Monday, May 17, 2010

Rhyming Dust Bunnies

Written and illustrated by Jan Thomas
Most enjoyed by readers and rhymers of all ages

Rhymes are funny things. Once they are started, they are hard to stop. Take the rhymes in 'Rhyming Dust Bunnies' by Jan Thomas. Reading this book aloud invites plenty of audience participation because listeners are asked to think of words that rhyme with others, such as 'car' and 'bug'. Sounds like any other rhyming book, right? Ahhh, that's where you're wrong because in this book, the rhymers are dust bunnies. Yes, those fluffy, fuzzy things that hide in corners and run when they see a broom coming. Unless they're too busy rhyming. And then, well, read 'Rhyming Dust Bunnies' to find out what happens when dust bunnies are too busy rhyming.

Our preschool and kindergarten kids love this book. It doesn't stay on the shelf long and it can be read over and over and still generate laughs. The artwork is bright and bold and eye-catching. I don't usually make it a point to check the facial expressions of my dust bunnies but those in the book are hilarious. Much of the action can be anticipated by young readers simply by watching the faces of the dust bunnies.

'Rhyming Dust Bunnies' is one book you don't want to miss.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Birthday Ball

Written by Lois Lowry
Illustrated by Jules Feiffer
Most enjoyed by 4th through 6th graders

Princess Patricia Priscilla is turning 16 soon and dreading it. On that day, at her birthday ball, she must choose a husband according to the laws of the domain. Unfortunately, that is the last thing Princess Patricia wants to do. She's bored with her life and so, inspired by a conversation with her chambermaid Tess, decides to switch places for one day with the girl and become a peasant. After putting on Tess's humble garments, Princess Patricia heads off to school, there becoming the student Pat and learning that there are quite a few differences between peasant life and royal life. The headmaster welcomes her but he's very different from the old, stern teacher Tess had warned her about. In fact, he's young, quite handsome and very kind.

Meanwhile, in domains far away, four princes get ready to woo Princess Pat. Each one is repulsive in his own way and not a single one of them cares a bit about her, concerned only about the prestige and power and money a marriage to her will bring. As the ball nears, Pat becomes more determined to have her way but the princes are just as determined as well. Which one will Pat choose? Will she be forced to live the rest of her life in misery or will she find a way to make her dreams come true?

'The Birthday Ball' is a delightful tale of a young princess taking charge of her life. The four princes from which Pat must choose are each deliciously disgusting so readers cringe throughout the story guessing which one will be selected. Thanks to Tess, the headmaster Rafe, and the peasant school children, Pat changes from a self-centered, disinterested princess to one that is warm and caring. When Pat makes her choice, readers will cheer and agree that it's the very best choice.

While the cover of 'The Birthday Ball' may appeal to younger readers, I think the book is best enjoyed by slightly older readers, say 4th through 6th graders. The preparations the four princes go through to woo Pat are so extreme they're funny. Pat herself is a character that one dislikes initially due to her self-centeredness, but as she changes, so do the reader's feelings about her. I particularly liked the royal staff who serve the King, Queen and Princess so faithfully, especially the three singing servant girls. I found myself humming along with them as they sang in their three-part harmony.

'The Birthday Ball' is a perfect read for a lazy summer day so grab a pencil and add it to your summer reading list (you have one started, don't you?!).

Monday, April 26, 2010

Book Fiesta!

Celebrate Children's Day/Book Day
Written by Pat Mora
Illustrated by Rafael Lopez
Most enjoyed by joyful readers of all ages

This week, we're reading 'Book Fiesta' by Pat Mora during preschool and Kindergarten story time. Inspired by the national Children's Day celebration held in Mexico on April 30th, the book is a bilingual celebration of the joy of reading at any time, in all places, and with everyone we love.

While the students enjoy listening to the words, they really love the illustrations. Artist Rafael Lopez won the 2010 Pura Belpre Illustrator's Award for this book and it's easy to see why. The colors are vibrant, saturating the eye with their richness. The energy spoken by the colors is reflected in the expressions on the children's faces. Even the animals get in on the fun! Together, they prove that reading is truly a joyful activity.

Why not have your own book fiesta and celebrate reading any day!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Birthday for Bear

Written by Bonny Becker
Illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton
Most enjoyed by Kindergartners through 2nd Graders

Bear is busy tidying his house and ignoring the fact that it is his birthday. Mouse, his good friend, is doing his very best to help Bear celebrate. A bunch of balloons, a hand-delivered card, even a present brought by a cleverly disguised Mouse down the chimney cannot convince Bear to stop his work and celebrate. It takes one very special present to make Bear see that celebrating your birthday is something a friend does best.

Written as a chapter book, 'A Birthday for Bear' is perfect for beginning readers but could easily be read in one sitting by more advanced readers. Kady MacDonald Denton's ink and watercolor illustrations give Bear and Mouse such personality. I love their facial expressions and their body language.

Bear and Mouse are such a great pair. No matter how hard Bear tries to resist Mouse's offers of friendship, Mouse simply will not give up. Isn't that what true friends do - never give up on you? What a wonderful message for young readers!

Monday, April 19, 2010

What Does Bunny See: A Book of Colors

Written by Linda Sue Park
Illustrated by Maggie Smith
Most enjoyed by Preschoolers and Kindergartners

As garden centers put out more and more colorful flowers to plant this spring, 'What Does Bunny See' is the perfect book to read together before a shopping trip to choose flowers for your yard.

Bunny hops down the cottage garden path and sees color everywhere. There's the pink of the water lilies, the purple of the violets and the brilliant orange of the tiger lilies. Exploring his colorful home is just right to tire him out, ready for a little nap.

Each color is introduced in a simple rhyme that will enable readers to guess the color before it is revealed with the turn of a page. Colors are represented by common flowers that could grow most anywhere. Why not read the story then create your own rainbow garden using some of the flowers Bunny finds?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Little Blue Truck

Written by Alice Schertle
Illustrated by Jill McElmurry
Most enjoyed by Preschoolers through 1st Graders

Little Blue Truck is loved by all of the farm animals. When he drives by with his cheery 'Beep!', they answer in return in their own unique way. Along comes Big Yellow Dump Truck pushing his way through. He has no time for niceties and lets everyone know it. But when he gets stuck in the mud, who comes to his rescue but the little truck with the big heart. As he pushes Big Yellow with all his might, Little Blue Truck finds himself stuck in the mud, too. At the sound of his 'Beep!', the animals come to his rescue.

'Little Blue Truck' is a sunny little truck who loves helping anyone. Young readers will cheer for his animal friends as they help their buddy, especially when it's the littlest friend who provides the most help. A great read-aloud, 'Little Blue Truck' is one you don't want to miss.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Benny and Penny and the Big No-No!

Written and illustrated by Geoffrey Hayes
Most enjoyed by Preschoolers, Kindergartners, and 1st Graders

With simple, clear text and appealing characters, 'Benny and Penny and the Big No-No!' is a perfect book for the youngest of readers. It's easy to see why this book won the 2010 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award. It's easy enough for a first grader to read on their own and just right for a parent-child read-aloud.

Benny and Penny know it is wrong to go next door without asking, but Benny has lost his pail and he's pretty sure the new neighbor has taken it. But who is the new neighbor? A monster? When Benny peers over the fence separating their yards, he accidentally falls into the neighbor's yard. There's his pail alright, but there's also some neatly made mud pies. Would a monster make mud pies? Benny and Penny hide when they hear the monster coming but the monster is as surprised by their presence as much as they're surprised by the monster's real identity. As they hurry over the fence with Benny's pail, they make a discovery that leads to the realization that perhaps the new neighbor isn't such a monster after all.

What I love about this book is the simple lessons it teaches in such a subtle way. There is a consequence for Benny and Penny's actions, those no-no's of the title, yet each is resolved in a manner that begs to be repeated in real life. For example, when Benny and Penny discover that Benny has falsely accused the neighbor of taking his pail, they go back over the fence to apologize, showing readers that a simple 'I'm sorry' can often be all it takes to right a wrong. The no-no's are situations youngsters often find themselves in, such as disobeying a rule or taking something that doesn't belong to them. Common, ordinary events that are part of growing up but that often need gentle instruction.

While 'Benny and Penny and the Big No-No!' is the second book in a series created by Geoffrey Hayes it is the first one in our collection. And once it starts circulating, I suspect it won't be the last!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Spring Break is Here!

This week is Spring Break week at Zion. It's a week to take a much-needed hiatus from our studies and ready ourselves for the final 8 weeks of learning before summer vacation. Our blog will be taking a break, too, in order to catch up on reading. Look for more great book suggestions next week! Happy Spring and Happy Easter!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Funny Farm

Written and illustrated by Mark Teague
Most enjoyed by preschoolers through 2nd graders

Spring planting season is just around the corner. Keep your eye peeled as you pass the fields that surround our town. You'll see farmers getting their fields ready for planting. If you're a newbie to farming like Edward, there may be a few surprises in store but probably not as exotic as those found on Hawthorne Farm. Here, the pigs pull practical jokes, the mice churn their own butter, and owners Uncle Earl and Aunt Josephine make their own maple syrup. Not much funny in that except the two are dogs and everyone knows dogs don't make syrup, right?

Poor Edward is in for a new learning experience when he visits his relatives' farm and so is the reader. While Mark Teague's text lists the activities done on the farm each day, his pictures bring the text to life and leave the reader laughing. For example, when we read that 'In the morning, everyone gets up early', we see sheep brushing their teeth and washing their faces. When it rains, we see Edward in the house watching the pigs play in puddles and Mama Robin shelter her babies with an unbrella. There's something quirky to look for on every double-page spread.

In fact, while 'Funny Farm' is a short book, it's not a quick read as I discovered the other day when reading it to some preschoolers. We lingered over every double-page spread looking closely to find the 'funny' on the farm. We weren't disappointed and shared quite a few giggles. It's the memory of that laughter that won't keep 'Funny Farm' in the shelf for long.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg

Written by Rodman Philbrick
Most enjoyed by history fans in 5th through 8th grade

Homer P. Figg, little brother to Harold, is known to embellish his stories a bit. He'll need to really tell some whoppers if he's going to get his brother out of the Union Army. You see, Harold went a bit too far when trying to stop his uncle, Squinton Leach, from hurting Homer. Now, Squinton has conned a judge into enlisting Harold into the Union army despite the fact that Harold is too young. Homer watches in agony as his brother is taken away, vowing to leave that night to rescue Harold. But Harold's lead is too great and Homer must rely on the kindness of others to help his search. From a Quaker minister helping runaway slaves to a kind newspaperman who tells Homer the stark truth about war, Homer's search leads him to the front and Harold himself. But the happy ending Homer had hoped for comes with a price, one that he and Harold live with forever.

I really liked this book. The characters are well-drawn, the story's pacing fast enough to propel the reader onward. It didn't sugar-coat the brutality of the Civil War, yet it didn't make it so graphic that it might turn away the squeamish. It's an excellent work of historical fiction that well deserves the Newbery honor medal it received.

Our 6th grade book club just finished discussing 'Homer' and those that finished the book before our discussion enjoyed it. The students loved Homer's ability to get himself out of major trouble with his tall tales. The biggest complaint was not about the book but about the cover art work. Group members felt it didn't accurately portray the subject matter of the book and made the book look as if it were appropriate for a much younger audience. We hope that when the paperback version comes out, the cover is redesigned. But the group consensus was that 'The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg' is great historical fiction for junior high readers.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Lion's Share

Written and illustrated by Matthew McElligott
Most enjoyed by 1st through 4th graders

Matthew McElligott has a way with math concepts that makes them so simple to understand. In 'Bean Thirteen', reviewed here, he covered simple division. In 'The Lion's Share', he tackles fractions and does it so well it can almost be said that fractions are easy (note, I said almost!).

Each year, the Lion holds a special dinner party for his animal friends. Ant is invited for the first time and is quite excited. Wanting to make a good impression, he arrives on time only to discover that the other guests are there already, indulging in a glorious feast but displaying terrible table manners. When the lion serves dessert, he invites his guests to help themselves and each does in his own greedy way. The elephant feels that half is his fair share so he takes half of the cake. The hippo feels that he can take half of what's left since the elephant took half. The gorilla takes half again and so on until the portion left for the ant crumbles before he can take a bite. Feeling terrible, the ant offers to make the lion a cake. When the others hear this, they wish to outdo the ant, offering twice what the guest before him has offered. So the beetle offers to make two cakes, followed by the frog who offers four, and so on until the elephant, who started the whole greedy affair, must offer a staggering number of cakes in order to save face.

Not only does 'The Lion's Share' excel at showing the effects of halving and doubling, it also serves as a great object lesson for greed and humbleness. Kids see what happens when one is self-centered but they'll cheer for the simply humility of the ant. The book demands using real cake to demonstrate the halving for the kids. M&M's could be used to show the doubling. It would be an object lesson that would stay with the kids and I'm sure would soon be a favorite. I'll be on the look-out for more math books by Matthew McElligott.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Big Wolf & Little Wolf

Written by Nadine Brun-Cosme
Illustrated by Olivier Tallec
Most enjoyed by readers in Kindergarten through 3rd grade

Big Wolf sees a small something coming towards him in the distance. What could it be? Will it want to stay? If it does, should he share his blanket? What about the tree that has always belonged to him? That small something turns out to be Little Wolf, who stays and does everything Big Wolf does. At first, Big Wolf shares a little of what he has - a little of his blanket, a little of his food. When he returns from a walk in the woods to discover that Little Wolf is gone, he realizes how much he's become used to having Little Wolf around, how much he misses his company.

Sometimes, when new people enter our lives, we're wary of them, uncertain how to act or how they will act towards us. The relationship of Big Wolf and Little Wolf beings with that tentative hesitation, but as Big Wolf becomes more familiar with Little Wolf, he opens up his heart and lets Little Wolf in. They become friends in a simple, quiet way. 'Big Wolf & Little Wolf' reinforces the idea that friendship is built on trust and little acts of kindness. What a great reminder for kids and the rest of us as well!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Bean Thirteen

Written and illustrated by Matthew McElligott
Most enjoyed by readers in 1st through 4th grade

Division can be a tough concept to understand. The multiplication tables are memorized as well as addition and subtractions facts. But division can be particularly sticky. That's when it's great to have a book like 'Bean Thirteen' to help young mathematicians better understand the idea of division.

Ralph and Flora were picking beans for dinner. Ralph thinks the twelve beans they've chosen is enough, but Flora wants one more. Yikes, thinks Ralph, not the dreaded 13th bean! That's an unlucky number. The 13 beans come home anyway, despite Ralph's fears, only to confound the pair as they try to divide the beans equally among dinner guests. First, it's two groups of six but that leaves the unlucky 13th bean by itself. Then it's three piles of four beans but again, the 13th bean is left. Ralph and Flora continue to try to divide the beans equally, only to find that letting the dinner guests help themselves solves the problem.

The illustrations support the text with bright colors and clear views of the various ways the beans are grouped. Grab some beans (jelly beans would be perfect for this time of year!) and try practicing the same groupings Ralph and Flora create. A fun, and edible, way to explain a difficult concept!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Doctor Ted

Written by Andrea Beaty
Illustrated by Pascal Lemaitre
Most enjoyed by Preschoolers and Kindergartners

Is there a doctor in the house? There is if you live with Ted, the lovable bear at the center of the delightful 'Doctor Ted'. When Ted bumps his knee, he's sure he needs a doctor but none is to be found. So, who better to answer that need than Ted himself! Not everyone thinks there's room for another doctor, especially at school where they already have one on staff. But guess which doctor helps out when Mrs. Johnson hurts her ankle!

You'll fall for Ted and his superb medical skills. He does a great job at diagnosing problems ("You have gingivitis") and determining the correct medical cure ("You need a full-body cast.")
In fact, even thought this book will appeal to little ones, older kids will really get the humor. If you need a book for an older sibling to read to a younger sibling, 'Doctor Ted' would be a great choice.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Written by Gordon Korman
Most enjoyed by football lovers in 6th through 8th grade

Marcus is new to town and ready to play the game he loves, football. It's hard to get to know anyone in town, though, when you move in the summer. As he practices in the park, he becomes friends with Charlie, a guy in his 50's who can hit a tackle like he's a kid. A little research and Marcus learns that his buddy is really Charlie Popovich, former linebacker in the NFL and crowned the 'King of Pop' because of the effectiveness of his hits. Though their practices are brutally physical, there's something about the hitting and tackling that Marcus soon enjoys. He can understand what Charlie means when he says that he 'loves the pop'.

His lessons with Charlie pay off because a job as quarterback for the Raider's doesn't look possible. Troy, the winning quarterback from an undefeated season last year, has no intention of giving up the job. None of the other players are too interested in welcoming Marcus to the team either. It doesn't help matters that Troy is Charlie's son, a son that Charlie has never mentioned. In fact, Charlie has never mentioned having a family at all. He plans pranks like a teenager but can't recall carrying them out. Marcus soon realizes that something isn't right with Charlie. Perhaps all those years of living for the 'pop' have taken their toll. When a crucial decision is needed for Charlie's future, Marcus and Troy differ on the right approach to take. Who will decide what's best for Charlie - the family that loves him or the buddy who knows how important football is to the King of Pop?

'Pop' is an excellent, gripping novel about a young man watching an older friend come to terms with the brutal result of too many head injuries. It's a timely book because the long term effect of numerous concussions on football players has been in the news quite a bit. While football is an important part of 'Pop', the close friendship that develops between Marcus and Charlie is what draws readers in. Without giving too much of the book away, it's difficult to read how much Marcus cares for Charlie and how Charlie really can't return the feeling. But knowing this, Marcus doesn't give up on Charlie, a quality that I admired in him. There were a few times I wished Marcus had gone to another adult to help him deal with Charlie, but I appreciate the fact that he felt he couldn't. It made me wonder how I would have handled the situation myself.

Even if you're not a fan of football, don't pass up 'Pop' It's a great story about a young man caring for an older friend despite heartbreaking circumstances.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

RC 2011: Trouble

Written by Gary Schmidt
Most enjoyed by 6th through 8th graders
2011 Rebecca Caudill Nominee

Back in summer of 2008, when Trouble by Gary Schmidt was first published, I recommended it as an excellent book, one that made you think about life for days to come. You can read my review here. I still feel that way about this book, a title that has stayed with me since that summer. I am so happy to see it as a nominee for the 2011 Rebecca Caudill list. If you haven't read it yet, go read my previoius review then put this at the top of your reading list.

Friday, February 12, 2010

I Can't Wait!

The title and cover of the last book in the Hunger Games trilogy has been released. Now to try to wait patiently until August 24th when it's available in bookstores!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

2011 Rebecca Caudill List is Here!

Yahoo! Time to start reading books from the 2011 Rebecca Caudill list! If you're like me, you try to read all of the titles on each year's list. This year, we have 10 students trying to finish up the 2010 list. One has actually manged to read all 20! But with the new list out, it's awful tempting to jump right to the 2011 list. If you're ready to do just that, you can check out the list here. Happy reading!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Day of the Assassins

Written by Johnny O'Brien
Most enjoyed by WWI fans in 6th through 8th grade

There are not many books, either fiction or non-fiction, available for young readers interested in World War I, although a few have popped up recently. 'Day of the Assassins' by Jack Christie is one of these titles that does a nice job of mixing the war, time travel, and mystery in one story.

Jack Christie never really knew his father. His mother, who left with Jack when he was young, has never told him much about the man. Now, Jack wishes she had, because he's discovered that his father is up to something. Something big. Something involving time travel and a chance to change history.

When Jack and his friend Angus get sent back in time to 1914 Austria, they are pursued not just by Jack's father's friend, but by members of VIGIL, an organization committed to making sure the time travel machine cannot change history. As they try to escape VIGIL, they meet a young woman who asks for their help in carrying out the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, the event that triggered the war. If Jack is able to stop the assassination, World War I will never happen, but should he stop it? What will happen to history if he does?

Filled with plenty of action to keep readers turning the page, 'Day of the Assassins' is a thriller wrapped up in history and seasoned with time travel. The author's notes in the back of the book provide factual information about the assassination plot, the political climate of the time, and what happened to the assassins afterward. Period photographs placed throughout help identify key historical figures. Great for historical fiction fans as well as those that like action novels, 'Day of the Assassins' is well worth the read.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity

The Brixton Brothers, #1
Written by Mac Barnett
Illustrated by Adam Rex
Most enjoyed by 5th through 8th graders

I've been reading quite a few mysteries lately, and this has got to be my favorite. And I predict it won't be long before there are quite a few other readers who agree with me.

Steve Brixton absolutely loves the Bailey Brothers mysteries. He's read all of them and counts them as the best books ever. In fact, he's very carefully cut out the center of the pages of a Guinness Book of World Records in order to hide his top-secret notebook containing the 59 best books ever written. And all of those books are Bailey Brothers adventures.

But school interferes with reading, especially when his teacher assigns a report for weekend homework. Asked to draw a report topic out of a hat, Steve watches in horror as his best friend Dana draws the subject 'detectives' while he himself draws 'early American needlework'. Disappointed but resigned, he heads to the library to do some research, finding a book on quilting by someone named J. J. Beckley. Just as the librarian scans the book's barcode, the lights go out, an alarm sounds, and Steve watches in horror as black-clad figures come crashing through the door, windows, and skylight. As the men close in on him, Steve runs. Why are they after him? Is it really for the $3.45 in library fines he owes? Or is there something special about the quilting book he checked out? Steve has to use all of the detective skills he's read about in the Bailey Brother's books to solve this mystery.

If you are a fan of the Hardy Boys books, you'll recognize that author Mac Barnett has created a hilarious parody of those well-loved mysteries. Steve and buddy Dana, whom Steve likes to call his chum, try to solve the mystery surrounding the quilting book using tips from the Bailey Brothers detective handbook. But they learn the hard way that what happens on the printed page doesn't always happen quite so smoothly in real life. For example, when Steve tries to track down a Mr. Grabes at a dockside bar, he dons a sailor costume in the hopes of blending in with the other sailors. But these sailors wear jeans and t-shirts making Steve look out of place. The gig is up when Steve's fake mustache falls into his milk.

Situation after funny situation like this one propel the story forward to a surprising ending. Of course, if you're a Hardy Boys fan, you'll have been able to spot the real thief all along. But even if you do, don't give up on this one. On the last page, Steve says his next case is The Ghost Writer Secret, making me highly suspicious that this will not be the one and only Brixton Brothers book. If my deductions are correct, I can't wait for the next installment.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

How to Build Your Own Country

Written by Valerie Wyatt
Illustrated by Fred Rix
Most enjoyed by 4th through 8th graders

Wouldn't it be awesome to be king or queen of your own country? You declare the eating of spinach be against the law or allow playing games on your Nintendo DS to count as homework. But how would your country make any money? And what would your national anthem be?

Take my advice - check out 'How to Build Your Own Country' and you'll find out all the answers to those questions and more. With colorful, eye-catching illustrations, 'How to Build Your Own Country' is a civics lesson on nation building. It gives very practical and understandable advice on how a nation goes about developing itself, from creating it's own flag and motto to how it populates itself, governs itself, and attracts businesses. With real examples, such as the Principality of Sealand (which I had never heard of and had to research), 'How to Build Your Own Country' is a great read even if you have no plans to start your own country!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Monday is Awards Day!

This coming Monday, January 18, the American Library Association will announce the winners of various children's and young adult literary prizes, including the Caldecot and Newbery awards. If you can't wait to hear who wins, tune in to watch a live presentation of the awards here. It's always fun to watch and hear which excellent books win awards and sad to think of the many wonderful books that seem to get overlooked. But that's what makes book sharing fun - the awards may generate the publicity but reading and sharing books with friends helps us find the hidden gems!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Extreme Animals:The Toughest Creatures on Earth

Written by Nicola Davies
Illustrated by Neal Layton
Most enjoyed by 4th through 8th graders

Did you know that wood frogs use sugar as a type of antifreeze? This lowers the point at which their bodies freeze to below zero, allowing them to survive in very cold temperatures.

How about this tidbit - bacteria that live near volcanoes are called thermophiles. They love temperatures that range from 176F to 230F. Now, we humans might like it hot but we sure can't stand that kind of heat!

'Extreme Animals' is full of interesting information about the creatures in the world around us that survive and even thrive in conditions too extreme for people, from Arctic cold to bottom-of-the-ocean heat plumes. Cartoon-like illustrations help emphasize the extremes found in the text. While the text is difficult for younger readers, it's certainly a book that could be read aloud to them. In fact, they'd find that the animals that survive in extreme climates in our world make reality TV show survivors look like wimpy kids!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors

Written by Joyce Sidman
Illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski
Most enjoyed by poetry lovers of all ages

A poetry book about seasonal colors is perfect for this time of year. We've had our share of snow and bitter cold this winter. As beautiful as the landscape is blanketed by snow, a splash of color is what our eyes search for when it's sunny. Sometimes, it's hard to find. But after reading 'Red Sings from Treetops', I think it will be a little bit easier to spot those colors that are hiding right in front of us.

Beginning with the season of spring, Ms. Sidman describes colors and how they change with each season. White sounds like storms in spring but dazzles in the winter. Green is tired and dusty in fall but is the queen of summer. The imagery created by each color makes readers say 'Yes, that is the way pink is in winter' or 'Yellow really does grow wheels in fall as it goes off to school'. Ms. Sidman creates so many perfect word pictures with her poetry that I think even the youngest of readers or listeners will be able to relate to the text. And they'll delight in the illustrations by Pamela Zagarenski. What joy they contain! Part collage and part painting on wood, they have a sort of spontaneity to them that perfectly reflects the poetry.

I've read 'Red Sings from Treetops' a number of times now and can't get enough of it. I'm glad it starts with the season of spring because it reminds me that despite the cold and snow, it will be here eventually. In the meantime, I can start watching for the colors that will tell me it's just around the corner.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Let it Snow

Written and illustrated by Holly Hobbie
Most enjoyed by Kindergartners through 2nd graders

We received this book in the library today and I debated about reading aloud to the 1st graders. It's really a Christmas book so it seemed a little after-the-fact since the holiday has passed. However, I decided to give it a go and read it anyway since it's such a great book about friendship. I'm glad I did; the 1st graders agreed that it's perfect for any time of year.

Toot and Puddle are the best of friends. Puddle knows that Toot loves hiking and maps and is very brave and daring. Toot knows that Puddle loves trees and cooking and is a true artist. In fact, they know each other so well, they're stumped for what to make each other for Christmas (no store-bought whatsits for these two). A snowy day, though, provides just the inspiration both need to create just the right gift for a very best friend.

This is such a warm, wonderful story that perfectly embodies the idea that the best gift giving is from the heart rather than a store. Despite the fact the story takes place at Christmas, it's a sentiment that can be put into play any time of the year. Toot and Puddle are such warm, caring friends that young readers will fall in love with them right away. There are many Toot and Puddle stories and unfortunately, this is the only one we have right now. But I'm adding some of their other titles to our 'must buy' list so we can enjoy more of their adventures together.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Secret of Zoom

Written by Lynne Jonell
Most enjoyed by 5th through 8th graders

Christina Adnoid has been sheltered by her father since her mother's death in the Loompski Laboratories when Christina was four. The labs, owned by Leo Loompski, were created so the scientist could discover uses for zoom, a substance found in the rocks of the Starkian Mountain Range. But Leo has disappeared and the labs are now run by his nephew Lenny whose main goal is to win the Karnicky Medal no matter what the cost. Christina has only faint memories of her mother who had been helping Leo and was on the verge of a great discovery when she was blown to bits in a huge explosion. Now, even years later, Dr. Adnoid is overly cautious about keeping his daughter safe. Not allowed to go to school or play with other children, Christina spends hours watching them from a distance while trying to avoid difficult math lessons on her computer.

One day, during her daily hour of fresh air in the yard, Christina spots a young boy hauling garbage. He talks to her long enough to tell her that he's named Taft and is one of the orphans living in the Loompski Orphanage she can see from her bedroom window. Christina is intrigued by Taft and his story of a tunnel hidden in her house, a house that was built by Leo Loompski himself. When Christina discovers the tunnel, she's elated to find that it leads to the outside, directly in front of the orphanage. She watches in amazement as one by one the orphans are forced to sing. Those who sing on key are chosen to ride in the back of the garbage truck, never to be seen again. Christina spots Taft in the crowd, watches as he narrowly escapes the truck, then helps him back to her house. That's when she discovers that there is something mysterious going on with the orphans that involves the zoom and, could it be, perhaps, her mother?

School Library Journal listed 'The Secret of Zoom' as one of 2009's Best Books and they are right. I absolutely loved this book and can't wait to get it into the hands of readers looking for a great adventure story. My description of the book doesn't do it justice because there is so much more to it but I don't want to give too much away. Just let me say that 'The Secret of Zoom' is a page-turner. Christina is a great heroine who has to summon up courage she didn't know she had to help Taft and the orphans. Taft is a big-hearted boy who longs for a chance to go to school to learn the math Christina hates. The mystery of what zoom is and how it works propels the story forward, as does the discovery Christina makes about her mother. But I will stop here and ask that you take my word for it and check out 'The Secret of Zoom'. You'll find this a book you'll enjoy right from the first page.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Notes from the Dog

Written Gary Paulsen
Most enjoyed by 5th through 8th graders

Finn is not what you'd call a popular guy. In fact, he's not exactly even the most social guy and he knows it. People make Finn uncomfortable so he's looking forward to a summer of avoiding them. His books, his dog Dylan, and his closest friend Matthew will make the summer just fine. But that's before he meets Johanna, the woman next door. She's been his new neighbor for a few weeks, caring for the house of vacationing professors. She's friendly, thin as a rail, bald, and battling cancer. When she asks Finn to help her plant a garden in his yard, his summer plans to only talk to 12 people are quickly derailed. As Finn and Matthew's friendship with Johanna grows, they watch her battle the effects of chemotherapy and learn of her goal to raise $10,000 for cancel research. When Johanna becomes too ill to compete in the cancer survivor's triathlon, Finn and Matthew agree to fill in for her and raise the money so her goal can be met. Of course, to do this, Finn will have to talk to a few more than 12 people. Will he be able to survive this summer?

Gary Paulsen is known to most of our students as the author of gripping survival stories and 'Notes from the Dog' can definitely be considered a survival story. This time, tho, the adversary is cancer and it's devastating effects not only on it's victims but those who love them. It's also a story of hope and change, as Finn and Matthew take on roles and responsibilities they normally would have avoided. While the story can have it's sad moments, Mr. Paulsen injects enough humor to keep it light and uplifting. The ending is somewhat open and I'll be curious to find out how readers interpret the conclusion. Don't miss the opportunity to read another great book by a master storyteller.