Monday, April 14, 2014

Prisoner 88

Prisoner 88
by Leah Pileggi
144 pages; ages 10 -14
Charlesbridge, 2013

“Back before I shot Mr. Bennett, most every day was ‘bout the same.” How can you resist a first line like that? Jake Oliver Evans, at the age of ten, is sentenced to five years for shooting a man who threatened to kill his father.

The year is 1885 and Jake, now an inmate at the Idaho Territorial Penitentiary, is faced with being on his own and figuring out how to survive amongst the company of older, hardened criminals. Being put on bread and water – that’s something Jake can handle. But when the warden determines that Jake needs to learn how to read, well that’s real punishment. Fortunately, he’s had some experience working with hogs, so when a local hog farmer needs a ranch hand, Jake is sent over.

There’s plenty of adventure, an attempted prison-break, and more than you ever want to know about hogs. Best of all… this story is based on an actual incident reported in The Idaho Register, a newspaper out of Eagle Rock, Idaho. You can check out photos of the old prison at Leah Pileggi’swebsite.

 Today is also Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday round-up. Drop by to see what other bloggers are reviewing. Review copy provided by publisher.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Celebrating Swamps

Two fun books arrived in my mailbox recently - both about swamps and gators. And food chains.
Theme: animals, nonfiction

Swamp Chomp
by Lola M. Schaefer; illus by Paul Meisel
32 pages; ages 4-8
Holiday House, 2014

Opening: "In the swamp... water ripples. Mosquitoes flit. Sit. Dragonflies swoop. Dip..." Animals flit, glide, and swim through the swamp in search of their next meal. But look out - because the alligator is always ready to chomp. The language in this book offers a full-course meal of active verbs that will have children gulping, chomping, and swallowing their next meal at the dining room table.

The Swamp Where Gator Hides
by Marianne Berkes; illus by Roberta Baird
32 pages; ages 3 - 8
Dawn Publications, 2014

Opening: "This is the algae that carpets the swamp where Gator hides.
This is the duck who paddles in ooze under the algae that carpets the swamp...." This is the book that shows you the food chain made up of the animals in and around the swam where Gator hides. Why is Gator hiding? Because he's camouflaged, lying in wait for prey - and when his dinner shows up he'll attack!

What I like about both books: What a FUN way to learn about food chains. In Swamp Chomp it's the active language that breathes life into the predator/prey relationship. The Swamp where Gator Hides builds cumulatively like "the house that Jack built" - until the surprise at the end. Both books have end-notes to help parents (and older siblings) answer the endless stream of questions that always comes when reading about alligators.

Beyond the books: Act out the verbs in Swamp Chomp. Pull a sock over your hand and turn it into an alligator - then have fun gulping and munching your way through a swampy food chain.

Make a Snake out of the letter S. This is a fun way to explore the alphabet - and might lead to some discussion about what other animals start with "S".

Make a paper plate tortoise - you can find instructions here.

 Drop by STEM Friday to see what other science books and resources bloggers are sharing. Today's review is also part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday), an event in which bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. Review copies provided by publishers.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Elan, Son of Two Peoples

Elan, Son of Two Peoples
by Heidi Smith Hyde; illus by Mikela Prevost
32 pages; ages 8-10
Kar-Ben publishing, 2014

The year is 1898 and Elan has just turned 13. In his home of San Francisco he has chanted from the Torah as a Bar Mitzvah. Now he is on the train with his family, heading to Albuquerque. There, in his mother's ancestral home, Elan will take part in the Pueblo ceremony celebrating his coming of age. 

On the mesa Elan reads the Torah again. He wears the prayer shawl that his mother has woven, with symbols from both cultures: a Star of David, the Ten Commandments, a stalk of corn, an oak tree. Later, dressed in a tunic and leggings, he and his father follow the elders into the ceremonial kiva. He emerges later, with his face painted yellow and covered with eagle feathers. With others, Elan flaps his wings and pivots in the Eagle Dance.

What I love about this book - besides the soft sandstone colors of the paintings -  are the words Elan's mother says when she gives him the prayer shawl: "Remember, you are the son of two proud nations whose roots are as sturdy and deep as this oak tree." I also love the historical notes at the back of the book. While many East European Jewish immigrants settled in New York, some headed west. One of those adventurers, says the author, settled in New Mexico, opened a trading post, and married an Acoma woman. They celebrated their son's coming of age in both cultures.

Many cultures celebrate coming of age for young women as well as their young men. Here is a video of the Mescalero Apache coming-of-age ritual.  

I realize this book is fiction, but it's so nicely grounded in history and culture that it would be a great book to pair up with an informational text on different cultures or coming of age celebrations. For some more traditional nonfiction head over to the Nonfiction Monday blog. Review copy provided by publisher.

Friday, April 4, 2014

How to Wash a Woolly Mammoth

How to Wash a Woolly Mammoth
by Michelle Robinson; illus by Kate Hindley
32 pages; ages 3-8
Henry Holt & Co, 2014 

It's the first day of spring - so it's probably time to wash your mammoth.

Theme: tackling a big project

"Does your woolly mammoth need a bath? You'll need to prepare!" This book offers a cheeky step-by-step guide to washing a woolly mammoth:
Step 1. Fill the bathtub.
Step 2. Add bubble bath.
Step 3. Add your mammoth.... and this is where the fun begins. Because, really, how does one get one's mammoth into the tub?

Never fear - by step 7 we're washing its hair. And then in step 8 we - wait a minute! How did your mammoth get into that tree? Never mind... to get a wet woolly mammoth down from a tree all you need is a trampoline. A really strong trampoline.

What I like about this book: It's fun! It's imaginative. And it offers very good minimally useful tips on washing your average household pet. I like the illustrations, too. They are whimsical and mud-splattered and tickle the imagination.

Activities beyond the book:

Make a mammoth puppet out of a paper bag. All you need are scissors, some paper, markers and glue... and a bit of imagination. Glue on fur or yarn for hair if you want - there are some cool hair styles in the book.

Listen to what a mammoth may have sounded like - as an artist tries to resurrect extinct sound.

Write step-by-step directions for how to do something  - wash a car, build a fort, create a map of your universe - or just make a s'more.

Today's review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday), an event in which bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. Review copy provided by publisher.

Monday, March 31, 2014

WEASELS ~ they're plotting to take over the World!

by Elys Dolan
32 pages; ages 5-8
Candlewick Press, 2014
 Review copy provided by publisher.

Weasels spend most of their time chasing bunnies, eating berries and .... wait! What's this? They really drink coffee and spend their days plotting to take over the world?

Apparently so and, according to Elys Dolan, Today Is The Day. The weasels are at their world-taking-over machine ready for the countdown.

5 - 4 - 3 - 2 - 1 - oops! Suddenly everything goes dark. The machine is broken - and the remainder of the book is given over to the process of determining what went wrong and how to fix it. We see weasel engineers and weasel computer programmers and maintenance weasels and a weasel from the division of health and safety who enforces the regulations. Then there's the LABORATORY  where weasels work at counters covered with flasks and papers filled with complex mathematical equations.

But back at the machine, things are still in chaos! At least until someone finds the problem - with a solution so elegant it will make you think twice before calling tech support the next time you have a glitch in your computer.

This is such a fun book - with illustrations that beg for the same sort of attention you'd give Waldo or I Spy. Lest you think all weasels wear neckties, here's a video showing some more natural weasel behavior: a stoat (weasel) hunting.


Friday, March 28, 2014

Old MacDonald's (Urban) Farm

EIEIO: How Old MacDonald Got His Farm [with a Little Help from a Hen]
by Judy Sierra; illus. by Matthew Myers
32 pages; ages 4 - 8
Candlewick, 2014

Old MacDonald had a house. And around this house he had a yard – but mowing grass was not high on his list of “things I love to do”. So MacDonald decided to get a goat to keep the grass short.

Then he got a chicken. Not just any chicken, but the “smartest hen in history”. She convinces MacDonald to cover his lawn with cardboard and paper, and top it off with a layer of dirt. In short: a garden. The hen decides a bit of manure is needed to add nutrients for the vegetables…. but the neighbors Are Not Amused.

So begins the legend of Old MacDonald’s (urban) farm… e-i-e-i-oh! A fun book, to be sure. Give it, with a package of seeds, to your young readers and see what happens.
Review copy from publisher.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Charlie Bumpers Returns - blog tour

Charlie Bumpers vs. the Really Nice Gnome
by Bill Harley
160 pages; ages 7-10
Peachtree Publishers, 2014

For their special project, Charlie’s class isn’t designing an obstacle course – Mrs. L’s class is doing that. His class isn’t serving lunch with foods from around the world – Ms. Lewis’s class is doing that.

Charlie’s class is presenting a play – and Charlie knows exactly what part he wants. In fact he’s been practicing his evil laugh for days. But when Mrs. Burke calls her thespians to order, Charlie doesn’t see his name next to the Evil sorcerer Kragon. Nope – he’s got the part of the Nice Gnome.

“If I had to make a list of parts I did not want in the Sorcerer’s Castle, the Nice Gnome would be at the very top,” thinks Charlie.  Now he has to make a costume with a pointy hat and golden shoes… and gnome pants. And get over the fact that his friend gets to do the evil mwa-ha-ha laugh on stage.

To make it worse his sister, the Squid, wants to walk the dog (she’s too small) and his brother just makes fun of Guh-nice Guh-nomes. And the killer rabbit escapes from its cage.

Storyteller Bill Harley (who also sings funny songs) entertains us with a second volume of tales of Charlie Bumper, focusing on the big worries and small victories that fill a fourth grader's world. But there's more - Charlie has his own blog, where you can get the recipe for his favorite food (train wreck) and see the trailer for this book.

Join the Blog Tour and drop by tomorrow's stop at  The World of Peachtree Publishing. Today is also Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday round-up. Drop by to see what other bloggers are reviewing. Review copy provided by publisher.