Waking Brain Cells
Call Me Tree: lámame árbol by Maya Christina Gonzalez
Released November 1, 2014.
This poetic picture book combines a celebration of trees with one of human diversity. A boy starts to grow under the earth, reaching his arm up to break the surface of the ground. His arm and fingers becomes a trunk and branches and soon he too is up in the air next to his tree. Just as trees have freedom, so does he. Just as each tree is different from another, he is different from the other people too. Yet they all have roots and they all belong on the earth and in the world.
This very simple book is written like a free verse poem in both English and Spanish, closely tying biodiversity to human diversity in a clever way. The connection of humans and trees is beautifully shown as well, in a way that ties each person to a tree like them. It’s a book that is radiant in its delight in our connection to nature and the way that nature’s diversity reflects on our own.
Gonzalez both wrote and illustrated this picture book. Her illustrations are colorful with deep colors that leap on the page. The characters on the page are bold and different, each with their own feel of exuberance or quiet contemplation or strength. Along with each different child, there is a tree connected to them that equally reflects their personality. It’s a very clever way to clearly tie humans to nature.
This book could serve as inspiration for children to draw their own personal trees that express themselves or it can be a lullaby to dreams of blue skies and green leaves. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Children’s Book Press.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Picture Books Tagged: diversity, freedom, trees
The nominations for the 2015 CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals have been announced. The Carnegie Medal is awarded for an outstanding book for children and young people. The Kate Greenaway Medal is for an outstanding book in terms of illustration for children and young people. These awards from the UK can be seen as very similar to the Newbery and Caldecott Awards in the US.
Filed under: Awards
Celebrating the role of Australian authors, the shortlists for the 2014 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards have been announced. Two of the shortlists are for teen and children’s fiction:
Kissed by the Moon by Alison Lester
Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan
Silver Button by Bob Graham
Song for a Scarlet Runner by Julie Hunt
YOUNG ADULT FICTION
The First Third by Will Kostakis
Girl Defective by Simmone Howell
The Incredible Here and Now by Felicity Castagna
Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil
Pureheart by Cassandra Golds
Filed under: Awards
Any Questions? by Marie-Louise Gay
Where do stories come from? How are books made? These questions that authors often get from children are the subject of this picture book from an author who has written and illustrated many picture books. Together the author and a group of children asking delighted questions create a story right in front of the reader. They take inspiration from the kind of paper the story is written on, the colors of the page. They talk about how ideas happen, and how sometimes they are great ideas but don’t become a book or that not all ideas fit into a single story. Ideas sometimes don’t appear and you have to wait for them, doodling and dreaming of other things until they arrive. And then something happens, and it starts to become a story! The children in the book get involved and the story takes a surprising turn. Luckily story telling is flexible and able to deal with wild purple monsters who come out of the woods. This is a great look at the creative process and how books are made, written at a level that preschool children will enjoy and understand.
Gay is so open and inviting in this picture book. She is refreshingly candid about the creative process and all of the bumps and twists along the way. The invitation to the reader along with the child characters in the book to be part of creating a story is warm and friendly. All ideas are welcome, some work and other don’t, and that is all embraced as part of creativity.
Gay’s illustrations continue the cheerfulness of the text. They combine writing in cursive with story panels and speech bubbles with characters in the book. It’s all a wonderful mix of styles that gets your creativity flowing.
Expect children to want to write their own stories complete with illustrations after reading this! Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Elementary School, Picture Books Tagged: books, stories, writing
Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley
In 1959, desegregation of schools had become law and could no longer be delayed but that does not mean that it was welcomed. Sarah Dunbar and her younger sister are two of the first black students to attend Jefferson High School. She walks a gauntlet the first day of school just to enter the building where adults and students alike spit on her, scream racist remarks, and throw things. It doesn’t get much better inside with the abusive language continuing, no one willing to sit near the black students in class, and the teachers doing nothing to stop it. Linda Hairston is one of the white students that attends Jefferson High. She is also the daughter of the owner of the local newspaper, a man who is fiercely critical of the attempts at desegregation. Linda has been taught all of her life to fear her father and to keep separate from black people. Forced to work together on a school project, Linda and Sarah spend more time together and learn about each other. To make things more complicated, they are also attracted to one another, something that neither of their communities could understand much less embrace. This is a powerful story about two girls caught in a city at war about desegregation where their own secrets could get them killed.
Talley has created one of the most powerful fictional books about desegregation I have seen. Using the worst of racist terms that flow like water across the page, again and again, yet never becoming numbing, the language alone is shocking and jarring for modern readers. Add in the physical and emotional abuse that the black students suffered and you begin to realize the pressure that they were under not only to survive day to day but to excel and prove that they are worthy to be in the school. The gradual transformation of the attitudes of both Sarah and Linda are done believably and honestly. Nicely, Linda is not the only one who grows and changes in the process.
Adding in the LGBT element was a brave choice. While the book is about desegregation as much of the story, the attraction and relationship of the two girls is an equally powerful part of the book. Modern readers will understand their need for secrecy and somehow the hatred of gay people allows readers to better understand the hatred of African-Americans depicted on the page. It is clear by the end that bigotry is bigotry and love is love, no matter the color or the sex. Talley beautifully ties the two issues together in a way that strengthens them both.
Powerful, wrenching and brutal, this book has heroines of unrivaled strength and principles that readers will fear for and cheer for. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Harlequin Teen and Edelweiss.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Teen Tagged: desegregation, historical fiction, LGBTQ, racism
Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown, illustrated by Frank Morrison
Melba had always loved the sounds of music: blues, jazz and gospel. Even when she slept notes and rhythms were in her dreams. When she signed up for music class at school, Melba picked out a long horn that was almost as big as she was. Melba practiced and practiced, teaching herself to play. Soon she was on the radio at age 8, playing a solo. When Melba was in sixth grade, she moved from Kansas City to Los Angeles where she became a star player in the high school band. When she was 17, she was invited to go on tour with a jazz band. She played with some of the greats, but she was one of the only women on tour and racism in the South was harrowing. Melba decided to quit, but her fans would not let her. All of the top jazz acts in the 1950s wanted her to play with them. So Melba came back, went on more tours, and her music conquered the world.
This picture book biography of Melba Doretta Liston shows how music virtuosos are born. Her connection with music from such a young age, her determination to learn to play her selected instrument, and her immense talent make for a story that is even better than fiction. Melba faced many obstacles on the way to her career but overcame them all. She survived the Great Depression, found her musical voice early and then professionally. She also had the challenges of sexism and racism to overcome on her way to greatness. This is all clearly shown on the page and really tells the story of a woman made of music and steel (or brass).
Morrison’s art beautifully captures the life of Liston on the page. His paintings are done in rich colors, filled with angles of elbows, horns and music, they leap on the page. They evoke the time period and the sense of music and jazz.
Put on some Dizzy Gillespie with Melba Liston playing in the band and share this triumphant picture book with music and band classes. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Lee & Low Books and Edelweiss.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Nonfiction, Picture Books Tagged: bands, biographies, jazz, musicians, trombones
7 books that will get young boys reading http://huff.to/1w5m7na
BBC News – Dumfries plans for Scottish children’s literature centre submitted http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-south-scotland-29602032 … #kidlit
Filed under: Recommended Links
Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin
Rose loves homonyms. She spends her days looking for new ones to add to her list, and then once she gets home adding them or rewriting the entire list if she runs out of space. Her dog Rain has a name that has two homonyms: reign and rein, which is why she picked it. Her father also gave her Rain on a rainy night. He found Rain wandering around after he left the bar one night. Rain is one of the best things in Rose’s life, since her father spends most evenings drinking at the bar and Rose spends them alone. Luckily, she also has her uncle in her life. He takes her to school, helps her find new homonyms, and protects her when necessary from her father when he loses patience with Rose. Then a fierce storm hits their town and Rose’s father lets Rain out into the storm and she disappears. Rose’s father refuses to explain why he let Rain out in a storm and also refuses to help Rose find her dog. It is up to Rose to find Rain so she devises her own plan and calls on her uncle for help. But when she finds Rain, she also discovers that Rain has other owners and Rose has to make a heartbreaking choice about right and wrong and love.
Martin captures a truly dysfunctional family on the page here. Rose’s father is brutal, cruel and a constant threat in her life. At the same time, the book glimmers with hope all of the time. Rose herself is not one to dwell on the shortcomings of her life, preferring to immerse herself in her words, her dog and her time with her uncle. Martin manages to balance both the forces of love and fear in this book, providing hope for children living with parents like this but also not offering a saccharine take on what is happening.
Rose is an amazing character. She talks about having Asperger’s syndrome and OCD. She is the only child in her class with a full-time aide and it is clear from her behaviors in class that she needs help. Yet again Martin balances this. She shows how Rose attempts to reach out to her classmates and then how Rain helps make that possible and how Rose manages to use her own disability as a bridge to help others cope in times of loss. It’s a beautiful and important piece of the story.
A dark book in many ways, this book shines with strong writing, a heroic young female protagonist and always hope. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Feiwel and Friends.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Middle School Tagged: abuse, Aspergers, autism, decision making, dogs, families, loss
Hug Machine by Scott Campbell
A little boy considers himself a hug machine in this fanciful cheerful picture book. All day long the hug machine goes around giving hugs, because he is simply the best at hugging. He cannot be resisted. His hugs do many things, they can calm you down, cheer you up. He hugs objects, animals, and crying babies. He even hugs things that never get hugged, like porcupines (but not without the proper protection). Huge whales are not too big for him to hug either. What is the secret to his amazing hugging? Plenty of pizza for power and knowing when he is too tired to hug anymore and just needs to be hugged by someone else.
Campbell uses simple text in this picture book, focusing mostly on the action of hugging a lot on each page. He uses repeating structures but always throws in a nice little twist or change up that keeps the book fun to read. The entire book exudes the warmth of a hug and the wry little touches of humor add to that feeling. I must also say that having a book with a male character who loves being hugged and giving hugs is refreshing. It’s also a pink book about a boy, hallelujah!
The art in the book is wonderfully warm and cozy. It captures not only the loving hugs of the boy but the various reactions by the things being hugged. Readers will find that the text often does not match what is happening on the page, making for more comic moments in the book. After all this is the hug machine telling the tale, so he thinks people are a lot more excited to be hugged than they may actually be.
A loving and hug-filled book that avoids being too sweet and instead is a bright cheerful picture book perfect for sharing. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Picture Books Tagged: hugs, love
Two Parrots by Rashin Kheiriyeh
Inspired by a tale by Rumi, this picture book takes an allegorical look at imprisonment and freedom. A Persian merchant receives a parrot as a present and places him in a golden cage. When the merchant heads out on a trip to India, he asks the parrot what gift he can bring back. The parrot asks him to find his parrot friend and explain that the parrot would love to see him but is unable to due to his cage. The merchant does as is asked and when he tells the parrot of his friend in the cage, the parrot falls down dead. The merchant returns home to his parrot and has to tell him about the death of his friend. At which point the parrot in the cage falls down dead too. The merchant lifts the dead bird out of the cage and the bird promptly comes back to life and flies out the window to freedom. The merchant is forced to admit the importance of freedom to living things. Now he enjoys the beauty of the parrots free in his garden, uncaged.
This is not a straight-forward picture book, rather it is a moral and ethical tale that unwinds in a more traditional way for the reader. It is a book that is best discussed with others who may see different aspects and different views in the story. Many children may not have experienced this sort of story before, one that is not difficult in terms of vocabulary but instead presents a more challenging subject in an allegorical way. Welcome to Rumi!
The art in the picture book is done by a young artist from Iran who has illustrated over 45 books for children. His work is bright colored and full of texture. The various papers used in his art have different textures and the colors are so strong and vibrant. They have a great mix of quirky modern and traditional style.
A delightful mix of traditional and modern storytelling, this picture book will get readers discussing and thinking about freedom and civil rights. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Filed under: Book Reviews, Picture Books Tagged: allegories, freedom, Iran, parrots
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