Sunday, July 12, 2009

Books on the lunar landing

Books celebrating the 40th anniversary of the first lunar landing by man:
For eons of time the moon has intrigues scientists, soothsayers and tale-tellers by its mysticism. Shakespeare was only one of many writers who linked moon with love, inspiration and the cycle of life. Children learned that a man's profile sometimes appeared in the full moon, that it could be cheese and that a cow actually jumped over it. Aztec cultures used sacrifices to keep the moon in place and the ancient Sumerians had explanations (remarkably close to the latest scientific explanations) of how the moon is formed. These ideas and many more are found in "Moon: Science, History and Mystery" by Steward Ross (Scholastic)
Other books on the moon, its history, and especially the commemoration of the 40th celebration the following books are recommended:
"Look to the Stars" by Buzz Aldrin (one of the first men to walk on the moon) (Putnam)
"One Giant Leap" Robert Burleigh (Philomel)
"Mission Control, This is Apollo: The Story of the First Voyages to the Moon" Andrew Chaikin and Victoria Kohl. Paintings by Alan Bean (Viking)
"One Small Step: Celebrating the First Man on the Moon" Jerry Stone (Roaring Brook)
"Mission to the Moon" Alan Dyer (Simon&Schuster)

Wild Things

Wild Things by Clay Carmichael (Front Street)
Zoe, an eleven-year-old, is afraid a new home with a famous artist/doctor uncle, will just be another"short stay" as has been her life with a shiftless, now dead, mother. But Uncle Henry, a feral stray cat and a mysterious wild boy in the forest gradually turn her life into one of love and trust.
"Wild Things" has all the right story elements for 'tween readers of ten through fifteen; a spirited protagonist, twists and turns in an unpredictable plot and a setting so real the reader can almost taste the cornbread and feel the shadows of the north woods in Carolina.
Carmichael has crafted memorable characters; a famous surgeon whose true passion is metal sculpting, a neighbor making beautiful quilts as her hear 'wears out" and a feckless pastor with sermons carrying the same message week after week. Above all there is an independent young girl who has watched a mother destroy her own life with alcohol.
The coming of age story never glosses over the theme of making ones own choices. Even the school bully (the mayor's son) is a closeted artist, much to the chagrin of his arrogant father.
"Wild Things" is a fresh read --no need to dodge edgy language and sexual innuendos --with a satisfying conclusion. Zoe and her story could certainly invite a sequel, but I hope it doesn't happen. Too often a watered down second story lacks the luster of the first and nothing should take away form the spirit of Zoe and the "wild things' in her life.

I Wanna Be Your Shoebox

I Wanna Be Your Shoebox by Christina Garcia (Simon&Schuster)
Yumi Ruiz-Hirsch has a varied background; grandparents from Japan, CCuba and Brooklyn and a home life which isn't exactly traditional, either. Her mother is a published author (with a music professor suitor) and a punk-musician father straggling as a would-be song writer.
Interlaced throughout the story is Yumi's dedication to saving the school orchestra and her devotion to grandfather, Saul, whose daily council resounds in her decisions, "Whatever you want, you gotta go after it like them horses running toward the finish line."
The title "I Wanna Be Your Shoebox" comes from a poem Yumi's father adapts for a concert which brings success to the orchestra.
This is truly a believable story with fresh dialogue and clever plot twists. The pathos at the ending of Yumi attending her grandfather's death is tender and sweet. Certainly there must be another Yumi story from this talented author.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Odd Egg - picture book review

The Odd Egg by Emily Gravett. Simon & Schuster.
"All the birds had laid an egg. All except Duck."
"All the birds began their wait. Except for Duck who "found an egg." It wasn't an ordinary egg, it was beautiful. And big! And odd!
The other eggs hatched. Hen''s chicks "cheep," owlet devises a math problem, parrot's baby becomes a "pretty boy" and baby crane "hoot." Duck just waits. And kits booties.
Finally there is a creak and a crack and then a snap. Out pops an alligator which troops behind wearing a new scarf and specially designed booties and gurgling "mama!"
In less than 65 words Gravett has written a fresh new story that will delight just everyone. The illustrations are line drawings on pages cut in various lengths inviting readers to find the clues. Hurrah to a talented artist and art editor for the wonderful addition to our spring picture books!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Year the Swallows Came Early

The Year the Swallows Came Early by Kathryn Fitzmaurice (Harper, 2009)
Some years can be noted by a special occurrence. for eleven-year-old Groovy Robinson this year was the time her father took all of the savings left by her grandmother and lost them at gambling. Now she would not be able to attend culinary school. It was also the time her friend Luis' mother came back into his life and he wasn't ready for that! These two friends are well-crafted in a story that will remind young readers how important families and acquaintances are to our growth and progress. This is the author's first novel for 'tween readers.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation: Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves.

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothinig, Traitor to the Nation: Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves. M.T. Anderson. (Candlewick, 2008)
This concludes the 2-volume account of Octavian Nothing, a Black youth set at the time of the American Revolution. In Volume I: The Pox Party, Octavian is the subject of a radical scientific study to determine if the intellectual acumen of " Africans was equal to those of the European."
In Volume II, Octavian joins the royal Ethiopian Regiment, runaway slaves, hoping to win his freedom. But "we were discarded when we were no longer of use." The ending portrays great patriotism and the urgency for one's freedom.
Some characters are fabricated, but all events and settings are real regarding the Revolutionary War. The 18th century language is supreme and the author admits to speaking and writing in this vernacular all the time he was writing these books. Volume I won the National Book Award and a Printz Honor. Volume II won a Printz Honor.
Both volumes are 900-plus pages. With the technical language and intense story, this is recommended for mature readers.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Very Hungry Caterpillar -- picture book review

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (Philomel/Penguin)

The Hungry Caterpillar is 40 years old! To celebrate the anniversary of the little caterpillar that started it all, March 20, 2009 has been designated "The Very Hungry Caterpillar Day." This is the day everyone is encouraged to read and enjoy again the antics of this wonderful creature, remembering that each of us has certain things that are unique just to us. The caterpillar can be enjoyed in a new pop-up book, in a book and memory game book, coloring books, board books and tapes. Over 29 million copies have sold worldwide in 45 languages.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Becoming Billie Holiday -- book review

Becoming Billie Holiday by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper (WordSong/ Boyds Mills Press, 2009)
Billie Holiday aka Eleanora Fagan, was probably one of the greatest jazz singers of all times. Yet she came by this greatness 'through the back door': fatherless, often in orphanages, poor, being turned away from hotels and restaurants because of her 'color,' and being mistreated by the men in her life. She performed and recorded in limited tours with bands like Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington. In this tribute to Holiday, renowned poet Carole Boston Weatherford, has written narrative poems each representing one of the songs Holiday had performed successful through 23 years, when she was just "becoming" a star. Says Weatherford, "The young woman who speaks through these poems is Billie Holiday before heroin and hard living took their toll." (Cooper's sepia-toned artwork is "created with a subrative technique, using erasers to make shapes from a ground of paint. The shapes were then enhanced with mixed media, mostly oil based, layered ina dray brush fashion") Both poetry and art is an extraordinary combination. * 2007 Honor Book - Coretta Scott King Award.
(for mature young adult and adult readers)

Sandy's Circus -- picture book review

Sandy's Circus by Tanya Lee Stone illustrated by Boris Kulikov (Viking 2009)

This is the story of Alexandeer Calder, the inventor of the mobile. His early works were wire circus animals and figures and "were always in motion." Today he is known as "one of the mosts imporant American artist of the twnetieth century". The bright stylized art is a tribute to the wonders of this man who man sculptures around the world. The author has included a complete bibliography for added study. (all ages)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Calder Game - book review

The Calder Game by Blue Balliett (Scholastic 2008)
When Calder Pillay goes to England with his father, he is able to explore all kinds of puzzles and mazes. In the courtyard of the village where they stay, there is an Alexander Calder sculpture (the exhibit Calder has seen in Chicago). But when the Sculpture and Calder both disappear, there is a mystery to be solved. Mr. Pillay brings in Calder's two friends to help with the problem. Tommy and Petra both have been part of two previous books by Balliett, ("Chasing Vermeer" and "The Wright 3") where mysteries were solved by the young sleuths. In the first one of Vermeer's paintings is involved and in the second one of Frank Lloyd Wrights' homes. Young readers ages 10- 15 will enjoy the intuition of the sleuths as well as the continued look at Calder Pillay's work with pentominoes. * An exhibit of Alexander Calder's famous works is at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City through February.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Hunger Games - book review

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic, 2008)

Katniss is a sixteen-year-old girl living with her younger sister and mother in the poorest of the twelve districts of Panem, the remains of what used to be the United States. The districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in a television reality game, Hunger Games. Kat's sister draws the lottery for their district but Kat steps in to go in her place. The rules and audiences change as the games proceed but the outcome never does; fight to the death. Kat has to not only defeat the other entries from the districts but also the boy, Peeta, from her own; whom she has learned to care for as the games go on. The idea and popularity of reality tv makes this an interesting read and the pace of the adventure is one to keep you up reading all night! Because of the idea of human-against-human violence, "The Hunger Games" is best for older readers. Although Collins intends this as a trilogy, I was perfectly pleased and thrilled with the adventure of one book, standing alone.
For a complete review see Deseret News 2/8/09 (

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Disappeared - book review

The Disappeared by Gloria Whelan (Dial)

Argentina, like many South American countries has had much governmental unrest. "The Disappeared" is an account of one family during the turmoil of 1977 when armed juntas snatched protesting citizens, jailed and tortured them. In this story, told in alternating chapters by a sister and her brother, a young man is jailed and his sister schemes to have him released by feigning attention to the General's son. She, too, is jailed but when their doctor father saves the life of the General, the family is free, are spirited out of Argentina, exiled to Spain. Whelan notes that hundreds of Desaparedicos were never returned and have never been heard of again. (for readers 12 and up)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Sovay - book review

Sovay by Celia Rees (Bloomsbury, 2008)
Take a combination of Les Miserable, Robin Hood, and the pathos of Dickens and you have the format for Sovay; a French Revolutionary tale set in France and Britain. Savoy, dressed as a boy, turns highwayman to steal documents which suggest her father's wanted for seditious acts. This is a breath-taking adventure filled with patriots, soldiers and fearless citizens trying to free themselves from tyranny. Because of the length (404 pages) and the historical details of war in both countries, "Sovay" is best for older readers, 14 and above.
For a complete review see Deseret News 2/1/09 (

Friday, December 26, 2008

Chalice -- book review

Chalice by Robin McKinley (Putnam)
Mirasol is appointed as Chalice to assist the new Master, an outblood, whose job it is to heal the demesne. Since Mirasol is a Chalice of honey, she learns the uses of spring water, herbs and honey to bind the earthlines which she hopes to heal the land and the people. McKinley's links to earth is obvious here. Beautifully written in mystical tones.
Readers 12 and up.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Way We Work - picture book review

The Way We Work by David Macaulay (Houghton)
Over three-hundred pages explain how the human body looks inside and out. Large clearly detailed and labeled drawings make this an encyclopedia for readers from elementary through junior high.
Also watch for Macaulay's two volumes of The Way Things Work. As in the others, he shows the inner-workings of dozens of machines and electrical instruments. (I never knew what a carburetor in my car was or what it did until I looked at one in the first volume!) These are both wonderful gifts for "guys" who like to dabble with woodworking and electricity.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Boy in Striped Pajamas - book review

The Boy in Striped Pajamas by John Boyne (Random)
Set at the time of the Holocaust, 9-year-old Bruno tells about the barbed-wire fences at "Out-With" under the dictatorship of "The Fury." Young readers (10 and up) will get the allusions to the real names based on a terrible chapter in history. Now a movie tie-in.

The Queen of Style -- picture book review

The Queen of Style by Caralyn and Mark Buehner (Dial)

When the queen becomes bored she starts her own beauty-salon. She "styles" all her subjects and the animals, too. This picture book will bring giggles to young readers with a "read it again !" clamor.

A Curse Dark as Gold - book review

A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce (Scholastic)
A re-telling of the Rumpelstiltskin tale. In this, Charlotte Miller finds a way to save the mill by bargaining to make straw into gold. The villagers, who depend on the mill for their livelihood find they may not only lose the mill but their own lives. Filled with suspense and mystery this is an exciting adventure for readers 10 and up.