Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Last Few Days of Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month.  For the last few days of celebration, consider reading Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman.  The 2011 Newbery Honor book is filled with beautiful poetry and marvelous scientific information about the natural world at night.  It is a rich combination of literature, art and factual observation which will be a fine addition to school and classroom libraries as well as a great read-aloud picture book for use at home.  It is appropriate for all ages.  Even the scientific information, when read aloud to a young child, will hold the interest and help with concept building.  The art, created by a process of relief printing, invites close inspection and offers new discoveries with every look.  I highly recommend this lovely book and commend the Newbery Committee for thinking slightly outside the box in their selection--Wilma Snyder.  (Illustrated by Rick Allen; Houghton Mifflin, 2010)

Also consider:  Emma Dilemma by Kristine O'Connell George (Illustrated by Nancy Carpenter; Clarion, 2011)
Give Me Wings selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins (Illustrated by Ponder Goembel; Holiday House, 2010)
Amazing Faces selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins (Illustrated by Chris Soentpiet; Lee & Low, 2010)
Switching on the Moon collected by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters (Illustrated by G. Brian Karas; Candlewick, 2010)      

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Little Board Books

Product DetailsLooking for a special treat for a little one’s Easter basket?  Forget the candy and add a board book!  Sleeping Bear Press has a new series of board books with rhyming riddle texts.  There are “Little States,” such as California, New York, Wyoming, and Texas, and “Little Sports,” such as baseball and football.  On one side a riddle is asked; turn the page to find the answer.  Illustrations provide additional clues.  The puzzles, simple enough for young children to solve, relate to the state or sport.  From Helen Foster James’ California:  “It’s bright and orange and in the bay.  If you go near, it swims away.  (fish),”  and from Brad Herzog’s Baseball:  “Hit the ball?  You surely could with a mighty swing from this piece of wood.  (bat).”  Preschoolers will enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that goes along with solving the challenges, especially if they have older brothers or sisters who have their own puzzle books—Lucinda Whitehurst.  (California illustrated by Helle Urban; Baseball illustrated by Doug Bowles; Ages 1-4; Sleeping Bear Press, 2011)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Miss Dorothy and Her Bookmobile by Gloria Houston

After a twelve-year absence from the children’s literature scene, Gloria Houston returns better than ever!  Houston’s new book is Miss Dorothy and Her Bookmobile in which she returns to her roots in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina.  Houston, the author of such highly-acclaimed books as The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree, Littlejim, and My Great-Aunt Arizona, is known for her beautiful writing and her authenticity.  Writing for both middle grade readers and for younger children, Houston provides wonderful material for simultaneous use in classrooms where widely differing reading levels are present.  High-interest content entices the young reader, who identifies with the characters and is drawn into the stories.

Miss Dorothy and Her Bookmobile is mined from the depth of Houston’s memory bank and tells the story of a bookmobile librarian who traveled the hills and “hollers” to share her books and love of reading with children who were unable to make the journey to a library. Children will be quick to tap into this story of love, dedication and joy even though it is from another time and place.   Susan Condie Lamb's art is a beautiful accompaniment to the story--Wilma Snyder.  (Picture Book; HarperCollins, 2011)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Okay For Now by Gary Schmidt

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt: Book CoverGary Schmidt is an amazing author.  His books are thoughtful, sensitive, and full of “lump-in-your-throat” scenes, without being preachy or boring.  His books are not written with the breathless pace found in many modern books for middle-school and young adult readers, but they have more than enough plot to keep readers involved.

In Schmidt’s newest title, Okay for Now, Doug Swieteck, a character from The Wednesday Wars, takes center stage.  Holling Hoodhood has a sweet cameo, but this story is all Doug’s.   In the late 1960s, Doug’s father, always prickly and often abusive, has lost his job and the family has to move.  Doug is not excited about starting eighth grade in his new home.  He thinks the small town has nothing to offer until he meets Lil, and through her, makes an important discovery.  The local public library has a folio of original John James Audubon drawings of birds.  Noting his interest, one of the librarians gives Doug basic art lessons based on Audubon’s works. 

The framing device of the birds carries through the novel, adding an element of mystery and beauty to the narrative.  Each chapter begins with an Audubon plate illustration, and the birds depicted hold special meaning to that section of the story.  The visual and written artistry combine to take the book well beyond the ordinary.  Schmidt is at his best in describing Doug’s relationships with Lil, his brothers, his mother, his teachers, and the townspeople he meets on his grocery delivery route.  Each unusual character is meticulously drawn. 

In this rich tapestry of relationships, the only small disappointment is in the character of Doug’s father.  The whole family is impacted by the return of the oldest son from Vietnam, but beyond that situation, Mr. Swieteck’s motivations are unexplained.  Doug seems to understand more about his father’s choices, but to the reader he remains somewhat of an enigma. 

The title implies impermanence, rebirth, and change, themes which carry through the book.  Doug’s growth is expressed through ideas about the power of art, especially painting, drawing, theatre, and literature.  This beautiful, satisfying story is a fitting companion to the Newbery Honor-winning Wednesday Wars—Lucinda Whitehurst.  (Historical Fiction, gr. 5 and up; Houghton Mifflin, 2011)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Picasso Exhibit

Product DetailsThe Picasso Exhibit will be at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Virginia through May 15, 2011.  The exhibit is on loan from the Musee National Picasso, Paris.  On a recent Saturday, I enjoyed the exhibit with my family. 

Pablo Picasso was born in Spain in 1881, but lived in Paris for most of his life where he was an important member of the avant-garde society which grew in the early part of the twentieth century.  This group of artists and writers, who revolved mostly around the poet Gertrude Stein, was engaged in exploring new forms of art in painting, sculpture, and literature as well as living by new and different rules for behavior.

The exhibit is hung chronologically, showing Picasso’s progression from one style to another.  Although Picasso is credited with “inventing” Cubism, the style for which he is best known, he was equally skillful in other styles such as realism, collage and portraiture.  Not only was he a famous painter, but he was also a talented sculptor.

For a classroom study on famous artists or art history and appreciation, here are some books which will be helpful.
Pablo Picasso: Breaking All the Rules.  True Kelley.  Penguin.  2002.  Written and illustrated in the form of a child’s report.
Pablo Picasso.  Frances Lincoln.  2006.  6 sheets of re-usable stickers.  Graphically illustrates Picasso’s use of cubes and other shapes in his art.
Picasso:  Soul on Fire.  Rick Jacobson.  Illustrated by Laura Fernandez & Rick Jacobson.  2004.  Illustrated juvenile biography including reproductions of Picasso’s work.

This exhibit is well worth a visit by both adults and young people--Wilma Snyder.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Jon Scieszka at St. Christopher's School

Jon admires the "stinky" bulletin board

We had a wonderful time with Jon Scieszka this week at St. Christopher's School.  A community program examining boys and reading brought together more than 500 parents, teachers, and librarians from all over the Central Virginia area.  The programs with our boys today proved that Jon knows his audience!  Those "knuckleheads" came in all afternoon looking for Spaceheadz titles in particular.  Thanks again Jon!  Come back any time.
Lucinda Whitehurst and Jon Scieszka