Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Best Snowy Picture Books!


OK, so it's just a little powdered sugar dusting on the top of the San Gabriel Mountains, and it'll be melted by noon, but isn't it pretty? This was our view out our bedroom window on this fine January morning. To celebrate our very first snow, I thought I'd do a post on my very favorite snowy picture books!

My very favorite snowy picture book of all time (and probably yours too) is A Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. (also one of the coolest author names of all time too, don't you think?) This one won the Caldecott in 1963. Ezra Jack Keats wrote many amazing books. He was the son of two Polish immigrants and was determined to put an African American child as the protaganist in his first book, so as to truly reflect the neighborhoods where he grew up in New York City. He also wrote books Puerto-Rican protagonists and fought to have some printed in Spanish. Peter (shown here on the cover) went on to appear in six more picture books by Ezra.

 This has got to be one of the sweetest illustrations ever created. My boys barely even know what snow is but when we break this book out somehow they know it requires deep-in-the-covers positioning before we crack the cover.

Ezra was yet another author/illustrator who was allowed to scribble and draw wherever he darn pleased. (I'm not trying to make you feel guilty, I swear, I'm talking to me!) I'm trying to stay open-minded about what can keep the creative spirit alive! See here for more guilt, I mean inspiration!

You rock Ezra!

Now for my NEW favorite snowy picture book and when I say new I mean hot off the presses. Santa brought it last week and we are loving it!

The Stickman by the dynamic duo of Axel Sheffler, illustrator extraordinaire and Julia Donaldson, author/rhyme queen. She always pulls off her rhymes with out corniness or clunk and the Stickman - well, let's just say anthropomorphism never looked so good! You are going to love this guy! And his wife, the Sticklady, has a bark dress to die for- tres chic! I tried to get a photo but I couldn't find one. Get a copy for that alone!

The poor Stickman, first the dog is after him, then the bird wants to make him part of her nest, then to a sand castle to be a mast, oh the poor poor Stickman! But never fear, Santa will help the Stickman! Also, one of our favorite treats, there is a hidden Gruffalo somewhere in the book, see if you can find it. (The Gruffalo, and Room on the Broom are two more favorites by this duo that we adore too.)

Hooray for Snowy Books! Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Freshly-Brewed Monday Book Recommendation #4!- Shakespeare's Secret

Shakespeare's Secret by Elise Broach

Hero, named after the character in Much Ado About Nothing, is a serious but likable six-grader who is plagued with always being the new girl in school. Her loving dad, a Shakespeare scholar, names each of his children after characters in Shakespeare plays. Sounds sweet, right? But Hero's name has always been an issue of irritation. It's worse than ever now: her new classmate tells her her name is the same as his dog!

Soon after the book begins, the mystery is revealed. Without sharing any of the juicy clues or red herrings, the mystery is shared with Hero, her elderly neighbor Mrs. Roth and a cute popular 8th grader named Danny. There's a 500 year old necklace hidden somewhere in Hero's new house,  but where? 

I love mysteries. This one has the added take-away of being full of fascinating history. Author Elise Broach knows her Shakespearean/English history and this book delves into the potential link between Ann Boleyn and Edward DeVere (thought by many to be the true author of Shakespeare's plays). It is light, as mysteries go- no death, no physical danger- and I think it is a great fit for the 9-12 range. I loved the writing and I highly recommend this one, both as an enjoyable read and a great vessel for interesting history.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Freshly-Brewed Monday Book Recommendation #3: Heart of A Shepherd

Only it's Tuesday.

For lots of reasons this is a day late. Monday = MLK Jr Day + 3 boys in the house while it POURED BUCKETS outside, home office was almost flooded so my super-husband and I were scooping trash-can after trash-can of water from in front of the garage and relocating water elsewhere (in case the visual is disturbing, I did have cute pink rainboots on and a leopard print umbrella hoisted high) I do fess up that I gave up on the umbrella after trashcan dump #37- it was a little pointless after that. And the last but not least reason I am a day late, when I was in front of the computer there was lots of fun stuff to search about the ALA awards (the children's writers equivalent of the Academy Awards!) Hooray for When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead winning the Newbery! I dare you to try and read it in more than one sitting, I double dog dare you, I double dog raining cats and dogs double dog dare you!

OK, enough of that. Now to the book recommend of the day!
Heart of a Shepherd by Roseanne Parry

Eleven year old Ignatius is the youngest of five brothers. He's known by everyone in his small ranching town in Eastern Oregon as Brother. Brother lives in the shadow of his louder, more accomplished brothers and has a quiet gentle demeanor. Though he is the youngest, he is the only brother left in the house when his father is called to serve 14 months in Iraq with the army reserves. Brother is expected to work with his grandparents to keep the ranch running smoothly until Dad comes back. If he comes back. Brother has never had the passions shared by his Father and brothers for the ranching life. He is sensitive to the pain and death of animals and some of the more harsh realities of running a working ranch.

This book has a quiet strength. The children play war games and the expectation is that all children will at some point at least register for the army reserves, if not outright enlist. It is clear that Brother is not settled with that idea, but that is the only life he knows. He is trying to figure this out, all the while missing his Father.

This book has a beautiful and all-consuming sense of place. For children raised in parts of the country where there is a real connection to the land, this book will ring true in a big way. For children who live in more urban areas, it will give them a wonderful window into a whole other world right here in the U.S. This book emphasizes the centrality of one's family, one's faith, love and service to our country and pulling together as a community in times of crisis. It also speaks to finding one's own path and searching your heart to find that path.

I think this book would appeal to both girls and boys. I would recommend it to 4th grade and above. It is not touchy-feely, but it does deal with a boy sorting through some difficult emotions and drawing conclusions that ultimately seem to bring him the peace one is looking for as one navigates through older childhood. I think my 9 year old third grader might be ready for it next year and I look forward to sharing it with him!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Freshly-Brewed Monday Book Recommendation #2: Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell In Love

I highlighted a boy book last week, so this time I'm picking an absolutely all-girl pick!
Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell in Love by Lauren Tarshis

How do I love this book? Let me count the ways!

Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell in Love  is the phenomenal sequel to Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree. I loved the first one so much I didn't think this one could get inside my heart the same way but boy was I wrong!

I first heard of Lauren Tarshis at a SCBWI conference when she won a Golden Kite Award for Emma-Jean Fell out of a Tree. I read it a few months later and hoped Lauren's next book would be a sequel because I could not get enough of Emma-Jean. I adore her.

Emma-Jean's voice is pitch perfect. If you are a writer and you are struggling to understand what "voice" is, Emma-Jean will teach you. Lauren Tarshis has a serious gift. I would've loved to pal around with Emma-Jean during those crazy awkward years. She is smart, observant, logical and somewhat removed from her school experience, and yet she is a devoted and loyal friend.

Colleen, Emma-Jean's bestie, (who is also in the first book) is much more emotional and invested in the day to day drama in the middle school hallways than Emma-Jean. In anticipating the upcoming dance, Colleen "kept thinking of Noah's ark--about all the pigs and pandas and gorillas and ladybugs and how they'd all marched two by two, two by two, two by two onto the ark. Except for the unicorn, who couldn't find a boy who liked her, so she was left behind. To drown in the flood. Colleen was the unicorn."

That is why Colleen is beyond thrilled when she gets an anonymous note in her locker from a boy who likes her. Immediately she begins feeling what she describes as "Colleen-er" Now that she knows there's at least one boy out there that likes her, she can relax and let her personality show through.

Colleen enlists Emma-Jean to help her figure out who left the note. Emma-Jean, who is fascinated by her classmates who all seem to have caught "Spring Fever", is up for the task. It is all complicated by the fact that Emma-Jean soon discovers she has a little "Spring Fever" of her own.

Emma-Jean's unflinching logical outlook on life had me from the start. And Colleen's shy insecurity is spot-on. This book is equal parts mystery/friendship and how to navigate the halls of middle school. You won't want it to end and you will miss your two friends once you've finished the book! I hope you love it like I do!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Katherine Paterson: Queen of the Children

Did you hear the wonderful news?

Katherine Paterson was named Queen of Children's books!

OK, not actually Queen. But sort of, in a way.

She was named the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature by the Library of Congress and a whole host of children's literature mucky-mucks who know their stuff.

This is only the second year the post has existed. Last year it was held by Jon Scieska. (think The Stinky Cheese Man) I love that the two of them represent the first two years of this post. Jon, in all his rollicking good humor and incredible out-reached hand to boys (see Guys Read), he has touched the here-and-now of reading in wonderful new ways. Katherine Paterson, on the other hand, to me represents the falling head-over-heels-into-the-rabbit hole of reading.

In fifth grade, there was a contest, the Book Worm Contest. And I was in it to win it. I am not a competitive person by nature, but this was one contest that was right up my alley. We had composition books on the upper right-hand corner of our desks and as soon as we completed a new chapter book during sustained-silent-reading time (or at home) we could write our summary and move on to the next book. When I started Bridge to Terabithia, it was just another conquest. A book to put in my log. But soon after I started reading, and met Jesse and then Leslie, I did not want it to end. I loved them, I loved their friendship, I loved their magical world of Terabithia, and I loved that Jesse wanted Leslie to be Queen. I slowed my reading down and tried to make it last. And when (**Spoiler Alert***)

Leslie died, I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe that it happened and I specifically remember thinking I couldn't believe that the author trusted me with something so big. Was anyone else reading this book? Were they chosen too? At that point in my life, no human being or even loved pet had passed away. I'd had a friend move to Connecticut, but I knew that was not death. I remember having tears in my eyes at my desk in Mrs. Summers class, and trying to hide it. And I remember walking out of the classroom with the rest of my classmates feeling older, wiser, and more ready to face my world. 

My mom knows (because she made my bookworm cake when I won the contest) that I adore Katherine Paterson. My Mom loves to shower people with gifts and that's why I not only do I have all of Katherine Paterson fiction books, I also have a compilation of her essays and speeches (she has won more than a few awards). I love her essays and speeches. One of my favorites is her acceptance speech for the National Book Award for the Master Puppeteer. Here is an excerpt:

"But it's not true that I simply write for myself. I do write for children. For my own four children and for others who are faced with the question do they dare become an adult, responsible for their own lives and the lives of others. They remind me of the Biblical children of Israel, trembling on the bank of Jordan. You'll remember that Moses sent spies ahead, who came back to tell the richness of the land. But ten of the spies advised the Israelites to turn back. The cities are fortified, they said, and the people are giants. It would be better to return to slavery in Egypt or to wander aimlessly in the desert.

I don't want to be a spy like Joshua or Caleb. I have crossed the river and tangled a few giants, but I want to go back and say to those who are hesitating, Don't be afraid to cross over. The promised land is worth possessing, and we are not alone. I want to be a spy for hope."

You are a spy for hope, Ambassador Paterson. That day leaving Mrs. Summers' fifth grade classroom I was infused, saturated and permeated with that hope. May God bless you and the year ahead.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Freshly-Brewed Monday Book Recommendation #1!

I love books about girls in trouble. Wrinkle in Time, Mixed-Up Files of Basil E. Frankweiler, Harriet the Spy, the list goes on and on. If it was in print in the 70's and a gal pal was in trouble, I was curled up under the avocado tree in the backyard helping my girl out of her particular pickle.

So when my oldest son started devouring certain books, and throwing some to the side without even a cracked spine (showing the same penchant for a particular taste in literature as myself!) I knew I had a challenge ahead of me. Mission: cool boy books to match my son's taste. Right now that means- firmly set in this world + humorous protagonist + a mystery element + can include a touch of magical realism but no spinning off into strange fantastical locales. (ahem. Mom, that is so not realistic.)

Enter The Big Splash by Jack Ferrariolo, I could not put this book down.

The book opens with Matt Stevens, a seventh-grade private eye who has just made a choice he thought he'd never make. He accepted a job from Vinny Biggio "Vinny Biggs". Vinny is behind every deal made at Franklin Middle School from black market candy to forged hall passes. Franklin Middle School is a tough place, if you cross Vinny and his henchmen you could end up in "the outs". How do you get there? Water pistol attacks below the belt for maximum humiliation. When Nicole (aka Nikki Fingers) the most feared water assassin is put in "the outs", Matt feels partially to blame so he sets out to find the new trigger kid. I am telling you, you are going to love this earnest super-sleuth and his throw-back film noir style.

This book reads like a Raymond Chandler novel for middle-graders and boys and girls alike will fall for the pre-adolescent Phillip Marlowe, in Matt Stevens.

Due to its noir style, this would make a fun and dramatic read aloud. Meet you under the avocado tree.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Stories from the Laundry Hamper

Steve Lopez of the Los Angeles Times wrote this wonderful piece on Susan Patron, former Los Angeles Librarian and author of the 2007 Newbery Award Winning book, The Higher Power of Lucky. Much of his article discusses her lesser known, but very special, book entitled Maybe Yes, Maybe No, Maybe Maybe. Not all books work for both genders, but my boys enjoy this touching story of three sisters, based on Patron's childhood. I love it too. Enjoy!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year 2010 and the Cybils Short List!

January 1st brings a fun treat for enthusiasts of children's literature- the CYBILS shortlists! (CYBILS=Children's and Young Adult Blogger Literary Awards). These short lists are assembled by smart conscientious book lovers who read all of the books nominated in their category and come up with a great little lists to take with you to the library or book store.

All genres are covered by the CYBILS, from picture books to young adult novels, fiction and non-fiction, poetry and graphic novels. You can find all the short lists HERE.

I was thrilled to see Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry chosen to be part of the Middle Grade Fiction list- a great quiet novel set in rural Oregon about a boy with deep faith who must help his grandparents care for the family farm when his father is deployed to Iraq.

I also loved seeing TWO Laini Taylor books, Silksinger (Middle Grade Fantasy) and Lips Touch (YA Fantasy). Laini's ability to world-build a completely different reality blows my mind. I don't know how she does it, her books are brilliant. (*two additional interesting Laini Taylor Facts: (1) the amazing illustrations are the work of her very talented husband, Jim DiBartolo and (2) they have a beautiful daughter with my favorite girl name in the universe: Clementine!)

Last but not least, I loved seeing that Claudette Colvin, Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose made the middle grade non-fiction pick. I read this one over Christmas break with my boys and believe it is a book that should live in on a bookshelf in eveyone's home. I will most definitely be reviewing it in a Monday Book Review.
There are so many on these lists I haven't read, 2010 will be a busy year of more great books. The Ultimate Decision from the short lists will be made mid-February, so stay tuned!

Whether you say *Twenty-Ten* or *Two-Thousand and Ten* (we voted over sushi last night 5 to 0 that we are a *Twenty-Ten* household), may countless blessings cover you and yours in the New Year! Hooray!