Ninjas Revisited: Three More for Young Readers

July 3, 2015

Last summer, we were all about Ninjas.  Molly and Jacob had ninja outfits to do battle with (and learn from) Ninja Master Uncle Cory, and of course we complemented our stealth and adventures with books about ninjas.  Read all about it in our post Super Ninjas! 

This summer, we may have moved on to all things Pirate (stay tuned).  But we also hope to revisit our ninja role-plays and supplement our reading with new additions, like these:

LittleLittle Kunoichi, the Ninja Girl by Sanae Ishida

 “Shugyo is the way; The goal: better, not perfect;Practice and have fun”
Little Kunoichi is trying to be a good ninja, learning at “Secret Ninja Girl School,” but it is very challenging!  Luckily, she meets a friend, Chibi Samurai, who goes to a special school, too:  The Samurai Dojo Institute.  They decide to “train like crazy” together using “shugyo,” as they prepare to showcase their special skills at the Island Festival.  A simple tale, but with lots of visual humor in the watercolor illustrations. The end notes also inform about details in the pictures  interested readers can go back and find (like the baby in a peach from the traditional folk tale Momotaro). A great addition to any ninja’s picture book collection.


Ninja!Ninja!  by Arree Chung

If you are into the everyday life of contemporary kid ninjas, this is the book for you.  Of course, many brothers sneak through the house stealthily to tease a sister or steal her snack. . .but it works so much better if you employ your ninja skills!  Dressing the part (in all black fighter garb), and using an unbreakable ninja rope (aka jump rope) make it all the more cunning, courageous, and impressive. The cartoon-like format is a plus, as is the the large illustrations that show the boy’s imagination.


WinkWink:  The Ninja Who Wanted to be Noticed by J.C.Phillips

Who knew there were so many ninja schools for children, at least in the pages of picture books?  In this case, Wink attends the Summer Moon School for Young Ninjas.  Wink struggles with the first two lessons–being silent and being stealthy.  But when he gets the hang of it and puts the two together, he is both proud. . .and disappointed. Nobody notices!  Well, because nobody is supposed to notice ninjas.  But that doesn’t sit well with Wink.  He wants to be, well, noticed.  He is a bit flamboyant and actually craves the spotlight.  His energy surges through the illustrations as he learns his own special talents can make for him being a very nimble ninja indeed. And you can follow his adventures in the follow-up book,  Wink: The Ninja Who Wanted to Nap.



YA Summer Reading: New and Intriguing

June 26, 2015

Summer Reading!  A delightful and not-so-guilty-pleasure.  Treat yourself by toting these new YA books with you to the lakeside, the beach, the mountains, your cozy reading nook at home, or wherever you are carving out time for your summer reading.  We loved them! AvaThe Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton A 2015 William C. Morris YA Debut Award Finalist Sixteen-year-old Ava is in most ways a normal teenager. Of course, there is the little matter of those wings she was born with. . . Her quest to understand her peculiar bird-like wings takes her back two generations to view the world through the eyes of her grandmother Emilienne and her mother Vivianne.  They both suffer broken hearts; will their suffering play out for Ava as well?  The elements of magical realism that Walton creates are the perfect vehicle for exploring the nature of love–both loving and being loved.  Read this book–then talk with your friends about it!


CarnivalThe Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley Flashback to the grunge scene in the early 1990’s.  A move from Chicago to Ireland (Bray to be exact) uproots our young heroine, Maggie, when her mother marries her latest boyfriend and Maggie is transplanted.  But it isn’t so far from her beloved music; she makes a journey to Rome to hear Nirvana in concert.  A realistic and close-up view of the trials of adolescence, meeting quirky and intriguing people from different cultures, falling in love, and finding your own voice.  Unforgettable travelogue romance–and of course, rock music.  Did I mention it’s a (multiple) award-winner? ALA 2015 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults Chicago Weekly Best Books of 2014 A Michael L. Printz Honor Award Winner Winner, 2014 Helen Sheehan YA Book Prize Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2014 Finalist, William C. Morris Award


SunI’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson A 2014 Cybil Award Finalist A 2015 YALSA Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults Book Jude and Noah are fraternal twins, a girl and boy who grow up close as siblings can be, and sharing their passions for artistic expression.  We learn of their close relationship, and also their estrangement through alternating chapters told from each twin’s perspective. The fascinating aspect of it is the two timelines; Noah’s chapters taking place when they are 13 and Jude’s when they are 16.  Truly, art and wonder fill each page as the twins grapple with grief, romance, rivalry, and friendship.  My favorite book I’ve read all year (Ruth here).  If you haven’t read it yet, what are you waiting for?



June 16, 2015

CleopatraLooking for the latest good graphic novel series for young readers?  Look no further than Cleopatra in Space.  We reviewed Cleopatra in Space #1 Target Practice when it first came out, and we are delighted to announce #2 in the series: Cleopatra in Space:  The Thief and the Sword  by Mike Maihack.

Cleopatra’s latest adventure is hot off the presses.  In her first book, she recovered an ancient and powerful sword.  When it is stolen by a mysterious thief, our heroine is determined to get it back.  She also is continuing to learn more about the prophecy that names her savior of the Galaxy.  All the while, attending school with her new friends at Yasiro Academy.  Cleopatra is a terrific character; she has a confidence, feistiness, and sense of fun that makes her appealing.  I also love the layout of a futuristic Egypt complete with cool pyramid skyscrapers.  Highly recommended for 8 to 12-year-olds who love graphic novels.

SLOTHS: A Trio of Books to Delight Young Readers

June 6, 2015

slothsWhen Cory  (Uncle Cory to Molly and Jacob) mentioned his fondness for sloths, I started sleuthing into what’s unique and intriguing about them.  Turns out they are truly fascinating critters.  It’s not a myth that they are slow-moving–and appear to be, well, on the lazy side.  They literally sleep about 20 hours out of 24!  And when they do move, it’s verrrry sloooowly, dragging their bodies along.  Unless they are attacked by a predator; in that case, “sloths turn from sluggish to slugger, biting fiercely, hissing, slashing with their claws, and shrieking.”  Interested enough to learn more to share with your family or students?  National Geographic Kids has a great page dedicated to sloths.

This trio of sloth picture books will bring smiles to your kids’ faces (like the smiling 3-toed sloth!), and might make them as fond of sloths as Cory!

Sparky!Sparky! by Jenny Offill, illustrated by Chris Appelhans

“You can have any pet as long as it doesn’t need to be walked or bathed or fed,” replies a tired Mom to a little girl who begs for a pet.  So with the help of her friendly librarian, the young narrator finds “Sloth” under “S” and orders one.  When he arrives, she tries to make him a bit more responsive, but finds he is best at playing games like “Statue” with her.  Undaunted, she puts on a show:  The Trained Sloth Extravaganza.  But Sparky, her “trained” sloth, is true to character and the show is a bit dull.  The text is simple, yet with moments of humor; the watercolor and pencil art is subdued but appealing.  An off-beat tale of friendship.  And winner of the Charlotte Zolotow Award.


sloth“Slowly, Slowly, Slowly” Said the Sloth by Eric Carle

The sloth does everything slowly, slowly slowly.  All the other animals in the rain forest ask him, “Why are you so slow?…so quiet, …so boring?”  When one asks why he is so lazy, he does respond that he is  not lazy; he just likes to do things slowly, slowly, slowly. With Eric Carle, you can’t go wrong with delightful collage images, and the foreword by Jane Goodall is a wonderful introduction to the Amazon rain forests and the role of sloths within their environment.


little-slothA Little Book of Sloth by Lucy Cooke

Through Cooke’s amazing photography, readers get to hang out with  the residents of Avarios Sloth Sanctuary in Costa Rica, the world’s largest sloth orphanage.  These rescued infants are incredibly adorable.  The descriptions are well-phrased to delight the adults reading the book to little ones:  “The Bradypus, or three fingered sloth, is the Muppet with the medieval haircut and Mona Lisa smile.”  The photos are truly irresistible to all ages; the cuteness index is off the charts.  The rescued infants and a few older companions were introduced in a documentary film, Too Cute! Baby Sloths, made by Cooke for TV’s Animal Planet. If you like this picture book–and this little flight on sloths–the documentary may be your next step!


BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson: A Recommendation

May 30, 2015

Brwon-GirlBrown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (Newbery Honor Book 2015)

What was it like for writer Jacqueline Woodson to grow up in the 1960’s and 1970’s as an African-American with the remnants of the Jim Crow laws and the growing Civil Rights movement?  Her touching and eloquent poems tell the reader what she experienced in South Carolina and New York City as she came of age.  Her early literacy struggles are a revelation, yet it is no surprise she always loved words and story, spinning tales for her family and friends, and publishing her own little books of poems and stories.  As different as her experiences were, her memories spark connections for me and bring me back to my own youth during that time.  It’s truly a beautifully crafted work, a joy for families to share together.


May 23, 2015

Snow-WhiteReading Fairest this spring started us on the lookout for other retellings of Snow White, and this flight was born.  Snow White is one of the most famous of the Brothers Grimm tales.  And of course, made even more famous by the Walt Disney version which dominates images of this heroine worldwide.  For a fascinating look at the history behind the story, you’ll want to read The Twisted History of Snow White .  In Adam Gidwitz’s piece, you’ll learn the rather bloody, and well, “grim” original tales.  Yes, they penned more than one version.  You’ll also learn that the original dwarves had no names, and the 1812 version had no step-mother!  That’s right, the wicked queen was Snow White’s own Mom!  It’s the 1857 version by the Grimms that revises the tale so that it is the wicked Step-mother who is so cruel and vain, not the real Mom. Honestly, you have got to read this blog!

To start your journey on the versions of Snow White, you might want to read  an early translation (1884):

Little Snow White, 1884 translation by Margaret Taylor

Then, turn to some adaptions by fine picture book writers and illustrators:

JarrellSnow White and the Seven Dwarfs:  A Tale from the Brothers Grimm Translated by Randall Jarrell, illustrated by Nancy Ekholm Burkert

This important fairy tale deserves the best writer possible.  Randall Jarrell is a favorite poet and fine writer of classic children’s literature.  (The Bat Poet and The Animal Family sit on my ideal bookshelf.) I appreciate that he keeps the original ending, where the wicked Queen must dance to her death.  And Burkert’s illustrations are simply magical.  Rich with detail, and double-paged, it’s easy to see why this book was named an Caldecott Honor Book.  It’s far from the Disney version–and that’s a good thing!


HymenSnow White by the Brothers Grimm Retold by Paul Heins, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

This retelling has its dark moments, but they occur more in the lush illustrations rather than the poetic lines.  I appreciate the dwarves (again, not the happy little gnomes of  the Disney version, but rather small kindly men). The tale follows most of the same major points as the Jarrell version, but is probably appropriate for a younger audience.  ( I would say as young as 4 would be fine with it.)


BarrettSnow White by Josephine Poole, illustrated by Angela Barrett

The illustrations and retelling make this book a wonderful companion to the other Snow White picture books.  The narrative itself is along the classic lines of the original.  Most versions of the story omit the fact that the Evil Queen made two attempts on Snow White’s life before the apple: first by suffocating her with corset strings, then by placing a poisoned comb in her hair.  The illustrations also hark back to the Germanic roots of the fairy tale:  dark, moody, reminiscent of German Romanticism.


It’s hard to narrow down to just a few retellings and world-wide versions, but you might begin with these favorites:

Snow-whiteSnow White Stories Around the World by Jessica Gunderson

Gunderson has collected and retold Snow White stories from 4 different cultures:  Albania, Germany, Mozambique, and Turkey. How about “slight” variations like 40 dragons instead of 7 dwarves or a shining bright star in the middle of Snow White’s forehead?  Check it out!


SSW-in-NYnow White in New York by Fiona French

Not just a different setting, but a different time period:  1920’s New York City!  Snow White in the Jazz Age?  You bet!  Instead of an evil Step-Mother, Snow White’s enemy is The Queen of the Underworld.  And for a unique Prince Charming, how about an ace reporter (for the New York Mirror, no less) ?  Snow White herself, of course a beautiful Jazz baby, is protected by none other than seven hot jazzmen. Still not sure if it’s for you?  Well, the words and images are so compelling and beautiful, it is the winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal.


Snow-White-GarciaSnow White by the Brothers Grimm, Illustrated by Camille Rose Garcia

This re-interpretation is all in the illustrations.  The text is an unabridged translation of the Brothers Grimm (the step-mother version).  But the images are dark and wild.  Snow White is beautiful, but also has a punk-goth spin to her.  “Vibrant” and “whimsical” are the two most-often used words to describe Garcia’s art. If you like the paintings here, be sure to take a look at her illustrations for Alice in Wonderland.


ForgetfulSeriously, Snow White was SO Forgetful:  The Story of Snow White as Told by the Dwarves by Nancy Loewen, illustrated by Gerald Guerlais

Nancy Loewen has a whole series of “the other side of. . .” fairy tale versions.  This one is a fun spin with the poor dwarves having to put up with a somewhat ditzy Snow White who stumbles into their woodland cabin.  Children love the “what-ifs” of this story, and are drawn to the sweet, but quite forgetful heroine.  It’s a fun and funny version, just right for younger readers.  A great readaloud as an introduction to parody, too.


AlaskaAlaska’s Snow White and Her Seven Sled Dogs by Mindy Dwyer

A very different take on our Snow White, who in Alaska, has “lips redder than a salmonberry.”  In a variation of the earlier Grimm tale, the evil Ice Queen disguises herself as a trapper to deliver a constricting fur coat. Finally, she gets to Snow White as a friendly homesteader offering a peppermint drink that freezes the Alaskan beauty.   I like the idea of seven sled dogs to care for Snow White, and of course a handsome Musher (Jacob) to rescue her. Bright, enticing illustrations by award-winner Mindy Dwyer.


RedhandedSnow White Red-Handed by Maia Chance

I loved this first in a new series ( “A Fairy Tale Fatal Mystery”).  A Gothic romantic tale for adult readers, this retelling takes place about the time of the Brothers Grimm’s original tale (the mid-1800’s).  Actors Ophelia  Flax and Pru Bright find themselves in a castle in Germany’s Black Forest.  And, as you might guess, they discover they are in a fairy tale world–one where Snow White’s original cottage may have been discovered.  Is it a hoax?  A set-up for the murders that follow (death by poisoned apple, for example)?  Or are fairy tales more history than fantasy? Original and clever!


May 18th: Remembering Mt. St. Helens Eruption

May 16, 2015

Mt-St-Helens- Mt. St. Helens erupted 35 years ago, on May 18, 1980. (Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest called the mountain “Louwala-Clough” or “Smoking Mountain.”) The explosion changed the landscape of the Northwest permanently, as the majestic peak lost 1,300 feet from its summit, leaving a huge crater, and a great deal of devastation.  Before  the eruption, the 20th century saw no activity from this “dormant” volcano.  It was taken for granted as a beautiful mountain and recreational destination.  For detailed history and science on Mt. St. Helens, not to mention a mind-blowing gallery of photos, you’ll want to check out  Mt. St. Helens  Eruption:  Facts and Information.

And if you are looking for a good non-fiction read for young readers, look no further than:

VolcanoVolcano:  The Eruption and Healing of Mt. St. Helens by Patricia Lauber

Not just for the early reader and tween audience (though it’s perfect for them!), this book is a terrific read for the whole family. Volcano answers questions about what happened to cause the biggest eruption in United States history.  And even more, we discover what was left in its wake, and what scientists learned from the entire event.  The format is a photographic essay, with a clear and easy to follow explanation to accompany the images.  (And it’s a Newbery Honor Book, in case you’re wondering.)


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