pretty good gift.

“A” Books

Saturday, January 15th, 2011

One of my New Year’s resolutions this year was to post about more books. I feel like I didn’t do enough of that last year. So I’ve decided to post some alphabet booklists throughout the year, focusing on the first letter in the title rather than subject. I won’t hit every book in every letter, but I’ll pick my favorites.

Abuela by Arthur Dorros, illustrated by Elisa Kleven (1997). This is a winning bilingual picture book about a young girl named Rosalba and her grandmother, her abuela. They go on a lot of adventures together, but in this one she imagines the two of them flying through the sky over New York City, taking in everything they see. It isn’t a word-for-word English/Spanish book, but the transition between languages is seamless. It doesn’t feel forced like in some bilingual books. A great book for ESL students, a great New York City book, a great grandparents book. Very sweet.

The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey (2000). Is this book ridiculous? Yes. Gross? Yes. Completely beyond the appreciation of 99.9% of adults? That’s the whole point. Any story that involves two misfits like George and Harold brainwashing their teacher into becoming a superhero running around town in underwear and a cape, you can be pretty sure it’s not aimed at 10+ set. But try keeping it on library shelves, 11 years after it’s publication. No small feat from Pilkey, who has written 7 equally popular sequels (and an as-yet-unpublished 8th). This has also spent some time on ALA’s list of most frequently challenged books for being inappropriate for its age group. Those challenges are obviously from people who don’t actually pay attention to elementary school kids, because this has all the ingredients they crave. Any children’s book that gets kids reading like crazy is fine by me.

The Adventures of Sir Lancelot the Great (2008). This is the first book in the “Knights’ Tales” series by Gerald Morris, and it is hilarious. Gerald Morris has been writing Arthurian books for teens and adults for a while now. This is his first book for younger readers, and I think it will have kids begging for more. This is helped along by Aaron Renier’s illustrations. Any kid who likes to tie in history/mythology with modern fiction (and I’ve got quite a few at my school) will get a kick out of this one. It centers on the very funny adventures of Sir Lancelot, who comes from France to be a knight and accidentally defeat’s Arthur’s entire army, and has a great love of afternoon naps. It’s aimed younger than Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, and The 39 Clues, so kids who aren’t quite ready for those will enjoy this lighthearted introduction to the greatest of King Arthur’s knights.

Aliens Are Coming!: The True Account of the 1938 War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast (2006) and Astronaut Handbook by Meghan McCarthy (2008). I love Meghan McCarthy’s art, and I love that she aims it at nonfiction. Her books are poppy, bright, and instant eye candy on a library display. I used to read Aliens Are Coming! to 5th graders (when I had 5th graders) at the end of the year as an introduction on how to use library databases. And getting those 5th graders to sit through a picture book was no easy task, believe me. But once they got over themselves a little they learned a lot. We would read this book, which they loved, and then we would learn to use the EBSCO databases to research more about the War of the Worlds broadcast. Astronaut Handbook could be used in a similar way, and it’s great for any aspiring astronauts you know. It even has a list of the 100 measurements you need for own spacesuit, which could be a wild family activity. Really fun books, and great springboards for looking up more on the topics.

Alice the Fairy by David Shannon (2004). Alice the temporary fairy is David Shannon’s female answer to David from his No, David book and its sequls. You know she’s trouble the second you see that face on the cover, but she’s also adorable and 100% kid. She talks right to the reader, telling us how to become a fairy and what their powers are. It quickly becomes clear that there is no real magic here, but plenty of mischief. Example: “One time my mom made cookies for my dad. So I turned them into mine.” Then Alice is shown next to the empty plate of cookies with crumbs all over her face. She knows that being a permanent fairy involves real magic, so she acknowledges that she will probably be a temporary fairy forever. But that didn’t make me like her any less.

All in a Day by Cynthia Rylant (2009). In this charmer of a picture book, Rylant summons the old-school style of Robert McCloskey’s Blueberries for Sal and throws in just a little of Susan Marie Swanson’s House in the Night. It’s a song to pastoral life, extolling the virtues of all the things you can do a in a day if you just slow down and pay attention. Wonderful for calming down small children with a story. Nikki McClure’s illustrations are each cut with an X-acto knife from a single piece of black paper. They are exquisite, and the limited color palette enhances the quiet, reflective tone of the poem. Why this book was passed over for even a Caldecott honor, I’ll never know.

The Apple Pie That Papa Baked by Lauren Thompson (2007). This one is another love song to country life, and I am a big fan of Thompson’s work. Her books are a staple in my read-alouds for younger children. Here she has a cumulative story, a twist on “The House That Jack Built.” Our young narrator begins the story with the pie that Papa baked, then works backward from there. She visits the tree that holds the apples, the roots that feed the tree, the rain that feeds the roots, and on and on. Jonathan Bean’s illustrations perfectly capture the spirit of this story, and the love between the little girl and her dad. This would be a perfect pairing with Blueberries for Sal and All in a Day. And again, another book passed over for the Caldecott.

Art & Max by David Weisner (2010). This is one of Weisner’s few picture books with words, and I absolutely adore it. Art is a serious artist of a lizard, trying hard to paint his masterpiece. Hyperactive Max just wants to paint. He has no idea what to paint, but he just wants to do it. When Art, who is himself painting a portrait, suggests that Max paint him, Max does. Can you guess what happens? Max literally paints Art, and hijinks ensue. This is a gorgeous, wonderful story about how we create things, and the title link above has a great 2 minute video with Weisner about how this story of exploring media came about while he was exploring media for the story. As a former art student, I think it’s brilliant.

At Gleason’s Gym by Ted Lewin (2007). This is one of those books I have a huge soft spot for, and I am constantly trying to get kids as excited about it. The illustrations are rich and bold, and it is made out of heart. It tells the history of the famous Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn, where Muhammad Ali and a score of other boxers trained. In this particular story, 9-year-old Sugar Boy is training to be a champ someday. The action is brutally realistic without being exploitative, and the idea of this gym as a family spanning generations of boxers is clear. “It’s everybody’s gym,” we learn at the beginning, and I surprised myself by getting a little teary-eyed at the equality and diversity among its members (even when it comes to girls getting punched in the face). It’s hard to imagine another sport portrayed in such a noble way in such a beautiful book. It’s like the Rocky of children’s boxing books.