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Monday, October 20, 2014

Gallery du Fridge

"I love art! It's my imagination on the outside." So says Louise, the red-bespectacled narrator of Kelly Light's first picture book, Louise Loves Art. Louise's love of art is evident on the first spread where she, with an adoring smile, lies atop many or her masterpieces, arms wide across them. Her little brother, appropriately named Art, gazes at her in fondness, as does their cat, a model for her best work. Art clearly longs to emulate his sister, but she is so consumed with displaying her work that she misses some important action. 

Though the cat tries to get her attention, Louise focuses on the Gallery du Fridge, the best place for hanging her piece de resistance, oblivious to how that piece is being transformed by Art. She is crushed, disappointed, crestfallen. What can a young artiste do to make things better? The Gallery du Fridge helps the reader understand the resolution and the title perfectly. 

I love this art book for its art advice, for how it models quiet forgiveness and alternative thinking, and for the art itself, made from black Prismacolor pencils and Photoshop. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Back on Deckawoo Drive

The neighbor kids wanted to read the Mercy Watson books this summer. Sitting in our sunny library, we traveled to Deckawoo Drive, revisiting Mr. and Mrs. Watson, Baby and Eugenia Lincoln, their neighbors Stella and Frank, and of course, Leroy Ninker, that popcorn-selling former night-time visitor to the Watson's home. Kate DiCamillo set her latest book - Leroy Ninker Saddles Up - back on Deckawoo Drive. I was glad to travel back to that friendly street, and my young reader friends will be delighted when they open this book.

Leroy Ninker longed for a horse. He shared his wish to be a cowboy with Beatrice Leapaleoni, ticket seller at th Bijo Drive-In Theater where he sold soda and buttered popcorn (and where Mercy and her parents went in Something Wonky This Way Comes). Wise Beatrice pointed out that in order to be a cowboy, Leroy would need - besides a cowboy hat, boots, and a lasso - a horse. And so, with a "Yippie-I-oh!" he begins the search. "Take fate in your hands," Beatrice tells him. He does. He acquires Maybelline. Not quite the horse he dreamed about, but just the right horse for him. All he has to do is remember the three items Maybelline's former owner told him: talk sweet to her, feed her A Lot Of Grub, and keep her company. 

Filled with humorous lines, more than a few interesting words, and quite an adventure, the book brought me back to that street I enjoy visiting. This time, Chris Van Dusen's illustrations are in monochrome, but they still perfectly capture the tone of the story. A story that ends with hot buttered toast on Deckawoo Drive is bound to be good.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Unexpected Friendship

In Jennifer K. Mann's book Two Speckled Eggs, Ginger is a girl looking forward to her birthday party. "But Ginger's mom said she had a to invite all of the girls in her class - or none of them." A party with no one did not seem like a good idea, so Ginger is forced to invite the girl everyone thinks is weird: Lyla Browning. While the other girls wreck the games and behave inappropriately, Lyla wanders around, enjoys Ginger's favorite silver-and-gold cake (coconut and pineapple), and laughs at the ladybug that lands on Ginger's nose. And, she brings the most amazing gift: a handmade bird nest with two malted milk eggs nestled in it. She becomes the friend Ginger did not expect, the one she most loved. It is one of my favorite picture books about friendship.

Though top-ten lists are popular, I choose only five others as my favorites:

Enemy Pie by Derek Munson
Farfallina and Marcel by Holly Keller
Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel
Toot & Puddle by Holly Hobbie
Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox

"My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me." - Henry Ford

Monday, October 6, 2014

Nuts to You Times Two

Since the early days of our relationship (while attending a university with a high squirrel population), my husband has believed he can speak squirrel. He makes a sort of Tsch Tsch noise with his tongue, and much of the time, the squirrels at least cock their heads in curiosity. Sometimes, they actually turn to look at him. He is certain they understand least the gray squirrels.

So, when I started reading NUTS TO YOU by Lynne Rae Perkins, I immediately read aloud to him the tidbits that made speaking squirrel language not so far-fetched (albeit in a fiction book). There is even a pronunciation explanation for certain squirrel sounds, as well as numerous footnotes to explain behaviors and provide inside information. Beyond the language connection, I found the book captivating and enchanting. The story is being told to a human on a park bench by a wonderfully verbose squirrel who speaks human quite well. This squirrel conveys its greatest adventure: when a badly played "squirrel cried wolf" game ended in the capture of a squirrel named Jed by a hawk...and later a further adventure when his friends Chai and TsTs travel across the buzzpaths to frozen spiderwebs (power lines and towers = evidence of the creative language) to rescue Jed. What results is a series of adventures, contact with human tree surgeons, and a game named MOVE to get other squirrels to a safe place. Accompanied by the authors's artwork, the text is witty and filled with nutty ideas.

Lois Ehlert's NUTS TO YOU! (2004) shares the title with the chapter book and also features an adventurous squirrel. Told in rhymed text, it is the story of a brave and wily  squirrel who climbs the bricks of an apartment building and miraculously discovers s tear in the screen, allowing him to enter the narrator's apartment. Lois Ehlert's cut-paper illustrations are bright and textured. Her "Squirrel Talk" notes explain about identification, teeth, feet, tail, nest/home, and food. The book was inspired by something that happened to her!

"Nuts to us all." - Jed in NUTS TO YOU by Lynne Rae Perkins

Friday, October 3, 2014

Silhouettes and Night Vision

In 1945, artist Dahlov Ipcar illustrated her first book...and began a career in children's publishing that lasted decades. Though many of her books are out of print, several have been reissued over the past years (and many more will be reprinted in 2015). My dear friend told me about some this summer, and my teaching partner discovered them a few weeks later.

This week we shared THE CAT AT NIGHT (originally published in 1969 and reissued in 2008) with first and second graders. They were mesmerized by the double-page spreads that alternate between silhouettes of things we would see at night and bright double-page spreads of what those same scenes would look like for a cat with excellent night visions. Their engagement with the cat's actions and the text was so intense they answered the unseen narrator's questions repeatedly. 

"And what does the cat see now?"

Voices on the story steps described what they imagined the silhouettes to reveal. And at the end, when the cat is curled up asleep by the stove, chuckles arose as the farmer commented about the cat's laziness, sleeping all night and then all day, too. Cat comments flowed from their own experiences. Most interesting, though, was one from a second grade teacher about my age who was astonished that I read the book she checked out so often when she was in second grade was the one I read to her class today! She always loved it and assumed it could never be had again. How happy she was to take it back to her classroom - and her own cats - this weekend.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


Don't judge a book by its title. When I first encountered Cece Bell's latest book El Deafo in reviews, I assumed the title meant she had been picked on by others and called a name because she was deaf. It sounded cruel and insensitive, and I wasn't sure I wanted to read it. On the contrary, Elf Deafo is the name she chooses to represent her brave and powerful alter ego, the one who speaks the words she wishes she could say, the one who stands up for herself, the one who makes people truly understand what she wants and needs. El Deafo flies, spies, soars, and utters curses.

Biographical in nature, the story is immediately engaging, and Cece Bell captivated me with her genuine voice: honest, witty, sometimes uncertain, always wondering. Though her frustrations about being deaf certainly play a large part in her story, it was the yearning to find a true friend that spoke most to me. As she sought the best friend for her, she contemplated whether that person was feeling sorry for her or whether she should agree to do something simply to keep a friend or whether anyone would ever accept her for just being Cece. 

The graphic novel format - usually not my favorite - was perfect for this story. Speech and thought bubbles conveyed everything in first-person, allowing the reader to completely enter Cece's heart and mind. When necessary, narration blocks helped tell the story. Her formation of the garbled speech she heard when those around her watched television or listened to music or turned out the lights at a slumber party allowed me to imagine how she struggled to understand when lip-reading was not an option. A novel without pictures would not have been the same.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Growing Old

Age, as one realizes with age, is relative. My age used to seem old when I observed my aunts and uncles. Now in their early 70s, they do not seem old to me. Imagine, though, really going back in time to be an age you have already lived. But with that age, you have been able to keep the wisdom and knowledge gleaned from the actual experiences of your life.

Such is the case of eleven-year-old Ellie's grandfather in Jennifer Holm's latest book The Fourteenth Goldfish. When her mother comes home one day with a rather odd teenage boy (who has the teenage attitude and appetite), she soon discovers him to be her grandfather Melvin. Geeky, judgemental, brilliant, sassy, and always hungry, Melvin has become young in body through experiments done with a jellyfish. Naming the species T. Melvinus, he has taken a dose and gotten into some trouble. His only wish is to rescue the remaining sample from his refrigerator in the lab. 

Enter Ellie, who has been abandoned by her longtime friend for the popular crowd. To her credit, she sits with her cantankerous and strangely dressed grandfather/so-called-cousin at lunch and accompanies him on his excursions. She listens to his research ideas. She enlists the help of a boy named Raj who becomes her friend. And she begins to question, as she learns from Melvin about other scientists and their mistakes, whether it is right to stay the same age forever. She asks him, "Is growing up, growing old - life - is it all so terrible?" 

Recently, I listened to a TED talk by author Mac Barnett in which he discusses how children are able to suspend their disbelief in the unlikely, buying in to the scenarios and possibilities in the books they read. That was me with The Fourteenth Goldfish. Melvin's research and transformation was believable somehow. I contemplated with Ellie: "Who's going to be the grown-up?

The realistic dialogue and situations, the wonderful connection to Our Town, a fabulous title story, and an opening quote from Galileo added to my appreciation of this thoughtful science fiction book. Reading it aloud to fourth graders later this year will, no doubt, provide me with insights from readers who are still deciding about what it means to be old.