Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Midnight Library by Kazuno Kohara

The Midnight Library by Kazuno Kohara

Rating: 4 stars

In the woods somewhere near you is a library open only at night.  A little librarian and a trio of owl-assistants run the place, keeping it stacked and ready, tidy and neat for all the animals. They are always available to help find the perfect book, direct noise-makers to the activity room, sit with you until you're through with a sad part in a book.

When the sun starts to peek up, the librarian finds one last book--the perfect book to read to three sleepy owls at their bedtime, at sunrise.

A cute story, indeed.  But, just as in her other book that we have and love (Ghosts in the House), the magic of her book lies in the illustrations. Her amazingly detailed linocut prints create unique illustrations for this midnight library that exists in the woods.  The simple colors--black, orange, and blue--highlight the details without overcomplicating the art.  Each image is captivating, deserving of several minutes of my full attention.

The technique is not incredibly common in children's books; I think showing your child the book helps them broaden their definition of "art" and what it can look like, what it can be. If your child is old enough to use a sharp knife, then there are many projects this book can easily inspire!  Lorelei was impressed with learning a little more--she'd be delighted to receive and use the linocut kit that is used here in this "linocuts for kids" demonstration.

Also, be sure to check out the incredibly unique, incredibly detailed illustrations by cut-paper artist Nikki McClure in the wonderful book All in a Day.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Pluto's Secret by Margaret A. Weitekamp with David DeVorkin

Pluto's Secret: An Icy World's Tale of Discovery by Margaret A. Weitekamp with David DeVorkin

Rating: 5 stars

Yesterday, on the way to the pool, Lorelei read Pluto's Secret.  When we got there, it was break time, so I asked her what she thought of it.  I interrupted her reading of a different book with my question.  Like me, she's not so fond of having her reading interrupted.

"It's nonfiction.  And it's funny nonfiction.  You don't see a lot of that.  Usually nonfiction is so serious.  But if you're so curious about it, why don't you read it?" was her full answer.

I told her the last part was a bit rude but she did have a point.  I shuffled to the car, got the book, and sat down to read it.  I interrupted her one last time before I really began to read: "Do you think someone is going to laugh at me, an adult reading a big picture book, without a kid on my lap?" My remark got no response.

But I kid you not: 30 seconds later a lady walked by and laughed out loud. And not in a very nice way.  I turned and looked at her and she apologized, "Sorry! I couldn't help it!  You just don't see that every day!"

I smiled, held back the long explanation, and went back to my book.

The icy world...was busy dancing with its moons.
I'm sure you heard, as even stuck-in-my-own-world-me heard, that Pluto is no longer a planet.  When my kids read an older science book, I am the one to break it to them or remind them that Pluto is no longer a planet.  This book provides a longer and better explanation than this mom usually provides.

The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum has helped out parents and teachers with this book.  And it is a great book not just for learning Pluto's story (Pluto interjects many parts of it himself in a very fun way) but also to inform kids of how discoveries are made, and how older "facts" need to be reexamined with a fresh eye and a curious mind.

Here are the facts, in case you have to do some explaining before you check out this book (which you really should if you hang around any kid older than five):

  • Pluto was declared a planet on 13 March 1930 after the small dot Clyde Tombaugh, through his telescopic camera, moved in the two pictures a few days apart.  This was what planets do: move.  Ergo, that dot must be a planet.
  • Eleven-year-old Venetia Burney from England suggested the name "Pluto" because "Pluto is the Roman god of the dark underworld.  The new little planet is so far from the sun that it must be a cold, dark place, too."
  • Astronomers soon learned that Pluto didn't always stay in its place.  In fact, it orbited waaaay out past the other planets in the solar system, with other small planet-like things, and in a different path than the other planets.
  • This new area where planets--or, maybe they weren't planets--orbited was named the Kuiper belt.
  • There was no clear definition of what a planet was, so astronomers voted on a definition: they must orbit the sun, must be round like a ball, and it has to be alone in its orbit. (As the daughter of a guy who was constantly saying "Well, it depends on how you define X," I like that the authors included this in the book. Because you can bet I encourage my kids to define things, too.)
  • Therefore, Pluto was recategorized as an icy world--a "something new"--and we have a whole lot more to learn about it.

This book pairs nicely with a field trip to the Air and Space Museum--either downtown D.C. or the one out by us, Udvar Hazy Center.  That's where we're off to tomorrow...

Suggested reading:
A Penguin Story for a simple tale of curiosity, one of Kiefer's favorites (ages 2-5)...
Clouds and other easy reader books in that series for simple explanations of weather (ages 3-6)...
Meet Einstein for simple introduction of Einstein and his major discoveries (ages 4-7)

What Can a Crane Pick Up? by Rebecca Kai Dotlich

What Can a Crane Pick Up? by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, illustrated by Mike Lowry

Rating: 4 stars

This is a book that shows and tells all the stuff a crane can pick up.  With simple verse and bright, fun illustrations, each page shows how much or how little one of these working vehicles can lift.

That is all.

And you know what?  I love that Kiefer loves the book so much.  Every time he sees it on the new book shelf, he grabs it and puts it in our library bag.  Sometimes his grabbing is accompanied with a serious statement delivered in sweet, child-like tones: "I really luff dis book."
Can a crane pick up a crane?
It could!

Simple pleasures. Seeing one of your favorite books on a shelf at the library and getting excited that it's your turn to check it out.

May those simple pleasures last in him, may they inspire us.

And you know what? That is all.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Doug Unplugged by Dan Yacarrino

Doug Unplugged by Dan Yacarrino

Rating: 5 stars

We picked up and checked out Doug Unplugged by one of our favorite authors, Dan Yacarrino, yesterday.  I read it four times in about six hours.  A curious thing happens when I start reading it to one of my kids: the other two hear me and come over.  Did Dan Yacarrino install a kid-magnet in this book or something??

I love this book--just love it!  I love the message it sends to kids and grown ups alike, and I think Yacarrino tells this message in the most perfect way.

So we've got Doug.  He's a robot.  Every morning his parents plug him into a giant machine to teach him facts and figures.  They want him to be the smartest robot around.  After they've plugged him in, they pat him on his head, walk away, and go to work.

And he really does learn a lot!  Today's lessons focus on the city.  Doug learns how many manholes are in the city.  Doug learns how many emergencies firefighters respond to every day.  Doug learns how tall the highest skyscraper is.  Doug learns how many miles of subway tracks exist.  Doug learns how many pigeons live in the city.

Here's all that Doug learns by unplugging and exploring the city...
Then, something interrupts all this learning.  A pigeon.  A real, live pigeon.  His first observation: he didn't know they cooed like that.  Doug stretches to follow the pigeon and SNAP! Doug unplugged! He is now unattached from his learning machine. He looks at the pigeon and wonders what else he can learn from actually experiencing the city.  So he follows the pigeon (a jet-pack is handy here) out over and then into the city.

From his exploration, he learns that manholes are dark.  Fire engines are loud!  Skyscrapers are so tall they offer a fantastic view of the city. Subways zip through those miles and you have to hang on extra tight around the curves. He even meets a friend, and learns how to play--including how many ways there are to play! Teeter-totters!  Smelling flowers!  Slides! Hide and go seek!  Swinging!

Doug learns not from words or books or downloads but from being there.  Experiencing it.  Using his senses.  What a great message, especially for this tired mom at the end of a jam-packed summer: Unplug.  Go outside and roam.  There is so, so much to experience and learn!

(A sequel to this book called Doug Unplugged at the Farm was released just three weeks ago...will try to get my hands on it! Read all of my reviews of Dan Yacarrino's books HERE.  My favorite is Every Friday.)

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Jacob's Eye Patch by Beth Kobliner Shaw & Jacob Shaw

Jacob's Eye Patch by Beth Kobliner Shaw & Jacob Shaw, illustrated by Jules Feiffer

Rating: 5 stars

Kindergarten teachers should be required to read Jacob's Eye Patch at the beginning of school each year.  The authors  (Jacob and his mom) do a great job of explaining one boy's need for and experience with an eye patch, and the book is easily used to teach empathetic ways to approach other kids who have things (an eye patch, a cast, a wheelchair, braces) that make them stand out.

Here's the story: Jacob and his mother are rushing to the science store, but she keeps on chatting with any and every person who comments on her son's eye patch.  There are a lot of them, and, much to Jacob's dismay, they get held up again and again. He creates excuses for why they need to hurry ("We need to catch a plane for Argentina!") and smart-alec/funny answers to why he needs an eye patch ("I don't speak English"). He simply does not want to talk about it at that time, on that day.
Jacob's mom did want to answer...
She talked and talked about the eye patch.

Until he is at the science store, when the light-up globe that he's coveted is in his hands.  Then he's ready to talk.

When a curious kid-bystander asks, "Why do you have a Band-Aid on your eye?" He calmly explains that his left eye doesn't work as well as his right eye, so he needs to wear an eye patch to cover his right eye so his left eye will get stronger. While he and the girl look at his new globe together, he sees that her mouth is full of braces.  He's curious, but thinks she might not want to talk about it right now.

At the beginning of the summer, Lorelei was told that she needed an eye patch.  For just two hours a day, one of her impossibly bright blue eyes will be covered up in an effort to strengthen the other one. This seemingly tiny addition to my day has provided an eruption of lessons in empathy in me, but also in my young Lorelei. Finding this book in the waiting room at the ophthalmologist helped give her the words that she didn't have but needed to wear it and answer questions about it.

"I'll wear it to camp!  I think I'm ready!" she said boldly as she climbed into my car with a teddy bear eye patch on her face.  Along the way, I suggested we role play a bit, so she could practice explaining why she needs to wear an eye patch.  She didn't want to.  Her normally bold voice steadily decreased until it was just a whimper, and I could sense a trembling chin in my rear view mirror.  As we approached her school on that first day of camp, she got a little weepy.  "I don't know.  I'm scared."

My maternal suggestion: "Take it off!  You don't have to wear it right now."  Avoidance is, after all, one option I like to employ in my own life...

So she did take it off before being whisked from my car in the unexpectedly short carpool line to her waiting math teacher.  The eye patch fell to the bottom of my car, happily finding a place amidst Cheerios and snack bar wrappers and library hold cards.

Eye-patch wearing Lorelei reads to Kiefer at the library.
Some hours later, we had a good discussion about standing out, on being different: The idea of it is so fun!  Look at me!  I'm different!  But then, she realized that standing out and being different comes at a price: having a whole lot of attention directed at you.  Kids are curious.  They ask questions.  You'll have their attention, all right.  Ready or not, here it comes…  Clearly Lorelei was not ready then.  But she looked down at the bottom of the car and saw her teddy bear eye patch right where she had dropped it.  She picked it up, finding it still sticky.

"I have to wear it for another hour, right, Mom?  I think I'll do it at the library."

This time, she heeded my advice and practiced what she would say when someone would ask her.  Just a few sentences, but having them ready in her back pocket gave a little more confidence to deal with her first day of going public with an attention-grabbing eye patch (did I mention sparkles decorated the space surrounding the teddy bears?).

We walked into the very familiar library, a place we go at least twice a week.  As a book lover and book blogger they know me and my kids very, very well. After being there for about fifteen minutes, she whispered to me, "No one has said anything."  I discreetly asked the head librarian to ask her about it.  Daniella pretended to wander around the library until she just happened to arrive at the spot Lorelei was in and moved books around for a minute before looking down at my daughter.

"Lorelei!  Hi there!  What happened to your eye?"

Lorelei paused. She collected herself as I held my breath. Then she said, "I'm okay.  My left eye isn't as strong as my right.  I have to wear this eye patch two hours a day on my right eye so my left eye becomes as strong as my right."  She responded just as confidently and bravely when another librarian asked about it on the way out (this one was not prompted by me, promise).

We have learned so much in the past few days about standing out, being unique, having empathy for others, having courage, learning to ask about something that's different about someone else, having the words to say before you actually need to say them.  I'm humbled by the gratitude I feel for my three kids' health--we've been so amazingly lucky--but also so grateful to have this little opportunity to teach not just Lorelei but also Ben and Kiefer the definition of empathy.

I know this is a super long entry, but I really wish this book was stocked in every elementary school library across the country.  It was the first book I requested that our library buy, and I bought a copy to donate to our preschool's library.  It is just one boy's story of what it feels like to stand out and to be asked questions that usually stem from curiosity and genuine care.  But it provides kids to walk a few steps in Jacob's shoes, to feel like him for just a few minutes, and then have that empathetic experience on which to draw when they see someone different.  Or maybe, like Jacob and Lorelei, it'll be them that stands out.

Remember: sparkly eye patches rock!

Check out the book's website by clicking HERE.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Nelly Gnu and Daddy Too by Anna Dewdney

Nelly Gnu and Daddy Too by Anna Dewdney

Rating: 4.5 stars

Llama llama was a tradition in our family.  Each sweet child of mine would go through a phase where that was ALL she or he wanted to read at night.  I read the little board books to them as babies, and the rhyme must have seeped into their brains, because around age two and a half each located Llama Llama Red Pajama and Llama Llama Misses Mama on our messy bookshelves.  I read Llama Llama Holiday Drama, regardless of the season.

And now, a new tradition: one that involves not a little boy llama and his mom, but a little girl gnu and her dad.  I really like that.  There's no secret that a grown girl's confidence has a whole heck of a lot to do with her dad (thanks, Dad, for all the love and time you poured into me!).  If, like us, you are a fan of Llama Llama, you'll love this one just as much. The same quick, pleasing rhyme and the same heart-warming, sweet illustrations are there to greet you on every page.

What's the story about?  Nelly Gnu and her dad spend the afternoon together, making a cardboard house together--they shop for materials, construct it, and paint it together.  Like all good stories (and, like all of Anna Dewdney's Llama Llama books), it does have a problem--Nelly Gnu gets lost in the hardware store--that is quickly resolved.  But that's not the highlight of this book.  This book is good and sweet because of the bond between father and daughter that we get to see and hopefully it inspires a few of us to spend a little more time with our daughters (and sons!).

But before you buy or check out this book, you might just might want to pronounce gnu.  I mean, we all would prefer teach our children the correct pronunciations of words, right?  Despite the fact that my husband insists that he heard "Ga-new" while in Kenya a decade or so ago, this pronunciation guide suggests that the G is silent:

Friday, July 25, 2014

Open Very Carefully: A Book with Bite by Nick Bromley

Open Very Carefully: A Book with Bite by Nick Bromley, illustrated by Nicola O'Byrne

Rating: 4 stars

I'm willing to bet one large batch of chocolate chip cookies that after one, good, enthusiastic read of this tale where a crocodile takes over the book that any reluctant reader will be a little more curious during their next trip to the library.

Basically, as I stated above, a crocodile appears out of nowhere inside this fun book.  The first page is the first page of The Ugly Duckling but all of a sudden there's a reptilian tail sticking out and the words declare "there's something in this book that shouldn't be here!"

The crocodile tries to hide behind the illustration of The Ugly Duckling but, much to my kids' delight, his tail and feet and long snout stick out.  And THEN he starts eating the letters!  Apparently vowels are more delicious than consonants...but Ss are mighty tasty, too...

St p! Y u can't eat the letter !
With the help of the reader rocking the book from side to side, the crocodile nods off to sleep, and so...while he sleeps, the ugly duckling who is helping tell the story draws a silly tutu, floppy bow, and ballet slippers on the sleeping croc.  When he wakes--which of course he does--he is now flaming mad and looking silly.

What kid doesn't like the combination of silly and angry?! That combo has been providing giggles for centuries.

He tries to make a run for it but runs into the corner of the book.  He can't get out!  He ends up chomping his way out of the book--there is an outrageous, big hole on the last page AND on the back cover!

This is a fun, fun book for sure--my kids got a kick out of it.  But now they think a crocodile is on the loose, roaming our house...

Cinderelephant by Emma Dodd

Cinderelephant by Emma Dodd

Rating: 4 stars

Confession: I am not a fan of Cinderella.  I think the story of how a raggedy, beautiful maid gets some magical help to attend a ball where a prince falls in love with her, then marries her and they live happily ever is downright maddening. I will not bore you with the details of my dislike...

And yet, I can't help but like this book, a silly rip off of the original Cinderella.  It is filled with so many elephantine jokes and references, that I can't help but admit Emma Dodd deserves long and loud applause because she clearly produced a very funny book.

You know the story--Cinderelephant lived with her cousins (the warthog sisters) and did all the cooking and cleaning, and did not get invited to the fancy party thrown to enable Prince Trunky--son of Queen Wrinkley and King Saggy--to find a girlfriend.  Luckily, though, her Furry Godmouse flicked his magical tail and POOF! helped her find a sparkly number that fit her just right. She goes, he falls in love with her, she doesn't leave early enough and has to run home, yet drops one of her sparkly shoes.  The prince uses said shoe to find her, and when the shoe fits, he declares, "You are the one for me!"
"Wow, you look amazing! Go to the party and enjoy yourself,"
said the Furry Godmouse, "but, and it's a big must
be home by midnight."

And then they "were married the very next day. And, of course, they were hugely happy ever after."

My disbelief just could not be suspended on the last few pages.  I sure wish they had at least dated a few months. Perhaps they could have had a few long conversations where Cinderelephant's other interests and ideas and imagination could have been shared with the reader?  Perhaps visited each other's families, or gone on a long road trip together to test their compatibility? Am I being a little too Muggle about this? Sigh. I think I am.

The elephant references are so very witty, the pictures so very adorable, and hopefully you'll talk with your kids about the amount of time they really ought to take with serious life choices like marriage!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Lion vs. Rabbit by Alex Latimer

Lion vs. Rabbit by Alex Latimer

Rating: 5 stars

I like this book.

My kids looooooove this book.

I've read it to them a dozen times already this week.  They are hooked from the very first page--on which sit Lion and Rabbit's "cards" (think baseball cards, with stats and figures, showing their speed, weight, height, and how mean and smart they are).

They just LOVE that Rabbit outsmarts Lion.  The big, mean, bully of a Lion.  Who doesn't love little-guy-outwits-the-big-guy stories? (Well, big guys probably don't.  But my house is full of little guys so…)

Lion is a mean bully.  Do you know what he does?  In a single afternoon, he gives Buffalo a wedgie, sticks a silly note on Zebra's back ("I am a horse"), and he steals Hyena's lunch monkey. (Much to my kids' delight, I say "money" Every. Single. Time.)

Finally, the animals get tired of all the bullying.  But none are brave enough to stand up to Lion.  So they advertise for the position in the Help-Wanted section.  The reward is 100 bucks.  Mostly gazelle.

The animals have some funny excuses...
(C'mon…these puns!  Such wit!  You're chuckling, right?!)

Three animals come to face off with Lion.  Three animals go back where they come from, without the reward.  The bullied animals are disappointed.  Will anyone be able to help?

Enter Rabbit.  Lion scoffs at his size, so he lets Rabbit choose the contest. In four separate contests, Rabbit comes up on top.  Lion comes up with excuses.  So Rabbit lets Lion choose the last contest--racing to the top of the mountain.  Lion cheats a little, giving himself a head start, but…it doesn't matter.  Rabbit seems to be ahead of Lion at every turn, even when Lion feels like he just passes Rabbit.

And then, Rabbit makes it to the top!  Yards before Lion!  Ta-da!  When Lion finally reaches the top, huffing and puffing, fully exhausted from the climb, he admits defeat.  "You win. I'll stop bullying the animals."

And Lion was nice after that.

As the animals help Rabbit board the ship on which he arrived, sending the 100 bucks with him, they see a bunch of ears pop up.  That's when they realize that Rabbit had a little help.

And that's why my kids love it so--we read it again and again, looking for more than one set of rabbit ears on each page, seeking to see the help that Lion did not see.

Once again, a truism of picture books: Kids love to see what one (or more!) characters in the book cannot see.  Alex Latimer knew this.  He produced one awesome book that I will surely and happily read a dozen more times before we return it to the library.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Little Green Peas: A Big Book of Colors by Keith Baker

Little Green Peas: A Big Book of Colors by Keith Baker

Rating: 5 stars

I think that Keith Baker's (wonderful) mission is to increase our children's attention span, one book at a time.  Or one book-sitting at a time.  I've been a fan of his peas book since LMNO Peas came out over four years ago. In that book, huge illustrations with a million peas doing a million different, funny things completely won me and my kids over.

This book is different only because there is one more kid around me to win over, and…well, Kiefer loves Little Green Peas: A Big Book of Colors just as much as the first one, which we check out every other month, easily.  Only Kiefer wishes that the whole book would be in orange.  (I am trying to explain to him how that would defeat the purpose of having a book on colors…)

Much to Kiefer's chagrin, each color gets two giant double-page spreads dedicated to it.  On the first page is the color, spelled out in enormous letters, with peas all around it, doing neat things.  Turn the page and you get a scene with that color as the main focus, with even more peas doing even more neat things.  There is so much to absorb…that's where the increased attention span comes in.

Wait until you see what Green grows into...
If you're familiar with his two previous books involving a whole lot of peas, you won't be surprised that the text is perfectly sparse, rhymes nicely, and is really just the lead-in to his bright, colorful, and incredibly detailed illustrations of peas doing…well, a little bit of everything.   Kiefer is learning the alphabet, so the huge letters that spell out each color are wonderful additions for his age group (he's three).  My kids could spend five minutes on each page, sitting together to point out the obvious (they're good at that), what each pea is doing, but also to choose which pea they'd be if they could jump into the book.

(I'll be the sun-bathing pea, please…)
This is a wonderful, wonderful book.  My only question that I have: is there a ladybug on each scene, hidden, for kids to find?  We looked at this book at a bookstore, and I am annoyed I didn't remember to look.  And, I'm curious… I'm hoping the answer is yes, because that little addition of a ladybug hunt was such a delightful addition to the last two books…!

Mustache Baby by Bridget Heos

Mustache Baby by Bridget Heos, illustrated by Joy Ang

Rating: 5 stars

Confession: I have mixed feelings about facial hair trending towards  picture books.  I'm fine with it when dads and pop-pops are concerned, but…babies?! As a woman who carried three babies (separately, thank God), I'm a little grossed out at the thought of one of those babies popping out with a mustache.

But when Mustache Baby showed up on the Children's Choices list, I knew I had to get over my bad self and check it out.

I'm so glad I did.

Mustache Baby gave me and my kids fits of giggles, and I know I appreciated it the most; much of wit and humor requires hours of crummy movies to amass the cultural knowledge to appreciate how mustaches show up in this world. Thanks, Dad, for making sure I was exposed to all those crummy movies!

(And the illustrations by Joy Ang are spot-on--funny without a touch of creepiness. That is no small feat!)

Ok, here's the story:

Baby Billy was born with a mustache.  This was a little alarming to his parents and siblings, but what they began to worry about was whether it'd be a good-guy mustache or a bad-guy mustache.  At first, it was a good-guy mustache. Billy was a noble cowboy who protected his cattle (stuffed animals) and cared for injured animals (replaced stuffing in said stuffed animals).

His good-guy mustache also enabled him to be a ringleader in a circus, a Spanish painter, a sword fighter, and a pilot.  He also spent some weeks as a motorcycle cop, complete with mirror shades, thick 'stache, and inflated sense of cool.

But then…

Billy's mustache grew long, and curled up at the ends. He had a bad-guy mustache.  (Enter shriek here.)

He became: "A cat burglar, a cereal criminal, a train robber so heartless he even stole the tracks."  He terrorized his siblings and the whole neighborhood, with glee.

Sadly for him, his getaway car bumped into his mom after he robbed a bank (his sister's piggy bank).  He was thrown in jail (don't worry folks, just his crib).  He kept time on an etch-a-sketch, and vowed to change his ways.  His mom busted him out of jail just in time for Billy to meet the neighbor's baby,…

who had a full beard.

There is no better book for a facial-hair sporting father who is having a baby, so buy this for him today. Or check it out with your kids and giggle like I did at the story, and marvel at the creativity and humor Heos and Ang poured into this book.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Satch & Me (A Baseball Card Adventure) by Dan Gutman

Satch & Me (A Baseball Card Adventure) by Dan Gutman

Rating: 4.5 stars

Ben is a sports nut.  This is not news for those who know him.  He knows right where the nonfiction sports section is in the library, and he spends most of his library time there, in his happy place.  He happily checks out the same books on baseball, soccer, football, and rugby again and again and again.

In the juvenile fiction section, he goes right to the CHR section, where he chooses a few Matt Christopher books to "read" by himself.  (We've read one together, The Lucky Bat.  Read that review here.)  But when I came across this Baseball Card Adventure series, I couldn't help but share it with him.  He quickly chose one to read together with me at night; I was thrilled he chose Satch & Me.  After reading Something to Prove: The Great Satchel Paige vs the Rookie Joe DiMaggio I wanted to know more about Satch.

The Baseball Card Adventure books all have the same premise: Joe Stoshack, or "Stosh," can travel through time by holding baseball cards from the year to which he wants to travel. In each book, Stosh has a unique reason to want to travel to meet that particular ball player.  In Satch's case, he and his Little League coach want to track the speed of Satch's famous pitch: Just how fast can this guy throw?

Though Scholastic suggests this book for kids in grades three through five, I thought it was completely appropriate for Ben, who enters kindergarten in a little over a month.  There were many things I loved about the book:

  • The story started strong at the first page, and Ben was hooked quickly.  He learned the word "cliffhanger" because many of the chapters really did leaving him begging for me to read just one more chapter…that's always a good sign!
  • Stosh tells the story in the first person.  He's a normal kid and a likable character as he makes mistakes and weighs decisions and sometimes gets in a bit of trouble.
  • As always, I'm awed and grateful by how much I can teach Ben through baseball.  Stosh goes back in time and witnesses segregation and prejudice and bigotry first-hand, and Gutman doesn't shy away from pointing out injustices through Stosh's eyes.  I never once had to change the wording to explain something. I did, however, stop to explain things and answer Ben's many questions...
  • Gutman does an excellent job of having his older characters--in this case, Satch and Flip--instill some wisdom in young Stosh.  And, in some instances, Satch teaches Flip a thing or two (mostly about women "The things you do for women you wouldn't do for anything else.  Same with money").  And Stosh has some advice for readers, too, even though he's still mighty young himself.  My favorite line of his: "Sometimes you just have to take a chance and hope you made the smart decision."
  • Satchel Paige was an interesting character both in the book and in real life--and an important one.  In the back of the book, Gutman spends a few pages spreading the facts out for the reader.  Paige was the first player from the Negro League to be inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and most players who played with him believe him to be the best pitcher in the history of baseball.
  • I loved sharing Ben's passion a little every night.  I hear about it all day, yes, but learning about one of the great ball players with him was my kind of fun, and after a phone call with my ball playing grandfather, Ben and I were equally floored to hear that Grandpa played against Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson (another player who pops up in the book).  Neither of us can wait to get the rest of the story from Grandpa!

Things you might want to know before reading this with your child:

  • Stosh's parents are divorced.  This fact surfaces a little in each book that we've read (we're reading Jackie & Me now).  They have a good co-parenting relationship, but are not overly chummy.
  • In this book, Stosh takes his 70-something, single Little League coach, Flip, back in time with him, and Flip meets a girl and they fall in love. She runs away from her father to catch up with Flip and Stosh, and Stosh considers leaving Flip in the past so he can be with her.  This little romance is appropriate for older kids, but I edited out a few sentences for Ben. (I couldn't do this with Lorelei, who corrects me when I'm reading!
Yesterday I took the kids to the bookstore and let them choose two books or games (or, in Kiefer's case, a mean-looking Lego policeman alarm clock…something that this smiley child who wakes up around 5:30 most mornings definitely does NOT need…).  Ben went right to the "G" area of "Middle Grade Fiction" to see which books from the Baseball Card Adventure series were there.  Only one: Babe & Me.  "That's the one I wanted!" Ben exclaimed with Willy-Wonka gold ticket excitement.

So, looks like I'll soon be reporting back about Babe, too…!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Camp Rex by Molly Idle

Camp Rex by Molly Idle

Rating: 4 stars

Hurry, check out this book to get in the mood for your summer camping trip!

If you close your eyes and just listen to the words of the book, you'll hear an old time-y, 1950s guide to camping. I just can hear the enthusiastic, wholesome male voice ring loud and clear:
Searching for an outing to enjoy with your friends?  Consider camping! The fresh air and exercise are invigorating!
Remember to stay together as a group…and stick to the trail. When you reach the campsite, find the perfect place to pitch your tent.
The words in this picture book are straightforward.  The illustrations?  Funny, quirky, endearing, and downright beautiful.  I just can't get enough of them!

Set to the wholesome, no-nonsense voiceover, a girl, her brother, and their pre-historic pals head out on a camping trip. Their time starts innocently enough as they march smilingly through the woods to a campsite. Their tents go up--with a few mishaps--and wave cheerily to a crabby owl as they move out to explore the area.

This is where the story picks up.
A traditional sing-along and marshmallow roast
always bring campers closer together.

They nearly step into poison ivy, and as the narrator urges them not to disturb the natural landscape, T-Rex (with a teensy-tiny boy scout hat perched atop his gigantic noggin), he picks up a beehive. Hilarious panic ensues as they run and jump into a lake.  They head back to camp to start a fire, cook dinner, and roast marshmallows.  T-Rex tries to be helpful by ripping up an entire tree to add to the fire, but instead he uses it to roast marshmallows: the entire root system of the tree has a marshmallow balanced on it.

This is a very cute book with incredibly sweet and warm illustrations.  Really, I'd like the pages of this book to be prints that I could frame and hang around my kids' rooms. I guess I shouldn't expect less from Molly Idle, the author and illustrator of Caldecott honor book Flora and the Flamingo last year.