Wednesday, April 9, 2014

March Round-Up

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Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems selected by Paul B. Janeczko, Illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Candlewick Press, 2014

This wonderful and thought provoking collection includes over 30 poems, organized by season, from spring to winter. As the subtitle dictates each poem is just a few lines. They’re bits of poetry to read aloud, small appetizers that whet the appetite with the delicious way the words roll around the mouth. The poems, from a variety of poets (Robert Frost, Joyce Sidman, Emily Dickinson, Carl Sandburg, and more), flow from one to the next in a continuous stream, building and drawing on one another. Poems are thoughtfully arranged one per page. The text is bold and easy to read and the illustrations provide seasonal atmosphere. Sweet’s illustrations also prompt the reader to think about the mental images the words conjure, suggesting just enough, but never overpowering the words. The book begins with a table of contents and ends with detailed attribution notes.

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King for a Day by Rukhsana Khan, Illustrated by Christiane Krömer
Lee & Low Books, 2013

Today is a special day in Lahore, Pakistan! It’s Basant, the spring festival that is celebrated with parties, food, and best of all, kite-flying battles! With the help of his younger brother and sister, Malik expertly guides his beloved homemade kite Falcon to swoop, soar, and snip the strings of other colorful kites. At first Falcon is threatened by a cruel bully’s gigantic kite, but Malik’s deft maneuvering skills triumph! This story not only introduces readers to Basant, but also features a protagonist who never lets his wheelchair get in his way. Written from Malik’s perspective, the narrative is concise, yet descriptive. Although there is a small conflict between the bully and Malik, the story really serves to open a window to another culture. The vibrantly colored mixed media illustrations pair 2D drawn/painted elements with 3D collage elements that pop from the page. The author’s note following the story includes information on the origins, traditions, and modern day celebrations of Basant. A brief glossary and pronunciation guide is also included. Read this book as part of a discussion on spring festivals around the world.

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Monday, Wednesday,and Every Other Weekend by Karen Stanton
Feiwel and Friends, 2014

Henry used to live in one house with his mother, father, and his dog Pomegranate. But now he and Pomegranate live in two houses.  On Mondays, Wednesdays, and every other weekend he lives with his mother in her house full of hanging mobiles. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and the other weekends he lives in his father’s house and together they read and play music. Unfortunately, this is terribly confusing to Pomegranate and one day he escapes to find their old house. Set in a multicultural city environment, red-haired Henry is surrounded by neighbors of many cultural and ethnic backgrounds. The straight forward text focuses on actions, rather than emotions, but allows plenty of room for discussion for the readers. The mixed media illustrations, a combination of acrylics and paper collage, are bright and colorful featuring bold brush strokes and striking patterns. Overall, this is a positive depiction of separated/divorced parents that shows how families can be different, but still loving and caring. Check out the peppy book trailer for a look at the illustrations.

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The Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosenstock, Illustrated by Mary GrandPré
Alfred A. Knopf, 2014

This picture book biography focuses on the paintings of Vasily Kandinsky, one of the pioneers of abstract art.  Kandinsky spent his childhood in Russia and it was there that his aunt gave him his first paint box. Young Vasya loved to paint – he heard music in the colors and that’s what he painted – but his family was confused. What was his art supposed to be? As an adult Vasya continued to struggle with the idea that a painting should be something even as he heard “Thundering arches of aqua and ebony, with shrill points of cobalt and saffron.” And then one day, Vasya decided to listen to the colors and this lead him to create some of the first abstract art. The lush acrylic and paper collage illustrations are energetic, painterly, and flowing. GrandPré uses her own style infused with Kandinsky’s color palate to demonstrate how sound and color were connected in Vasya’s mind. The text, great for reading aloud, is a combination of third person narrative and dialogue. Rosenstock includes a note that the dialogue is completely from her own imagination. The author's note also includes information on Kandinsky’s childhood, his art, and the possibility that he experienced colors as sounds because of synesthesia. Print and online sources are listed, as well. Pair this nonfiction title with Daniel Pinkwater’s Bear’s Picture to introduce the topic, “what is art?”


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

February Round-Up

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Duck, Duck, Moose! By Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, Illustrated by Noah Z. Jones
Disney-Hyperion, 2014

This hilarious twist on the childhood game is brought to you by three roommates – two tidy and precise ducks and one enthusiastically klutzy moose! Using just two words, “duck” and “moose”, the text lays the foundation for the repeated visual punch line of a moose who seems to bring chaos wherever he goes. Play duck, duck, goose and follow up with this book. It’s especially fun for independent readers who can read along during a dramatic group sharing.

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How to Wash a Woolly Mammoth by Michelle Robinson, Illustrated by Kate Hindley
Henry Holt and Co, 2014

Learn to wash your woolly mammoth in 10 easy (well, mostly easy) steps! Starting with a bath tub and ending with some mammoth snuggling, this playful how-to book will have kindergarteners giggling. Hindley’s mixed media illustrations feature colorful washes, fine line work, and great use of eyes to communicate emotions. Well placed page turns and simple, yet fun, text makes this a great read aloud for a group. 

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Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch by Anne Isaacs, Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
Schwartz & Wade, 2014

In 1870 the widow Tulip Jones inherits millions of dollars and a ranch. So she moves from England to By-Golly Gully. She quickly learns that everything is bigger in Texas, including her garden vegetables and her beloved pet tortoises. But her blissful peace is broken when word gets around about her rich and unmarried status. Hilarity ensues as the widow comes up with a variety of ways to get rid of the 1,000 suitors that line up at her door. Exaggeration is the name of the game from text to illustrations. Isaacs excels at writing tall tales and readers will not be disappointed by her newest yarn. Hawkes’ painterly illustrations, rendered with acrylic and pencil on Bristol Board, feature vast blue skies, fluffy white clouds, and sundrenched landscapes that firmly establish the setting. At its best when read aloud, this story will also appeal to elementary school kids who will want to read and explore on their own.

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When Elephant Met Giraffe by Paul Gude
Disney-Hyperion, 2014

A chatty elephant and a silent giraffe are unlikely best friends, but that’s exactly what happens by the end of this humorous book. This book is divided into three short episodes, each with a funny twist and a subtle message about the give and take of friendship. With just a few sentences per page the text reads much like a beginning reader, but without the repetition of sight words. Bright colors and thick outlines are a perfect match for Gude’s excellent sense of visual and textual pacing and comedic timing. Although the bright and cartoonish digital illustrations are simple, they do a good job of conveying facial expressions and emotions. Similar to the Elephant and Piggy stories by Mo Willems, this book is great for independent or group reading.


Monday, February 3, 2014

January Round-Up

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A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina’s Dream by Kristy Dempsey, Illustrated by Floyd Cooper
Penguin Books, 2014

Full of beautiful and inspiring imagery, Dempsey’s poetic text is written from the perspective of a young African-American girl in the 1950’s. A girl who hardly dares to hope that her dream of becoming a ballerina could ever come true. But then she sees Janet Collins, the first “colored” prima ballerina, perform at the Met and she can feel hope rising around her. The dreamy mixed media illustrations, soft-edged and sepia toned, pair nicely with Dempsey’s precisely worded text, full of hope and longing. Dempsey writes in her author’s note that although the girl in this story is fictional, Janet Collins was a real person. This is a great book to share one-on-one or in a classroom setting for elementary aged kids.

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Don’t Play with Your Food by Bob Shea
Disney Hyperion, 2014

Buddy the monster is all set to eat the fluffy white bunnies, “Hey, guys! Hop in my mouth so I can eat you!” But then they offer him cupcakes. And take him to the carnival. And they go swimming. And they even create the Stripey-Stripe Club in his honor! Buddy played with his food and now he's confused! Are the bunnies food or are they friends? What’s a monster to do? The neon colors and the bold lines compliment Shea’s hilarious text that just begs to be read aloud to preschool and elementary aged kids.

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Mr. Flux by Kyo Maclear, Illustrated by Matte Stephens
Kids Can Press, 2013

Martin is just fine with his routine life in his unchanging neighborhood with predictable family and neighbors. It’s not that he doesn’t like change, it’s just that he doesn’t know change. But all that changes the day Mr. Flux moves in next door. He calls himself an artist, but he doesn’t make anything “art-like.” Soon, Martin is not only trying new things, but he’s enjoying them! In this wonderfully quirky book very loosely based on the Fluxus artist, George Maciunas, the beauty and joy of change is celebrated. The clever and philosophical text will make readers think. The flat gouache illustrations whimsically play with perception and space as Mr. Flux introduces Martin to all sorts of new experiences, like playing tennis while riding turtles and spinning toy rabbits on record players. This is a fun book to share one-on-one or to read aloud to an elementary aged group.Try pairing it with Pinkwater's The Big Orange Splot.

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Yellow is My Color Star by Judy Horacek
Beach Lane Books, 2014

Using fun rhymes and questions that invite young readers to participate, the child in this book (wonderfully gender neutral) extols the virtues of the color yellow. Large, bold text stands out against white pages complimented by Horacek’s watercolor illustrations. The book boasts an energetic cast of children of all skin and hair colors joyfully moving through a colorful landscape. Use this short and playful book for toddler storytime.


Sunday, January 12, 2014

December Round-Up

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Fraidyzoo by Thyra Heder
Harry N. Abrams, 2013
Unlike the rest of her family, Little T is not excited to go to the zoo. She can’t remember why, so her family begins an A-to-Z guessing game of make-believe to figure it out. After thinking about all the animals in the zoo, from alligator to zebra, camel to xantis, Little T decides she’s not afraid of the zoo at all. The energetic and understanding family in this book demonstrate the power of play and imagination as they create zoo animals from household items. With a funny twist of an ending, this book is great for kindergarten and lower elementary aged kids who know their alphabet.

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Rutherford B. Who Was He?: Poems about Our Presidents by Marilyn Singer, Illustrated by John Hendrix
Disney-Hyperion, 2013
This collection of sometimes funny, sometimes rhyming, always thought provoking poetry covers all the U.S. presidents from Washington to Obama. Arranged in chronological order, Singers poems celebrates the victories, laments the failures, mourns the lost, and puzzles over the mysteries of the many men who have lead our country. Some presidents get a poem all to themselves, while other poems read like dialogue between two or more commanders in chief. Hendrix’s detailed and humorous illustrations feature recognizable caricatures of the presidents. In addition, many quotes are incorporated into the illustrations as hand-drawn text. Back matter includes a brief explanation of presidential duties, as well as biographies about each president. Check out the end papers at the back of the book for a visual presidential timeline. The catchy book trailer is a fun way to get a sample of the flavor of the book. This is a great book to support a unit on American history.

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Up! Tall! And High! by Ethan Long
Putnam Juvenile, 2012
In this fun, flap-filled picture book the concepts of up, tall, and high are explored in three episodic stories. Each concept is humorously acted out by a cast of colorful birds who speak in speech bubbles. The cartoon-like illustrations use bright colors and thick black outlines to convey the concepts, as well as the reactions of the birds. This is a fun book to read to preschoolers or a great choice for independent early reading.

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The Watermelon Seed by Greg Pizzoli 
Disney-Hyperion, 2013
Isn’t watermelon tasty? The crocodile (or alligator?) in this book sure thinks so. Watermelon is great for breakfast, lunch, and dinner! Chomp! Slurp! Chomp! Until a watermelon seed is swallowed! Gulp! What if a watermelon starts growing inside the crocodile’s body and vines twist out of the crocodile’s ears? This might put the crocodile off watermelon forever (but probably not).  The illustrations, a combination of hand printing and Photoshop techniques, use a three color watermelon palatte of green, red, and black to futher highlight the main character’s love of this amazing food. The text is one long, dramatic, crocodile monologue that makes for an animated read aloud. I like to read this book to elementary school kids. It's also notable that the crocodile is nameless and gender neutral.


Friday, December 13, 2013

November Round-Up

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Locomotive by Brian Floca
This beautifully detailed non-fiction picture book examines and explores the way locomotives changed the country as a family takes a cross country trip from Omaha to San Francisco. The book is set in 1869, shortly after the railroad was completed. The rhythmic text, which incorporates sound effects, vividly conveys the motion, sights, sounds, and smells of traveling and working on a locomotive. Floca expertly utilizes a variety of fonts to convey emotion and motion. The evocative text and the lively illustrations combine to paint a detailed picture of train culture. This includes the ins and outs of traveling and working on a train, as well as the mechanical workings of steam trains. Use this book as a jumping off point for discussing geography, as Floca’s illustrations include place names as the train travels across the U.S. The detailed notes at the back of the book include information on how/why/who built the railroad and how it changed the country. Don’t miss the awesome endpapers!

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Mo’s Mustache by Ben Clanton
Mo Joe is super excited to get his brand new “big, black, beautiful” mustache in the mail and even more excited to show it off to his friends. Except then his friends start wearing mustaches, too! So Mo ditches his ‘stache and tries out a “long, lined, and lovely” scarf. But what is Mo to do when everyone copies him again? This humorous read aloud that starts with a mustache and ends with a fashion show, is an ode to being yourself and rocking it. Fun fonts and speech bubbles pair nicely with the watercolor and ink illustrations. This book is on my list to try out with elementary school aged kids.

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On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne, Illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky
This picture book biography focuses on Einstein's unique ability to question and think about new ideas. Rather than relating dates and facts, the text, along with the back matter, explores the major ideas and traits that made Einstein so remarkable. This allows the narrative to move along at a quick pace. Like the text, the loose, childlike illustrations also convey ideas rather than literal depictions of Einstein's world. Share this book with a group of elementary aged kids to inspire them to learn more about this fascinating man.

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Young Frank Architect by Frank Viva
Young Frank is an architect who lives with his small dog Eddie and his grandfather, Old Frank. Young Frank loves to create architectural designs with anything and everything (even Eddie!), but he becomes discouraged when Old Frank tells him his designs aren’t anything like the ones real architects make. Real architects don’t make twisty towers or squiggly chairs. Or do they? After a trip to the Museum of Modern Art Old Frank thinks maybe he’s a little younger and a little wiser. Back matter includes more information on several prominent architects (many of them named Frank) whose work is featured in Viva’s striking illustrations. Read this book before or after going to a modern art museum.