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Goldie Takes a Stand!: Golda Meir’s First Crusade

Goldie Takes a Stand!: Golda Meir’s First Crusade, (Kar-Ben Publishing, 2014, $17.95, Ages 5-9) by Barbara Krasner and illustrated by Kelsey Garrity-Riley, is reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

thumbnail.aspBarbara Krasner, author and blogger, has always had a passion for Jewish history. She has combined this passion with an interest in writing children’s books and has selected a dynamic subject for her first children’s nonfiction book, Goldie Takes a Stand!: Golda Meir’s First Crusade.

In early 20th century Milwaukee, nine year old Goldie Mabowehz, became concerned when poor immigrant classmates could not afford school books. Determined to help, she created the American Young Sisters Society and “ … naturally appointed [her]self president.”

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Interior artwork from Goldie Takes a Stand!: Golda Meir’s First Crusade by Barbara Krasner and illustrated by Kelsey Garrity-Riley, Kar-Ben Publishing, 2014.

But how could she and her friends raise the money? Efforts such as charging her mother’s grocery store customers a little extra, naturally failed. Giving up something she loved (candy) saved her a penny, but it wasn’t enough. Never wavering in her determination, she persuaded a local hall owner to let her use his hall for a community-wide fundraiser. Free. Amazingly, he agreed and she and her group organized a successful event, collecting enough money for school book purchases.

Krasner’s upbeat and gently humorous, first person narrative makes the story intimate and accessible to young children, helping them to empathize with Goldie’s determination to improve her classmates’ situation. While the conversations are fictionalized, the event is true. Krasner’s bibliography includes the primary sources she referred to, other resources, and an end note. Illustrator Kelsey Garrity-Riley’s interest in collecting old objects paid off and her charming and quaint gouache and collage illustrations, digitally enhanced, recreate authentic early 20th century urban life (check out the wall paper!).

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Interior artwork from Goldie Takes a Stand!: Golda Meir’s First Crusade by Barbara Krasner and illustrated by Kelsey Garrity-Riley, Kar-Ben Publishing, 2014.

Have you figured out who Goldie is? Well, she grew up to become Israel’s fourth Prime Minister, Golda Meir (1969-1974). Krasner demonstrates that, early on, Meir displayed great leadership qualities: vision, courage, determination, and collaboration. Recommended for children ages 5-9, this inspirational book could be used by teachers and librarians as an introduction to biography. For those involved in project-based learning, character education, and community service, pair this up with Kids Who Are Changing the World (see Cerro’s Thursday, Aug. 21st review on this blog) for discussions on affecting social change and brainstorming projects children may want to undertake. Watch the YouTube book trailer below, accompanied by the uplifting strains of the Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem. http://youtu.be/pQ4qJh2Bup8

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Kids Who are Changing the World by Anne Jankéliowitch With Photographs by Yann Arthus-Bertrand.

Kids Who are Changing the World by Anne Jankéliowitch With Photographs by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, (Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky, September 1, 2014, $14.99, Ages 9 and up), is reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

“I want my children to see living camels,” Cameron Oliver, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, p. 16.

61pw8M4kx0LThis inspirational collection of stories about children who are leading the way in creating environmental change is a must-have for adults and educators working with children on project-based learning and community service projects.

Jankéliowitch reports on forty-five children from all over the world, briefly and engagingly describing their inspiration, the process for turning ideas into action, successes and failures, and advice. Readers will see a range of ideas and actions such as creating biodiesel fuel from cooking oil, planting trees, repurposing old computers, raising funds for well construction, and so much more.

The children in these stories show remarkable creativity, ingenuity, and determination. Some children used their passion for music, art, and theatre to carry their message to their community and the world, discovering that the dreams and aspirations of a child in Palo Alto, California can resonate with a child in Ethiopia. Talk about going global! 61Q+eUujosL

Yann Arthus-Bertrand is a photographer, journalist and environmentalist. His dramatic photographs (seen in here in black and white) powerfully illustrate the dangers of the environmental challenges discussed in the book. Highly recommended for ages nine and up, although the process can be adapted for younger children.

Yann Arthus-Bertrand, President of the GoodPlanet Foundation, writes in the forward: “Kids have an amazing ability to come up with exciting ideas and carry them out with remarkable energy.” This book will serve not only as inspiration, but as a guide to the process of creatively designing a project that will benefit the planet.

Anne Jankéliowitch is an environmental engineer currently living in France. Her nature conservation work experience includes the WWF and Greenpeace. She’s also written several other books.

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Big Nate: Great Minds Think Alike By Lincoln Peirce

Big Nate: Great Minds Think Alike by Lincoln Peirce
is reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

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That mischievous boy with a winning personality is back in a new compilation of colorful comic strips called Big Nate: Great Minds Think Alike (Amp! Comics for Kids/Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2014, $9.99 paperback, Ages 8-12). Nate has a lot of big ideas for fun and achieving greatness and tries his hand at Sudoku, life skills coaching, painting, business, and a world record holder of anything (the only record he holds is for detention).

Big Nate fans will be pleased to see favorite characters from past volumes: his clueless dad; Mrs. Godfrey, his strict teacher; teacher’s pet, Gina; and Nate’s best buddies, Frances and Teddy.

Hilarious vignettes include a planned YouTube video of Nate jumping off a shed onto a trampoline while dunking a basketball into a hoop ends in a flop. Attempting to form his own lawn mowing business, he works during a heat wave and is unable to finish even one lawn. Turning to something less strenuous, Nate offers to cool people off with his water hose for $1.00. Unfortunately, he doesn’t adjust the nozzle spray, creating very unhappy customers.

 

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Interior spread from Big Nate: Great Minds Think Alike by Lincoln Peirce, Amp! Comics for Kids/Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2014.

Nate also tries to propel his friend Frances to greatness by competing against Nate’s archenemy “brainiac” Gina for “Outstanding Scholar” medal (p. 100). Unfortunately for Nate and Frances, Gina is one step ahead of them.

Nate’s instructions to Teddy on how to write a three page report on the Boston Tea Party in just one page are an absolute riot. Many teachers are on to student tricks like these: large font and dragged out sentences and words. Here’s an example: “When King George III received news of the Boston Tea Party, he flew into a rage.” A super-long “ARRRRRRRRRRRRR” fills up three panels of the strip, and of course, several lines on Nate’s paper.“Just call me Dr. Filler’!” quips Nate (p. 72).

Finally, my favorite: Nate’s outburst in the (quiet) library when teased about reading a comic strip popular with the girls catches the attention of the librarian. “The life of a school librarian is never dull, “ she muses stoically ( p. 79). Amen, sister.

Big Nate fans, those who enjoy comic anthologies, and reluctant readers will appreciate this collection. Also steer them to Peirce’s well-illustrated Big Nate novels. Big Nate is a growing hit at my school library and I look forward to putting this book into eager hands. Recommended for ages 8-12.

Visit Lincoln Peirce’s Big Nate website www.bignatebooks.com for info on his books, videos about the author, games, a link to the comic strip, and more. See Lincoln Peirce discuss how he works in this YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TOTYCrLKSM

 

 

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Freedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi by Susan Goldman Rubin

Freedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi by Susan Goldman Rubin (Holiday House, $18.95, ages 10 and up) is reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of this Landmark Civil Rights Project

⭐︎Starred Reviews – Booklist & School Library Journal

“I am determined to become a first class citizen … I am determined to get every Negro in the State of Mississippi registered (Fannie Lou Hamer, p 1).

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Freedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi by Susan Goldman Rubin, Holiday House, 2014.

Susan Goldman Rubin, author of several biographies and books on the Holocaust (see her website: www.susangoldmanrubin.com), has written a dramatic account of the efforts of civil rights organizations and volunteers, mostly college-aged students, who worked together during the summer of 1964 to educate African Americans in Mississippi about their voting rights. While greeted warmly by African Americans, who also opened their homes to the young students, volunteers worked in an intense and dangerous environment. Prior to arriving in Mississippi, volunteers, who hailed from all across the country, received one week training in how to behave and dress so as to avoid physical harm. They learned that “no one should go anywhere alone, but certainly not in an automobile and certainly not at night …” (pp. 6-7). Volunteers were advised to sleep at the back of the house and listen for sudden car accelerations as that might signal a bombing. Contrary to what they had been taught in the North, Southern police were not their friends.

Despite the never ending climate of fear and the murder of three of the workers (James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Mickey Schwerner), students and community members continued their heroic efforts to establish Freedom Schools and register voters. The Freedom Schools were enormously successful: with enrollment of over 2000 adults and children. Voter registration, however, proved to be much more challenging due to African Americans fears of physical violence and obstacles such as poll taxes and literacy tests designed to prevent them from voting. However, these efforts led to President Johnson’s 1965 Civil Rights Act and, by 1966, registered African American voters soared from 6.4% to almost 60% (p. 97).

Rubin’s compelling and gripping account includes primary sources: interviews with surviving volunteers and community members, reproductions of period photos, FBI posters, newspaper articles and other documents. End material includes a bibliography, timeline, recommended websites, and appendices of original documents. The book also includes illustrations by Tracy Sugarman, an American artist who illustrated important historical events. At 41, he was the oldest volunteer and shadowed the volunteers to chronicle their work in art (see PBS’s “Freedom Summer” web pages for more information on the documentary and Sugarman and his illustrations: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/freedomsummer). Highly recommended for middle graders thru high school, as a readable narrative as well as a compelling way for teachers and librarians to meet Common Core standard in how researchers use primary sources to bring historical events to life. In an interview with Holiday House (see below), Rubin expresses her hope that this book will inspire students to seek out their community’s stories.

Visit the publisher at http://www.holidayhouse.com/title_display.php?ISBN=9780823429202
for links to educators’ guide, transcripts of the author’s interviews, video interview with author, and more.

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Comics Squad: Recess! Review and Giveaway

IN HONOR OF SAN DIEGO COMIC CON WE BRING YOU A REVIEW & GIVEAWAY!!

Comics Squad: Recess! written and/or illustrated by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm, Dan Santat, Gene Luen Yang, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Raina Telgemeier, and Dave Roman, Ursula Vernon, Eric Wight, Dav Pilkey. (Random House Books for Young Readers, July 8, 2014, paperback $7.99, Ages 7-10) – reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

“WARNING: this book may cause excessive laughter and possible silliness.”

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Comics Squad: Recess! from Random House Books for Young Readers, 2014.

This lively and humorous collection of eight novellas that is Comics Squad: Recess! features comic strip style stories by well-known author and/or illustrators such as Gene Luen Yang, Dav Pilkey, Jarrett J. Krosoczka and Raina Telgemeier. Popular characters like Babymouse and Lunch Lady make their appearance and new characters are introduced. All the stories are tied together by one theme: recess, one of the high points of the school day (second only to dismissal time!).

The stories feature a lively variety of styles, characters and situations from the geeky boy who struggles to join a recess ninja club in Yang’s “Super Secret Ninja Club” to two squirrels who find a rather unusual acorn in Vernon’s “The Magic Acorn.” Pilkey’s “Book ‘em, Dog Man,” features the hero, Dog Man (and lots of invented spelling), who sets out to stop the diabolical Petey from destroying all books in order make the world “supa dumb.” In Telgemeier and Roman’s “The Rainy Day Monitor,” a restless 5th grade class, confined to their classroom on a rainy day, is pleasantly surprised when a “boring” student finds a way to engage her classmates. Two boys struggle to complete an assignment during recess in Santat’s “300 Words” with hilarious and poignant results. Babymouse’s daydreaming makes her late for classes and lands her inside for recess where she takes off on an imaginary quest in the Holms’ “Babymouse: The Quest for Recess.”

Highly recommended for grades 3-6, this anthology serves as a great way to attract new fans and will be enjoyed by those already familiar with the authors’ and/or illustrators’ characters.

GIVEAWAY DETAILS: We’re delighted to be giving away two copies (value $7.99 each) of COMICS SQUAD: RECESS!.

RULES:

1. Please send an email to Ronna.L.Mandel at gmail.com and write COMICS SQUAD: RECESS! in the subject. Please supply your name and address, too!

2. Be sure to LIKE US on either Facebook and/or Twitter to be eligible and let us know you have. You must be a US or Canadian resident to enter.

3. Contest ends at midnight on August 5, 2014, and (2) winners will be notified on August 6, 2014.

GOOD LUCK!
See Random House’s awesome trailers–and meet the authors and illustrators — at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UiTRmUGRAeA and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jHXAvpd-9I

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The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc

The Lion and the Bird written and illustrated by Marianne Dubuc,
(Enchanted Lion Books, 2014. $17.95 Ages 3-8) is reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

The-Lion-and-the-Bird-cvr.jpgOne autumn day a lion working in his garden finds an injured bird. “You’re welcome to stay with me,” Lion assures Bird. Over the winter Lion nurses Bird back to health and the two share the comforts of Lion’s home and the wonders of the seasons. When spring returns so do Bird’s feathered friends and, after consulting with an understanding Lion, Bird rejoins his flock.

Lion returns home, lonely but philosophical, musing “And so it goes, sometimes life is like that.” But autumn returns, and as the birds begin their annual migration to warmer climes, Lion wonders if he’ll see his old friend. Suddenly, Lion hears a chirp (brilliantly illustrated with a single musical note on an otherwise blank two-page spread). Bird has returned for the winter. “Together, we’ll stay warm again this winter,” Lion assures Bird, as the two settle in the house under a starlit sky dominated by a crescent moon.

Dubuc’s picture book featuring a lion who finds and helps an injured bird is a classic story of friendship set against the cycle of the year. The simplicity and spareness of her narrative and the flat, muted, color illustrations give it a fable-like quality, rendering the story timeless. Dubuc’s layout of the illustrations is remarkable. One cozy, two-page spread depicts a series of oval-shaped vignettes, allowing the reader to peer inside Lion’s cozy home. Another lovely spread shows Lion’s house buffeted by snow and wind and is followed by a blindingly white spread representing the snow-covered countryside. Off-center, three pale pink buds, emerging from the snow, hint at the coming spring. The pages become canvases conveying the story’s narrative and wonderfully capturing the characters’ emotions and the timelessness of a seemingly simpler, rural life. Highly recommended for ages 3-8, but it’s such a well-illustrated and beautiful friendship story, it will be enjoyed by all.

Author/Illustrator Marianne Dubuc is a French Canadian author and illustrator trained as a graphic designer. She has written and illustrated several other titles for young children. Visit her web site (en Français) at www.mariannedubuc.com to learn more about her art and books. Visit Enchanted Lion Book’s wonderful web site at www.enchantedlionbooks.com to see the highly creative and imaginative books they have published from authors and illustrators all over the world.

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The Timmy Failure Series Written & Illustrated by Stephen Pastis

The Terrific Timmy Failure Series
Written and Illustrated by Stephen Pastis
is Reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

Introducing “the greatness that is Timmy Failure,” world class detective.

Timmy Failure MistakesMove over Inspector Jacques Clouseau, author/illlustrator Stephan Pastis has created your youthful equivalent in a humorous series about an overly-confident and hilariously clueless detective who dreams of taking his neighborhood detective agency global. Unfortunately there are some obstacles: his mother – who insists he goes to school, school – where he’s not doing so well, Rollo – his less than brilliant best friend, and Total – his 1500 pound polar bear partner. A polar bear for a partner? Yes, after hooking up with Timmy, Total insisted that the agency name start with his. Hence the less than inspirational agency name of “Total Failure.” (Timmy Fayleure’s name was changed to Failure).

Timmy is also challenged by his evil arch enemy, a fellow student so despised that her “…name shall not be uttered” and her face is blocked out in the deceptively simple illustrations in Timmy’s journal – a history of his invaluable expertise.

Highly imaginative situations, clever word plays, and puns on popular culture are part of the series’ humor and mask some deeper issues. Superficially we have a young bumbling Clouseau-like detective who misses the most basic of clues. When investigating the death of a friend’s hamster, Timmy doesn’t ask obvious questions like has it been fed lately? Rather he asks if the hamster had any enemies. Another friend hires Timmy to find out who toilet papered his house. Timmy initially deduces that only monkeys could have climbed high enough to hang toilet paper from the treetops. Readers will quickly grasp that Total Failure, Inc. is not exactly on the road to international success.

We also see Timmy struggling with an active imagination which causes him to lose focus, impacting his school performance. He has difficulty forming healthy relationships: when frustrated, he refers to other people as “stupid.” He is obsessed with his goal and sees everything in relationship to his detective agency. He treats his mom like an employee, scheduling teleconferences, annual reviews, etc. However, poignant moments emerge: when his detective instincts tell him that his mom seems troubled, he tells her she doesn’t have to read him a bedtime story. Eventually, Timmy benefits from sympathetic adult support. His mom takes charge, structures his life, sends him to a therapist and encourages him to become more involved in the world around him. A new teacher finds an innovative way to engage him in school by “hiring” him to “investigate” the “mysteries” of fractions, and photosynthesis. By the third book, Timmy and the other main characters show much personal and social growth.

While this is not another Diary of a Wimpy Kid spinoff, it will be enjoyed by that series’ fans and reluctant readers. Sophisticated humor, including popular culture references (like “A Hitchhikers Guide to Grade School” chapter title) will tickle the funny bone of older readers. Challenging issues (single parent families, learning styles, and successful relationships) and amazing vocabulary (debilitating, farce, intimidating, and Timmy’s favorite outcry “mendacity”) will engage all readers. This middle grade fiction novel is highly recommended for ages 8-12.

Pastis, creator of the “Pearls Before Swine” comic strip, has an awesome Timmy Failure website with links to YouTube videos, information about the books, author interviews, vocabulary flashcards and more. Visit it here at www.timmyfailure.com.

Series Titles and summary (all titles written and illustrated by Stephen Pastis and published by Candlewick Press):

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made (No.1). 2013. $14.99
In which we are introduced to the young CEO and president of Total Failure, Inc., “…the best detective agency in town…” and the obstacles he faces (mother, school, and an evil nemesis) in realizing his goal of global expansion.

Timmy Failure: Now Look What You’ve Done (No. 2). 2014. $14.99
In which our extraordinary detective enters a school contest to find a stolen globe … but is someone trying to prevent him from solving the case? Join Timmy, Total, and his kooky Aunt Colander, as they set out to solve the mystery of the missing globe, avenge the integrity of the competition, and hopefully win the $500  prize.

Timmy Failure: We Meet Again (No. 3). Release date: October, 2014. $14.99
In which we find our intrepid detective on academic probation and forced to collaborate on a nature report with his evil nemesis. He is hired by a desperate student to find the lost Miracle Report, an old research paper that could give Timmy and others an A++++++. Surprises abound!

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Candlewick Biographies about Handel and Darwin

The two Candlewick Biographies below are reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

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Handel, Who Knew What He Liked by M. T. Anderson with illustrations by Kevin Hawkes, Candlewick Press, 2013.

Handel, Who Knew What He Liked, written by M. T. Anderson and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes,
(Candlewick Press 2013, $14.99, Ages 8-12)

One Beetle Too Many: The Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwin, written by Kathryn Lasky and illustrated by Matthew Trueman, (Candlewick Press 2014, $14.99, Ages 7-10)

Did you know that composer George Frederick Handel was once challenged to a duel? Or that scientist Charles Darwin’s childhood nickname was “Gas” because of the deliberate explosions he and his brother set off in their makeshift laboratory?

The two books reviewed here are part of the Candlewick Biographies series for children. Each examines “…a turning point or defining moment in the life of a famous person and how it led to significant contributions.”

Both men were born to fairly well-off families and had domineering (but well-intentioned) fathers who wanted their sons to pursue more affluent careers. Despite their fathers’ objections, both men realized success in their chosen professions.

When his father refused to pay for music lessons, Handel (‘who knew what he wanted”) smuggled a clavichord into the attic and taught himself how to play it. In England, he found the British didn’t like his Italian operas. So he wrote them in English. Throughout his life, Handel, when challenged by the naysayers, found a way to make everything work and still do “…what he wanted.”

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One Beetle Too Many: The Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwin by Kathryn Lasky with illustrations by Matthew Trueman, Candlewick Press, 2014.

Darwin’s father wanted him to be a doctor. All young Darwin wanted to do was explore the natural world and collect specimens. So he did not apply himself to what his father wanted him to study (medicine, and when that didn’t work out, theology), causing his father tp accuse his son of disgracing the family. A botany professor recommended Darwin for the position of naturalist aboard the HMS Beagle, and, despite his father’s objections, embarked on a five year journey that gave birth to his theory of evolution.

These short biographies are engagingly and humorously written by award-winning authors. Complex topics and terminology are clearly explained in accessible language. Colorful and vibrant illustrations convey each man’s world from the wealth and privilege of European aristocracy to the exoticness of the Galapagos Islands. Previously published as oversized biographies, the new smaller format is conducive to individual reading and research, although the lively language makes for a great read aloud. Added tools such as indexes and resources aid research and learning. Highly recommended for children 8-12 years old as wonderful introductions to biography and nonfiction.

Others in this series include biographies of Fred and Adele Astaire, Ella Fitzgerald, and John Muir and Phillis Wheatley.

Read Ronna Mandel’s review of A Voice of Her Own: The Story of Phillis Wheatley, Slave Poet.

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The Rocket’s Red Glare: Celebrating the History of The Star Spangled Banner

The Rocket’s Red Glare: Celebrating the History of The Star Spangled Banner written by Peter Alderman and illustrated by Bea Moritz is reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

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The Rocket’s Red Glare: Celebrating the History of The Star Spangled Banner by Peter Alderman with illustrations by Bea Moritz, Flowerpot Press, 2014.

In 1812, the American Congress declared war on Great Britain following years of naval harassment. One day, in 1814, Francis Scott Key sailed out on an official mission to negotiate the release of an American doctor captured by the British. The British were agreeable to this but with one, agonizing condition: Key and his companions were to wait offshore so as not to tip off nearby Fort McHenry of an impending British attack.

Key anxiously followed the assault to its conclusion and saw “ … that our flag was still there.” With great pride and excitement, he shouted “oh say can you see?” and quickly wrote out the words to what would become the national anthem of the United States, the “Star Spangled Banner”.

In The Rocket’s Red Glare: Celebrating the History of The Star Spangled Banner  written by Peter Alderman and illustrated by Bea Moritz (Flowerpot Press, July 4, 2014, $16.99, All Ages) Alderman’s narrative, punctuated by the anthem’s vivid and stirring words, makes the complex history behind the “Star Spangled Banner” accessible for young children and captures the drama and suspense of the event that inspired it. The anthem wonderfully conveys Key’s pride which continues to resonate with Americans whenever it is played.

Illustrator Moritz’s use of a variety of illustrative techniques across stunning double page spreads bring understanding to the anthem’s soaring, but archaic words and phrases. The flag’s thickly painted broad, red and white stripes give it texture and, despite being battered and torn in the battle, invoke the new country’s strength and endurance. Ethereal looking rockets, blazing red and yellow, fly through a star-filled sky and prove, that while dangerous, they could not bring down the fort and thus the country.

The accompanying CD includes multi-platinum artist Jo Dee Messina reading the book and singing stirring renditions of both the “Star Spangled Banner” and “America the Beautiful.” Here is a link to Messina’s rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1tuwkmmoOCc

This lovely book is suitable for a wide audience and will be available just in time for the Fourth of July. Its large coffee table size and accompanying CD not only  make this a great gift, but a highly visual/auditory read-aloud. Highly recommended as an addition to elementary classroom and library collections. Teachers may want to use it to introduce units on American civics, holidays (Flag day is June 14) and early history.

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The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra: The Sound of Joy is Enlightening by Chris Raschka

The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra: The Sound of Joy is Enlightening, written and illustrated by Chris Raschka (Candlewick Press, 2014, $15.99, ages 5-9), is reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

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The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra: The Sound of Joy is Enlightening written and illustrated by Chris Raschka, Candlewick Press, 2014.

Chris Raschka’s picture book biography about Sun Ra, comes just in time for the 100th anniversary of his birth (May 22, 1914). Born Herman Blount in Birmingham, Alabama, Sun Ra believed that he came from the planet Saturn. Raschka playfully encourages his readers to imagine this is true and illustrates Sun Ra’s trip to earth with an astronaut-like figure blasting off from Saturn. Like any good traveler, Sun Ra was interested in everything around him, especially music, since it “ …was the one thing about earth that was most like the stars.”

An exceptional musician from childhood, Sun Ra formed an orchestra called the Arkestra, which traveled throughout the world. Raschka compares them to “ … sailors on a boat bound for a new world … of sound.” It was music, Sun Ra believed, not gravity, that held people together. On May 30, 1993, Sun Ra returned to Saturn.

Raschka, a two-time Caldecott award winner (The Hello, Goodbye Window and A Ball for Daisy), has introduced young children to the language and sounds of jazz in previous picture book biographies (Mysterious Thelonious and John Coltrane’s Giant Steps). Raschka captures the exuberance and energy of Sun Ra’s music in vibrant and colorful illustrations and accessible language. Back matter includes a brief biographical sketch and, along with the end pages, a list of recordings. Given starred review by Kirkus and School Library Journal, this inspirational book of an innovative and exceptional musician is highly recommended and must be accompanied by his music (see below)!

Visit the publisher, Candlewick Press, to download Raschka’s notes and the NPR blog Act Like You Know: Sun Ra by Patrick Jarenwattananon (May 22, 2014) for further information and to hear some of his compositions.

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Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems Selected by Paul B. Janeczko

Celebrating National Poetry Month!
Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems Selected by Paul B. Janeczko and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, (Candlewick Press, $16.99, Ages 6-9), is reviewed by Dornel Cerro.

Janeczko, the 2011 CYBIL winner for Requiem: Poems of the Terezin Ghetto, has selected a collection of short poems about the seasons written by well-known children’s and adult poets. Included here are lesser known poems by Charlotte Zolotow and J. Patrick Lewis (children’s) and Emily Dickinson and Richard Wright (adult). Each wonderfully illustrates the point that poets are artists who paint with words and only needs a few carefully chosen words to convey powerful images.

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Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems selected by Paul B. Janeczko with illustrations by Melissa Sweet, Candlewick Press, 2014.

The mood of the poems is reflective and evocative. Some are resplendent with metaphors or similes such as “In the Field Forever” by Robert Wallace (p. 21):

Sun’s a roaring dandelion, hour by hour.
Sometimes the moon’s a scythe, sometimes a silver flower.
But the stars! all night long the stars are clover.
Over, and over, and over!

Illustrator Melissa Sweet received a Caldecott honor for River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams. Her full page, mixed media illustrations (water color, gouache, and collage) are uplifting and enhance the poem without overshadowing it. My students admired Sweet’s illustrations for the interesting details she added that are not necessarily a part of the poem, but are reasonable inclusions. In the illustration for “Water Lily” a frog’s eyes peer out of the pond, following a nearby fly (p. 10).

The publisher recommends this for ages 6-9, but I read it to older students to demonstrate poetry techniques such as metaphors, word choice, etc. My 4th/5th grade class found the word choice so vivid that the readings evoked personal memories or made them feel like they were in the poem.

This breath-taking collection has deservedly received starred reviews Horn Book, Kirkus, Booklist, and School Library Journal and is highly recommended for all libraries (public, school, and home!).

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Poem-Mobiles: Crazy Car Poems by J. Patrick Lewis and Douglas Florian

Poem-Mobiles: Crazy Car Poems by J. Patrick Lewis and Douglas Florian is reviewed today by the newest member of the GRWR team, Dornel Cerro.

Poem-Mobiles: Crazy Car Poems by J. Patrick Lewis and Douglas Florian and iIlustrated by Jeremy Holmes (Schwartz & Wade Books, 2014. $17.99, Ages 4-8) is a collaboration by two accomplished and prolific children’s poets whose imagination, word crafting skills, and humor know no bounds. Lewis, author of over eighty children’s books and winner of the National Council of Teachers of English 2011 Poetry award, was the U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate from 2011-2013. Florian, who has written and illustrated over fifty children’s books, won Parent Magazine Best Book of the Year award in 2003 for Bow Wow Meow Meow: It’s Rhyming Cats and Dogs.

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Poem-Mobiles: Crazy Car Poems by J. Patrick Lewis and Douglas Florian with illustrations by Jeremy Holmes, Schwartz & Wade, 2014.

The two poets have combined their prodigious writing talents to create a collection of poems about cars. Oh, I’m not talking about the boring kind we adults drive, but really wild, weird, and wacky cars. You know, the ones children would like to drive. Like “Balloon Car” (p. 20):  “My daddy drives a car that floats/an inch above the street a hundred colorful balloons/tied to a bucket seat.” Along with some luscious vocabulary (fiery, sudsy, plop, fragrant), the poets use a variety of signature techniques such as rhyme, alliteration, and word plays that tickle a child’s fancy and delight the ear:   …”I’m a battery-powered/ automobeeeeeeeeeel!” (“Electric Eel”, p. 11).  “…The cars behind our school/ Are big Tyrannosaurus wrecks …” (“Jurassic Park(ing”), p. 12).

Holmes’s digitally colored, pencil and watercolor illustrations are set against a pale background dotted with inventive, mechanical looking elements that enliven the words and increase the zaniness of the poems. Children will want to pour over the illustrations to discover all the neat objects Holmes has inserted into his illustrations.  The collection received great reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, and School Library Journal. I read this collection to my K-1 classes who laughed out loud with delight (their favorite poem was “The Banana Split Car,” of course) and found both the poems and the illustrations humorous and imaginative. Adults will enjoy sharing this with their young children (ages 4-8) and, with the intriguing selection of vocabulary and word plays, creativity, teachers will find that any poem in this collection would make a wonderful creative writing or arts and craft project.

dcParisMeet our newest reviewer, Dornel: Dornel Cerro has been a children’s librarian for 17 years and has spent the last 10 years as librarian at Sequoyah School in Pasadena.

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