Sunday, July 25, 2010

Two new baseball picture books to consider

Here are two new picture books (both published in 2010) that will introduce two baseball legends to a new generation of readers.

All Star!: Honus Wagner and the Most Famous Baseball Card Ever

Written by: Jane Yolen
Illustrated by: Jim Burke
Recommended Ages: 6-10

All Star! opens with the story of how a Honus Wagner baseball card sold at auction for three million dollars in June 2007. It then goes back 134 years to a small town in Pennsylvania where a baby was born to a mining family. From here it chronicles Honus's humble beginnings in this impoverished town where boys entered the mines after the sixth grade. On their only day off, they played baseball. With all the work in the mines, Honus was strong. One legend has it that when he was twelve he came to bat and belted the ball out into the outfield. While running around the bases, he caught up to the other runner, picked him up and slung him over his back and dropped him on the brick they used for home plate.

The story has lots of moments about Honus as he worked his way up through the minors and finally to a place on a Paterson, NJ team. Kids will enjoy hearing that he was paid $125 per month (the average yearly pay for a worker then was $439). When he ultimately joined the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1900, Honus won the National League batting championship eight times. There are many legends about Honus out there, and the book tells a few of them. He was considered one of the greatest baseball players ever. When he had the famous baseball card made of him, he had it pulled when he realized that it was sold in cigarette packs. He thought it would give his young fans the wrong idea about cigarettes. So the cards became very rare, and very valuable.

Honus Wagner was a player who played baseball for the sheer love of the game. In 1936, when the Baseball Hall of Fame was established, he was one of the first five men inducted into it.

Written by: Willie Perdomo
Illustrated by: Bryan Collier
Recommended Ages: 6-9

This is a loving tribute to a man considered by many to be one of the finest baseball players ever--Roberto Clemente. The book is told in the first person by a little boy who is the son of the president of "The Greatest Fans of Roberto Clemente Club, Boogie-down Bronx chapter," who also happens to be named Clemente. Spanish is sprinkled throughout the book, as well as the impressive stats that Clemente acquired in his baseball career.

"4 batting titles,
.317 lifetime average,
came to bat 9454 times,
got 3,000 hits,
440 doubles,
166 triples,
240 home runs,
12 Golden Gloves...

What makes this book stand out is the way it portrays Roberto Clemente, not only as a great baseball player but as a wonderful human being. He lived his life admirably and never gave up, even when he was receiving ugly letters from people calling him names. His life ended tragically when the plane he was on, bound for Nicaragua with food, clothes and medicine for earthquake victims, crashed and disappeared. Unfortunately, Clemente's life was cut short, and baseball lost a great humanitarian athlete.

Both of these books portray two baseball legends playing in simpler times. Although, that's not to say that life was simple or easy for them. Both Wagner and Clemente confronted many obstacles along the way, and yet both overcame them with dignity. These days with athletes often in the news for all the wrong reasons, and salaries way out of proportion to the way normal people live, it's nice for kids to be reminded that true superstars in the past played for the love of the game.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Bad to the Bone

Bad to the Bone (Down Girl and Sit)

Written by: Lucy Nolan
Illustrated by: Mike Reed
Recommended Ages: 5-8

Here's an early reader book that is laugh out loud funny. Bad to the Bone is the perfect book for the emerging reader who is ready to move beyond the 32-page picture book format. It has short, easy-to-read chapters, illustrations on every page and a snappy dialogue which makes reading it a breeze.

Bad to the Bone is written in first person from the viewpoint of a dog named Down Girl. (She thinks Down Girl is her name because that is what she hears her owner saying to her all the time.) Down Girl is a self-proclaimed cat hater who is always trying to train her human Rruff. When he doesn't give her the attention she thinks she deserves, she and her friend Sit decide to be "bad to the bone." Unfortunately, this only gets them into more trouble, resulting in the two dogs going to a dog training class. Only in Down Girl's mind, it's a class to teach their masters how to behave. What follows is a hilarious scene with the owners shouting out orders to the dogs, which makes the dogs think they've forgotten their actual names. As Down Girl notes at one point "Sit was a very popular name that day." Kids will find this scene of confused identity very funny, and may want to read it over and over again.

Young readers are naturally drawn to books about animals, and will enjoy reading a story told from a dog's point of view. Bad to the Bone is the third book in the "Down Girl and Sit" series, and even the most reluctant reader will have a hard to resisting the sly humor. By the way, if your child enjoys Bad to the Bone, you might want to check out the Bad Kitty series, which I wrote about here.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Story of Ferdinand

The Story of Ferdinand

Written by: Munro leaf
Illustrated by: Robert Lawson
Recommended Ages: 3-8

In honor of Spain winning the World Cup, I was inspired to revisit the children's classic The Story of Ferdinand. As I started to read it, I realized that I still knew it by heart, even though it had been at least ten years since I last cracked its cover. For The Story of Ferdinand, along with Where the Wild Things Are, was one of the most beloved and widely read picture books in our house.

For those who don't know the story, Ferdinand was a little bull that "liked to sit just quietly and smell the flowers." He was different than all of the other bulls who jumped and butted their heads together. Everything was fine in Ferdinand's life, until one day he sat on a bumble bee, which made him jump up with a snort and go a little crazy. Unfortunately for Ferdinand, some men from the city saw him at that exact moment and thought he would be the best bull to go to the big bullfights in Madrid. So they took him to the city with high hopes of having quite a show. But, no matter how hard the matadors tried, Ferdinand wouldn't fight. Instead he sat down in the middle of the bullring and smelled all of the flowers in the ladies' hats.

So what is it about the "little bull who would rather just sit and smell the flowers than fight," that finds its way into our hearts forever? I think it's because kids see from the beginning that Ferdinand is true to himself, even when everyone around him behaves differently. They see how much more appealing Ferdinand is being himself, rather than just one of the other bulls. It's a subtle lesson in individuality. Furthermore (and this is important), Ferdinand has one of the happiest, most satisfying endings in children's literature.

Of course, you can't talk about The Story of Ferdinand without talking about the whimsical (and often very humorous) black and white drawings by Robert Lawson. The facial expressions of the people, the cork tree, the matador dandies and the lovely ladies with flowers in their hair all make it so that multiple readings are enjoyable. There is always a fun new detail to point out, and I can honestly say that this is one book I never minded reading over and over again.

BookNosher Tidbit: The Story of Ferdinand was published just before the start of the Spanish Civil War (1934), and was seen by many supporters of Francisco Franco as a pacifist book. It became a target of the right wing and was banned in many countries. It was also one of the few non-Communist books promoted in Soviet-occupied Poland.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

My Last Best Friend

My Last Best Friend (Friends for Keeps)

Written by: Julie Bowe
Recommended Ages: 7-10

This is a funny, heartfelt story that will appeal to elementary school-aged kids who know what it's like to experience the highs and lows that first friendships often bring with them. My Last Best Friend is written in an easy-to-read, breezy style that also works well as a read aloud to a class.

Ida May is entering the fourth grade and she is not at all excited about it. Her one and only best friend Elizabeth has moved away, and there are all sorts of things amiss. For instance, in fourth grade you have to write in cursive, not printing; you have to do multiplication and division, not addition and subtraction; and you're supposed to walk to the bus stop alone, not without your mother. Ida Lee is not excited for the year.

We're introduced to quite a cast of characters in My Last Best Friend, many of whom I recognized from my own childhood. There's Jenna, the mean girl whom everyone is afraid of (and believe me, she's pretty awful). There's Randi, the tomboy who's great at all things with a ball. And there's Stacey, the new, somewhat mysterious, girl in the class. The friendship between Ida May and Stacey develops in a sweet way through a secret letter writing campaign that moves the story along at a nice clip.

Julie Bowe has done a wonderful job portraying a girl who is on the verge of adolescence, and wishes she was back in third grade when life was easier. Kids will identify with her insecurities and root for her to succeed. If you have a child who loved Clementine, this is a perfect "next step" for the slightly older reader. While My Last Best Friend can be read and enjoyed for the story alone, there are lots of "teachable moments" about what it means to be a friend, and how to treat your friends. The characters grow in very real ways, and even the villain Jenna shows a spark of compassion at the end of the book. There are two more books that continue on with Ida May's fourth grade year: My New Best Friend and My Best Frenemy. I highly recommend the series.

BookNosher Activity: If you visit Julie Bowe's website, she has instructions on how to make a BFF bracelet.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

365 Things to Make And Do

365 Things to Make and Do

Written By: Vivienne Bolton
Recommended Ages: 6 and up

Here's a book that just might be the answer to those plaintive cries of "I'm bored" that inevitably creep up in the summer. It's filled with enough projects that you should be able to find something for everyone in your family.

365 Things to Make and Do is divided into eight sections: Nature, In the Kitchen, Indoor Crafts, Cards and Wrappings, At the Seaside, Toys & Games, Models & Boxes, and Special Occasions. Each project is on a double page spread, and there are color photos of the kids and supplies needed, as well as step-by-step instructions. There's also a "Tips and Warnings" box for kids (and parents) to read prior to beginning each project.

Some of the more intriguing projects include: Bird Feeders made out of recycled milk cartons, twig furniture, glass painting, lots of different card projects, bottlecap snakes, banks made out of recycled containers and juggling balls.

There are a few reasons I think this book would be a welcome addition in any home. First of all, they have some clever ideas for projects that will entice even the most reluctant kid to the project table. Secondly, I think that these ideas will spur on other ideas and kids will use their own creative imaginations to move forward. I also like that many of the projects are using recycled materials found around the house. And finally, it's good practice to learn how to read and follow directions from a book. For those kids that are capable of reading the book completely on their own, they can learn how to follow written instructions. It's an essential lifetime skill if one plans on say following a recipe from a cookbook or assembling a piece of Ikea furniture.

So if you want a book to combat those summer doldrums, consider checking out 365 Things To Make and Do. It might be the answer to your sanity!