Hooray for Mac Barnett, whose varied styles mean there is surely something among his books to appeal to each child. As a sneaky teacher, I can then ge...moreHooray for Mac Barnett, whose varied styles mean there is surely something among his books to appeal to each child. As a sneaky teacher, I can then get my students to read more broadly by saying, "You loved that book by Barnett? You might like this other [completely unrelated] story he wrote..." This one is more hyper than my beloved Chloe and the Lion, yet marginally more sane. Marginally: we're still talking a book that incorporates king cobras, beekeepers, and surprisingly few monkeys.
Each page directly advises the reader on interacting with the subjects - move slowly around snakes, zig zig away from alligators, etc. Some of the wildlife advice seems more folklore than science, but having had a spate of students afraid of nature this past year, I appreciate a book which supplies them with a way to exercise control over their environment without explicitly mentioning danger. For the majority of students, however, these pages will just be outright silly - can you turn the page while your eyes are covered?
Kevin Cornell's bright illustrations (Dear Disney-Hyperion, please include illustration information in your colophons; they are quite interesting to your young readers) have a movement and a weight which go well with Barnett's text. I found myself strangely fascinated by the variety of lumberjack noses, and it is just that kind of random interest which can make a book loved by a child.(less)
The awkward verses never really captured me, but the overview of fun things to do in Boston is a nice resource for newcomers looking for weekend activ...moreThe awkward verses never really captured me, but the overview of fun things to do in Boston is a nice resource for newcomers looking for weekend activities for the family, particularly because it is written for young readers, not for parents who already get to make most of the decisions anyway.(less)
I previously reviewed Thurlby's alphabet book with five stars and great appreciation, so you can imagine how pleased I was that this new offering held...moreI previously reviewed Thurlby's alphabet book with five stars and great appreciation, so you can imagine how pleased I was that this new offering held up to my high expectations. Thurlby's collage style is a little toned down here in favor of design battered to look like a series of old book covers. Although charming, I'm not sure what other purpose it serves here, as the text doesn't seem to go along with it. Essentially, I think it's a conceit, which is done subtly enough not to interfere with the meat of the book (I promise that's not an animal-based pun - I'm vegetarian!), and perhaps will give parents weary of re-readings a little something extra to make the fiftieth run through more engaging.(less)
Three pigs and a wolf on the cover; they are wearing martial arts gi (gis?), Mt. Fuji and cherry blossoms hover in the background, and the wolf's huff...moreThree pigs and a wolf on the cover; they are wearing martial arts gi (gis?), Mt. Fuji and cherry blossoms hover in the background, and the wolf's huffing puff is swirling into east-Asian style clouds, so no surprises about what fractured fairy tale lurks within. On the other hand, the central pig has pigtailsponytails pigtails and a yellow Kill Bill gi, so perhaps there is something extra going on.
Schwartz's poetry has the heavy-handed rhythm and rhyme I find so valuable for my students, helping with both decoding and attention. "Techniques" must have only two syllables, and sound like "weeks." Now let's keep up this galloping sound right through to the next page!
Santat's illustrations support both the original fairy tale and Schwartz's retelling. In this book, the differences between the pigs' outcomes rest on their dedication to their martial arts studies, but Santat's illustrations differentiate the pigs' encounters with the wolves by carrying the color and shapes of the three building materials through the three fight scenes. Even the sky is yellow when straw pig has his showdown, and the action streaks look like pale straw themselves. For stick pig, green bamboo predominates (good choice, as brown or grey would blend in with the wolf's fur), and this time that bamboo does not fade behind the action streaks.
Brick pig, happily, is a girl, and for today's ridiculously gendered social norms, she is well-served here. Yes, she's a girl being strong where the boys have been weak. But her house is pretty, with grey stone and a contemplative statue. Instead of bricks, she has cherry blossoms scattered, offset, in the background. It's subtle, but I hope it preserves the original story while also showing kids that being a boy or girl is not an all-or-nothing binary choice that binds their actions.
Why do I care so much about the book's balance of masculine and feminine? Elsewhere on my shelves, I have a book with a male protagonist, and two students have flat-out refused to believe he was a boy because he is wearing a purple track suit. Seriously, this gender-all-the-things trend has gone too far when it is interfering with kids abilities to understand a book. Schwartz and Santat, thanks for this goofy, sneaky countermeasure.(less)
Fantasy is not usually my genre, and even those books I come to love - Graceling, Daughter of Smoke & Bone - have to woo me for a few chapters. As...moreFantasy is not usually my genre, and even those books I come to love - Graceling, Daughter of Smoke & Bone - have to woo me for a few chapters. As a reader, I remain overly conscious of the artifice in a fantasy world. Ironically enough, this book about artifice sucked me in within mere pages. It is not the fault of talented authors when I am not immersed right away, but it is certainly the skill of Alexander that this time I was. A potentially-cloying detail (a house periodically moved by its owner comes to rest with its front door blocked by a neighboring wall, so residents must jump in and out of a window) serves as exposition of the world's rules and of a character, as well as being fun to read, all without being overwritten.
Okay, he also won me over by omitting wings in favor of gears. I don't get to dust off my undergraduate education in the history of science and technology very often, so I doubly appreciate a good steampunk tale, imagining myself recommending the latest discovery to my good friend Ada Lovelace over a cup of tea. "And speaking of difference engines, My Lady, I read a very different sort of book the other day..."
In the end, Goblin Secrets is simply well written, and done so with a voice I particularly enjoy. There is a deftness to the word choice, a rhythm to the sentences, which pulls the reader forward on a flowing river. Halfway into the book, the goblins seem more familiar and human than the street urchins. Sentences just twist in interesting ways that stop my scanning and remind me to think a little bit more about what I am reading: "The monger cursed and paddled with a single oar, both furiously, but his curses were clumsy and unlikely to stick." In a moment when I am trying to make sense of the emotional nuance where a character must be afraid, and sad, and a little bit determined, Alexander tells us the character "breathed cold silence into his lungs" and understanding clicks into place.
Last year's National Book Award winner, Inside Out & Back Again, played with form in service to the story: the verse novel showed the protagonist's fluency in storytelling without demanding fluency in grammar. More subtly, this year's winner substitutes acts and scenes for chapters, and the book's designer separates the acts with a drawing of a stage curtain (pun intended). The cover art also furthers the theme of artifice with a glowing translucence artist Alexander Jansson seems to layer between scene and viewer. I may grumble that the text's pigeons have been replaced by the more immediately readable symbolism of crows, and that the interesting gearworks of Horace the mule are hidden in shadow, but choice after choice has been made well, conspiring to give me faith in the makers of this book, and in turn, faith in the story itself.(less)
We love to group books: Books for reluctant readers. Books for new siblings. Books about bullying. As an ESL teacher, I look for another kind of group...moreWe love to group books: Books for reluctant readers. Books for new siblings. Books about bullying. As an ESL teacher, I look for another kind of grouping: books that tell their story similarly. For native-speaker students, a teacher looks to reading as a way to practice converting the inky shapes on the page into a sound the student recognizes as a word. My students are often excellent at decoding the sounds of a squiggle (sometimes bogglingly so - how did you manage to guess that -ough correctly?), but need support transforming those sounds into literal meaning, and then the literal meaning into an idiomatic or cultural one. Similar m.o.'s help students predict what a new book is going to say, so you can imagine my pleasure at finding a book that takes If You Give a Mouse a Cookie to the next level.
Amelia lacks the heavy meter and sentence-to-sentence regularity that makes If You Give such a great introductory book, but in their place it brings in greater lyricism of both text and image. Furthermore, the natural rhythms of the language match the more subdued ending. After traveling around the world on barges and tightropes and guitar strings, Amelia's act of joy returns home in kind. I imagine If You Give inspiring kids to read more through its silliness; I imagine Amelia inspiring kids to act through its concluding intimacy.(less)
Both text and art are strongly reminiscent of Virginia Lee Burton's classic works, or Barbara Cooney's more recent books which, like Cold Snap, someho...moreBoth text and art are strongly reminiscent of Virginia Lee Burton's classic works, or Barbara Cooney's more recent books which, like Cold Snap, somehow feel like I read it as a child and might even now be able to spot a worn copy wedged between Blueberries for Sal and Goodnight Moon. A simply-told story, it contains elements like the father taking a train and a kid carrying the teacher's books which make Cold Snap feel like a Shirley Jones musical, while a reference to the movie Little Miss Sunshine and a person of color holding the officer of mayor establish a more recent date. In sum, enjoyable.(less)
A children's book that combines architecture, poetry, and a global look at the world. The best nonfiction books nowadays provide multiple access point...moreA children's book that combines architecture, poetry, and a global look at the world. The best nonfiction books nowadays provide multiple access points for different readers with different interests, and Dreaming Up is a stellar example of that approach. Short poems, featuring heavy meter and rhyme, are laid out alongside corresponding illustrations of children at play (wooden blocks, a pillow fort, sand castles). On the opposite page, iconic buildings from around the world (Wright's Fallingwater, Gehry's Bilbao Guggenheim, Gaudi's basilica) demonstrate real-world applications of whatever principle is being demonstrated through poem and play. At the end, bios, quotes and portraits of each architect provide the small-text experience for kids whose interest has been well and truly piqued - I counted myself among that number. The book has a strong message for adult readers as well, reminding us that children's play is not just good, it is necessary. A wonderful book whose one-sentence description - a children's book about architecture - doesn't begin to do it justice.(less)
Cardboard is one of those books which will probably divide readers (particularly adult readers) in the same way that evolving language divides linguis...moreCardboard is one of those books which will probably divide readers (particularly adult readers) in the same way that evolving language divides linguists into prescriptivists and descriptivists. Sure, it's not my cup of tea (after one image early in the book, I will do my best to never, ever, ever get pink eye ... and quite possibly to stop reading while eating), and I felt some of the Life Lessons of the book were simultaneously too heavy-handed and too blithe. Yet that first complaint is irrelevant when it is exactly the book's selling point for a lot of readers, and the second complaint means it kept me interested enough to argue with the author in my head. I can think of a dozen students who would stay awake too late reading this book, another dozen who would never trust me again if I recommended it to them, and very few who would not care one way or the other. That alone makes this a book worth having on my shelf.(less)