Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Librarian on the Roof! by M.G. King

Rarely do librarians get to show our secret super powers with the world, but this awesome book shows just how powerful we can be if we set our minds to it.

When librarian RoseAleta Laurell arrived in Lockhart, Texas, she decided things needed to change: nobody visited their outdated library, and kids believed it wasn't any kind of place for them. Right off the bat, RoseAleta livened the place up with her oversized personality and new books and magazines. Then, she took to the roof in protest - and swore she wouldn't come down until they had enough money for a children's area.

Kids will love this book about a woman who took a stand; it's funny, colorful, and relevant to their experiences. It's also a great depiction of modern librarians - loud, fun, and edgy. RoseAleta is the kind of out-of-the-box thinker that we should all strive to become.

The Wise Fool by Shahrukh Husain & Micha Archer

While most of the fairy tales and morality stories in America are based on European folk tales, the rest of the world also is rich with these type of stories. This bright, vivid book tells a series of Mulla stories, as have been handed down all across the Middle East.

The stories all center on Mulla Nasruddin, a man of great wisdom and humor. In the stories he uses his brain to maneuver sticky social situations. It's a kind of manners or ethics lesson told through brief encounters, a trickster tale like Br'er Rabbit or Loki or even Bugs Bunny.

The artwork in this book is astounding, a colorful papercraft that truly brings the Islamic world to life on the pages. Each story is less than 2 pages long, which leaves plenty of room for large, bright illustrations.

Emma's Poem by Linda Glaser

Meant for older kids, this poetry picture book tells about Emma Lazarus, the woman who wrote Lady Liberty's famous call to "give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

I found the book fascinating, and Kristine said the prose gave her goosebumps. I didn't realize that the Statue of Liberty was never intended as the symbol of immigration that we see it today - it was Emma Lazarus' poem that did that. Her poem was written in response to a call for help fundraising for the immense pedestal needed for the statue (a friendship gift from France). Emma imagined and wrote about what the large lady might have been thinking ... and as a result changed our perspective on this icon.

This is the kind of book kids writing reports on American history love. It's simply and colorfully illustrated by Linda Glaser, and it gives a great amount of information in a fun, dynamic manner.

Emma Dilemma by Kristine O'Connell George

Jessica has a little sister, Emma. The two have a very typical sister relationship: close, friendly, antagonistic.

The book is really a series of brief poems that build into a larger story of the girls' relationship: the annoyance of a pesky little sister going through your stuff, the delight in sharing an old favorite book together, the challenge of splitting a piece of pie so it's really fair. But later in the book it's darker as Emma breaks her arm and Jessica worries she might have prevented the accident.

While the book is subtitled "Big Sister Poems," really they're simply sister poems. Whether you're the little or the big sister, you'll find something familiar here. I think kids will enjoy finding bits of themselves in both Emma and Jessica and revisiting the ups and downs of sibling love and rivalry.

Who Has What? by Robie H. Harris

This basic picture book offers a great starting place for parents - it deals with the difference between boys and girls, without going into the whole "where babies come from" section.

Mostly, the cartoon illustrations deal with all the body parts we have that are the same: legs, ears, noses, belly buttons, and nipples. Then it deals briefly (and again, with simple cartoon drawings) about the parts we have that are different: dogs have tails, boys have penis, and girls have vagina.

Every little girl with a brother knows this stuff - it isn't information we should hide or be embarrassed about. Yet it's hard if your family isn't gender-mixed to know how these things should be approached. Harris does a nice job of beginning the conversation for you.

Later, when kids want to know about sex ... there are other books and resources. This one's more for the basic, pre-kindergarten discussion.

The Goodbye Cancer Garden by Janna Matthies

Discussing cancer with kids is a tough topic too many families have to deal with at one time or another. This book does the job in a lovely, delicate manner through the eyes of a child whose mother is sick.

When the doctor says Mom should be feeling better "by pumpkin time," an idea sprouts - the family will cultivate a garden in the yard to help track the time until pumpkins - and Mom's recovery. The year is filled with many milestones: surgery, seed catalogs, planting, head shaving, harvest, and healing. The story deals equally with mom's limitations due to illness, the kids' every day enthusiam, and the cycle of growing a garden.

I don't see this book as a general bedtime favorite, but it is a well done story for families who need a little encouragement during a difficult situation.

My only gripe: it should have been simply "cancer" that mom has, instead of specifying breast cancer. Why limit the situation, when so much is universal? Lots of kids have family members with lots of kinds of cancer, and they all deserve this kind of story.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Glamour, Interrupted by Steven Cojocaru

Cojo became famous for his red carpet fashion reports, his giant grin, and his sparkling, friendly reporting style that makes you feel like a gossip insider. Yet when he became sick with an inherited disease and required a kidney transplant, he hid his illness from everyone - even his family - for as long as possible because he was afraid he'd be shunned by Hollywood's "beautiful people." 

Cojo's medical saga was harrowing - the first transplanted kidney didn't last - but he brings his characteristic wit to the retelling; the result is a pretty light, rather funny look at illness and recovery. 

I picked up the book because I'm interested in transplant stories - I have several friends currently facing similar situations. This book is a quick read and, while entertaining, it's also accurate in describing the good, bad and ugly of a patient's experience. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Me ... Jane by Patrick McDonnell

Jane's the kind of girl who wants to know about animals and nature and how the world works. With her stuffed animal, she explores the backyard and grandma's chicken coop. She dreams of helping animals.

And then Jane the illustrated girl becomes real-life Jane Goodall in the end. The champion of chimpanzees and a grown up who got to live the life she dreamed of as a girl.

I loved this picture book for its cute, universal story that doesn't seem like a biography - until it is.

The Star Maker by Laurence Yep

Overreaching, eight-year-old Artie gets caught in a bad situation. He just said he'll have so many firecrackers at the New Year's celebration that he'll give them to everybody in his family. But that's a big extended Chinese family, and that will cost a lot of money he doesn't have - and his older cousins (who goaded him into the brag in the first place) aren't going to forget this whopper of a story.

Misfit Uncle Chester sees himself in young Artie - the youngest kid everybody picks on, the one everybody loves yet nobody expects to amount to anything. Can Chester help Artie with the lie? Or will Artie get laughed at again?

This book will expose kids to some really great Chinese traditions and Chinatown culture. Yet it's not preachy or foreign - at heart, the book's about a regular kid, and his position in the family and his community at large. He's got real-kid problems, and a real, flawed family who loves one another.

I did think it's funny that while set in 1964, the book's got a hefty 2000-era disclaimers about the danger of fireworks. As a beloved children's book author, Yep's not willing to be accused of advocating dangerous behavior (although it's at the core of the story!).

Soldier Bear by Bibi Dumon Tak

Based on a true story, this kids' novel relates the friendship between a platoon of Polish soldiers during World War II and a young brown bear they rescue and raise.

While at heart it's a cute animal story, this book's not for younger readers - the depictions of war are toned down, but they're still true to life. In one scene the soldiers open up about the horrors they've seen: boys blown to smithereens right before them, boots with the leg still in them, etc. It's appropriate, but still gory. Our library's copy is cataloged in the preteen section for middle school readers.

Voytek the bear wreaks havok on their camps, but also protects the soldiers from invaders. He's a mascot for the group, but also helps load ammunitions and supplies with the transport team. And for a group of men far from home and separated from all they love, he growing bear is a heart-warming friend and companion.

I enjoyed the balanced depiction of the hardships of war and the friendship and camaraderie of the group. The zoo they accumulate through their travels (in addition to the bear, there's a monkey, dogs, and a parrot) seems unlikely and unruly - but really did happen. How they managed to get away with it is amazing.

Wishin' and Hopin' by Wally Lamb

Fifth grader Felix Funicello will never forget the winter of 1964, and this is the story why. During the fall and winter, Felix's mom competes in the national bake-off, his class gets a lay teacher after his nun teacher cracks up one day, and a new student shakes things up in the class.

The book is a nostalgic look at childhood: a time when you pretended to understand all the jokes (but really didn't), when somebody puking was news, and a time when the Christmas pageant was epic. I was surprised by this book because I always think of Wally Lamb's books as serious, with issues. This book, on the other hand, is a lighthearted comedy.

It's not completely unpredictable - if there's a Christmas program at school, something bad's going to happen - but there's a lot more going on that will keep readers guessing. Felix's cringe-worthy antics are well drawn, and incidentally, Lamb did a nice job reading the audiobook version himself.

Monday, October 15, 2012

October Mourning

by Leslea Newman

You likely remember a tragic story that made headlines in the autumn of 1998.  A young, trusting college student named Matthew Shepard left a bar with two men he believed to be friendly, and like him, gay.  Eighteen hours later, a bicyclist found him tied to a fence rail and beaten so badly that he never woke in the last five days of his life.

Newman crafted a series of poems surrounding the incident.  She chose to feature a vast array of viewpoints including: each of the men involved, the first officer on the scene, the fence post, and a young deer passing by.  Whether you followed the headlines raptly, or tried to ignore the hate that brought about the crime, this story will make you cry.  The author's hope is that it can be used to teach about tolerance and compassion.

This book is heart-wrenching and filled with beautifully sculpted poems.   

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady by Elizabeth Stuckey-French

Unknowingly, Marylou took part in a 1950s study of radioactivity. The effects destroyed her family, killed her daughter, and wrecked her health. So now, 60 years later, Marylou is determined to find the smug bastard who made her drink that cocktail and make him pay.

Except Marylou's no cold-blooded killer, and Dr.Wilson Spriggs' health is declining with Alzheimers. Once her plans to kill Wilson disintegrate, Marylou decides to mess with his family - but it turns out she really likes the grandkids. Now what?

It's a darkly funny book full of interesting characters - each living in their own bubble and ignoring one another in the way families sometimes do. Will the radioactive lady destroy their family? Or will Otis build a reactor in the shed and nuke them all first? Will Florida ever see the hurricane Vic's been wishing for? And does Elvis ultimately have all the answers?

Friday, October 5, 2012

An echo through the snow

by Andrea Thalasinos

Let me start with the full disclosure that I have known this author for many years.  With that in mind, I dove into this book with a critical perspective.  I'm like a kid when it comes to books; if it isn't good, I will move on to something else.  That said, this story captivated me.

Twin plots carry the reader between Siberia and Bayfield, Wisconsin and span about sixty years.  The unifying feature is the relationships formed with sled dogs.  In Siberia, Tariem and Jeaantaa struggle with finding ways to save their family and still honor traditions in light of the changes imposed by Stalin's soldiers. 

In Bayfield, Rosalie is a young woman who has lived a life of underestimation.  An impulsive decision to rescue an animal changes her life and reveals family secrets.  New and old friends help her find her way and discover hidden talents within herself and those she loves. 

When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt

Toby can't wait to get out of tiny Antler, Texas. Even at 14, he knows there's nothing to do there, and a there's a great big world just waiting to be discovered. So then why is Toby so upset when his mom goes to Nashville to follow her dream?

Toby's best friend Cal has an older brother serving in Vietnam (the book is set in 1971), and his achingly homesick letters to the boys begin to open their eyes to the wonders of small-town summer. And the arrival of a trailer carrying the "World's Fattest Boy" also helps change Toby and Cal's perception of their hometown.

The boys are the right age for a major life change, and they really mature in this book - a lot happens during this one summer: love, loss, friendship, responsibility, and a reimagining of their ideas on family. The characters are well-formed, with realistic flaws and true-life personalities. And while it's a preteen book, I enjoyed that there's a well-executed cast characters in all stages of life who accompany the boys in their journey of discovery.

It's an excellent book - for kids coming into their own journey to adulthood, or for adults who've already lived it. The historical setting will make the story more relevant for those of a certain "vintage," but the tale is universal for contemporary readers, too.