"A library book, I imagine, is a happy book." Cornelia Funke

"Everything puts me in mind of a story." Ben Franklin

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Best Pet of All by David LaRochelle

If you wanted a pet dog, but your mom said no, how would you convince her to change her mind? In The Best Pet of All by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Hanako Wakiyama, the little boy pleads for a dog, only to be told that they are too messy and loud. So, he decides to ask for a pet dragon instead. His mother foolishly allows him to keep one, if he can find it. Do you think that dragons are tidier and quieter than dogs?The retro style color illustrations perfectly convey the story, and the pictures of the tambourine playing, spaghetti bath taking dragon are priceless. This adds ups to a surefire storytime winner.

David LaRochelle, who has also written Absolutely Positively Not for teens, will be a feature speaker at Camp Read-A-Lot this summer.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal & Tom Lichtenheld

Maiden or Crone? from World-Mysteries

Beauty or skull? from Rasmussen

When I look at the cover of  Duck! Rabbit! I see a rabbit. Do you see a duck? That's the question in this picture book of two unseen friends who can't readily agree. Each one is secure that they know the animal, and can back up their opinion with what they are sure are facts. They may be able to convince each other, but then what if they change their own minds?

Although this book is written for younger children, I can see why we're using it at camp with teachers of 2nd and 3rd graders.With watercolor, ink and colored pencil illustrations, this book can be used as a stepping off place to talk about other more complex picture puzzles and the way we process them, as well discussions about point of view.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Dodsworth in Paris & Pip Squeak

Next up are Dodsworth in Paris by Tim Egan and  Pip Squeak (I Can Read Book 1) by Sarah Weeks and  illustrated by Jane Manning.

 I've previously enjoyed Egan's droll picture books such as Friday Night at Hodges' Cafe (Sandpiper Houghton Mifflin Books) and  Burnt Toast on Davenport Street (which also features a crazy duck), but this is my first foray into his Readers. Dodsworth in Paris is a pleasant, four chapter long story of cute little animal Dodsworth, his free-spirited duck friend and their visit to the City of Lights. I think that it's a pretty charming trip, from the duck's attempt to dress like a French painter to his visit to a Cathedral, to his naive loss of their money and impulsive, unsuccessful plan to regain it. Dodsworth is an understanding, mostly patient straight man to duck's silly behavior. The book is nicely illustrated with ink and watercolor pictures, that expressively portray the Parisian and tourist animals at work and play.

I wasn't as beguiled by Pip Squeak, but I'm far from the target audience. This is geared to level 1 beginning readers in the "I Can Read" series from Laura Geringer Books, and as such, it has a simple plot, short sentences, rhyming text and word repetition, which is perfectly appropriate. Pip Squeak the mouse spends his day cleaning his house for his friend Max's teatime visit, only to find that Max is a wild and sloppy guy, who fortunately (if a bit too vigorously) cleans up his own messes. Colorful illustrations convey the scramble to clean and the chaos that Max brings.

Bad Kitty Gets a Bath by Nick Bruel

I got a big kick out of Bad Kitty Gets a Bath by Nick Bruel. Naughty pet behavior is not the newest topic to write about, but it's still a crowd pleaser. Any cat lover will read the title and know that a perilous situation is at hand! In 6 chapters and 125 pages, Bruel documents the humorous horror that is cat bathing. He gives hints to help you with bath preparation (don't forget to write that letter to your loved ones), find the elusive kitty (have you looked under the lampshade?), put her in the water (negotiation? flattery? begging?) and survive the actual feline toilette. Practically every page is illustrated with black and white cartoons, mostly of the poor kitty. I laughed out loud at this and kids will too.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Moments with Baxter by Melissa Joseph

A co-worker brought my attention to Moments With Baxter: Comfort and Love from the World's Best Therapy Dog by Melissa Joseph, photographs by Dennis Bussey. Amy knows how animal crazy I am, so as soon as this was checked into our library, she pointed it out. As you can see above, the dog on this book's cover is incredibly cute, which hooked me immediately. But, this book has much more to offer than a sweet cover.  If you are an animal lover and are interested in some inspirational non fiction, you should literally check out the story of Baxter.

Now deceased at the age of 19, Baxter, a Golden Retriever and Chow mix, brought much love and comfort to people during his lifetime. He was a rescue dog turned gifted therapy dog, regularly visiting the folks in San Diego Hospice and actually getting in bed with them for a cuddle.Heavily illustrated with color photos, the book covers 36 brief stories of Baxter's relationships with his hospice friends. He loved them all, young, old, disfigured, frail, it didn't make a difference to him. I found this book incredibly touching and it inspires me to spread kindness in the world. I would love it if my daschunds could be therapy dogs, but we have a ways to go. Joseph describes the things that Baxter had to do to pass his certification test. Our doggies would flunk  early on, beginning with ignoring other dogs. There's some obedience training in this pet parent's future. :)

All proceeds from this title go to charity. Enjoy meeting this "Angel of the Hospice."

The Magical Ms. Plum by Bonny Becker

Thelma the comforter

First up on my C. R. A.L, reading list is The Magical Ms. Plum by Bonny Becker, illustrated by Amy Portnoy. Ms. Plum is a popular teacher with a very special supply closet. Every time she sends a student in to fetch an item, she or he comes out with an enchanted animal. These visitors help the kids to learn about themselves. A gloomy boy meets a silly blackbird, an unpopular girl is pampered by a team of willing squirrels, and a rough tough cowgirl want-to-be learns to except her girly, pink-loving classmate with the help of a tiny horse. Each adventure is illustrated with black and white cartoon drawings.

When I first started reading this short (104 page) chapter book, I was worried that the morals learned would kill the pleasure of the story, but this turned out to be untrue. I was won over by several of the student's encounters and enjoyed it when Ms. Plum met her own animal teacher. The story of fearful Nadia resonated with me, as I am a champion worrier. When Lucy tells Nadia bad news like " The ice caps are melting...There are angry cows running around. And the birds are getting this really bad flu", Nadia bites her nails and becomes unable to sleep at night. Luckily, Nadia's closet find is a little striped cat who cuddles so well and purrs so loudly, it drowns out scary, unhappy thoughts and shuts out worrisome gossip. For almost 17 years I had my own little magic cat, Thelma, who helped me out in much the same way. So, I figure if a woman probably older than Ms. Plum, like me, can enjoy the book, then so will the target audience of 2nd-4th graders!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Camp Read-A-Lot 2010 + 2nd-3rd Grade Reading List

I will be a "camp" counselor again this summer! What am I going on about?

From Camp Read-A-Lot:

Camp Read-A-Lot is Back!!

This summer workshop is an opportunity for teachers and school library media specialists to read current books that could be used in connection with classroom curriculum.

Tuesday, Aug 3 - grades 2-5 : Wednesday, Aug 4 - grades 6-12

9:00 a.m. ‐3:30 p.m. ∙ Como Park Lakeside Pavilion in St. Paul

Program registration: $30

Author David LaRochelle and booktalker and SLJ columnist Kathy Baxter

Camp Read-A-Lot is sponsored by MELSA and Metronet

I took part in this one day workshop last summer, and had a very lovely time. My fellow librarians and I were recruited as camp counselors, to read all the books for a particular grade level and then lead book discussion. We even got cute camp t-shirts! What's not to love?

Last year I worked with high school teachers and got to hear Alison McGhee speak. I just love her. Her Julia Gillian (and The Art Of Knowing) and Julia Gillian and the Quest For Joy are great for grade school and early middle schoolers. This year, the teen counseling postions are full, but I was offered the chance to talk 2nd and 3rd grade books. Hooray!

And now, the reading list (annotation from :Camp Read-A-Lot):

Camp Read-A-Lot Grades 2-3 Reading List


The Amazing Trail of Seymour Snail by Lynn E. Hazen (Henry Holt, 2009), 9780805086980.
Seymour has always dreamed of being a great artist. But he’s shy about showing his artwork and, being a snail, he’s slow. Who will hire him? When Seymour finds a job at the Speedy Arts Gallery, he is thrilled— until he finds himself sliming envelopes shut and delivering packages.

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Camping, Hiking and Other Natural Disasters by Lenore Look
(Schwartz & Wade, 2009), 9780375857058.
When Alvin’s father takes him camping to instill a love of nature, like that of their hometown hero Henry David Thoreau, Alvin makes a new friend and learns he can be brave despite his fear of everything.

Bad Kitty Gets a Bath by Nick Bruel (Roaring Brook Press, 2008), 9781596433410.
A humorous look at the normal way cats bathe, why it is inappropriate for humans to bathe that way and the challenges of trying to give a cat a real bath with soap and water.

Best Pet of All by David La Rochelle (Dutton, 2004), 0525471294.
A boy enlists the help of a dragon to persuade his mother to let him have a dog.

The Big Fat Cow that Goes Kapow by Andy Griffiths (Feiwel & Friends, 2009),
Ten easy to read stories that are slimy and rhyme-y and sure to please.

Dodsworth in Paris by Tim Egan (Houghton Mifflin, 2008), 9780618980628.
When Dodsworth and the duck vacation in Paris, they have a grand time despite running out of money and accidentally riding their bicycles in the Tour de France.

Note: Dodsworth in New York or Dodsworth in London can be substituted for this title.

Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (Chronicle Books, 2009), 9780811868655.
Two unseen characters argue about whether the creature they are looking at is a rabbit or a duck.

Julian Rodriguez Episode One: Trash Crisis on Earth by Alexander Stadler (Scholastic,
2009), 9780439919708.
Julian Rodriguez is on a mission for the Mothership. He's been sent to Earth to study human life forms and their bizarre habits.

Note: Julian Rodriguez Episode Two: Invasion of the Relatives can be substituted for this title.

Magical Ms Plum by Bonny Becker (Random House, 2009), 9780375856372.
Everybody wants to be in Ms. Plum’s class. It’s not just that she teaches the usual things in unusual ways. There’s something more, something about Ms. Plum herself—and her mysterious supply closet. Whenever she asks her students to get her an eraser or a pencil or some paper clips, they come back with something . . . unusual.

Pip Squeak by Sarah Weeks (Laura Geringer Books, 2007), 9780060756376.
Pip Squeak the mouse works hard to clean the house for his friend Max’s visit, but then he has to clean up after Max too.

Red Sings from the Treetops: A Year in Colors by Joyce Sidman (Houghton Mifflin, 2009),
The names of colors are woven into unrhymed poems that celebrate the seasons.

Wiggle and Waggle by Caroline Arnold (Charlesbridge, 2007), 9781580893060.
Two worms who are best friends have fun together as they tunnel their way through a garden. Includes facts on how worms help plants grow.


14 Cows for America by Cameron Agra Deedy (Peachtree, 2009), 9781561454907.
In wake of 9/11 an American diplomat in Kenya receives a gift from the Maasai people. The gift is as unsought and unexpected as it is extraordinary. For a heartsick nation, the gift of fourteen cows emerges from the choking dust and darkness as a soft light of hope—and friendship.

Bird, Butterfly, Eel by James Prosek (Simon & Schuster, 2009), 9780689868290.
This nonfiction title follows a bird, a monarch butterfly, and an eel from summer on a farm until they make their respective fall voyages south.

Never Smile at a Monkey and Seventeen Other Important Things to Remember by
Steve Jenkins (Houghton Mifflin, 2009), 9780618966202.
Discover how dangerous an animal can be when it feels threatened or trapped.

Living Sunlight: How Plants Bring the Earth to Life by Molly Bang (Blue Sky Press, 2009),
This informative yet dramatic book will mesmerize readers and furthers a child's understanding of the energy we share with all living things in nature.

You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?! by Jonah Winter (Schwartz & Wade Books, 2009),
In this striking picture book biography, an old-timer tells us what made Sandy Koufax so amazing.

Yummy: Eight Favorite Fairy Tales by Lucy Cousins (Candlewick, 2009), 9780763644714.
In this bold, funny, and unflinching collection retains all the emotion and humor of the original fairy tales: the heroes are courageous, the villains are horrible, and the children are tasty.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Real Alice in Wonderland: Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin

Alice Liddell
Alice and Rev. Dodgson

Young lady Alice

Mrs. Alice Hargreaves, mother of three

Eldest sister, Lorina Liddell
Edith Liddell
Prince Leopold

As I have mentioned before, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass are definitely my favorite children's books and probably my favorite books ever. This, of course, creates my curiosity about Charles Dodgson and the real child who inspired his book, Alice Liddell. So, I was interested to learn of the new book Alice I Have Been: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin, which presents a fictionalized version of the "real" Alice's life. Benjamin gives us Alice as a privileged child with a special friend who will become "Lewis Carroll", as a haunted young woman in love with Queen Victoria's youngest son, Leopold, and as a mature woman mourning the loss of two of her sons in World War I. This Alice has spent most of her life trying to reconcile her identity compared with Carroll's fictional girl. Who has seen Alice most clearly? She has tried to get beyond her past and avoid the gossip, insinuations, and questions about her family's abrupt break with Rev. Dodgson. What happened between them after all and how has this shaped her life's path?

Reading, I believed in Benjamin's characterization of her Alice, and saw enough of Carroll's Alice in her to be satisfied and drawn into her story. I felt for Alice in her confusion, sadness and  strength. Naturally, the book made me want to read more about Dodgson/Carroll and happily, it piqued my curiosity about the other characters: Liddell's family, especially her sisters Lorina and Edith, Prince Leopold and his royal bride, and the unflatteringly portrayed John Ruskin and his women. The book also made passing reference to photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, whom I admire, which encourages me to read more about Victorian photographers.

If you are interested in nonfiction material, take a look at The Other Alice: The Story of Alice Liddell and Alice in Wonderland, a book aimed at children. It is a nicely illustrated little treasure for Alice fans.

Some of my other favorite "Alice related" fiction titles are Fantastic Alice: New Stories from Wonderland, a book of short stories by various authors, and Dreamhouse by Alison Habens, a trippy novel with many Alice references.