Friday, August 15, 2014
Ages: 11 – 14 years (approximately grades 5 – 9)
If you have dreams of one day making it big as a singing, acting, Broadway superstar… you need to meet Nate Foster. Nate, introduced to musicals and coached in singing and dancing by his best friend, Libby, is certain he’s got what it takes to see his name in lights. If he can ever make it there, that is. Stuck in a small town in Pennsylvania, Nate can’t get anywhere in his Broadway career from so far away. When the two friends catch wind of an open casting call for E.T.: The Musical, looking for a boy just Nate’s age to play the main character, Elliot, it is all they can do not to plan an elaborate scheme to get Nate to New York City. It’s a tough call on which feat is more difficult: plotting to get to and from New York in once piece without his absence being noticed, or out-singing-and-dancing the competition of other kids born and bred to be Broadway starlets. Will Nate make it through auditions and the big city unscathed? But, more importantly, will he need to make it back for rehearsals?
Tim Federle’s debut children’s novel is not one to skip. Nate himself is an endearing and hilariously funny leading man from the get-go. Using Broadway flops in sticky situations (“Moose Murders is all to tarnation!”), Nate navigates his way not only through New York City, but through sibling rivalry, bullying, religious parents, and questioning sexuality with a sharp wit and a lighthearted amusement that is suitable for a younger audience. For those who love musicals, the big city lights, or Raina Telgemeier’s Drama and Smile, Better Nate Than Ever deserves a standing ovation.
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Friday, August 8, 2014
Ages: 0 - 8 years (approximately grades preschool - 2)
Bear has lost his hat. He wants it back. To achieve this, Bear goes from animal to animal, asking if any of them have seen his hat. “Not around here,” replies the frog. “What is a hat?” asks the armadillo. “I saw a hat once. It was blue,” chimes the snake. “Why are you asking me? I would not steal a hat! Don’t ask me any more questions!” snaps the rabbit. It isn’t until his questioning is nearly complete that Bear, wide-eyed, realizes that he has seen his hat! The next scene depicts bear with a very familiar red hat who, when asked if he’s seen Rabbit, replies, “Why are you asking me? I would not eat a rabbit! Don’t ask me any more questions.”
The very sparse nature of the illustrations goes swimmingly with the sparse text. Without quotation marks or other dialogue attributions, each animal’s words stands next to a very simple depiction of the conversation or actions that coincide. The simplicity of both the illustrations and text lend themselves to the somewhat complex nature of the plot, as Bear moves along on the road to discovering the whereabouts of his hat. Some animals throw readers slightly off the trail, giving comprehension skills a workout. The fate of the hat-stealing bunny is also left to the imagination, discovered only by an understanding of Bear’s denial versus Bunny’s. Although the grim retribution in this story might not be for the faint of heart, I Want My Hat Back is alternatively a comical depiction of what might happen to a thief or liar. If you enjoy Mo Willem’s plucky Pigeon or the muted illustrative works of Peter Brown (Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, Children Make Terrible Pets), you will love Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back.
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Friday, August 1, 2014
Ages: 5 and up (approximately grades K and up)
Many people know Ralph Waldo Emerson was a writer, essayist and poet. He was also a loyal friend, active community member, and avid naturalist. This engaging picture book biography illustrates how a city boy embraced nature and created a loving home in the friendly, tight-knit community of Concord, Massachusetts.
After moving from city to city while growing up, Emerson dreamed of a place he could make his own. This place would have open, grassy fields and deep, still woods. After college, Emerson and his new bride moved to Concord, Massachusetts. They bought a farmhouse and planted fruit trees, pumpkins, and flowers. They stocked the library with books and Emerson’s writing. Emerson’s vision was slowly coming to life. Once Emerson befriended his neighbors and fellow villagers, the buzz of happy chatting and laughing filled the house and it truly became his dream home. Years went by and all was well until disaster struck and fire ravaged the house. Devastated by the loss, Emerson embarked on an overseas trip with his eldest daughter as a way to rejuvenate his spirit. After two weeks, Emerson returned home to see that the entire village had come together to rebuild the house, a place that meant so much to everyone in Concord.
Emerson was a true literary pioneer, championing the ideas of speaking your own mind and encouraging other to embrace independence and self-reliance. While this particular version provides an overview rather than a detailed approach to Emerson’s life, the essence of his views are very apparent through direct quotes from his writings. The bright and cartoon-like illustrations convey Emerson’s spirit with intellect and whimsy. An author’s note with additional information about Emerson and a discussion guide about his writing is included in the back of the book. Overall, this picture book biography is a winning combination of Emerson’s heartfelt story and lively illustrations that are sure to engage readers. This title is recommended for grades K and up.
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Friday, July 25, 2014
Ages: 0 – 6 (approximately birth through 1st grade)
After a long wait, Mo finally receives his mustache in the mail (Huzzah!). After taking his new accessory for a spin around town, soaking in the admiration for his look, Mo starts to notice everyone else getting mustaches, too… And so, no longer feeling that his mustache is special, Mo switches from a “big, black, beautiful” mustache to a “long, lined, lovely scarf.” A few days later, much to Mo’s dismay, now everyone else dons both a mustache AND a scarf. Frustrated and unamused at these copycats, it takes Mo completely losing his temper to find out that nobody is copying him to hurt his feelings, but because they think he’s “tredirific,” “a visionary,” “a fashion guru.” Taken aback and flattered, Mo decides to apologize for his outburst in the only way a “gentleman of style” can: with an all-inclusive fashion show (complete with one-of-a-kind, multi-colored afro)!
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but it’s sometimes hard to remember that when you see the people around you donning the very thing you think makes you special and unique. Mo’s Mustache addresses this topic in a fun and fashionable way that will remind readers that being a trailblazer might mean having to share their awesome discoveries. With many font changes, interjections, and asides, this tale might seem better suited for an older audience, but the lovable stick-figure characters will easily lure in the younger crowd, giving them a chance to admire Mo’s panache. This book is a dream for those who enjoyed Mo Willems’ cartoony art in Leonardo the Terrible Monster, the message of individuality in Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, or the silliness of Mustache Baby.
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Friday, July 18, 2014
Ages: 10 – 13 years (approximately grades 4-8)
Many of us know that the fairy tales of our childhood are only figments of the true stories collected by Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm. How far off are our beloved versions of these tales in comparison to their true origins? You really want to know? Are you absolutely, positively, one hundred percent certain you want to know? Then, as the narrator repeatedly suggests, please escort the young children from the room and look no further than A Tale Dark and Grimm.
In this, Gidwitz’s debut novel, 2014 Caudill nominee, and the first of a three-part series, a well-known fairytale of Hansel and Gretel (the little boy and girl who get lost in the woods and encounter a wicked witch’s house made of candy) takes a gruesome turn for the worst- as if being abandoned by your parents and almost getting eaten by a witch with a taste for children isn’t bad enough. While the siblings attempt to survive after their narrow escape from the witch, Hansel turns into a frightful, hairy creature; the true back-story of their parents and why they abandoned their only children comes to light; and Gretel turns into an extraordinary heroine who saves the kingdom from certain doom. Throughout the book, a narrator chimes in from time to time, letting readers know when things are about to get ghastly and, well, grim. Although this book is chock-full of adventure and delight, a fairytale twist done so right, it is not for the faint of heart. Readers who enjoyed the adventure of The Heroes Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, the fairytale twist of Ella Enchanted, or the creepy suspense of Coraline and Doll Bones will clamor for A Tale Dark and Grimm, as well as its sequels, In a Glass Grimmly, and The Grimm Conclusion.
Friday, July 11, 2014
Ages: 0-8 years (approximately grades preschool – 2)
One day, a young bull is told to “go away!” by a bigger bull, presumably an older sibling or otherwise more authoritative figure. Visibly rumpled by this experience, the young bull goes to the farm where he encounters other animals who ask if he wants to play. After telling each of the animals exactly what he thinks of them (“Chicken!” to the chicken and “Slow poke!” to the turtle), a bystanding goat decides to call this “bully” out on his actions, giving him a little taste of his own "Bully!" medicine. Realizing that what he has done to his farm friends is exactly what the older bull had done to him, the young bull regrets his actions, apologizes for hurting his friends, and is very lucky indeed that his friends take him up on his renewed offer to play.
A wonderful precursor to The Hundred Dresses or Jane, the Fox, and Me, Bully is a simplistic depiction of how being mean affects all those involved. The young bull’s animal friends slowly flee from the scene as the bully becomes physically bigger and bigger as his actions escalate, until he eventually can only fit a hoof on a page. After discovering that he’s a bully, the young bull physically deflates and spirals down to his normal size and regular ego, giving him room to finally apologize to his friends. The sketch-like illustrations on a very simple background bring the focus to the characters’ actions, and also make the overall message stand out in a not-too heavy-handed, bullying way.
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Thursday, July 3, 2014
illustrated by Louis Slobodkin
Ages: 8-12 years (approximately grades 2-6)
The Hundred Dresses is a short tale of a young, foreign girl, Wanda Petronski, who misses school for a few days. Usually, nobody notices Wanda. She sits in the back corner and rarely makes a peep. That is until one day, she tells a group of girls who are admiring a classmate’s new dress that she has one hundred dresses at home. With this simple comment, Wanda opens a door to relentless taunting before and after class. Every day, Wanda’s classmates “have fun” with her by asking if she really has one hundred dresses at home. Hysterics ensue when she answers that yes, she does, “all lined up,” although she only ever wears the same faded blue dress that doesn’t fit her quite right. A girl like Wanda, with her funny name and ill-fitting dress, who lives on the wrong side of town, couldn’t possibly have a hundred dresses!
Each of Wanda’s classmates plays a role in the taunting, whether it’s asking Wanda about her dresses, listening to the interrogation, or completely ignoring the situation. It isn’t until the winners of a drawing contest are announced that Wanda’s absence is noticed and appreciated: the winner of the drawing contest is Wanda, who has drawn one hundred different, beautiful dresses! In an astonishing turn of events, Wanda’s absence is explained in a letter to the class in Mr. Petronski’s broken English- their family has moved to the big city where their Polish heritage will not be mocked, but perhaps accepted and even respected. Seeing Wanda’s hundred dresses and hearing her letter sets off a chain of uncertain repercussions for the main antagonists in Wanda’s taunting, leaving the reader to wonder whether Wanda has forgiven her classmates, or will forever hold them in disdain.
This short, classic, 1945 Newbery Honor tale resonates with all involved in the childhood interactions spectrum: the bullied, the bystanders, the adults privy to the bullying, and the bullies themselves. The deeper meaning and moral message of this story is delivered between the lines, which make it a wonderful choice for older readers to practice their critical reading skills. In fact, the gentle and simple way this lesson is portrayed makes this book a wonderful choice as a read-aloud to younger readers, or an interesting enticement for reluctant readers, as well. Those who enjoyed the newer title Jane, the Fox, and Me, will no doubt enjoy this tale as well. All around, The Hundred Dresses is a timeless tale that has endured the test of time with its resonating truth, and is bound to continue to do so for generations.
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