Friday, February 28, 2014

The Cuckoo's Haiku

The Cuckoo's Haiku and other Birding Poems
by Michael J. Rosen; illus by Stan Fellows
64 pages; ages 5 and up
Candlewick Press, 2009

Themes: animals, nature, poetry 

wild turkeys' snow tracks
their arrows point us one way
they go the other 

This book is better than a bird guide! It's a haiku field notebook in which Michael Rosen captures the essential characteristics of twenty-four common North American birds. His spare observations are complemented by the gorgeous watercolor illustrations by Stan Fellows - who details everything from field markings to habitat.

What I love about this book: I like the way it is structured - by the seasons. It opens with spring, and the Eastern Bluebird.

on a staff of wires
blue notes inked from April skies
truly, springs first song

In addition to haiku, Rosen includes field notes: the chestnut throat and breast; the males are darker and brighter blue; that bluebirds are thrushes, related to robins. Fellows paints them perched on electrical wires like notes on a staff which, if I could read music, I could play on my recorder. What tune has he hidden in this illustration?

a summer spread, featuring the Pileated Woodpecker and insect prey
I like the details in the artwork - from showing the insects that the woodpeckers seek to wing bars, crests, and feather details. Each spread becomes a field trip into the world of that bird. At the back of the book, Rosen includes five pages of notes about the birds he features: their mating behavior, food preferences, flight and other things that curious bird-watchers will want to know. 

Beyond the book: Write some bird haiku of your own. Spend time watching the birds at your feeder, or perched on a clothesline, or sipping water from a puddle in the parking lot at the grocery store. Start by drawing or jotting notes on the things you notice about this bird: feathers, crest, color of its beak or feet, whether it has a chin strap, eyebrows or wing bars. What is it doing? Where is it? What is the season and the weather? 

Check out more haiku activities here. And head over to Archimedes Notebook today to check out a brand-new book about feathers and do some hands-on science activities. Drop by STEM Friday to see what other science books and resources bloggers are sharing. 

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.

On Monday we'll fly over to join the Nonfiction Monday round-up, where you'll find all kinds of great nonfiction for children and teens.  Review copy borrowed from a library.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Famous Last Words

Famous Last Words
by Jennifer Salvato Doktorski
288 pages; ages 12 - 18
Henry Holt & Co, 2013

Sixteen-year-old Samantha D'Angelo has a "dead-end" job - she's spending her summer internship writing obituaries at the local newspaper. She could be swimming, or hanging out at the beach with her friends. Instead, she interviews next-of-kin and close friends of the deceased, hoping that someone (perhaps the editor) will notice her vivid prose.

Until she starts investigating the mayor and possible corruption. What's up with the coffee shop that never seems to have any customers?And how can she get Tony, one of the feature writers and "sexiest man alive" to notice her?

This is a fun, breezy romantic comedy that includes: stolen ideas, garage bands, and way too many coffee runs. A great book for the kid with journalistic aspirations who wants to know what life at a  small newspaper office is like. And the chapter titles are pretty fun... they all relate to the newspaper biz in some way.
 Today is Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday - and you'll find more good middle-grade and YA literature over at Shannon Messenger's blog. Review copy provided by publisher.

Friday, February 21, 2014

A Single Pebble

A Single Pebble
by Bonnie Christensen
40 pages; ages 3-7
Roaring Brook Press, 2013

Themes: adventure, diversity

It's 850 AD, and Mei wants to travel with her father along the Silk Road. She wants to meet the monks and pirates and travelers that her father tells stories of. But it's her job to stay home and take care of the silkworms.

So Mei gives her father a jade pebble. "A gift for a child at the end of the road," she says. "But I don't travel to the end of the road," says her father. Still, he carries it with him, passing it on to other travelers who pass it on to others until it eventually reaches a child at the end of the road.

What I Like about this book: the way it's structured around the seasons; the different kinds of people traveling the road; the pirates; the box full of treasures; the maps and notes and multi-sensory gifts that accumulate over the course of the story. Also the turtle swimming in the river and the illustrations. This book is a journey you can take over and over again - and see something new on the road each time you read the story.

Beyond the book: Imagine sending an object on a journey. Choose something you would send to another child. Now make a map of the journey it could take. If you want an "old" map, cut open a brown paper bag to draw on, and illustrate it with dragons and other imaginary beasts.

Listen to music from the Silk Road. You can sample some music and rhythms at the Smithsonian Folkways webpage. Try beating out some of the rhythms on a drum, or by clapping your hands. Try humming along with some of they tunes - they sure do use a different musical scale, don't they?

What did the Silk Road smell like? Find some cinnamon and nutmeg in your kitchen spice cupboard and smell them. Use some spices in your oatmeal or hot cocoa.

Visit the Asian Art collection at a museum near you - and pay particular attention to works of art from 500 - 900s. That's the sort of art that may have been traded along the Silk Road.

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, February 17, 2014

The Vine Basket

The Vine Basket
by Josanne La Valley
256 pages; ages 9 - 12
Clarion Books, 2013

Mehrigul lives in a village in northwest China. She is one of the Uyghur people, working on her family farm and selling produce at the local market. As much as Mehrigul loves her family and her home, she feels trapped. She wants to go to school, but can't because her brother - who would be working the farm - is hiding from the authorities. She wants to weave baskets with her grandfather, but has to hide them from her father who values practicality over art. And her biggest worry is that she will be sent to work in the factories in southern China.

Then one day at the market a foreigner buys one of Mehrigul's baskets. And the foreign lady asks Mehrigul to weave more. She'll return in three weeks. What an opportunity! If Mehrigul can make more baskets and sell them, then her family will have more opportunities. But one obstacle after another blocks her from weaving all the baskets she wants to.  Still, Mehrigul finds a way to embrace the artist within and shape her destiny.

This story was born from an experience Josanne La Valley had while traveling in northwest China. She was visiting local artists and, at one home, a young girl offered her a peach from the family orchard while La Valley watched the grandfather weave willow baskets. When La Valley learned that Uyghur girls were being forced to leave their homes to work in factories, she knew she had to tell a story. La Valley includes notes and a map in the back of the book for readers who want to know more about Uyghur culture.

Check out what other bloggers are reviewing for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday over at Shannon Messenger's blog. Review copy provided by publisher.

Friday, February 14, 2014

An Incredibly Boring Story..... about Delia's Dull Day

Delia's Dull Day - an incredibly boring story
by Andy Myer
32 pages; ages 4 - 6 years
Sleeping Bear Press, 2012

Nothing exciting ever happens to Delia. Take yesterday morning - nothing happened during breakfast except she spilled some milk. And on her way to the bus stop she passed by the same old houses that have always been there.

Poor Delia. If only she would stop texting and look up! Maybe she would see the  balloons drifting overhead, or the pirate at the back of the school bus or the.... I don't want to spoil it for you, but there is a dinosaur in there somewhere. And perhaps an alien.

I love Andy Myer's wacky storytelling and color-filled illustrations. This book might make you turn off facebook for a day and look over your shoulder before backing out of the driveway. What fun!

Review copy provided by library.

Monday, February 10, 2014

No Dogs Allowed!

No Dogs Allowed!
by Linda Ashman; illus by Kristin Sorra
32 pages; ages 3-8
Sterling Children's Books, 2011

This is a book of few words - with many of those words scribbled in chalk on a sign board. Alberto's City Lights Restaurant is open for the Early Bird Special! But when he sees a boy and his dog approach, he whips out his chalk and writes "No Dogs Allowed" on the slate board. When a girl and her cat approach, Alberto adds "or cats" to his sign.

Alberto updates his sign as people walk by with their pets... and at one point the sign reads "No one with fur, feathers, shells or scales allowed" - and we have pages to go before the end. But when a problem arises, Alberto steps up to help and everyone - even the penguins (yes, there are penguins) is happy.

It's a fun book to ... read, look at, and explore the rich illustrations, and talk about what's happening. And it's a great example of how much you can say in few words.

Review copy provided by library.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Hello, My Name is .....

Hello, My Name is Ruby
by Philip C. Stead
36 pages; ages 3-6
Roaring Brook Press, 2013

Theme: friendship

"Ruby introduced herself. "Hello, my name is Ruby. "Hello," said the bird standing in the cool water."

So begins Ruby's search for a friend. She is invited to go flying and to walk alongside her new friends. She discovers friends in unlikely places and learns their names. She even learns - from one bird who everyone insists is a peacock but looks like a turkey to me - that not everyone wants to be a friend. And through the pages, Philip Stead's soft pastels carry us on this gentle journey.

What I like: That Ruby actively seeks new friends - and that she is adventurous enough to explore even unlikely places to find friends. She doesn't judge a friend by their feathers. And even when she is given the cold shoulder, she eventually shakes it off and heads off to look for new friends. The cute bird characters make up for the lack of conflict and tension.

Beyond the Book: The title immediately made me think of those stick-on name badges that you get at SCBWI conferences and the like. You know, the ones that say "Hello, My Name Is". So why not make your own name badge?

Draw a friend for Ruby. Use pastel chalk and colored pencils (the media Philip uses in his illustrations) to draw a bird friend for Ruby. Use a bird field guide or bird photos to inspire your art... but feel free to exaggerate one of the features - make a long bill really stand out, or a crest or decorative feathers... check out how Philip draws his birds in this video.


Make a bird mask and become a friend for Ruby. Start with a paper plate. Then use construction paper to make your beak. Add feathers, paper curls, glitter.... 

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, February 3, 2014

Too Many Penguins!

365 Penguins
by Jean-Luc Fromental; illus by Joelle Jolivet
48 pages; ages 1-8
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2006

Once again, a weather-inspired story. I know we're half-way to spring, but there's still plenty of ice and snow and windy cold in the days ahead... weather to make us feel like penguins.

This is a math book disguised as a silly story. On New Year's Day, a delivery man delivers a package. Inside: one penguin. There's no return address, no letter explaining who sent the package - only a note saying: "I'm number 1. Feed me when I'm hungry." Puzzling, but having a penguin in the house might be entertaining.

The next day the delivery man returns - with another package. Inside, another penguin. Day three, another penguin. By the end of January there were thirty-one penguins in the house. By the end of February the family is arguing about the best way to organize the penguins. Eventually the mystery is solved when Uncle Victor shows up and takes the penguins. Life returns to normal for a few hours until - ding-dong! The delivery man comes to the door with a large box.

This is an oversized book which, fully opened, is almost as tall as a small penguin. It's full of math problems (how quickly can you go broke buying fish for penguins) and raises questions about population. Mostly, it's just plain fun.

Review copy provided by library.