Friday, October 09, 2015

The Busy Tree by Jennifer Ward

    With Autumn here, even the youngest children know to look at the evidence of the change of seasons. While the most direct evidence is the alterations in leaf colors, the whole cycle of life around trees seems almost mysterious. The Busy Tree  invites readers of all ages to really see the many ways a tree is " busy", from its splendid network of roots, to the many animals who make their home in or near the tree. The page with chipmunks nibbling acorns is so realistic you want to touch it, and three squirrels on another page appear to have been interrupted for a moment as a watcher discovers them.
     Families with young ones will enjoy reading the rhyming text, such as: "Visit my hollow that is home to an owl, he sleeps all day long, then at night starts to prowl." Rich vocabulary, a gentle rhythm and the beckoning quality of each illustration makes this book a prize.
     If you want to see more books that present trees in their beauty and purpose, you might also look for Sequoia, by Tony Johnston, and This Tree Counts by Alison Formento, illustrated by Sarah Snow.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

Under the Egg” and “Find the treasure”.  Her grandfather’s last words both haunt and puzzle Theo until the day she spills paint thinner on one of her grandfather’s abstract paintings and discovers another older painting underneath.  Could this be a lost Italian masterpiece?  If so, how did her grandfather get it?  Is it worth anything? Can this be the treasure that will keep Theo and her mother from having to sell their beloved family home as the $463 her grandfather left them runs out?

Theo’s quest to find the answers leads her all over Manhattan, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to a public library, a veteran’s home and even a hospital. The setting becomes almost another character in a book full of realistically drawn, quirky yet convincing characters. Theo, who has always been a self-reliant loner learns she can lean on others and makes friends along the way.

The more clues Theo discovers the more complicated the mystery becomes: mixing the Renaissance, World War II, the Holocaust, and modern day New York. I would have loved this book when I was ten to twelve years-old—it reminds me a lot of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg which I loved at that age.   If you like Under the Egg consider reading The Second Mrs. Giaconda also by Konigsburg.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Maude by Donna Foley Mabry

Born in 1892, Maude's life story is movingly retold by her granddaughter in this captivating biography.
Maude’s life was shaped by the loss of her parents at a young age, marriage at the age of 14, the birth of 5 children, the Great Depression, WWI, and WWII. She battled influenza, survived the loss of a number of her children and loved ones, outwitted a mother-in-law who literally tried to kill her, and battled her own internal anxiety over her inability to withstand it all without feeling anger or hatred towards others.

What I loved about this biography, besides the rich details of rural life at the turn of the century, was the author’s ability, and quite frankly choice, to show Maude in all her humanity. Maude is not depicted as a perfect heroine, but rather as a real woman with all of the flaws, mistakes, love, passion and anger that comes with living a full and often painful life.

Although her life probably didn't feel extraordinary to Maude at the time, the hardships, customs, lifestyle, and losses experienced by this remarkable woman make for a gripping tale. I myself became angry at the limited and degrading options available to the women of her time.

I recommend Maude to readers of historical non-fiction and biographies who enjoy the details of women’s lives and the amazing survival skills of our ancestors . If you enjoy Maude, you may also like the Call the Midwife series by Jennifer Worth. 

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Elephantastic by Michael Engler

Receiving a package in the mail is one of life’s singular pleasures. But you really do need to pay attention and make sure the package is meant for you and not your neighbor. Otherwise, you risk running into a disappointing and potentially embarrassing situation.

 Instead of listening to his mom when she instructs him to deliver a package to their upstairs neighbor, Andrew concentrates on constructing his treasure map. When he completes his map, he stumbles upon the package in the hall and assumes it is for him. He opens the mysterious box and discovers a long sought after gift—a stuffed elephant that talks! The elephant’s name is Timbo and he hails from Africa where elephants pretty much can do anything (according to Timbo). With Andrew’s sharp imagination and Timbo’s flair for adventure, the two embark upon a tour of Africa’s valleys, savannahs, and jungles all from the safety of Andrew’s room. The fun is cut short when mom breaks the news that Timbo is meant for Louise, their neighbor. Andrew responsibly hands Timbo off to his rightful owner but is devastated to lose his friend.

 A sweet resolution means that Andrew’s tears do not last forever and the adventures can continue. Elephantastic is a gentle and inviting story about imagination and friendship. Timbo and Andrew are a perfect fit with cheerfully tousled features and heartfelt emotions. For more stories featuring friendship and a heavy dose of imagination check out Have Fun Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell and The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat. 

Monday, October 05, 2015

The Bear’s Song by Benjamin Chaud

To be honest, I find oversized picture books to be a bit presumptuous. My perspective on picture books has been formed as a library staff person trying desperately to jam (gently, of course) too tall books into too short shelving.  Therefore, an oddly sized book makes me cringe and think, “Who asked you to be so very large?” With that said, I was thoroughly charmed by the oversized, sweetly illustrated picture book  The Bear’s Song by Benjamin Chaud

 The book is a visual feast featuring large, detailed scenes that take the reader on an adventure from an idyllic forest to the colorful, bustling streets of Paris. Though the art in The Bear’s Song takes center stage, the story is well-paced and lyrically written. Little Bear is launched on his exploits by an enticing honey bee who fills his head with “honey thoughts” rather than “winter’s whisper.” Indeed, Papa Bear assumed he and Little Bear are snuggling up for hibernation when he discovers his cub has gone missing. In his pursuit of the honey bee, Little Bear disappears into a bustle of Parisians headed to the opera with Papa Bear desperately tracking him. Little Bear and his bee become a furry version of Where’s Waldo in the crowds. Readers are treated to a behind the scenes peek at preparations for the opera as Little Bear chases his honey bee all around the opera house until Papa Bear finally strikes upon a plan for getting his cub’s attention—a bear lullaby.

 Happy endings abound in this picture book with tender reunions and a surprise discovery found on the roof of the opera house. Adventure continues for the father/cub duo in subsequent title, The Bear’s Sea Escape. For more intricate and charming illustrations by Benjamin Chaud check out A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to School and I Didn’t do my Homework Because.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

This week is Banned Book Week in libraries. This means that we celebrate books that have been challenged and champion for freedom of speech and freedom to read. This is at the heart of what libraries are all about - people should be able to access the the information and literature they wish. And so, libraries offer a storehouse of such materials.

Recently, Some Girls Are made news headlines after it was removed from a suggested reading list in a South Carolina High School. The book does describe a graphic assault, has what some would consider crude language, and bullying at its worst. Yet, this is a book that gets teens reading.

It is not my job or my place to tell you what to read or to not read - as a librarian I can only make suggestions based on an interview of a reader's interests, With that said, I think this is a really great book and I think if teens are interested in the gritty, rawness of these characters and situations, then the book should be made available to them. Furthermore, I shall summarize in case such a title might also strike your fancy.

Regina Afton was part of the Fearsome Fivesome. Was. That is, until her frenemy spreads a vicious rumor that she has slept with her best friend's boyfriend. Only, the truth is far worse in that the boy attempted to rape Regina. Now she is the most tormented girl in school, having rancid meat thrown in her locker and other egregious and degrading attacks. The only solace she finds in this miserable scenario is in a friendship with Michael, a boy she once tortured herself.

Courtney Summers writes  - I listened to the audio book and found myself driving out of my way so that I could finish the book in a day's time. It was like Mean Girls on steroids. This title touches on ever-present topics of sexuality, bullying, and sometimes frightening realities of high school. There are few redeemable qualities in any of the characters, and yet I found myself championing for Regina ever step of the way.

With that said, you have the freedom to check this title out from VBPL, along with Courtney Summers' other titles, and decide for yourself. Happy Freedom to Read!

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Boo-La-La Witch Spa by Samantha Berger

Today is the first day of October, which means the best holiday of the year (in my humble opinion) is ever-so-near! Therefore, in the spirit of Halloween I thought it best to kick the month off right with a bewitching story.

Boo-La-La Witch Spa follows a young witch after she has completed her exhausting Halloween duties. She needs what everyone needs after a long day - a spa treatment. She has her nails done, soaks in a hot bath, and has her hair dyed fun colors. It's just the pick me up she needs to be ready to tackle next Halloween in style!

Samantha Berger's story is too adorable for words. The rhyming text makes this such a sing song story to enjoy as our main witch-about-town has spiders massage her head as she reads Voo-doo-y Fair. It is sure to please kids and grown-ups alike. And those kid-like grown-ups, such as myself.

If you're in for more howling laughs and bone tickling rhymes, check out There Was an Old Mummy Who Swallowed a Spider and Skeleton For Dinner.