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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. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Quiet in the Library


Don Freeman's books are among my longtime favorites. I always longed to spend a night in a department store like Corduroy (though I never saw one with escalators until I visited Dayton's as a college freshman). It would have been terrific if our St. Bernard could rescue someone - with hot chocolate! - as Hugo did in Ski Pup. Dandelion provides the perfect example of why it is important to just be yourself.

As a librarian and frequent library patron, I like how the young girl Cary in Quite! There's a Canary in the Library imagines what it would be like to host "Animal and Bird Day" and welcome non-human patrons to browse the collection. Though librarians rarely sit behind their desks and wait, Cary understands all the other important duties that keep visitors coming back for more books. She welcomes Lion and Elephant and makes accommodating spaces for them to read. She greets each creature with enthusiasm and appreciation. She helps locate just the right books for each patron, like tall tales for Giraffe. She realizes the importance of respecting each other's needs and tries to keep the porcupine away from Lion and the monkeys contained. Most of all, she values reading and is pleased when all the patrons are engrossed in their chosen books. It is only when mice enter that chaos ensues, forcing Cary to maintain order with Canary's song.

Cary's imaginative scenario is charming, especially when she accidentally utters "Quiet!" aloud at her table. Don Freeman's text feels like a song itself at times with rhymes interspersed in unexpected places and puns scattered amongst the dialogue. His artwork, of course, plays along perfectly. Cary's delight when Canary sits atop her head, telling the patrons it is time to leave, shines in color in front of a gray background. 

A colleague told me yesterday how much she loves it when I share old books like this one (1969), and it is on my list for storytime in the fall. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Learning Chinese


Growing up, our family had large dogs: a St. Bernard and two Newfoundlands. Though I recall little of getting the former, the images of kennels of puppies for the latter two dogs remain strong in my memory. All those dark brown eyes and pink (sometimes spotted) tongued smiled at my brother and me. Knowing one of them was ours filled us with joyful anticipation!

The young narrator in Caroline Adderson's new book Norman, Speak! gets his dog a bit differently. Visiting the animal shelter, he decides to pick the saddest dog of the twenty-four residents. The stray called Norman had been there the longest and was the boy's choice. Despite his initially sad appearance, that dog wagged and twitched. "His wag was a hula dance of happiness." The family agreed he was friendly and funny. Still, Norman just could not get the hang of basic dog commands. 

Until they visited the dog park one day. Norman miraculously followed the commands another owner gave to his dog - in Chinese! And thus follows a series of Chinese lessons for the family so they can communicate with Norman. 

I liked the boy's determination and perseverance as he tries to learn a new language (especially when his dad gives up) and his dedication to the dog he so badly wanted. With illustrations by Qin Leng that provide a variety of perspectives, the story unfolds with perfect timing, allowing the boy's voice to shine. Reading this aloud to children will require a few Chinese pronunciation lessons for me, but I know there will be many young volunteers ready to teach this library lady.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Book Battle


My friend Mike Wohnoutka and his kids embarked on a Battle of the Books in March. Starting with 64 titles, they read and reread, voting books to the next bracket. When Dinosaurs Came With Everything by Elise Broach almost made it to the Final Four, prevailing over Don't Let the Pigeon Ride the Bus (Mo Willems) and Monkey With a Tool Belt (Chris Monroe) before losing to One Cool Friend (Toni Buzzeo). In the final round, Matthew McElligott's The Lion's Share and Anne Mazer's The Salamander Room faced each other for the title of winner. I love these books for different reasons, but what I especially like about both of them is their quiet nature.

The Salamander Room was voted the best book in the battle in the announcement this past moo day evening, so I pulled our copy from my oldest son's shelf to reread it yesterday. The words flowed from the page and my memory (having read it so many times to the boys). Brian's decision to take a salamander home to his room prompts a series of questions from his well-meaning mother. He must explain where it will sleep and play, how he will have company, what he will eat, where the other creatures (those that inevitably must join the salamander) will live, and how things will grow. I think the fascination for my sons were Brian's matter-of-fact answers and how when he spoke them aloud to his mother, they happened on the page in Steve Johnson's artwork. The boy's bedroom is transformed into a lush forest, just like the one the salamander inhabited a few pages ago. So the birds could fly, Brian's ceiling was lifted off. The trees could then grow tall through that open ceiling. Brian could sleep under the stars with all the lovely things he gathered for the salamander around him. 

Though they never were basketball fans, my sons would have loved doing this with the books we love. Somehow, I want to expose the second graders to 64 picture books before March so we can have our own Battle of the Books during information literacy!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

How They Choked


Georgia Bragg's How They Choked: Failures, Flops, and Flaws of the Awfully Famous (a companion to How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous) will definitely be off the shelf when school begins. The readers in my house commented on the gruesome cover (a skeleton with an RMS Titanic life preserver around its neck), wondering why I was reading a book like that. Soon, though, the book went missing from the last place I had been reading it. Others became engrossed in the 14 stories of failures and flaws of famous folks like Isaac Newton, George Armstrong Custer, Queen Isabella of Spain, and Montezuma.

In her introduction, Bragg writes that "juicy failures don't often make it into biographies because sometimes historians lose sight of the fact that their subjects were human beings. Real people make mistakes (even historians)." With that in mind, reading about the featured famous people becomes an anticipation of doom. What did Susan B, Anthony do to bring about failure? I thought Thomas Edison was the most famous inventor in U.S. history. Wasn't Amelia Earhart a skilled aviator? Reading the sometimes surprising truths revealed more than the biographies I have previously considerd thorough! 

Each chapter begins with the biographical facts about the noteworthy people. The author's witty, forthright style prevails as she describes the actions and events that brought them fame but also the ways their tragic flaws led to disappointment and worse. Bragg finishes with "One More Thing", a section of advice for how to work through the inevitable mistakes and failures we are bound to encounter in life and with a thorough list of sources for each of the subjects in this collective biography.