Books

Books for all ages

Oh! What a Surprise!

Suzanne Bloom has gifted her readers with a surprise that creates a friendly threesome – Fox, Goose, and Bear. Goose and Bear continue proving in this fourth installment that friendship is made through the give-and-take of the moment.

Kids of all ages love surprises, and so does Bloom’s trio. The tension that is created speaks to a common situation- someone feels left out. Although this is not a book for the holidays, it is a book that could easily be adapted to those circumstances where gift giving seems to be an expected behavior. And gifts that are handmade are special at any time of the year. But Bloom’s characters suggest that the real gift is the process in the closing line, “Let’s do it again!”

The closing line of the book shows great insight into the joy that children (and some of us adults) experience with many things. To “do it again” means many different things and it may even be repeated over and over till it grows old. To capture and recapture the joy and surprise of the unknown being made known is at the core of learning.

Parents and librarians serving early childhood populations will want to make sure to have this title available for early print experiences. The illustrative content also expresses joy and surprise in ways that will be identified by a young audience. But, heed this warning: be prepared to pull out the craft paper, scissors, glue and glitter to craft some of those gifts that will fill a memory box. This book will inspire creation, and with creation comes learning and sharing with others which makes life much more enjoyable.

 

 

 

Tempest and Julie Cross Nail It

Most storms are never fully predicted in relation to time and place. Tempest, the first novel from Julie Cross reinforces the thought, and it will not be long before readers can acquire their own copy.  Here are my Top 10 Reasons for school libraries to acquire the first part of this soon -to-be epic trilogy:

10.  Guys want to be “Holly’s Guy”

9.  Girls will prefer Jackson to Jacob

8.  Samuel L. Jackson wants to be Jackson Meyer

7.  Time travel : All the cool kids are doing it

6.  The government, or certain…agencies…will not approve

5.  It’s more readable than Shakespeare’s Tempest, and more exciting than Lost

4.  Timelines have never been so cool

3.  Enemies of Time

2.  All the kids will talk about the books you have instead of your clothing (Ok, some of the kids)

1.  It’s your chance to prove that reading has always been about time travel and the ability to leave one place and appear in another over and over again

John Parker

Media Coordinator

Andrews High School

50 HS Drive

Andrews, NC 28901

Raj the Bookstore Tiger- Can’t Miss Cat

Calling all cat lovers! Raj the Bookstore Tiger is a multifaceted book that will provide joy, entertainment, and many new connections to young readers and their classrooms. The story is a good one, in terms of both the idea and the execution of it. It is somewhat predictable, but that is not always a bad thing, and especially in this case. The story and its characters, combined with the warm tones of the illustrations, make for an interesting journey into many possibilities.

Classroom teachers will find great utility because Raj has the capacity to transport classrooms into many different units of study. Will students be intrigued with the poetry of William Blake? Or, maybe they are studying cats of all sorts? Perhaps they are beginning a study of India? Or book stores and libraries? Whatever the choice, Raj may be a great fit. Add it to the early childhood classroom and all libraries that serve that population.

Having just seen a portion of the Maximum India celebration at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, I am more appreciative of the watercolors selected for use in the book. They evoke India and they make me think of cats, but in a softer, less conspicuous way. Pelley’s words and Keiser’s brush strokes are an effective pairing that create a world that is inviting to kids to exercise their imaginations. Fortunately, I am still one of those kids.

John Parker

Media Coordinator

Andrews High School

50 HS Drive

Andrews, NC 28901

www.slamguy.wordpress.com

Swing Cafe – Great art and music, but no story

Swing Café contains a lot of vibrant illustrations that bring to mind the best of a fantasy-laced swinging time. Dautremer has her pen finely tuned to evoke the emotions and era of the recording artists featured on the included disc, but that is about it as far as the book is concerned. There is no argument about the music selections, but there is a problem with the story.

At several points, I found myself saying, “Huh?” Those points included the intended audience and the continuity of the text as it relates to the story. I tried, honestly, and I did find a use for a page here and a page there. But a page here and a page there is not enough to persuade teachers or parents to purchase the book. Yes, those pages can be used in isolation for teaching about instruments and some basic literary concepts, but the reader is often left with the lingering question: “Huh?”

More than anything else, the colorful illustrations were buried in the amount of text presented to the reader. I wanted to erase all the text and begin again with a truncated version that provided a more concise and exciting experience. I do not believe the story has a cultural disconnect, but I do believe it takes a few unnecessary turns that renders it inert. I did get the point, finally, but it was too late, and I’m afraid a really clever idea has missed the point, and a unique opportunity to fill a niche in the market. To that end, I had hoped for a text that expressed the color of the illustrative content and followed the rhythms expressed in the music.

A page here and a page there does not give me reason to recommend Swing Café to any group of potential readers. One for the illustrations and one for the music; story is everything.

Picnic Basket Rating: 2 out of a possible 5

John Parker

Media Coordinator

Andrews High School

50 HS Drive

Andrews, NC 28901 

http://www.slamguy.wordpress.com

This Means War!

The threat of war often evokes a wide range of emotions, but fear is always at the top of the list for children as well as adults. Perhaps it is the uncertainty that causes fear more than the actual circumstances? Ellen Wittlinger provides a thorough examination of the topic during October 1962 when the threat of war was imminent.

This Means War tells the story through a group of children whose conflict between boy and girls challenged their own alliances and allowed them to see how the resolve of individuals could push each side toward an outcome that was dangerous for everyone.

 Although Wittlinger’s intended audience is aged 10-14 years, there is a sense of universal appeal in both her characters and the historical era. The notion that people are constantly at war with one another and themselves over trivial matters is played out in multiple scenarios. Many of the characters maintain the innocence that was part of the collective conscience of the early 1960s despite the undercurrents of change that was in the air.

Teachers and students should find ample background to capture what it was like to come home from civil defense drills and ponder the question of what they might take to their own bomb shelter, if they were lucky enough to have one. Similarly, older students will be able to make connections between the Kennedy-Khrushchev posturing and that of the battle between the boys and girls. Then, and now, one decision can change everything,

The book does take a while to get things rolling to the point where all the characters are sufficiently developed to achieve the outcome Wittlinger desires for her story. The younger readers may find this too much to wade through without encouragement. While older readers may not need the cultural background and story development, it could easily be aided by reading aloud as a class or in small groups. The importance and relative age of the event also lends itself to many opportunities such as oral history interviews and scores of available news footage and popular culture artifacts. The opportunities for extended use in the classroom are without limit.

Purchase This Means War for the classroom and library in the upper elementary and middle school with confidence that it will circulate. Be prepared for requests that ask for more from the time period. School librarians may want to create and circulate a pathfinder of the Cuban Missile Crisis to accompany the arrival of the book, or to mark the event during the month of October.

 4 of 5

 John Parker

Media Coordinator

Andrews High School

50 HS Drive

Andrews, NC  28901

 www.slamguy.wordpress.com

Will Grayson Will Grayson

I successfully put off reading Will Grayson Will Grayson for several months. I found that I could put it down after picking it up, yet I wanted to read it. I wanted to read it because it sings loudly for a population in our schools that is all too often unrecognized. Many communities (mine included) would not hesitate to limit access and discussion of the subject matter, let alone the book. The reasons cited for exclusion are often without limit, but the most troublesome excuse rests in a denial of reality, or the fact that it is not “our” reality.

The beauty of Will Grayson Will Grayson extends far beyond the rough language and sexuality. The story addresses some basic issues of self-worth that are essential to one’s development as a human being: How does one love, or can/should one love another, even if they are the same sex. How does this love manifest itself outside of a sexual relationship? How do we acknowledge our own doubts, fears and feelings?

 Much of the novel’s dialogue is hacked out in text messages and IM chat sessions that depict the urgency of the feedback that moves the characters through a whirlwind of doubt and varying emotional states. In a world that is based on a friend list, a lingering response introduces more than doubt. The short bursts of text help to propel the reader along at a pace that is in tune with the characters and the overall plot.

I was unsure that the development of a gay musical would lend anything credible to the story, but the final scene made the wait worthwhile and erased any doubts. Good art, in any form interacts with its audience, but great art (and literature) moves spontaneously into the area of active participation. Authors Green and Levithan orchestrated a noteworthy ending where multiple members of the audience rose to their feet and stated, “I am Will Grayson.”

Certainly there are others who will rise and identify with Will Grayson when they read the book. They may be our students, or even our sons and daughters. Others will stand, but not for the same reasons. They will stand in support of those who yearn to discover and measure their own worth in a world that denies or suppresses the Wills and Tinys in every way possible.

Libraries serving high school students should add Will Grayson Will Grayson to their shelves.

 5 of 5

 John Parker

Media Coordinator

Andrews High School

50 HS Drive

Andrews, NC  28901

www.slamguy.wordpress.com

Three Little Bears Play All Day

Three Little Bears Play All Day is disappointing in almost every imaginable way. First and foremost, it is about the story. In all three attempts the book fails. Just because the target audience is at the youngest level doesn’t relieve the creative team of their responsibility. However, this is often the case when using a controlled vocabulary in early basal readers. And this is what this book feels like. It is a book, not literature for small children. I would expect to find better at the grocery store.

The book even comes with instructions for adults (as soon as the cover is opened) so that they can facilitate the reading event with children. The intention as well as the instructions are appropriate, but I’m not so sure I would actually make them part of the book. I might slip them inside so that they could be easily removed.

And then there is the preview page for each story. It tells what each story is about, and it is also unnecessary. I am not clear if this is for the adult or the child. If it is for the benefit of the adult, then put it with the rest of the “instructions.” If it is designed to stimulate the child’s interaction with the text, then it too is artificial. Why would children not want to read the entire book? Why make a combination teacher/student book for early readers?

One thing that is age appropriate is the size of the book. The book and the font is just right for little hands and eyes and it is very well made.

Unfortunately, I cannot recommend this book for any use or audience. I don’t like the feel of the instructions. They immediately draw attention away from any story. Lose the instructions and this book becomes something I might pick up in the grocery store. It is not literature and the stories are anything but clever. Children need multi-faceted stories even at this level. Yes, they must be simple, but it can be accomplished. Adults might appreciate strategies, but not smeared all over the book. Many school reading programs offer these same strategies to parents in short instructional sessions, and then feed a constant supply of books. It is unfortunate that this book will not be included in that number.

1 of 5

John Parker

Media Coordinator

Andrews High School

50 HS Drive

Andrews, NC 28901

Singing to the Monster

Last Night I Sang to the Monster offers an inside view of the many demons, doubts, and desires that accompanies the many forms of addiction. As a result, it is not always a pretty story, and it is filled with images and language that may scare many of us. The story of Zack and his monster presents a reality that many students and adults face every day; they are trying to accommodate the past into the present. In a more universal sense, the work poses large questions about God, love, family that belong to each of us. From a technical standpoint, I was not always engaged by the text, but it does move quickly and I soon was back into the flow feeling that my time away from the text was time well spent in introspection. I was both surprised and pleased with the ending in that it gave the reader a somewhat final message about the nature of addiction (Sorry, no spoiler) . High school students will want to have this book made available to them. A prominent location combined with the cover art and the topic will cause the book to circulate. Add this book to the collection with confidence and be prepared for a heavy demand.

4 out of 5

John Parker

Media Coordinator

Andrews High School

 50 HS Drive Andrews, NC 28901

http://www.slamguy.wordpress.com

Opposites – Opuestos

Opuestos: Mexican Folk Art Opposites in English and Spanish provide a playful bilingual experience that should be satisfying on a number of different levels.  Children will find the woodcarvings attractive and will quickly get the point that they are posed as opposites. They should also enjoy identifying the animals. As a concept book, Opuestos is a winner, but it exceeds expectations in terms of both art and culture.

 

The pages of this book should continue beyond the printed page into the lives of those who experience it fully.  Activities encouraging the finding of opposites will be an easy extension from the book as will the extension of language.

Classrooms and libraries serving emerging readers will want to make sure this book is available. Lending libraries serving families with young children will also want to include this as part of family resource packages. Opuestos encourages all of us in a subtle way to become more diverse and appreciative of the world in which we live.

 Best concept book for the age range I have seen in a while.

 5 of 5

 John Parker

Media Coordinator

Andrews High School

50 HS Drive

Andrews, NC  28901

 

http://www.slamguy.wordpress.com

Alzheimer’s Across Culture

Gerdner, Linda, Sarah Langford, and Stuart Loughridge. Grandfather’s story cloth = Yawg daim paj ntaub dab neeg. Walnut Creek, Calif: Shen’s Books, 2008.

 

Sometimes we often forget that Alzheimer’s can and does visit without respect to culture. Sometimes, the stories are our own, but told in a different setting.  Power exudes from the story cloth and from the memories of those changed by the disease.  It is a disease that is misunderstood by kids and grownups alike. The creative team tackles these problems and communicates how one family dealt with these growing problems.

 

The book offers some great cultural insights and should be valuable to any diversity program. However, the book became much more personal because we had my father and three-year old grandson both with us for a week this summer.  We shared the story and our own version of the story cloth. However awkward, painful, or different, we must take the time to engage one another and relate the present to the past. 

 

The book accomplishes much, but it might have taken the dialogue between Tou and Chersheng to a level beyond the capacity of the three-year-old Tou. Tou’s evaluative comments about Grandfather on page 18 are not believable. One can accept a three-year-old saying someone is stupid, but it is hard to believe that he would declare, “He’s always forgetting. He’s useless.”  The comments are more universally acceptable from an older child, but the dialogue between brothers is still appropriate and necessary.

 

Books that tackle tough problems across cultures are valuable. Books that can do it across generations are even more valuable and this one delivers despite the shortcoming.  Add it to collections in the library or classroom and do not hesitate to give it to a family to read together who is dealing with the uncomfortable feelings brought on by the aging process or dementia.

 

4 out of 5

 

John Parker

Media Coordinator

Andrews High School

50 HS Drive

Andrews, NC  28901

 

www.slamguy.wordpress.com