Archives for posts with tag: Children’s Books

lightningReviewed by Tammie Benham

At age eight, Lucy Callahan was struck by lightning.  She survived however, the strike left her genius level Math skills, an inability to cope with germs, and the ability to recite the numbers of pi to infinity.  Over the years Lucy has developed coping mechanisms to ensure the numbers of pi don’t overtake her life.  She only allows the numbers of pi to be recited to the 314th decimal point, and apping her toe three times interrupts the number invasion in her head when she’s uncomfortable.  Lucy realizes some of her behaviors may seem odd to others but her intuitive self tells her people will get used to them over time.

 

Since the lightning strike, Lucy has been mainly homeschooled by her Nana.  However, things are about to change.  When Nana decides Lucy needs to attend Middle School and enter a world of her peers, Lucy is less than thrilled.  Thinking she should be in college, not Middle School, and with the brain power to succeed in such an advanced setting, Lucy tentatively gives in to her Nana’s demands-she must join an activity, read a book that’s not a Math textbook, and make a friend.  She finds the new environment as challenging as she had anticipated.

 

With the help of a like-minded teacher, a germy dog who steals her heart, and a boy who has the knack of seeing things from a different perspective, Lucy might just be able to survive seventh grade.

 

Lucy’s experiences while making friends with Windy (NOT Wendy) and Levi, serve as the backdrop for this middle grade novel.  Lessons of trust, friendship, loyalty, and forgiveness permeate the storyline.  Lucy’s character states she is diagnosed with Acquired Savant Syndrome, which explains her behaviors and abilities.  However, the characteristics Lucy exhibits may be familiar and help children identify with the story.

When the last written page of a book concludes and you find yourself wanting more, it’s always a good thing.  Stacy McAnulty’s debut novel ends in just such a way.  Here’s hoping the story of Lucy Callahan continues.  Written for grades 3-9, the story contains some bullying.

 

 

 

 

Although I don’t read a lot of children’s storybooks, one occasionally catches my eye with its use of artwork or subject. The latter was the case with “Pride: the Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag,” written by Rob Sanders and illustrated by Steven Salerno.

This slim volume opens with some brief background of then-unknown Harvey Milk, relating his hopes and the crux of “Pride”: “Harvey dreamed that everyone – even gay people – would have equality. He dreamed that he and his friends would be treated like everyone else. He dreamed that one day, people would be able to live and love as they pleased.”

Harvey goes on to find success as a politician, winning a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977 and becoming one of the United States’ first openly gay people elected to public office.

He and his friends plan protests to highlight inequality and unfair laws. Before one such march, Harvey has an idea. Deciding that the gay community needs a symbol, he talks to artist and Chanute, Kan., native Gilbert Baker, who suggests a flag. Gilbert’s vision culminates in the creation of a flag with eight colorful stripes, a rainbow flag.

The flag was first unfurled on June 25, 1978, at the Gay Freedom Day Parade in San Francisco. It was “A rainbow, as bright and unique as the men and women who walked behind it.”

Sadly, five months later, on November 27, 1978, five months after the debut of the rainbow flag, Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone are assassinated by former city supervisor Dan White. That night, there is no flag, no protests, only thousands of silent, grieving people marching with burning candles and mourning the loss of two lives.

Harvey’s death didn’t slow the momentum of the rainbow flag, however.

After a couple alterations – hot pink and turquoise are removed, leaving six stripes, and indigo is changed to royal blue – the flag is mass produced and begins to appear everywhere. “It was a flag of equality,” author Rob Sanders writes. “More and more people began to think of the flag as their flag. And they began to feel pride. They began to have hope.”

A 30-foot wide, mile-long rainbow flag is even carried by 10, 000 people during a New York City Pride celebration in 1994. And on June 26, 2015, when the United States Supreme Court rules that gay and lesbian couples have the constitutional right to marry, the White House is lit with the colors of the rainbow flag.

“Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag” moved me. Like many children’s books these days, it doesn’t shy away from tough, potentially divisive topics such as gay rights and death. The writing is as vibrant and inspiring as the colors of the rainbow flag, with strong action verbs and alliteration. It is poignant, as well. The illustrations are colorful and realistic.

By the way, if you’re looking for more information on Harvey Milk, you can find in the adult DVD collection the fine documentary “The Times of Harvey Milk” or the motion picture “Milk,” for which Sean Penn won a Best Actor Academy Award. The Joplin Public Library also has an excellent collection of LGBTQ+ books for all ages, among them Cleve Jones’s memoir “When We Rise: My Life in the Movement.”Pride

hello universeThis is the story of Virgil, Valencia, Kaori, and Chet, and their journey to friendship.

Erin Entrada Kelly’s 2018 Newbery Medal Winner has given a very important voice to diversity while at the same time disproving stereotypes.  This character-driven novel reads like one of the fables, told by Virgil’s grandmother or Lola, interspersed throughout the book.

Virgil is an introvert in a family of extraverts and can’t quite find a way to stand up to bullies, including his own family, who call him by a nickname he despises.  Valencia is feeling the weight of parents who are overprotective, she suspects because of her hearing loss. Kaori, who is on her third life, is the reincarnation of an Egyptian and a freedom fighter from Bangladesh. Chet Bullens is the school bully who hasn’t quite figured out what he’s good at in life and so points out perceived flaws in others.

According to Kaori, and her little sister Gen, the four are in the hands of Destiny during the few days in which the story takes place.  Virgil encounters Chet while on his way to seek fortune telling advice from Kaori and fate is set into motion.  When Virgil falls down an abandoned well he learns to conquer some of his fears.  The author deeply explores the sensory experience of Virgil while in the well, bringing the reader right along into his nightmare.

Virgil’s friends, Kaori and Valencia have to “feel” their way into finding Virgil, whose cell phone fell out of his pocket and shattered during his fall.  We are treated to the eccentric Kaori consulting star charts to divine the fate of Virgil.  Will the friends rescue Virgil or will his fears be realized when his bones are found in the well, beside the bones of his guinea pig, years into the future?

The funny, feel-good tone of this book compliments the pace.  The suspense builds to a climactic, if somewhat predictable ending, which is nonetheless satisfying. What a wonderful breath of fresh air to read about children who are ability diverse as “children” without their differences defining their character.

An important read for children 3rd grade and up.  This book is extensively quotable and would make a great classroom read-aloud.  Perhaps the plot is best summarized with this quote from Valencia, “Meanness always shows on people’s faces.  Sometimes you have to look hard for it.  Sometimes it’s just a part of a person’s features.”

Reviewed by Tammie Benham

February ijazzbabys Black History Month.  Introducing the accomplishments of some of our descendants to children when they are very young is a good way to honor these extraordinary Americans.  I took a look at offerings from the Children’s Department at Joplin Public Library and chose some old and new favorites to consider using.

 

Jazz Baby by Lisa Wheeler is a rhythmic, melodic romp through a day with a baby not yet old enough to walk.  “Mama sings high.  Daddy sings low.  Snazz-jazzy Baby says, ‘Go, Man, Go!’”  The story is written almost as a lyric and captivates young audiences, which is magnified by the energy of the reader.

 

specialWhat’s Special About Me, Mama? By Kristina Evans features a young child who sees himself in the faces of his family and wants to be told what makes him special.  His questioning is answered in a loving way by his mother, who reminds him that all the little things about  him add up to the special person he is.

 

hey.jpgHey Black Child, by Useni Eugene Perkins reminds children that being who they want to be is within their reach, that perceived limits are meant to be surmounted and it is within the power of every child to make the world into a better place.

 

mayaLittle People, Big Dreams: Maya Angelou, by Lisbeth Kaiser introduces the life of Maya Angelou in straight forward age-appropriate prose.  The books touches on her accomplishments, highlighting the impact she had on the world through her perseverance and unrelenting hope.

 

jazzThis Jazz Man, by Karen Ehrhardt plays with the rhythm and sounds of jazz, translating music into sound so that read aloud, the story becomes music.  The accompanying CD for this book features performance from legendary Jazz Men, who are also featured in the end pages.

 

nightA Night Out with Mama, is written by Quvenzhane Wallis, who is written also the main character in the book.  Quevenzhane is the youngest person ever to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.  This multi-talented young woman wrote of her experience attending the Oscars with her mother. Her fresh, authentic voices comes roaring through in this simple story of accomplishment and celebration.

 

Want more ideas for pictures books to share during the month?  Check out Scott Woods list at his blog, “Scott Makes Lists,” at https://scottwoodsmakeslists.wordpress.com/2018/02/07/28-more-black-picture-books-that-arent-about-boycotts-buses-or-basketball-2018/

 

 

 

 

 

cycloneCyclone, by Doreen Cronin

Reviewed by Tammie Benham

Doreen Cronin author of “Click Clack, Moo! Cows That Type,” among other popular story books, has launched her debut Juvenile Fiction novel, “Cyclone.”  Set in what appears to be present day, the story revolves around a central character, Nora who is in her early teens, and Nora’s feelings of responsibility for a stroke experienced by her teenage cousin, Riley.

Nora and Riley are best friends and best cousins.  When Nora answers Riley’s phone during a summer vacation sleepover and hears an older man’s voice, her suspicions that Riley is hiding an older man as a boyfriend spark an argument.  After a tussle for the phone in which Nora is knocked to the floor, she confronts Riley, who refuses to provide any information regarding the caller.  The two quickly move forward, now with a shared secret.

The next day Nora is scheduled to ride the Cyclone at Coney Island to finish a summer homework assignment.  Riley is the only family member that will entertain the idea of riding the coaster with Nora.  When Riley gets cold feet and backs out, Nora uses the “secret boyfriend” as blackmail to ensure she doesn’t have to ride the coaster alone. Despite Riley’s increasing anxiety and obvious panic, she rides the coaster in order to keep her secret.

The two exit the ride and are taking a selfie when Riley collapses with what we later learn is a stroke due to a heart condition.  Nora carries the guilt of the incident throughout the story.  Along the way we see her growth as she contemplates her unwillingness or inability to actually listen objectively to those in her life.

With Riley now having challenges with speech, Nora struggles with what to do with her knowledge of the secret boyfriend. During the climax of the novel, we learn that things aren’t always as they appear and listening to someone deeply helps build two way communication in relationships.

To successfully portray the challenges, anxiety, and confusion of an early teenage girl going through a traumatic event such as the one portrayed, Cronin uses Nora’s summer homework assignment, in which she has to write a school paper that includes footnotes.[1]  Cronin uses the report, and the footnotes, throughout the book as a device to explain medical terminology.

My respect for Ms. Cronin’s picture book talent led me to pick up this book.  The characters are believable and their voice becomes stronger as the novel progresses.  However, the use of footnotes to explain the medical terminology feels a bit patronizing and there are times when the characters seem overly emotional.  This book may appeal to those who are experiencing a medical situation or those curious about the medical field.

[1] Footnotes are an extra bit of information about something typically printed at the bottom of the page-like this footnote.

One of the great pleasures of my job is unpacking the new materials that arrive daily at the library. Books, DVDs, CDs – you name it, I get my hands on it fresh out of the box. Because I’m fortunate enough to receive this first look, I come across treasures that otherwise might not appear on my reading radar.

One such treasure is “Fanny in France,” a children’s book – juvenile fiction, to be precise – written by the esteemed chef and restaurateur, Alice Waters, with Bob Carrau. This delightful work is comprised of a series of vignettes about the food, friends and fun that Waters’ daughter experienced in France as a child.

Whether she’s describing a daylong effort making bouillabaisse at a Marseille vineyard, an impromptu picnic when becoming stranded while harvesting wild oysters, or making delicious cheese from the freshest of sheep’s milk, Fanny’s adventures and narrative voice enchant the reader with her honesty and sense of wonder.

Join her in the excitement of Bastille Day in Paris, eat sea urchin pulled from the ocean moments before, and get lost in a bustling outdoor market in Nice. Meet characters like Monsieur Poilane, a traditional baker who offers Fanny a “kid-size bubbling apple tart” straight from the huge brick oven in his basement, or Alice Waters’ artist friend Martine, who scours flea markets for special dinner party accoutrements and feeds a crowd of nine with one roast chicken.

Pick up valuable culinary tips. Learn to select fish by looking at the eyes; “if the fish’s eyes are shiny and clear and they look right back” at you, it’s good to eat. Cook like a chef by putting together a mirepoix, “a special mixture of carefully chopped vegetables and herbs that French people use to start lots of things they cook.” When making pizza dough, handle it tenderly, only stretching it as far as it wants to go; “let the dough guide you,” Fanny instructs.

In addition to anecdotes, “Fanny in France” contains recipes for the dishes mentioned throughout the book. Looking for light meal ideas? You might try the Watercress or Garlic Soup, or even a Salade Nicoise, an omelet or a Croque-Monsieur, also known as a grilled cheese sandwich. Want to wow dinner guests? Consider the Couscous Royal with Chermoula, a spicy North African herb sauce, or the Roasted Herbed Rack of Lamb. Craving something sweet? Throw together an Almond Brown Butter Cake or Chocolate Souffle for a decadent treat.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the glorious, adorable artwork by Ann Arnold. Its colorful detail adds a wealth of richness to “Fanny in France.”

Finally, lest you think you’d need a few years of high school French to read this book, never fear. There is a glossary in the final pages of “Fanny in France,” and the author does a great job of casually translating as she goes along. Nevertheless, I found to my delight that I’d retained enough of my six years of French to understand everything.

You can find “Fanny in France” in the Children’s Department of the Joplin Public Library.  I hope you relish it as much as I did. Happy travels, and bon appetit!

 

flyingThis anthology of short stories is edited by Ellen Oh, author and President of the We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) movement.  Oh has gathered an impressive group of authors who each present a vivid and memorable voice.  Each story allows the reader to immerse herself in a different cultural experience.  A true representation of the melting pot that is the United States of America, readers may see themselves in these stories, or have the opportunity to peek into the lives of individuals who may be vastly different than their own.

 

From Kwame Alexander’s “mostly true” memoir of a young man in an Honor’s English class, to Soman Chainani’s bittersweet tale of a young boy’s journey of enlightenment, to the childhood grief of losing a parent projected so perfectly in Kelly Baptist’s chronicles, this book is full of tales that are sure to captive a wide, and hopefully diverse, audience.  The star-studded list of authors are impressive in their own right and Oh ensures their work continues to be read with the inclusion of an “About the Authors,” appendage.  The quality you’ll find inside these pages is inspiring.

 

However different the scenery in each story, some common themes emerge.  The varied experiences of children leave their mark, no matter in which culture they happen.  At the end of each story, I found myself wanting to know what happens next, always a sign of an excellent reading experience.