Tag Archives: reviews

Animal Heroes–Non-Fiction Monday

Part of the War Stories collection, Animal Heroes discusses the various ways animals have served in armed combat through the years. From war elephants to messenger pigeons to bomb sniffing dogs, this book touches briefly on the wide variety of animals that have been a part of war. From the very beginning this book acknowledges that animals have no choice in participating in warfare, and that it may be considered cruelty to force them to participate. With that said, the book goes through the ages to discuss the role of animals in different conflicts, from ancient Rome to modern days. While the cover features a dog, this book focuses attention on a multitude of animals. Readers will enjoy learning about how pigs were used to defeat war elephants by frightening them off, how cats were befriended by WWI soldiers so they’d eat the rats in the trenches, and how today rats are trained to locate landmines. Since this is a huge topic, the coverage of any one animal or incident is brief, but many individual heroes are highlighted.

Gander and the Royal Riffles

Gander is one of the dog heroes profiled. He was the mascot of a Canadian group called the Royal Rifles, and saved the lives of many of the men, eventually giving his life to save the men when he grabbed a grenade that had been lobbed at them and ran with it. He was given a special medal of honor for animals serving in war.

This book would appeal to animal fans, history fans, and those interested in warfare. It is an interesting topic, not one many kids are required to read about, or would know to inquire after, but the book would make interesting reading for kids grades 3-5 if suggested by a librarian or teacher.


Fish You Were Here

Recently I was ordering some graphic novels for the children’s collection, when I discovered the Pet Shop Private Eye series. This series is a perfect match for our collection, it is funny, easy to read, and doesn’t have any materials questionable for kids. Since graphic novels are told with pictures, it can be difficult to distinguish what is appropriate for children. We had Nancy Drew in our Graphic Novel collection until it became apparent that the written descriptions of crimes were less disturbing then the visual.

In Fish You Were Here the fourth volume of the Pet Shop Private Eye Series, the absent minded shop owner is looking for an assistant. His interviews are silly, with important questions like on a scale of 1 to 10 have you ever ridden a llama? The various animals comment as different candidates come and go. Finally it seems like the perfect candidate has been found. Viola LOVES animals, and seems to be a fount of knowledge, rushing around to help all of the animals and show the shop owner all the things he’s been doing wrong. But when the shop owner leaves, things change and not for the better. The animals must figure out what happened and hopefully get their beloved shop owner back before it is too late!

This is a great entry in a fun series. I’ve only briefly skimmed through the other volumes in the series, and I had no problem picking up this one and starting with little knowledge of the other books.
That is a good feature for me, because it is hard at the library to recommend books if the first in the series is ALWAYS checked out. With this series I feel kids could start at any point. The illustrations are colorful, the text not too complex, and the story is funny. I think this book will appeal to both boys and girls from second grade up.

One World, Many Stories, Many of which are Non Fiction

In getting ready for the summer, I’m reviewing some non fiction titles that go along with the Summer Reading Program theme: One World, Many Stories. I’ll post some folktale collections later, but today I have some more books on children of the world.

A Life Like Mine A Life Like Mine, UNICEF. This is a very nice profile of the lives of children around the world. The pictures of children and stories really bring the varying circumstances to life, and statistics and diagrams can clearly explain what are sometimes complicated situations. The one problem with this is that it is growing dated. There is a profile of a girl in Afghanistan that talks about 2001 and there is no question in my mind that circumstances are vastly different today. I hope that this is updated, as it is a beautiful resource.

Children Around the World Children Around the World, Donata Montanari. On one hand this book seems less dated then the previous book, though it is older, but on the other hand the children seem less real. This is because the children are represented with colorful illustrations, not pictures, and the descriptions are sketchy and vague. Because there are no actual photos, this book makes the children seem like stereotypes that are not real people. Personally, I’d rather have real children, who are a little dated.

One World, One Day One World, One Day , by Barbara Kerley. Another beautiful photo montage book from Kerley and the National Geographic. This book follows children as they go about their days, waking up, eating, going to school, working, play, and going home. These children are from around the world, and the end of the book includes extensive details of where the pictures were taken and what was going on at the time. I love those details of the photographer, but the text is super small. It makes me feel old, but I couldn’t read them with or without my glasses on. Overall, this is a great resource for showing how alike and yet different children are all over the world.

Houses and Homes (Around the World Series) Houses and Homes (Around the World Series) by Ann Morris, Ken Hayman, photographer. Interestingly, this beautiful book about the places people live is the oldest title represented here, but still doesn’t feel as dated. Perhaps because it focuses on houses, and not people, and perhaps it is because it is assumed (incorrectly) that if you get pictures of people in other parts of the world they are going to look old fashioned in some way. Regardless, it is a great book, and the illustrations and text are suitable for very young children. I used this in preschool storytime on houses.

As summer approaches, I plan on posting more non fiction reviews of titles on the summer reading theme.

Emerging Readers

Among the hardest things to find in the library is a really good book for the earliest emerging reader. An ideal book would have just a few words on each page, easy words that can be sounded out, that repeat, that are reflected in the pictures on the page. They would feature topics that are concrete and use vocabulary that the children learning to read will already know. They will only introduce one new concept at a time, rather then overwhelming readers.

Perhaps most importantly, they will be published in hard back or library binding, and will each have its own ISBN number, so we can catalog them. This is because I know that there are lots of books put out for emerging readers in kits that are used by teachers and schools. Typically these are a few pages that frequently are stapled together and come as part of a kit where children build from the bottom up. Unfortunately, we do not have the capability to circulate these items. If we buy a kit with many books, they all have to go out together, which means they get put into an unattractive case and never go out at all. Now we don’t buy them at all.

So what is there for the emerging reader? Most publishers put out a level one reader, but that could mean anything—usually these books are too difficult for the beginners. Occasionally I find a pre-level one book, or a my first book, but these are few and far between. Here are a few examples of books suitable for the earliest reader:

Puppy Mudge Finds a Friend (Puppy Mudge Ready-to-Read)Puppy Mudge books by Cynthia Rylant are some of the most simple out there, and I wish there were more!

Hello, Freight Train! (Scholastic Reader, Level 1) Hello Freight Train is one of three books all very simple, all on transportation, which is one of those high appeal topics. The downside is these are flimsy paperbacks.

Inside Outside Upside Down (Bright & Early Books(R)) Inside, Outside, Upside Down, by the Berenstains. The very early Berenstain bear books were early readers that are very simple, just a few words to tell the story.

See Pip Point (Ready-to-Read. Pre-Level 1) There are a handful of Otto books, most out of print, but all good for emerging readers.

I’d love suggestions for other good very early reader books or series. We did order the Bob books that were printed together, but I’m always looking for more books!

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda Dwight is a strange kid in many ways, perhaps the strangest is the puppet he wears on his finger. An origami figure of Yoda. Yes, a Yoda finger puppet, who just like in the movies, supposedly, is a font of wisdom. And when kids listen to him, things seem to work out right. Only is it the puppet with the wisdom, or could it possibly be that oddball Dwight? Well, Tommy needs to know, because how else can he decide if he should follow Yoda’s advice?

So just like the scientists who go and look at an animal living in the wild, Tommy and his friends decide to go at this scientifically, and record each instance of Yoda’s advice, its outcome, and whether or not it works out. The Strange Case of Origami Yoda is this casebook, full of drawings, stories of Yoda’s misadventures, and evidence one way or another. Will Tommy and his friends figure out Dwight and his Yoda before it is too late to take his advice?

This book has some Wimpy Kid read alike appeal, but with its cast of characters including girls and boys and a range of topics, this book is not for boys alone! Plus instructions on how to make a Yoda of your own. I really want to book talk this book–so even though I’m doing science and Earth Day books I will squeeze this in.

Lemme Library hosts Book Talk Tuesday, head on over to check this week’s offerings out!

Beginning Reader Adaptions

Books for beginning readers feature a wide range of topics, themes, and subjects. To entice kids to read, find something they love, and usually we can find a reader for them. Like superheroes, Barbie, Disney, horses, farm machines, legos, television shows, Star Wars? We got you covered. I emphasize over and over to parents that if they find a topic their kids enjoy, the kid is more likely to stick with reading, and be willing to challenge themselves to read more!

This year, I ordered the readers for my system, so I can tell you that there are a lot of adaptions of things in popular culture for the beginning reader. One thing I’ve noticed lately is the adaption of picture book characters to the reader format. These have been around for years, like with Arthur books and the Berenstain Bears books. Some are more successful than others. Here are four examples of some recent adaptions:

Ducks in a Row Ducks in a Row, adapted from characters written by Jackie Urbanovic. This is a silly story about a duck who wants to help, but isn’t sure where to pitch in, until his relatives come by and make him do everything for them, so he is happy to take a break once they leave. A nice adaption, but this is a more challenging level 1, and features longer sentences. It is really aimed at the child who is reading, maybe 1st grade.

Splat the Cat: Splat the Cat Sings Flat (I Can Read Book 1) Splat the Cat: Splat Sings Flat adapted from the books written by Rob Scotton. This book reveals some of the potential problems of adapting books–many of the names are WAY hard to read for a level 1. The book isn’t particularly funny, and is not leveled correctly. I’m also not sure how many Splat fans we have out there.

Pinkalicious: School Rules! Pinkalicious: School Rules, based on the characters created by Victoria Kann. I liked the first Pinkalicious book, but it was all downhill from there. That said, this book does appeal to girls who aren’t as jaded with the books. This is another mis-leveled book, more a level 2.

Fancy Nancy: My Family History (I Can Read Book 1) The Fancy Nancy readers are super popular and probably one of the better adaptions, but still more difficult for emerging readers to master.


(This book talk is for a fourth grade class)

Crunch When you don’t drive a car, gas prices don’t seem very important–since you don’t have to buy any! But the price of gas impacts everything, when it gets more expensive the price of other things raises. Everything you buy has to get to the store somehow, and that cost goes up, so you get to pay that cost. But even so, people still pay the money to get the gas. What would happen, though, if there was no more gas, no matter how much money you have?

In Crunch, by Lesile Connor, this is exactly what happens. And to make it even worse, Dewey Marris’ parents are stuck with the truck his dad drives way up north, with no hope of getting back unless gas becomes available again. So Dewey is left at home with his older sister and three younger brothers, two of whom are twin 5 yr olds. Not only that, he and his brother have to keep the family’s bike repair shop open, because with no gas everyone is turning to bike power to get around. Dewey doesn’t want to turn any one away, and since he is responsible he just keeps taking on more and more. But how much can one boy do, especially when things are disappearing, and there seems to be no hope his parents will return soon? Can he figure out who the thief is? Will his parents ever make it home?

Read Crunch, by Lesile Connor to find out what a world without gas would be like and to see if Dewey and his family can survive the crunch.

Book Talk Tuesday is hosted by Lemme Library, visit her there to read all of the other great book talks!

Love These Dogs

Love That Dog Recently I read Love That Dog by Sharon Creech, which did make me cry right there in my office on my lunch break. Not to spoil the ending or anything but something bad may or may not have happened to Jack’s dog. It is a powerful and simple book, and a perfect reminder of the way a few words can communicate so much more clearly sometimes then a rush of words. That is something I forget, when I can type, type, type to try to be clear, when more words just muddle things up.

So here is my poem, inspired by Sharon Creech, who was inspired by Walter Dean Myers

Love These Dogs

Love these  dogs like a bear loves  honey
I said I love these dogs
like a bear loves honey
Love to come home in the evening
love to come home
to see them dance so funny

Ok, so it isn’t great. But it is also my first poem since grade school. Plus it is true, and my dogs really do a crazy dance when I come in at night.
If you love poetry I recommend you read Walter Dean Myers’ hauntingly beautiful original poem, or the lovely story of Jack and his dog by Sharon Creech.

Poetry Friday is hosted at The Poem Farm today, stop by and check out all the other awesome poems!

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick The Mysteries of Harris Burdick is one of those books that shaped my childhood, filled it with wonder, and prompted many flights of imagination on my part. My mother had a copy and I remember pouring over the images and creating stories in my head as I drifted off to sleep. One teacher even had us write a story to go along with an image of our choice, I think I wrote a 20 page fantasy based on the door knob moving. That I can remember almost twenty years later this writing experience, shows what a lasting impact this book had on my life. Of course I became a librarian not a writer.

Now almost thirty years later, the mysteries of the 14 drawings of Harris Burdick are back, but this time a group of talented and well known authors have each taken one story to tell. On one level this threatens to take away some of the mystery, and the introduction by Lemony Snicket suggests that these might be the real tales, dropped off by Burdick for noted children’s authors to find. But after reading them, I’m not sure that all of the mystery is explained away in these stories.

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick: Fourteen Amazing Authors Tell the Tales / With an Introduction by Lemony Snicket While the stories are all very different, in tone, style, and subject, they were mostly well written and entertaining. The only one I struggled with was the first one, by Tabitha King, where I had a hard time following what was going on. That said, only one really seemed a perfect fit for the illustration, and that one was written by the illustrator. The other stories seemed to me to be one explanation of the illustration, but many times I’d read the story and then study the illustration and say “well, what about that part?” This, I think is a good thing. It would be a sad thing if these stories became the definitive answer to the mysteries of these images. The fact that someone could read these stories and say, “well, I would tell the story different,” is a good thing!

Among my favorite of the stories were Sherman Alexie’s funny and grim story of two strange siblings, Jules Fieffer’s dark tale of a children’s author consumed in a madness of his own making, Lois Lowry and Katie DiCamillo’s historical fiction stories based on the images, and M.T. Anderson’s darkly mysterious suburbia.

Definitely a recommended read, especially for children’s librarians who grew up loving the original.

One of these things is not like the other…

As a librarian, books are connected in my head in different ways, and I always look for more ways to find things that tie books together. Are they funny, do they feature new ways to use shoes, or would they be good for a three-year old who eats things he shouldn’t? The more I can figure out about a book, the better I’m able to use it in programing and recommend it to others. So here is the library test, four books all with a connection, one of which does not fit with the others:

Our Tree Named Steve First, Our Tree Named Steve by Alan Zweibel, illustrated by David Catrow.

Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs (Goodnight) Second, Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs, written and illustrated by Tomie DePaola.

Samantha Jane's Missing Smile: A Story About Coping With the Loss of a Parent Third, Samantha Jane’s Missing Smile, by Julie Kaplow and Donna Pincus, illustrated by Beth Spiegel.

The Tenth Good Thing About Barney And last: The Tenth Good Thing About Barney, by Judith Voirst and illustrated by Erik Blegvad.

All of these books share a major theme, and you get a special sparkly librarian star if you can tell me what the subject is! Each book tells a story, and during the telling of the story children can learn about this theme. But one of these books was written with the express purpose of dealing with this issue, it has a “parent’s guide” and uses teaching moments to help children deal with their emotions and learn to express themselves. It isn’t a bad book, and could be useful for the right child in the right moment, but this book is not literature. Rather, to my mind, this type of book is a tool, a resource, and should be located with the other books on similar topics in the non-fiction. Because it is a book written specifically for children to read when facing this issue, it has less appeal for a wider audience. Whereas, the other books on the same topic are perfect to introduce children not facing this challenge to the emotions and situations they have yet to face.

One of the major differences I see in these books is that three of them feature real characters, who have lives and emotions that are complicated and varied, while one features a character who is defined by this one thing that has happened to her. I find that most books written for the express purpose of bibliotherapy are poor literature, and face characters that are one-dimensional, defined only by the lesson they are designed to teach. For me, these books-as-tools should be put in the non-fiction, while the picture books and chapter books should be filled with multidimensional characters who face all kinds of issues, but are not defined by them.