Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Year of the Picture Book: The Sniffles for Bear by Bonny Becker

The Sniffles for Bear
written by Bonny Becker, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton
Candlewick Press, 2011
ISBN:  978-0-7636-4756-8
Grades K-3
Reviewed from school library copy.

BLURB: The relentlessly cheery Mouse pushes a cold-suffering Bear to new heights of melodrama in a hilarious new adventure starring the unlikely pair. Bear has a terrible cold. In fact, Bear is quite sure that no one has ever been as sick as he is. So when Mouse comes tap, tap, tapping on his front door eager to make Bear "as good as new" by reading a sunny story, singing a rousing chorus and plinking a twangy tune on her banjo, the pitifully coughing Bear - growing weaker by the minute - is convinced that his tiny friend does not appreciate the gravity of the situation. Can there be any saving Bear from his certain demise? Welcome the world's most lovable curmudgeon and his endearing, unstoppable sidekick in a wry new comedy sure to have even red-eyed, sniffly-nosed readers rolling with laughter.

A fun addition to the Bear and Mouse series perfect for sharing.  The text works well as a read-a-loud providing for lots of expression on the part of the reader.  In fact the more expression used the funner the read-a-loud experience will be.  Both characters are delightful in their own way, grumpy Bear and cheerful Mouse. A delightful homage to the value of friendship even when things get hard. The illustrations add the perfect touch of humor through body language and facial expressions. Highly recommended for both group and individual sharing.  The other books in this series are delightful as well.

Additional books in the series:
A Visitor for Bear
A Birthday for Bear
A Bedtime for Bear

Monday, January 30, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: Kubla Khan, The Emperor of Everything by Kathleen Krull

Kubla Khan: The Emperor of Everything
written by Kathleen Kroll, illustrated by Robert Byrd
Viking, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-670-01114-8
Grades 3-6
Reviewed from purchased copy.

BLURB: Always cast in a supporting role in the many books about Marco Polo, the great Kubla Khan now takes center stage in a splendid picture-book biography. He is a wonderful subject-a man who liked to live large, building the imperial city of Beijing from scratch, siring a hundred children, throwing birthday bashes for 40,000 guests. He ruled over the greatest empire of the time, one that was lightyears ahead of Western civilization in terms of the arts, sciences, and technology. With astonishingly beautiful and detailed illustrations by Robert Byrd and a clever text by Kathleen Krull, this portrait finally gives Kubla Khan his due.

I enjoy reading books about the past, but most of what I've read in both children's and adult books has focused on the American experience.  So I was thrilled to hear about this book.  Kubla Khan was a man of contradictions.  A just ruler under most conditions, his armies destroyed many villages, massacring any who refused to become part of Khan's growing empire.  It was interesting to read about Kubla's mother who was determined to have her children make a mark in the world and did everything in her power to provide them with a chance to do so. 

Clearly a man of great intelligence and leadership ability, Khan left a mark that can still be seen in Asia today.  One thing I found especially fascinating was how involved in his life, his mother, and second wife were.  In a time where women were seen as inferior and incompetent, these women had a big impact on Khan's life, personal and professional. The book is too long for a short read-a-loud, but there is plenty of detail for discussion.

The illustrations are very detailed as well as colorful and bright. The illustrations compliment the text beautifully. I highly recommend this book for those who enjoy reading about the world. 

Head on over to Wendie's Wanderings for more great Nonfiction Monday recommendations.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Fantastic Friday: My Very UnFairy Tale Life by Anna Staniszewski

My Very UnFairy Tale Life
written by Anna Staniszewski
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2011
ISBN:  978-1-4022-5946-3
Grades 3-6
Reviewed from ebook copy provided by publisher through NetGalley.

BLURB: "You know all those stories that claim fairies cry sparkle tears and elves travel by rainbow? They're lies. All lies."—Twelve-year-old Jenny has spent the last two years as an adventurer helping magical kingdoms around the universe. But it's a thankless job, leaving her no time for school or friends. She'd almost rather take a math test than rescue yet another magical creature! When Jenny is sent on yet another mission, she has a tough choice to make: quit and have her normal life back, or fulfill her promise and go into a battle she doesn't think she can win.

Things I enjoyed:  The premise of this book I found quite enjoyable.  A girl who travels to other worlds to help fairy tale like kingdoms solve problems.  The situations were definitely unique, not like any others I've ever read.  Jenny tendency to quote cliches is amusing, yet rather appropriate.  I did enjoy the one world she visited that was ruled by a sheep, which I found ironic, since sheep tend to wander when left to their own devices.  The various secondary characters that Jenny interacts with added to humor, especially, Anthony, the Gnome.

Things I didn't enjoy: Jenny comes across as a bit of a complainer which I found annoying.  Not that she doesn't have great reason to complain having lost her parents and not being supported in her adventures the way she would like.  The lack of understanding from the adults Jenny works with also irritated me.  Jenny is only twelve after all.   Certainly, Jenny's desire to have a normal life is understandable, but I didn't find Jenny particularly likable until the end.  I also prefer books with more depth. Most of the secondary characters weren't developed as much as I would have liked either.

However, the book makes for a light fun read with interesting twists and turns.  And certainly young readers will understand Jenny's desire for friendship and normalcy.  The cover is very intriguing and bound to attract readers, especially girls. I don't think I'd have a problem recommending this book as a entertaining, hard to predict read.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Picture Book Challenge: Dogs

Bark, George
written and illustrated by Jules Fieffer
HarperCollins Publishers 1999
ISBN: 978-0-06-205185-1
Grades PreK-2
Reviewed from personal copy.

BLURB: Bark, George is a delightfully silly picture book about a dog who can't seem to bark right; for some unknown reason, he makes all sorts of other animal sounds.

This is delightful book, perfect for sharing with preschoolers or kindergartners.  I have found that it inevitably elicits giggles.  I enjoy reading this book with great emotion, shock, frustration, and a surprising twist at the end.  I find that I like to pause before turning that final page.  The illustrations are deceptively simple yet convey every emotion.  This book reminds me of Mo Willem's Elephant and Piggie and Pigeon books.  How these authors convey so much in so few words and simple lines amazes me. I highly recommend this book, it's great for read-a-loud time.

written and illustrated by Emily Gravett
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
ISBN: 978-1-4169-8703-1
Grades PreK-2
Reviewed from personal copy.

BLURBGorgeous canines of every shape, size and color are bounding through this irresistible book. Can you choose one dog to love best of all? With playful pencil and watercolor illustrations to delight children and adults alike, everyone will long to bark along with the Chihuahua and tickle the Dalmatian's tummy. This is a wonderfully satisfying book with a twist in the tail.

The children I shared this book with really enjoyed it.  Not only are the illustrations adorable and appealing, but the text is short enough to share with the youngest child.  In addition to being just fun to read, the book can be used to talk about different kinds of dogs, as well as opposites.  The twist at the end is amusing. I wasn't sure the kindergartners would get the ending but they did.  They were also more than happy to talk about their own experiences with dogs.  A fun read-a-loud on a perennially popular topic. 

Read to Me Picture Book Challenge 2012
Growing Level: 120 books read with child(ren)
Completed: 8

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Book Review and Interview: Hans My Hedgehog by Kate Coombs

Hans My Hedgehog: A Tale from the Brothers Grimm
retold by Kate Coombs, illustrated by John Nickle
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2012
ISBN:  978-1-4169-1533-1
Grades 1-5
Reviewed from copy received from publisher for review.
Opinions expressed are solely my own.

BLURB: A classic tale of love and acceptance from the Brothers Grimm is beautifully rendered in this magical retelling. Hans is an unusual boy. Born a hedgehog from the waist up, he knows what it’s like to truly be an outcast. Even his amazing fiddle playing can’t help him fit in. So Hans flees to the forest with his herd of loyal pigs and only his music to keep him company. But then a most unusual thing happens: When Hans crosses paths with two kings with two lovely daughters, his luck starts to change. Will this lonely soul find true love after all?  This lively and lyrical retelling of the classic Grimm’s tale, paired with lush, detailed illustrations, reminds us of the power of music, the importance of belonging, and the transformative effect of love.

I enjoy a good folktale, but I generally read adapted versions.  The Grimms Brothers fairy tale versions are usually too dark for my taste and they seem to revolve around justice and violence.  I prefer stories that are uplifting and positive.  That's not to say that I don't see the need for consequences when characters behave badly, I just don't like gruesome justice.  Kate Coombs has taken the original story and tweaked it enough to make it one I feel comfortable sharing with my students.

Hans is a sympathetic character wanting to be loved and accepted by those around him.  He has a great talent in creating music with his fiddle. I appreciated the fact that he had to work hard to develop this talent. When he is rejected he leaves home to live in the nearby enchanted forest with a herd of pigs and a beautiful, flying rooster.  The kings, the one who intends on keeping his promise and the one who doesn't (see above summary) provide the moral in this fairy tale.  Appropriately, the king who breaks his promise is punished (loses have his fortune) and the king, who keeps his promise receives a very talented son-in-law.  I liked the fact that Hans broke his own curse through the beauty of his music.  A well-told fairy tale worth adding to most fairy tale collections (makes for a great comparison with similar stories, like Beauty and the Beast).

I was not really excited about the illustrations when I first read the story.  But in looking at them a second time, I've decided that they suit the story quite well.  I liked the way the illustration integrated musical notes into the pictures to capture the importance of Hans's music in the story.  Nickle also added some nice humorous touches.  For example, the bad king, his daughter, and guards all wearing pink, definitely funny.  Also, the picture where Hans is wearing only underwear and the reader sees for the first time the contrast between Hans's hedgehog half and his human half.  The mention of underwear is almost always a laugh getter for children.  The picture of the pigs wearing crowns and pearls is also amusing.  I found it interesting that we don't actually see the face of the second princess until we see Hans as a complete human.  The only problem I had with the illustrations was the leafless trees in the forest.  This seemed odd to me. Otherwise I enjoyed the book.


Tell us about your book.

Hans is the story of a boy who is born human from the waist down and hedgehog from the waist up. Needless to say, he doesn't have a lot of friends—just the herd of pigs he takes with him to live in the forest when he goes off with his fiddle, riding on a rooster. But in time, kings and promises and the magic of Hans's music bring him a happy ending.

Please provide a favorite excerpt from your book.

Each note slipped between the trees like a spell. The pigs, listening below, were steeped in magic.

Where can readers find you and your book?

The library, I hope! Barnes and Noble is carrying it in at least some stores that I know of, but their turnover is often rather quick, so you can always go to Amazon. I hope your local independent has it—for me that's The King's English in Salt Lake City, Utah.

What was your favorite book when you were a child/teen?

I had so many favorites! One I really loved (and still love) is The Silver Curlew by Eleanor Farjeon. It's a middle grade retelling of "Rumpelstiltskin" (or rather "Tom Tit Tot," as the British version is called). The book also brings in elements of a nursery rhyme. It's funny and adventurous! I read a lot of fairy tale collections, too.
Can you share 5 random facts about yourself?

I collect seashells and frog princes.
I write teachers' guides for state history books for 3rd/4th and 7th/8th graders.
I drew the portrait (of a younger me!) on my blog header myself.
I avoid super-serious grown-up movies because they make me sad for days.
I have 15 bookshelves in my house.
I doodle a lot, mostly adding decorative serifs to letters, but also swirls and fancy bullet points.

What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?

Ah, the decadence! My favorite is Ben and Jerry's Phish Food.

What do you especially like about folktales? dislike?

I like the way they have definite shapes and types, but still manage to surprise. I like that they are a haiku (and often superior) version of those sprawling fantasy novels. I like that the tales from different countries are so different. For example, Japanese fairy tales are less likely to have the kind of happy ending expected in a traditional European tale.

Dislike? If you get really into folktales and read the older, complete collections, you'll find some boring ones. And I'm less interested in tales about a cast of animals interacting in humorous ways than in the ones with dragons, princesses, and enchanted boys who are half-hedgehog.

Be sure to visit Kate's blog for a complete list of locations for Hans the Hedgehog's blog tour.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

2012 Read to Me Picture Book Challenge

There's a Book is once again sponsoring the Read to Me Picture Book Challenge.  Since I really enjoyed participating last year and received some great books as prizes, I'm going to participate again this year.  I am going to up my goal since I will be participating throughout the whole year rather than only a part like 2011.  There are three levels of participation, Reading with a Child, Reading on Your Own, and Reading with child or on own with only a wrap up post at the end of the month.  Since I work in a school library and see children every day, here is what I have decided to do. There are various goals to chose from based on how many books you think you can complete.  I have decided to be daring this year and chose a more difficult goal. (Note: I did meet my goal for last year, I just didn't review all the books read on my blog.)

Reading with a Child (Children)
Growing Level (Read 120 books with a child during the year.)
 Already completed: 8 books read (check back later this week for the official reviews).

I know this is ambitious, but it will help remind me how important reading aloud with children is.  Sometimes I get so busy trying to cover everything I'm supposed to cover (I do have an assigned curriculum to teach) that I sometimes neglect this, my favorite part of being a school librarian.

If you have some great picture books that you think I should share, please let me know by email or in the comments.  I'm always looking for great new books to share.  I like to have a variety to choose from.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: Soar, Elinor! by Tami Lewis Brown

Soar, Elinor!
written by Tami Lewis Brown, pictures by Francois Roca
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-374-37115-9
Grades 2-5
Reviewed from purchased copy for Beehive Book Awards.

BLURB: Elinor Smith was six when she first went for a ride in a rickety "flying machine," and she was just sixteen when she earned her aviation license in 1928. But not everyone thought that girls should fly. When male pilots and newspapermen mocked her, Elinor decided to perform an aerial maneuver they thought was impossible: flying under all four bridges that span New York City's East River. Gorgeous sweeping illustrations by Fran├žois Roca show how Elinor pulled off this risky feat skillfully and with style.

 I really enjoyed this book.  The combination of gorgeous illustrations and great text pair nicely in this title.  I am also a big fan of books about people following their dreams and passions. I appreciated how Elinor's parents encouraged her in her dreams despite their unconventional nature.  And one can't help but admire Elinor's courage and spunk in proving to herself and the world that women pilots were just as good as men.  The longer text does make it more appropriate for older children, but the topic makes for a great sharing book.  The topic would fit beautifully into discussions of American or women's history.  The information at the end about the interviews with the real Elinor and the photographs are a great addition.  I appreciated that the author went right to the source for her information (she interviewed Elinor herself). I highly recommend this book for curricular or personal use.  The story can be enjoyed by anyone who appreciates courage and determination as well as the power of dreams.

Head on over to Shelf-Employed for today's Nonfiction Monday. You'll find some great nonfiction highlighted.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Fantastic Friday: Forbidden Sea by Sheila A. Nielson

Forbidden Sea
written by Sheila A. Nielson
Scholastic Press, 2010
ISBN:  978-0-545-09734-5
Grades 5-8
Reviewed from copy borrowed from library.

BLURB: Yet, when the islanders find out about Adrianne's encounters with the mermaid she is scorned, for this small and superstitious community believes the mermaid will bring devastation to the island if Adrianne does not give herself to the sea. When Adrianne comes face-to-face with the mermaid of Windwaithe Island, of whom she has heard terrible stories all her life, she is convinced the mermaid means to take her younger sister. Adrianne, fierce-willed and courageous, is determined to protect her sister from the mermaid, and her family from starvation. However, the mermaid continues to haunt Adrianne in her dreams and with her song.  A powerful and lyrical story of one girl who must choose between having everything and having those she loves.

I came across this book while doing reading for the Beehive Book Awards.  The premise didn't appeal to me much, I am not a big fan of mermaids.  But Adrianne has such a strong voice and I found myself rooting for her from page one.  It quickly becomes apparent that Adri is the strong one in her family of four.  Her younger sister is adorable but unequipped to take care of herself.  Adri's mother is likewise too weak of spirit to even defend her daughter from the malicious attacks of her aunt.  Her aunt is so bitter and angry about the past that she rarely has anything nice or helpful to say. While reading this I seriously felt at times like giving Adri's aunt a serious shake.  That's one way I know I'm reading a good book, when I get emotionally invested in the characters.

The writing is superb and the setting clearly depicted.  I could see the island in my mind.  My favorite parts of the book however were the parts with the beautiful stallion, Dartemore. I'm a horse lover myself, so I especially liked Adrianne's special connection to horses.  There is a taste of romance but nothing inappropriate.  The depiction of mermaids is an interesting one.  While the mermaid seems like an enemy at first, Adrianne's view of her changes over time and in the end she has to make a difficult choice.  I highly recommend this book for those who enjoy a good fantasy, but like a strong dash of real life thrown in.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

My Sparkling Misfortune Interview and GIVEAWAY

I would like to welcome Laura Lond and Lord Arkus to my blog today.   They have both graciously agreed to answer a few questions. (Well, one more graciously than the other, I'll let you figure out who.)  For more information about the book and Lord Arkus check out my review of My Sparkling Misfortune. Also be sure to enter the giveaway at the end.

Questions for Lord Arkus:
Q. What made you decide to become a villain?

A: Everyone seems to want to know this; understandable curiosity, I suppose. It happened when I was very young. I had lost a close friend, and on top of that I had found myself accused of things I had not done. People tend to be cruel and unfair, as I’m sure you know. I figured it was not worth it to try to prove them all wrong -- and I enjoyed their fear of me. So I had embraced this path and proceeded to build my reputation as a villain.
Q. What is life like as a villain?
A: It’s a lonely profession, and you always have to watch your back. On the other hand, it’s a lot of fun. Enemies, for example, can provide just as much entertainment as friends -- if they are dealt with properly and timely, of course.
Q. What is your favorite part of being a villain?

A: You get to set your own rules!
Q. What advice would you give someone who wants to catch a gormack vs. a sparkling?

A: I wouldn’t advise trying to catch a sparkling… for several reasons. As to catching a gormack, you have to make sure you’re physically strong, that’s the first thing, because if you grab one but fail to hold him long enough, you’re doomed. There’s no second chance in this game. Also, don’t forget to properly seal the deal, to ensure his full submission. Otherwise, he’ll promise to serve you then rip off your head as soon as you let him go.
Q. What is it like living in a castle? What do you like best about your castle?

A: I like the atmosphere. A dark and dreary place like mine sets the right mood, not to mention helps to establish the right image. Here in my realm, everyone knows what Arkusville is like -- and knows to stay away. Well, except for heroes wishing to fight me, of course, but that’s a different story.
Taking care of the castle is a lot of work though. I need to be personally involved if I want things to run smoothly. Shork isn’t the brightest of servants, I can’t fully rely on him. And goblins can be quite troublesome, too, they tend to make mischief when they think I’m not watching.
Q. How do you spend your free time or what are your hobbies?

A: I am a busy man, I don’t have that much free time… But when I do, I like swordplay, and horse riding. I have discovered that I enjoy writing, too. With two books out and well accepted by readers, I am thinking about writing the third one. I’m also having a lot of fun recording the first two as audiobooks.
Q. Who is your most dangerous foe?

A: It used to be the accursed monster charged with the mission to kill me... I had spent several years running and hiding from him. Now that I’ve finally got that thing off my back, I’d have to say it’s Ragnar, the gormack. He is a powerful spirit, there’s not much I can do against him. And he’s mad at me. Very mad.
Q. What do you think of your new name, Lakeland Knight?

A: It’s detestable. It sounds *heroic* -- that says it all.
Author Questions:

Q. Tell us about the self-publishing process.

A: When the book is written, the first thing I do is celebrate. Writing a book is often compared to going on a long and difficult journey, and it is very true. Completing it deserves a moment to pause and simply enjoy it. Then I get to work preparing the release. I work with beta readers and cover designers, contact book reviewers, prepare the files for both ebook and paperback release. This takes time, but not nearly as long as traditional publishing takes, and having full control over the process is priceless. I usually release the ebook version first; a paperback follows shortly after that. Some of my books are being made into audiobooks, too.
Q. What inspired you to write the story?

A: Lord Arkus had entered my world and insisted that his story needed to be told. I did not see it all at the beginning, but one thing was clear: he was a villain who wanted a chance. So, together with the kind-hearted Jarvi, I gave it to him.
Q.   Finish the sentence - one book I wish I had written is...

A: The Chronicles of Narnia.
Q. Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.

A: Hearing from my readers. Receiving a letter from someone telling me that my book has brightened their day brightens mine.

Many thanks to Laura Lond and Lord Arkus for visiting with us today.

GIVEAWAY: One paperback copy and two ebook copies.  
One entry per person. Please leave a comment below including an email address where I can contact you and which you would prefer, ebook or paperback.  

This giveaway will run from January 19th to January 31st 11:59 p.m.  I will announce the winners on February 1st.  Winners will need to respond to an email with in 48 hours or another winner will be chosen.

Thanks for participating.

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