Monday, April 25, 2016

Book of the Week: Spot, the Cat

Spot, the Cat

by Henry Cole
Published by Little, Simon, 2016
32 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4814-4225-1
Ages 4-7

A cat entranced by a bird on the ledge outside its apartment slips through the open window, the departure unnoticed by the boy reading nearby. It’s the start of a city adventure for the intrepid feline, and an urgent quest for the boy once he discovers Spot (white cat with black spot) is missing. This intricate wordless story is rendered in detailed black pen-and-ink illustrations. Busy scenes of city life—buildings and bustling streets; an overhead view of kite flyers in a park; a parking lot farmer’s market; a cavernous, Grand Central-like station and more—not only offer the chance to spot the wandering cat on almost every page (there are red herrings too), but to notice other whimsical elements. The boy’s journey is one of increasing worry, but sharp readers will note some near misses when he and Spot are close to each other. (The two pages when the boy looks most hopeless are notably Spot-less). It turns out Spot is perfectly capable of finding home again, and the reunion is sweet and satisfying. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, April 18, 2016

Book of the Week: Booked

by Kwame Alexander

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016
314 pages
ISBN: 978-0-544-57098-6

Ages 9-13

Average person knows about twelve thousand words. / Average president knows twice that, he says, sounding like / Morgan Freeman.” Nick, 12, is an only child whose parents are on the brink of divorce. While his mother is in Kentucky training race horses Nick is home with his professor father, who is always badgering Nick to read the dictionary he wrote. Nick considers the dictionary, and by extension all reading, a chore. What Nick does like is soccer, his friend Coby, and April, a member of the school’s book club. It’s because of April, and Mr. Mac, the enthusiastic school librarian, that Nick starts reading. But it’s soccer that he lives for, and the upheaval in his life has made an upcoming, elite tournament in Dallas even more important to him. Then an injury makes it impossible for him to play. In a narrative in verse, Nick moves between first- and second-person (referring to himself as “you”) as he struggles with change, much of it unwanted, but some of it surprising for its unexpected goodness. The fast-paced plot is punctuated with soccer action, but the story plays even more with language than soccer balls, including some of the unusual words Nick has learned from his dad’s dictionary, which he defines in footnotes that are always illuminating and often amusing. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, April 11, 2016

Book of the Week: Happy Birthday, Alice Babette

Happy Birthday, Alice Babette

by Monica Kulling
Illustrated by Qin Leng
Published by Groundwood Books / House of Anansi Press, 2016
32 pages
ISBN: 978-1-55498-820-4
Ages 4-8

“It will be a day filled with surprises,” Alice Babette thinks. “Alice’s first surprise was that there was NO surprise. Her friend Gertrude didn’t even say happy birthday.” Alice spends the day walking around Paris. She rides a merry-go-round in the park. She attends a puppet show. She even thwarts a robbery! Meanwhile, Gertrude is planning a special meal for Alice, even though she can’t cook. She shops for ingredients. A neighbor shows her how to light the stove. “On the stove, the pot lids tap-danced as the food cooked.” But she’s also writing Alice a poem, about a rose, and loses all track of time. An imagined story about Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein is full of whimsy--and smoke! Alice returns home to a mess. But when Gertrude later reads the poem, Alice loves it. The characters may be adults but everything in this story has child appeal, from the back-and-forth movement between Alice’s and Gertrude’s adventures to the spirited writing to the charm of their distinctive personalities and the obvious fondness between them. Blithe pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations are a perfect accompaniment. An author’s note does not explicitly state the two women were partners, instead noting that they “lived together for almost forty years.” ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, April 4, 2016

Book of the Week: Salt to the Sea

Salt to the Sea

by Ruta Sepetys
Published by Philomel, 2016
400 pages
ISBN: 978-0-399-16030-1
Age 13 and older

The sinking of the Nazi passenger ship Wilhelm Gustloff, killing an estimated 9,000 evacuees escaping the advancing Russian army in the last days of WWII, inspired this riveting, haunting novel. Joanna and Emilia are refugees; Florian is on the run for reasons he won’t reveal. All three teens are desperate to reach the Polish port where German ships are waiting. Each is struggling with a secret and all are damaged by what they’ve experienced, unable to easily trust, but they form a makeshift family with other travelers. Teenage Alfred is a Nazi sailor at the port. Reviled by peers for his self-importance, he also exhibits sociopathic behavior that is, in its way, a personification of facism. The fates of the other three intertwine with Alfred after their harrowing journey to the port culminates in discovery of thousands more refugees than the waiting ships can possibly carry. Short chapters moving back and forth among the four points of view makes for a swiftly paced story in which the characters are revealed in how they interact and through internal reflection that also illuminates their backstories. Oppression under Stalin, Nazi greed, the brutality of war, and the intriguing mystery of the legendary Amber Room are all part of a tense, tragic novel in which the fate of the ship will not be changed by fiction, even as some fictional characters do survive. An author’s note gives more information about the Wilhelm Gustloff tragedy and other factual elements of the narrative. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, March 28, 2016

Book of the Week: The House That Zack Built

The House That Zack Built

by Alison Murray
Published by U.S. edition: Candlewick Press, 2016
28 pages
ISBN: 978-0-7636-7844-9
Ages 2-5

The traditional patterned story is given fresh, original treatment in a lively picture book that begins with a little boy named Zack building a house of blocks beneath a tree. Enter a fly, which “buzzes on by” and is stalked by the cat, who knocks over the cream, which “roused the dog” who was “deep in a dream.” There are also lambs “calm and serene” (not for long), a cow named Daisy (the source of the cream), and one big mess for Zack. Luckily, Zack is up to the task of restoring order. Rich and surprising word choice adds to the delight of this account that turns toward a satisfying conclusion before things go on too long, making this a wonderfully paced read-aloud for older toddlers and preschoolers. Brightly hued digital illustrations on matte paper show the entire escapade taking place in a winsome farmyard.©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, March 21, 2016

Book of the Week: The Land of Forgotten Girls

The Land of Forgotten Girls

by Erin Entrada Kelly
Published by Greenwillow / HarperCollins, 2016
304 pages
ISBN: 978-0-06-223864-1
Ages 9-12

Sol and her little sister, Ming, live with their abusive stepmother, Vea, in a small Louisiana town. They emigrated with the girls’ father, but their dad returned to the Philippines and hasn’t come back. Sol once believed the stories spun by their late mother about their adventurous Auntie Jove. She now knows Auntie Jove is a fantasy, but she tells the stories to Ming and Ming becomes convinced that Auntie Jove is coming to rescue them. A book that vividly depicts realities of emotional abuse and economic hardship is ultimately not about either of these things. Instead it’s a deep exploration of the importance of trust and hope and imagination and emotional security in the lives of children. Sol’s impulse to apologize to a girl she once teased, which is the start of a new friendship, brief glimpses of Vea before she was bitter, new stories Sol spins for Ming, and small kindnesses so essential to survival, all unfold through interactions of complex and nuanced characters. When Mrs. Yeung, a Chinese woman living in their building, knocks on their door in the middle of one of Vea’s tirades, Sol realizes the older woman is letting Vea know she is watching and listening, and letting the girls to know they aren’t alone. On the one hand, little in the reality of Sol and Ming’s lives has changed by story’s end. On the other hand, everything has. 2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center  © Cooperative Children's Book Center

Monday, March 14, 2016

Book of the Week: My Heart Fills with Happiness

My Heart Fills with Happiness

by Monique Gray Smith
Illustrated by Julie Flett
Published by Orca, 2016
22 pages
ISBN: (978-1-4598-0957-4
Ages 1-4

“My heart fills with happiness when … ” A comforting board book offers young children the opportunity for reflection, and for affirmation, too. Moments of happiness tucked into each and every day celebrated here include time with family (“I see the face of someone I love”), self-expression (“I sing”), and the natural world (“I walk barefoot in the grass”). Author Monique Gray Smith (Cree/Lakota) has written a narrative lovingly grounded in First/Native Nations culture, community, and traditions (“I smell bannock in the oven … I drum”). Illustrator Julie Flett (Cree/Métis) invites children into the book’s warm embrace with intimate and expressive gouache and digital collage illustrations of First/Native Nations children, or children and adults together in a book that invites all children to consider, “What fills YOUR heart with happiness?” ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center