Mar 31, 2013

A Springtime Buffet of Books

Spring involves various holiday celebrations and commitments, not to mention the time demands of  following NCAA March Madness, (followed by celebrating or grieving for my teams of choice), baseball's opening days, and refilling  birdfeeders for my returning feathered friends. Add to that  this week's major distraction- watching snow melt- and I've opted to feature some seasonal prior posts.

First, with a nod to the amazing skills of young athletes, here are  some thoughts about the importance of building character and values at the core of any skill, athletic or otherwise. 

Next, with baseball's opening day in mind, use this post featuring non-fiction and biography titles to explore the history of some of the greatest names the sport has ever known.

Finally, there are quality poetry titles dealing with every topic, mood, and setting. A day without poetry is like a day without sunshine- it happens, but you're definitely missing something. April is National Poetry Month, so here's a look back at a post featuring recent releases everyone will enjoy.

And with that I'm off to enjoy an array of spring diversions, the company of friends, and the pleasures of sunshine (even when intermittent) and  sports (win or lose). Happy Springtime!

Mar 23, 2013

March Madness and Its Maker

Here's hoping that somewhere in the midst of bracket-tweaking, team-cheering, and post-game analysis some of the millions following the NCAA Tournament will need a breather and find their way here. Although I'm a die-hard baseball fan, I get swept up in the excitement, too. I have at least three teams to whom I pledge allegiance, and all three made it to the magical "64" this year. (To avoid alienating readers, I'm withholding names.) Unlike baseball, basketball is a sport that allows for players of any age or gender to be able to practice skills or just shoot hoops when alone, which is hard to say for many team sports. These are reasons to dedicate a post to basketball, but sharing powerful picture books is an even greater incentive to haul out my brightest spotlight and shine it on this book.
Carolrhoda Books (Lerner), 2013

The name James Naismith turns up regularly in trivia games, crossword puzzles, and even the occasional Jeopardy session. John Coy's non-fiction picture book about Naismith and the genesis of basketball should be read by anyone who has ever watched, played, or even heard of this game. HOOP GENIUS: HOW A DESPERATE TEACHER AND A ROWDY GYM CLASS INVENTED BASKETBALL is illustrated by Joe Morse and the subtitle says it all.
But please don't stop reading there. 
The text is crisp, controlled, muscular, and fast-paced; not unlike a competitive game of basketball. The muted colors, black-line edges, and intense expressions in the illustrations  are equally muscular and dramatic. In fact, the text and pictures combine to put the reader in the shoes of a  thirty-year-old teacher walking into a gym class of near-grown men who had already caused two teachers to quit.  The images of the aggressive players and their scowling features are enough to make many turn around and walk out. 
Not Naismith. 
He concocted  and adapted several other games, but injuries and fights continued. Drawing on a childhood memory, he imagined a skill-based game that limited body contact. When it came to ball-handling skills, their sprawling arms, legs, and massive hands made this the ideal batch of basketball guinea pigs. The photo of that original team in the back matter suggests the illustrations are no exaggeration of reality.
I particularly enjoyed the endpapers, which are the reproduced images of Naismith's two-page typed (and hand-revised) rules for the game. Thirteen rules, two-pages double-spaced. The official NCAA manual for 2012 has a four-page index, double columns and 9-point font!
I urge you to read this and share it with anyone who loves the game. Since reading it I can't hear a single squeaky sneaker on a basketball court, in the tournament  or otherwise, without picturing the man who launched a sport that now encircles the globe.
While you're at it, here  are several other basketball picture book titles to add to your basket or hold requests:
Candlewick, 2004

For lively rhyming text using the voice of the basketball try LET'S PLAY BASKETBALL, by Charles R. Smith, Jr. and illustrated by Terry Widener.

Sleeping Bear Press, 2005

Older readers will be intrigued by the colorful images and informative text in this basketball entry in the non-fiction series by Sleeping Bear Press:  J IS FOR JUMPSHOT: A BASKETBALL ALPHABET, by Michael Ulmer, illustrated by Mark Braught

Carolrhoda Books, 2011

The youngest, Nerf-ball chucking kids will be delighted with DINO-BASKETBALL, by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Barry Gott.

Fans of any age, or even **gasp** non-fans will find things to cheer for in these titles. Considering that odds of having "your" team win, or even reach the final four, comfort yourself with the thoughts that these are all winners. 

Mar 16, 2013

Gender-Free Book Selection

In the last post I shared some outstanding titles about women who played pivotal roles in American and world history. The post included links to several admirable blogs, all in deference to Women's History Month. The always helpful blog,  Humor Me, offers a recent post featuring a cavalcade of stellar titles. But PLEASE, please, note my concern: once March is over don't let these titles languish on shelves or even be tucked away in unit boxes, not to see the light of day again until next March.

This week's TIME Magazine had a short piece titled: PLAY WITHOUT STEREOTYPES, which asserted that gender-stereotyping, mainly toy preferences, often first appear at the age of school attendance. Their report that toy-makers are tapping into new markets by developing gender-neutral versions of  various toys is encouraging. It reminded me that one reason I HATED kindergarten was the gender segregation of the activity centers. The "Girls' Corner" had a kitchen, playhouse, and various "homemaker" options. The "Boys' Corner" had, well, pretty much everything else: easel, blocks, anything on wheels, fire fighter, military, and police hats, tools, etc. (Is there any wonder I developed feminist leanings before that word even existed?)
Marshall Cavendish
Children's Books, 2012

Marshall Cavendish 
Children's Books, 2011

So, where am I going with this? I'm heading to a discussion of three titles by Sue Fliess
SHOES FOR ME  and A DRESS FOR ME are both illustrated by Mike Laughead
TONS OF TRUCKS is illustrated by Betsy Snyder. It's a sturdily constructed interactive book with delightful flaps, wheels, and folds to enhance the colorful illustrations.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012

All three are written in verse that is crisp, well-metered, and tightly rhymed with very low word counts. In the first two a young hippo  has outgrown her clothing and finds lots of options, but none that work. Her frustrated mom is heading for the door when the "just-right" choice is spotted and little hippo's mission is accomplished. 

On first glance the truck book appears to be nothing more than a compendium of truck types, richly embedded with colors, sizes, shapes, descriptive words, and charming characters. Add to that loads of appealing interactivity.  Then the final spread parks the vehicles at a rest stop, and suddenly it becomes a bedtime book. All three titles are delightful additions to any collection for young readers and I recommend them to you.

Hippo shares her pages with a variety of other animal shoppers, and the trucks are "manned" by a wide array of recognizable animals, most of whom appear to be male, but several sport bows or are generic enough to be gender neutral.

asked a kindergarten-teaching friend to share these lively, colorful books with her class and let me know what they thought of them. She reported that all three received "thumbs up" from both boys and girls. Specific praise included the lively rhymes, the funny characters, the colorful illustrations. Of course, the interactive book was the favorite for both boys and girls. 
Then she asked her ultimate "rating" question: Would you take it from the shelf to reread?
The girls said they would choose any/all of the three eagerly. 
The boys said they would take the Dress and Shoe books for their sisters, but the Truck book for themselves. 

When it comes right down to it, that's not a "problem", and yet it bothers me. After listening attentively and praising many aspects of the first two books, none of the boys would actually choose to read them. Setting aside my personal gender-ization trauma from  kindergarten, I wonder if we've succeeded in helping girls find their way into activities and interests of all kinds quite easily, while allowing boys to self-limit and restrict their choices, particularly in book selection. 
When it comes to reading, CHOICE is the magic word, and I don't advocate ruling specific titles "in" or "out" for kids. But let's make sure we encourage wide reading for all kids, and never make the mistake of limiting their choices by gender assumptions.

And just as we would never suggest that only African Americans should read titles featured during Black History Month, let's never make the assumption that stories about women/girls won't appeal to boys. We need to find and share titles featuring characters and stories with such dramatic appeal that they will be snatched off the shelves by EVERY reader.
The same is true during Black History Month, Women's History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, or any "topical" focus unit. 

Mar 8, 2013

Shaping History- One Woman at a Time

Okay, okay, okay... despite my persistent pouting about the arbitrary and somewhat restrictive aspects of designating "months" for various important shapers of history, March is what it is- Women's History Month. That presents a perfect opportunity to feature three eloquent biographies about women whose lives transformed America and influenced the world. If that sounds like hyperbole, I challenge you to read these books and see if you don't agree.
In each case I've also linked to reviews on blogs you may want to follow.
Balzer + Bray, 2013

Let's start with BRAVE GIRL: CLARA and the SHIRTWAIST MAKERS' STRIKE of 1909  by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Melissa Sweet. On Goodereads I wrote:

Clara Lemlich's role in the early labor movement (International Ladies Garment Workers Union) is stirringly portrayed in words and images. Pair this with Littlefield's FIRE IN THE TRIANGLE FACTORY or Gunderson's graphic history: THE TRIANGLE SHIRTWAIST FACTORY FIRE for engaging discussions about labor history in the early 1900's.

For more details read this review on the Prairie Lights Books blog.

Albert Whitman & Co., 2012
Then take time to read and appreciate HEART ON FIRE: Susan B. Anthony Votes for President, by Ann Malaspina, illustrated by Steve James. Here's my note from Goodreads:
Numerous titles share the story of Susan B. Anthony and her role in securing women's right to vote. In most cases the event featured in this title is mentioned as one of many.This book, with immediacy and focus, tells of her decision to exercise her fourteenth amendment right to vote in the presidential election. Her subsequent trial and outspoken position in the face of a conviction were, as the text says, "Outrageous. Unbelievable. True."
Back matter offers excellent extended information to put this isolated story into the context of her life.

Here's a review from a blog by children's author Jeanne Walker Harvey, True Tales & a Cherry On Top.
Hyperion, 2009

Last, but by no means least (or final), in any discussion of biographies of amazing women, is ELEANOR, QUIET NO MORE, by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Gary Kelley.
From childhood on Eleanor was made to feel self-conscious and unimportant, but she seized opportunities to learn and grow. Eventually a teacher "shocked" her into thinking, to seeing the world as it was, to recognize needs in others, and to serve.
Her life of service is described in accessible text and illustrated in luminous images and direct quotations.

Check out this review on a  blog worth following this month and always, A Mighty Girl.

And just to show what a good sport I can be about these monthly themes I'll suggest a few other posts that feature titles you won't want to miss:

I recommend that KidLit Celebrates should be your first stop, and bookmark it for future reference. After that stop by TeachWithPictureBooks, which has been inactive lately but offers archives rich with worthy titles and resources. Finally, you can't go wrong following the School LIbrary Journal blog.

Mar 2, 2013


Chronicle Books, 2013

In the last post I shared an interview with Jesse Klausmeier, author of the recent release OPEN THIS LITTLE BOOK, illustrated by Suzy Lee. 
Center Spread

I hope by now you've had a chance to get your hands and eyes (and hearts) on this uniquely formatted book that nests progressively smaller books inside each other. The dense layering of detail, images, and meaning beg for frequent rereading and close observation. It's a  testament to the physical book, and to literacy.

It's also an invitation to explore, compare, consider, and celebrate the depths and joys of picture books in general, and this one in particular. For example, as each interior book reduces in size, its respective "reader" increases in size: ladybug, to frog, to rabbit, to bear, to giant, who holds the tiniest book of all.

Another pattern spans front end papers to back. The illustrations within transition from minimal color and detail to progressively richer and livelier content and co-mingled color as each book and "reader" interacts with the next.

What I particularly enjoyed was having the giant join the original/actual reader outside the physical limits of the book. From the title to the back cover, the reader becomes a player in the process and the playfulness of this innovative book.
In my mind I can picture the reader sitting in the giant's lap while they share this amazing experience.

I'm a huge fan of picture books of all types, targeted to any age. There are some select few, though, that provide a remarkable experience such as this. They stand before the reader as mirrors, reflecting the shared responsibility of the book and the reader to grasp the magic wand and say the magic words together.

First, if you haven't done so yet, find and OPEN THIS LITTLE BOOK. Then take a look at these other titles that share the mirror and magic of picture books.
Chronicle Books, 2011

PRESS HERE, by Herve` Tullet, is as interactive as they come, and utterly intriguing for readers of every age.
Roaring Book Press, 2010
Next, IT'S A BOOK, by Lane Smith, and its gentler boardbook version, IT'S A LITTLE BOOK.
Roaring Book Press, 2011

How hard can it be to understand "It's a Book"? If Gorilla gets it, and Mouse gets it, why can't Jackass? Maybe, when he unplugs for a moment, he will.

Hyperion, 2011

And, finally, YOU'RE FINALLY HERE, by Melanie Watt.
On Goodreads I said this:

This book blends the character strength and second person voice of Don't Let The Pigeon Ride the Bus with the ironic and slightly snarky approach of It's A Book. That's quite a high bar,  but this sassy little rabbit holds its own in such lofty company.

Are there other magic-making books you'd like to recommend?
Picture books are as versatile and diverse as the readers who enjoy them. Join me to explore the wacky, wonderful, challenging and changing world of picture books.