Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Monsters Eat Whiny Children by Bruce Eric Kaplan

Anyone who has been around children knows that they whine... a lot. But did you know that monsters eat whiny children? It's true! The whinier, the better.

In this playful cautionary tale, we meet two perfectly delightful children who are in the very bad habit of whining. Unfortunately for them, they do not heed their father's warning about monsters and are quickly snatched away. But now the monsters have a problem: what delicious meal should they make with these wonderfully whiny children? While the monsters discuss the virtues of each whiny child dish, these two children just might learn a valuable lesson.

Monsters Eat Whiny Children was a great read. It reminded me of the kinds of fairy tales I grew up with; stories that didn't always end happily ever after for everyone. Don't get me wrong, this book has a happy ending, but something about it feels a little more gritty than the average children's book.

If you enjoy slightly edgier children's books, I also recommend checking out I'd Really Like to Eat A Child by Sylviane Donnio or Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems. Or try Unicorn Thinks He's Pretty Great by Bob Shea for a fun story that's just the right balance of sweet and satire. These amazing picture books and more can be found at your local Virginia Beach Public Library location.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Wind Rises by Hayao Miyazaki

I brought home The Wind Rises because it is the last film written and directed by master filmmaker, Hayao Miyazaki, before his retirement. By the end of the movie my husband and I were both crying and I was informed that I was, "not allowed to pick anime anymore."

I have been an avid Miyazaki fan since I first caught pieces of Spirited Away on TV as a preteen and I enthusiastically dedicated myself to seeing as many of his works as I could. When I heard about his planned retirement and impending final movie I was simultaneously crushed and filled with enthusiastic anticipation. I knew Miyazaki would make a grand exit, and he did not disappoint!

The Wind Rises is a historic drama with an unusual protagonist; Jiro Horikoshi, the eventual designer of the Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zero. The fighter plane made most famous in World War II. This is especially surprising if you know much about Miyazaki, as he is an extreme pacifist. In fact, many of his works feature strong peace and even anti-war messages. Somehow, The Wind Rises does not deviate from this standard.

In the film we follow the life and career of Jiro's pursuits as an aeronautical engineer. Jiro is guided and driven by his dream of the famous Italian aircraft designer, Giovanni Battista Caproni. He is amazed by the aeronautical advances of Germany and the United States, and longs to create something innovative that his country can be truly proud of. Jiro has no designs for war, but sees the developing tensions in the world he lives in and expresses reservations about what his machines may one day be used for.

Throughout the failures and accomplishments of Jiro's work, Miyazaki interweaves the story of his romantic life; meeting and marrying his true love. This is the part of the movie that really got the tears flowing. My solace is that after watching the film, I did a little research and found that Miyazaki took a few creative liberties and that the real Jiro's personal life wasn't quite so tragic.

This was a truly beautiful film. I was stunned as I realized who the protagonist was and awestruck at the beautiful and heartfelt way Miyazaki portrayed this man. The animation was visually striking and created a sense of serenity throughout the film.

If you enjoy Miyazaki's story of flight in The Wind Rises, look for his other works Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Porco Rosso. Or, start where I did in my Miyazaki journey, and watch Spirited Away. These amazing films and more are available at your local Virginia Beach Public Library location.

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem's Greatest Bookstore by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

Even the end papers are part of this celebration of the power of words. Young Lewis tells about the bookstore founded by his dad, Lewis Micheaux, that became a Harlem community institution. The National Memorial African Bookstore brought together writers and readers and activists, and pride in a heritage too often ignored. Ordinary folks might run into Malcolm X or Muhammad Ali visiting the bookstore.

R. Gregory Christie received a 2016 Coretta Scott King illustrator honor for the paintings that illustrate the author's story about her great uncle. At the picture book level, this is a story about a son's pride and love for his father. The murder of Malcolm X brings Lewis mingled sadness and relief that his dad is safe.

The text is longer and the story more difficult than most picture books. Historical information at the end extends the book's potential readership to teens and adults. It could introduce the importance of family history or launch a discussion about the places that pull a community together. And it invites readers to think about the books they would want to make sure people read. The Book Itch would pair well with Ellington Was Not a Street by Ntozake Shange.

Review by Carolyn Caywood, retired from VBPL

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Camping Trip that Changed America by Barb Rosenstock

August 25, 2016 is the centennial of the National Park Service making this year an excellent time to read about the camping trip President Theodore Roosevelt took with John Muir. Yellowstone had already been a national park for several decades when this story took place, but other wonderful places in America were not protected. That worried John Muir so he wrote books and persuaded officials to take action. And in 1903, the president asked Muir to lead him to Yosemite.

Mordicai Gerstein's illustrations capture the exuberance of our youngest president, the awe and delight of nature, and the camaraderie of camping. Even the snowstorm that caught them in the mountains didn't dampen their enthusiasm. The Camping Trip that Changed America also has a little gentle fun with President Roosevelt's version of roughing it. Muir's plea to protect the wilderness will resonate with every child who has read The Lorax. Camping with the President by Ginger Wadsworth is another version of the same trip.

Review by Carolyn Caywood, retired from VBPL

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Dragonflies by Pieter van Dokkum

Stunning photographs illustrate the life cycle of dragonflies and the denizens of the author's favorite pond. This is not a field guide but rather a visual celebration of beautiful insects too often ignored in favor of butterflies. The brief text explains that dragonflies are harmless to humans and beneficial in the insects they consume.

Dragonflies are ancient lineage that has been flying for 300 million years. Their nymphs are ferocious underwater predators. The author has photographed the vulnerable moment when the nymph climbs out of the water on a stalk of vegetation and gradually emerges from the shell of its former existence. Once its wings have expanded the dragonfly resumes hunting, now in the air.

But the important act of adulthood is ensuring the next generation. The photos of mating dragonflies show their peculiar circular embrace, heart-shaped for damselflies, that often enables the insects to keep flying.

Dragonflies will encourage you to appreciate the beauty and benefits of these lovely insects. For more beautiful insect photographs, Butterflies: a Complete Guide to Their Biology and Behavior by Dick Vane-Wright draws upon the entire world.

Review by Carolyn Caywood, retired from VBPL

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A Pig, a Fox, and a Box by Jonathan Fenske

I agree with the Geisel (Dr. Seuss) Award Committee that this is a book for beginning readers that is worthy of honor. Just a few words and simple pictures bring to life the tricky Fox and his trusting friend Pig. Fox's tricks and his comeuppance reminded me of Wile E. Coyote. They all involve a little box that would be irresistible to a cat, or maybe a fox.

It is vitally important that a book for beginning readers have a story that intrigues and satisfies, told in enough words to stretch the reader but with picture, context, and repeating sound clues to ensure a successful experience. A Pig, a Fox, and a Box has all that, and beside, it made me laugh out loud. Gerald and Piggie are another pair of friends in a beginning reader series by Mo Willems. Try I will surprise my friend!

Review by Carolyn Caywood, retired from VBPL

Monday, May 16, 2016

All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren

This long presidential campaign year called to my mind an American classic about politics. There was the Pulitzer Prize book All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren, a novel influenced by the career of Louisiana politician, Huey Long. The book was made into an Academy Award winning movie in 1949, starring Broderick Crawford as Willy Stark and John Ireland as the reporter Jack Burden. Another movie version in 2006 was set in the 1950s instead of the Depression. It starred Sean Penn as Willy Stark and Jude Law as Jack Burden, but was not as well received.

In all these treatments, the story unfolds as Jack Burden reports on it. Willy Stark is poorly educated and working class, but determined to make things better for people like himself, even if it means the plantation gentry and businessmen must pay for it. Cynical reporter Jack Burden comes from the upper class that despises hicks like Stark, but Burden gets caught up in Stark's story when he tells Stark the fat cats are just using him to manipulate the voters. This betrayal launches Stark on a charismatic populist campaign that wins him the election. Once in office, he hires Burden and gradually both of them become corrupted by power.

If you are not yet tired of politics, all of these three versions of All the King's Men are available from the Virginia Beach Public Library. And if you want more, there is All the President's Men, which consciously echoed the title of the earlier work.

Review by Carolyn Caywood, retired from VBPL