Friday, March 24, 2017

Some Writer! The story of E.B. White

Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White
by Melissa Sweet
176 pages; ages 7-10 (and older!)
HMH 2016

Elwyn Brooks White loved words. And it's a good thing he did, because lots of those words ended up in marvelous books, like Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little - words I read and reread as I imagined that I, too, might have a little mouse and a red car or a canoe...

So it is fun, fun, FUN to read this wonderful biography by Melissa Sweet. It is full of words, too - and bright collages that give the book the feel of a scrapbook. There are tales of vacations in Maine, writing stories for contests, working as a counselor at Camp Otter.

EB White traveled about, wrote for the New Yorker, and then started scribbling notes that would grow into Stuart Little. "One October evening Andy [E.B.'s nickname] watched a spider spin an egg sac and deposit her eggs," writes Melissa Sweet. He detached the egg sac, put it into a box, and took it back to New York where he left it on his dresser. A few weeks later he noticed hundreds of tiny spiders climbing out of the box and spinning webs about the room. Later, back at his farm in Maine, he got to wondering whether a spider could save a pig...

Sweet includes a rough draft of Charlotte's Web that opens, "Charlotte was a grey spider who lived in the doorway of a barn." He struggled with the opening, jotting down different ways into the story, and then set the story aside for a year.

And then, Sweet notes, "he cut to the action ..." to the lines we know so well:
"Where's Papa going with that ax?"

What I love about this book is how Sweet weaves the story of E.B. White with illustrations that capture specific moments in his life. She even makes grammar fun! E.B. White is famous for his writing advice to Omit Needless Words. He's also famous for explaining the difference between affect and effect (I know this because I have looked it up in The Elements of Style) and when to use an exclamation point.

Sweet also has fun introducing readers to the times in which E.B. wrote. Opposite the Table of Contents she explains how a manual typewriter works.
And of course there is back matter: an afterword by Martha White (E.B. was her grandfather) with family photos, a timeline of his works, a selected bibliography of works by E.B. White as well as works by others that curious kids might want to check out. And - yay! - there is an index for impatient folks who want to know right this minute where to find something about chickens or pigs or the nitty-gritty stuff of Stuart Little.  

You can find out more about Melissa Sweet at her website.
On Monday we're joining the roundup over at the Nonfiction Monday blog where you'll find even more book reviews. Review copy provided by the publisher.



Friday, March 17, 2017

The Wolf's Boy

So you thought spring was coming...
It is - just not as fast as you were hoping. In the meantime, heat up a cup of cocoa and grab some "thought it would be spring but it's not" reading. Here's one I recommend:

The Wolf's Boy
by Susan Williams Beckhorn
240 pages; ages 9-12
Disney-Hyperion, 2016

I could not get free. The string of spit dripped closer. My brother was good at this game...

It doesn't matter whether you're living in the 21st century or back at the time when cave bears roamed, brothers haven't changed much. Especially when you're the weaker one.

Susan Beckhorn's tale transports us to that time just before wolf-relatives would become domesticated companions and partners with humans. This is a story of Kai who, by fate of birth, is an outcast. He longs to become a hunter - but born with a clubfoot he is forbidden to use hunter's weapons.

Kai has secrets; he was abandoned by his family and taken in by a mother wolf. Eventually Kai was reclaimed by his family, but he has never forgotten his wolf family. Nor have they forgotten him. When Kai discovers a motherless wolf cub, he brings her home to live with him. If you've ever had a puppy, you know that they like to chew things, like your best moccasins, the leather straps for your snares and traps. So Uff (the pup) and Kai are eventually exiled, and head north to a place where dangerous Ice Men live.

One of the things I love about this book is the language. Beckhorn introduces us to the culture of hunters by using their words: keerta (spear), nnnn-gata (hunter's prayer for luck). And especially oooni-alu-kas-pah-vard-ahh (fire-haired traveler with big hands, hear, and voice).

We'll be hanging out on Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers over at Shannon Messenger's blog. Hop over to see what other people are reading. Review copy from author.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Leaping Lemmings and Missing Bears

Leaping Lemmings!
by John Briggs; illus. by Nicola Slater
32 pages; ages 3-7
Sterling Children's Books, 2016

Would you jump off a cliff just because everyone else is doing it? Larry wouldn't. He is different than the other lemmings. Larry is adventurous: he goes sledding with puffins and when other lemmings eat moss (a pretty normal lemming thing to do) Larry orders pepperoni pizza.

And when that fateful day arrives and all his friends are running to the edge of the cliff, Larry comes up with a way to save them from their demise.

The Bear who Wasn't There
by LeUyen Pham
40 pages; ages 3-6
Roaring Brook, 2016

The author of this book would have you believe that Bear is the star of this book, and has gone missing. But clever Duck knows that Bears are unreliable. If you want some one reliable, you should get a Duck.

"How about I tell you a nice duck story?" he asks.

Meanwhile everyone else is looking for Bear. Is he behind the door that says "Private. Keep Out"? Oops! You should not have opened that door. But if Bear is not around, who is leaving all those muddy bear tracks? You know things are getting silly when the illustrator has to holler for all the animals to show up for roll call.

 Still, the question remains: if Bear isn't there, where is he?

Both books are perfect antidotes to gray early March days when we're caught between the seasons. If you're looking for some beyond-the-book activities, check out these lemming activities from a an earlier post. Want another animal story? Head over to Archimedes Notebook for a true story about a fox.

 Review copies and ARCs provided by publishers.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Books for Moon Watchers


A Moon of My Own
by Jennifer Rustgi; illus. by Ashley White
32 pages; ages 4-10
Dawn Publications, 2016

theme: nonfiction, space

Hey there, Moon. There you are again. I wonder, why do you follow me?

A girl, off on an adventure, is followed by the moon. But she's not on just any adventure: she's traveling around the world - because the moon that shines on you is the same moon that shines on someone far across the ocean.

What I like about this book: The illustrations layer complexity atop simple text. For example: "I can be your friend." The illustration is of the Eiffel Tower with a waning gibbous moon behind it. A few pages later, the moon is a mere crescent in the sky over the savanna.  So there is the moon to watch, as well as figuring out where the sky is. Then there are the illustrations, which are silhouettes against a deep blue/violet sky. I also like the back matter: a guide to the places in the book, moon facts, and more.

Mitchell on the Moon
by R. W. Alley
32 pages; ages 4-7
Clarion Books, 2016

One windy fall evening, Mitchell was leading the way. Until ... Gretchen said, "STOP! The moon is disappearing."

What a great, spooky start to a Halloween story (although you could read it any time, including the dead of winter when the wind chatters dried leaves against the trees). Mitchell, Sorcerer of Space, will save the moon! But first he has to climb a ladder to get to the moon. And save the moon. And get un-lost in the process. Thankfully, his trusty sidekick, Gretchen, is there to help.

What I like about this book: pure, imaginative fun! Climbing to the moon on a ladder? Something eating the moon?

Beyond the books:

Phases of the moon ~ Cut out different phases of the moon and challenge a friend to put them in order. Glue them onto a long strip that you can hang on your door. Watch the moon at night and draw what it looks like. Make a moon calendar.

Make craters ~ Pour a layer of flour or cornmeal or sand into a cake pan. Then drop a marble into it and check out the craters you make.

Go on a moon walk ~ and see what the world looks like. Buildings and trees look black, silhouetted against a lighter sky. Make some moon art based on what you see: paint a paper with the color of your night sky. Then cut out some silhouettes of things you saw on your walk, using simple shapes. Add a paper moon, and maybe some spots of white paint for stars.

Moon shadows ~ On a full moon night, when the moon is bright (like next week) go outside and look for shadows. Do you have a shadow? 

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 provided by publishers.