Friday, December 9, 2016

Picture books you can sing

 Marianne Berkes has two more fun sing-along-while-you-read books. One features mother and baby animals found on the African Savanna: zebras, giraffes, hippopotamuses, lions, chimps, apes... and my favorite, meerkats.

The other features familiar barnyard animals: goats, cats, cows, horses, ducks and even owls. As in her other books, the text introduces the less familiar baby names - "kid" for goat, "poult" for turkey - and is structured as a counting book. There's also lots of action as the mothers and their babies gallop, swing, strut, stalk, yip, neigh... all things that the kids listening to the book will want to act out on their own.

What I love about these books is that at the end there's the music so you can sing along with the story ... which, if you grew up singing "Over in the meadow" you might do automatically.

There's also lots of "beyond the book" activities at the back of the book, including more information about each featured animal. Back matter in Over in the Grasslands includes a map of Africa showing where the animals live, a key to "hidden" animals (they show up in the book but you really have to take a second or third look to find them!), and some awesome tips from the illustrator, Jill Dubin, that might inspire you to try your own cut-paper art. More activities here.

Activities in Over on the Farm focus on math, science, language arts, music, movement, and art. Did you know you can grow a plant from the top of a carrot? There's also a section about food "from farm to table" with activities for making butter and "honey corn". More activities here.

Review copies from the publisher.




Friday, December 2, 2016

Two books celebrating snow!

Waiting for Snow
by Marsha Diane Arnold; illus. by Renata Liwska
32 pages; ages 4-7
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2016

themes: winter, friendship, humor

Hedgehog found Badger staring at the sky.
"What are you doing, Badger?"
"Waiting for snow..."

It's winter and not one single snowflake has fallen. Badger gets tired of waiting. He decides to wake up the sky. He tries dancing. He tries other things...

What I Like LOVE about this book: the illustrations that show some of the things badger and his friends do while waiting for snow: origami, scrabble... there are more, but I don't want to spoil the fun you'll have when you read this book.

Pizza-Pie Snowman
by Valeri Gorbachev
32 pages; ages 4 - 7
Holiday House, 2016

Pinky had a job to do for Mommy - to get a pizza with all their favorite toppings. He made a poem so he wouldn't forget...

Off he goes, through the snowy landscape to the Pizza shop. He doesn't stop when his friends try to entice him into a snowball fight. He doesn't stop when he gets covered with snow - in fact, he doesn't even notice. Because Pinky is on a mission.

What I like about this book: the humor! Pinky is so focused on remembering the list of toppings that he doesn't stop to investigate when he hears people talking about a walking snowman. He doesn't stop to find out about the talking snowman. Until later, after he's delivered the pizza to Mommy - then he wants to go see this wonderful, unusual sight.

Beyond the Books:

If you were waiting for snow, what kind of things would you do to wake up the sky? Would you sing a special snow song? Make noise to loosen up the clouds? Dance? Come up with some ideas for making it snow. Here's a video of the Northern Utes doing a snow dance.

Make up a game that you could play while waiting for snow.

Create a rhyme for things you have to remember. Like pizza toppings, or ingredients for cookies, or things you need to take to school, or....

Build a pizza pie snowman - if you've got snow. If you don't, then draw a picture of one. Or make one out of pizzas.... be creative!

Today is PPBF (perfect picture book Friday), an event in which bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. Review copies provided by publishers.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Girl on a Plane

Girl on a Plane 
by Miriam Moss
288 pages, ages 12 & up
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2016

Fifteen-year old Anna is a "Forces" child. Her dad, in the army, has been stationed in Bahrain. Now, after spending summer vacation with her family, Anna is traveling back to her English boarding school.

The year is 1970 and hijackings have been in the news. Anna is worried that her plane might be hijacked, but her mom assures her that it hardly happens. At the gate, mom gives her one last hug, telling Anna to "stay safe". Anna walks across the tarmac to the waiting plane. It is 10:30 am and she's thinking of the seven-hour flight to London.

Anna's not the only kid on the plane; plenty of other military dependents are heading home to schools. The boy next to her is carrying his treasured terrapin in a tin. Another, older boy sits nearby. Mothers with children are heading home.

Then a man with a gun in his hand screams at everyone to sit down. The plane has hijacked by the Palestinian Liberation Front. They will land in Jordan, he says. On the "Revolutionary Airstrip" somewhere in the desert. They are hostages.

As noted on the cover, this book is based on the true story of a hijacking. Miriam Moss was a passenger on that plane, heading home to boarding school in the UK. But this is a work of fiction, she emphasizes in her notes at the back of the book. Yes! There is Back Matter! (you know I love back matter, especially in historical fiction novels). Moss writes about her search for the Revolutionary Airstrip and her journey back to Jordan to visit the site where she spent three hot days as a hostage. She also answers questions about which parts of the story are true, and which are fictional.

You can read an excerpt from the first chapter here. You can read more about the hijackings here and watch a video about the events here. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Flip the Bird & author interview

Flip the Bird
by Kym Brunner
368 pages; ages 12 & up
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2016

Mercer Buddie wants two things in life: a girlfriend, and the chance to show his father that he is serious about becoming an apprentice falconer. But on the day he and his master-falconer dad set out to capture a juvenile Red-tailed hawk, 14-year old Mercer screws up. He had one job to do: remember the mouse.

Time is ticking as they stop by a pet store to get a replacement mouse - bait for the trap that will humanely snare the hawk (and allow the mouse to be released into the woods). Will the hawk still be there when Mercer and his dad and brother arrive? And how long does it take to buy a mouse anyway? Turns out - when the girl of your dreams is in the pet store - it can take too long.

Mercer's dad is a demanding falcon master. He also runs a wildlife rehabilitation center, and is constantly impressing upon Mercer the need to do things correctly, so he doesn't lose his license (and livelihood). Mercer's older brother is working his way toward master-level. And the girl of his dreams? She's a member of HALT - a fanatical animal rights group that opposes mistreatment of animals including keeping hawks in cages. Shades of Romeo and Juliet...

Mercer tries to keep his hawk (named Flip) and his dad's rehabilitation center secret, but eventually the two worlds collide. When HALT members vandalize the center and release the birds, Mercer realizes he needs to take responsibility and do what's right.

I love the tidbits of falconry history and lore scattered throughout the book - like that people have been hunting with falcons since 2,000 BC! I loved the description of the mews, and crafting the hoods and leashes, and the training that Mercer and Flip shared.
So I just had to ask author, Kym Brunner Three Questions:

Sally: What inspired this story?

Kym: I went to a dinner show at Medieval Times, and near the end they had a falconry demonstration. I remember thinking, Wow! I never knew you could train a hawk to fly around and come back to you on command! I came up with the idea of a time-travel story of a modern kid going back into medieval times - and then found out I'd have to do a ton of research for medieval times AND for falconry. Eeek! So.... I decided to write a contemporary story about falconry.

Sally: You have so much authenticity in the story. What kind of research did you do?

Kym: I knew I wanted a story that revolved around falconry, but wasn't sure what the plot would be. So I took falconry lessons - six or more seven-hour apprentice lessons at SOAR (Save Our American Raptors). The master falconer told us a story about how they were once scheduled to do a demonstration at a forest preserve and animals rights demonstrators showed up. They made so much noise that the falconers had to cancel the event. When I asked about going on a hunt with a group of falconers, the SOAR leaders (George and Bernadette Richter) connected me to Troy, a falconer who lived in my neighborhood. Troy was extraordinarily helpful. He let me study his mews, and go on a couple hunts. Later, he read my manuscript to check for accuracy.

If I had one wish it would be that I could convey how dedicated falconers are to these majestic birds, and how fragile the relationship is between bird and prey. There are no guarantees; may the best bird - or prey - win.

Sally: I love the "Romeo/Juliet" aspect of the story. How did that evolve over the writing?

Kym: At first I thought about having a random group of protesters mess mess things up for Mercer and his family. But then a wonderful "what if..." question popped into my mind. What if, instead of being a random protester, the ones responsible for causing grief to Mercer's family business ended up being the parents of the girl he was hot for? The more I thought about it, the more I realized what a quandary that would be. I once dated a guy in high school who had a motorcycle - something my parents had forbidden me to ride. But this guy was cute and mysterious... so we met at the end of the block so my parents wouldn't know that he had a bike. I think being in love can override a lot of rational thought... and that's exactly the turmoil I hoped to portray in Flip the Bird.

If you'd like to learn more about falconry, here are two sites you might find interesting:

NY state regulations and a falconry exam study guide - check your own state for licensing regulations and examination requirements
the North American Falconers Association


Review copy provided by publisher.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Books for Goodnight Reading

I'm always on the lookout for some goodnight stories, and these new books are a perfect fit.
themes: bed time books, counting, families

A Number Slumber
by Suzanne Bloom
40 pages; ages 2-5
Boyds Mills Press, 2016

The soft textures of the illustrations in this reverse counting book feel so cozy - they just want to make you curl up with a cup of cocoa and pull on a fluffy quilt.

First lines: What do you do to get ready for bed?
Do you brush your teeth? Have a story read?

What I like about this book: Suzanne Bloom gives us the inside scoop on things other sleepyheads do before bed. In alliteration...."Ten terribly tired tigers tiptoe to their beds" ... and rhyme. "Nine normally nimble newts rest their sleepy heads."

What fun! I promise you will be yaw-aw-awning by the end of the book.

It is Not Time for Sleeping
by Lisa Graff; illus. by Lauren Castillo
40 pages; ages 4-7
Clarion Books, 2016

First lines: When I've munched and crunched my last three carrots (except for one I fed to Jasper), Mom takes my plate. "It's been a good day," she says.

What I like about this book: The kid is NOT ready to go to bed. First, dishes have to be washed. It is not time for sleeping.

Then it's time for a bath. Then pj's.... in a cumulative fashion the kid enumerates the things that must happen before it is time for sleeping.

Beyond the book:

Create some alliterative lines about sleepy-head animals that are ready to go to bed. Maybe cats, or teddy bears, or dogs, or sheep.... or unusual animals that live in your back yard or in the garden. Alliteration is when the words begin with the same sound.

What are the "things that have to happen" before you are ready for sleeping?

Read a goodnight story to your dog or cat, or maybe a grandparent.

Find some goodnight poems to say before bedtime. One favorite is Star light, star bright / First star I see tonight / I wish I may, I wish I might / Have the wish I wish tonight.

Today we're joining PPBF (perfect picture book Friday), where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture BooksReview copies from publishers.

Friday, November 4, 2016

The Littlest Bigfoot

The Littlest Bigfoot
by Jennifer Weiner
304 pages, ages 8-12
Aladdin, 2016

Twelve-year-old Alice doesn't fit it . She's big, ungainly, and her hair is wild and sproingy - no matter how many clips or scrunchies she uses to tame it.

Now she's been shipped her off to her eighth boarding school in as many years. This one's an experimental school in Upstate New York, a converted campground where hippies-turned-teachers refer to students as "learners" and school lunches are full of whole grains and kale. It is a place where everyone is accepted and their differences celebrated. At least that's what it says on the brochure.

Millie Maximus doesn't fit in. She is too small and her hair is too white and fine. Sometimes she wonders if she really is a Bigfoot - or Yare, as the clan call themselves. Millie loves to sing and her secret wish is that she will be discovered and sing on TV. She's insatiably curious about the "no furs" and wonders what her life would be like if she weren't so furry. Her curiosity drives her to steal a canoe and paddle across the lake, and her actions put her entire clan at risk.

Jeremy Bigelow doesn't fit it. A seventh-grader at Standish Middle School, he  is a nerd with single-minded passion: to find a Bigfoot. There are local legends about Bigfoot in the area, and years ago one was captured and put in a circus. When he is invited to join an underground group of Bigfoot hunters, his dreams come true: he discovers evidence that there are Bigfoot in the area. Now all he has to do is prove it!

This is a wonderful adventure about friendship and finding your place in the world. Check out a video and read an excerpt from Littlest Bigfoot here. 

We'll be hanging out on Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers over at Shannon Messenger's blog. Hop over to see what other people are reading.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Soldier Sister, Fly Home

Soldier Sister, Fly Home
by Nancy Bo Flood; illus. by Shonto Begay
144 pages; ages 10 & up
Charlesbridge, 2016

Tess and her sister, Gaby are close. So when Tess moves from the reservation school to Flagstaff to finish junior high, she looks forward to spending time with her sister who is enrolled in the local college. Tess is hoping that a track scholarship will help her get to college.

But things change. Gaby enlists and Tess misses her companionship. Gaby's best friend is killed in action right before Gaby is deployed to Iraq. Tess is trying to figure out how to live in two worlds: that of the mostly white school she attends, and back home with her Diné family. She is also left with Gaby's horse, Blue, who she promises to care for but is afraid of.

What I love about this book is the authentic writing. Nancy Bo Flood captures the sounds and smells of the desert: ravens whooshing overhead or "hunkered on limbs of a gnarly pinion tree like old men arguing politics." You can taste the air, feel the red sand in your shoes, and the heat of the desert sun beating down on your head.

I love how Nancy brings us into the Navajo culture, sharing traditions and language. How Tess and her Grandfather collect a lamb for Gaby's Protection Ceremony meal, and soothe it, singing, so the lamb is calm and peaceful when Grandfather picks up his knife.

I love how Nancy captures Tess, caught in tow worlds. At school she is the "girl from the Rez" and accused of using "Navaho magic" to win at track. At home she is called an apple - red on the outside, white on the inside. An incident at the trading post makes Tess think more deeply about what it means to be a "real Indian", and where home is when you are half white, half Navajo.

I love that Nancy includes back matter: information about the Navajo language and a glossary of words used in the book, as well as an acknowledgement of Lori Piestewa , a member of Hopi who is remembered as the first Native American woman in US history to die in combat on foreign soil while serving in the military.

Beyond the book: 

Check out this lovely tribute to Lori Piestewa (and pay attention to the song that is being sung).

Writing about a culture other than your own isn't easy. Some people think that you shouldn't. Nancy shares her thoughts on writing about another culture on her blog.

You can learn more about culture, traditions, and beliefs of the Diné here. You'll also find links to Code talkers (like Tess's grandfather). For a lesson in how to say the colors in Navajo language, check out this video

 We'll be hanging out on Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers over at Shannon Messenger's blog. Hop over to see what other people are reading.
Review copy provided by the publisher.