Monday, May 27, 2019

Spring Reading 2019 Fly

Nathan Clement has a knack for books about transportation. In his latest, a young girl and her family travel by airplane. The illustrations capture each stage of the journey from baggage being loaded to the landing gear being lowered for the arrival at their destination. Some pictures show the family, other show the crew and airport staff, and still others focus on the parts of the plane itself. 

With large spreads and limited text on each page, this is perfect for early elementary readers who can't get enough books about things that go. It would be a great gift for a child about to take her (or his), first plane ride. Classroom teachers doing a unit on transportation or planning a field trip to the airport could share it with the class and then make it available to read again later.

I read a copy provided by the publisher for review purposes.

Spring Reading 2019 Never Trumpet with a Crumpet

When eighteen animals accidentally (on purpose?) are invited to tea with the Queen, they need to use their best table manners. Of course, all kinds of mayhem ensue - but it's so much fun for the prince and his new friends. An opossum gathers sugar cubes while her young ones are tucked in her pouch. A giraffe collects macaroons with its purple tongue. And the poor Queen has an unfortunately close call with a porcupine's quills.

Despite the laughter that will be impossible to avoid (and who would want to?), this book does a good job of reviewing table manners. Cover your mouth when you sneeze. Don't blow bubbles in your drink. "Don't take too much, but always take the one you touch." By the end of the tea party, readers of all ages should have a pretty good idea of how to behave.

The illustrations are as delightful as the situations the animals create. An orangutan swings from the chandelier. A snake slithers down the table. A lion chews on the table legs (well, at least he didn't chew on the royal family). And the prince watches the entire thing with wide eyes and a happy grin.

Great for preschool and early elementary readers.

I read a copy provided by the publisher for review purposes.

Spring Reading 2019 In the Middle of the Night: Poems from a Wide-Awake House

Laura Purdie Salas (A Rock Can Be, Lion of the Sky), has a way of looking at things that makes readers see them in a new light. In this case that might be a nightlight or moonlight, but definitely a unique view of ordinary things. Once the humans are all asleep, the objects in the house come to life. Stuffed animals have a talent show. Pencils race down the stairs. A necktie roams the house, untethered. The "Toy Story" type adventures seem to have no limits, much like the author's imagination.

My favorite poem is probably "Overdue-Book Hide-and-Seek." The naughty library book gleefully shares, "I burrow. I sneak. I LOVE to play overdue-book hide-and-seek!" After reading that, I will have to take students more seriously when they tell me their books hide from them on library day. 

Perfect for examples of personification, or for mentor texts in a poetry unit. Highly recommended for elementary school classrooms and libraries.

I read a copy provided by the publisher for review purposes.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Starstruck: The Cosmic Journey of Neil DeGrasse Tyson by Kathleen Krull

This picture book biography of Neil deGrasse Tyson perfectly conveys his fascination with space and determination to study it. Authors Krull and Brewer trace his journey full circle from his first trip to the Hayden Planetarium to his current role as the planetarium’s director. Morrison’s illustrations show Neil’s “starstruck” wonder, as well as his energy and enthusiasm. Spreads that feature Neil and the night sky showcase him in the perfect setting.The text is upbeat but honest about the challenges he overcame to reach his goal. Key events, such as viewing a solar eclipse aboard a floating laboratory, meeting Carl Sagan, and the uproar of reclassifying Pluto are included. The author’s note gives more details about Neil’s background, education, and family; there is also a list of sources. This title would work well in a unit on space or contemporary biographies. VERDICT: A stellar biography for young readers that have their eyes on the stars. Highly recommended.

My review was first published in the March 2019 issue of School Library Journal, p. 128.

Away with Words: The Daring Story of Isabella Bird by Lori Mortensen

This picture book biography of Isabella Bird describes her as “a wild vine stuck in a too-small pot.” Author Lori Mortensen could not have come up with a better description of a curious young woman during the Victorian era. The text shares Isabella’s health problems as a small child and how curiosity about the world she saw from the back of her father’s horse helped her to “forget about her aches and pains.” Her eventual journeys around the world led to fame for her travel books and even membership as the first woman in London’s Royal Geographic Society. Digital illustrations show details of the era's fashions, as well as scenes from Isabella’s adventures - like climbing up Kilauea. A photo of Isabella accompanies the author’s note. There is also a timeline, bibliography, and a source list for all the quotations from Isabella’s writing that are incorporated into the book. This title would be a good addition to a unit on pioneering women, or for a discussion of societal expectations then and now. VERDICT: An engaging biography for intermediate grades about following your joy and finding your own place in the world.

My review was first published in the February 2019 issue of School Library Journal, pp. 81-82.

Earth!: My First 4.54 Billion Years by Stacy McAnulty

Ink and watercolor illustrations combine with a first-person narrative in this autobiography of Earth, who says, “You can call me Planet Awesome.” Facts about Earth's favorite activities, such as spinning, circling the sun, and hanging out with the moon are mentioned. The process of the planet forming and cooling is shown as photos in a scrapbook. A time line chronicles the development of air, plants, and animals with a comment for each milestone (“My first dinosaur!”). The end of the dinosaurs is shown in a spread with Earth fearfully watching an angry asteroid hurtling closer. Younger readers learn basic facts such as the names of the planets in the solar system or that it takes 29 days for the moon to orbit the earth. Older students will enjoy the personification of the planet and the humor of the narrative. For instance, Earth remarks that “animals are nice. But they mostly eat and poop and never wonder about my amazing life.” There are also details in the illustrations (like an image of the Beatles) that will amuse observant readers and adults. Back matter includes information on the continents, Earth’s location in space, extinction events, and a list of sources. There is also a brief author’s note addressed to "alien visitors," aka readers. VERDICT: A humorous approach to planetary facts for the elementary grades.

My review first appeared in the November 2017 issue of School Library Journal, p. 102

Gum by Nancy Willard

Two friends on a quest for a silver racer have nine quarters to reach their goal. Danny and James feed their coins into the gumball machine hoping each time that the small toy car will emerge. But even the Canadian quarter James brought may not be lucky enough. The descriptions of what the gumball machine delivers after each quarter show the author’s clever word usage. Suspense builds as “something tumbles out,” “something clatters out,” “something small and still slides” out, and finally “something round and raucous runs” out of the spout. Each time readers will wait with anticipation to see if the silver racer has finally been won. The inked illustrations are reminiscent of the style used in the CBS Storybreak shows from the 1980s. Some fill a page, like the picture of the boys’ faces seen through the glass of the gumball machine. Others offer small vignettes scattered across the page showing the reactions of Danny and James. Large spreads are used sparingly, like the opening scene with James standing by his parents’ bed and asking for his allowance while the soft blue background perfectly captures the “six in the morning” stillness. VERDICT: Perfect for a humorous read-aloud; the retro feel and the hilarious results of the boys’ determination will keep readers and listeners riveted and rooting for their success.

My review was first published in the November 2017 issue of School Library Journal, p. 68.