Friday, January 25, 2019

Picture books that make me smile

During the dark days of winter, I look for books that will make me smile. Here are two that I found on the shelves of our library.

themes: friendship, seasons

Sloth at the Zoom
by Helaine Becker; illus. by Orbie
40 pages; ages 3 - 7
Owlkids, 2018

One bright day, a truck whizzed up to the front gate of the Zoom. There was a new animal being delivered.

As you can tell by the cover, the new animal is a sloth. And he's a bit out of place, because the Zoom is a place filled with hustle and bustle. Zebras gallop so fast they leave their stripes in puddles! Cheetahs race so speedily that their spots fly right off their backs!

What I like about this book: I love sloths, so of course I loved this character. Upon arrival he stretches. He does sloth things (yoga maybe? lots of naps, and definitely hanging around). The dialog is written in balloons, so sloth's conversation can be... divided... into small bits... that take... as long to read... as you might expect... a sloth to... speak.

The problem: nobody at the Zoom has time to spend with sloth. Except for one small creature- a snail. They become fast friends who share slow conversations. How other animals react is priceless.

I also like the end pages: a map that shows exactly where the delivery truck made the wrong turn. You see, sloth was supposed to end up at the Zzzzzoo!

Sometimes Rain
by Meg Fleming; illus. by Diana Sudyka
40 pages; ages: 4 - 8
Beach Lane Books, 2018

Sometimes drizzle.
Drop-drip drain.
Sometimes picnic.
Sometimes rain.

This is a wonderful journey through the seasons, written in rhyme.

What I like about this book: I love that there are children out exploring the world through the seasons. They are waiting for spring near a brook, losing boots in mud, sitting in the grass with a hand lens for observing snails and frogs... I love the spread where trees change from summer to fall, and the frosty speech bubbles that freeze in winter air. A perfect book to read no matter the season.

Beyond the books

Have you ever turned the wrong way and ended up somewhere completely different from where you expected to be? In my case, it was a hike. The trail went one direction; I went the other... Create a story about your wrong-way adventure. Draw a map to show where you turned off from your planned route.

Spend a day at sloth speed. Slow down. Eat slowly. Move like a sloth. Hang out. Find a friend. Learn more about sloths here.

Explore the world around you this season. What do you see outside? Follow footprints, find birds, admire frost designs on windows.

We're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday. It's a weekly event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copies discovered at the library.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Walls are no obstacle in these books

Sometimes walls are an obstacle. Sometimes they're not. Here are three different takes on walls in recent picture books.

themes: friendship, problem-solving

Douglas, You're a Genius
by Ged Adamson
40 pages; ages 3-7
Schwartz & Wade, 2018

Nancy and Douglas were playing ball in the backyard, when Nancy hit one too hard.

The ball disappears through a hole in the fence. Oh, no! And then it comes back. Thank you!

Douglas wants to know who is over there, on the other side. So they lay track and send a message by train. And then they wait.

And wait.

What I like about this book: When the message comes back it's ... escrito en español. Now they really want to find out who lives on the other side of the wall. Nancy comes up with all kinds of plans - some involving trampolines, bungee cords, even a kite. Then Douglas has an idea, and it was the most genius plan of all!

I also like the brilliant plans, drawn on graph paper, and how the characters work together as an "engineering team". And I like the Spanish glossary at the front, so readers can familiarize themselves with some of the phrases used, such as "queremos conocerte" (we want to meet you).

I started wondering how many kids' books feature walls. Turns out this is becoming a theme in some picture books. I really like Brick by Brick, by Giuliano Ferri (Minedition, 2016).

Giuliano is an author-illustrator who lives in Italy. But no translation was needed for this book, because Brick by Brick has no words. At the heart of the story is this question: what happens if a brick falls out of the wall?  And then you and your friends take out more bricks... and what could those bricks be used for instead of building a wall?

From the jacket: "...walls can become bridges when everyone pitches in." And that, right there, is What I like about this book.

In picture books, walls can show up in totally unexpected places, and sometimes overnight.

The Only Way is Badger
by Stella J. Jones; illus. by Carmen Saldaña
26 pages; ages 5-8 years
Tiger Tales, 2018

Deep in the forest something wasn't right. Overnight, a wall had appeared.

Plus there were posters tacked to the trees. They had messages such as "Be More Badger!" and "Badgers are Best!" Of course, Badger is the one who put up the posters. And now he's in charge of making sure that the animals who live on his side of the wall are sufficiently badgerly.

What I like about this book: Badger thinks his way is best, so he devises tests to weed out animals that aren't badgerish enough. Can't dig like badger? To the other side of the wall with you! Too big to fit in a badger den? Over the wall with you, too! But soon... there's no one left on badger's side of the wall. Plus it's deadly boring. So badger climbs up, up, up, and peeks over the wall to the other side. And then he makes the best sign of all (which I will NOT reveal) - suffice it to say that badger learns to appreciate his diverse friends.

Beyond the Book:

Some walls create habitats. In some places in the northeast I find old stone walls meandering through the woods or along the edges of fields. The stones are so old that they are covered by lichens and mosses. Sometimes grasses and other plants have taken foothold, and insects and other tiny creatures have built their homes in the nooks and crannies of the wall.

Over, Under, and Around... When I was a kid, everyone in our neighborhood had wooden privacy fences along the border of their back yards. Like Douglas and Nancy, we always wanted to find ways to the other side - even though we already knew everyone on the block. We thought of crazy ideas, too: bouncing someone over using a teeter-totter was one. Put your best engineering skills to use and design a way to get to the other side of a wall. Hint: drawing on graph paper makes it more fun!

Can you use walls to make art?  Street art - painted murals and mosaics - are a highlight of my visit to Ithaca, NY. Check out this review of Hey Wall: A Story of Art and Community posted by Patricia Tilton.

If you are looking for artistic inspiration check out the artwork of these illustrators:
Ged Adamson
Giuliano Ferri 
Carmen Saldaña 

 We're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday. It's a weekly event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copies discovered at the library.

Friday, January 11, 2019

I Just Like You

I love books that lift up my spirits and make me feel positive about the world. Here's a recently released picture book by one of my favorite authors - and (only a few towns away) neighbor.

Themes: friendship, diversity, acceptance

I Just Like You
by Suzanne Bloom
32 pages; ages 3-7
Boyds Mills Press, 2018

You don't look just like me.

An elephant and cat contemplate each other... turn the page and there's a pig and a llama imagining shapes in the clouds. They don't see the same thing. Over the next two pages we meet creatures that don't walk or talk like each other. But the cool thing:

You just like me!

What I like about this book: The idea is simple enough - we're all different from each other, but we like each other. We can be friends! As Suzanne Bloom shows, there are so many different ways to move, dress, think, and be. And yet, there we are, sharing meals and playing on the playground. And even though some of us may be turtles and some may be giraffes, we can embrace and celebrate what we appreciate about each other.

Suzanne visited our Ithaca-area SCBWI Shop Talk last month, bringing her portfolio filled with sketches for I Just Like You. It was really fun to see how the characters changed over time, and how the ideas in the book evolved as the animals became part of the story. Should the chickens be on the table? Where should the crocodile go? And how did that five-layer cake sneak past the skunk?

Beyond the Book:

How are you different from your friends? Do you do the same things? Find a way to celebrate the ways you are different and alike. Maybe you'll paint a picture, write a list, or build something that you can share with your friends.

How do writers and illustrators get their ideas? Great question. Visit Suzanne's webpage "Watch me Work" where she shares photos and a video about how she gets ideas onto the page.

We're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday today. It's a weekly event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy from publisher. 

Friday, January 4, 2019

Unpresidented ~ a biography of Donald Trump

Before I get to the review of this wonderful new piece of nonfiction I've got a quick reminder for writers. Whether you're working on picture books, chapter books, sci-fi, nonfiction, YA or MG -  if you're brainstorming ideas, then head over to StoryStorm at Tara Lazar's blog. For the month of January she'll post inspiring words for writers of all genres. StoryStorm started January 1, but registration is open through Monday, January 7. Register here. Thirty ideas in thirty-one days. That's doable.

And now... onto some great nonfiction writing!

Unpresidented: A Biography of Donald Trump
by Martha Brockenbrough
432 pages; ages 12 - 18 & older
Feiwel & Friends, 2018

Weighing in at 400-plus pages and more than an inch thick, this biography doesn’t waste words on frivolities. Author Martha Brockenbrough dedicates her newest book to the Parkland generation (“You know what to do”) and then dives into a very readable – and critical – biography of a sitting president.

But first she takes time to clarify journalism’s role in history. In particular, how journalists and other nonfiction writers uncover facts and – more importantly – take the time to verify them. In particular, Brockenbrough writes about the spread of false information, and how we know that Trump does, indeed, spread lies. She clarifies what fairness and balance mean in the context of telling truths, and then tosses in this caveat: it’s difficult to write accurately about Trump because “he often speaks inaccurately about himself.”

I like the structure of the book: beginning with the election, flashing back to his immigrant parents, and then to Donald J’s childhood. Born into wealth, he started life lucky, writes Brockenbrough. But he lost his mother at a young age and, as he grew older, he became a bully. He caused so much trouble that his father sent him to a military academy, hoping the experience would make him shape up.

 Brockenbrough follows Donald through his business ventures where his driving goal was to do whatever it took to win. Those brash – and questionably ethical – tactics followed him into entertainment and then into his candidacy for the highest office of the land.

“Trump appeared to be looking at the campaign the way a salesman looks at a product he wants to move,” writes Brockenbrough. “What do people want to hear?”

Brockenbrough writes about the Russia connections, the debates with Hillary Clinton, FBI investigations and hacking. She shows how unprepared he was to win and how little he did to prepare himself for the transition of power after the election. Brockenbrough does a marvelous job comparing and contrasting Trump and Robert Mueller, and details the ways the 45th president is using his office to enrich himself. She lays out clear evidence for his assault on democracy and a free press.

Provable facts matter, says Brockenbrough. “It’s one thing to make a partisan argument based on different political philosophies. But it’s another thing to ignore or misstate facts to protect a political party or its leader.” Once you leave facts in the dust, you’re on your way to fascism.

Brockenbrough provides a hefty section of back matter: a timeline of Trump’s life, his presidency, thumbnail bios of key campaign staff and political advisors – names you’ve heard in news reports and many of whom are under indictment. There are more than 50 pages of endnotes documenting quotes, and a handy index with entries including “racism” and “Russian election interference”.

I appreciate that the title of this book came about in the most organic fashion possible: from a tweet by Trump. And though it is considered a YA book, I think many adult readers will find it a handy reference.

You can find out more about Martha Brockenbrough and her books at her website.

On Monday we'll join the roundup over at the Nonfiction Monday blog where you'll find even more book reviews. Review copy is from my personal library.