Monthly Archives: March 2012

You Are What You Eat and Other Mealtime Hazards

If the saying “you are what you eat” is true, then this week, guess what I am?

That would be a red velvet birthday cupcake, ‘cuz this weekend I was a birthday girl. (By the way, this pretty birthday cupcake came from here. I think it would be hard to find a tastier one. That’s cream cheese icing folks – a big ol’ swirl of it. And sparkly sugar crystals on top. Fine indeed).

With You Are What You Eat and Other Mealtime Hazards, Serge Bloch has created a delightful little romp of a book that could lead into a fun lesson on idioms with the side benefit of offering kids some “food for thought” (sorry, couldn’t resist) about making healthy and adventurous food choices. Every page contains a food-related expression that is integrated into a loose narrative about a kid who “eats like a bird” and faces the challenge of having to eat a strange meal at his best friend’s house. The storyline is a bit forced, but this doesn’t really matter too much because the cartoon ink drawings integrated with photographic elements are what really makes this little book satisfying. It’s witty and clean and it’s darn cute. I should think it would pair nicely with any of Saxton Freymann’s wonderful food centered picture books. Perfect for picky eaters and language lovers.

You Are What You Eat and Other Mealtime Hazards is published by Sterling.

March Break Review-a-palooza: Love, Mouserella

As a librarian, you know a book has got that special something if it kind of causes you pain to part with it, even though you know that it is fulfilling its booky destiny to go out into the world and be read and loved and shared.

It was hard for me to hand love, Mouserella over for the first time to one of my colleagues who was looking for picture books with letter writing connections. I confess I almost (almost I said), kept love, Mouserella hidden away in the box of new books in the back room, in a state of pristine perfection. But I didn’t. I set it free. I knew that I was sending the book to a first audience of pretty fabulous Grade 3s, and that was The Right Thing to Do. I passed it over to the teacher and told her that when she was done, she needed to bring it right back to me and “put it into my hands.” Obviously she knew I wasn’t kidding, because that is exactly what she did (at the same time she shared some rave reviews from her students). I am working my way towards lending it out again. It will happen. Pinky swear.

You shouldn’t judge me until you’ve seen the sheer cuteness of this little book by David Ezra Stein. I’ll bet that if you do get your hands on it, you won’t want to be letting it go any time soon either.

The book is written as one long letter from Mouserella to her Grandmouse, who has recently gone back home again (to Fluffington!!! A-dorable!) after visiting Mouserella in the city. Mouserella writes to her Grandmouse about all of the things she has been doing since they were together: visiting a mean cat in the zoo, teaching her pet ladybug to fetch, practicing her posture by balancing a book on her tail, and visiting the museum. It’s the details about ordinary kid life in a family that really make this small book endearing, like the game of x’s and o’s played by Mouserella and her dad on the back of the letter, and Mouserella’s story about having to eat all of the popsicles in the freezer during a blackout and making shadow puppets with a flashlight.

Many of the illustrations are created to look like photographs taken by Mouserella, and there are lots of sweet crayon doodles and stickers added on the edges of the letter. On one page, Mouserella has ‘attached’ a squishy ketchup packet because she thinks her Grandmouse probably has never seen one. Speaking of the design aspect of the book, it opens vertically, like a letter (basically swing the image you see up top around by 90 degrees). I like that attention to detail, plus it gets you in the spirit of things.

Love, Mouserella is a darling book that could open up discussion and teaching about city and country life, family relationships, making connections through letter writing, and what having fun can look like if we turn off our televisions / video games / tablets / computers. For primary teachers, you definitely want to include it as a fun launch to your letter writing unit, as it could be helpful in teaching kids about including details to bring experiences to life, editing, and letter format. The only trouble you might have is getting your librarian to lend it to you.

Before you go, you must check out 7 Imp’s wonderful interview with David Ezra Stein.

love, Mouserella is published by Nancy Paulsen Books.

March Break Review-a-palooza: Piggy Bunny

I might have actually “eep-d” out loud when I saw Piggy Bunny in the bookstore. “A NEW BOOK WITH PICTURES BY JEREMY TANKARD!!!” As much as I wanted to, I didn’t shout this out for everyone around me to hear. I just thought it inside my head. And then I picked up a copy and pulled out my Magic Librarian Credit Card and bought it for the library faster than two shakes of a bunny’s tail. I read it. And then I realized that I would be needing another copy because I knew this book was going to be much loved by the little folk. Guaranteed.

The kids will get a kick out of Piggy’s seemingly impossible dream: he wants to be the Easter Bunny. This is going to crack kids up, I’m sure of it. I like how the story shows that having dreams is important and that sometimes, finding your way towards your dream can be as easy as taking one simple step, and then another, and another. For Piggy, that starts with ordering a bunny suit on the internet. There are some memorable and funny lines here, like when Liam begins to have doubts about his situation. He sighs, “This is the kind of problem… that is called heartbreaking.”

I’d be kidding you if I didn’t admit that a huge part of the enjoyment in this comes from Jeremy Tankard’s awesome artwork. (Which is saying something, because Rachel Vail’s heartwarming yet understated little story is darn fine too). Expressive and bold and as bright as a basket of Easter eggs, the pictures of Piggy and his fam will make you smile (and make you realize that pigs are made cuter with moustaches and glasses). It’s amazing how much personality and energy Jeremy achieves with such a simple style. Thinking about Grumpy Bird and the Mammoth from ME HUNGRY! makes me believe that there is no animal that could not be rendered adorable by Jeremy. I wonder what he could do for sloths…

Anyway, you’ll want to buy this one for every small person you know. Add a bag o’ chocolate eggs and you’d have the perfect reading experience, I’d say.

Here’s a video that shows Jeremy in action. He makes it look so easy. Why can’t I get a marker to do that?

Piggy Bunny is published by Feiwel and Friends.

March Break Review-a-palooza: this plus that

A picture book that combines math concepts, humour, clever word play, and sweetness? Can you say Perfect Teacher Book? I offer you: this plus that: life’s little equations by the endlessly creative Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Your school library needs every single book Amy has written because in them you can count on finding clever concepts, serious cute factor, and real kid appeal.

Here’s a look at this plus that:

One thing I like about this book is how it starts with simpler equations: 1 + 1 = us, and then towards the end, you get to more complex ideas: cozy + smell of pancakes – alarm clock = weekend. This build up in complexity is perfect for the audience. The illustrations have a clean style that draws your attention but also helps the ideas to take center stage. Each equation will make readers think, and I can imagine plenty of ways to tie this book into integrated art / language / math tasks. I’m sure that kids (and teachers) will have fun writing their own life equations. Sleeping in + Hanging out + sunshine = March Break…

this plus that: life’s little equations is published by Harper.

March Break Review-a-palooza: Kindergarten Diary

One of the best parts of my new job as the Teacher Librarian has been that I get to work with all of the Kindergarten students – or “kindies” – as we often call them at our school. Right now, I’m working with them on the Blue Spruce reading program, which means I get a dose of Kindergarten almost every day of the week. Every time I come home with a new batch of stories and a renewed appreciation for the educators and assistants who occupy the special roles of “first teachers” for so many little people. If you haven’t been to Kindergarten for a while, I assure you, a great Kindergarten teacher is pretty impressive. I mean, have you ever had 23 tiny people answer a question all at the same time and just keep on talking at once like it’s totally normal and just fine thank you very much? I can now say that I have survived that experience. A little time in a Kindergarten class is a pretty humbling experience for an educator. You really see where it all starts. It’s awesome.

I think Antoinette Portis’s book, Kindergarten Diary, is going to be a lovely addition to our Kindie collection in the library. It will be perfect for start of year (“Look at everything you’ll get to do in Kindergarten!”) and for an end of year look back (“See all that we’ve done?”). It’s about Annalina, who doesn’t want to go to Kindergarten. Written as a diary through the month of September, we follow Annalina as she discovers all of the things about Kindergarten that are cool (swinging across the monkey bars, skipping with a new friend) and challenging (learning to share, printing your extra-long name). Portis has chosen the details well, really succeeding in highlighting experiences that a five-year-old would focus on. The design of the book is simple but clever and eye-catching. Many of the pictures are set against a background that looks like the lined paper kids use to learn how to print. The children are painted in a bold style and Portis integrates fun collage elements that readers will enjoy noticing.

Here’s the author illustrator, speaking about the inspiration for the book:

And just for fun, I found a neat series on Kindergarten done by the Globe and Mail. It’s worth checking out. Here is a video about the end of the project:

I’ve already discovered that Kindergarten is quite possibly the coolest room in school. I think that Kindergarten Diary will help lots of little ones discover that too.

Kindergarten Diary is published by Harper.

March Break Review-a-palooza: Smile!

It’s March Break here in Toronto. I’m not flying away to someplace warm (although it was 16 degrees here yesterday, so obviously I don’t really have to go anywhere to find the sun). Instead I am staying home, where I plan to write, make pies, read books, and watch too much 30 Rock.

I have been neglecting the blog a bit of late. This makes me sad. My excuse is that I’ve been trying to juggle a lot of things. I’ve been more or less managing to keep everything in the air, but I’ve decided to devote some well-deserved attention to the Elf this week. So everyday I’ll be posting a review of a picture book that is new to the library shelves at school. Think of it as a March Break Review-a-palooza. Good times, yes?

To begin, I’ve got Smile! by Leigh Hodgkinson. It’s a good place to start because it’s sunny and happy and I’m sure it will be a kid magnet as soon as I put it out on display. To give you a sense of the cute factor here, watch this:

You must be smiling now. (That music makes me want to be a cartoon character). The premise of Hodgkinson’s book is simple. Sunny is in a funk and she can’t find her smile. She goes hunting for it and in the process of looking, she starts enjoying herself and her smile returns.

I think that Hodginson has honed in on a particularly true experience for kids. Sometimes when you feel grouchy, all you want to do is think about feeling miserable but if you can do other things, suddenly you’ll realize that you don’t really remember what made you grumpy to begin with. I like that lesson. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and go do something already. It’s presented gently here, and the illustrations are completely charming. With the kid-like free style and the hand-lettering, you can almost imagine that Sunny could be behind the artwork herself. It certainly makes me think of Lauren Child, more in the voice than the illustrations, but the pictures are a little less busy than what you’ll find in some of Lauren Child’s books. Smile! is sweet as can be and a sure-fire cure for the grumps.

Reading Smile! has got me thinking that perhaps I should put together a “What are you so grumpy about?” display for the library. Sounds like a project for a rainy day in April…

Smile! is published by Balzer + Bray, an imprint of Harper Collins.


The Scorpio Races

I’m not going to be shy about this, The Scorpio Races is the best YA book I’ve read in a long time. I love it. It made me want to pat a pony and visit a bakery for a pastry oozing with honey and go after something that seems impossible. It also made Maggie Stiefvater one of my favourite writers for teens (and smart grown ups).

We should start with the pretty trailer. (Made by Maggie. I told you she was something).

So you get it right? Boy. Girl. Horses. Ocean. Celtic Vibe.

What the trailer cannot reveal is that Maggie Stiefvater is a story wizard. Last month I heard Nancy Pearl speak about how best to recommend books to library patrons. She shared how her system is based on considering books in terms of four elements: story, character, setting and language. Nancy says that all books have these four elements in different proportions and that every reader often enjoys books that have a particular ratio of the four elements. I think that I’m someone who loves a book that is equally strong on character, setting, and plot, but that doesn’t skimp on language either. That is Scorpio Races. The island of Thisby will feel as real as any place you’ve ever loved, and the two main characters will stay with you long after reading. At its core this book is an adventure, with twists and dramatic chapter endings and a finish that is absolutely right in every way. I think it’s true that when you read some books, you can tell that the author loved writing the story, and cared deeply about every part of it. You can feel this with Scorpio Races. It seems like every other new YA book these days is the first in a trilogy. I only wish this were true for Scorpio Races.

I’m going to wrap this up by paraphrasing a comment I read for the trailer on youtube. Someone over there wrote that Maggie is probably going to find a way to be “even more awesome” with whatever she does next. I think we can count on that. I should be happy reading The Scorpio Races over and over again until then.

The Scorpio Races is published by Scholastic.