Sunday, January 31, 2010



Written and illustrated by: Jason Chin
Recommended Ages: 6-10

This picture book is a clever blend of facts and fantasy. The facts are in the very readable text, where we learn a lot about those most magical of trees--the redwoods. The fantasy comes in the form of imaginative illustrations that guide us throughout the 32 page book.

While waiting for a train, a young boy picks up a copy of a book called Redwoods. As the boy starts to read about the trees, the background changes to fit the story. For instance, as he learns that the ancestors of the redwoods lived during the Jurassic period, dinosaurs appear outside the train window. Or when he reads that a tree can live more more than 2,000 years, he finds himself seated between two men from the Roman Empire. It's an imaginative and fun way to learn about the endangered redwood tree.

The watercolor illustrations do an amazing job of highlighting the facts. Perspective is shown when the boy reads that researchers discovered a tree in 2006 that was 379.1 feet tall. Turn the page and you read that that's "six stories taller than the Statue of Liberty." And the picture shows the Statue of Liberty against the backdrop of a redwood tree.

There's a lot contained in these pages. For example, here are some interesting facts about redwoods:

"When a redwood is injured, the tree will often sprout new trunks that look like miniature versions of the tree itself."

"...redwoods have an ingenious way of collecting water: They make their own rain! When the fog rolls in, it condenses on the redwood's needles, and whatever moisture isn't absorbed then falls to the ground to be soaked up by the tree's roots."

"Some animals, like red tree voles, live their whole lives in the treetops and never see the ground."

Elementary-aged kids will enjoy reading Redwoods. Nature and non-fiction buffs will automatically be drawn to this book. But I also think that reluctant readers will find themselves pulled in because it's just so interesting. The book succeeds by being both beautifully drawn and chock full of facts. If I were a first through fourth grade teacher, I'd want to make sure my classroom contained a copy of Redwoods.

BookNosher Activities: You might want to check out some of these websites on redwoods:

Save The Redwoods League: Lots of information about the endangered redwood. Includes a kids' pledge to help save them.

On the Redwood National Parks website, there's a section on how to become a Junior Ranger. Perfect for the budding naturalist.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Peace, Locomotion

Peace, Locomotion

Written by: Jacqueline Woodson
Recommended Ages: 9-12

This middle grade book is what I would term a "quiet" book. It's not a fast-paced, plot-driven story, but rather a story that gently unfolds as you turn each page. I think it will appeal to readers who don't mind a slower-paced character-driven book. Because of its epistolary format (with short chapters), it's not a difficult read, and may very well appeal to more reluctant readers. I enjoyed it very much, and have found that it has stayed with me long after I finished the book.

Peace, Locomotion is told in a series of letters that are written by twelve-year-old Lonnie (Locomotion to his friends) to his little sister Lili. We learn that they are living in different foster homes, although we don't immediately know why. From the first chapter, Lonnie's voice comes through loud and clear. You can't help but like this young boy, who is sensitive, artistic and has experienced some incredible losses in his young life. He lives with Miss Edna and her two sons, although one of them--Jenkins--is over fighting in an unnamed war. Miss Edna is kind and loving to Lonnie, and we watch over the course of 134 pages as his definition of family changes to be inclusive of her, as well as Lili and her foster family.

Not a lot happens in Peace, Locomotion and yet Lonnie experiences tremendous growth. He has a best friend Clyde, and their friendship is typical twelve-year-old boy stuff, and much more. On the one hand they play basketball and soccer, while on the other we learn that Clyde and his sister live with his aunt, and that his mom just drops in every now and then. Once again, pushing the definition of family to the edge.

When we learn that Jenkins has gone missing from the war, the fear and worry are palpable in the house. Lonnie starts to grapple with the idea of war and peace, and all that entails. When Jenkins is eventually found, he is injured. The story depicts his re-entry into the household, shell-shocked and in a wheel chair. Woodson doesn't shy away from anything, and the story is told in spare, beautiful prose, that is absolutely appropriate for the middle grade reader. She's a wonderful writer who manages to say a lot, without a lot of words. It's an art.

Peace, Locomotion is a sequel to the book Locomotion which dealt with Lonnie and Lili in the aftermath of a tragic fire that killed their parents. While I haven't read it, I certainly intend to. Instead of letters, Lonnie, who is a gifted writer, writes it in a series of poems. Peace, Locomotion has two of his poems about peace in the endnotes. Here's one of them which, I hope, will give you an idea of the voice and beauty of the book:

"Imagine Peace

I think it's blue because that's my favorite color.
I think it's soft like flannel sheets in the
I think Peace is full-
like a stomach after a real good dinner-
beef stew and corn bread or
shrimp fried rice and egg rolls.
Even better
Than some barbecue chicken.
I think Peace is pretty--like my sister Lili.
And I think it's nice--like my friend Clyde.
I think if you imagine it, like that
Beatles guy used to sing about?
Then it can happen.
Yeah, I think
Peace Can Happen"

BookNosher Tidbit: Peace, Locomotion was an Odyssey Honor Book for 2009. This annual award is given to the producer of the best audio book produced for children and/or young adults, available in English in the United States. The selection committee also selects honor titles.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Emily Gravett: Picture Book Author/Illustrator Worth Checking Out

In the four years since Emily Gravett's first book Wolves came out, she has written and illustrated eight noteworthy children's picture books. Each one of them is unique, clever and ends up sneaking up on you. I found myself finishing up one, and then turning back to page one and re-reading it right away. She is an author we will hear much from in the coming years.

Written and Illustrated by: Emily Gravett
Recommended Ages: 4-8

This clever story stars a rabbit that goes to the West Bucks Public Burrowing Library and checks out a book about wolves. As the story unfolds, we see the rabbit-with nose in book-devouring factual information about wolves (ie. an adult wolf has 42 teeth), while at the same time being stalked by a wolf. As the book goes on, the rabbit becomes smaller and smaller, while the wolf becomes larger and more threatening. Eventually the rabbit realizes the trouble he is in, and the result is a partially eaten book and no rabbit. But never fear, on the next page the author points out that the book is a work of fiction and "no rabbits were eaten during the making of this book." She then goes on to provide an ending for "sensitive readers," that's very tongue in cheek and quite funny. If your child is quite sensitive, you might skip this book. But if your child has a good sense of humor, likes learning facts about wolves and appreciates looking at the subtle details in pictures, then this book is a good choice.

Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears (Kate Greenaway Medal (Awards))

Written and Illustrated by: Emily Gravett
Recommended Ages: 4-8

This is a beautiful picture book using mixed-media images that will delight children and adults alike. At the heart of the story is a little mouse that uses a journal to illustrate his fears. Pencil in hand, the little mouse draws his reactions to phobias like Clinophobia (the fear of going to bed) and Teratophobia (fear of monsters) by drawing a bed with seven pairs of scary eyes under it. There are lots of fold outs, torn pages and flap lifts for kids to spend time on and parents to marvel at. As you go through the pages, and learn about real fears such as chronomentrophobia (fear of clocks) and the slightly made-up fear of whereamiophobia (fear of getting lost), you begin to wonder how she will end the book. Well, most perfectly, if I do say so myself. The last three pages contain the lines: "I'm afraid of nearly everything I see. But even though I'm very small...she's afraid of me." And there on the page is the little mouse looking up at a pair of giant feet standing on a chair. It's a reassuring book about facing ones' fears.

Orange Pear Apple Bear

Written and Illustrated by: Emily Gravett
Recommended Ages: 1-3

For the youngest readers, Emily Gravett introduces us to Orange Pear Apple Bear. It has just five words in it, and yet she playfully arranges them to tell a tale of a bear playing and interacting with fruit. It's visually appealing to look at, and parents can point out colors and shapes to their eager toddlers. Will not disappoint.

BookNosher Tidbits: Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears won the Kate Greenaway medal. Wolves was the winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal and the Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Award for Illustration. Orange Pear Apple Bear was a Quills Award finalist and on the shortlist for the Kate Greenaway Medal, was a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year and a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year.

BookNosher Activities: Definitely check out Emily Gravett's website. She has activities and games that go along with her books. It's a very well-designed, interactive site.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

How Oliver Olson Changed The World

How Oliver Olson Changed the World

Written by: Claudia Mills
Pictures by: Heather Maione
Recommended Ages: 5-8

How would you like it if your parents always did your homework? On first glance, most kids would probably think that would be pretty terrific. But after reading How Oliver Olson Changed the World, they might not think it was such a great idea.

How Oliver Olson Changed the World is a delightful, funny early chapter book that will capture early readers' attention right away. It features Oliver, a timid, overprotected third grader who manages to finally come into his own with the space diorama project. But in the beginning of the book, things are not looking so rosy for Oliver.

Early on we learn that his parents have managed to keep him in a protective cocoon for much of his life, due to starting out as a sickly child. Sleepovers-no! Riding bikes outside of the cul de sac-no! Doing homework on his own-no! With a diorama of the solar system on the horizon, we watch as Oliver's parents start organizing and planning the entire project. It's a pretty hilarious scene which may ring ever-so-true to many children and parents alike. Luckily for Oliver, he gets his first break when Crystal Harding (the most talkative girl in the school) decides that they should do the diorama together, and Oliver's parents are gently shoved aside.

What follows is a delightful story that includes fun facts about the solar system (it addresses Pluto's recent ouster from the planet kingdom in a thought-provoking way), as well as a very realistic depiction of third graders at work and play. Although Oliver and Crystal are the main characters, the other kids in the class are deftly drawn, so you get a sense of them as individuals.

In addition to the diorama, the class is also given an assignment to come up with an idea that would change the world. Of course, we get Oliver's mother's idea:
"Put a sign by the school that says no U-turns....It could save someone's life. It could change the world for one person at least."
And Oliver's idea:
" Schools should make a rule that parents can't help homework. It's like, what's the point of homework, if parents do it?"

There's a neat twist in the end that contributes a lot to the growth of Oliver's character. And grow he does, in a perfect third-grade way.

How Oliver Changed the World is lighthearted, but also poignant. The writing is breezy and very funny. I actually found myself chuckling to myself in quite a few places. I think this would be a great read-aloud book for a first or second grade class, as well as a perfect early chapter book for the emerging reader. Highly recommended.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Participate in a fun poll

Last year, Betsy Bird, preeminent blogger for the School Library Journal, ran a poll of the top 100 picture books ever. The results were fascinating (here's a link). This year, she is conducting a new poll of the 100 best Fictional Chapter Books. Between now and January 31, come up with your top ten favorite middle grade books and send them to her in ORDER OF PREFERENCE.

What are middle grade books, you ask? They are books written for kids under the age of 13 who are reading full chapter books. Think From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler, Harriet the Spy and When You Reach Me. Here's a link to her blog with all of the details.

As one who loves middle grade books, I can't wait to participate in the poll and even more importantly, see the results. She'll post the countdown sometime in the early spring, I imagine.

BookNosher Activity: This would be a great activity for a fourth, fifth or sixth grade class to participate in. They could either participate individually, or as a class. Plus, once the results roll in, kids will get some new ideas of books to read.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Every Soul a Star

Every Soul A Star

Written by: Wendy Mass
Recommended Ages: 8-12

I'm back, after a brief hiatus that included a trip with my family down to Nicaragua where we scaled a volcano, enjoyed the windswept beaches of Lake Nicaragua and immersed ourselves into the Nicaraguan's slower-paced, heart-filled culture. It was divine. So now I'm switching gears, as I look to introduce books (old and new) to readers of The Book Nosher in 2010.

I recently read Every Soul A Star; a new middle-grade book that will appeal to many readers between the ages of eight and twelve. It's about the intersection of the lives of three young teens over the fairly rare, natural occurrence of a total solar eclipse. Every Soul a Star is told in turns by its three main characters-Ally, Bree and Jack. Mass does a masterful job getting each of their voices down, truly capturing the essence of each kid.

The story opens with Ally explaining that the campground she and her family have lived in for the past decade (Moon Shadow Campground) is the only place in the entire country that lies "smack dab in the path of the Great Eclipse when it passes overhead." They have been gearing up for this event for years, and are ready to greet the swarms of eclipse-followers that will descend upon them. Ally is a bit of a science geek. She is home-schooled, and is intelligent about all things natural and scientific, and naive about the cultural trends that early teenage girls are usually so proficient in.

In chapter 2, we are introduced to Bree. She is a self-described beauty, and model wanna-be, and is (at least in the beginning) a bit of a stereotypical teen, where popularity is her most prized possession. After meeting Bree, we definitely feel her pain when her scientist parents announce that they are uprooting the family and moving to Moon Shadow Campground, far away from the malls she likes to frequent.

Finally, we meet Jack, an overweight, artistic-type who struggles in school and has low self-esteem. After flunking science, he is approached by his science teacher to see if instead of taking summer school, he'd like to accompany him to Moon Shadow Campground to be his right hand man, as he leads a group of people to witness the eclipse. Jack accepts, mostly for the chance to forego summer school, rather than the opportunity to see an eclipse.

What enfolds is a story that details the two weeks leading up to the big event; where the characters learn about each other, about their families, about astronomy and most importantly, about themselves. The trials and tribulations of the early teenage years are explored, and strong bonds are formed amongst the characters, culminating in the big event. Mass does a nice job of relating the stories of the teens, in their own words. At the same time she teaches us, in a very palatable way, the intricacies of the universe in general, and the eclipse specifically. There are enough twists and turns in the plot to keep even the most jaded reader turning the pages.

BookNosher Activities: In the author's note, Mass points out that the next total solar eclipse in the mainland United States will occur on August 21, 2017. The path will extend from Oregon to South Carolina. She mentions some websites that she found helpful in the researching of the book, which would be good to follow up on:;;;; and World Wide Telescope, in particular, looks like a wonderful learning tool, in that it "enables your computer to function as a virtual telescope, bringing together imagery from the best ground and space-based telescopes in the world. Experience narrated guided tours from astronomers and educators featuring interesting places in the sky." Every Soul a Star might be the perfect book to pique your child's interest in astronomy.