BooksForKidsBlog

Monday, November 30, 2009

Move Over, Rudolph! Olive the Other Reindeer by J. Otto Seibold

Back in her doghouse, Olive was wrapping presents and listening to the radio. She heard that same song again.

"All of the other reindeer..." went the song.

"Olive, the other reindeer..." Olive sang along.

"Olive, the OTHER reindeer?" said Olive. "Hmmm. I must be a reindeer."

It was the time of year when all reindeer reported to the North Pole to help Santa Claus. Olive put down her scissors and marched out the door.

Olive arrives outside Santa's workshop just as he is going through his pre-flight checklist, and St. Nick is a bit perplexed to find Olive lined up beside Dasher and Dancer.

Santa knew a lot about dogs. For instance, he knew
they couldn't fly. But as it was time to go, he decided to give Olive a chance. Comet, the biggest reindeer, used a piece of extra ribbon to make sure Olive was tied in safe and tight. Now they were ready to go.

And in the best Christmas magic tradition, Olive finds that she can fly, dangling just below the eight official coursers. Although Olive is cool with it all, the flying reindeer are so curious about Olive that they fail to gain enough altitude and crash into a tree, leaving Santa's sleigh stuck among the top branches. Of course, chewing sticks is almost a daily duty for dogs, and Olive soon has her crew freed of all entanglements. It's not an uneventful flight that night, but Olive's canine talents come to Santa's rescue repeatedly before the deliveries, made a bit late but thankfully well before dawn, are finally done.

But it is at the end of flight, when Santa is making his final landing approach back at the North Pole, that things get dicey. It's the dreaded North Pole Fog, and even Rudolph's nose couldn't have lighted Santa's way through this one. Luckily, although her nose doesn't glow, it still works in the proper canine manner, and sniffing Mrs. Claus' cookies through the gloom, Olive realizes that she's got the right sniff, er, stuff to complete this mission.

"Olive, won't you guide my sleigh this morning?" pleads Santa, and Olive's doggy sense of smell brings them down right on the runway. For her canine capabilities, Olive the other reindeer is rewarded with her own ceremonial set of antlers with which to join the reindeer games.

J. Otto Seibold's and Vivian Walsh's special edition of Olive, the Other Reindeer (Chronicle Books, 2009) is out for this Christmas season to add to that shelf of traditional "Santa's helper" books.

Available to accompany this newest reindeer recruit is the very popular Olive, the Other Reindeer Pop-Up Advent Calendar and its equally famous companion for the Christmas countdown, the Olive the Other Reindeer CD, narrated by Drew Barrymore--not to mention the plush Olive the Other Reindeer Toy for a complete Olive the other reindeer Christmas.

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Bad Girl! Constance and Tiny by Pierre Le Gall

A little girl and her enormous pet who get in and out of trouble together in jolly adventures? No, it's not Emily Elizabeth and Clifford this time: it's the alternate universe version-- French, but of course--starring Constance, the impish, rebellious anti-heroine, and her giant cat Tiny, he of the evil Cheshire cat grin and long pointy ears.

All hard angles from her severely cut black hair to her pointy red frock, Constance is no bundle of sugar and spice. Her smile is right out of Cruella DeVille, and her eyes, like those of her huge, looming cat Tiny, glare defiantly at any one who gets in her way. Author De Gall's voice-over narration from Constance and artist Eric Heliot's black and white and red illustrations work with delicious irony as they tell two distinctly different stories.

My name is Constance.

I am locked up in an evil mansion.

It's my parents' house.

They are terrible people--unfair and mean!

Constance's home, as pictured by artist Heloit, is a charming French cottage with an inviting swimming pool; her father is an easy-going guy with a comfortable smile and hands perpetually in the pockets of his baggy pants; and her mother is a tall, elegant Frenchwoman shown in the illustration presenting the petulant Constance with a large beribboned gift. Likewise, her school is described as a place "where they torture me," while the pictured Constance bangs a gong while the chorus sings merrily.

No matter. Constance cannot be consoled by any of her good fortune. In her mind her good efforts are never enough to please her parents.

And even when I try my best, they are never happy. (Teacher shows test with a big red zero to parents.)

There's nothing for it for Constance and her destructive pet Tiny except to leave their evil mansion; so, taking along a full valise and some money from her mother's purse ("just lying around in a corner," as Constance puts it,) the two steal away, free at last to enjoy all the ice cream and candy they desire.

But the parents "hire a couple of bandits" (otherwise recognizable as a kindly policeman and policewoman) to find and bring them back home, to the joy of the worried parents and the total consternation of Constance.

"Right then I knew that the horrors were far from over!" Constance declares.

It's exhausting being good all the time!"

De Gall's hilariously ironic Constance and Tiny will tickle kids' funny bones while perhaps making them appreciate the trials and tribulations of her parents whose relieved and welcoming hugs are described as "trying to suffocate me!" Despite its unrepentant little heroine, this little book's text and illustrations work together perfectly to delight children, good and bad.

Constance and Tiny continue their misadventures in Constance and the Great Escape.

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Parent Swap: Would I Trade My Parents? by Laura Numeroff

"Sarah's parents allow her to have chocolate milk BEFORE dinner. I wish my parents let me have chocolate milk before dinner.

William has three cats, two hamsters, some fish, and a dog named Olive. I wish my parents let me have a dog.

Ben and his parents like to go camping. I went with them once. We slept under the stars. I wish my parents let me sleep under the stars."

It seems that the parental grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Who wouldn't have a few envious thoughts about friends whose parents let them do fun stuff like riding in a cool old convertible with the top down, or eating homemade blueberry pancakes for breakfast, or going to square dances and giggling through their mixups in the do-si-dos.

Laura Joffe Numeroff, author of the best-selling If You Give a Mouse series, has a recent book, Would I Trade My Parents?, which humorously deals with the parental envy problem. The young hero sees his friends' interesting and varied lives with their own parents and there's a lot there to envy. As he gazes ruefully at his own unexciting pet, a hermit crab in a cage, how could he not wish he could have cats, hamsters, AND a dog like his friend William, whose mom owns an actual pet shop? Who wouldn't like to watch TV 'til bedtime any night her homework is done like Katie?

But then, his own parents are pretty cool, too. His mom teaches him French and plays piano duets with him. His dad takes him on long walks, talks to him about everything, and teaches him to recognize different kinds of clouds. His mom puts a note in his lunch every day, his dad reads to him every night, and they all hop on their bikes for a long ride every weekend. His own parents, on reflection, are not too shabby!

"I wouldn't trade my parents. I know that they are the best!"

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Out of the Gate: Wild Girl by Patricia Reilly Giff

In the distance, between his yelling and the horn blaring, Tio Paolo sounded desperate. "Hurry," I told [my horse] Cavallo.

Suddenly I was feeling that desperation, too. We had to drive all the way to Sao Paolo to catch the plane. But I was determined. Five minutes, no more.

Up ahead was the curved white fence that surrounded the lemon grove. The overhanging branches were old and gnarled, and the lemons still green.

Pai, my father, had held me up the day he'd left. His hair was dark, his teeth straight and white. "Pick a lemon for me, Lidie. I'll take it to America."

"When I send for you, you'll bring me another," he said.

But her father has forgotten the lemon, forgotten the meaning of that promise, and when Lidie offers him the still green fruit she has carried in her pocket all the way from Brazil, he doesn't understand its significance. Her big brother Rafael has decorated her new bedroom in baby pink with Disney figures, and Lidie finds the five years away from her father and brother too great a gulf to reach across. The taciturn men talk little and then only of their work training the racehorses that her father oversees. After the years since her mother's death, years of dreaming of being with her father, Lidie finds herself longing for the cheery bustle back in her aunt and uncle's sunlit house. There, praised by her uncle Paolo as "a natural rider," Lidie is saddened to be consigned by her father to "learning to ride" on a broken-down school horse too old to gallop.

But then a new horse arrives at the training barn, a young, beautiful gray, named Wild Girl, Lidie's mother's affectionate name for her, in whose fearful but lonely eyes Lidie sees herself, her own longing. As she gentles the terrified newcomer, Lidie begins to feel at home in her own skin and in her new place. Finally, she finds the courage to ride the filly in a joyful dash across the fields before her father's eyes, and he begins to see her, not as the little girl he left behind, but as the person she now is. And then her father tells how Wild Girl came to be there.

"About the horse," he said. "About Wild Girl. When I heard her name, when I heard she was for sale, I couldn't resist." He shook his head. "It's what Mamae called you."

I looked at him now, this stern man whose face I suddenly recognized, my father, who had laughed as he held me up to the tree in the lemon grove.

Now the lemon seemed so unimportant, that he hadn't remembered it. But, ah, Wild Girl.


No one gets inside the head of a character and reveals it to the reader better than Newbery winner Patricia Reilly Giff, and in her latest Wild Girl (Wendy Lamb Books, 2009), as she did so well in Pictures of Hollis Woods and Nory Ryan's Song, Giff knows how to bring the immigrant, the lonely outsider, forward and reveal the resilience and strength of her characters with striking clarity.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Prehistoric Pets: Buying, Training, and Caring for your Dinosaur by Laura Joy Rennart


THERE IS A DINOSAUR FOR YOU!

THERE'S A DINOSAUR FOR EVERY KID AND A KID FOR EVERY DINOSAUR.

This guide will help you find the right one for you.

With a warning that "some dinosaurs need a little more housebreaking than others," Laura Rennart's and Marc Brown's new tongue-in-cheek guide to caring for pet dinosaurs, Buying, Training, and Caring for Your Dinosaur, (Knopf, 2009) is off and running.

Need a watch-dino? Try Tricerotops or Tyranosaurus Rex! ("Post a BEWARE OF DINOSAUR warning; the mail carrier will appreciate this!") Your T. Rex is an unparalleled watch-dino, but a sturdy leash and obedience lessons are a must for this one.

Now Old three-horn-face is also great as a ring-toss target for birthday parties, and a Diplodiclus also has party possibilities. With one of those you have your own roller coaster!

Training? Well, that takes a little forethought. Before undertaking the sit command, be sure to check underneath your dino.

Roll Over? Don't even go there!


Hygiene? When your dino needs a bath, the carwash is best! Be forewarned, however, that an Ankylosaurus is difficult to groom. Exercise? Hit the water! Dinos make excellent floatation devices, and some have awesome waterslide possibilities.

Buying, Training, and Caring for Your Dinosaur has some, er, fantastic advice for the would-be pet owner, but there's one bit of counsel I'd like to question:

Potential Health Problem: Extinction (but not for millions of years)

Uh, guys! Read your First Book of Paleontology lately?

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Rock Stars: Crystals and Gemstones by Chris and Helen Pellant

Kids are born rockhounds, but adult field guides can be a bit off-putting for the novice collector. Chris Pellant's Crystals and Gemstones (Rock Stars) (Gareth Stevens, 2009), part of this notable nonfiction publisher's Rock Stars series packs plenty of basic information into its 24 colorful, photo-filled pages. Author Pellant provides all the basics--facts about the big three, igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks, the mechanics of crystal formation, and the usefulness of crystals in daily life--from the diamonds in the British crown or in surgical blades to the crystals which compose our own bones.

Color photographs display the range of colors, forms and sizes which crystals and their refined relatives gemstones can take, and an intriguing graphic shows the range of hardness for crystals, from the durable diamond to the softness of talc, with practical advice on testing with fingernails (2 1/2 on the scale) to steel nails (5 1/2 on the scale). Organic gemstones (amber, coral, pearl) are also described with explanations of how they are formed and used.

A section titled "Crystal Collector" offers photos and descriptions of common collectible stones from augite to tourmaline, aquamarine to zircon. Directions for field collecting, storage, and display are clear and easy to read, and a glossary and index back up the textual information.

To spark interest, the author scatters star-shaped text boxes (IT'S A FACT!) with kid-catching tidbits of information to spark further investigation. One page features a display of popular birthstone gems, while another (RECORD BREAKERS) shows the biggest crystals (36 feet) and the oldest cut diamond (the 5000-year-old Koh-i-Noor), among others. Another engaging browsing page (DID YOU KNOW?) offers more fascinating facts (the Statue of Liberty looks green because of the atamite crystals caused by reaction with oxygen on the copper surface).

Good nonfiction books can expand on classroom knowledge or inspire a lifetime avocation among young readers. Crystals and Gemstones (Rock Stars) is a new entry on this popular subject which definitely makes the grade. See also Fossils (Rock Stars), another title in this solid series.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Gold Rush: Hard Gold: The Colorado Gold Rush of 1859 by Avi

He said, "Gold looks like a god's eye, bright, bold, and beautiful. It's smooth and soft, the way a god's touch should feel. You can bend it, shape it, and darn hear chew it. It won't change on you. It won't rust. Get enough gold in your hands and you can buy yourself a palace.

"But," cried the minister, and it seemed as if he was pointing his stubby finger right at me, "if you get gold seeping into your heart and mind, if you let it take over your soul, it will turn you into a hard devil. The only thing your gold can buy you then is a cold coffin in a colder grave."

His words chilled my heart.

Next moment Mr. Wynkoop called, "Westward ho!"

Fourteen-year-old Early Wittcomb finds himself a rather unwilling gold rusher. His nineteen-year-old uncle, Jesse, has taken off to Colorado, hoping to find enough gold to pay off the mortgage on their Iowa family farm and save it from the land grabbing railroad speculator who operates in conspiracy with the local banker. When Jesse's first letter begs his nephew for help guarding his find in the lawless mining camp, Early feels that it's his responsibility to go.

Early's only passage across the Nebraska and Kansas territories is to sign on as a hand with the Bunderly family on a wagon train heading for Denver. Bunderly is a weak, unsuccessful barber hoping to better his fortunes, but his wife is ailing and his daughter Eliza, also fourteen, is headstrong and dubious of her father's promises of a better life in the West. But as Early and Lizzie, as she prefers to be called, share the long walk westward, they forge a trust and friendship that serves him well when they finally reach Colorado.

Early is disturbed by the stories he hears about Uncle Jesse, a wanted man for killing a miner who Early knows from Jesse's letter was determined to steal his hard-won earnings. Leaving Denver for the nearby gold fields, Early and Lizzie manage to arrive just ahead of a bounty hunter to find and warn Jesse. Early finds his uncle's kind and sunny heart turned hard and distrustful of everyone but him, but as Jesse flees for his life, he gives Early his stash of gold, with which Early manages to pay off the farm. Once back in Iowa, however, Early realizes that his future is not as his older brother's farmhand but with Lizzie back in Colorado, and with a new life ahead, he again heads west.

Newbery Award author Avi continues his noted historical fiction series with I Witness: Hard Gold: The Colorado Gold Rush of 1859: A Tale of the Old West, a clear-eyed look at the "Pike's Peak or Bust" gold mania of 1859. Avi presents the long road west not as a series of harrowing adventures so much as a long and wearying slog, despite the buffalo stampede which almost takes his life and the death of Lizzie's mother along the trail. But filled with details of daily life, partly presented in journal entries, Avi's account does much to bring this period of American history alive for middle and young adult readers.

This book is preceded by Avi's earlier account of the Civil War battle between the Monitor and the Merrimac, Iron Thunder (I Witness), reviewed here.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Thankful: The Very First Thanksgiving Day by Rhonda Gowler Greene


This is the food, gathered and blessed,
the corn and sweet berries, and wild turkey dressed,
Shared on the very first Thanksgiving Day.

Beginning at the heart of the Thanksgiving story, Rhonda Greene's The Very First Thanksgiving Day (Aladdin), utilizing the familiar "house that Jack built" verse form, clearly signals that this rhyming account is aimed at young children. Working closely in tandem with artist Susan Gaber, whose acrylic paintings of youngsters involved in the Pilgrim story glow with energy and light, this retelling has much to offer the picture book audience.

Greene uses an engaging stratagem to tell the oft-told tale, beginning, like Jack's house, with the end of the story and working backward, through the harvest, the planting with the aid of the Indians, the hunger and sickness of the first winter, the long voyage, and at last the colonists' hopeful departure from their own land, leaving behind everything except their hope:

This is the land where it all began.
The land where a brave group made ready their plan
To travel the ocean that never would end,
That sometimes was foe and sometimes was friend....

Gaber's skillful illustrations, in full-page and double-page spreads, flesh out the simple verse, telling the historic and dramatic story visually with admirable force. And from this beginning in the old-country harbor, author Greene proceeds to reverse the action, taking the reader again back to the harvest celebration in a recapitulation of the feast of Thanksgiving which the reader can now appreciate fully.

Not far from the houses, built in straight rows,
That stood in the hot sun and harsh winter snows
And sheltered the Pilgrims who farmed the new land,
Who steadfastly labored and toiled by hand.

Who learned from the Indians, skillful and strong,
Who knew how to live through the winters so long.
And ate of the food, gathered and blessed,
The corn and sweet berries, the wild turkey dressed,

Shared on the very first Thanksgiving Day.


Dressed in its colorful, inexpensive paperback edition, The Very First Thanksgiving Day, with its satisfying cadence and striking illustrations, deserves its own place at the table for Thanksgiving reading.

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Talkin' Up Turkey Day: Thank You, Sarah by Laurie Halse Anderson

You think you know everything about Thanksgiving, don't you?...

How the Native Americans saved the Pilgrims from starving...

How the Pilgrims held a big feast to celebrate and say thank you: turkey, pumpkin pie, cranberries--the works.

Well, listen up. I have a news flash....

WE ALMOST LOST. . . THANKSGIVING!

Think of it! No turkey and dressing! No weekday regional gridiron rivalries on TV! No l-o-o-o-ng holiday weekend in November! No Aunt Lorena's-caramel-pumpkin marshmallow-surprise.... . Oh, well, you can see what a sad loss some of that would be.

And it almost was lost, had it not been for one woman--Sarah Hale. In her time the celebration of Thanksgiving had become a lackluster thing, honored vaguely and then only in the New England states.

More and more, people ignored the holiday.

Thanksgiving was in trouble.

It needed... A SUPERHERO!


No, not that kind of superhero. Not a caped and masked SuperPilgrim with a giant P on his chest. Not a giant cleated Pigskin Man. Not even Cornucopia Man. And definitely not TURKEY DUDE.

Thanksgiving needed Sarah Hale.

Sarah had the right stuff. Although she was petite and ladylike, she was made of steel. While raising five children with one hand, with the other she fought for many good causes--from playgrounds to girls' schools to the abolition of slavery. She wrote poetry, novels, children's stories, even "Mary Had a Little Lamb," and became the first woman magazine editor, publishing Longfellow and Poe, BUT. . .

When folks started to ignore Thanksgiving, well,
that just curdled her gravy.

She picked up her PEN!


The pen IS mightier than the sword. Sarah was a writer, so she wrote articles for newspapers and magazines, letters to senators and governors, and even wrote her best letter to none other than President Zachary Taylor himself. But "Old Rough and Ready" was not ready. She waited and then wrote President Millard Fillmore (WHO?), but he was too engaged in securing his place in history. She wrote President Franklin Pierce. Too busy redrafting the Ostend Manifesto. Sarah wrote President Buchanan, but it seems "he had other things (abolition, secession, states rights) on his mind."

But Sarah never relented. Asking that the fourth Thursday in November be made a national holiday, she tried the new guy, the newly elected President Abraham Lincoln, arguing that being grateful together would bring the divided country together. And then...

LINCOLN SAID YES!

It took Sarah Hale thirty-eight years, thousands of letters, and countless bottles of ink, but she did it. That bold, brave, stubborn, and smart lady saved Thanksgiving...for all of us.

Thank you, Sarah.
Author Laurie Halse Anderson brings her Newbery-winning historical skills to bear on this true story of the woman who almost single-handedly saved what many consider our best-loved civil observance. Filled with fresh humor and historical detail, her Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving tells a story as true to the national character as is the original Pilgrim and Indians story, in a style that will grab the attention of children grown blase' about Thanksgiving traditions. Matt Faulkner's illustrations are hilariously over the top, as when he shows a sobbing linebacker, a sorrowful Squanto, a pouting Pilgrim lad, a wistful Wampanoag lass, a deflated dinosaur parade balloon, an anguished football fan with his useless remote in hand, and a flock of rejoicing turkeys as the television screen reads "THANKSGIVING CANCELLED. NO FOOTBALL TODAY!."

A worldly wordsmith herself, Sarah Hale would doubtless be pleased with this telling of her biggest story.

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Not Ready for Prime Turkey Time: Thanksgiving Turkey Trouble by Abby Klein

"I have a problem.

A really, really big problem.

My class is doing a play for Thanksgiving, and I'm afraid I'll get the worst part!

Let me tell you about it."

It's an inconvenient truth that the star of many elementary Thanksgiving dramas is often the central symbol of the day--the turkey--a comically awkward critter at best who, as well as winding up being the main course of the feast, has a name which is also the slang synonym for "loser." When Freddy, the main character in Abby Klein's Thanksgiving Turkey Trouble (Ready, Freddy!), (Scholastic, 2008) learns from his know-it-all big sister that Mrs. Wushy has her first graders draw their roles for the performance from a hat, he immediately begins to obsess over the possibility that HE will have to be the turkey. "The turkey! NO WAY!" Freddy moans. His mom and dad make light of the odds and assure him that he'll do well even if he doesn't get to be an Indian brave, but Freddy still dreads the moment when he pulls that folded square out of the hat:

And there it was, in big letters. T-U-R-K-E-Y.

Of course, Max, the would-be class bully, takes this opportunity to compose a poem in Freddy's honor, which he gleefully recites to the giggles of the whole class:

"The turkey is a funny bird.
His head goes wobble, wobble, wobble,
And his only word is gobble, gobble, gobble."

But as always, with plenty of support from his family, excluding, as usual, his big sister Suzie, who comes up with several disaster scenarios for the reluctant thespian, and with a pep talk from his sympathetic principal, Mr. Prendergast, Freddy manages to pull off the performance with pizzazz, turning his turkey into a footlight triumph.

Author Abby Klein, an experienced Kindergarten and first-grade teacher, knows how to portray youngsters and write dialog which rings true in the school setting. Light-heartedly illustrated by John McKinley, this beginning chapter series continues to entice young readers, showing why Thanksgiving Turkey Trouble (Ready, Freddy!), is one of her long-running Ready, Freddy series, which now includes her latest for the Christmas season, The Perfect Present (Ready, Freddy!). Both of these books also include holiday games and crafts for young readers, as well her her trademark letters (FIN) hidden in each illustration.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Pilgrim Partners: We Gather Together....Now Please Get Lost! by Diane de Groat

His alarm clock doesn't go off, he spills his breakfast on his shirt, and even for Gilbert, it's a bad hair day.

But when he gets to school, the news is even worse. It's the day of the November field trip to Pilgrim Town, and since he's last one to school, he has to be the "bus buddy" of the class nerd Philip. Starving without his spilled breakfast, Gilbert tries to sneak a bite from his lunch on the bus, and Philip hastens to tattle, "I'm going to tell the teacher that you're eating on the bus!" Gilbert resigns himself to a dull ride and resolves to try to ditch Philip as soon as they arrive at the Pilgrim reenactment village.

Of course, the faithful Philip follows the rules, sticking to him like velcro, until in desperation Gilbert ducks quickly into a restroom and locks the door. With a sigh of relief, he settles down for a few minutes of peace while he waits for Philip to move on with the group.

But when he decides the coast is clear and tries to open the door, Gilbert finds that the lock is jammed and he's a prisoner.

Uh oh, Gilbert thought. If Philip didn't see him going into the bathroom, no one would know he was in there. Or worse--Philip might not tell anyone that Gilbert was missing and Gilbert would have to spend the whole night there. ALONE....


In this funny Thanksgiving school story from de Groat's popular Gilbert and Friends series, We Gather Together...Now Please Get Lost!, her hero Gilbert learns that are times when it's a very good thing to have someone around who does things by the book, and the doggedly dutiful Philip does not disappoint here.

This story of a school outing to study Pilgrim life makes a great classroom read-aloud experience for youngsters about to make a similar trip. Gilbert and his friends in Mrs. Bird's class are typical primary graders, and de Groat's appealing illustrations and authentic portrayals of life in the early grades are a good way to take kids through the significant events of the school year.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Biography Takes Young People's National Book Award: Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose

Phillip Hoose has received the Young People's Literature award for Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2009).

Claudette Colvin was the fifteen-year-old high school student who first refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus to a white woman. Although Colvin's case caused a minor media stir at the time, the troubled and somewhat headstrong teen was not selected as the test case that the civil rights movement was seeking, and nine months later Rosa Parks was the citizen chosen to play that role on the national stage.

Still, as a plaintiff, Colvin became part of the legal action which eventually brought about integration of city buses in Montgomery and began the Civil Rights Movement. "Because of this woman, our lives have changed," stated the author Phillip Hoose, who honored Claudette Colvin by having her join him in receiving the National Book Award for Young People tonight.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

T is for Thankful: P Is For Pilgrim by Carol Crane

Across the Atlantic Ocean
A lone ship on a vast sea.
Ablaze with a new hope,
All praying to be free.

Carol Crane's P Is for Pilgrim: A Thanksgiving Alphabet (Sleeping Bear Alphabets) begins this strikingly illustrated alphabet-in-verse book, one of the beautifully designed titles in the Sleeping Bear Alphabets series (listed here), with the arresting verbal image of that tiny ship amidst the vast Atlantic. Artist Helen Urban's striking paintings, nostalgically idealized as they are, give young readers an idea of the life of young colonists in the first days of Plimouth Plantation.

Crane draws upon later aspects of American life in this alphabet book, loosely linking Feast, Harvest, Mayflower and Pumpkins, Squanto, Tom Turkeys, and Wampanoags with other symbolic national icons as the Bill of Rights and Individual Rights.

For a more historically authentic account, see Diane Shore's gloriously illustrated This Is the Feast, Laura Melmed's equally beautiful This First Thanksgiving Day: A Counting Story or Joseph Bruchac's incomparable Squanto's Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving, reviewed here.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Ben Was Right! T Is for Turkey by Tanya Lee Stone

Old Ben Franklin was on to something when he nominated the turkey as our national symbol.

A modern slang synonym for "clueless loser," the turkey gets none of the respect he deserves. Knocked out of contention by his slicker, sleeker, (and more bellicose) relative the bald eagle, the American turkey has proven his staying power far beyond that of that famous raptor. Wild, hardy, elusive but sociable among his kind, he has remained a survivor for over 400 years who, despite his tastiness, has steadfastly refused to go extinct while sharing the continent with his human predators.

Adaptable and resilient, the American wild turkey now lives comfortably close to us non-natives, even (if news reports are to be believed) chasing down Massachusetts matrons unloading groceries from their minivans in search of a meal of their own.

And truly, we owe the turkey a treat or two. He's lent himself to celebratory meals, countless low-fat deli sandwiches, and endless elementary-school art projects, even subjecting himself to an inglorious worldwide domestication which has made a travesty, albeit toothsome, of his sleek shape, all the while maintaining a robust remnant which refuses to give up its wild ways.

What a bird! What a fine and nuanced symbol for America! Ben was right!

Tanya Stone's celebration of the turkey and all things Thanksgiving, T Is for Turkey (Price Stern Sloan, 2009), puts this fine bird right up there on the title page, along with other proud symbols of our most uplifting national holiday:

A Is for American story,
Our school play will tell.
Some myths we'll set straight;
Other facts you know well.

Stone's engaging alphabet rhymes point out that the Pilgrims dressed in bright as well as dark colors and that the local "Indians," the easternmost dwelling ones, actually called themselves the Wampanoag, or "people of the light," being the first to see the dawn over the Atlantic each day. In her entries for the letters H and L, she gives credit to Sarah Hale and Abraham Lincoln, who saved the local custom of Thanksgiving for the whole country by making it a national holiday. Massasoit, Samoset, and Squanto get their alphabetical due, and Stone doesn't stint that national characteristic which itself enabled that first harvest celebration:

Q is for quit,
Something we'll never do!
We're determined to carve out
A life that is new.

And that legacy, from those early settlers and from that beneficent bird which helped sustain them and us to this day, should fortify us this and every Day of Thanksgiving!

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Monday, November 16, 2009

At Winter's Gate: In November by Cynthia Rylant

In November, the earth is growing quiet. It is making its bed, a winter bed for flowers and small creatures.

The majestic turning of the seasons, especially the joyous resurrection of spring, has always inspired poets and philosophers. But in the northern latitudes, as the year grows old, there is a quiet beauty in earth's paring-down preparations for its second solstice, the fullness of its fallow season. This crux of the cycle, the pause before deep winter, is the subject of Cynthia Rylant's emerging classic In November (Voyager, 2008).

In November the trees are standing all sticks and bones. Without their leaves, how lovely they are, spreading their arms like dancers. They know it is time to be still.

The staying birds are serious, too, for cold times lie ahead. Hard times. All berries will be treasures.

Animals sleep together, conserving their precious warmth, and humans, too, find comfort in hearth and home.
In November, people are good to each other. They carry pies to each other's homes....and give thanks for their many blessings--for the food on their tables and the babies in their arms.

Rylant's poetic prose and Jill Kastner's soft and sweet oil paintings flow together into a moving paean to that month in which all nature seems to slow down, take a deep breath and turn inward for a bit, a laid-back time to enjoy what we have with each other. Although illustrations show a family sharing the feast, the text never mentions the actual celebration of Thanksgiving, but this brief book draws upon the wellspring of that emotion--a great book to read, aloud or silently, during that mellow time.
In November, at winter's gate... the sun is a sometimes friend. And the world has tucked her children in, with a kiss on their heads, till spring.

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