April 23, 2016
And what better time to celebrate our amphibian friends with a delightful picture book–and compelling video? Fabulous Frogs by Martin Jenkins, illustrated by Tom Hopgoods is a hot-off-the-presses picture book, perfect for home and school for the pre-k through kindergarten set. I love that it features the diversity of kinds of frogs rather than just a focus on the frog life cycle, as many children’s books on frogs do. Jenkins begins the book by letting readers know that “there are more than 5,000 kinds of frogs” in the world. The book then attempts to illustrate to the reader a few of the more unique variety of frogs in the world: from the giant Goliath frog to the tiny frogs of Papua New Guinea. It gives examples of frogs that can jump really far to ones that appear to fly to frogs that live buried underground. The illustrations do a great job of illuminating the text and are essential to understand the knowledge in the book. The last two pages of the book include paintings of eight more frogs and a short index.
Looking for more for the whole family? You can’t go wrong with the PBS special: Nature: Fabulous Frogs from Sir David Attenborough. From this link, you can watch the trailer,–and perhaps rent or buy the video. It’s awesome!
April 16, 2016
Donald Duck: The Old Castle’s Secret by Carl Banks
Yes, “something old and something new.” The old comic strips (called “the funnies” in the 1950’s ) have been compiled into book-length collections. The Carl Banks’ Donald Duck series (from 1948) is a lasting favorite–not just for the older generation, but the moms and dads and the tweens and teens of today. The title story, “The Old Castle’s Secret,” is notable not just for being the first full-length 32-page adventure instigated by Scrooge McDuck (in his second-ever appearance), but for featuring some of Barks’s spookiest, lushest settings in old Clan McDuck castle of Dismal Downs. There are 18 more stories in this collection, ranging from one-pagers to over 30. The title story is such a pleasure, a terrific ghost mystery set in an old Scottish castle, with puns and funny dialogue, and all the character traits that make Donald, Scrooge McDuck, and Huey, Dewey, and Louie so enduring.
The art looks stunningly beautiful and detailed, thanks to the extraordinary quality of Barks’ original drawings; apparently the publishers used the original negatives for this reprinting.
Some 9-year-olds we know give it 5 stars!
April 9, 2016
All the members of our family have always been big Beverly Cleary fans. It helps that we live near her old stomping grounds right here in Portland, OR. We have even been known to take local literary vacations in her honor. On turning 100, Beverly Cleary noted: “I didn’t do it on purpose.” For more details from her recent interview, check out this link.
She’s pretty awesome, as you’ll discover if you dig into more of her history as a reader and writer.
In honor of Beverly Cleary’s centennial birthday, may we recommend:
Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary
Some heroines are princesses (Sleeping Beauty), some are very rich (Eloise), some are fabulously beautiful (Snow White), some are incredibly strong (Pippi) or brave (the Paperbag Princess). Ramona is a normal little girl – funny, smart, energetic, and beleaguered by all the problems every 8 year old faces. Kids love Ramona because they identify with her travails and the way she deals with them. Parents love Ramona for the same reasons. This is actually the second book in the series, which begins with Ramona and Her Father. For those who love the characters, there are several additional titles in the series.
If you’re interested in renewing your acquaintance with her books, scholastic has a terrific link .
Happy reading–and celebrating!
April 2, 2016
Princeless: Save Yourself by Jeremy Whitley, illustrated by M. Goodwin
From the time she is a little girl, Princess Adrienne Ash has chafed at the constraints of her family–and kingdom’s–definition of the role of princess. Not a big fan of frilly dress-up, and certainly not one to wait to be saved by someone, she is still locked away on a tower by her parents on her 16th birthday. The plan is for her to sit there, guarded by a dragon, until rescued by a handsome prince.
But our plucky heroine has no intention of living out this fairy tale, and takes matters into her own hands. Quick synopsis: Adrienne discovers a sword in her tower and recruits the dragon, Sparky, over to her side. They set off to free Adrienne’s sisters, all trapped in their own towers, and along the way befriend the resourceful but strange blacksmith, Bedelia. This series has it all: terrific artwork, interesting characters and snappy, funny dialogue. Whitley’s writing is a perfect blend of adventure and humor, addressing serious social issues without being preachy.
And the good news continues: Adrienne’s adventures continue in several more graphic novels–6 at this writing with more to come. This spring is a good time to get started!
March 25, 2016
The Story of Diva and Flea by Mo Willems, illustrated by Tony Di Terlizzi
A new book by Mo Willems is as good as a spring bouquet: a breezy light treat to share with both toddler-age (as a readaloud) or young readers ready for the next step into chapter books. I loved the characters; both are life-long Paris residents, but from very different backgrounds. Flea is a flaneur–or streetwise alley cat., while Diva, a small dog, is a bit more sheltered at his Paris home. Yet the two become friends, sharing adventures, as well as their very different worlds. The chapters are short, the story both cute and meaningful, and the illustrations add a Parisian flavor (along with the occasional French word or phrase). Simply delightful!
And a bonus: check out the NYTimes for Mo Willems: The Art of the Picture Book
March 18, 2016
We both love to savor words–the sound, the fascinating meanings, the way they play off each other. . .Luckily for us, there are many new books for both new and experienced readers that delight in language celebrations. So we have chosen one for you (a picture book that introduces the younger set to the fun of collective nouns) and one for me and the adult word lovers out there who will appreciate a compilation of the intriguing terms that describe groups of animals. Enjoy!
An Ambush of Tigers by Betsy Rosenthal, illustrated by Jago
Even young children have likely heard of a flock of sheep or a herd of cows, but what about an ambush of tigers, or a rumba of snakes, a labor of moles? The illustrations are a perfect match for helping remember these whimsical words: a bouquet of pheasants is pictured sprouting from a vase; a bed of oysters is snoozing away on its comfy bed, and a rumba of snakes dances across the page. The iambic pentameter verses are a fitting ode to the wonder of words in this delightful new picture book.
A Mumuration of Starlings by Steve Palin
Lots of new words to add to your collection, like a cete of badgers, a grist of bees, and the title surprise, a mumuration of starlings. And such a pleasure to learn the stories behind the words, often as far back as the middle ages. Author Steve Palin has beautifully illustrated and given the background to about fifty different animals and birds with interesting collective nouns — and listed 420 of them in his glossary. Dig in and enjoy this celebration of words and history.
March 12, 2016
Two YA series that have been causing some serious binge reading among YA readers (including some of us older adults) are the Red Rising and Red Queen series.
(For our earlier reviews of these first books of a series, check out RED RISING: Making Dystopia Fresh and Red Queen in New Series for Tweens and Teens .)
2016 has seen both these YA stars with the latest installments recently published. (And Hollywood is already in pre-production for Red Rising, so you’ll want to be thinking of your casting choices as you read!)
Morning Star by Pierce Brown
We found Morning Star to be a very satisfying conclusion to a fast-paced and well-told series. It’s hard to talk about the book without including spoilers, but I’ll do my best. Suffice it to say, there are some sweet moments and some heart-breakers–as well as some more than surprising plot twists that readers don’t see coming. Thrilling space battles–and ingenious plans for escape, clever dialogue, and surprising depth to a range of characters as they grow and change. Some tantalizing elements of philosophy, too. Devotion to honor is portrayed as possible to be either courageous or an easy out–or both. What is the purpose and power of revenge? Readers–and audiences–will be talking about this classic series for years to come.
Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard
The Red Queen series also deals with a stratified society, but in this case, it is blood color that segregates the characters. Mare, the heroine and Red Queen of the series–continues to lead a rebellion. She’s the perfect person for this as her blood is the red of the common folk, but her abilities would mark her as a Silver blood. Her power to control lightening makes her a terrifying enemy to the Crown, yet she needs much more than this powerful weapon. This second novel is fast-paced and filled with battles, strategy, and lots of betrayal. I didn’t love it as much as the first book, but enough so I am looking forward to Book 3.