Friday, November 17, 2017

The Journey that Saved Curious George

The Journey that Saved Curious George
by Louise Borden; illus. by Allan Drummond
96 pages; ages 7 - 10
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016 (reprinted)

Eight-year-old Hans A. Reyerback loved to visit the zoo. He would imitate the sounds of animals, and loved to draw the animals. After serving in the German Army (WWI) he traveled to Brazil where he wore a broad hat and watched monkeys along the Amazon.

Margaret Waldstein loved art and studied photography. When Hitler came to power, life changed in Germany so she eventually traveled to Brazil. She was seeking new work and adventure and had heard that an old family friend (Hans) was living in Rio.

They teamed up as artists, eventually married, and traveled to Paris. They planned to visit for 2 weeks; they stayed for 4 years. In 1939 they began working on a story about a very curious monkey. That year war broke out. Paper was scarce and typesetters had joined the army. And war was marching closer! They had to flee Paris on bicycles, sleeping in barns, and narrowly escaping the bombing.

As refugees, waiting for visas, they were questioned by officials: what were the papers they were carrying? Were they spies? No, just writers.... Four months later they arrived in New York City and after another year they published the first book of many about Curious George.

What I like about this book: Adventure! Danger! Escape from Nazis! and Curious George! It's got history and mystery and biography all rolled into one exciting story. 

Review copy provided by publisher.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Two Wild Adventures, mostly true

themes: adventure, history

The Wildest Race Ever
by Meghan McCarthy
48 pages; ages 4-8
Simon & Schuster, 2016

The first Olympic marathon held in America happened on august 30, 1904, in Saint Louis, Missouri. It was part of the World's Fair exhibition.

Thirty-two runners started that day, representing the US, South Africa, Cuba, France, Greece, and Newfoundland (now part of Canada). The first American Indian to run in Olympic Games was there, from the Seneca Nation. It was hot, and the cars carrying judges, doctors, and reporters stirred up so much dust that racers had a hard time breathing!

What I like about this book: Meghan McCarty tells stories about individual runners - like the guy who stole peaches from a car, and the runner who was chased a mile off course by an angry dog. It's a true story, so there's a couple of pages of back matter - and you know how much I like back matter!

A Voyage in the Clouds
by Matther Olshan; illus. by Sophie Blackall
40 pages; ages 4-8
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2016

This book is subtitled: the (Mostly) true story of the first international flight by balloon in 1785. It tells the story of Dr. John Jeffries, an Englishman, and his pilot, Jean-Pierre Blanchard, a Frenchman, to be the first to fly from one country to another.

There's only one problem: they can't stand each other!
Okay, there are a lot of problems. They lose tools. They lose altitude. They lose their tempers.

What I like about this book: It's FUN! I like the dialog balloons that reveal their bickering. I like that they had to pee over the side to lighten the balloon so they wouldn't crash land. And I really like the notes in the back matter that clarify what's fact in this very imaginative story.

Beyond the Books: 

What would it be like to balloon across the English Channel? Here's a tale about two guys who recreated the trip of Jeffries and Blanchard.

Build a "hot air" balloon using helium party balloons, a plastic grocery bag, and a paper cup. Put two balloons into the plastic bag. Tie a ribbon from each handle of the plastic bag and attach the paper cup. Fill it up with pennies and send it on a journey around the house.

Run - or walk - a marathon. A marathon is a bit over 26 miles. Elite runners can finish in just over two hours; walkers take 8 hours or longer. Why not do your own marathon, but a couple miles a day? Plot out a two-mile loop (if you walk a mile to school, that's perfect). Then draw a race course on a sheet of paper and mark it off into 26 squares. Each day, color in a square for each mile you run or walk. When you finish your marathon, give yourself a gold medal.

Today is 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 from publishers.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Mountain Chef

Mountain Chef: How one man lost his groceries...
by Annette Bay Pimentel; illus. by Rich Lo
40 pages; ages 6-9
Charlesbridge, 2016

themes: Exploration! Adventure! Food!

Tie Sing was a frontier baby, born high in the mountains in Virginia City, Nevada.

America was a tough place to be Chinese when Tie Sing was growing up. Chinese workers were paid less than white workers, and many people with Chinese names ended up cooking in restaurants or working in laundries. But Tie Sing had BIG dreams. He got a job  cooking for mapmakers as they explored and mapped the Sierras. And he got a reputation as the best trail cook around.

So when a party of Congressmen and others who interested in creating a National Park Service hired him as their trail cook, Tie Sing wanted to fix them meals that would make them remember the beauty of the peaks. No s'mores for this crew; it was English plum pudding with brandy sauce, eggs for breakfast, box lunches, and sourdough starter in the saddle bags for dinner loaves.

What I like about this book: I love camping and hiking, and the National Parks! I enjoyed Annette Pimentel's depiction of Tie Sing - he really worked hard to plan menus and pack ingredients. I like that she shows a typical day in the life of a trail chef. And that she includes the obstacles Tie Sing has to overcome - like when a mule wanders away with the food and he has to improvise a simple (yet elegant) meal. The words and illustrations take us on the journey with Tie Sing.

I also like the back matter - and there is plenty: information about immigration, how Tie Sing kept his food from going bad, and short biographies of the people who went on the expedition. End papers feature maps of the journey.

Beyond the Book:
Make some granola for your next camping trip; it also makes a good "carry along" breakfast for when you're traveling.

Learn more about our National Parks - and if you have the chance to visit one, do it.

Take a virtual hike up Sing Peak - here is a map, and wonderful photos of what you would see if you were hiking there. During a rest break - while you catch your breath - read up on the history of Tie Sing and the adventurous Mather Party.

Today is 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 from the publisher.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Hurrah for Heroines!

The Book of Heroines: Tales of History's Gutsiest Gals
by Stephanie Warren Drimmer
176 pages; ages 8-12
National Geographic Children's Books, 2017

This book is chock-full of Leading Ladies, Daring Dames, Gritty Girls, Peace Heroines, Legendary Ladies, and a few outstanding non-human heroines. These strong girls don't wear capes or have superpowers. But they do share seven qualities, writes Stephanie Drimmer.

How to Identify a Heroine:
  1. Heroines step up when help is needed.
  2. They are brave. They do the right thing no matter how scared they are.
  3. They're confident, even when folks say "you can't do that." 
  4. They put others first.
  5. Heroines do the right thing.
  6. They face risk - which means they act even when doing so means they might be called names, or face danger.
  7. And when the going get tough, they don't quit.
So who are these real-life heroines Drimmer profiles? One is Eleanor Roosevelt who became the First Lady when F.D.R. was elected President in 1932. She held press conferences and wrote a column about her opinions on social and political issues. She used her position to give a  voice to people who didn't have one: women, children, African Americans, and the poor. She challenged stereotypes.

One section highlights women who led nations: Golda Meir, Angela Merkel, Margaret Thatcher, Cleopatra. Another introduces athletes. Within the pages are stories of code breakers, warriors, journalists, business leaders, pilots, and explorers. There are profiles of courageous peace-makers, like Malala Yousafzai and Rigoberta Menchu Tum. And there are scientists and inventors.

These women pushed against barriers, saved lives, and discovered new worlds. They're the sort of heroes you'd like any child to meet. Review copy from publisher.

Friday, October 20, 2017

John Ronald's Dragons

John Ronald's Dragons, a J.R.R. Tolkien Story
by Caroline McCallister; illus. by Eliza Wheeler
48 pages; ages 4-8
Roaring Brook Press, 2017

themes: biography, imagination, dragons

John Ronald was a boy who loved horses. And trees, And strange sounding words.

But most of all, John Ronald loved dragons.

If you have a kid who loves dragons, you'll understand this. John Ronald grew up hearing stories about knights and dragons. He and his cousin made up their own language, but he never found dragons. Even when he went to war - and that's where he certainly could have used the help of dragons! So John Ronald went into teaching. And then one day, while grading papers, he started writing: "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit."

What I like about this book: It's fun to read. I like that John Ronald had no idea what a hobbit was, but followed him into a story that led him over mountains, beyond the ridges, east of the sun and west of the moon to the land where ... DRAGONS! I also like that the author and illustrator include notes at the end explaining more about Tolkien's life and inspiration for the illustrations.

Beyond the book:

Learn about hobbits! If you haven't read any of JRR Tolkien's books, at least read The Hobbit.Pay attention to their homes, what they wear, food they eat. These are important details.

How many kinds of Dragons are there? Like other reptiles, there is great diversity. You may want to make a poster showing all the various kinds of dragons there are or have been in the world.

Get to know dragons in the real world. Here's a National Geographic article that tells about seven existing "dragons".

Do dragons dance? Chinese New Year celebrations include dragon dances. If you were creating a dragon dance, what would it look like?

Today is 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 ARC from publisher.

Friday, October 13, 2017

All the Way to Havana


All the Way to Havana
by Margarita Engle; illustrated by Mike Curato
40 pages; ages 4-8
Henry Holt Books for young readers, 2017

themes: family, cars, diversity

We have a gift, and we have a cake, and today we're going to drive all the way to the big city to see my new baby cousin.

This is the story about a boy and his family driving to Havana, Cuba in their old family car. When she rattles and shakes like a chicken, papa pops the hood and with a twist and a tinker and a bit of twine gets her back in shape. Then it's off to Havana - well, got to give the neighbors a ride. But then it's off to Havana!

What I like love about this book: The sounds! So many car sounds, from clunks and clucks to pio pio, taka taka, and a whole lot more zooms and growls. It makes you think, "Hey! that's what MY car sounds like!" I like the repetition of the phrase, "we have a gift, and we have a cake..." I like the way he boy and his father use tools at hand to repair car problems, even inventing their own solution. And I love that Margarita uses her author's note to tell more about why these old American cars are on the island. Plus, if you have a car-loving kid, the end pages are filled with antiques: 1950 Chevy 3100 pickup, 1959 Ford Thunderbird, and my favorite - 1953 Chevy 210 series (a lot like my family's first car).

Beyond the Book:

Make a list of the sounds cars and trucks make in your area. Not just on the road, but when they're starting up, and stopped at a light. Don't forget to include a car you ride in frequently. Need inspiration? Here's a library of sounds, and here's the "Car Noise Emporium" from Car Talk.

Go to an old car show. The guys with old cars around here have a meet-up every month down in town and anyone can walk by to look at the cars. They raise the hoods and vroom the engines. OR find some books or online sites that have photos of old cars from the 1940s and 1950s. 

Build a car out of cucumbers, candy bars, or other food you can easily obtain. Think about what makes a good axle and wheels. Test it going down an inclined plane. Then challenge your friends to a race. Here's a fun video of an edible car competition.

Check out this post by Margarita Engle on writing books that cross borders.

Today is 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 from publisher.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Two Cool Science Guys

It's not every day I get two well-known science guys to hang out on my blog. So today I'd like you to welcome Alexander Graham Bell and Sir Isaac Newton. Granted, they lived 200 years apart, but book magic brings them alive today.

Themes: nonfiction, science, invention

Alexander Graham Bell Answers the Call
by Mary Ann Fraser
32 pages; ages 6-9
Charlesbridge, 2017

From the beginning, the world all around spoke to Alexander Graham Bell. And he listened.

He listened to the hustle and bustle of traffic on the streets, and the sound of the wind blowing through wheat. And because his father was a speech therapist and worked at home, Alec listened to the sounds and chants of the students. Which may have influenced his work as a teacher for the deaf, and his desire to invent a way for people to communicate over long distances.

What I like about this book: I love that the end papers show the history of the telephone and the informative charts Mary Fraser drops into the text (one shows how the ear works). And I like how she shows him growing up within a family where hearing and deafness were part of their lives. Fraser shows Alec discovering vibrations and then putting his discovery to use to communicate with his mom. What I like most of all is that the invention of the telephone took time and met with failures along the way. But Alec didn't give up.

Newton's Rainbow
by Kathryn Lasky; illus. by Kevin Hawkes
48 pages; ages 4-8
Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2017

On Christmas Day over three hundred years ago, in a village in England, a baby was born too early.

He was so tiny that no one expected him to live. But he did, and he was immensely curious. While a student, he boarded with the village apothecary. The shelves in the shop were crammed full of jars with fluids and powders, spiderwebs, and leeches. This is where he learned chemistry.

One day he was in a jumping competition. Being small, he waited for an extra-strong gust of wind to give him the boost he needed to get the longest jump. So he began his study of physics. He carved sundials, made models, and spent his days thinking - even when he was supposed to do farm work!

What I like about this book: It takes us right inside of Newton's life and times. Kathryn Lasky tells us straight out what's true and what's "story". There was an apple, she says, and it did indeed fall - but probably not on Newton's noggin. She helps us see his thought process as he experiments with light and gravity.

Beyond the books:
Make your own telephone. All you need are plastic cups, string, paperclips, and a sharp pencil. Here's how to do it.

Test sound waves with a spoon and some string (and maybe a ruler, too). Easy-to-follow instructions and even some ideas for further investigation here.

Create a water prism to break sunlight into the colors of the rainbow. All you need is a bowl of water, a small mirror, a sheet of paper, and a sunny window. Here's how to do it.

Check out more biographies of scientists over at Archimedes Notebook.

Today we're joining the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. We're also joining others over at 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 from the publishers.