Monday, September 15, 2014

Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus

Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus

Rating: 5 stars

Arun and his family arrive at Sevagram, his grandfather Gandhi's service village, and go straight to Gandhi's hut. They touch his feet to show respect; he hugs them tightly in return. Gandhi is impressed that the boy had walked the entire way from the train station. "That walk is a test of character. I am impressed." The boy's heart swells.

And so begins Arun's time at Sevagram, a time of simple beds and early mornings, guided meditations and chores, and of wondering if he could live up to the Gandhi name. Wherever the boy came from, it was quite different from where he is now, and the new places frustrates him to no end.  Here, in this place where he is supposed to be still and peaceful, Arun feels fidgety and annoyed all day long. Finally, he gets into a shouting match during a soccer game, and feels singled out for his quickness to anger.

He goes to seek counsel from his grandfather.  Gandhi is busy doing more important things, but he wonderfully shoos away his colleagues and puts away his papers in order to make time and space for his grandson.

"We all feel anger."
"Even you?" I asked.
"Even me," said Grandfather.
"Tell me what has you so upset," he says.  The boy's story spills out, and the fear of never being at peace or living up to the great Gandhi name hangs in the air. Gandhi assures the child that everyone feels anger--even the great Gandhi himself.

Anger is like electricity, Gandhi explains. It can strike like lightening and split a living tree in two. Or it can be channeled and transformative, and it can shed light like a lamp. In this way, anger can illuminate. It can turn darkness into light. We can work to use our anger, instead of letting it use us. The choice lies in each of us: lightning or lamp.

--

There is so much goodness in this book.  The ability to talk about anger, and how it is a natural feeling, present in all of us, is the best part of the book, but there are others. Namely, how he wonders if he'll ever live up to his family's name, how Gandhi makes time for him, and the introduction of a great man like Gandhi.

I did my best to live my life as light.
But the anger part is so important.  Back when I was obsessed with Gandhi in college, I was attracted to his stoicism.  I wished I had what I thought to be his ability to push down all his feelings and feel at peace.  I think because I was young and still very naive and hadn't yet felt a full range of emotions that I thought this was possible. Now, at an older and, yes, wiser period of my life, I realize that pushing emotions down deep and putting on a certain, expected face is a skill to be cast away, not idolized.  Transforming those very human and very deep emotions is trickier and healthier and what I now aim to do. Living with feelings and using my emotions are things I'm actively figuring out how to do, and how to teach my kids.

I could go on and on. But I won't. The book is wonderful, a great read though not an incredibly fun one. How great to read this with your child (or class), then be able to remind yourself (and for your child to remind you) of the choice we all have when we feel anger: lightening or lamp. The book's simple message has the potential to live in my children and your children for decades. And that is a hallmark of a truly wonderful book. A small critique: I wish it were slightly more accessible for kids.  The illustrations, while beautiful and artsy and Caldecott-worthy, are like poetry--gorgeous but difficult to understand, and they could be a turn off for some kids.

Do read the book for yourself--this might be a picture book your child never reads, or doesn't love.  But you should read it. So check it out for you this time around.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Streak: How Joe DiMaggio Became America's Hero by Barb Rosenstock

The Streak: How Joe DiMaggio Became America's Hero by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Terry Widener

Rating: 4 stars

Of course I'm a sucker for a baseball book.  And, like I've written so many times, baseball is a wonderful vehicle for teaching about life--history, character, decision making, consequences...  You name it, you can explain it through baseball.  None of this is very helpful for those of you with kids who dance or play hockey, but... This one goes out to all of you who have, like we do, bats and gloves and balls either in use or planted in the middle of the yard, ready at a moment's notice.

This isn't my favorite baseball book, but it does teach a wonderful American history lesson and provides insight into one of the greats, Joe DiMaggio.

In the summer of 1941, Joe DiMaggio of the New York Yankees began a hitting streak in which America happily got swept up. In one game after another, DiMaggio came to bat and earned hit after hit.  Thousands became followers of this streak, and they didn't have to love the Yankees. Why? Well, it's not like they had a ton of distractions like we do today, and Americans were happy to be distracted that summer because the country was readying itself for war. Up to this point, the biggest streak in American baseball stood at George Sisler's 41 games and Wee Willie Keeler at 44 games. When DiMaggio tied and then surpassed these streaks, everyone took notice.

Now the papers shouted Streak loud and clear,
pushing back news of the war marching overseas.
Rosenstock writes in a thrilling way, and she builds suspense well. This suspense builds nicely to the problem in the book, when DiMaggio's lucky bat, named Betsy Ann, goes missing. Up to this point, she writes as if the streak was a partnership, with equal responsibility going to man and bat. She doesn't talk of the superstition in baseball--or in all sports--but I'm guessing many kids understand the need for a certain bat, a certain hat, certain shoes or certain socks that they need in order to win. She remains missing throughout the game, and the streak looks dead in the water until "DiMaggio went to work anyway." And he got the job done.

It's a good story and I like that baseball is placed accurately in the context of a war that kids will soon learn about.  Even if kids don't fully appreciate the difficulty--the near impossibility--of a streak of 56 runs, this is a fun book to read to any baseball-loving kid (and his big sister). The end of the book is filled with statistics and a longer Author's Notes for parents or kids who want more information.


Baseball books are some of my favorite to review. For a list of all reviewed baseball books, click HERE.


Monday, September 8, 2014

Gus, the Dinosaur Bus by Julia Liu

Gus, the Dinosaur Bus by Julia Liu, illustrated by Bei Lynn

Rating: 4 stars

Two of my three young kids ride the bus to and from school.  It's exciting stuff: walking up those big, huge steps, past the sweet driver Mrs. G, walking down the aisle with your mostly empty backpack bumping on the seats...

But I'm pretty sure they'd trade in their yellow school bus for a brachiosaurus any day of the week.

Gus, the dinosaur bus, takes kids to and from one particular school in this (I'm guessing?) fictional town. There's no need to walk to the curb--he just puts his head up to your window and you can slide down his neck to the general seating area on his back.  Wheeeee!

There are difficulties, of course.  His feet leave giant potholes, his tail gets tangled in wires, and crossing bridges is risky business when you weigh as much as five elephants!

And so, Gus gets retired. (He cries so hard at the news that he creates a cool new pool in the gymnasium.)  The school has to keep him around--the kids love him too much to part with him--so they make him part of the playground. He IS the playground, actually... (that last page is very similar to Superworm, a hilarious book you really should know about).
But life is not perfect for a dinosaur bus.

The illustrations by Bei Lynn are simple, unique--like well planned out scribbles.  It's a nice change of pace from the norm: books with sweeping, impossibly perfect illustrations that draw in the reader but also intimidate budding artists.

In all, a fun book to add to your pile.  My kids could not get enough of the story and pictures!


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Three Bears in a Boat by David Soman

Three Bears in a Boat by David Soman

Rating: 5 stars

Imagine this: It's dinner time after the first day of school.  A day filled with a whole lot of emotions: excitement, fear, happiness, pride, uncertainty, and relief. Ben went to kindergarten at a new school, with his big sister Lorelei, and is proud of himself for having survived the day full of way too many New Things. He is relieved to be home, but his relief comes out in whining and excess energy.  All are hungry and tired, past the point of being polite to each other.

What do I do?  I look for a story that can make them forget theirs for a minute.  A story that their imaginations can get wrapped up in.

I reach for Three Bears in a Boat, written and illustrated by the co-creator of Ladybug Girl, so he's got a few good books under his belt. While I like Ladybug Girl and the subsequent Bumblebee Boy, Soman is on a whole new level with Three Bears in a Boat.  A whole, new, wonderful level.
The bears in the third boat seemed a bit busy.

Three young bears (my kids loved that there was a girl and two boys) play roughly inside and knock over their mama's beautiful blue seashell. It smashes in a hundred tiny pieces all across the floor. They scatter and come up with a plan to fix the situation. They decide to find another seashell, and put it in the place of the broken one.  Their mama will never know.

The trio sail off in their boat, past other bears in boats that provide them and us comic relief but not much assistance in where to find another beautiful blue shell. They finally meet a salty old bear who reckons he can help them. "Just over yonder," he points with his big old paw.

"Over yonder" brings them past a lot of different places--some fun, some not so fun--into places they never knew existed. Finally they arrive at their destination (how they know it is just one of those magical moments in children's books--they just know) and they begin to search for the shell. They open fish mouths, search in trees, look up high cliffs, and peek in caves. But no beautiful blue seashell. They are empty-handed, and far from home.

Their voyage was not without incident.
They get back in the boat, and begin to argue (they are past the point of politeness, too), each blaming the other for breaking the shell. Around them, the waves and the weather begin to mirror their unhappiness, and the sky becomes dark, the water cranky. "BOOM!" Thunder startles them, finally interrupting their anger.  Scared, they huddle together.  "They are all in the same boat," writes Soman. Yes, indeed. Each accepts responsibility for his or her part in the seashell accident as they cling to each other very tightly.

The storm peters out and the sea is calm again. They sail for home. They know what they must do. As they pull their boat up to their own shore, they find another beautiful blue seashell, right near their home. They carry it, sobered by their experience, up to their mama, and apologize for breaking her shell.  They offer the new one to her.

She hugs them up in a big bear hug, and forgives them, grateful that they are home again.  Mama feeds them supper...but they don't get any dessert!

The illustrations are top-notch--beautiful, sweeping pictures of imaginary places that you just want to set sail to right away. My three kids--especially the two school going ones--were as swept away and calmed by the story that had a mama at the end of their journey.  Just like that bear mama, I was so grateful my little cubs were home after their adventure of their first day of kindergarten and second grade!

A Dance Like Starlight by Kristy Dempsey

A Dance Like Starlight by Kristy Dempsey, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Rating: 5 stars

I'll get right to the moral of this story: Dreams do come true.

Don't you just love it already?

Meet one little girl--a little black girl--growing up in the 1960s who wants, more than anything, to be a ballerina.  Her mother works at the ballet school; she cleans and sews costumes there. She is heartbreakingly close to where she wants to be, but is not allowed in. (Do they not have the money? Or is it because black students are not allowed? Dempsey never says, though I infer the latter.) This little girl tries on the costumes, and twirls around and around, practicing moves she's seen but not been taught in the fanciest of all fancy costumes. She wishes on stars and cradles hope for her dream to come true.
"Brava, ma petit," he told me.

One day, while waiting in the wings with her mother during a show, this little girl dances the entire dance, having memorized it from the wings.  The Ballet Master sees her, watches her. When she finishes, he cups her face with his wise, white hands and says, "Brava, ma petite. Brava."

Her hope grows a little.  In Dempsey's words, "That's when hope picked my dream up from the floor of my heart, and it started growing."

The Ballet Master made an arrangement for this little girl to dance in the back of the class each day, one black girl behind many white girls.  But all have the same dream: to become a prima ballerina.

Then one day, her mother tells her that it has happened. The first African American has become a prima ballerina at the Metropolitan Opera House! Her mother scrapes up the money for the two of them to go, to watch Miss Janet Collins on opening night.

It's like she's dancing for me, showing me who I can be.
This one little girl in the audience stands to applaud and yell "Brava!" at the top of her lungs and her hope soars just like Miss Janet Collins soars across the stage.

This is a beautiful book in many ways.  I love the simple story of a little girl dream that might become true, and I love how she works hard for her dream, and doesn't give up on herself. I love how her hope grows and grows and grows throughout the story.

If there is a little dancer in your family, I hope this book finds its way to a shelf near her (or him!).

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Papa Is a Poet: A Story About Robert Frost by Natalie S. Bober

Papa Is a Poet: A Story About Robert Frost by Natalie S. Bober, illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon

Rating: 4.5 stars

Sometimes I think I'm overdoing it just a bit.  I mean, how many serious-ish nonfiction books do kids really want to read?  I rationalize my filled-to-the-brim-with-books household by telling myself that I pick out books and leave them lying around, available, in case curiosity motivates one or two or all of my children to pick it up and read it. I also let them choose plenty of books on their own; they are not left to my nerdy selections.

Papa Is a Poet is long and wordy and serious, so it is definitely in that last category.  Bober tells the story of Robert Frost--as told from the perspective of Lesley, one of his daughters.  She tells us, the reader, of the day they returned from a two year, poetry-writing stint in England, when her father saw at a newsstand a published collection of his works, North of Boston.  He was surprised! Frost hadn't been told by any American publisher of its creation, but was overjoyed to have met success on this side of the Atlantic.

Lesley thinks back to simpler times, before her family sold their farm to raise the funds to go to England.  They lived on a farm, and Robert Frost was a poultry farmer.  Theirs was a nature-filled childhood, with streams and flowers and trees and each other to play in and around and with. Robert and his wife home schooled their children, and their life was full of books.  Their days were "ordinary but meaningful. The cupboard was often bare, yet life was filled to the brim."

Poetry--playing with words, finding the humor or beauty in simple things, and creating metaphors--ran through his veins, but he felt that it wasn't an acceptable pastime for a father of a large family.  He felt he was a "disappointing failure" in the eyes of neighbors and family, so they sold the farm and moved. They flipped a coin to decide where to go. The coin landed on heads, so they went to England--if it had landed on tails, they'd have gone to Vancouver. Choosing to be a full-time poet was a crazy, almost reckless decision, but he did it. And look, he did it so very well.

Why tell this story, read this book to young girls and boys like Lorelei (age 7)?

  1. Robert Frost is one of the greatest American poets, and now she has a little background, a little context to the lesson she'll soon get from a teacher. She'll know he was a dad and had kids and made up little rhymes for his family, and maybe...maybe his poetry will be not be so intimidating.
  2. I don't love how Bober sprinkles in Frost's poetry.  I think she feels obligated to, and I appreciate her attempt. While I don't think it usually works, I love that his most famous lines (see below) are in there, and that Lorelei knows about them and we can talk about them when making choices.
  3. Speaking of choices, I really like that this story is about one man struggling to make a choice--and it's a tough one for a man with poems in his head but mouths to feed.  I'm always telling Lorelei and her brothers that there are lots of choices, but no perfect one, but you have to trust your gut, take a risk, and then give that choice your all. Robert Frost did that.
  4. Personally, poetry didn't make a lot of sense when I was in school.  I realize now how fun it can be, how poets play with words and say things in tricky ways that challenge the reader to think, and I want to introduce that concept to my kids little by little, stanza by stanza.
  5. Their days were "ordinary but meaningful." The book is worth it for just that--a reminder that we don't need lots of gizmos and gadgets.  The simple things, especially when done with humor and appreciation, sure do mean a lot.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


Other books on poetry you might want to check out:
Guyku: A Year of Haiku for Boys (Raczka)
Poem-Mobiles: Crazy Car Poems (Lewis)
Runny Babbit (Silverstein)
And pretty much anything by Dr Suess, of course!


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Millie and the Big Rescue by Alexander Steffensmeier

Millie and the Big Rescue by Alexander Steffensmeier

Rating: 4 stars

Oh the silliness of it!  Just the idea of all the farm animals playing hide-and-go-seek on a warm afternoon makes my kids curious and puts a smile on their faces.  One chicken hides under a flower pot (can you find his skinny chicken legs?)...  One pig hides in a tub-turned-watering-spot (can you spot his snout?)... One horse hides behind a big bush (can you see his blonde tail sticking out?)...

And Millie, the sweet heifer/main character, is super excited to have found the best hiding spot of all: a tree!  She perches her spotted rump way up high in a tall, tall tree, where she gazes out on her favorite farm and the surrounding land.  She sits and waits.  Waits and sits.  Sits and waits.  Sigh.  A little more sitting, a little more waiting...  Until she's bored.  And then Millie realizes that she is stuck.

Instead of helping her down, her barnyard friends get the silly idea to go up to join her! Pretty soon even the farmer joins her animals, and gets stuck up there herself when her ladder falls down. One chicken trots out to the neighbor for help, and when he comes, he calls the fire department.

The good-natured fire fighters have the silliest rescue of their careers (and the good-natured readers have a grand time looking at the illustrations of all this silliness).

This is a crowd-pleaser of a book!

P.S. Millie and her friends have had a few other adventures equally as silly.  Check out Millie Waits for the Mail and Millie and the Big Snow!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Superhero Joe and the Creature Next Door by Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman

Superhero Joe and the Creature Next Door by Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman, illustrated by Ron Barrett

Rating: 4 stars

Superhero Joe is BACK! And that's a good thing, because we like him!

Last time we saw him, in Superhero Joe, he battled the dark, monster-filled basement for a bit of imagination fun--complete with creative costume, such as turning the lid of a pot as a shield of invincibility--and coming to the rescue of his parents, who had spilled some black gooey stuff and needed him to get a mop.

This time, Superhero Joe is disappointed to see his neighbor move.  The neighbor was an older guy who had a cool treehouse high up in his yard, and the guy had said Joe could use it whenever he wanted.  But Joe was nervous about the ladder that hung down--for the life of him, he couldn't get up there.  Now he never will...

The new family moving has two normal-looking parents but the kid...Joe isn't sure about the kid.  In fact, Joe is apprehensive of the kid.  He has enormous boots, a sweater that hangs so long Joe isn't sure he has hands.  And the kid has a huge hat-of-sorts; Joe isn't sure if the guy even has a face.  And...wouldn't you know it?...there goes that kid (Joe calls him the creature) easily going up to the treehouse, carrying box after box of something with him.

What was in the boxes?!  What sort of preparations was this creature making? Joe thinks up all sorts of evil doings, all ways that this creature could infiltrate his life in unplanned, ungood ways.

(Why is it that Joe jumps to the worst conclusion ever?!  Whatever the reason is, it's the same reason my kids also jump to conclusions, blow things out of proportion, and feel illogical fears.  Not that I ever do these things...nope, not me...)
What is his evil plan??

Finally, Joe dons his superhero stuff and tucks his curiosity and courage in tight, and goes to meet this kid-creature.

"Hi! I like your cape!" says the kid-creature in a not-so-creature sort of way. Turns out, the kid wears a huge hat because he thinks it makes him invisible. Turns out, if one person holds the swinging rope ladder at the bottom, it's much easier to get to the top.

Turns out, Superhero Joe and Invisible Phil are going to be good friends!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Guyku: A Year of Haiku for Boys by Bob Raczka

Guyku: A Year of Haiku for Boys by Bob Raczka, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

Rating: 5 stars

This book is a whole lot of awesome.

Raczka wrote a year's worth of haiku poems especially for boys--each season gets about six simple-yet-so-clever poems inspired by the outdoorsy play and crazy behavior that is mostly associated with boys.  Here are my favorites (yeah, I know I did two for summer. I couldn't choose!):

Spring:
In a rushing stream,
we turn rocks into a dam.
Hours flow by us.

Summer:
Pine tree invites me
Ba ha ha!!
to climb up to the sky.
How can I refuse?

Penny on the rail,
you used to look like Lincoln
before you got smooshed.

Fall:
From underneath the
leaf pile, my invisible
brother is giggling.

Winter:
How many million
flakes will it take to make a
snow day tomorrow?

Love, love, LOVE!

Haikus are so accessible for kids--they are so easy to come up while hiking along, eating breakfast, taking a walk around the block, or driving in a car, which is when Lorelei and Ben and I often do them. It's fun and there's no rhyming necessary and the sillier the better. During Lorelei's Spring Break, when she was encouraged to journal every day, she wrote a haiku every day instead.  On the first day we all got in on the haiku fun...I have one of mine written down--our whole family, including our two weimaraners, were in the car heading to West Virginia and the dogs' smelly gas leaking from their rears was filling up the car.  That was the subject of my poem, which had me in stitches (I often crack myself up).

Back to the book.

I think two opposite things, strongly, at the same time: First, I wish that this was for all kids, not just boys.  Lorelei was the one who enjoyed this the most; I was happy she agreed to forget the subtitle of the book and read it.  She loves thinking up haikus any old time.

Second, I love that this is just for boys. I love that a whole book is full of what I hope my boys are always full of: curiosity and energy, laughter and outdoor play, silliness and exploration.

I know, I know.  I'm a card-carrying member of the Want it Both Ways Club.

Either way, this book is a whole lot of awesome!

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch by Anne Isaacs

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch by Anne Isaacs, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes

Rating: 4.5 stars

You could hear a pin drop when I read this very wordy picture book to my trio a few days ago.  Storyteller Anne Isaacs writes a fun tall tale about a rich widow ridding herself of suitors. I would never have predicted each of my children would care so much about the story!

And here's a brief synopsis of that story:

In 1870, the widow Tulip Jones inherits 35 million dollars and a ranch at By-Golly Gully, Texas.  She immediately hops the next boat over to America from her native England (she brings "two trunks of tea and her twelve pet tortoises" and three servants that would soon serve as ranch-hands). When the Widow Jones gets there, she and her three ladies-in-waiting soon realize that everything grows bigger in Texas.  "Potatoes are so big it only takes seven of them to make a dozen."  Her turtles grow to the size of thoroughbreds, and she treats them as the speedy steeds they become.
By Golly Gully was so hot that chickens laid hard-boiled eggs,
and lizards hobbled around on stilts to avoid
burning their feet on the ground.

But it's her money, not her green thumb or animal husbandry, that makes men line up for miles to propose to her. Every day she fends them off one at a time, and every night she sits and chats with Charlie, the ranch's baker, and eats the delicious things he makes for her to try.

She comes up with a plan to get rid of the suitors by making her hand in marriage something to be won in an impossible contest.  Meanwhile, back at the ranch, her three ranch hand pals come up with their own plan: to invite a thousand brides to come and take the thousand suitors off of the Widow Jones' hands.

These two plans unfold simultaneously and seamlessly, and my kids were wrapped up in the drama as Anne Isaacs builds up the story in a great, too tall Texas way.  I won't spill all the beans, but you've probably guessed that there were some very entertaining hiccups in each of the plans, and the thousand brides end up scaring away the main bad guys--the Hole in the Pants Gang--because these guys would rather go to jail than get married.

(I did my best not to laugh out loud and then explain why that was so funny on that point while reading to my kids.)

Anyway, the three ranch hands also find husbands so the Widow Jones is left...alone.  Just for the moment, because her baker Charlie has more to offer her than a baked good at the end of her last day of suitors.  He has a diamond ring for her to try.  It's a happy ending after a long, rollicking tale that just feels good to everyone.

Hats off to Anne Isaacs here for writing such a break-the-rules long picture book that really would be less good if it was less wordy.  I'm surprised I like it so much because the story is all about getting hitched, and I think the normal picture book audience is too young to think much about that.  And it's looooong...I'm surprised three year old Kiefer sat through it.

Illustrator Kevin Hawkes might be a big part of the reason he did.  Hawkes is incredible, crazy talented, excelling at making downright impossible things look like they could happen tomorrow morning, if only you were in the right place.  He illustrated one of my favorite holiday books, Santa From Cincinnati, as well as two books I've not reviewed but bought because the illustrations just blew me away (the stories are wonderful, too!): The Library Lion and Velma Gratch and the Way Cool Butterfly.

For me, Isaacs and Hawkes make a fantastic duo.  I'd like to see them pair up again!


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.