Waking Brain Cells
Chimpanzee Children of Gombe by Jane Goodall, photos by Michael Neugebauer
Jane Goodall invites young readers to spend some time in the Gombe National Park in Tanzania with the chimpanzee families she has been studying for decades. Readers are introduced to two chimpanzee families, F-family and G-family, who are all named with that letter as the first in their name. So there are Ferdinand, Faustino and Fifi and also Gremlin, Galahad and Gaia. Goodall shows similarities between humans and chimpanzees, including greeting each other with kisses, having mothers who are good and others who are not so good, and children who love to play. The book celebrates the close family bonds of chimpanzees, the caring mothers who lug children on their fronts and then their backs, siblings who play together, and the way young are taught to use tools. The result is a book that is a trip to their world and an invitation to learn more about these amazing endangered animals.
Goodall writes with a wonderful inviting tone, explaining facts carefully but also allowing the images of the animals to tell much of the story. She plays hostess in the book, taking care to make sure that children know the basics about the chimpanzees and then also moving on to include other animals like baboons and monkeys that live in the same area. The book nicely balances offering just enough information to stay fascinating and not overwhelming children with too many small facts. Instead it reads as a stroll alongside Goodall through her research center.
The photographs by Neugebauer reinforce what Goodall is explaining in words. Readers see the close family ties, they witness young chimpanzees at play, and there are gorgeous shots of the habitat itself that show how special and important this place is.
A strong introduction to Goodall’s work, this book is engaging and inspiring. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Elementary School, Nonfiction Tagged: animals, chimpanzees, Jane Goodall, nature
Little Red Riding Hood by The Brothers Grimm, illustrated by Sybille Schenker, translated by Anthea Bell
This follow-up to the illustrator’s gorgeous rendition of Hansel and Gretel continues to show her amazing skills with cut paper illustrations. The cover the book is pure black with cut outs that reveal a red and white pattern behind. It’s rather like opening a door into another world. The story is the traditional one, told in a simple way that highlights the more dramatic moments. Be prepared for the traditional ending with the wolf killed, his body cut open and then refilled with stones so that he dies. This is not a modernized and gentle version at all. Yet that works particularly well with these incredible illustrations and the wonder they evoke.
Schenker plays with her cut paper throughout. There are times when the page is entirely cut through, into patterns. Other times the illustrations are cut paper but the page is whole. You will find yourself running your hands over the page to see if the cuts are actual or simply visual. She shows such skill throughout creating moments that change as you turn the page and they become even more dazzling as you look back through the cuts. My favorite page turn is when the wolf eats Little Red Riding Hood, it’s an astonishing change that works oh so well.
Wundergarden has some illustrations online from Schenker. Here are ones from this book:
If you are looking for a version of Little Red Riding Hood to treasure, this is it. It may not last for long on public library shelves, but it is a book that will be loved by those who discover it. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Picture Books Tagged: fairy tales, wolves
2014 was a great year for books – and for book covers! Behold these beauties: http://on.nypl.org/1zBCqeZ
Filed under: Recommended Links
My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories edited by Stephanie Perkins
Twelve bestselling young adult authors come together to create an amazing collection of holiday stories for teens. Each story in this collection is a delectable treat, contrasting with the others yet each is just as romantic, snowy and filled with holiday spirit as the one before. The twelve authors are Holly Black, Ally Carter, Gayle Forman, Jenny Han, David Levithan, Kelly Link, Myra McEntire, Stephanie Perkins, Rainbow Rowell, Laini Taylor, and Kiersten White. Each brings their own unique voice to the collection, each celebrates the holidays with their own twist. Some are pure holiday bliss, Christmas centered and lovely, while others are gorgeously twisted and wild yet also speak to the real spirit of the season. You never quite know where the next story will take you, and that is a large part of this collection’s appeal.
Perkins has done an amazing job of creating a holiday collection with plenty of diversity. There are Jewish characters, characters of different races, pagan characters, those who believe in holidays, those who are jaded as can be. There is magic in some of the stories, tangible magic that you can feel and touch, while other stories have that indefinable magic of love and connection.
You are guaranteed to have your favorites among the stories. For me, one of them hit my heart so hard that I wept, but it may not be the one you’d expect it to be. Each one connects deeply with the characters, making them real people even such a short span of pages. Each one offers up the author’s voice with a clarity that is incredible. One could pick many of the authors out even with the stories mixed up and unnamed.
An outstanding collection of holiday stories, these stories focus on the new adult rather than teens in high school, which makes it even more rare and lovely. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from library copy.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Teen Tagged: Christmas, Hanukkah, holidays
Creature Features: 25 Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page
Look right into the eyes of 25 animals as they answer a question about why they look the way that they do. The animals range from sun bears to various birds to giraffes to frogs and fish. With each turn of the page there is a new animal looking straight at you, ready to explain the feature that is their most unusual. That explanation is filled with just enough scientific information to be fascinating and to inspire more exploration of the animal. The paragraphs are short enough to be shared with even quite young children who are fascinated by animals. This is a great addition to even the most crowded of animal shelves.
Filled with Jenkins’ trademark cut paper art, this is an exquisite look at each animal, some of which you may never have seen straight on from the front like the mole rat or the shoebill stork. The unique point of view makes for unusual images of these animals that make you look at them in a different way. Wonderfully, Jenkins manages to make each meet your eyes in a distinct way that matches their species. See how long you can lock gazes with the ferocious ones!
One that will be read again and again by young animal lovers, this book deserves a spot in every public library. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Nonfiction, Picture Books Tagged: animals
Goodnight, Already! by Jory John and Benji Davies
Bear is so very tired, all he wants to do is go to sleep. But his next door neighbor, Duck, feels exactly the opposite and has never felt more awake as he reads a book on staying awake and drinks a pot of coffee. As Bear climbs into bed and pulls up his blanket, ready to snooze, Duck comes over for a visit. Duck offers all sorts of ideas of what they could do together, but all Bear wants to do is sleep. Just when Bear is again about to fall asleep, Duck returns with a new idea to bake something. But Bear once again sends him on his way. When Duck comes in for a third time, Bear has had enough! The evening though has time for one final ironic twist by the end of the book, one that will get readers giggling.
John captures both the very essence of being tired and wanting nothing more than to sleep and the zany energy that comes with insomnia. It is that dynamic being thrust together in this picture book that leads to the hilarity. It also helps that John has impeccable comic timing throughout the book, using repeating themes to really make the scenes pop. The pace switches from one character to the next beautifully, the dozy slow of Bear and the yapping zing of Duck.
Davies’ illustrations capture the same shifts in energy and pace. Duck’s entire home is bright yellow while Bear is surrounded by sleepy blues. The silly additions of coffee and a book to stay awake make the situation even funnier. The illustrations are deceptively simple, making this a very approachable book for children, one that conveys its humor right from the cover.
Perfect for kids who both love bedtime and hate it, as well as for their sleepy parents. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Picture Books Tagged: bears, bedtime, ducks, humor, neighbors, sleep
The Bear Ate Your Sandwich by Julia Sarcone-Roach
Released January 6, 2015.
This picture book tells the story of exactly what happened to your sandwich. See, it started with the bear. He was having a great warm, bright morning when he smelled berries. He found a pickup truck filled with berries, which he munched and then fell fast asleep in the back of the truck. When he woke up, he was riding towards a huge city. Now he was in a new forest, but a very different one. He climbed, he scratched, he squished his toes in mud, he investigated. He found a park and that is where he discovered your sandwich sitting on a park bench. He then ran off, scared by the dogs around, climbed aboard a boat and returned to his own forest. It’s all true you see, I saw it all. Don’t you trust me?
The merriment in this picture book is pure joy to share. And the voice that it is written in is so very earnest and honest, willing you with their very words to really believe them. It’s so earnest that you immediately know that this is a voice not to be trusted. But you won’t completely understand who is talking until the very end of the story. The timing of the humor is impeccable, the writing is wonderfully strong and lovely, evoking a forest in an urban setting and letting the bear discover it.
The illustrations have a richness to them. The opening scenes of the bear in the forest play with light and shadows, greens and browns, dappling and shining. It’s all lush and green and beautiful with the black bear anchoring the beauty around him. Along the way there are other moments, particularly the ones where the bear investigates the city and then the lingering moments of him discovering the sandwich, approaching the sandwich, longing for it. It’s all strikingly rendered.
Lush, strong and very funny, this picture book is a delight and just as satisfying as a sandwich for a hungry bear. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Random House and Edelweiss.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Picture Books Tagged: bears, honesty, sandwiches, urban areas
The creator of the beloved Clifford series has died at age 86. Clifford himself is over 50 years old, though one can’t see a hair of gray in his bright red fur.
"Norman Bridwell’s books about Clifford, childhood’s most lovable dog, could only have been written by a gentle man with a great sense of humor," Scholastic president and CEO Dick Robinson said. "Norman personified the values that we as parents and educators hope to communicate to our children – kindness, compassion, helpfulness, gratitude."
As the AP notes, "Clifford became standard nighttime reading for countless families and a money machine for publisher Scholastic Inc. Spinoffs include cartoons with John Ritter as the voice of Clifford and future Hunger Games novelist Suzanne Collins among the script writers."
Filed under: Authors
Betty Goes Bananas by Steve Antony
Released December 23, 2014.
Betty is a gorilla and being a gorilla, she loves bananas. So when she finds one on the ground, she wants to eat it so much. But she can’t open it, even with her teeth, or her feet! So what is a little gorilla to do? Well, Betty throws a fit and cries and screams. Then she calms down and Mr. Toucan tells her that there is no need to act like that, he will show her how to peel the banana. And he does. But Betty had wanted to peel it herself. And she starts once again to cry and scream and kick. Mr. Toucan stays and waits for her to calm down again, telling her that she can peel the next banana she finds. Betty is happy and is about to finally eat the banana. When it breaks. And I bet you can guess what she does next!
This is a rather merry book about the strong emotions that come with being a toddler. Betty is a jolly little gorilla until she is disappointed, something that children and adults alike will recognize immediately. The addition of Mr. Toucan as an adult figure works well here, and I appreciate that he allows Betty to calm down before simply telling her that there is no need for her to act that way. The entire book is filled with humor, from the splendid temper tantrums that have a rhythm and repetition all their own, to the believability of the various things that set Betty off. It’s well paced and nicely timed with gorgeous pauses built in before the tantrums.
Antony’s art adds much to the appeal of the book. The bulk of the book is done with sunshine yellow backgrounds, while the tantrum sections are a bright red. Little Betty does actually throw herself on the ground, kick her feet and scream! Her emotions are clear and young readers will enjoy seeing her throw her tantrums and recover too.
Dynamic, funny and oh so appropriate for toddlers, this picture book will be enjoyed by those who throw tantrums as well as those who don’t. Appropriate for ages 1-3.
Reviewed from copy received from Schwartz & Wade.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Picture Books Tagged: bananas, emotions, gorillas, tantrums
The King and the Magician by Jorge Bucay, illustrated by Gusti
There once was a powerful king who asked his subjects who the most powerful man in the kingdom was, and they replied that he was, of course. The one day, the King heard about a man who had a different power than he had, a humble magician who had the power to predict the future. Even worse, the King discovered that the magician was well respected and beloved. So the King called the Magician before him after devising an evil plan. He would ask the Magician if he could really tell the future. If the Magician answered “No” then he proved he had no power. If he answered “Yes” then the King would ask him to predict his own death. Either way, the King would immediately kill him. But then a strange thing happened and the Magician declared that he could see the future and that he would die at the same time as the King. Suddenly, the King’s plan meant nothing. He could not kill the Magician without hurting himself. So instead he started protecting the Magician. Still, the Magician had much more to teach him, if the King would listen.
Bucay has created a picture book that has depths to it. It is a fairy tale of a king and a magician but it is also about creating one’s fate, listening to wisdom and being willing to change. It is a book that continues even after some may have ended it with the Magician ensconced in luxury and being protected by the King. Happily, it doesn’t end there, because the more profound part of the story follows when the relationship between the two men burgeons into friendship and deep caring for one another. It is a story of how enemies become friends, how power can be used for good. In a word, it’s exceptional.
Gusti’s illustrations add to that feeling of a very rich and amazing read. Using paint and collage, the illustrations have a still regal bearing. There is a strength and solidity to them that grounds this story, making it more realistic. There are also touches of whimsy, like the teddy bear that accompanies the powerful king everywhere.
Strong, enchanting and profound, this picture book will start discussions about power, enemies and truth. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Picture Books Tagged: enemies, friendship, greed, power, pride, truth
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