Friday, April 24, 2009

Three Cups of Tea

Fans of 'Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Time' will be happy to know that we now have copies of the editions created just for young readers. This is a marvelous opportunity for adults and kids to read about Greg Mortenson and his efforts to create schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

'Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Journey to Change the World...One Child at a Time' is perfect for 5th graders and up. Greg Mortenson's story is retold here but simplified for younger readers who are very comfortable with chapter books. Color photos supplement the text so readers can see the places and people referred to in the book. There is also a nice interview with Greg's daughter Amira, who is now involved in her father's work. A time line and glossary help readers keep track of what happened when and define foreign words they aren't familiar with. I particularly liked the 'Who's Who in Three Cups of Tea' which is a glossary of the people mentioned in the book. This is great for readers who have a hard time keeping some of the story participants straight as well as introducing them to historical figures mentioned in the book that they may be unfamiliar with. I think, although I haven't tried this out, that this might be a good read-aloud that could work in classrooms or as a family activity.

For a great read-aloud with pictures that will take your breath away, try the picture book version of Greg's story titled 'Listen to the Wind'. Again, Greg's story is simplified, this time for the youngest readers. But the pictures that illustrate the story are spectacular. Using fabric and paper scraps, collage artist Susan L. Roth has brought the story to life with illustrations that readers will pour over and marvel at how time-consuming they had to be to create. The intricate details are amazing. I can't think of how the story might have been better illustrated. 'Listen to the Wind' is beautiful enough to deserve a place on your family coffee table.

Now that three editions of Greg Mortenson's inspiring story are available for all levels of readers, this is a great time to consider doing a school-wide reading effort where everyone, students, teachers, and parents, read the same book. I'm sure there will be many schools and communities that unite to do just that. Keep watching to see who else these books inspire!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Written by Kevin Henkes
Illustrated by Laura Dronzek
Most enjoyed by Preschoolers and Kindergartners

One of the most loved aspects of spring is the return of birds. Many don't leave during the winter, giving us a reason to fill our bird feeders and toss out breadcrumbs. But the return of spring is heralded by a robin and bird song. Because we're so aware of birds now, it's a perfect time to savor 'Birds', the newest book from Kevin Henkes.

Birds come in many colors and sizes. They can be very beautiful in the winter when one red bird sits in a leafless tree. They can be fun to watch, like when they all fly away from a tree all at once. We enjoy birds for lots of reasons, but especially for their songs.

The bright, bold colors used throughout the book give it instant eye appeal. Thick black lines outline the simple pictures, making the colors used all the more vibrant. The strong simple drawings paired with the spare text make this a perfect read aloud for the youngest of listeners. Don't be surprised if the story is followed by a walk outside for some bird watching. The two go together perfectly!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Andy Shane and the Very Bossy Dolores Starbuckle

Written by Jennifer Richard Jacobson
Illustrated by Abby Carter
Most enjoyed by Kindergartners through 3rd graders

Andy Shane is a bit shy. When he starts school, he meets the loud, bossy Dolores Starbuckle and he quickly finds himself a little intimidated by her. Dolores must always be in charge and she knows everything, or so she thinks. But Dolores meets her match in Andy's Granny Web. When Andy doesn't want to go to school, Granny visits his class and shows Andy how to stand up to Dolores in a way that makes both of them friends.

'Andy Shane and the Very Bossy Dolores Starbuckle' is the first of a series of easy chapter books featuring quiet Andy and bossy Dolores. The books are just right for 2nd and 3rd grade readers who like chapter books but aren't ready for anything very long. Two additional titles in our library include 'Andy Shane and the Queen of Egypt' in which Andy and Dolores try to figure out who will study Egypt for their class project, and 'Andy Shane and the Pumpkin Trick', featuring Andy coming up with a clever way to trick the tricksters who keep smashing Dolores's Halloween pumpkins.

Andy and Dolores are complete opposites but they manage to find a way to work things out and become friends. With a gentle nudge now and then from Granny Web, the two learn to give and take, a subtle lesson young readers can take away from these books. Introduce Andy and Dolores to your young reader and watch them enjoy these two friends!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Recess at 20 Below

By Cindy Lou Aillaud
Most enjoyed by Kindergartners through 3rd graders

This is the perfect book for today! Why? Because the weather forcast is calling for a high of 80 degrees, a temperature we haven't seen in what seems like centuries (actually, several months but those months feel like centuries). And since the first days of the week were rainy and cold and reminiscent of winter, it's time to feature a book that will have us counting our blessings today!

'Recess at 20 Below' by Cindy Lou Aillaud.

Need I say more? You're right, but I will. Author Cindy Lou Aillaud lives and teaches in Alaska, where the winters are long and extremely cold. Even if the temperature gets down to 20 below zero, the kids are allowed to go outside for recess. And what fun they have! Playing football, building snow forts - all the regular recess activities are done with the same spirit as if it were 20 above zero. Ms. Aillaud uses photos she took of the children at play to show just how much fun they can have despite the bitter cold. I love the photos of the kids with frosty eyelashes, the result of their warm breathe rising above their mufflered mouths. When do the kids stay inside? When a moose comes to the playground for lunch!

I'll bet there will be a few readers who will wish they were up in Alaska playing in the snow with the book's kids. But perhaps they'll enjoy today's weather and wish for snow tomorrow!

Friday, April 17, 2009

A River of Words:

The Story of William Carlos Williams
Written by Jen Bryant
Illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Most enjoyed by poetry lovers of all ages

William Carlos Williams wrote poetry for most of his adult life. Listening to his English teacher read poems aloud reminded him of the river near his home and sparked his love of poetry. Despite becoming a doctor with a busy medical practice, Williams always found time to write poetry. We still enjoy his work today. In fact, his poem 'The Red Wheelbarrow', plays an integral part in the well-loved book 'Love That Dog' by Sharon Creech.

'A River of Words' is a nice introduction for young readers to William Carlos Williams and his poetry, especially for those new to his work. Some of his poems are reproduced on the end pages and worked into the illustrations. Readers will notice the influence of everyday, ordinary objects and experiences on Williams' writing as they read 'This is Just to Say' about eating plums or 'Metric Figure' about a bird in a tree.

While the story of Williams' life is good, it's the illustrations that really enhance the narrative and make the book spectacular. Flipping through the pages created by Melissa Sweet, it's easy to see why it won a 2009 Caldecott Honor award. Done in a collage style, each page features drawings set against a backdrop of papers from old books and notebooks. This makes the book feel as if it's Williams' notebook, crammed full of his notes and observations to be used later in his poems. The result is a book that can be looked at over and over, each time revealing something new to the reader.

A perfect title for poetry month, 'A River of Words' is a joy to read. If you're new to William Carlos Williams, choose this title to become familiar with him, but if you've enjoyed Williams' poetry in the past, enjoy it anew with this beautiful book.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Day With No Crayons

Written by Elizabeth Rusch
Illustrated by Chad Cameron
Most enjoyed by Kindergartners through 3rd graders

Liza loves her crayons. Her completed pictures are everywhere - the fridge, the bathroom, her bedroom. When Liza runs out of paper one day, what should she draw on but a blank white wall. Mom's not too happy with this and takes away Liza's crayons. But will this stop Liza from creating? Of course not! The world is full of color, as she soon discovers, and those colors aren't limited to a crayon box.

This is a wonderful story about creativity and how it can blossom when barriers and boundaries are removed. Liza is a free spirit that many young readers will identify with. The illustrations combine nicely with the story. For example, when Liza's crayons are taken away, the color illustrations switch to black and white, signifying how dark her world seems without color. Watch what happens, though, when Liza gets a grass stain on her jeans, then rubs in some yellow from a dandelion and orange from a tiger lily. Color reappears!

I'd pair this book with 'My Dog is as Smelly as Dirty Socks', reviewed here. The emphasis on art in both books makes them naturals to be used as an introduction to a collage art project.

Creating can be such fun, and you'll find 'A Day with No Crayons' to be a perfect source of artistic inspiration!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Chicks and Salsa

Written by Aaron Reynolds
Illustrated by Paulette Bogan
Most enjoyed by Kindergarten through 3rd graders

Dig out your sombrero and get ready to party with the animals at Nuthatcher farm! Tired of the same old feed, the chickens take to grumbling. Fortunately for them, the rooster has been watching cooking shows with Mrs. Nuthatcher and he has just the solution. Salsa! Of course, there must be chips with that, and once the pigs hear about it, they want something new, too. Pretty soon, everyone in the barnyard in getting ready for a fiesta, until someone discovers that all of the tomatoes and peppers, all of the yummy ingredients for the southwestern dishes they've come to love, have been stolen! It's back to the old feed again, until Rooster borrows a French cookbook and......

There is lots to laugh at in this book. The illustrations are bright and colorful and the expressions on the animals' faces are so funny! Be warned, though, that you'll want to head for the kitchen when you're done reading this and look for some chips and salsa. Not to worry since the back cover has a couple of recipes for the dishes the animals make. So have your chips and eat them too while you enjoy 'Chicks and Salsa'!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

For Warrior Fans - Look Who's Coming to Naperville!

Hey, Zion Warriors fans! I know there are a couple of you out there, so take note! Author Erin Hunter will be visiting Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville on Thursday, April 23rd at 7:00 PM. Check out the Anderson's website for more details.

Despite the fact that Naperville is quite a distance from Marengo, the drive is doable and well worth it when visiting a favorite author! This is a great opportunity to ask Ms. Hunter questions and perhaps get a book autographed. Don't miss it!

I Lost My Tooth in Africa

Written by Penda Diakite
Illustrated by Baba Wague Diakite
Most enjoyed by Kindergartners through 3rd graders

Losing a first tooth is so exciting. Under the pillow it goes and overnight, the tooth fairy comes and leaves something special - perhaps a small toy, some money, or a candy treat. But if you lived in Africa, you'd get something completely different yet unique to African culture.

Amina travels from her home in Portland, Oregon, to visit relatives in Mali, Africa. The trip is long, but she discovers during the journey that her tooth is loose. She hopes to lose it in Africa because if she does, she'll receive a chicken from the African tooth fairy! The big day arrives, and despite the long wait, Amina gets a chicken and a rooster. Within days, a couple of white eggs appear but will Amina be in Africa long enough to see the eggs hatch?

'I Lost My Tooth in Africa' was written by young Penda Diakite based on the real life experience of her sister, Amina. It's a great introduction to the way a favorite childhood tradition is celebrated in another culture. Since children all over the world lose their teeth, why not research how the tooth fairy visits them? This book gives you a start with Africa. What about India? Or Germany? A little research is a nifty way to learn some geography and to discover a common bond kids world-wide share.

While you're researching, try the recipe provided in the back for the onion sauce Amina shares with her extended family. There is also a glossary for the African words used in the text. Expand your world and extend the boundaries to Africa as you enjoy this story!

Friday, April 3, 2009

My Dog is as Smelly as Dirty Socks

And Other Funny Family Portraits
Written and illustrated by Hanoch Piven
Most enjoyed by all ages

Looking for something to do this weekend? Why not try a fun art project inspired by the book 'My Dog is as Smelly as Dirty Socks'?
Our narrator is a young girl who isn't satisfied with the pencil drawing of her family her teacher asked her to create. Instead, she makes her own portraits using objects she's found that describe her family members. Dad is as jumpy as a spring and as fun as a party favor. Guess what shows up in her portrait of Dad? His eyebrows are real springs and a party favor creates one of his eyes. The family dog referred to in the title is created by things that he smells like, such as a sock and a can of tuna. Everyone in the family has their own portrait, brought to life by the things that characterize that person in the narrator's mind.

The end pages of the book give examples of actual portraits created by children in the cancer ward of Schneider Children's Medical Center in Israel. They're fun to look at and provide lots of inspiration. Dig through the recycling bin and raid the cupboards to see what you can use to create your own family portrait!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Mozart Question

Written by Michael Morpurgo
Illustrated by Michael Foreman
Most enjoyed by 4th through 8th graders

'The Mozart Question' is one of the titles on the 2010 Rebecca Caudill list. It belongs there. Not only is it a great story, but it's one that should be read by everyone, not just those that participate in the Caudill program like we do at Zion.

Lesley is a new reporter for a newspaper when she gets the call reporters dream of. She is asked to make a trip to Italy to interview the great violinist Paolo Levi. A stern warning accompanies the invitation - do not ask the famous musician the Mozart question. As Lesley prepares for the trip, she keeps wondering about the Mozart question, realizing that the more she wonders, the harder it will be to avoid asking the question. When she finally meets the great man, she stumbles to get her words out and in the process, asks him how he began playing the violin. What follows is a story Paolo Levi has never shared with anyone, the story of the beginning of a musical career built on pain, suffering, and ultimately, the beauty of music.

I can't go much further in describing 'The Mozart Question' without giving the story away so I'll simply suggest that you read this book. It is beautifully illustrated and one that will stay with you long after you turn the last page.