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Have Time Machine – Will Travel

9780399256462HThe Wells Bequest by Polly Shulman (Nancy Paulsen Books, $16.99, Ages 10 and up) is reviewed by Hilary Taber.

If you had the power to time travel in order to stop a horrible event from happening would you do it? Would you change history? Yet how much of history is really safe to change, without altering present reality?

In this stand-alone companion novel to The Grimm Legacy, author Polly Shulman revisits the earlier venue of the New York Circulating Material Repository. This provides the reader with another set of adventures within the walls of the Repository, revealing more of the secrets hidden therein. The New York Circulating Material Repository isn’t a library for books, instead it houses objects of every kind imaginable. If a page would demonstrate that they are both capable and trustworthy, they might be able to look at and even borrow magical objects from the special collections.

In The Wells Bequest we meet Leo, an aspiring scientist and Jaya, the head page at the library. The library is facing a huge problem. One of the library’s pages, a boy named Simon, has gotten hold of Nikola Tesla’s death ray. Jealous of Leo and Jaya’s relationship, Simon must now be stopped from blowing up New York City into smithereens! Luckily, the Wells Bequest contains a time travel machine straight from H.G. Well’s book The Time Machine. Leo and Jaya must travel through time back to the 1890s in order to stop Simon’s evil plans. The clock is now ticking for Leo and Jaya. They must save their city, their families, friends, and the library itself from disappearing forever.

What impresses me most about both The Grimm Legacy and The Wells Bequest, is the sheer amount of research that I know must be at the heart of both these books. Intricately detailed, Ms. Shulman’s research adds depth to her fantasy world, making it even more believable. The Well’s Bequest is rich in background information that is both scientific and historical which makes it that rare kind of children’s book that instructs without resorting to lecturing. For example, did you know that Mark Twain knew Nikola Tesla? I didn’t before I read this book, but now I do! I wanted to high five someone when Mark Twain appeared as a character in the book (how cool is that?!), but it was three in the morning, so I waited. It is also worth noting how well-drawn the characters in the book are, especially the relationship between Leo and Jaya. Their relationship kept the plot lively and was realistic. It was full of the humorous, mild bickering that friends enjoy. They each admire the abilities the other possesses, and their friendship develops into a light romance.

Fans of Rick Riordan’s books, and those of us longing for another sort of Hogwarts (that we can imagine we could be a part of) will find a great summer read in The Wells Bequest. It’s very much like a very fast roller coaster ride experienced at a summertime theme park visit. There are unexpected plot twists and turns, there’s a rush of activity throughout the book (they are saving New York City after all), and a wind of information seems constantly about you, almost like another character in the book. Did it keep me guessing? You bet! Could two kids really time travel? Well, as Jaya asked, “’Would you really want to live in a world where only the possible is possible?’” I sure wouldn’t. Besides, you never know… one day it could happen!

Fuhgeddaboudit!

ollie-moon-fuhgeddaboudit-diane-kredensor-hardcover-cover-artOllie & Moon Fuhgeddaboudit! ($15.99, Random House, Ages 3 and up) is the second Ollie & Moon book by Diane Kredensor. This story combines photography with cartoon art and the reader is taken on a journey through New York City with two cartoon cats, named Ollie and Moon, of course.

As Moon takes Ollie on an adventure through New York City she makes a bet with her buddy Ollie, that she can make him laugh. But nothing Moon seems to do on this particular day makes Ollie laugh – not a funny hat, silly moves, crazy sounds, funny faces and not even goofy impersonations. But something out of Moon’s control happens that would make anyone laugh. Does it work on Ollie? Read the book and you shall see.

What I like about Ollie & Moon Fuhgeddaboudit! is that it provides a subtle geography lesson for kids, taking them through some key New York City attractions. The characters are cute and the Omparisstory will make you laugh with your kids as you read it aloud together. It’s simply an amusing story little ones will love to read at bedtime or any time for matter.

– Reviewed by Debbie Glade.

100 Years of Grand Central Terminal

UnknownToday, February 1st, is the 100th anniversary of Grand Central Terminal (simply called Grand Central by New Yorkers). This landmark in the heart of the Big Apple and seen in countless films – most notably Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, has elegantly stood the test of time. Being a former New Yorker, I have always had a soft spot for the station. For me it’s a time capsule and represents a bygone era when men wore hats, women wore gloves and the trains pulling out of the platforms held a promise of  journeys beyond the crowded city limits.

UnknownAs we celebrate the station’s centennial, we can once again enjoy all 32 pages of Maira Kalman’s praise-worthy picture book tribute in Next Stop Grand Central ($16.99, Nancy Paulsen Books, ages 4 and up). First published in 1999 and now re-released for this special occasion, Next Stop Grand Central is a festive and fun frolic through the fast-paced environs of one of America’s busiest train stations. And parents, don’t forget to show your child the entire book jacket, too, because Kalman’s zany sense of humor begins even before page 1!

This is just the kind of book my kids would have had me read over and over to them as we made new discoveries each time and discussed each one.  Maybe the first time reading we’d notice Ed with his excessively long arm changing one of the KAZILLION light bulbs in the station. Maybe next time we’d ooh and ahh over precious Pete, the pup on his way to Riverdale to “cheer up Ida Frumkiss.” Kids will certainly get a kick out of all the activity on every page as Kalman’s comical artwork, depicting a colorful cast of characters, begs to be studied not just glanced. Kalman includes a lot of what is the heart and soul of the station such as the information booth and its iconic clock, the Oyster Bar, Vanderbilt Hall, the grand staircases, the star-filled ceilings and the marble floors.

Whether you find yourself slowly turning the pages to catch up with the many different people detailed in the book on their way to so many different places or you want to quickly get to the end to find out exactly how Kalman will wrap up her story, there’s no perfect way to read Next Stop Grand Central. All I can say is it just has to be read!

One Stone at a Time

After reading Me and Momma and Big John, ($16.99, Candlewick Press, Ages 3 and up) William Low is now one of my favorite children’s book illustrators. After reading this story and marveling at the pictures, I’m sure he will be one of your favorites, too. This award-winning artist is classically trained and has also mastered the art of digital illustrating. The pictures are extraordinary and you’ll find yourself spending a lot of time on each page to marvel at all the detail.

The story, written by Mara Rockliff, is about an African American woman stone cutter who works on helping to finish building the Cathedral of St. John., a.k.a. Big John, in New York City during the 1980s. The first stones to build the structure were laid in 1892, but due to numerous reasons, mostly World War II, the building was never finished. The author was inspired by real-life apprentice stone cutter, Carol Hazel, to write the story.  In the back of the book you can read about the history of the cathedral.

What I like about the story is that it teaches children about preservation of our most treasured buildings and how many people it takes to create them, one stone at a time. In addition to that and the illustrations, I can also appreciate the high quality of this sturdy, big, beautiful book from the printing and paper, to the binding and the cover. And like the Cathedral of St. John, it’s made to last, and was written and illustrated to keep for generations to enjoy.

Beneath The Big Apple: Subway Story

The NYC subway system is a behemoth of well-planned underground and above ground lines snaking through the heart of Manhattan and delivering passengers to the far edges of the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens. It is also very old—the first successful opening of underground railway lines in New York City happened in 1904 (www.nycsubway.org), and it has since grown to be one of the largest systems in the world. For the year and a half I spent in graduate school, I rode the subways in the Big Apple, maneuvering my way to and fro daily through its serpentine belly to reach my destination.  In all the time I spent sitting in a subway car, only once did I ponder what happened with all of the old subway cars, so when I saw Julia Sarcone-Roach’s book Subway Story ($16.99, Knopf Books For Young Readers, ages 5-9), I knew I had to read it. Inspired by the author’s visit to the New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn, Subway Story tells the true story of a subway car, which Sarcone-Roach names Jessie, who was first introduced in New York City during the 1964 World’s Fair and later “reefed” off the coast of Delaware in 2001.

Jessie’s story begins at birth, weighing in at 75,122 pounds and 51 ½ feet long. She arrives in New York and begins the important work of ferrying visitors of the World’s Fair around the city. Sarcone-Roach’s dreamy watercolor illustrations take her readers on a typical New York City subway ride, from the station, to inside the car, to the bridges and tunnels connecting Manhattan to the outer boroughs. Through all four seasons, year after year, Jessie continues working hard, proud to be a New York City subway car, but the time eventually comes when Jessie is forced to retire from her duties. Here is where the story takes a surprising turn—rather than sitting in a junk yard for the rest of her life, Jessie is loaded on a barge and taken out to the ocean where she is pushed into the water. Sarcone-Roach paints a new world for Jessie on the floor of the ocean, where she is soon visited by plants and animals of the sea. The Author’s Note at the end of the story explains more about this actual process of “reefing” old subway cars and provides resources for further exploration; interestingly, this real method of recycling the subway car creates an artificial reef on which sea life begins to grow, attracting new plants and marine life to an area. It is one of many creative ways old subway cars across the world have been put to good use (others are also mentioned in the Author’s Note).

Subway Story is not only a fascinating look into the daily workings of a subway car but also an educational glimpse into a likely unheard-of practice of recycling old subway cars. For any young girl or boy interested in trains, or any child who has ever ridden on a subway, this book is a must-read. It will give your child a fresh perspective about a mode of transportation he may uses every day or teach him about a different way people get around in big cities where many people do not own a car. Most importantly, however, Julia Sarcone-Roach’s enlightening Subway Story and illuminating illustrations can provide a gateway for teaching your child more about reusing old materials and open the door to a windfall of ideas your child can brainstorm for how to reuse or recycle things in your own home.

Reviewer Karen B. Estrada has 9 years of experience as an English educator teaching students ranging from 6th grade to adult learners. She got her start teaching as a participant of the JET Program, during which she spent 3 years living and teaching in a rural Japanese town of 5000 people.  Since then, Karen has continued to teach English and Writing Skills at various levels in diverse settings such as Harlem, New York City, suburban New Jersey, and semi-rural Maryland. She holds a BA in English from Trinity University in San Antonio, TX and an MA in Teaching of English from Teachers College, Columbia University. Karen is currently taking a short break from teaching as she awaits the arrival of her first child due in late April.

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