Saturday, December 19, 2009

Live, Laugh, Celebrate

National Geographic Live, Laugh, Celebrate

By: Ferdinand Protzman
Published by: National Geographic
Recommended Ages: 5 and up

I fully intended in the beginning of December to write about books that would make great gifts. And now here it is December 20, Hanukkah is over; Christmas is in five days, and not one post on "gift books." But all is not lost. For Hanukkah, I gave my 16-year-old daughter a new book from National Geographic, which she loves and which I think is worth writing about.

live, laugh, celebrate is a book about the many ways we celebrate life. It's mostly photographs, with small amounts of text explaining the ritual celebrations. There are shots from around the world, from the last fifty plus years.

The introduction begins: "At any given moment, like love, celebrations are an integral part of the human experience, practiced by every culture on the planet. Whether it is birth, birthday, graduation, victory in sport or battle, or a rite of passage, regardless of the country, the occasion, the place, the time, the number of participants, or the ceremony, human beings everywhere celebrate."

The book is divided into three chapters: Cycles of Life, Around the World and Life of the Party. Protzman writes an essay about each one of the chapters, which provides an interesting bit of background to what lies ahead. But, let's be honest, you buy a National Geographic book for the photos, and live, laugh, celebrate does not disappoint. There are 150 full-cover images from around the world.

For instance, in Cycles of Life, there are photographs of newborn babies from as far away as Eritrea, Senegal and Lithuania, swaddled with love as they are welcomed into the world. Childhood is celebrated across the globe with scenes ranging from boys in ceremonial skirts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo going off to a hunting camp to a Mexican-American girl celebrating her quinceanera in California. There are wedding celebrations from Kenya to India to Las Vegas (the cover photo of a bride in pink high-tops).

The pictures are lush and engrossing. You can't help but be drawn into their world, whether it is thousands of miles away, next door or fifty years ago.

If you have a child who yearns to see the world and how people live in other places, this would make a wonderful gift. Books like this and Material World, open up our eyes to the wonders that exist in and outside of our communities.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Finding Susie a book by Sandra Day O'Connor

Finding Susie

Written by: Sandra Day O'Connor
Illustrated by: Tom Pohrt
Recommended Ages: 4-8

Animal lovers and non-animal lovers alike will enjoy this tale of the quest for the perfect pet. Young Sandra (yes, this is written by Sandra Day O'Connor, the first female Supreme Court Justice) lives on a ranch with her mother and father. It can get fairly lonely on the ranch and she begs her parents for a pet. The book chronicles Sandra as she comes across animals in the desert that need her help, and asks the question if wild animals make good pets?

Her first encounter is with a desert tortoise she names Hercules. There are nice facts about the animals sprinkled throughout the story, which kids will appreciate. In the case of the desert tortoise, we learn that they can live to be one hundred years old and that they dig deep tunnels in the winter and hibernate. Sandra also learns that they are beginning to disappear and ultimately makes the decision to return him to the desert.

The story continues with Sandra befriending a cottontail rabbit (who always seems afraid and never comfortable as a pet), a young coyote caught in a trap (she nurses him back to health and sets him free) and a baby bobcat (who ends up scratching her over some raw meat). Each time Sandra is hopeful that she has found the perfect pet, and each time she realizes that the animal would be better off in the wild.

The story ends with a friend of the family's bringing over a stray dog named Susie. Of course, Susie proves to be the perfect pet and friend for Sandra. Susie likes to be with Sandra and follows her wherever she goes. It's a delightful ending to a story about the universal longing for a pet.

The watercolor pictures do an admirable job of creating the desert setting. I grew up in Arizona and they whisked me right back to my childhood where desert tortoises were spotted occasionally, jackrabbits all the time and coyote's howling lulled me to sleep. Another really interesting feature (probably more for adults than kids) are the endpapers of the book. Here you see real photographs from O'Connor's childhood on the ranch, including one with her pet javelina. Finding Susie is a nice snapshot into the early life of a fascinating American woman.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Lion & The Mouse: A Wordless Telling

The Lion & the Mouse

By: Jerry Pinkney
Recommended Ages: 1 and up

The Lion & The Mouse by Jerry Pinkney is a wordless picture book that retells the Aesop fable of the lion and the mouse. To say that it is gloriously depicted, would be an understatement. Each page is handcrafted in watercolors and pencils, in rich brown and golden hues. Your eyes are drawn in so that you, too, feel as if you are in the wide open spaces of the African Serengeti. It's a visual masterpiece that will enchant adults and children alike.

For those who don't remember the fable, it is the story of a little mouse who escapes from the clutches of a hawk, only to find herself on the back of a large lion. The lion, in turn, grabs the mouse with his enormous paws, toys with her a bit and then lets her go. A few pages later, he finds himself ensnared in an enormous net set by poachers. The mouse sees what has happened and gnaws through the rope, enabling the lion to escape. If my memory serves me correctly, the morals of the story are that even the smallest of friends can prove to be good friends and that no act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.

Jerry Pinkney has done a masterful job recreating Aesop's fable without words. It's a beautiful retelling of the story, with many intricate details on each page. Both the lion and the mouse are depicted realistically from the lion's amber eyes to the itty bitty pink mouse feet. Both animals also have expressions on their faces which allow the reader to see their underlying emotions, without seeming cartoon-like.

A quick word about wordless picture books. When I taught family literacy classes, wordless picture books were one of my favorite books to work with. For parents for whom English wasn't their first language, it was a wonderful way for them to tell a story in their own words to their children. For parents with low literacy skills, they too could tell the story in their own words, with a fluidity that wasn't always possible with regular picture books. And finally (and perhaps most importantly) wordless picture books allow kids to tell YOU the story in their own words. Each time you revisit a book, the story gets more and more elaborate as they allow their imaginations to run loose. A story like The Lion & The Mouse, with its gorgeous pictures, invites you and your child to tell it like you see it. I don't think either of you will be disappointed.

If you are searching for a gift for a young child this holiday season, consider picking up Jerry Pinkney's The Lion & The Mouse. It's exactly the kind of book that you want a child to have in their book collection for years and years.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Jenny and the Cat Club (a classic worth checking out)

Jenny and the Cat Club: A Collection of Favorite Stories about Jenny Linsky (New York Review Children's Collection)

Written and Illustrated by: Esther Averill
Recommended Ages: 4-8

A friend of mine recently told me about a series of books that she and her second grade daughter were reading (and thoroughly enjoying). She explained that they were originally published in the 1940's, ran for many years, went out of print and were re-released a few years ago. I was intrigued. She brought over a copy of Jenny and the Cat Club, and I was totally smitten.

Jenny Linsky is a shy, little black cat that lives with Captain Tinker, an old sailor. Jenny and the Cat Club is the earliest collection of cat stories in which we are introduced to Jenny, the only cat in the neighborhood that does not belong to the cat club. The club is made up of cats named Mr. President, Butterfly, Romulus and Remus, Macaroni, Sinbad and The Duke. Jenny hears them outside at night and wishes she could join them. But she is too shy to approach them, and for the longest time just observes from a distance. In the first story, we watch Jenny as she gains confidence and comes into her own as a skater. Soon after that, she is made a member of the cat club.

There are a total of five chapters in the book, and each one can stand alone by itself. These are perfect bed-time stories in an old-fashioned, but still very relevant way. Issues like friendship, loyalty and even jealousy are addressed in a quiet, but deft manner. By the end of chapter one, you find that you really care for Jenny and the gentle way she faces the challenges that arise.

I have to say something about the illustrations, which I found quite charming. They are simple, yet beautiful, mostly black and white, with just a dash of color thrown in. Jenny, in particular, is quite a sight with her red scarf (knit by the old sailor) draped around her neck. Kids will be drawn into the marvelous world of these cats, which has a very familiar home-like quality to it.

After reading Jenny and the Cat Club, I found that I was captivated by Esther Averill and had to find out what other books she had written. On my search I came across The Fire Cat and it took my breath away. I remembered that The Fire Cat was one of the first books I checked out from the library and read on my own. I was swept back in time to the thrill of that very major accomplishment many years ago. It gave me goosebumps to see it again. It's still in print, so if you have an emerging reader you might want to check it out. Or perhaps, like me, you remember picking up and reading it, or another of Esther Averill's books, a long time ago.

The Fire Cat (I Can Read Book 1)

Written by: Esther Averill
Recommended Ages: 5-7 year olds (early reader)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Panda Kindergarten (Nonfiction Monday)

Welcome to Nonfiction Monday at The Book Nosher! I am so pleased to be hosting (for the first time). Bloggers, please leave your information and links in the comments below. I will periodically update your links over the course of the day. My own post about Panda Kindergarten will follow below, or you can click here.

Nonfiction Monday Roundup:

1. Sarah at I Need Chocolate Reviewed Flamingos by Jean Malone. Click here .

2. Jen at Jean Little Books has a couple of how-to books. Click here.

3. At Lori Calabrese Writes!, she reviews In Her Hands: The Story of Sculptor Augusta Savage

4. 100 Scope Notes has a review of Under the Snow by Melissa Stewart:

5. Abby (the) Librarian is posting about her favorite nonfiction titles for the young reader on your holiday gift giving list!

6. Over at The LibrariYAn Alicia has reviewed two biographies of Charles Darwin:

7. Shirley at SimplyScience has Waiting for Winter.

8. This week at the Wild About Nature blog, we are featuring a review of Steve Van Zandt's River Song.

9. Amanda at A Patchwork of Books has a review up of The Story of Snow:

10. At Bookends, they have reviewed The Boy Who Invented TV: The Story of Philo Farnsworth by Kathleen Krull:

11. At The Happy Nappy Bookseller, Doret reviewed Jim Thorpe Original All American by Joeseph Bruchac

12. At Miss Rumphius Effect, Tricia reviews Bob Barner's book DINOSAULinkRS ROAR, BUTTERFLIES SOAR!.

13. Kelly Fineman is in with a review of Star Wars LEGOS: The Visual Dictionary.

14. The Cat and the Fiddle has a blend of non-fiction and fantasy: some math lessons (one based on a William Steig book):

15. At Pink Me, Paula steps into the often-underappreciated 400's with a review
of Ursula Dubosarsky's The Word Snoop.

16. At 3T News and Reviews they have some old and new favorites to recommend for Christmas gifts.

17. Easter at Owl in the Library reviewed a guide to poetry writing for

18. Wendie Old at Wendie's Wanderings added her mite to the many reviews of
-- Nubs, the True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle.

19. Charlotte from Charlotte's Library reviewed Pick Me Up, from DK

20. Jen at Biblio File has three books about the Civil Rights Movement.

21. And finally from Mama Librarian comes this review about Honk, Honk Goose Click here

Panda Kindergarten

Written by: Joanne Ryder
Photos by: Katherine Feng
Recommended Ages: 4-8

Warning! The photos in Panda Kindergarten are almost too cute to believe. There are close-ups and action shots capturing panda cubs at their most natural (and most adorable). This is a wonderful book to read to your young animal lover.

Panda Kindergarten introduces us to sixteen young panda cubs born at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda at the Wolong Nature Preserve. The book explains that pandas often have twins, but a mother is only able to care for one cub at a time. So there is a nursery to care and protect the other twin. What's particularly interesting about this project is that the people at the center swap the cubs back and forth, so that the twin gets care from the nursery helpers, as well as time with their mother. There are some amazing close-ups of very young pandas; they are blind and only weigh four ounces when they are born (about the size of a stick of butter).

Once the pandas are old enough to leave their mothers and the nursery, they are let out together into their own "panda playground." Here they learn to play together and climb and swing. They stay together in the panda kindergarten for about a year. After that, some will stay in the Wolong Nature Preserve and have cubs of their own, while others are chosen to leave and go live in the bamboo forests nearby. The skills they learn as cubs at Wolong enables them to survive in the wild.

The text is simple and inviting, perfect for a four to six year old. It's kind of hard to resist a sentence that reads: "An ever-so-big mother panda carries her ever-so tiny baby, holding it firmly but tenderly." But what will draw kids in the most are the spectacular photographs. Whether you see a tiny newborn nuzzling on the chest of her mother, or her twin being fed out of a bottle, you cannot help but be amazed by these delightful animals.

BookNosher Activity: Panda Kindergarten is a great introduction to younger children about endangered animals. It also begins the conversation about what we, as humans, can do to help. Here are a few good websites that provide more information about endangered animals:

World Wildlife Fund: You can learn more about the Giant Panda and other endangered animals at this comprehensive website. The panda has been their mascot since 1961. You can even symbolically adopt a panda or other endangered animal (a great idea for a holiday gift).

Earth's Endangered Creatures: More information about the panda, including a fascinating video of Giant Pandas in the wild.

National Geographic Kids: Great website with lots to do for kids.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Life-Size Zoo

Life-Size Zoo: From Tiny Rodents to Gigantic Elephants, An Actual Size Animal Encyclopedia

Written and Photographed by: Teruyuki Komiya
Recommended Ages: 4-8

If you have a young child who is interested in animals, then Life-Size Zoo might be the perfect holiday gift. It's an actual-size encyclopedia with true-to-life photos of animals, and interesting facts to go along with them.

What I mean by actual-size is that you have life-size photographs of animals in a very large picture book format (14.5" by 10.2"). In some cases, like the koala bear, you can see the entire bear on a large two-page spread. In others, like the gorilla, you get just a side profile of a head on two pages. In still others, like the giraffe, you have a four-page spread stretching from its tongue to just the top part of its neck. It's a pretty awesome way to get a feel for how big (or small) an animal is in actual life.

But the real fun comes with a closer reading of the facts. For instance, did you know that an anteater eats up to 30,000 ants in one day, and that they have a small mouth and no teeth? Or did you know that there are three types of zebras, and the way to tell the difference is by their stripe patterns? Their muzzles are black with no stripes (the close-up photograph is fascinating; you can see the individual wiry whiskers surrounding her lips). I bet you also didn't know that a baby elephant sucks her trunk the way that a human baby sucks her thumb! Or did you know that a rhino's horns are actually made of a bundle of hair?!

Besides the unique facts given about each animal, we are also treated to a rundown of some of the more basic facts such as body length, height, weight and habitat. The Table of Contents is made to look like an aerial map of a zoo. All in all, it's a clever layout from cover to cover.

I think Life-Size Zoo is a book that kids will return to over and over again as they revisit their favorite animals and discover new ones. It would make a great gift for a child you care about, or, better yet, for the classroom of a child you care about.

BookNosher Facts: Life-Size Zoo won the Parent's Choice Gold Award in Spring 2009.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Written by: Sara Pennypacker
Illustrated by: Marla Frazee
Recommended Ages: 5-9

I've written before that one of the things I like most about writing The Book Nosher is discovering all the new children's books that have come out since my kids were at the read-aloud stage (they are teenagers now). Yesterday I discovered and devoured Clementine by Sara Pennypacker. She's a great companion for the emerging reader.

Clementine is in the third grade and has a penchant for getting into trouble. She doesn't mean to misbehave; in fact in most instances it's quite the opposite. She tries to be helpful and kind, but somehow her actions always backfire on her. For instance, she finds her friend Margaret in the school bathroom with a pair of scissors trying to cut some glue out of her hair. The only thing is, she is doing a horrible job. So naturally Clementine offers to help and ends up cutting off all of her hair. She then tries to make things better by coloring red curls all over Margaret's head (in Flaming Sunset permanent markers). You can see that she has good intentions, but somehow they manage to go awry.

Clementine lives with her very understanding parents and little brother in an apartment building. Her dad manages the building, and her mom is an artist who dresses in overalls, instead of dresses like the other mothers. Her parents understand and accept her for who she is, despite the fact that she always seems to be doing the wrong thing. We never find out what her little brother's name is, for she calls him Spinach, Pea Pod or Rutabaga to get back at the fact that he wasn't named for a fruit (like she was).

I think that one of the most endearing parts of the book is the way that Pennypacker shows us the world through Clementine's eyes. It is told in the first person, and through skillful writing, we get a sense of who Clementine is, and what makes her tick. For instance, she is constantly being told to pay attention and to sit still. Here's an exchange between Clementine and Mrs. Rice on one of her many visits to the principal's office:

"I'm allergic to sitting still."
"Nobody is allergic to sitting still, Clementine," she said.
"I am," I said. "My brother is allergic to peanuts. If he eats one he gets all itchy and swelled up and he can't breathe right. If I try to sit still I get all itchy and swelled up and I can't breathe right. So that means I'm allergic to sitting still." . . . "Plus," I explained, "if my brother eats even one tiny peanut he might have to go to the hospital with the ambulance and sirens and everything! So if I sit still for even one minute...Uh oh." I gave my body an extra little jiggle just to stay safe.
"Phew!" I said. "That was close!"

You see what an original little girl Clementine is. Her voice is loud and clear. Your child will be enthralled with the various scrapes she gets herself into, and the humor with which she handles everything that comes her way. The illustrations by Marlee Frazee add the perfect touch to an already pretty perfect story. I highly recommend Clementine to the first through third grade crowd. And when they are done with it, they'll be happy to hear that there are two sequels: Talented Clementine and Clementine's Letter.

BookNosher Tidbit: Clementine was a 2007 Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Book;
Winner of the 2007 Bank Street/Josette Frank Award
A Child Magazine Best Book of the Year

Monday, November 16, 2009

Never Smile at a Monkey

Never Smile at a Monkey: And 17 Other Important Things to Remember
Written and Illustrated by: Steve Jenkins
Recommended Ages: 4-9

This fascinating book is chock-full of interesting facts about some of the lesser known and somewhat unusual ways that animals protect themselves. But what makes this so appealing to younger readers is that each page comes with a warning directed to them (i.e. Never Smile at a Monkey), followed by facts explaining why (a rhesus monkey "may interpret your show of teeth as an aggressive gesture and respond violently").

There is a lot of information packed in this standard 32-page picture book. The reading level is perfect for the beginning reader, and along the way they will pick up some new words such as entangled, unpredictable, predator and venomous.

Here are some of the more interesting facts that I picked up:

"NEVER PET A PLATYPUS: ...The platypus is the only poisonous mammal. It has venomous spurs on its hind legs, and it can give you a very painful jab."

"NEVER CLUTCH A CANE TOAD: ...It's harmless except for two large sacs of venom on its neck. If pressed, these pouches squirt out a blinding, and sometimes deadly poison."

"NEVER CONFRONT A KANGAROO: A kangaroo can deliver a kick powerful enough to cave in a person's chest."

You can see why first, second and third graders will eat this up. Reluctant readers will love the somewhat gory facts, and be drawn in by the pictures. The pictures are paper cuts, and they're colorful and appealing. I think Never Smile at a Monkey is a must for teachers and school librarians to have on hand.

BookNosher Tidbit: It appears that Never Smile at a Monkey is Steve Jenkins' tenth book. For more information, visit his website at

BookNosher Activity: To me, his verb choices are really appealing and quite informative. Harass, jostle, clutch, poach, cuddle, caress, antagonize and badger are great words and not in your typical first to third grader's vocabulary. How fun to do more with these words, so that they too begin to use them in their written and spoken vocabulary.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Really Short History of Nearly Everything

A Really Short History of Nearly Everything

Written by: Bill Bryson
Recommended Ages: 8-12

Back in 2003, bestselling author Bill Bryson published a book about life, the universe and everything called A Short History of Nearly Everything. It came in just over 500 pages and explained science in a very understandable, very readable manner...for adults. Now, he has come up with A Really Short History of Nearly Everything, which every third through sixth grade classroom should consider having on their shelves.

From it's opening paragraph, you realize you are in for a treat: "This is a book about how IT happened--in particular, how we went from there being nothing at all to there being something. And then, how a little of that something turned into us, and also some of what happened in between--and since."

A Really Short History of Nearly Everything is divided into six sections:
  • Lost in the Cosmos
  • The Size of the Earth
  • A New Age Dawns
  • Dangerous Planet
  • Life Itself
  • The Road to Us

Each section then has mini chapters devoted to a particular subject. For instance, in Lost in the Cosmos, one of the chapters is called The Big Bang. Spread out on a two page layout are lots and lots of facts about the Big Bang, presented in an appealing way. For instance, eight of the facts are on eight planet-sized circles. Surrounding the planet facts, are four other paragraphs with lots more information all about the Big Bang. Here's a sample:

"Most of what we think we know about the early moments of the universe is thanks to an idea called 'inflation theory." Imagine that a fraction of a moment after the dawn of creation, the universe underwent a sudden dramatic expansion, that it inflated at a huge speed. In just one million million million million millionths of a second - the universe changed from something you could hold in your hand to something at least 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times bigger."

While I imagine there are some kids who will sit down and read A Really Short History of Nearly Everything cover to cover, I think the vast majority will use it to look things up. This is a book to have on hand as questions arise. It has an extensive index where you can find information about everything from amino acids to Fritz Zwicky (the astronomer who coined the term 'supernova'). Bill Bryson has done an admirable job of taking generally difficult topics such as Newton's Bulge Theory or Einstein's Theory of Relativity and making them understandable, and even entertaining. There are helpful illustrations and photographs that are sure to draw a reader's attention to the subject at hand.

The last three chapters are titled "Humans Take Over," "What Now," and "Goodbye." In them, Bryson talks about the impact humans have had on the planet, and reminds us to take care of it. He addresses issues of extinction, pollution and global warming, ending with this: "We really are at the beginning of it all. The trick, of course, is to make sure we never find the end. And that will require a lot more than a series of lucky breaks."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Anatole: A Mouse Magnifique!


Written by:
Eve Titus
Illustrated by: Paul Galdone
Recommended Ages: 4-8

Long before Ratatouille or Despereaux, there was another famous Parisian mouse named Anatole. Anatole was first published in 1956 and was re-released in 2006. It's a charming story about an industrious mouse with a true sense of honor.

Anatole lives in "a small mouse village near Paris." One day, he overhears some humans talking disparagingly about mice. He is quite upset to hear that humans don't like mice, and feels that his honor has been insulted. He decides then and there that he will no longer break into human's houses to steal food. Instead, he sets out to do something about it, and becomes the chief cheese taster for the struggling Duval Cheese Manufacturer. Of course, the only way that a mouse can become a chief cheese taster is in secret. So Anatole leaves signed notes by each cheese, with suggestions on how to make it better. The cheeses manufacturer follows Anatole's suggestions, and soon his business is turned around, and he is regarded as the best cheese maker in Paris. If only they knew how to find the mysterious Anatole and thank him...

Eve Titus's prose is quite lyrical, with a fair amount of French sprinkled throughout the story. Anatole himself wears a beret and blue jacket with a red scarf, all of which give him an air of panache. He is also father and husband to a lovely little family of mice, who have names like Doucette, Georgette, Paulette and Claude. All of these are sweet touches and create an overall feeling of being in another place and another time.

The illustrations by Paul Galdone are done in black and white, along with the French flag colors of red, white and blue. There are wonderful little details on each page that are worth taking the time to point out and talk about. They are tres magnifique! I'm not the only one who thinks so. Mr. Galdone won a Caldecott Honor award in 1956.

BookNosher Tidbit: Not only did Paul Galdone win a Caldecott Honor award for Anatole in 1956, but he won again for the sequel Anatole and the Cat. Both books were recently re-issued and are available again.

BookNosher Activity: After reading Anatole, I found that I had a hankering for some cheese. I think that a fun activity would be to have a cheese tasting with your child and introduce some different cheeses to them. You could have them describe those differences to you in one or two adjectives such as salty, smooth, sharp. Wouldn't this be a great way to create a lasting memory around a timeless book?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Ruby Lu, Empress of Everything!!!!

Ruby Lu, Empress of Everything

Written by: Lenore Look
Illustrated by: Anne Wilsdorf

Lenore Look has created a memorable character with a lot of moxie in Ruby Lu. Ruby Lu, Empress of Everything is the second book in what I hope will be a long-running series. It's an early chapter book, perfect for emerging readers in first through fourth grade. Like another of Lenore Look's chapter books--Alvin Ho--it's a good read-aloud book for these ages too.

Ruby Lu, Empress of Everything
begins in the spring of Ruby's second grade year. Her cousin Flying Duck has just immigrated to the United States with her family, and is living with Ruby's family. Ruby could not be more excited, for she gets the role of tour guide to Flying Duck. She's the one who gets to show her all the ordinary things of her city.

Another thing about Flying Duck that's fascinating to Ruby Lu is that she reads lips. After an accident at age four where she burst her eardrums, she was deaf. So while she is able to talk, she also reads lips and signs in Cantonese. Ruby thinks that "Lip-reading is a very useful skill. It comes in handy when you want to watch TV, but the TV is supposed to be turned off. And it comes in handy if you are outside looking in and your parents are inside talking about you."

Most importantly, Ruby gets appointed as Smile Buddy at school. This is the person who helps a new child feel welcome and shows them around. It's a job she's coveted since kindergarten, and comes complete with a big badge that she proudly wears pinned to her shirt.

As you might imagine, the newness of having a cousin living with your family, soon begins to fade. Suddenly, only Cantonese is spoken at home. Chopsticks replace the silverware. And Oscar, Ruby's baby brother, is able to sign more than he can speak. Ruby is ready to send Flying Duck back to China.

What makes Ruby so endearing is the earnestness with which she tackles everything that comes her way. For instance, more than anything she wants glasses. So much so, that she tapes an eye chart above her bed at night, memorizing it, so that she'll pass and get glasses (it's a great twist on how kids might perceive the purpose of eye exams).

There's a pivotal playground scene, where Ruby's on-again/off-again friend Emma calls Flying Duck an alien and start saying that "she's come to snatch us all away and use us in medical experiments! And she's already got you in her clutches!" Needless to say, Ruby defends her cousin and a scuffle ensues. Parents are called into the principal's office and the recommendation is made that both Ruby and Flying Duck attend summer school to help ease the transition they are going through.

So second grade ends on a less than stellar note for Ruby, and she begins the summer with a to-do list:

"My 12-Step Summer Plans:
1. Hold breth in swiming skool.
2. Put face in water.*
3. Blo bubels.*
4. Be frends again with Emma.*
5. Play with Flying Duck
6. Play with Oscar

Reluctantly she added:

7. Go to summer skool.*


There are lots of fun incidents throughout the summer that will further endear Ruby to her readers. She faces her biggest fear-the water-and ultimately, though not easily, emerges as a swimmer. It's an important lesson for all kids, because it's clear that up until that point, she had not been successful in the pool, and dreaded it. As the summer passes by, she is able to cross things off of her "12-Step Summer Plans" list. Her friendships with both Flying Duck and Emma go through rough patches, but ultimately survive and thrive.

Lenore Look has created a winner with Ruby Lu. The breezy writing makes each chapter fly by, leaving the reader craving for more. The book ends with just enough of a teaser to make you think (hope!) that a book about Ruby's experiences in third grade will soon be on its way.

There's a glossary at the end of the book that is funny and educational: "Ruby's Amazing Glossary and Guide to Important Words." Here are a few terms:

"Cantonese-Language needed to order yummy Chinese Food. But also shouted by parents when you are busted. Also used in Chinese school."

"goose bumps-A radar system for detecting anything scary or dangerous or wonderful or breathtakingly beautiful."

"Poh~Poh-(sounds like "paw paw") Grandma on your mother's side."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Halloween Book and a Glimpse into Tasha Tudor's Life

Pumpkin Moonshine
Written and Illustrated by: Tasha Tudor
Recommended Ages: 2-6

I recently discovered a very sweet (and very old) Halloween book for young children (2 and 3 year olds). If you have a child celebrating one of their first Halloweens, then by all means check out Pumpkin Moonshine by Tasha Tudor.

Pumpkin Moonshine
was originally published in 1938, and was Tasha Tudor's first book. It tells the story of Sylvie Ann who wants to make a pumpkin moonshine (jack-o-lantern) for Halloween, and sets out to find the biggest pumpkin she can. The book follows Sylvie's quest as she heads up a large hill and across the cornfields. Once she sees the pumpkin, she has to roll it home because it is too large to carry. But it escapes her grasp and rolls down the hill, frightening the various farm animals and knocking Mr. Hemmelskamp to the ground. Finally it comes to a halt, and Sylvie Ann and her Grandpa carve a fierce "pumpkin moonshine" with "a big grinning mouth with horrid crooked teeth."

Pumpkin Moonshine is a small book made for tiny hands, with text on one page and detailed pictures on the other. The illustrations are very sweet and hearken back to a much simpler time. There's nothing scary about this book, and it's a gentle introduction to one of the nicer traditions of Halloween: carving jack-o-lanterns. You really can't go wrong with Pumpkin Moonshine.

If you and your child discover that you like the text and illustrations of Tasha Tudor, then please check out some of her other picture books. Here are few to consider: 1 is One, Around the Year and Corgiville Fair.

While you are at it, you might want to pick up The Private World of Tasha Tudor, a rich collection of photographs (by Richard Brown) and text (written by Ms. Tudor), that detail the world that she lived in. Tasha Tudor was born in 1919 and only just died last year. However, she always felt more comfortable in another century:

"I'm drawn to the old ways, convinced that I lived before, in the 1830's. Everything comes so easily to me from that period of that time: threading a loom, growing flax, spinning, milking a cow. Einstein said that time is like a river, it flows in bends. If we could only step back around the turns, we could travel in either direction. When I die, I'm going right back to 1830."

The book chronicles her life on her farm in Vermont. There are beautiful photographs of her garden and the animals, as well as Tasha Tudor herself. She dressed in long dresses, her hair in a kerchief, and was often barefoot. She was the antithesis to the breakneck pace we seem to live these days. I found this book strangely comforting, and it was a reminder to put on a cup of tea, pick up a book and slow things down. I had to keep reminding myself that until last year she lived with us, not back in the 1880's. The book is full of her gentle, and sometimes humorous, wisdom:

"Life isn't long enough to do all you could accomplish. And what a privilege even to be alive. In spite of all the pollutions and horrors, how beautiful this world is. Supposing you only saw the stars once every year. Think what you would think. The wonder of it!"

"Gardening has untold rewards. You never have to go on a diet. At age seventy-six I can still wear my wedding dress and still chin myself. I've never been depressed in my whole life and I've never had a headache. They must be awful. I attribute it to goat's milk and gardening."

"I'm perfectly content. I have no other desires than to live right here with my dogs and my goats and my birds."

"If I have a philosophy, it is one best expressed by Henry David Thoreau: 'If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.' That is my credo. It is absolutely true. It is my whole life summed up."

I think Tasha Tudor would be a fascinating person for a child in the fourth or fifth grade to research and write a report on. I highly recommend checking out The Private World of Tasha Tudor, for a brief glimpse into her intriguing and old-fashioned world.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Winter's Tail: How One Little Dolphin Learned to Swim Again

Winter's Tail: How One Little Dolphin Learned To Swim Again

Told by: Juliana Hatkoff, Isabella Hatkoff and Craig Katkoff
Recommended Ages: 4-12

This delightful story is about how one baby dolphin overcame what could have been a life-ending disability, and emerged stronger than ever. Kids and adults alike will appreciate her remarkable story of overcoming adversity.

Back in December 2005, a fisherman was fishing off the coast of Florida and noticed a baby bottlenose dolphin struggling in the lines of a crab trap. He managed to set her free, but she was too hurt and exhausted to swim away. The fisherman called Florida's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and watched over her until the rescue team arrived a few hours later. They took her across Florida to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

What follows is the remarkable recovery of the little dolphin they named Winter, due to the cold conditions the day they found her. The trainers figured she was only two or three months old at the time, an age that dolphins are still drinking their mother's milk. So they bottle-fed her a special milk formula developed for zoo animals. Under the patient guidance of the head trainer Abby and other trainers, Winter ate and began to gain weight.

Unfortunately, her tail had been severely damaged and pieces of it began to flake off. Eventually, Winter lost her tail, and the trainers wondered if she would be able to swim without it. She surprised them all by teaching herself to swim, but not like other dolphins. Instead she moved her stump side to side (more like a fish or a shark), instead of up and down like a dolphin. While the trainers were impressed, they were also worried that she would injure her backbone.

Winter became quite a celebrity at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, especially after NBC's The Today Show filmed a story about her. She became an inspiration to all, but most especially to people who had lost or been born without a limb. She charmed everyone who came to see her. However, the trainers were still worried about the way she swam because her muscles weren't as flexible as they should be.

Fortunately, a man named Kevin Carroll heard about Winter and as a creator of prostheses, thought he could help. He and his team fashioned together a prosthetic tail and sleeve that matched the natural motion of an actual dolphin tail. Then Abby and the other trainers worked to prepare Winter to get used to the feel of wearing a prosthesis. And at this point, it appears to be a success. Winter seems to like her tail, and wears it every day for a short period of time. The trainers' goal is for her to wear it enough to keep her backbone healthy and body flexible.

Kids and adults will love this story about Winter. The photos in the book chronicle her remarkable journey and the people who have helped her along the way. Click here to see an inspiring video about Winter.

BookNosher Tidbit: The same authors have created several books about animals overcoming adversity. Here's a list: Owen and Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship; How One Little Polar Bear Captivated the World and Looking for Miza.

BookNosher Activity: Scholastic is sponsoring a contest for kids to write about their favorite animal hero in 200 words or less. First prize is a chance to visit Winter at her home in Clearwater, Florida, one night's stay at a hotel, $500 travel voucher, a Winter prize pack and a Nintendo DS Game system! 10 runners up with receive a copy of Winter's Tail, a Winter's Tail Nintendo DS game and a Winter plush doll!
Click here for more details.

Note: I was contacted by a publicist to see if I would review Winter's Tale. Typically, I check to see if the book is already in our library system and if it is, tell them I will look at it there. In this case, Winter's Tale was not. So she sent me the book. I am donating it to our public library so that the children in my town will get a chance to read about the little dolphin. I highly recommend you read this heartwarming tale.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Written by: Alice McLerran
Illustrated by: Barbara Cooney
Recommended Ages:

I spent last weekend in Santa Fe, which reminded me so much of the beautiful Arizona desert I grew up in. This got me thinking about one of my family's favorite picture books: Roxaboxen. Roxaboxen is a celebration of the imaginary world that children often live in, and a great reminder to adults that sometimes all a child needs is the chance to play outdoors.

Roxaboxen takes place in a desert where, at first glance, the landscape appears to be quite bare. But it is not bare to the children who live there. For them, Roxaboxen is a place that through the power of make believe, turns into a magical world. As the children outline the streets with stones, the town begins to grow and grow. There's a main street, a town hall, a bakery and two ice cream parlors. ("In Roxaboxen you can eat all the ice cream you want.") The children build houses, which start off quite plain, but take on more and more rooms as time goes on. There's a jail and a cemetery in Roxaboxen, but the only grave is that of a dead lizard.

In Roxaboxen, everybody has a car; all you need is something round for a steering wheel. But you'd better watch out, because there's a speed limit for cars and if you don't mind it, you'll end up in jail. Even better, everyone has a horse. All you need for a horse is a stick and some kind of bridle. (And there's no speed limit for people on horses!)

Barbara Cooney's illustrations lend the perfect touch to Roxaboxen. She captures the essence of the desert perfectly. In particular, I love the ocotillos with the brilliant red flowers at their tips and the colorful desert sky at sunset. It whisked me right back to my own childhood in Arizona.

You can see that Roxaboxen is a "quiet book." On the one hand, there's not a lot going on, and yet there's so much going on. I love this book because it celebrates a childhood filled with play, instead of one filled with "things." My kids all loved Roxaboxen when they were younger. I think it's a book that will inspire your kids to go outside and create an imaginary world in your backyard.

BookNosher Tidbit: Roxaboxen was based on true stories told by the author's mother about how she and her friends would play. There is a real park in Yuma, AZ dedicated to Roxaboxen. Here's a link to find out more.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

My Rotten Life: Nathan Abercrombie Accidental Zombie

My Rotten Life (Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie)
Written by: David Lubar
Recommended Ages: 8-12

If you like books that make you laugh out loud AND feel empathy for what the main character is going through, then look no further than My Rotten Life: Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie. Kids will identify with Nathan's plight from the first page until the last, as they devour the book to see what happens next.

Nathan is a fifth-grader who is having a bad day. Actually, it starts out as a bad day and only gets worse. First, the girl of his dreams--Shawna Lanchester--humiliates him in front of the entire cafeteria by publicly announcing that she's not inviting him to her annual Halloween party. Later on in gym class, he is the last person to be picked for a team. To add insult to injury, he comes in dead last in the mile run. Finally, he publicly humiliates himself at a video game so that all the kids start calling him a "vidiot." All of these things sound about as bad as it can get for a ten-year-old who is more than aware of where he falls in the social hierarchy of fifth grade.

After school, a new girl in town-Abigail-tells him that her uncle (a mad scientist) is working on a cure to get rid of bad feelings. She thinks that after Nathan's rotten day he would be the perfect subject. So off they go to the lab, only to have the serum mistakenly spilled all over him. And wouldn't you know it, Nathan begins to turn into a zombie.

The book continues with some amusing stories of what happens while one is slowly turning into a half-dead zombie. And quite honestly, life is somewhat better for Nathan. He can't feel pain, so he excels at sports because his asthma doesn't kick in. He doesn't need sleep, so he stays up all night secretly playing video games (and gets good at them). Nonetheless, he knows he doesn't want to live his life as a zombie, so he and his friends, Abigail and Mookie, go in search for a cure.

Along the way, you are drawn into the life of fifth-graders, complete with the popular group, the skaters, the nerds and the jocks. Kids will identify (and laugh) as these hierarchies are exposed and poked fun of. The true meaning of friendship is also explored in a totally convincing, yet fun, fifth-grade way. Finally, Nathan's home life is portrayed realistically: Mom is loving, if not a little neurotic, and video games are not allowed: "Mom thought games were too violent. Dad thought they were a bad investment."

My Rotten Life is written in a lively, very readable style. From the first sentence to the last, readers will be drawn in. Here's the first paragraph:

"It's no fun having your heart ripped from your body, slammed to the floor, and stomped into a puddle of quivering red mush. It's even less fun when it happens three times in one afternoon."

If you have a child for whom reading is not their first choice for an activity, try My Rotten Life. The slightly gross humor and easy-to-read text are sure to reel them in. On the other hand, if you have a child who loves to read, they'll probably read My Rotten Life in an afternoon (laughing all the while). Plus, the last paragraph hints that there's more to come:

"Other than that, things are pretty much normal for the only zombie in Belgosi Upper Elementary. Or, at least, they were normal until the secret agent from BUM showed up. But that's another story."

BookNosher Activity: There's a Reader's Guide at the end of the book to enhance My Rotten Life. Check it out! There are some really interesting individual and classroom activities for teachers and parents to turn this fun read, into something educational.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace (Reading Rainbow Book)

Written by: Mary Hoffman
Illustrated by: Caroline Binch
Recommended Ages: 4-8

When my daughter was around five years old, Amazing Grace was one of her favorite books. I think I must have read it out loud at least twenty times. It's been at least eight years since I last read it, and I wondered if it would hold up over time. I can honestly report that it did, and that this is a perfect picture book for the kindergarten/early elementary school-aged child.

Grace is a child who loves stories. But what she loves even more than listening to stories is acting them out afterwards. Whether it's Joan of Arc, Anansi the Spider or Hiawatha, Grace lets her imagination run free as she acts out all the parts.

One day, her teacher announces that the class is going to put on the play Peter Pan. Grace knows that she wants to play the part of Peter. So when asked who wants the role, she raises her hand. One of her classmates leans over and tells her that she can't be Peter because she's a girl. Then another classmate tells her that she can't possibly be Peter because she's black. This doesn't stop Grace from letting her teacher know that she wants to try out for the part.

When Grace gets home she tells her mom and nana that Raj told her she couldn't be Peter because she is a girl. Her mom tells her, "a girl can be Peter Pan if she wants to." A little later, Grace remembers that Natalie told her she couldn't be Peter because she's black. This time her nana tells her that she can be anything she wants, if she puts her mind to it.

The next weekend Nana takes Grace into the city to see Romeo and Juliet. There starring in the role of Juliet is Rosalie Wilkins, granddaughter of a friend of Nana's from Trinidad. Juliet is black, and Grace is inspired. Later she practices being Juliet by twirling around her room in an imaginary tutu.

The day of the audition comes up and Grace is amazing. She's memorized all the words and knows exactly how to act as Peter. All the kids agree that Grace is the best Peter Pan and unanimously vote for her. And when the day of the play comes, Grace is an outstanding Peter Pan. It's just as her nana told her, "If Grace put her mind to it, she can do anything she want."

Amazing Grace is a delightful story with some wonderful underlying messages. Kids will appreciate Grace's determination, and will root for her to succeed. She knows what she wants and goes after it, even though there appear to be obstacles in her way. Amazing Grace touches on sexism, racism and stereotypes in ways that are appropriate for young children, and not at all preachy. Grace's mom and nana are there for her, and they support her in wise and gentle ways. They tell her that she can do anything she puts her mind to, and Grace shows them that she can.

Caroline Binch's illustrations are colorful and bold. Grace is a one-of-a-kind character, with endless expressions that are quite endearing. Kids will love the way she lets her imagination run wild, as she dresses up as various characters from stories. I think the classroom scenes, in particular, are realistic, as they show a class filled with different ethnic and racial backgrounds.

BookNosher Tidbit: Grace is a spunky character that boys and girls will want to keep reading about. Since Amazing Grace, Hoffman has written other books about Grace. They include:
Boundless Grace

Starring Grace (chapter book)
Encore Grace (chapter book)
Bravo Grace (chapter book)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Visitor for Bear

A Visitor for Bear

Written by:
Bonnie Becker
Illustrated by: Kady MacDonald Denton
Recommended Ages: 2-6

This is a lovely, heart-warming picture book about an unlikely friendship between a bear and a mouse. It begs to be read aloud, and in fact recently won the E.B. White Read Aloud Award for 2009. The E. B. White Read Aloud Award was established in 2004 by the Association of Booksellers for Children to honor books that are wonderful read alouds.

Anyway, A Visitor for Bear begins with a curmudgeonly bear just beginning to make his breakfast when he hears a tap, tap, tap at his door. He opens it to find a mouse, "small and gray and bright-eyed." The bear points to the sign on the door that says NO Visitors Allowed, and says "Go Away!" He then goes back to making his breakfast. But lo and behold, it's not quite so easy to get rid of the little mouse, who keeps popping up-- first in the cupboard, then the bread drawer, the refrigerator and finally the teapot.

Every time Bear finds Mouse he tells Mouse to "Vamoose," or to get "Out" or "Be Gone!" The mouse, very politely, always asks if they could just have a spot of tea, with perhaps some cheese.

Finally, because he can't seem to get rid of the mouse, Bear agrees to have a cup of tea. Mouse asks him if he could also make a fire. As they sit by the fire in silence, Bear says that the fire is nice. Mouse agrees it is "lovely." And it's here that Bear's heart softens a bit, because no one has ever called his fires lovely. He stands on his head for Mouse and tells a joke (and Mouse laugts). When Mouse announces it's time for him to go and Bear throws his body across the pathway and says "Don't Go!" Mouse reminds him that he gave his word to stay for just a cup of tea and points to the No Visitor sign. At which point Bear tears up the sign and says "That's for salesmen. Not for friends." And they go back into the house for more tea.

What makes this such a sweet story, is how Becker has created two distinctive characters with very individual mannerisms and speech. Bear is grumpy and you will have fun putting on a grouchy, deep voice. Mouse is a little more formal and quite precise in his speech. Somehow I think a high-pitched English accent would work well. The muted watercolor illustrations are very inviting, and create a warm world that children will want to visit over and over.

If you want a little more Bear and Mouse, check out A Birthday for Bear. Also, coming out in Spring 2010 is A Bedtime for Bear, a story about Bear and Mouse having their first sleepover. Stay tuned; it's sure to be a winner.

BookNosher Tidbit: In the year since A Visitor for Bear has been released, it has garnered quite a few awards, including:
Foreward Magazines Book of the Year for Picture Books
Golden Kite Award for Picture Book Text
Amazon picked it as Best Picture Book for 2008
2009 Notables Book of the Association for Library Service for Children
Selected for the new Oprah Children's Book Club as a great read for 3-5 year olds

BookNosher Activity: A Visitor for Bear made me want to put a pot of tea on and call some friends over for some tea and cake. I think it's the perfect time for your child have a tea party with some favorite stuffed animals by the fire. Here's a link to an easy "pat-a-cake-scone" recipe.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

When You Reach Me

When You Reach Me
Written By Rebecca Stead
Recommended Ages: 9-14

Sometimes a new book comes along that you know is going to make a big splash in the world of children's literature. That's how I felt when I finished reading When You Reach Me. From the beginning, it drew me into the world of sixth-grader Miranda. Set in the Upper West Side of Manhattan in 1979, When You Reach Me introduces us to Miranda in a year where she is dealing with friendships gone awry, new friends, first crushes, the beginnings of race and class awareness and, yes, even a little time travel.

The story is written in first person and the accessible language immediately draws you in. In the first chapter, we learn that Miranda's mom just received a postcard from the television show The $20,000 Pyramid, saying that she had made it as a contestant. Very early on, it is clear that the reason her mom wants to go on the show is because they need the money. The contest provides an interesting backdrop throughout the story, and grounds the setting quite nicely. We learn that her mom is a paralegal who had to drop out of law school when she found out she was pregnant. Miranda's relationship with her mom is deftly depicted, as they move through the pre-teen/mom dance of push and pull.

The beauty of the book is that Miranda's world will feel familiar to fifth, sixth and seventh graders. She is very likeable and real, and the other kids in the book are three-dimensional characters. They are sixth graders, with all the typical middle-school angst going on in their lives. We learn that Miranda's best friend Sal has recently stopped talking to her, after an incident in the street where a random kid punched him. Miranda is sad and confused by his sudden change in behavior. She also develops a crush on a boy in her class, and navigates a best friend triangle with typical pre-teen awkwardness. But where the story really takes off is when Miranda starts receiving notes that look like they come from the future. The first one reads:

This is hard. Harder than I expected, even with your help. But I have been practicing, and my preparations go well. I am coming to save your friend's life, and my own.
I ask two favors.
First, you must write me a letter.
Second, please remember to mention the location of your house key.
The trip is a difficult one. I will not be myself when I reach you."

So there's a mystery involved and I'm not going to give away any of it. I can't say much more about the plot, because it's more important to let the puzzle unravel itself to you without any clues. Suffice to say, it is compelling and will make you not want to put the book down until you read the very last page. The ending is quite satisfying.

One important thing I forgot to mention is Miranda's complete devotion to Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. For kids that have read the story, it will be a comforting sidebar. For kids that haven't, well I suspect they may want to go pick up a copy afterwards. There is talk of time travel, and that in itself is one of the great wonders of the book. I imagine it will make for some fantastic classroom discussions, as kids share their ideas of what is going on. I also think this would be a great book for families to read at home together, since the time--1979--is sure to evoke a lot of childhood memories from parents.

A final note on the setting. I can't imagine When You Reach Me could have been set anywhere else but in New York City in the late 70's. Stead does a fantastic job of making place an integral part of the book. Miranda is a latchkey kid, and friends with shopkeepers and other regulars in her neighborhood. She is street savvy, and walks around very aware of her surroundings. Yes, her mother worries about her out on the street, but still lets her walk to school and other places because that's what kids did in those days. In a way it was sad to remember just how much more freedom kids had then, than they do now.

I'm sure you can tell by now, that I really enjoyed When You Reach Me. There's a lot of buzz that this could be a Newbery winner next year. Whether or not it wins that coveted honor, I think it should be placed on every middle-schooler's suggested reading list.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Leo Lionni's An Extraordinary Egg

An Extraordinary Egg
Written and Illustrated by Leo Lionni
Recommended Ages: 4-8

My sixteen-year old daughter was straightening up her bookcase this morning and came across An Extraordinary Egg. She asked me if I had blogged about it yet. She remembers that it was one of her favorites. I re-read the story with a smile on my face, as I revisited this lovely tale.

In An Extraordinary Egg we are introduced to three frogs, Marilyn, August and Jessica. As you might expect, one of the frogs (Jessica) is a little different from the other two. She's a wanderer, always exploring and finding treasures that she declares are "extraordinary." Unfortunately, Marilyn and August are never too impressed with her findings.

However, one day she brings home a beautiful, white stone almost as big as she is. This time Marilyn and August are impressed. Marilyn ("who knew everything about everything") declares it is a chicken egg. Jessica, who has never even heard of chickens, asks her how she knew. Marilyn replies, "There are some things you just know."

A few days later, the frogs hear a noise coming out of the egg and out walks a long, scaly, green creature. Marilyn proclaims, "See! I was right it is a chicken."

The beautiful thing about the book at this point is that your child will see that this creature is no chicken, but is in fact an alligator. But Lionni does a delightful job as he continues on with the story, calling the alligator "chicken." The "chicken" and the frogs become fast friends and there's a sweet reunion at the end between the baby alligator and her mama, where the mama greets her baby by calling her "my sweet little alligator." The three frogs think that is quite a funny thing to call the chicken an alligator.

An Extraordinary Egg is great fun to read aloud. It's humorous and kids get a kick out of the mistaken identities. They love it that THEY know what's going on, even if the frogs don't. Ultimately, it's a story about friendship between likely and unlikely sources.

I also want to say a word about the illustrations. They are a combination of watercolors, crayons and collage, and quite extraordinary in their own right. Lionni has a definite signature-style that's imaginative and eye-pleasing, which is evident in his many books (over 40).

BookNosher Tidbit: Leo Lionni was a four-time Caldecott Medal winner for Alexander and the Wind-up Mouse, Frederick, Swimmy and Inch by Inch. All four are wonderful books and definitely worth checking out.

BookNosher Activity: Kids will be impressed that both chickens and alligators come from eggs, and will likely want to know about other egg-layers. Here are a few other picture books that you could have on hand for a fun lesson about oviparous animals: Chickens Aren't The Only Ones by Ruth Heller; Guess What is Growing Inside This Egg by Mia Posada and An Egg is Quiet by Diana Hutts Aston.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Henry and Mudge, A Great Early Reader Series

Henry And Mudge First Book
Written by Cynthia Rylant
Illustrated by Sucie Stevenson
Recommended Ages: 4-8

It's hard to believe that I have not yet written about Cynthia Rylant. She is a prolific writer (over 100 books) and one of my favorite children's authors. She's written picture books, early readers, poetry, middle grade and young adult novels. She's won the Newbery and many other awards in a career that spans just 27 years.

One series of hers that all of my kids loved when they were learning to read was Henry and Mudge. They are considered early chapter books, but they also have wonderful illustrations to move the reader along (perfect for the child who is not quite ready for a full-blown chapter book).

The story in each of the books is usually pretty simple. In the first book, we are introduced to Henry. He is a little boy who lives with his mom and dad. He has no brothers and sisters, and lives in a neighborhood with no other children to play with. He's lonely. Finally his parents get him a puppy--Mudge. Mudge starts off as a tiny little thing, only to end up as a 180-pound best friend to Henry. Their friendship is what all 28 Henry and Mudge books is centered around.

The text is simple and straightforward. Each book is divided into chapters (three or four, usually), which help the child feel like they are reading a real chapter book. The pace is perfect for the newly emergent reader, and the length of each book feels just right. If you have a child who is just cracking the reading code, or a reluctant reader, I highly recommend the Henry and Mudge Series.

Here's a list of all of the books. It's wonderful to see that Cynthia Rylant continues to add to the series. There are at least ten new books since my kids last read them.
  1. Henry and Mudge: The First Book (1987)
  2. Henry and Mudge in Puddle Trouble (1987)
  3. Henry and Mudge in the Green Time (1987)
  4. Henry and Mudge Under the Yellow Moon (1987)
  5. Henry and Mudge in the Sparkle Days (1988)
  6. Henry and Mudge and the Forever Sea (1989)
  7. Henry and Mudge Get the Cold Shivers (1989)
  8. Henry and Mudge and the Happy Cat (1990)
  9. Henry and Mudge and the Bedtime Thumps (1991)
  10. Hanry and Mudge Take the Big Test (1991)
  11. Henry and Mudge and the Long Weekend (1992)
  12. Henry and Mudge and the Wild Wind (1993)
  13. Henry and Mudge and the Careful Cousin (1994)
  14. Henry and Mudge and the Best Day of All (1995)
  15. Henry and Mudge in the Family Trees (September 1998)
  16. Henry and Mudge and the Sneaky Crackers (February 1999)
  17. Henry and Mudge and the Starry Night (May 1999)
  18. Henry and Mudge and Annie's Good Move (January 2000)
  19. Henry and Mudge and the Snowman Plan (October 2000)
  20. Henry and Mudge and Annie's Perfect Pet (February 2001)
  21. Henry and Mudge and the Tall Tree House (December 2003)
  22. Henry and Mudge and Mrs. Hopper's House (January 2004)
  23. Henry and Mudge and the Wild Goose Chase (April 2004)
  24. Henry and Mudge and the Funny Lunch (April 2005)
  25. Henry and Mudge and a Very Merry Christmas (October 2005)
  26. Henry and Mudge and the Great Grandpas (June 2006)
  27. Henry and Mudge and the Tumbling Trip (October 2006)
  28. Henry and Mudge and the Big Sleepover (May 2007)

Monday, September 28, 2009

Woolbur, A Free-Spirited Sheep

Written by Leslie Helakoski
Illustrated by Lee Harper
Recommended Ages: 4-8

I love picture books. I think it's sad that some kids leave picture books behind in their elementary years just because they CAN read a chapter book. As I've pointed out in previous posts, authors like Bill Peet and Tim Egan cover topics that preschoolers will enjoy on one level, and 4th and 5th graders on a totally different one. So I'm always on the lookout for a new picture book that will appeal to both preschoolers and the elementary crowd.

Enter Woolbur, a sheep with his own mind. The story begins when Maa tells Paa that Woolbur decided to run with the dogs, instead of standing still with the sheep. When Maa and Paa express their concern that those dogs will run circles around him. Woolbur replies, "I know, isn't it great!"

Then Woolbur has a little trouble in the shearing barn, when he decides not to be sheared like the other sheep. Once again, Maa and Paa tell him that it's springtime and that his wool is so long. And again Woolbur replies, "I know, isn't it great!"

The story continues with Woolbur doing things his own way when it comes time for the sheep to card their wool, spin it and weave it. In one of his bolder moves, he weaves his forelock in the loom. All the while, loving every minute of it. Finally Maa and Paa sit him down and tell him that he must follow the flock, because it's what sheep do. They tell him he has to shear, card, spin, dye and weave wool like everyone else.

So Woolbur thinks about this all night long, and comes up with a plan.

His solution is to teach all the other sheep to run with the dogs, to let their wool grow, to card their own wool, to spin crazy yarn, to experiment with color and to weave their own forelocks. Soon all of the other sheep are acting just like Woolbur. Although even as the other sheep follow him, he still manages to be one of a kind. Woolbur is a great book for kids who march to their own beat (and for those who tend to stay with the flock).

The illustrations in Woolbur are accessible, funny and sure to draw kids in. These sheep are not just ordinary sheep; they have personalities. Even the ones in the flock, who tend to stay in the background, have lots of detail. Maa and Paa are worrywarts and their expressions are priceless, as they rack their brains on how to deal with Woolbur. But it's Woolbur who is the star, and he has pzazz. He is an original with an optimistic go get 'em attitude. Kids will giggle as you read through all of his antics. There are a lot of little details that you catch on the second or third read. You see that Woolbur has "Go Dog Go," in his room, along with a copy of "Zen Knitting." Woolbur is a wonderful story about being a non-conformist and following your dreams.

BookNosher Tidbit: Woolbur has won the following awards:
  • 2008 Book Sense Hot Pick

  • Great Lakes Book Award finalist

  • Gift of Literacy Oregon Book Choice

Nominated for following state book awards:

  • Vermont

  • North Dakota

  • Nevada

  • Florida (Honor Book)

  • South Carolina

  • North Carolina

BookNosher Activities: After reading Woolbur, kids may be very interested in learning how to knit. There's a really great book called Kids Knitting: Projects for Kids of all Ages. It's illustrated and the projects are arranged in order of difficulty. Color photographs show both boys (!) and girls knitting. In fact, you could give a child a copy of Woolbur, Kids Knitting and some needles and yarn and you've got a great gift.