Friday, November 30, 2018

Review: The World Needs Beautiful Things by Leah Rachel Berkowitz and Daniele Fabbri


Young Bezalel is different from the other Israelite slaves in Egypt. He loves to collect stones, bugs, bits of string—these all seem beautiful to him. He keeps everything in his Beautiful Things Box and takes it with him everywhere. As the Israelites wander in the desert, God asks them to build a very special house—and Bezalel may be the only one who can create something beautiful enough to honor God.

A gorgeously illustrated, well written story with a main character who reminds me so much of my sweet Logan. I rearranged my posts a bit to put this at the beginning of the holiday season. A great reminder as we dive further into the flurry of gift-giving, that yes: the world needs beautiful things. But no, they don't have to cost a penny. In fact, they become even more beautiful when they come as happy surprises, savored and treasured, and then shared for others to enjoy. 

Chag Urim Sameach to my Jewish friends this weekend!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Book Review: Builders and Breakers by Steve Light


When their dad forgets his lunch box on his way to the construction site, a young brother and sister set out to take it to him, and along their way witness all the noisy, exciting action of a build site in the city. With builders building, breakers breaking, and a whole host of impressive machines and vehicles hard at work, this book bursts with color and offers children plenty to enjoy. In his trademark intricate style, Steve Light captures the satisfaction of working hard to create something new — and, of course, taking a well-deserved break.

First question: how come nobody ever brings me my lunch when I forget it? Hmph.

Light is well known for his intricate illustrations, such as those in Have You Seen My Dragon (a former Cybils contender). My personal favorite of his is Swap (also a Cybils nominee).


The illustrations in Builders and Breakers aren't quite as complex, but rather a mixture of large spaces and tiny details that beg exploration. Look for the eagle being hoisted onto the dome, or count the tiny people in the crane picture! 

If you're going to get hung up on the children running willy-nilly through a construction site with no hardhats, you are going to miss the guy rescuing the flower, or the fun parallels in the sparse text. 

This is a book for fun, and for reminding us of the simple truths spelled out in the author's note:

"To build anything, something must be broken, even if it's just ground. It is this balance - destroying in order to create - that, we hope, leaves us with something of beauty."

This book was NOT nominated for Cybils, which is a pity. It would, however, make a great Christmas gift for the youngster in your life who either loves construction, or who loves creating. My own kids have taken to calling the trash can "the treasure box", so this would be great to gift with a box of pieces parts from things that have outlived their current usefulness. Challenge them to create something new and beautiful out of those. Or, break up some leftover tiles together, and create a mosaic on an old table top. Get busy building and breaking!

Monday, November 26, 2018

Book Review: Ten Horse Farm by Robert Sabuda


Watch with awe as majestic horses leap off the page when you open this stunning full-color pop-up book. Glorious images of horses grazing, prancing, and galloping in an idyllic farm setting are inspired by everyday scenes in rural America as well as by the real Ten Horse Farm (now an art studio) owned by artist and designer Robert Sabuda in upstate New York. This 3-D gem will draw horse enthusiasts of all ages.

Pop-up books generally have no place in a public library, and with a $30 price tag, this is probably not one you want to casually hand off to a baby or toddler.

That being said, this would be a wonderfully unique gift for the adult horse person in your life. The amazingly intricate designs go well beyond the typical pop-ups found in children's books. Each would make a perfectly suitable artistic centerpiece for a coffee table or shelving nook.

The designs literally jump off of the pages, demanding closer inspection. Ignore the 5-8 marketing range, and buy this for an adult you know without small children at home!

Friday, November 23, 2018

Review: Death Eaters by Kelly Milner Halls


No, no, not the kind that try to suck out your soul when you are running through a culvert with your cousin Dudley. The kind we WANT to have around, to clean things up!

What happens to the bodies of animals and humans after death? Nature's army of death eaters steps in to take care of clean up. Without these masters of decomposition, our planet would be covered in rotting bodies. This high-interest science text dives into the science behind how bodies decompose.

The illustrations found inside are, naturally, not for the tender-hearted: the very first is a field of dead reindeer. One would think, however, that the title and cover would be sufficient warning to ward off complaints! I found the photographs to be a good balance of realism, without sensationalism. As the introduction says, "Sure, it's gross, but it's also amazing."

The text of the book is very conversational, with the first page containing as many questions as it does statements. Chapter one starts with a short story of a boar peacefully dying of old age. Then we go into the five stages of decomposition. Did you know there were five? Neither did I!

Living in the forest, we often have deceased animals in the area. My kids love to bring bones home when they stumble upon them. We are well aware that the body doesn't immediately turn to dry, bleached skeleton however, particularly in the case of the elk that expired not too far from our driveway. Now that was a smell to get the whole family from the car to the house quickly! Also guaranteed to keep door to door salesmen away. 

Because of our location, the kids have been able to observe predators and scavengers of varying sizes, from mountain lions down to maggots, reducing corpses to bone. In this book, we learn that the very first stage of decomposition actually initiates within the animal's body itself, as enzymes - chemical substances too small for us to see - start breaking down the body from the inside! I have to agree: that is pretty amazing!

Each step of the process is explained clearly, so even non-scientifically-minded readers like myself can easily understand them. Succeeding chapters then cover different groups of scavengers: creepy crawly, furry, avian or sea-going death eaters. Readers learn how each animal is specially adapted to take its part in the chain, and you can't help but come away with a sense of amazement at how intricately everything works together. (And, the Osedax? Why aren't there books about that tiny creature???) Side bars explain things like why dead skin looks different, or the dangers of lead ammunition.

A final conclusion by the author offers a personal note about the comfort that understanding the life cycle can bring. There is an extensive set of source notes, glossary, bibliography and further reading, as well as a good index.

Overall, a very well-put-together book that will probably not stay on your shelves very long! Let reluctant readers pick it up for the title and cover, and watch them become engrossed! Highly recommended!

Oh, gift ideas? Hmm...well my own kids would probably love to scavenge for road kill and document the process, might I suggest a good microscope? We've been eyeing some like these, which hook up to your computer:

There are other, portable styles with SD cards that you can take into the field, then go home to observe your findings on your (non-smelly) computer!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Book Review: Oliver Elephant by Lou Peacock and Helen Stephens


When Noah goes Christmas shopping with his mom and baby sister, he’s glad to have his toy elephant, Oliver, along in the boring shops. They play peekaboo and hide in a dolls' house, and Noah even dances Oliver across the displays. But just as Mom has checked off the last thing on her list, disaster strikes: Oliver is nowhere to be found! And the department store is VERY big. Will retracing their steps be enough to reunite Noah and his beloved toy elephant?

The themes of holiday shopping, business, and of course of losing a beloved toy are all familiar ones to any child. I liked the subthemes throughout the book that you could pick up on to discuss - matching just the right gift with each person, the way Noah keeps himself occupied throughout, 

So many cute stuffed elephants to gift this with - like this one!

Monday, November 19, 2018

Book Review: Coming Home by Michael Morpurgo and Kerry Hyndman


I have learned to approach Michael Morpurgo books with some caution - whether it be a chapter book or a picture book, he is likely to make me cry at some point.

A plucky robin, lost and alone, sets out on an epic journey, guided only by a call in his heart saying “come home!” He wills his wings to beat faster, lifting him over great mountains and dark forests, through blinding blizzards and rolling fog, across the wide, wild sea. Can he find his way back to his family in time for Christmas? 

Yeah, this isn't going to be pretty. I mean, just a few pages in:

"Heavy my wings and heavy my heart,
Will I ever see my home again?"

Good gravy, Michael, you're writing for children!! (And sniffling librarians). 

Don't worry, of course he arrives safely home (although with Morpurgo you can't be too sure), and it was actually the people who made my eyes prickle. Not a lighthearted read for story time, but maybe one to read with a slightly older child whose parent is sometimes away, but who will always make it home to them.

Hyndman's beautiful illustrations are in mostly grays, blue, greens, browns, and of course that splash of red. She is especially adept at showing the motion and drama of each scene. Notes at the front about this particular type of robin, and about the migration habits of robins in general, are worth reading beforehand.

If you want to give this as a gift, pair it with a bird feeder and seed for your local avian friends, and perhaps a guide book to help identify them.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Review: Christmas ABC by Jannie Ho


I had to admit, I was curious as to how much Ho would have to stretch to get certain letters to fit the holiday theme. I mean "s" is so easy it's hard to choose - Santa? Sweaters? Snow? But, what do you do for "q"?*

Fortunately, both her choices in words and her brightly colored illustrations make each page simple and clear. With the exceptions of perhaps "u", "v" and "y", I think most littles would see the pictures and immediately come up with the corresponding word - making this a good choice for introducing letter sounds at any time of year.

While this title is strictly for Christmas, and does not enter into other winter holidays, it does venture into a few traditions some children may not be familiar with (such as a Yule log, and Three Kings Day), so it is also a good starting point for talking very simply about what your family does to celebrate, and how others may celebrate differently.

All in all, it's a perfect Christmas present for a little one ready to start talking and exploring things on his or her own - like a certain adorable niece I am thinking of, so shh! Gift the book along with these awesome stampers and some play-do:

Not ready for clay yet? These are adorable (check out the narwhal!)

*"quiet", with a cute tip-toeing mouse!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Book Review: The Rabbit Listened, by Cori Doerrfeld


Note to self: Must. Buy. Everything by Doerrfeld.

First off, just look at that cover. Sweet urchin in pajamas, cuddly rabbit giving a just-right hug. If you are having a baby, you need to get that framed and put it on your nursery wall.*

Second, the basic message. Sometimes sad things happen...and you don't want to talk it to death, you don't want someone to tell you how to fix it, you don't want to yell, you just...well, you don't know what you want. In which case, what you need is someone who will just be there, waiting for you to figure that out.

If there is one thing the world seems to need, it's the ability to handle our bad feelings better. Paired with Black's I'm Sad, this book belongs in every home and classroom library.

*The author/illustrator tells me Penguin is planning to come out with a limited edition print of the cover image! Add it to your Christmas list!

***This book has been nominated for a Cybils award. I am just one of many first round panelists, and my opinion should not be construed to mean inclusion on or exclusion from the final shortlist.

*****It made it to the short list! Congratulations, Cori!

Monday, November 12, 2018

Review: Dear Girl by Amy Krouse and Paris Rosenthal, and Holly Hatam


As the cover says, a celebration, but also a lot of reminders. Ask questions! Make friends (some like you, and some not!) Be brave! And if something tells you to say no, say no!

While some, like the latter, are serious, the overall tone of the book is positive and lighthearted, (Make your room awesome. Make your room you. And while you're at it, make your bed!)

A joint project between the ever-popular Amy Krouse Rosenthal and her daughter, Paris, one can't help but wonder if there are some family stories behind some (if not all) of these "Dear Girl" letters. Would either of the Rosenthals care to chime in?

Illustrations are a charming mix of media and textures, worth taking a look at all on their own. A perfect gift for a young lady at any age, which brings us to:

Gifting Suggestions:

Present this book to your favorite young woman along with the promise of adventure and exploration. Take her places where she can try new things, or maybe learn alkittle more about herself. And make sure that she knows, as the final pages say, that she can always always always turn to you.

***This book has been nominated for the Cybils Award, and I am one of many judges. My opinions should not be construed as inclusion on or exclusion from the final short list.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Review: I See, I Touch by Giuliano Ferri


In this delightful concept book for the very young, artist Giuliano Ferri uses clever die-cuts to explore the senses that invite a child to experience the world around them, and to feel and express love. The final page has a velour element, adding a tactile interactive dimension to this heart-melting story.

Wonderful sturdy pages, beautifully colored illustrations, and simple text help introduce the concept of our five senses. Perfectly paced for interaction:

With my nose I can...
Where is your nose? Can you point to it? Where is the elephant's nose?
smell the springtime flowers.
(Take a big sniff together) Do you smell flowers? What do you smell?

I dare you to get past the tongue page without sticking your out at the pig, by the way. I think that one qualifies as a reflexive action.

My only worry is that the last page, with the bit of fur to rub, seems to bow out a little at the back. That may give it a little less time on the library shelves as it slides against other books, but the fur does seem to be firmly fastened inside, so it should last a good long time with an individual child.

Gifting Ideas:

Put this in a five senses exploration kit - with something for toddler to taste, touch, look at, etc. Or, pair it with a card promising some sense exploration trips, where you will visit a new place and see what you can hear, taste, and so forth.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Review: Hazelnut Days by Emmanuel Bourdier and Zao


It’s visiting day, and Dad smells like peppermint—yuck! If only he would wear that nice, breezy cologne that smells like hazelnut... So begins one boy’s brief weekly visit with his father in prison. Here’s a man who gets angry, but beneath that peppermint surface is much to admire, if only you take the time to look. This richly imagined picture book explores the inner life of a boy who struggles to love a father who can be difficult to love at times. Though they may only have brief visits together, it’s clear they love each other. This story bravely explores the all-too-hidden world of incarcerated parents. It’s also a beautiful testament to the power of love to bridge the walls that divide us.

This is not a book to read out loud to a class (unless special circumstances dictate), nor is it a fun story to read amongst your Robert Munsch and Elephant and Piggie picks. It is an important book to have on hand, however, if you are a librarian - one of those books that you don't need until you need it, and then you need it now.

There is not a sunny, happy ending, but there is hope and moving forward. The boy's parents are both allowed to be human beings, a mix of good and bad characteristics. The narrative is driven by the boy's feelings and perceptions, giving much-needed validation to any other youngster in a similar situation. There are a growing number of books being published for children of incarcerated parents, and this is definitely one of the better ones.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Review: The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer and Ekua Holmes


Before the universe was formed, before time and space existed, there was . . . nothing. But then . . . BANG! Stars caught fire and burned so long that they exploded, flinging stardust everywhere. And the ash of those stars turned into planets. Into our Earth. And into us. In a poetic text, Marion Dane Bauer takes readers from the trillionth of a second when our universe was born to the singularities that became each one of us, while vivid illustrations by Ekua Holmes capture the void before the Big Bang and the ensuing life that burst across galaxies. A seamless blend of science and art, this picture book reveals the composition of our world and beyond — and how we are all the stuff of stars.

Note that "poetic text" - I read the book before reading the description, and one of my first thoughts was that this might belong in the poetry section! Beautifully written, slow and quiet then exciting and loud, with Holmes's illustrations matching perfectly. So many art extensions begging to happen.

And then
the beginning
of the beginning
of all beginnings

One of my friends in college was a dual major in art and chemistry, and he liked to explain that they were really the same things. This book brought him and that comment to mind. The language, concepts, colors and textures are all rich and deep. I found myself running my fingers across the pictures, expecting to feel texture.

This is a beautiful volume you will find yourself re-reading and leafing through over and over again.

Gifting ideas:

It's that time of year again! Gift this to your science-minded child with a microscope or telescope. Gift it to the artist with a set of oil paints and good heavy paper.

*** This book has been nominated for a Cybils Award. I am one of many first-round panelists, and my opinions should not be construed to mean inclusion on or exclusion from the final short list.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Review: Do You Believe in Unicorns by Bethanie Deeney Murguia


Is that a horse wearing a hat? It’s definitely not a unicorn in disguise — that would be ridiculous, right? It’s probably just a horse that’s having a bad hair day. Or trying to keep the sun out of its eyes. Or perhaps this horse just really likes hats! If you follow it long enough, maybe it will take off its hat and you’ll finally know for sure. Or will you? It’s all a matter of perspective in this cheerful, cheeky story about seeing magic in the everyday.

This adorable book begins with a question, and never really answers it - or does it? It begs to be interactive, so is not for the story time leader who wants children to sit quietly and listen. But who does that any more anyway? Discussion and opinions with no clear right or wrong - I may even have to work this into some STEAM activities! The back cover invites readers to make their own magic, which could have you running all around your library together to try it out. Fresh and fun!

**At the start of the book I noticed the cute little lizard sleeping by the barn, and thought, "I may have to mention him somewhere." I am just going to say he was worth mentioning and flipping back to. That is all.