Monday, December 26, 2016

Book of the Week: Before Morning

Before Morning

by Joyce Sidman
Illustrated by Beth Krommes
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016
44 pages
ISBN: 978-0-547-97917-5
Ages 3-7

Four wordless page spreads showing a mother and child making their way home in the winter dark start this cozy offering. Once they arrive, it’s time for the mom to get ready for her job as a pilot. The thought of her leaving, it is clear, leaves the child bereft. “In the deep, woolen dark, / ” begins the narrative, “as we slumber unknowing, / let the sky fill with flurry and flight.” Snow has started falling. As the child sleeps and the mother heads to work, it continues to fall, lighting the dark, swaddling everything it touches. Across the city, including at the airport, it piles high. “Let urgent plans founder, …” With the flight canceled, the mother hitches a ride on a snowplow, arriving home to share breakfast with her family. An author’s note explains the poem that comprises this text is an invocation—a wish. Brief yet bountiful lines of possibility are set against the exquisite warmth of scratchboard and watercolor illustrations that render a world at once magical and real, and in which the gender of the second parent and the child are open to interpretation.  ©2016 Cooperative Children's Book Center

Monday, December 19, 2016

Book of the Week: The Journey

The Journey

by Francesca Sanna
Published by Flying Eye Books, 2016
44 pages
ISBN: 978-1-909263-99-4
Ages 5-9

“…one day the war took my father.” A young child describes a family’s journey to escape the war zone that is their home. The potent, matter-of-fact narrative becomes even more powerful set against striking illustrations that are stylized, beautiful, and harrowing. The mother does everything possible to reassure and protect her children as they travel, much of this conveyed through small yet critical details in the art. “In the darkness the noises of the forest scare me. But mother is with us and she is never scared. We close our eyes and finally fall asleep.” These words are set against a scene in which the children sleep in their mother’s arms while she lies wide awake, and in tears. Over and over the emotional weight of the story is conveyed through affecting, sometimes heart-rending images juxtaposed with the voice of innocence. “I hope one day … we will find a new home. A home where we can be safe and begin our story again.” There is no geographic specificity stated, but the journey from western Asia to Europe is implied in an account that includes many means of travel, tense moments of hiding, a secret border crossing, a crowded ferry, and travel by train beneath free-flying birds across many more borders in search of safety--a need that all children can understand. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, December 12, 2016

Book of the Week: Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science

Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: 
The First Computer Programmer

by Diane Stanley
Illustrated by Jessie Hartland
Published by Simon & Schuster, 2016
40 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4814-5249-6
Ages 6-10

Born in 1815, Ada Lovelace was the daughter of a poet father (Lord Byron) and a mother (Lady Byron) who nurtured her curiosity in math, science and technology. Ada loved both the arts and sciences. When her friend Charles Babbage asked for Ada’s help in explaining what the “Analytical Engine” he designed could do if it were built, Ada “had the vision to see, better even than Babbage himself, how much more a computer could do besides just processing numbers.” Ada took on the task of explaining how the machine’s ability to function required mathematical operations be converted into digital format, or code, that it could understand. In other words, she pioneered programming. This engaging, whimsical look at Ada’s brief life (she died at 36) and her extraordinary accomplishment in writing what is considered the first computer program shows that both knowledge and imagination are necessary for advances in technology and science, and that Ada embodied both. An author’s note tells more about Ada’s Notes and their impact, and acknowledges some have challenged Ada’s authorship (an idea Stanley refutes). A timeline, selected bibliography and glossary are also included in a volume set against illustrations that are blithe but never make light of Ada or her work. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, December 5, 2016

Book of the Week: My Lady Jane

My Lady Jane

by Cynthia Hand and Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows
Published by HarperTeen, 2016
491 pages
ISBN: 978-0-06-239174-2
Age 12 and older

Jane Gray’s short time as Queen of England (9 days in 1553) is reimagined as lighthearted blend of alternate history and fantasy. In 16th-century England, Edians, humans with the ability to transform into animals, are held in contempt by non-magical Verities, who want to purge England of magic. The resulting suspicion, animosity, and intrigue stands in for Protestant/Catholic religious hostilities of the time. Dying King Edward decrees that his beloved cousin, Jane, will become queen, arranging her marriage to secure the claim. It’s all to keep his Edian-hating step-sister Mary off the throne. Jane, who had no desire to marry, let alone a man with a reputation as a womanizer, learns on her wedding night that Gifford is a horse. That is, he becomes a horse from dusk to dawn, a well-kept secret (it’s not Gifford’s only one). Edward discovers his Edian abilities and secretly flees, escaping Mary’s attempt to poison him. On the run, he is helped by a capable thief named Gracie, and his sister Elizabeth. Jane ascends the throne and faces threats of her own, all while trying to make (horse)sense of her new husband. In the midst of it all comes a stunning self-discovery. There’s a little romance, a little magic, and a lot of humor, both slapstick and sarcastic. The omniscient narrative collective’s many droll asides are an abundant part of the fun. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, November 28, 2016

Book of the Week: First Snow

First Snow

by Bomi Park
U.S. edition: Chronicle Books, 2016
32 pages

Ages 2-6

A small girl wakes up in the night to the soft sound of falling snow. “Pit, pit pit against the window. Glistening, floating in the night.” She puts on warm clothes, walks outside, and begins rolling the snow into a ball. With her puppy following, she rolls the snowball out the yard, into the street, and through the darkened town. A speedy train passes as she goes “Fast Fast Fast.” Through a fallow field, through a friendly nighttime woods full of animals. Finally, she is moving “Slow Slow Slow” with her huge ball of snow, passing from the night into a bright, snow-white field full of children who are also rolling huge snowballs and making … snow figures! A magical, dreamlike story is told through a spare, lyrical text and stunning, textured, mostly black-and-white illustrations that are understated and exceptional. The art, which begins with nighttime black dominating has occasional, subtle accents of other colors, and whimsical punctuations of bright red for the scarves, hats and mittens on children and snow people. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, November 21, 2016

Book of the Week: Some Writer!

Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White

by Melissa Sweet
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016
161 pages
ISBN: 978-0-544-31959-2
Ages 8-13

Elwyn Brooks (E. B.) White, known to family and friends from early adulthood on as Andy, was shy and often anxious throughout his life. But with a pen in his hand, or a typewriter in front of him, he was entertaining and eloquent. Readers who know him as the author of Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, and The Trumpeter of the Swan will relish the stories here about those books, but they will also love discovering White the young adventurer, White the amateur naturalist and avid outdoorsperson, White the urbane journalist, White the opinionated commentator and essayist and defender of democracy, White the humorist, White the family man, White the farmer, White the literary stylist and master of clarity, and so much more. Author/illustrator Melissa Sweet brilliantly distills these complexities into an appealing, accessible portrait of White in a book that blends original watercolors, photographs, and collage with a clear (White would approve!) and engaging substantial narrative that integrates many quotes from White’s professional and personal writing. The gorgeous book design offers a sense of effortless interplay between the visual elements and text. A timeline, ample citations and source material, an author’s note and an afterword from writer Martha White about her grandfather and this book all add to a work that will bring delight to, and shows such respect for, young readers. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, November 14, 2016

Book of the Week: We Will Not Be Silent

We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler

by Russell Freedman
Clarion Books / Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016
104 pages
ISBN: 978-0-544-22379-0
Age 12 and older

As young adults in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, Hans Scholl joined the Hitler Youth, his sister Sophie the League of German Girls. They quickly became disillusioned. The White Rose Movement grew out of gatherings of Hans and a few friends in Munich in the early 1940s. As soon as Sophie knew Hans was behind the first White Rose flyer in 1942, encouraging Germans to resist fascism “before it’s too late,” she demanded to be part of the work. The Movement’s weapons were words: flyers written and printed in secret, distributed with great planning and care. Their commitment was unwavering, right through their capture, interrogation and brief trial. “I would do it all over again,” 21-year-old Sophie told her Gestapo interrogator. “I’m not wrong … You have the wrong world view.” Along with a third White Rose member who’d been captured (they did not reveal the names of others) Hans, 24, and Sophie were executed by guillotine in early 1943. A detailed account full of intrigue and danger and heroism and heartbreak presents the Scholls’ courageous activism in the context of the terrible wrongs being committed by the Nazi regime, and the greater good that the White Rose Movement sought to inspire. Ample black-and-white photos, including candid snapshots of the Scholls, and other visual material are part of a work that ends with source notes and a bibliography.  © 2016 Cooperative Children's Book Center

Monday, November 7, 2016

Book of the Week:
The Cow Who Climbed a Tree

The Cow Who Climbed a Tree

by Gemma Merino
Published by U.S. edition: Albert Whitman, 2016
32 pages
ISBN: 978-0-8075-1298-2
Ages 4-7

“Tina was a very curious cow. She had a thirst for discovery.” But forging a nontraditional path has its naysayers. Tina’s three sisters meet her dreams with a constant refrain: “IMPOSSIBLE! RIDICULOUS! NONSENSE!” They say it when she imagines flying in a rocket ship, and they certainly say it when Tina tells her sisters about the friendly, flying dragon she’s met. Still, when Tina isn’t at breakfast the next morning they go in search of her, venturing beyond their farm for the first time. They can’t help but notice the scenery is beautiful. And what they go on to witness is impossible, ridiculous, nonsense! But it’s true: Tina is flying (well, parachuting; so are a pig and a penguin), her new dragon friend soaring nearby. This absurd and inspiring story is full of humor (e.g., Tina’s stickler-for-tradition sisters are cows living in a house, eating their grass at a well-set table) and set against singular illustrations that are distinctive and lovely, combining abstract washes of expressive color with quirky and charmingly detailed characters. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, October 31, 2016

Book of the Week: The Inquisitor's Tale

The Inquisitor’s Tale Or, Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog

by Adam Gidwitz
Illustrated by Hatem Aly
Published by Dutton, 2016
363 pages
ISBN: 978-0-525-42616-5
Ages 9-12

Three children on the run become determined to save Jewish texts from the flames of the Inquisition in this riveting, richly detailed story set in thirteenth-century France. Jeanne is a peasant who has visions and has fled her village pursued by Church representatives. William, son of a nobleman and a north African Muslim woman, is a monk in training. Extraordinarily strong, he’s been tasked with carrying a satchel of books to the monastery of St. Denis as punishment for disobedience. Jacob is Jewish and has unusual gifts as a healer, but he is helpless when Christian boys on a rampage burn his village. Their separate journeys converge at an Inn where the boys help Jeanne escape the men who captured her. The trio continues to Paris, where Jacob hopes to find his parents alive. Instead, they learn of King Louis’ plan to burn 20,000 Jewish texts. Realizing William was given the books he is carrying to save them from the flames, it becomes a race against Church and King to get them safely to St. Denis. Each guest at the Inn where the children first met tell pieces of this story, a la Canterbury Tales, while the novel’s mysterious narrator, one of the eager listeners, brings the breathless account to a close. At times sobering as it reveals anti-Semitism and oppression during the Inquisition, this is ultimately a story of light and faith and hope and miracles, and friendship holds them all. Black-and-white illuminations illustrate the trio’s adventures with wit and tenderness. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, October 24, 2016

Book of the Week: The Sound of Silence

The Sound of Silence

by Katrina Goldsaito
Illustrated by Julia Kuo
Published by Little, Brown, 2016
32 pages
ISBN: 978-0-316-20337-1
Ages 4-8

On the busy streets of Tokyo, Yoshio asks a koto player her favorite sound. She replies that the most beautiful sound to her is ma, the sound of silence. Yoshio tries to hear the sound of silence, but can’t find it. Noise seems to be everywhere: kids at school, traffic on the street, his family’s chopsticks and chewing during dinner. It’s not until Yoshi is engrossed in reading a book in an empty classroom that he realizes he’s hearing a moment of ma. “It had been there between the thumps of his boots when he ran; when the wind stopped for just a moment in the bamboo grove; at the end of his family’s meal, when everyone was happy and full; after the water finished draining from his bath; before the koto’s player music began—and hovering in the air, right after it ended. It was between and underneath every sound.” A picture book set in Tokyo is illustrated with detailed pen and digitally colored scenes that are both expansive and intimate, much like the story is full of both activity and quiet. An Afterword gives additional information about the Japanese concept of ma. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, October 17, 2016

Book of the Week: Lucy and Linh

Lucy and Linh

by Alice Pung
U.S. edition: Knopf, 2016
340 pages
ISBN: 978-0-399-55048-5
Age 13 and older

Fifteen-year-old Lucy, whose immigrant Chinese family lives in a poor neighborhood of Melbourne, is recipient of the first Equal Access scholarship offered by Laurinda, an upscale, private girls school. The economic and racial disparity between Lucy and her Laurinda classmates, most of who are white and wealthy, is glaring. For them, Lucy realizes, “money is just numerical and not frustratingly finite and concrete,” while the ways her race and culture are exoticized (e.g., a parent compliments Lucy’s “nimble” Asian fingers) or demeaned are countless. She resents it but also can’t help judging her own family and community harshly by comparison. When Lucy is invited into the circle surrounding “The Cabinet,” the ruling trio of girls at the school whose cruelty is sometimes astonishing, she knows there must be a reason. She discovers it’s to make sure she upholds the exact image of the Equal Access scholarship the school has in mind. Her anger at the revelation helps her heal the split she felt moving between two worlds: She’ll accept what Laurinda has to offer, but on her own terms. There’s a surprise reveal near this novel’s end but it doesn’t overpower the beautiful, sharp, perceptive writing throughout a novel full of observations that are sometimes funny, always scathing. Finely developed characters, including Lucy’s parents, two individuals with different natures but the same work ethnic and love for their family, and relationships, and burgeoning new and genuine friendships are another part of what makes this a satisfying work. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, October 10, 2016

Book of the Week: The Airport Book

The Airport Book

by Lisa Brown
Published by A Neal Porter Book/Roaring Brook Press, 2016
36 pages
ISBN: 978-1-62672-091-6
Ages 3-7

Endpapers showing a block of city apartments in the rain with a small boy and even smaller girl in two windows begin this account of their family’s airplane trip. The little girl packs her beloved stuffed animal monkey herself, resulting in a not-quite-securely-fastened suitcase. The family arrives at the airport, checks in, goes through security, and gets settled on the plane. The flight includes safety instructions, snacking, and cloud-watching. After landing they must wait for their luggage before going outside and into the arms of the children’s grandparents. Engagingly detailed page spreads offer intriguing and whimsical elements, from the family’s interactions, to fellow travelers, some of who can be followed or found again at journey’s end, to airport signs and scenes. Meanwhile, monkey’s parallel journey in the suitcase includes a surprising and sweet encounter with a live dog in the cargo hold. (Horizontally split pages show the progress of the luggage—and monkey—at the bottom.) Speech bubble dialogue adds additional humor to an inviting and informative primary narrative (“Inside the airport you stand in lines. You stand in lines to get your ticket. You stand in lines to check your bags. There are lines for the restrooms. There are lines to go through security.”) Closing endpapers show the mixed-race (Black/white) family on a sunny beach in a book that will delight young children, travelers or not. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, October 3, 2016

Book of the Week:
One Half from the East

One Half from the East

by Nadia Hashimi
Published by HarperCollins, 2016
272 pages
ISBN: 978-0-06-242190-6
Ages 9-13

After Obayda’s family moves from Kabul to the village where her father grew up, the 10-year-old's aunt suggests she become a bacha posh—a girl who passes as a boy—to give her family the advantage of a son. Obayda's parents reluctantly agree. Obayda, now Obayd, likes being a girl, and doesn’t know how to move through the world with a boy’s swagger and certainty. Befriended by Rashid, an older bacha posh, Obayd soon is relishing the freedoms and privilege her older sisters do not enjoy, even in their progressive family. Obayd does things as a boy she never would have considered before, discovering a different kind of action and agency as she tries to help her father recover from injuries he suffered in a Kabul explosion. But there is nothing she can do to help Rashid(a) when her friend’s time as a bacha posh abruptly ends when she’s married off to the village war lord. A fascinating, swiftly paced, story firmly grounded in Obayd(a)’s perspective and experience makes clear gender has nothing to do with her physical or intellectual ability, only with how those abilities are perceived in a society where males are privileged. The book is not about gender identity (although Rashid references women she knows of who remained bacha posh or continued to pose as men their entire lives) but about how power is proscribed based on gender. These are big ideas, yet Obayda’s voice feels childlike and true. An author’s note provides additional information about bacha posh and context for the story. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, September 26, 2016

Book of the Week:
A Hungry Lion or a Dwindling Assortment of Animals

A Hungry Lion or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals

by Lucy Ruth Cummins
Published by Atheneum, 2016
36 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4814-4889-5
Ages 4-8

“Once upon a time there was a hungry lion, a penguin, a turtle, a little calico kitten, a brown mouse, a bunny with floppy ears, and a bunny with un-floppy ears….” The list goes on. But with each turn of the page, some of the animals disappear, until finally the narrator notes, “Umm…I guess Once upon a time there was just a HUNGRY LION and a dwindling assortment of other animals.” Just when children will think they’ve got it all figured out—that lion, whistling innocently, is clearly eating the others—Surprise! Here they all are, at a party. For the lion. With cake (“enormous, lovely four-tiered cake with buttercream frosting”). Whew! But then…who turned off the lights? Oh! There’s never a dull moment in this picture book, with its alternating cascade of language and sparely stated moments, its perfect pacing, and its constant unsettling of readers’ and listeners’ understanding and expectations. Child-like illustrations offset the sophisticated text, adding to the overall effect of being deliciously undermined at every turn. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, September 19, 2016

Book of the Week: The Hole Story of the Doughnut

The Hole Story of the Doughnut

by Pat Miller
Illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016
32 pages
ISBN: 978-0-544-31961-5
Ages 6-10

Prior to 1847, little round cakes fried in lard were a dietary staple for sailors aboard ships. They were easy to prepare and easy to eat. But Hanson Gregory, a 16-year-old cook’s assistant aboard a schooner, listened to his fellow sailor’s complaints about the cakes, which they called “sinkers” because the centers were so heavy with grease, and he came up with a way to improve them: He took the top of a pepper shaker and cut the centers out of the cakes before he fried them. They were such a hit that Hanson shared the idea with his mother when he got back home, and she began to cook up dozens of “holey cakes” to sell on the docks to the sailors, and pretty soon, all the ships’ cooks began to adopt the practice, thereby spreading doughnuts far and wide. Gregory later became a ship’s captain, and tall tales began to develop about how he came to invent the doughnut, some of which are included in this book. A great deal of primary and secondary research went into recounting the doughnut’s—or, more accurately, the doughnut hole’s--entertaining history. Each whimsical watercolor illustration is framed within a circle, echoing the importance of the doughnut hole. (KTH) ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, September 12, 2016

Book of the Week:
A Patron Saint for Junior Bridesmaids

A Patron Saint for Junior Bridesmaids

by Shelley Tougas
Published by Roaring Brook Press, 2016
272 pages
ISBN: 978-1-62672-403-7
Ages 9-12

“There’s no Patron Saint for Junior Bridesmaids. How is that possible?” Mary’s invitation to be in her older cousin’s wedding launches a laugh-out-loud story genuine in its depth and warmth. Mary’s family is about to move to North Dakota to join her dad, who’s been there for a job since their small-town family hardware store failed. Middle school-aged Mary and her younger brother, Luke, are staying with their grandmother and bride-to-be Edie’s family in St. Paul for the summer while their mom, exhausted from holding things together at home alone, joins their dad to find a place they all can live. Mary’s been charged with keeping her mom’s big secret: The past year has been so economically and emotionally challenging that Luke hasn’t had his First Communion. It makes for some artful dodging on Sundays. Mary also wants to help unassertive Edie, who struggles with social anxiety, have the wedding she wants. And she keeps thinking about Brent, the boy she punched just before the end of the school year. He’s a bully. She hates him. What’s harder to acknowledge is that she was cruel to him, too. Through it all, including a hint of romance with Nick, the boy next door, Mary offers earnest and amusing prayers to various saints for help dealing with immediate predicaments and long-terms worries. Her Catholic family and other characters are drawn with realism and affection in an entertaining, insightful novel about family, friends, enemies, faith, and compassion. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Book of the Week:
One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree

One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree

by Daniel Bernstrom
Illustrated by Brendan Wenzel
Published by Katherine Tegen Books / HarperCollins, 2016
32 pages
ISBN: 978-0062354853
Ages 3-7

The premise is not unfamiliar: a dangerous creature, in this case a snake, eats a series of unsuspecting victims, here beginning with a boy, only to be outsmarted and meet its comeuppance. But everything about the telling is fresh and full of delight in this begs-to-be-read-aloud rhythmic, rollicking tale. “‘I’ll bet,” said the boy, in the belly dark and deep, ‘that you’re still very hungry, and there’s more you can eat.’” Indeed, there is more, and each time the boy repeats this refrain the snake is encouraged to gobble up something else: a bird, a cat, a sloth, an ape, a “rare kind of bear,” and a hive full of bees. Then the bulging-bellied snake takes one more bite: a small piece of fruit with a “teeny-tiny” fly. “Gurgle-gurgle came a blurble, from that belly deep and full.” It’s one bite too many and out they all come, ending with the brown-skinned boy and his “whirly-twirly toy.” Vibrant action words, playful descriptors, internal rhyme and alliteration all energize a story that take place “in the eucalyptus, eucalyptus tree.” Colorful, digitally rendered illustrations add to the whimsy. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, August 29, 2016

Book of the Week: As Brave As You

As Brave As You

by Jason Reynolds
A Caitlyn Dlouhy Book / Atheneum, 2016
410 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4814-1590-3
Ages 8-12

Eleven-year-old Genie and his older brother, Ernie, are staying with their Virginia grandparents while their parents go on vacation. It’s Genie’s first time meeting his grandfather, who’s never visited Brooklyn. Genie is fascinated to discover the older man is blind, although so capable in the house that Genie doesn’t realize it at first. A story full of small dramatic arcs and ongoing mysteries—of the door the boys aren’t supposed to open but that Genie does only to find a room full of swallows; of the yellow house in the woods; of the unexplained tension between his father and grandfather; of the effect of the girl down the hill on his brother—has an essential, understated storyline as Genie, a quiet, curious observer, deepens his understanding of himself, his grandfather, and the joy and pain and love that is family. Genie, so keen in his wondering, with a notebook full of questions; his grandfather, full of poignant regret, fierce pride, and barely acknowledged fear of moving beyond the predictable world contained within the four walls of the house; his grandmother, all bustling efficiency and loving control; Ernie’s alternating confidence and caution are exquisite characterizations gracing a story both funny and tender (poop patrol in the yard; their grandfather and a friend teaching Ernie to shoot; Ernie not wanting to fire a gun). It also beautifully captures the way summer days can feel shapeless, while forming themselves into a season of growth and discovery through living and loving, hurting and healing. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Book of the Week: The Secret Subway

The Secret Subway

by Shana Corey
Illustrated by Red Nose Studio
Published by Schwartz & Wade, 2016
32 pages
ISBN: 978-0-375-87071-2
Ages 7-11

Alfred Ely Beach was a genius who was ahead of his time. In the mid-19th century, he came up with an idea that would help to solve New York City’s congested streets: an underground train. His vision was of a train powered by an enormous fan, but he knew the idea was unlikely to be approved by Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall, so instead he proposed building a system of tubes underground to carry mail. After getting permission to proceed, he rented the basement of a clothing store to use as his headquarters and hired workers to come in each day to start digging a tunnel. They loaded wagon after wagon with dirt to carry off under the cover of darkness each night. After almost two months, they had a tunnel that was eight feet across and 294 feet long, and then Beach hired more workers to come in to paint and decorate the interior. When the work was completed, Beach invited local dignitaries and the general public to come and experience the “train of the future.” Although it was a sensation, Beach was ultimately refused permission to expand, and before too long the secret subway lay dormant – forgotten and neglected – until forty years later when it was discovered by other workers digging a tunnel for what is today the New York City subway system. Shana Corey used primary source documents to uncover this buried bit of fascinating history, and she tells the story in an engaging manner that will draw readers in. Artist Chris Sickels of Red Nose Studio constructed intricate three-dimensional illustrations which aptly convey the depth of the subterranean world in which Beach labored, using characters made from wire and foam, and painted scenery as backdrops. The back of the book’s dust jacket provides an illustrated guide to how the book’s artwork was created from the initial photo research and sketches to the final lighting and photography, a story almost as interesting as the subway itself.  © 2016 Cooperative Children's Book Center

Monday, August 15, 2016

Book of the Week: Where's the Party?

Where’s the Party?

by Ruth Chan
Published by Roaring Brook Press, 2016
36 pages
ISBN: 978-1-62672-269-9
Ages 3-7

Georgie loves throwing parties for his friends, but on this particular day his spontaneous plans fall apart when no one can come. Feta has to make pickles. Lester has lightbulbs to change. Shy Ferdinand would rather stay home. Every other friend has a reason, too (“My ears are itchy.” “I need to fold my socks.” “My shorts are too bright.”), and Georgie, who starts the day full of optimism, is eventually drooping with dejection. The humor and heartbreak of this story extends to the visual. George is a sweet-faced gray cat. His friends include a dog, a giraffe, a hippo, a mouse, and a star-nosed mole. All of the animals are wide-eyed and full of expression, from sheepish to sly to sad. Poor Georgie. The playful illustrations are a skillful blend of full-scene and spots incorporating speech bubbles, and include a double-page spread tracing Georgie’s journey through his city neighborhood before he arrives back home to … Surprise! “We love you, Georgie!” Friendship and kindness—and, ok, cake—are all any party really needs. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, August 8, 2016

Book of the Week: The Passion of Dolssa

The Passion of Dolssa

by Julie Berry
Published by Viking, 2016
496 pages
ISBN: 978-0451469922
Age 14 and older

In 13th-century western Europe, the Inquisition is control through terror, as those whose beliefs or behaviors offend Church authorities face persecution as heretics. Dolssa is a young woman in Tolosa whose says Christ is her true love. Even the threat of death cannot make her deny that he speaks to her. But it is her mother who is burned by Inquisitors as Dolssa watches. When her bonds are cut and a voice tells her to run, Dolssa flees. Spirited Botille and her two equally confident, gifted sisters run an inn in the village of Bajas. When Botille discovers a dying young woman by a river, instinct or intuition or perhaps something else tells her to lie when a passing friar asks about a missing girl. Botille smuggles the woman—Dolssa—back to her village, where the sisters secretly nurse her back to health. Dolssa remains hidden until a crisis forces her to call on her divine gift for healing. Word about her miracles spreads and the determined friar tracks Dolssa down. A taut narrative arc in this work of historical fiction is richly embellished with vivid period details and a cast of vibrant, singular, complex, contradictory characters. The story is tragic, funny, satisfying, and scathingly critical. It also leaves space for genuine faith and miracles and mystery and devotion, however one chooses to define it (earthbound romance included). A detailed author’s note about the historical period concludes this intricate and astonishing work. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, August 1, 2016

Book of the Week: Outrun the Moon

Outrun the Moon

by Stacey Lee
Published by Putnam, 2016
391 pages
ISBN: 978-0-399-17541-1
Ages 11-15

Living in San Francisco Chinatown in 1906, teenage Mercy Wong wants to become a business woman to support her family. Smart and spirited, she negotiates her way into a prestigious, whites-only girls’ school for the educational advantage she’s sure it will provide. The racism Mercy and her Chinatown community experience is an essential part of an insightful and engaging work that is part boarding school story, with Mercy navigating relationships as a social and cultural outsider, and part riveting account of the San Francisco earthquake. Prior to the earthquake, Mercy facilitates a meeting between the leaders of the Chinese Benevolent Association and a white-owned business that wants Chinatown customers—agreeing to do so was how she leveraged the business owner’s support of her entry to the school (his daughter becomes Mercy’s prickly roommate). In the quake’s aftermath, Mercy struggles with devastating losses to her family, her community, and the city a whole. But social and racial barriers break down as she and her classmates cooperate to survive. Sheltering in a city park along with thousands of others, real friendships begin to form as the young women extend kindness across lines of race and class to one another and other refugees, reaching out with intentionality. Author Lee notes that cross-cultural goodwill like this, common after the quake, sadly did not last. She also explains where she took liberties, especially regarding the gender and racial boundaries she allowed herself to imagine Mercy was able to cross in that time. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Drilling Down on Diversity in Picture Books

Some of you may have already heard about the CCBC’s expanded effort in our work documenting the number of books by and about people of color and First/Native Nations. This past April at a CCBC staff meeting we came up with the idea of taking a closer look at what is getting published. 

We knew we couldn’t possibly evaluate every book coming into the library in greater detail, so we decided to focus on the 2016 books in our Current Picture Book Collection (comprised of review copies from publishers).

KT Horning first wrote about the project in the Friends of the CCBC Spring 2016 newsletter:

The CCBC is well known nationally for the statistics we keep on children’s books by and about people of color. We get frequent calls and emails from the press and from university researchers about these statistics, and hardly a week goes by these days when we don’t see them quoted somewhere.  We have the statistics on our web site but when reporters and researchers contact us, they always want more. They want to go beyond the numbers. They ask about the kinds of books we’re seeing. How many contemporary? How many are about girls? How many have animal characters?

So this year we decided to be proactive, to drill down a bit with our data. For 2016 we are launching a pilot project to do a more in-depth analysis of the year’s picture books (excluding non-fiction titles, such as picture-book biographies). We’re keeping track of the things people want to know. Just how many picture books have animal, rather than human, characters? How many books about African American characters are historical? How many feature LGBTQ families? Or Muslims? Or people with disabilities? How many are by first-time authors or illustrators? We’ll be able to tell you in early 2017.

That’s the project in a nutshell: metadata on picture books. Carrying it out is proving to be a time and labor-intensive initiative, as you can imagine.  It’s part of the reason we are only focusing on picture books. Giving the same amount of attention to nonfiction and children's/YA fiction would require time and staff we simply don’t have, although we would love to be able to collaborate with researchers on such work in the future.

Recently KT did a mid-year analysis of some of the findings.

Of the 472 picture books we'd received as of July 1*:
  • 233 main characters human (49.4%) (may include more than one per book)
  • 192 main characters animal (40.8%)
  • 63 main characters other (13.3%) (e.g., truck, robot, dragon, fairy, zucchini, cupcake, screw, the number 3, the Statue of Liberty, a carton of milk)

Gender of main characters:
  • 168 female (39.5%)
  • 262 male (61.6%)
  • 37 unknown/unspecified (8.7%)

Race of main characters:
  • 148 White (63.5%)
  • 18 African American (7.7%)
  • 17 Asian/Pacific American (6.3%)
  • 7 Latinx (3%)
  • 2 Native American (.85%)
  • 4 Biracial (1.7%)
  • 33 Brown-skinned, ethnicity uclear (14.2%)
  • 23 Multicultural cast (no primary character) (9.9%)

Other statistics about the 472 picture books we'd received as of July 1:

  • 4 have main characters with disabilities
  • 1 LGBTQ+ main character
  • 1 Muslim main character
  • 105 show secondary diversity (in crowd/family scenes)
  • 59 have an all-white cast of characters)
  • 45 (9.5%) are by first-time authors, with 5 of these by authors of color
  • 33 (7%) are by debut illustrators, with 3 of these by illustrators of color
(The assessment of first books will be an interesting statistic in terms of who is and isn't getting published.)

In addition to the numbers, there is also a lot to observe in taking a closer look, from ethnic or racialized non-human characters to other ways religion, culture and ethnicity are presented or explored.

The data we are collecting will have a lot to say about--and to comment on--regarding picture book publishing in general, and the publishing of books by and about people of color and First/Native Nations in particular. Stay tuned!

*Totals/percentages equal more than 100 percent within and across some categories because of overlap. For example, a book can have more than one main character; a character can be both non-human and gendered, etc.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Books about Books

Anyone who has ever been to the CCBC knows the space isn’t vast. (We loved the vision of first-time visitor Margarita Engle on her trip here to accept the 2016 Charlotte Zolotow Award for Drum Dream Girl:  “I pictured a whole building!” Wouldn’t that be nice?). 

But we try to make good use of the physical space we do have—a more expansive space since our move to a new home in the Teacher Education Building on the UW-Madison campus two summers ago. With that moved we gained not only work space we’d never had before (there are stories), but more shelf space, too.

Most of that shelf space is devoted to books published for children and teens—a Current Collection of the newly published books we receive for hands-on book examination by Wisconsin librarians and others; a curated Basic Collection of recommended books across years and decades that we draw on heavily in our work with education and library school students and Wisconsin teachers; a small Historical Collection.  But we also have a collection of books about books for children and teens; in CCBC parlance, our Reference Collection.

Among recent additions to our Reference Collection are:

The Newbery & Caldecott Awards: A Guide to the Medal and Honor Books (ALA Editions, 2016). This edition’s timely introductory essay is “It’s All Political: Books, Awards, and Librarianship,” by 2016 Newbery Award Committee member Allie Jane Bruce, talking about things she’s encouraged by and things she hopes for as the Association for Library Service to Children (which administers the Newbery and Caldecott awards) and our profession as a whole address the challenges and responsibilities of providing culturally sensitive and culturally competent book evaluation and librarianship.

Excellent Books for Early and Eager Readers by Kathleen T. Isaacs (ALA Editions, 2016).  This is such a common question for librarians—what books can you suggest for a young child who is reading far beyond their age or grade?  Opening chapters discussing the characteristics of early readers and what makes a good book for early readers leads into the chapter-by-chapter genre suggestions which include both old favorites (Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White) and new classics (Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke).  

Picture This : How Pictures Work by Molly Bang. Revised and Expanded 25th Anniversary edition (Chronicle Books, 2016). With the first edition of this essential work out of print, I was thrilled to see this new edition. It is a striking and accessible look at visual literacy for both creators, including young artists, and those looking at art. This edition includes new content (e.g., a discussion of emotions in art using Bang’s picture book When Sophie Gets Angry…Really, Really Angry).

Robert McCloskey: A Private Life in Words and Pictures by Jane
McCloskey (Seapoint, 2011). If I had a coffee table, this book would be on it.  Robert McCloskey’s younger daughter, Jane, discusses her father’s life in a personal, conversational narrative accompanied by some of her father's sketches, paintings and illustrations. Although the artwork isn’t abundant—some page spreads are all text—the design is lovely and it’s the kind of book one can imagine getting lost in (in which case the nightstand might be a better place—but it’s a little large….)

These four new additions to the Reference Collection join many other books, from selection tools like Children’s Catalog to children’s and young adult  literature textbooks to numerous resources about multicultural literature, intellectual freedom, graphic novels, international literature, and more. From picture books to young adult literature, scholarly critiques to hands-on reading guidance, we try to build this relatively limited collection with the interest of assisting both researchers and library and education students and practitioners.  We’ve gone to online editions of a few resources, something being part of the university make technically easier, if no less costly.  But there is nothing quite like working on a reference question and being able to get up, go to the Reference shelves, and browse…

Monday, July 25, 2016

Book of the Week: Toshi's Little Treasures

Toshi’s Little Treasures

by Nadine Robert
Illustrated by Aki
Translated by Yvette Ghione from the French

Published by U.S. edition: Kids Can Press, 2016
36 pages
ISBN: 978-1-77138-673-2
Ages 3-7

A picture book homage to the love of collecting shared by many children is full of small treasures and small pleasures. Whenever Toshi and his grandma take a walk, Toshi collects things that interest him (e.g., a marble, a magnolia blossom, an acorn, a guitar pick, the tab from a soda can, a cricket casing). Expansive double-page spreads show each place they visit (river, town, forest, country, park, beach), with the many objects Toshi will eventually pick up scattered and labeled throughout the scene. Alternating spreads feature two single pages, one showing everything Toshi collected, the other showing objects that relate to the items (e.g., a pink magnolia tree, a guitar, a soda can), inviting readers to find the match for each of Toshi’s treasures (answers, if needed, are in the back). There’s so much to pour over, notice and love in this picture book, including the relationship between Toshi and his grandma. It turns out she also collected as a child—and still does! A delicate touch and skillful use of white space and makes illustrations full of colorful objects and detailed scenes feel uncluttered. Toshi and his grandmother are Japanese. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, July 18, 2016

Book of the Week: The Borden Murders

The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden & the Trial of the Century

by Sarah Miller
Published by Schwartz & Wade, 2016
288 pages
ISBN: 978-0-553-49808-0
Age 12 and older

This arresting work doesn’t answer the question of whether Lizzie Borden killed her father and stepmother in Fall River, Massachusetts, in 1892, because there isn’t enough factual information to support a definitive response. Instead, it lays out the evidence and arguments used by both Lizzie’s prosecutors and her defense team. Drawing on court transcripts from the Borden trial and other primary and secondary source material, Miller’s chronological account begins with Lizzie’s discovery of her father’s body and moves forward in gripping detail from the first hours, when it seems suspicion first fell on Lizzie; through subsequent days, weeks and months; through the trial and the jury’s eventual verdict of not guilty. It also offers a fascinating look at the role the media played in public perceptions and opinions, which shifted throughout events and were influenced by class and gender. Steps and missteps on the part of Lizzie, witnesses, police and others makes for gripping reading but also humanizes all involved. Lizzie spent the rest of her life in Fall River, neither a recluse nor attention monger, living with the sister who stood by her until a sudden estrangement later in their lives. Did she or didn’t she? The court of public opinion remains undecided. Two sections of black-and-white photographs (none gruesome), and detailed source notes and resources round out a book that invites and demands spirited discussion. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, July 11, 2016

Book of the Week: Little Red

Little Red

by Bethan Woollvin
Published by U.S. edition: Peachtree, 2016
28 pages
ISBN: 978-1-56145-917-9
Ages 4-8

Little Red sets off through the forest to her Grandma’s house in a tale that will not be unfamiliar to some children, at least at its outset. In the forest, Little Red meets a wolf, who growls and asks where she’s going. “Which might have scared some little girls. But not this little girl.” Little Red, it turns out, is not only brave, but she’s smart—she’s not about to be fooled or eaten by a wolf in Grandma’s clothing. (Grandma, unfortunately, meets her demise.) A droll, fresh, spirited, singular retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood” gives Little Red both the axe and the agency. “Which was unlucky for the wolf.” It’s fun and it’s bold and it’s distinctively designed and illustrated, with thick-lined gouache and digital art in black, white, gray and, of course, red. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, July 4, 2016

Book of the Week: Burn Baby Burn

Burn Baby Burn

by Meg Medina
Published by Candlewick Press, 2016
320 pages
ISBN: 978-0-7636-7467-0
Age 13 and older

Nora López is finishing high school uncertain about the future. Encouraged to apply to the New York City Community College trades program, she can’t imagine being able to go when her mom, Mima, struggles to pay the rent. When recent murders of young, dark-haired women in the city turn out to be the actions of a serial killer, who begins writing letters to the press signed “Son of Sam,” the growing tension and fear is tangible. It pulses through Nora’s Queens neighborhood and the city like the disco rhythms and intense heat so prevalent that early summer of 1977. And it explodes into looting following the citywide blackout, but the more pressing danger for Nora is at home, where her younger brother, Hector, is increasingly violent and out of control. Cuban-born Mima says Hector is just a boy in need of a good girl to help him settle down. Mima’s sexism and blinders infuriate Nora, but Nora is also too ashamed to tell her best friend, her boyfriend, her caring boss at the market, teachers, or anyone else what’s happening. Son of Sam is caught, almost anticlimactically, even as the threat in Nora’s personal life escalates. An exceptional novel captures the textures and turbulence of time and place and the complexities of Nora’s relationships vividly. Even before Son of Sam is arrested, it’s becoming clear that community rather than family is Nora’s greatest source safety, while her own resilience her greatest strength, especially once she breaks her silence. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, June 27, 2016

Book of the Week: Raymie Nightingale

Raymie Nightingale

by Kate DiCamillo

Published by Candlewick Press, 2016
272 pages
ISBN: 978-0-7636-8117-3

Ages 8-11

Raymie, 10, is determined to become Little Miss Florida Central Tire so her father, an insurance agent who recently ran off with a dental hygienist, will read about her in the paper and realize his mistake. At baton twirling lessons she meets Louisiana Elefante and Beverly Tapinski. This story set in a small Florida town in the 1970s moves quickly while capturing the hot, timeless feel of summer as the three girls form an unlikely, not always easy friendship. Bold, brash, seemingly fearless Beverly; naive, sweet Louisiana; and uncertain Raymie first bond trying to reclaim a library book about Florence Nightingale from the nursing home where Raymie left it in a panic after the resident to whom she was going to read started screaming. Later, the three try to liberate Louisiana’s beloved cat, Archie, from the grim shelter where her Grandma took him because they can’t afford cat food. (They can’t afford human food, either.) In between, the girls discover things about one another and about themselves. It turns out they all are bold and fearless and uncertain and sweet in a tender and funny novel that exposes the hope in their connection. For Raymie, who wants to be special enough to bring her father home, friendship changes nothing, and yet it changes everything.  © Cooperative Children's Book Center

Monday, June 20, 2016

Book of the Week: Excellent Ed

Excellent Ed

by Stacy McAnulty
Illustrated by Julia Sarcone-Roach
Published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2016
24 pages
ISBN: (978-0-553-51023-2
Ages 4-7

“All of the Ellis children were allowed to eat at the table and ride in the van and sit on the couch and use the indoor bathroom. Except Ed.” Ed is prohibited from these activities because he’s a dog, not that Ed himself makes any distinction between himself and his human family. But because each of the other Ellis children excels at something—Elaine at soccer, Emily and Elmer at math, Edith at ballet, and Ernie at baking cupcakes—Ed goes in search of what he’s best at. The search leads to answers that are satisfying for Ed and for readers and listeners, too. It’s hard to say which is more appealing in this sparkling picture book, Ed or the entire lively Ellis family, of which Ed is clearly a much-loved member. The wonderful narrative makes judicious use of repetition while the vivacious illustrations are full of humor and warmth. The Ellis family is Black, with children ranging from early-elementary-age to their teens, something typical for many families but not for many picture books. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, June 13, 2016

Book of the Week: It Ain't So Awful, Falafel

It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel

by Firoozeh Dumas
Published by Clarion, 2016
378 pages
ISBN: 978-0-544-61231-0
Ages 9-13

Zomorod and her parents are in the United States for her dad’s job as an engineer working at a California oil company. Zomorod, who has chosen the Brady Bunch-inspired name “Cindy” at school, narrates an often funny and always insightful account of her life as an Iranian immigrant in the late 1970s (an era that is vividly and often delightfully realized here). Her father is openhearted and upbeat but her mother finds it difficult acclimating to their life in America. Struggling with English, she rarely leaves the house. Zomorod, like her dad, is happy. Despite often being mistaken as Latina by strangers (no one has heard of Iran), she also has good friends. Then the Shah of Iran is overthrown and Ayatollah Khomeni comes into power. The hostage crisis horrifies Zomorod’s family. So, to, do the oppressive religious restrictions under Khomeni’s rule. Meanwhile, everyone in America suddenly wants to know or has something to say about Iran. Zomorod’s mother finds purpose in helping other Iranians in their community feel less alone, but her dad loses his job and when he can’t find another he begins to lose hope as the family faces returning to their radically changed homeland. Dumas’s “semi-autobiographical” novel doesn’t shy away from the racism Zomorod and her family experiences. Yet her story is buoyed by this honesty, as well as the warmth of family, and the essential kindness of friendship. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, June 6, 2016

Book of the Week: Snail and Worm

Snail & Worm

by Tina Kügler
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016
32 pages
ISBN: 978-0-544-49412-1
Ages 3-7

Three short stories in chapter format describe the initial meeting of Snail and Worm and two episodes in their friendship in a droll offering with a delightfully deadpan quality in the humorous interplay between the straightforward dialogue and the offbeat illustrations. In the opening chapter, “Meet My Friend,” Snail and Worm meet while playing with their respective friends Bob the rock and Ann the stick. In “Snail’s Adventure,” Worm provides support and encouragement as Snail scales a tall flower, although neither he nor Snail notes the flower has bent low to the ground under Snail’s weight. (“Wow! They look like ants down there!” exclaims Snail from no more than an inch off the ground as several large ants march by.) “Meet My Pet” has Worm looking for his lost pet, whom he describes as brown and furry with sharp teeth. Terrified Snail is convinced it’s a spider, even after Worm’s lost pet, Sam, shows up and is clearly a dog. Meanwhile Rex, Snail’s dog, is clearly a spider. Playful contradictions give readers and listeners a lot to notice and to laugh about in a book perfect for beginning readers or as a read-aloud. The deceptively simple and expressive art shows great thought and sophistication in its design and execution. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Book of the Week: American Girls

American Girls

by Alison Umminger
Published by Flatiron Books / Macmillan, 2016
304 pages
ISBN: 978-1-250-07502-4
Age 14 and older

Anna, 15, ran away to her older sister Delia’s in Los Angeles using her stepmother’s credit card to buy a plane ticket, a cost Anna’s now expected to repay. Delia’s boyfriend, Dex, writes for a Disneyesque series called Chips Ahoy! Anna spends days with Dex while Delia goes to auditions and appears in her former boyfriend Roger’s independent movie. Meanwhile, Roger has hired Anna to research Charles Manson for his film. The inanity of Chips Ahoy! is stark contrast to the Manson murders, not to mention the uneasy life of beautiful Delia, whom Anna fears is being stalked. Anna can’t understand why the young women following Manson were willing to commit such atrocities. With one exception, most of them grew up in imperfect but not unloving families. How and why did they fall under Manson’s thrall? Anna’s own mother is incredibly self-centered; her sister supportive but worrisome and frustrating; her stepmother annoying yet stable. In a startling, original, complex debut novel, Anna’s voice is sharp, witty, and also honest. She is unrepentant about cyberbullying a girl back home, for example (it wasn’t even her idea, she notes), although she gradually comes to regret it. The brilliantly realized Los Angeles setting also works as a means to magnify the ways women and girls everywhere are too often objectified, invisible, exploited, and sometimes abused. It’s among the many things Anna ponders with increasing clarity that is poignant, and at times profound. “Los Angeles … is not really so different from the rest of America.” ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, May 23, 2016

CCBC Book of the Week: Fabulous Frogs

Fabulous Frogs
by Martin Jenkins
Illustrated by Tim Hopgood

U.S. edition: Candlewick Press, 2016
28 pages
ISBN: 978-0-7636-8100-5
Ages 5-9

“This frog is huge (for a frog).” Indeed, the goliath frog found in western African that is pictured on the opening pages of this dynamic informational picture book barely fits on the two-page spread. A turn of the page reveals a scattering of diminutive, fingernail-sized frogs found in Papua, New Guinea. Author Martin Jenkins and Illustrator Tim Hopgood share their appreciation and enthusiasm for frogs of many types (and sizes and colors and other varied traits) in this gathering of fascinating frog facts. The clean, simple page design, conversational narrative and arresting mixed media illustrations work together to create an inviting book of information for younger children. The primary narrative is accompanied by additional facts in a smaller font on most pages, telling more about the specific creatures. An index and suggested web sites for more exploration are included.

Monday, May 16, 2016

CCBC Book of the Week: The Quickest Kid in Clarksville

The Quickest Kid in Clarksville

by Pat Zietlow Miller
Illustrated by Frank Morrison
Published by Chronicle, 2016
40 pages
ISBN: 9781452129365
Ages 5-8

Alta prides herself on being the fastest runner in Clarksville, Tennessee, hometown of Olympic star Wilma Rudolph. But Charmaine, of the new-shoes-just-like-Wilma’s, is fast, too. She may be even faster than Alta, although it’s hard to say: Alta is sure Charmaine tripped her when she won the race between them. Alta ended up with a hole in her sneaker. “Oh, baby girl,” says Mama. “Those shoes have to last.” On the day of a parade for Wilma Rudolph, Alta and her friends Dee-Dee and Little Mo make a huge banner, but getting the banner all the way to the parade isn’t easy, and time is running out. Then Charmaine shows up and suggests they take turns carrying it--a relay, just like Wilma ran for one of her medals. “Three people ran it with her, you know,” Charmaine says. “I hate to admit it, but she’s right.” A spirited story set in 1960 ends with an author’s note featuring a photograph of Wilma Rudolph at the real parade held in her honor in Clarksville. The energetic illustrations are full of movement and feeling. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, May 9, 2016

Book of the Week: My New Mom and Me

My New Mom & Me

by Renata Galindo
Published by Schwartz & Wade, 2016
32 pages
ISBN: 978-0-55352-134-4
Ages 3-8

“When I first came to live with my new mom, I was nervous.” The speaker in this picture book is a puppy, and the new mom a striped cat. Despite being animals, their strong feelings and realistic interactions are a spot-on portrayal of the emotional landscape of a young child entering a new family. The young narrator’s observations range from the novel (“I’d never had my own room before”), to the reassuring (“she takes care of me”), to the universal (“She does all the things that moms do--even the things that make me mad!”). When the puppy worries about looking different from the mom and paints on stripes to “fix it,” Mom gently washes them off and says she likes that the two of them are different. Acknowledging dark moments along with brighter times and recognizing that both child and parent are navigating new ground sets the stage for honest conversations in all kinds of families in this comforting, reassuring picture book. (MVL)  ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Monday, May 2, 2016

Book of the Week: Unidentified Suburban Object

Unidentified Suburban Object

by Mike Jung
Published by Arthur A. Levine Books / Scholastic, 2016
272 pages
ISBN: 978-0-545-78226-5
Ages 9-13

Chloe Cho’s immigrant parents never talk about Korea so she’s explored her heritage on her own. A class assignment leads to crisis when her parents’ reticence makes it impossible for Chloe to share a family story as required. Finally, her parents reveal that they aren’t really Korean; they’re aliens from another planet. They intentionally chose an all-white U.S. town where its assumed they don’t know things because they are immigrants. In turn, the residents of the town are so ignorant about Koreans that no one has ever assumed Chloe’s parents are anything but what they claimed to be. Chloe’s best friend Shelley, who has learned about Korean culture with Chloe, is the only person who has always understood Chloe’s eye-rolling annoyance and occasional anger at the many uninformed things people say to her. Classmates assume, for example, that Chloe is obsessed with good grades and plays the violin because she is Asian, not because she is Chloe. Learning that she isn’t who, or even what, she always thought makes Chloe question everything, including Shelley’s interest in her culture, until she discovers both how little has changed and how much the things that matter—true friendship and family love—have remained steadfast. Mike Jung’s use of otherworldly “aliens” as a metaphor for how white people think about people of other races makes for a smart, funny, layered novel that is both blithe and deeply insightful. ©2016 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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