Friday, May 31, 2019

THE LEGEND OF ROCK PAPER SCISSORS

Written by Drew Daywalt

Illustrated by Adam Rex

(Balzer + Bray, 2017)

The game Rock, Paper, Scissors has been my go-to to solve so many minor disagreements between kids. Who has first chance at the last swing on the playground? Who’s going to be goalie for soccer? Who gets the last cookie?

Rock, paper, scissors…

Solved!

Kids like the randomness of it. Maybe I’ll be the victor, maybe I won’t. Whatever the result, they know they had a hand in it. Literally. No calls of “Not fair!” No pleas for best two out of three. The rules are all too clear: rock beats scissors, scissors beats paper, paper beats rock. Brilliant—even if I’ve always wondered how a sheet of paper really beats a rock. (Wrapping it? Please.)

Drew Daywalt—he of mega-popular The Day the Crayons Quit—has teamed up with beloved illustrator Adam Rex (Pssst!;Tree Ring Circus) to bring an origin story of the Rock, Paper, Scissors game.

Yes, once upon a time in separate kingdoms, Rock, Paper and Scissors lived unsatisfying lives, doing battle with unworthy rivals. 

Rock vs. Clothespin.
Paper vs. Trail Mix Bits.
Scissors vs. Roll of Tape.

I always caution a young audience that the pictures post-battle are gruesome—a smooshed apricot (Egad!), severed bits of tape (Yikes!). 

These are hollow victories, indeed. Nothing to celebrate at all.

SPOILER ALERT: It took the coming together of Rock, Paper and Scissors to offer worthy challenges. Even defeat felt rewarding. The stakes of battle proved just right.

This is one of those why-didn’t-I-think-of-it books. A simple concept, but told with kid-friendly humor. The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors is a terrific read-aloud, one that will allow you to test your battle-ready dramatic delivery as these fierce warriors seek and find their respected competitors. Battle on!

Thursday, May 23, 2019

I WILL NOT EAT YOU

Written by Adam Lehrhaupt

Illustrated by Scott Magoon

(Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016)

Two eyes stare out from a dark cave.  These are the eyes of Theodore. Who is this cave-dwelling creature? A bear? A monster? The bogeyman?! Whoever--whatever--it is, it seems primarily focused on eating. Or not eating.

Various creatures--a bird, a wolf, a tiger--approach the cave and each time Theodore shoos them away. "I will not eat you."

But then a silly boy appears, dressed in a cape and bearing a sword and shield. Does the boy dare to taunt Theodore?

"Don't bother me, pesky boy," he bellowed, "or I will eat you.

But the boy does not heed Theodore's warning. He does not back down.

Finally, we see who Theodore is. Without spoiling the story, I'll just say that the interaction is surprising in a way that still leaves the reader to wonder how things may play out after the story's end.

Lehrhaupt, the author of the delightful Warning: Do Not Open This Book, has a knack for amusing the reader. There's such a quick flow to the story that it's over before I wanted it to be. Perhaps there will be a sequel involving Theodore and the boy. There is a fun, quirky, slightly uncertain relationship here that deserves another tale.


Tuesday, May 21, 2019

FARM

By Elisha Cooper

(Orchard Books, 2010)

I'm a big admirer of Elisha Cooper's books. I've previously blogged about his wonderful Building and Ice Cream. Here again, Cooper matches crisp language with gorgeous watercolor artwork to create a cohesive book on a single topic.

What boy doesn't love the farm? The machines and the animals captivate young imaginations. Cooper has clearly studied farm life to offer a clear idea of what it's like in this setting.

Take a farmer, another farmer, a boy, a girl. 
Add a house, two barns, four silos, some sheds, three tractors, some trucks, a few farmhands, and plenty of equipment.
Then cattle, chickens, countless cats, a dog.
Put them together and you get...a farm.

A young reader is instantly hooked. As always, Cooper adds precious details to make things realistic.

Inside the tractor, the farmer drinks coffee and listens to weather reports on the radio. Every once in a while, he turns in his seat to check the tiller.

Cooper packs so much in short sentences.

It starts to rain. The tractor stops again. March is a mud month and weather must be dry for tilling. The framer will have to wait. Weather can't be fixed.


Some pages have a single scene, but Cooper typically includes several smaller illustrations to show action. Against white and soft blue backgrounds, the red images pop, just like the red barns we see when driving in the countryside. As an adult reads, a child has so much to see, so much to imagine.

Cooper takes the reader through a year on the farm, from early spring tractor preparation to the fall harvest and the time when "cattle are sent to market." (Wisely, he does not elaborate.)

In all, this is another feast for the eyes and ears as children and adults can enjoy the interplay between text and pictures. It's another book worth tracking down!

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

THE HOLE

By Oyvind Torseter

(Enchanted Lion Books, 2013)

I want to start by saying I love this book, but then I can say that about almost every book I blog. This one, however, is simply brilliant, all because of a pencil-sized hole that cuts through the middle of the book. Opening the book, we see a simply drawn guy moving into a new apartment. Inside his apartment is a hole in the wall right beside the door. At first, it's not a problem. The guy hasn't noticed it. He unboxes a few items and makes a fried egg for a meal. As he sits on another box to eat, he looks up and finally sees the hole, eight pages into the story.

"What's this?" he says as he leaps up to examine the hole in the wall. He walks through the door to look at the hole from the other side; however, the hole seems to be gone. In the new illustration, the hole now  represents the window of the washing machine. He returns to the first room. By drawing the first room from a slightly different perspective, the hole moves from the wall to the floor. The guy trips. This hole is a hazard! It continues to move on each page as the guy makes his way through different parts of the apartment. Egad!

He calls a science lab. "Yes, hello...I've found a hole...in my apartment...Yes, no...It keeps moving...Yes...Could you come and have a look?"

Alas they can't. They want him to bring the hole to them. The guy must trap this moving hole in a box and take it to the lab. As he travels with his boxed hole, the hole on the page becomes part of a traffic light, the tire of a vehicle, a nostril of a child.

Kids shout out, "Eww!" when it gets to the nostril page. But they are hooked. They examine the always-present hole in the center of the page and marvel at how it forms a different item in each illustration.

Fortunately, the scientists take the hole from the guy who returns home, relieved that the hole is out of his hands. But, of course, we know the hole remains on the page. It's only a matter of time until the guy is distressed once again.

This is a truly novel picture book, with very few words. (The text was originally published in Norwegian.) It's one that kids will want to look at again right after the first viewing, spending more time paying attention to how the hole seems to move and how it takes on different forms due to Torseter's creative design. It's a book that's well worth the extra effort of tracking it down.  

Friday, May 10, 2019

THE GRUMPY DOODLE BOOK

By Taro Gomi

(Chronicle Books, 2012)

I just love the concept of this book. It begins with:

I don't know what you're grumpy about, but why don't you try doodling? Doodle anything you like. See? Aren't you starting to feel better?

And the likely answer from a truly grumpy person will be, "NO!"

But that's okay. Taro Gomi provides ample space for grumpy doodles. Gomi draws a simple shell of a house and invites the doodler to "draw a person being very cranky inside this house." The doodler next gets to make a teapot angry and create a crabby train.

It gets more absurd. "What do grouchy mountains look like?" Draw the clothes you would wear when feeling mad. Make a "furious clock".

After about fifty pages of angry doodles, Gomi says:

Well, well! You don't look grumpy anymore. What does your face look like now? Now that you're feeling better, turn the page for more doodling.

Here's where I expect a typical doodler to resist, not due to still being grumpy, but simply to have fun. There are pages and pages left for the user to draw angry blobs and squiggles. Or not. Maybe a smiley face will creep in. Ultimately, I have a strong hunch that the budding artist will find amusement in free-form doodling, regardless of whatever emotion he or she feels in the moment. Art is indeed a form of expression.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

PLEASE, MR. PANDA

By Steve Antony

(Scholastic Press, 2014)

When I began to read this book for the first time, I was alarmed. A doughnut-carrying panda seemed to be a not-too-distant cousin of Grumpy Cat.

Panda:     Would you like a doughnut?
Penguin:  Give me the pink one.
Panda:     No, you cannot have a doughnut.
                 I have changed my mind.

Oh, dear.

One by one, black and white critters--a skunk, an orca whale--are offered and then denied doughnuts. As an educator, I wondered why in the world anyone saw fit to publish this book. This gruff panda is not a proper role model. Bring back cutesy pandas!

But, of course, my shock was for naught. Perhaps I've become too accustomed to people who fail to practice good manners. As the book goes on, we see that panda is not a doughnut hog who lacks the ability to share; instead, panda is taking a stand for good manners. Of course! How lovely.

When I read the story aloud to a group of students, I can see them go through the same thoughts as I experienced: mean panda, greedy panda,...ah, but no. A principled panda! As students catch on, there is an implied wink shared between us.

Turns out this book is a delightful way to remind children of the power of "please".

Sunday, May 5, 2019

HIDE AND SEEK

By David A. Carter

(Tate Publishing, 2012)

The pop-up books of my childhood never lasted. Too many hands on them, too many folds that just gave out as the wear and tear from small hands proved unforgiving. Sadly, the few that I came across in classroom and library collections had a short shelf lie. And yet, they were magical works, books to gaze at with wonder while appreciating their unique design.

Pop-up books, while fascinating in and of themselves, can teach children how to value something delicate and, more broadly, how to respect a book. I received the glorious Hide and Seek as a gift shortly after its release and I’m proud to say my copy is well preserved despite having been viewed by many classes of children. The key has been presenting the book to the whole group and treating it as the treasure that it is. At first, I open the book to a random page. There is a chorus of “Whoas” and “Wows”. Little bodies inch up. A few complain they can’t see. (You can get a peek at the book on a YouTube video here.)

I close the book again. It is immediately clear to all, regardless of how much or how little they saw, that this is a special book and it requires a different kind of viewing. We sit on the floor in a circle. I talk about how hands on the book can damage the delicate pieces so extraordinarily designed. I share my own wonder over how they can print multiple copies of such an intricate work. 

The tricky part of Hide and Seek is that each page invites searching eyes as harder-to-find features are mentioned in the text.

A fish and a teardrop.
Five black spots, four blossoms blue and a T that is white.
A heart and an arabesque.
A smile, a black Q and a reflection of you.

Yes, each page presents the danger more inching forward. The viewers have to trust that the book will be turned and shifted so that everyone has a chance to nod when he or she was spotted the named objects. The pages invite you to linger.

Carter sticks to a bold, limited palette of red, blue, yellow, black and white. He invites hands to pull tabs and turn wheels to reveal more items on the page. This is when turn taking may bring out calls of “No fair” when someone doesn’t get picked, but I mention that pairs of students may come to my desk during reading times to see the book up close again. It’s amazing to see how carefully they turn and examine each page.

Inevitably, a few features on the page will give out from simple page turns and, yes, from hands that just can’t resist. It’s happened in a couple of places to my copy, but that just serves as a reminder that this pop-up book has been loved.
   

Friday, May 3, 2019

RUBE GOLDBERG'S SIMPLE NORMAL HUMDRUM SCHOOL DAY

Written by Jennifer George

Illustrated by Ed Steckley

Invention design by Jospeph Herscher and Ed Steckley

(Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2017)

Rube Goldberg was a cartoonist who devised complex, convoluted pathways for accomplishing everyday tasks. There would be a setup of pulleys and hammers, balances and levers that would be set  in motion like a chain of dominoes. This book takes an ordinary school day and imagines how a young Rube might make them more interesting through a series of linked steps. Simply waking up is no longer so simple. It requires a ray of sunshine reflecting off a mirror, ricocheting off and warming (and thus lightening) a wet towel which the raises its half of a balance...and so on and so forth. A boxing glove, a train set, a vacuum cleaner and a pitcher of water also come into play, creating a ten-step wake-up routine.

Oh, my.

A classic Rube Goldberg cartoon                            
Young readers will study the illustrations at length and then read the directions, imagining how a particular circuit might play out in their own lives while also possibly finding the glitchier steps in each sequence. Who wouldn't want to try getting dressed with a chain of events that begins with sliding down a banister? And why  not board the school bus by launching onto a zip line from your front doorsteps? Finding a hungry goat might get in the way of Rube's plan for sneaking into class late, but the sequence will put a smile on the reader's face. Art and P.E. teachers may have to brace for their rooms being completely transformed to make room for Rube's painting and hoop-throwing contraptions.

No doubt, kids will want to draft their own sequences for accomplishing ordinary tasks. There are, in fact, Rube Goldberg Machine contests held each year in which teams create their own multi-steps chains for doing a particular task such as putting money in a piggy bank. More information can be found at rubegoldberg.com.

Whether this book inspires kids to create a team or simply amuses them by looking at the fourteen tasks presented within, it's a book that should definitely be added to classroom and home libraries.



Saturday, April 27, 2019

A HUNDRED BILLION TRILLION STARS

Written by Seth Fishman

Illustrated by Isabel Greenberg

(Greenwillow Books, 2017)

Prepare to have your mind blown. Big numbers have a tendency to do just that. Sometimes they cause a panic. Like in math class. In that case, I draw a dollar sign in front of the number. Imagining that it’s money—your money—always makes it more palatable.

Or stars. Don’t big numbers become more fascinating when we imagine them as stars in the sky? The titular one hundred billion trillion (100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) stars is only the first number Fishman presents. Indeed most of the numbers in this book are gargantuan—the trees on Earth, all of the ants, the number of children (“or smallish snakes”) it would take to stretch from Earth to the moon. Some numbers don’t seem so large until one considers the context. Most alarming for me: Fishman tells us the average human consumes 70 pounds of bugs in a lifetime. (From now on, I shall be more selective about opening my mouth!)

A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars is absolutely mesmerizing. The facts are relatable to kids and Greenberg’s colorful illustrations depict diverse people. Even better, the book has one of the most useful Author’s Notes I’ve seen in a book. (What a great way to introduce kids to this oft-ignored component of a book!) In it, Fishman talks about how the numbers in the book are estimates and that the numbers will constantly change. (Mind boggling for kids!) “We can get very near the correct number on many things,” Fishman says, “near enough for us to understand how big they are—especially in comparison to the world around us.” The Note also breaks down place value to the billion trillions (or sextillions), enough to boggle everyone’s mind.


Tuesday, April 23, 2019

I LOST MY TOOTH!

By Mo Willems

(Hyperion Books for Children, 2018)

When you're young, losing a tooth is a big deal. I forgot that until I became a principal. Then I'd see kindergarteners and first graders come down to the office with a buddy, tooth in the palm of their hand, proudly telling the school secretary they lost their tooth. While I'd ham it up--"Oh, dear! Where'd you lose it? We should do a search!"--the school administrative assistant would reach in a cupboard to get a plastic tooth holder for the tooth-lite person to take home the little white nugget. Smiles all around.

I Lost My Tooth! is one of Willems' easy readers, a hefty 85-page book that is a quick page turner for the most part. The bulk of the book is taken up by the "BIG Story" about a bunch of squirrels fretting over Zoom Squirrel's lost tooth. And it's as silly as you'd expect.

     ZOOM SQUIRREL:     The tooth was loose.
     FLINK SQUIRREL:     Aha!
     ZOWIE SQUIRREL:    You should not let a tooth go loose, Zoom Squirrel.
     WINK SQUIRREL:      Teeth have no sense of direction.
     FLINK SQUIRREL:     You should have used a leash.

These squirrels are as corny--or as Willems would say, acorn-y--as I am.

The reading level is slightly higher than Elephant and Piggie books so it may require more support and it may not generate as many encore readings. Kids will like bonus features like the Emot-acorns in the bottom corner of pages and the Acorn-y jokes that appear after the main story. I Lost My Tooth! also includes nonfiction information at the end of the book, explaining what teeth are made of and comparing numbers and sets of teeth in squirrels, bears and sharks. (I also like the fact that this book has a table of contents which Willems intentionally points out to readers.) As is often the case with factual material, the reading level goes up a couple notches with vocabulary such as enamel, research and theory. This part of the book will require extra support. Still, it's refreshing to get the real scoop about squirrel teeth after all the zany fun.

I Lost My Tooth! doesn't have quite the charm factor of the Pigeon books or the Elephant and Piggie series but it will still be an entertaining experience for young readers, another memorable notch on their reading journey.

Monday, April 22, 2019

BILLY'S BOOGER: A MEMOIR

By William Joyce

(Antheneum Books for Young Readers, 2015)

Admittedly, I'm torn when I see books like this. Boogers, captains in underpants, farting dogs...not my thing. But then again, I wasn't the kind of kid who chugged root beer on a quest for the biggest belch. This book isn't for me.

And that's okay. It has an audience. I can see boys doing a double-take when they see the title. Did Mrs. Read really get this book for our library?! Yes, BILLY'S BOOGER will be one of the popular books in circulation. Because boogers are gross and hysterical (and apparently tasty according to four finger-active classmates).

BILLY'S BOOGER: A MEMOIR portrays Billy (author William Joyce's younger, fourth-grade self) as a creative boy who makes mashed potato-pea towers on his plate and does best with "invented" sports at school. The accompanying '50s-retro illustration shows a focused Billy, wearing flippers, a golf bag and holding a ping pong paddle in his mouth, ready to swing an oversized racket at a pitched pineapple. It doesn't jive with his P.E. teacher.

Things are worse with other subjects. Math is a special challenge. When the school announces a book contest, Billy gets excited. Here's a chance to channel his imagination. At this point, Joyce creates a smaller book within the book, younger Billy's booger book, complete with more primitive comic-style drawing, hand-print font and invented spelling. (Personally, I'd have called the book "Billy's Boogers" and given larger roles to other boogers. Why not go big?)

SPOILER ALERT: Billy's book doesn't win. Not even close. But, when the librarian puts the entries into library circulation, Billy's is most popular.

This echoes what I felt as a kid. The books with award stickers were the ones to avoid. They were the ones the librarians oohed and aahed over, the ones that made me restless with boredom. The really good books--the ones my boy group clustered around--never had silver-ribbon stickers.

So let a new generation of boys revel in BILLY'S BOOGER. Let them snicker as they take turns checking it out. Let them be amused when they take it home and proudly show it to tsk-tsking parents. Yes, it's a book and it's reading. Go with it.




Saturday, April 20, 2019

MIDDLE SCHOOL: SAVE RAFE!

Written by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts

Illustrated by Laura Park

(Little, Brown and Company, 2014)

I'll admit to Patterson-envy. It's one thing that his name is a constant on the adult fiction bestseller charts, but he has a solid stake in the middle grade list as well. Always another book, always another hit.

Oh, to be James Patterson!

This is the sixth book in the Middle School series, centered on Rafe Khatchadorian, a young comics artist with a knack for getting into trouble. The story begins with the news that the arts school Rafe planned to attend in the fall has closed. Thus, he is faced with going back to Hills Village Middle School. Reentry is not exactly a no-brainer since Rafe was previously expelled from HVMS. Moreover, Vice Principal Ida P. Stricker is now the principal and her equally rule-thirsty sister, Charlotte P. Stonecase, is the new VP. Rafe cannot return to HVMS unless he successfully completes a week-long intensive wilderness survival program prior to the start of school. And so Rafe, his mom, his grandmother and his sister Georgia head off  to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. As his car-mates sing a robust version of "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain," Rafe stews over his predicament, changing the lyrics:

     You'll be miles from civilization when you come!
     You'll be fighting dehydration when you come!
     You'll be riding on the river,
     Maybe eat some raccoon's liver,
     And you can't bring e-lec-tron-ics when you come!

Under the stern leadership of Sergeants Fish and Pittman, Rafe and seven other troubled (or in trouble) kids have to work through a series of nine challenges, from tower climbing to fire building to white water rafting, all of which require teamwork and grit. Participants must earn a certain number of reward tags at various points during the week in order to continue on the tortuous quest.  

The story sets the perfect tone and pace for middle grade readers with lots of humor tossed in. The comics which can take up part of a page or run across several pages complement  the narrative and are usually even funnier than the main story.  They portray chronically unfortunate Rafe, sometimes under the name Loozer, as he encounters his nemeses, be it Principal Stricker, Sergeant Fish or serpent-transforming Carmen. Kids could find great satisfaction just from skipping to all the comic sections--and surely some will do just that--but it's worthwhile to read the entire book, taking in the comics as text breaks.

My one quibble is it's a challenge to distinguish the seven other campers without most of them being single-trait caricatures. Veronica is the quiet talker, Burp is the pathological liar. Only Rafe's frequent task partner, Carmen, gets to become a fleshed out character and, even then, the information is limited. This really is The Rafe Show.

And an entertaining show it is. It's easy to see why Rafe Khatchadorian helms an eleven-book series. Kids will relate to the trials and humiliations of Rafe as he goes from one book setting to the next. Gosh darn it, Patterson--with a hand from Tebbetts and Park--knows what he's doing! 




Tuesday, April 16, 2019

WINDOWS

Written by Julia Denos

Illustrated by E.B. Goodale

(Candlewick Press, 2017)

This is a picture book that oozes with quiet charm. It follows a young boy at dusk, heading out from his home to walk the family dog through his neighborhood in Somerville, Massachusetts.  The boy appears to be of that age where he finally has some independence in roaming the local streets and, as the title suggests, the experience allows him to notice the simultaneous goings-on through a variety of windows of other houses and multi-family dwellings. It’s a simple, captivating book, imploring the reader to be more observant of his/her surroundings during local outings while also appreciating that warm feeling of returning home once again.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

I REALLY LIKE SLOP!

By Mo Willems

(Hyperion Books for Children, 2015)

Mo Willems is a genius. He takes simple, timeless concepts and makes them fresh and funny. In I Really Like Slop! Willems tackles food differences. Sometimes a certain dish from a foreign culture can make kids (and, yes, adults) cringe. It looks different, it smells different. Trying it is out of the question. Indeed, a strong negative reaction can make the person eating the dish feel pretty awful.

The meal at the center of this amusing book is Piggie’s titular slop and it’s hard to imagine a dish more polarizing. Elephant Gerald is outright repulsed. “YIKES!” he exclaims when seeing Piggie’s bowl of green glop. And then the judgy, “You EAT that!?”

Piggie is unfazed. “Pigs really, really, really, really, really like slop!”

Gerald remains critical. “What about all of those...flies?”

The flies,” Piggie says, “are how you know it is ripe!” 

Ah, but of course.

Gerald doesn’t want to hurt his friend’s feelings when offered a taste. Still, kids will easily relate to Gerald’s reticence. It takes twenty-one pages for Gerald to muster up the courage to try the teensiest, tiniest amount of slop. And, SPOILER ALERT, slop is no green eggs and ham and Gerald is no Sam I Am. Again, this is slop we’re talking about.

Just imagine Gerald’s response when Piggie offers up dessert.

The good news for humans is nothing will ever compare to slop. Not broccoli, not bok choy, not even frog’s legs. (Okay, well maybe frog’s legs!) The wonderful thing about Mo Willems’ series books is that the humor will surely make the dozens and dozens of repeated readings more than tolerable for adult ears. Moreover, how delightful it is to hear a young reader become more and more expressive with his or her oral reading. The added bonus of Piggie and Gerald books is that the dialogue bubbles are color coded, Piggie’s lines in pink, Gerald’s in gray. Adult and child can take turns playing the two characters during shared reads. What an opportunity for early positive reading experiences!

Now pass the slop.