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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Quiet Reading

There are authors whose books I seek on lists of new releases, often searching their names or websites every so often in order not to miss anything I might want to read. Naomi Shihab Nye is one of those writers. How glad I am to have spent quiet reading time with her latest book The Turtle of Oman this week. Who in the book world would not love a main character like this: "He learned to read shoes first. Then he learned how to read books"?

Moving to a new place is usually not a welcome experience for most young people, and Aref is no exception. Though he knows many American students from his years as a student at the American International School in Muscat, he has never been the new kid. Now as his parents prepare for their doctoral programs in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Aref faces the challenge of making new friends as he learns about his new home. Most importantly, he will do that without the quiet guidance of his Siti, the grandfather whose model for living has shaped Aref's life. 

And so, as Aref's mother cleans and packs and organizes, Siti and Aref spend time reminiscing, gathering memories, learning together, and dreaming of what they will do when Aref returns in three years. The two head out in Siti's old vehicle, affectionately named Monsieur, and spend a glorious night at the Night of a Thousand Stars camp. "This was the way they talked for miles and miles, syllables unrolling with the pavement." (p. 135) Savoring roasted nuts, weighed on a balance with brass weights, watching turtles roll in the ocean waves, sleeping in a tent, meeting friends along their route...all these things keep Aref grounded in the love of his Siti. The wise man knows that the experiences they share will resonate with his grandson in his new home. 

The chapter titles kept me intrigued, the tiny ink illustrations by the paragraph indents are lovely, and the way her words play out on the page and in Siti's and Aref's dialogue added to my love of this quiet book. I know just the readers who will enjoy it, too. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Scent of a Book

A new fabulous library volunteer started at school today. As I read aloud to the fourth graders, she was shelving nonfiction. My sense that she was listening to the book was confirmed when, after the students departed, she said, "What book were your reading? I couldn't help but listen." I showed her Sterling North's Rascal. Taking the book from me, she said, "I knew it was an old one." She opened the book to its center and sniffed deeply. "I love this scent," she uttered with a sigh.

The students love the book. When I began reading it on the first day of school (to all six sections of information literacy students), I was not certain it was the right choice. Set in 1918, it definitely offers a glimpse into a slower pace of life...without television and computers. Yet after a few pages, the students were hooked, begging for me to read beyond May, the first chapter. Almost palpable tension swirled as Sterling and his friend Oscar attempted to trap a mother raccoon and her four babies. Sterling's drawing of the short straw, bringing him to the branch of an oak tree where that mother screeched, made them cringe in anticipation of what she might do. But when Oscar's mother showed Sterling how to feed the raccoon warm milk through a wheat straw, many nodded in understanding. 

In June, they love how Rascal, at two months old, learns instinctively how to wash a minnow caught in Sterling's bait pond, how to better hold a crayfish in order not to be pinched, how to open the screen door to get to his companion's human bed, and how to hold a bottle of strawberry pop to get the last drops. They also love how Rascal learns quickly not to wash his sugar lump as he would wash a minnow! I love how this gentle story captivates readers almost a hundred years after the events occurred. It was an excellent choice.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Grudge Keeper

When end papers give integral information to a story, readers take note. In my library, if I do not show the end papers, readers ask to see what they missed. In Mara Rockliff's new book The Grudge Keeper, they would have missed a surprised young man, a young woman grimacing in pain and holding her shin, and another young man just in front of her, his angled movement indicating he caused the young woman's injury. The following half title page reveals a seemingly quiet village. And the title page shows an older man trudging behind a wooden cart piled high with scrolls of paper: the Grudge Keeper.

Imagine a town like Bonnyripple where no one held a grudge except old Cornelius. Whatever trivial or monumental grievances occurred were scrawled on paper and stored in his cottage. The jars and containers on his shelves are filled with them, in much the same way the BFG kept dreams. The text is filled with word play, alliteration, onomatopoeia, and imagery. Eliza Wheeler's ink and watercolor illustrations, filled with shadow and light, call attention to the thousands of scrolled grudges. When a howling wind blows, the people of Bonnyripple find that "squabbles were scrambled with quibbles" and in the middle of the heaps of displaced grudges, the people heard the groan from Cornelius. 

I love a happy ending, and this book finishes with friendliness and comfort, prompting me to think twice when I want to hold onto a grudge. The final end papers reveal a happy pair of women, their grudges forgotten. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Observant Mouse

Born in a cheese box in the attire at Number 33 Offley Street, the narrator of Hermelin the Detective Mouse is observant and witty. Mini Grey's artwork pairs perfectly with her text, making this a mystery, a case book, and writing opportunity all in one.

The opening pages display the happenings of Offley Street residents, each going about daily business and some distraught (observant readers may predict has happened to them). The narrator is revealed on the second double-page spread. It is Hermelin, a mouse who was fortunate to acquire a pair of binoculars in the morning breakfast cereal. With them, Hermelin can zoom in on the neighborhood residents. Hermelin happens to be  a rather literate mouse, so the presence of a typewriter in the attic allows the mouse to communicate with others, something extremely helpful when the neighbors display notices asking for help! 

Hermelin finds Mrs. Mattison's handbag, Dr. Parker's glasses, and many more items. But when the neighbors ask Hermelin to attend a party honoring those acts of servitude, the crowd reacts with shrieks and gasps. Hermelin discovers that being a mouse is akin with being a pest! One neighbor finds a way for them to work together, however, bringing the perfect resolution to the problem. 

My fingers are tingling to type on an old typewriter like Hermelin's!

Note: Hermelin is also a cheese, similar in taste and texture to Camembert.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Traveling Through Architecture

If I had chosen other career paths, I know being an architect or a photographer would have been tops on the list. The latter is possible in an amateurish way as I document what I observe and encounter in life's journey. The former is what causes me to marvel when I visit new places, what I imagine in my mind, and what I sometimes envision in my nighttime dreams.

Reading The Story of Building by Patrick Dillon has immersed me in the history of architecture via a timeline of buildings, styles, and placed. Subtitled From the Pyramids to the Sydney Opera House, it encompasses the various structures that allowed buildings to soar, let in light and air, and serve functional purposes. Stephen Biesty's cross-section artwork pulls apart the platforms, arches, beams, and inner-working elements to reveal how the buildings remained intact and how they served users. Side panels taught me about the classical orders (Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, Tuscan), arches, domes, the Middle Ages, cantilevers (used in the Forbidden City), symmetry, geometry, pattern, and reinforced concrete. Every inquiry that formed in my mind was answered a paragraph or page later in the text! I visited places I have seen (and now wish to revisit) and places I wish I could see in person. 

Most engaging was how I traveled in time and style from the Pyramid of Djoser in Egypt to the Parthenon to the Hagia Sophia to Notre Dame and on to the 21st Century's straw bale house in London. The last few pages of the book provide the index above the detailed timeline of architectural events, discoveries, and trends. Readers will appreciate the wrtier's engaging style and be captivated by the illustrations. I look forward to reading chapters aloud and challenging them to consider what they observe and perhaps even how they want to live.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Setting Sail

Being a frequent visitor to my favorite independent bookshop has some excellent benefits, like being greeted by name, noticing new books and displays upon entering the store, and asking and answering the question "What have you liked lately?" Fortuitously, an advance proof of The Doll People Set Sail arrived at the Red Balloon yesterday morning, and the bookseller who shares my name dashed out the door after me, waving the copy and saying she knew I would like to read it first. How fortunate I am!

And so last night I spent time with Annabelle Doll and Tiffany Funcraft and their families on an adventure across the Atlantic Ocean! I know they are not really alive (at least not when humans are nearby), yet that did not stop my brain from traveling with the families from Kate's room to a box marked ATTIC to a truck for ATC (Allied Transatlantic Charities) to a cargo ship called The Brown Pelican. I gasped I horror when a hole in their box widened, causing a catastrophe. I climbed along the plastic straps of the towers of boxes to get to the floor of their deck. I heard the voices of other dolls in boxes and met the merdolls whose tails miraculously allowed them to walk. 

This fourth book in the series comes almost twenty years after Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin began writing The Doll People and is a fabulous continuation of the Doll and Funcraft saga. Brett Helquist's artwork shows his efforts to continue Brian Selznick's original ideas while adding some of his own style (and still keeping the characters's personalities). Danger lurks behind boxes and on deck. Family members are lost and found. Friendships are made and strengthened. Readers will love this story on the sea.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Have You Seen My Dragon?

While reading Steve Light's new book Have You Seen My Dragon? this afternoon, I responded to one double-page spread by speaking aloud my thoughts. "I would like ice cream." My husband, sitting quietly nearby, asked what I had said. Obviously, it had not quite registered that my thoughts became public! This happens with the listeners on the story steps all the time. They cannot help but respond to books when their engagement with the text and artwork is intense.

Have You Seen My Dragon? begs for reader response from the end papers and continues through the twenty spreads in which a young boy searches the city for his dragon. Readers will no doubt find the dragon easy to locate on some pages (on top of the hot dog vendor's cart, for example) and artfully disguised on others (like when he is part of the fountain in the monkey house at the park). Each spread features ink drawings - done with "a Mont Blanc 149 with a B nib that 'flips' to a fine line" - and just a bit of color, determined by whatever the boy and dragon are seeing or doing on that spread. Books are a goldenrod shade when the boy looks at the book stall for the dragon. The dogs in the park are light brown, and the balloons at the playground are red (just like at my favorite bookshop). 

Readers must look amidst the detailed drawings for the scaly dragon but also for the young boy, who is sometimes a bit more hidden than the dragon. He often asks others for assistance, causing him to miss his friend who is playing or helping nearby. For tracking all the places the boy and dragon have been (with corresponding colors), the end papers are an excellent narrowed map.

One of the best lines in the book comes from the author's biographical statement on the jacket flap:
"When I visited New York City as a kid, my father would tell me that the steam coming from the manhole covers was a dragon's breath - which made me want to live there!" And of course, that scene is illustrated with the 11th spread.