Monday, January 28, 2013

Family Pack

Family Pack
By Sandra Markle; illustrated by Alan Marks
32 pages; ages 6 -9
Charlesbridge, 2011

A young gray wolf, trapped in Canada, is taken from the wolf pack that was her family and released into Yellowstone Park. Now, writes Sandra Markle, “she roams, like a castaway, in a land that is pure unknown.”

The only wolf tracks that she sees are her own; the only howl she hears is her own voice. She must learn to hunt on her own. The young wolf survives on mice, eventually learning to hunt the old and weak elk and deer in the park.
Eventually she meets a young male and they create a new pack – their family pack. Markle brings this true story to life and provides lots of resources and wolf facts for curious readers. With pen, pencil and a few watercolor brush strokes Alan Marks creates warm, detailed images. 

 Check out other great nonfiction today at the Nonfiction Monday gathering, hosted today by Laura Salas. Review copy provided by publisher.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Schmutzy Family

The Schmutzy Family
by Madelyn Rosenberg; illus by Paul Meisel
32 pages; ages 3 - 5
Holiday House, 2012

“First thing Sunday morning the Schmutzys rolled up their jeans and went wading in the malodorous Feldman Swamp.” What’s not to like about a book that starts like that?

With a name like Schmutzy, you expect the kids in this family to get muddy. Even Mama Schmutzy and dad get in on the mud-pie baking, painting, makeup experimentation, wallpaper redecoration and cow-pie leaping. But come Friday, Mama Schmutzy raises her eyebrows and smacks her forehead.

“Oy! Look at this dirt! You’re Farshtunken, all of you!” It’s nearly Shabbos … can the family clean up and get ready for the Sabbath dinner before the sun sets?

I love the language – the sprinkling of Yiddish words – and the combination of India ink, watercolor, acrylic, pencil and pastel illustrations that are integral to the story. And I love the freedom Mama Schmutzy allows her family to explore, discover, create and be messy. But most of all, I love the frogs in the kitchen sink!

Theme: preparing for the Sabbath
Beyond the book: Stomp through icy puddles. Slide down the driveway on your butt and toss snowballs at the tree. Fill spray bottles with colored water and paint the snow. Then dry off, clean up and make some Raisin Challah , a yummy bread specially baked for the Sabbath.

This 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 F&G  provided by the publisher.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Alice Coachman Had a Dream

Queen of the Track: Alice Coachman, Olympic High-Jump Champion
By Heather Lang; illus. by Floyd Cooper
40 pages, ages 5 and up
Boyds Mills Press, 2012
“Alice Coachman was born to run and jump,” writes Heather Lang. “…Alice skipped through the fields. She hopped on rocks, She vaulted over anything that got in her way.” But in the 1930’s, running and jumping weren’t considered very ladylike. And besides, Alice had lots of chores to do after school. But she found time to run.

Alice grew up in the South at a time when black people didn’t have the same rights as white people. There were no parks or gyms or tracks where Alice could practice running and jumping – but she didn’t let that stop her. She ran barefoot on dirt roads. She collected sticks and tied rags together to make her own high jumps. Because Alice had a dream… she wanted to run in the Olympics.

With a record-breaking leap, Alice became the first African-American woman to win an Olympic gold medal. This is her story – the story of a girl who dreamed of running and who never took her eyes off the prize. Alice once told a New York Times reporter, “When the going gets tough and you feel like throwing your hands in the air, listen to that voice that tells you, ‘Keep going. Hang in there.’ Guts and determination will pull you through.”

Check out photos of Alice here. And check out other books that celebrate nonfiction at Nonfiction Monday, hosted this week by TheLibrariYAn. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, January 18, 2013

How Do you Take a Bath in the Desert?

Desert Baths
By Darcy Pattison; illus. by Kathleen Rietz
32 pages, ages 4 – 8
Sylvan Dell Publishing, 2012

Deserts are dry places – so how do the animals living there clean themselves off? After all, everyone needs a bath now and then.

Darcy Pattison shows how twelve different animals get rid of dirt, dust, grime and parasites – and takes us on a tour of the desert habitat through a typical day. She opens with a turkey vulture awaiting dawn so it can begin the day with a sunbath. Tiny hummingbirds preen with dewdrops, while roadrunners shake off after a dust bath. Some moms use their tongues to groom their young, while others make do with a spit bath. All accompanied by Kathleen Rietz’s gorgeous paintings.

Pattison includes six pages of activities and desert details in the “creative minds” section at the back. There are fun facts – did you know that parts of the Atacama Desert in South America haven’t had any rain in 100 years? There’s a matching game, learning to tell time by the sun, and some “food for thought” questions. Taken altogether, it’s no mystery that this book was listed by the National Science Teacher Association as one of 2013’s “Outstanding Science Trade Books”.

The other week I caught up with Darcy long enough to ask her Three Questions about her book.

What inspired you to write about how animals take baths on the desert?

Darcy: When I learned about “Anting” – it’s such a bizarre way of cleaning feathers. Scientists say that the formic acid from the crushed ants will help control parasites. Also, several years ago while camping in the Boston Mountains of Arkansas, I headed out on an early morning walk. It was chilly and a group of vultures sat in the tiptop of trees, spreading their wings to warm up.
What sort of research did you do for this book?
Darcy: I wanted to balance the types of animals – those active in the daytime as well as those active at night. I really wanted to add a spider, but they just don't have skin that needs to be cleaned. The tarantula, a great desert species, molts – it sheds off its old exoskeleton for a new one as it grows. But that didn't seem quite right for a book on baths. With the hummingbird, I’d read a study mentioning how they take dew baths, and then verified that with a couple of scientists.

How exactly does an animal get clean with a mud or dust-bath? And have you tried one?
Darcy: We think of baths as something that keeps us dirt-free. But at one time, humans were plagues with fleas, lice (in the hair) and other parasites, the likes of which still plague wild animals. Dirt baths can take care of those parasites.
Darcy hasn’t taken a dust bath or wallowed in the mud, but she says she’ll try it… some day. Drop by Darcy’s website to learn more about desert baths and see a video that children helped make about their take on the book. And head over to STEM Friday to check out more great science/tech/math resources.  Review copy provided by publisher.

Monday, January 14, 2013


By Eric A. Kimmel
160 pages, ages 8-12
Holiday House, 2012
Omar wants a snake. It’s a perfect pet: it’s clean, it doesn’t shed, and it doesn’t take up much room. There’s only one problem: Omar’s mom is deathly afraid of snakes. Still, after some negotiating and signing his name to an iron-clad contract (the snake will NOT escape!), Omar’s mom gives her approval.

It won’t be a python or an anaconda… Omar’s done his research and knows he wants something smallish and friendly. A corn snake.Once mom agrees, he needs to figure out where to keep his snake (more research) and where to get it. While some may feel the story gets bogged down in the research, I found it intriguing – maybe because I live with a guy who raised snakes when he was a kid… Soon enough we’re introduced to the Snake Dude, get a quick lesson in snake breeding, and I learn something new- corn snakes come in many colors and patterns.

Omar takes his snake, "Arrow", home and all goes well. At least until mom discovers baby mice in her clean kitchen and Arrow escapes. The tale picks up its pace as Omar races to find his snake before it finds his mom.

Keeping the great snake escape a secret is made harder by the never-ending questions from his curious little sister. But with the help of his friend, Omar comes up with some snake-hunting strategies. His mom does get a bit suspicious when Omar offers to vacuum the house – but accepts his explanation that it’s so she can give his buddy a painting lesson.

Just when Omar is ready to come clean and confess that Arrow has escaped, the snake makes an unexpected – and nearly tragic appearance. Who knew a harmless herp could cause such trouble?

Omar learns something about his mom, his mom learns something about herself, and readers will learn a whole lot about how to - and how not to- raise a snake.

This is part of Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday! Noting the snake science incorporated into the book, the National Science Teacher's Association listed Hiss-s-s-s! as an Outstanding Science Trade Book for 2013. Check out more cool reviews for kids here. Review copy from publisher.