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

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

Monday, June 30, 2014

Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson

Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson, 2013.

Although this magnificently illustrated biography is aimed at 4 to 9 year olds, anyone can enjoy it. In the spare 18 pages of text, Nelson tells Mandela's story from childhood until he became the first black president of South Africa. Readers learn that he was the smartest child in his large family and the only one chosen for school. He became a lawyer, and a leader who helped defend those without  voices. The injustice of apartheid is explained very simply. A denser note from the author follows, filling in more details of Mandela's life. Nelson's photo-realistic paintings are outstanding. He received a Coretta Scott King illustrator honor in 2014.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees by Sandra Markle

The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees: a Scientific Mystery by Sandra Markle, 2014.

In its 48 pages, this interesting title gives a lot of detailed information about bees and what could be causing Colony Collapse Disorder. Markle talks about honeybee life and function, how we humans depend on them for much of our food and gives an example of how in 2006 a beekeeper went to check his hives and saw thousands of bees missing, with no dead bees to be found.

 This phenomena has puzzled scientists, and many theories of why the bees have vanished have been explored. Possible bee killers such as changing habitat, overwork, mites, fungus and pesticides are described. On a more hopeful note, ways that people are trying to help our bees are considered, like giving commercial bees a healthier diet, giving them a break from year round pollination, raising special hygienic bees to control the spread of disease and even a general increase of beekeeping by homeowners, and in places such as schools and public buildings.

The book includes a glossary, suggestions for further reading and websites to visit and is illustrated with high quality color photographs.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan, 2013.

This book is getting a lot of positive buzz and I know some librarians who absolutely love it, but this is not a book for me. Although I appreciate the ideas that one person can have a dramatic impact on others' lives and misfits can come together to make a family, and I am always happy to find another positive book with characters of color, I had many problems with this book that prevented me from really enjoying it. I couldn't willingly suspend my disbelief over many parts of the plot. Things frequently came together in a ways that were almost magical. Since this story seems otherwise realistic, I found that jarring. I don't want to write spoilers here, but  this occurs many times. Also, I always felt at arm's length from Willow and the rest of the characters and I had difficulty believing in her as a child, albeit a genius child. I think that the continual switch of narration from first person to third person contributed to that feeling. Finally, the ending felt false to me and completely changed my opinion of one character. These are just my opinions, so by all means read and judge for yourself.

What it's about:

Twelve year old Willow Chance's life is shaken when she loses both of her parents in a car accident, and there is no next of kin to collect her. Because she is essentially a genius who her school mistakenly views as a cheater, she has been having counseling sessions with Dell Duke, who is intrigued by her abilities, but is seriously unfit for his job. Because of these appointments, she has also met the commanding teenage Mai and her troubled brother Quang-ha.When Willow is informed about her parents' deaths, these people, plus Mai and Quang-ha's mother Pattie, group together to temporarily take care of her. This situation and Willow herself bring about plenty of growth and change for all of the characters, until Willow finds the new place that she belongs.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Pug and Other Animal Poems by Valerie Worth

Pug and Other Animal Poems by Valerie Worth, Illus. by Steve Jenkins, 2013.

Valerie Worth's second children's book of animal poetry offers eighteen poems celebrating creatures from a fly to fish to a rat. They are beautifully matched by Steve Jenkins' collage illustrations (see also: Never Smile at a Monkey). The collection kicks off with:

Nearly a
Myth, his
Shady mask,
His flickering
Feet, his
Fiery tail;
Streaking the
Dark like
A fabulous
Famous, but
Seldom seen.
Other animals are wonderfully described, from the cries of birds, to the solidity of a bull to the majesty of a Bengal tiger. This book is a great share with poetry and animal lovers.

Chickenhare by Chris Grine

Chickenhare by Chris Grine, 2013.

Grine begins his story amidst the action as Chickenhare and his friend Abe, a bearded box turtle, are about to to be sold to Klaus, a mad taxidermist who collects exotic animals. Once captive, they meet  Banjo, a smart-mouthed, monkeylike Krampus and brave, horned Meg. They join together to escape and head off into the snow, but Chickenhare is separated from the group when he is distracted by the ghost of a well dressed goat. Tired and cold, the others unknowingly shelter in the caves of the fierce and hungry Shromph and relentless Klaus, along with his butler, his personal thug and two piggy flunkys are coming to get them.Will Chickenhare, "half chicken, half rabbit, 100% hero" be able to get them out of that mess?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos, 2011.

Dead End in Norvelt is a big fat award winner, of both the 2012 Newbery Medal and the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction. If that isn't recommendation enough for you, please allow me to add mine. This odd, amusing story will gross you out, make you laugh and get you to love its young narrator.

Set in Pennsylvania in 1962,  Dead End in Norvelt follows a 12 year old boy, also named Jack Gantos, through a summer that he spends mostly grounded, but seldom bored. His community conscious mom has promised his help to a little old neighbor, Miss Volker, who wants him at her house at 6:00 am. Fortunately for the history-loving Jack, his job is to help her write up obituaries about the original inhabitants of their hometown, Norvelt, and Miss Volker knows how to make history lively.

 After a mishap with his dad's Japanese war souvenir and an unfortunate corn mowing incident, his work with Miss Volker becomes his only hope for excitement. He soon finds himself dressing up like the Grim Reaper to investigate a possible death, tangling with a pack of revenge seeking Hell's Angels and undergoing an operation Miss Volker performs with veterinary tools meant to fix his perpetually bloody nose.

Through his adventures, he describes town characters such as Mr. Spizz, an officious, tricycle riding would-be suitor of Miss Volker's, Bunny Huffer, his tough, baseball loving friend, and his scheming father, who plans to build a runway for his army surplus plane, while assuring his wife that he is putting in a bomb shelter instead.

All the while, the town elders seem to be dropping dead at an accelerated pace.

I can't wait to read the sequel, From Norvelt to Nowhere!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Monster on the Hill by Rob Harrell

Monster on the Hill by Rob Harrell, 2013.

Rayburn is a giant monster with horns, fangs, and a dragon-like appearance. The problem is that he just doesn't feel very scary. He's letting down Stoker-On-Avon, the town that he's supposed to thrill and terrorize. Wilkie is a disgraced doctor and scientist who's been drafted by the town fathers to fix Rayburn. Along with street urchin/town crier/stowaway Timothy he talks Rayburn into heading out on a road trip to meet with more horrifying town monsters.They're soon off to see Ray's school chum Tentaculor, who's green, many-armed and fierce. Unfortunately, while Stoker-On-Avon is monster- less, something worse decides to pay it a visit: the Murk, made of grave dirt, old hair and hunger. Now's the time for Rayburn to show his mettle, and with some of Wilkie's edgier inventions,  put a stop to the Murk's rampage and save the town.Will a Green-Thorned Smooshroom, a screaming Psychotree, and the possible loss of Tentaculor stop him?

Kids will enjoy this humorous graphic novel about monsters, friendship, believing in yourself and working with what you've got!

Hansel and Gretel by Michael Morpurgo & Emma Chichester Clark

Hansel and Gretel by Michael Morpurgo & Emma Chichester Clark, 2008.


"Nibble-dee-day, nibble-dee-day. Who's nibbling at my house today?"

This is a nicely illustrated expansion of the Hansel and Gretel story. It keeps many of the tale's motifs and puts the focus on the children as part of their family unit. Hansel and Gretel live with their mother and father, Gabriel and Lisette, and all is good until a wicked witch, Belladonna, becomes jealous of Lisette and sets her sights on Gabriel and the children. She turns Lisette into a weeping willow tree, shape shifts into a beautiful young woman and pretends that she almost died while trying to prevent Lisette from drowning. Before long, she worms her way into the family and wins Gabriel's love, becoming his new bride. When the children cannot accept her, she brings a famine to the land and sets about getting rid of the kids in the usual way. Gabriel only pretends to go along with her demands to lose the children in the forest and helps them with the stones and breadcrumbs. When Belladonna learns of this, she turns Gabriel to stone and carries out the gingerbread house plan. After Gretel dispatches the witch in the oven, the kids return home, taking the hag's formerly fierce wolf-dog and discovering that her spells have been broken: the land is back in plenty and their parents are whole and healthy.

Clark's pictures have a pleasant, homey feel with characters dressed in folkloric patterned aprons and kerchiefs, pages bordered with vines, flowers and birds, and titles suggestive of  cross stitching. The family farm is full of chickens and the un-cursed forest teems with birds and animals. The witch's gingerbread house is cute as can be, surrounded by daisies, but her courtyard is a mess, filled with sticks, stones and bones. In her wifely form, Belladonna has disturbingly electric green eyes and in her full-on witchery she has pink eyes, a bulbous, warty nose, an abundance of facial hair and scraggly grey locks.

Seek this book out for a great longer read aloud with kids who already know the usual story.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Hansel and Gretel by Ian Wallace

Hansel and Gretel by Ian Wallace, 1994.


  • Setting is by the sea on the edge of a forest
  • Does not mention God
  • Children drop pebbles but say they're turning back to wave goodbye to the cat on the roof
  • Hansel drops breadcrumbs but says he is turning back to wave goodbye to a pigeon on the roof
  • Children follow a white bird to the witch's house
  • House was "made of sweets with a roof made of cake and pure sugar for windows."
  • Witch promises no harm will come to them
  • Hansel is kept in a pen rather than a cage

"Nibbling, nibbling like a mouse.
Who's that nibbling at my house?"

Ian Wallace made his illustrations in pastel pencil on black paper. The witch's head appears on the horizon on the book's cover, but Wallace does not show her "human" face inside at all, although she does appear in a surrealistic, ominous form as the forest and in a creepy visual postscript as a witch-shaped cloud of smoke rising from the oven chimney. Like Anthony Browne's book, (Picture books: Hansel and Gretel), this Hansel and Gretel has a more modern setting than most. The family's shabby  home appears to have a drop tile ceiling and a 70s vibe lamp, the father wears a baseball cap, the kids wear casual pants and the stepmother reads a scandal sheet of the "Batboy found!" variety. The art has dark overtones, from the literally dim and engulfing woods to the children's reunion with their father near the cemetery by their home. Wallace's version of the story is not your typical one, and is worth a look.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Lost Boy by Greg Ruth

The Lost Boy written and illus. by Greg Ruth, 2013.

In Greg Ruth's deliciously creepy graphic novel The Lost Boy, we first meet young Nate, reluctantly moving into his family's new house. He has no sooner than picked out his bedroom when he finds the tape recordings of a boy named Walt, telling of unusual activity in the woods in the 1960s. Walt describes insects dressed in evening wear, talking squirrels and eerie life sized doll people. Before long, Nate's usual world intersects with the Kingdom, home to the crazy things that Walt has described and Nate learns that not long after he made his tapes,Walt permanently disappeared. When Nate and a neighbor girl named Tabitha are attacked by a monstrous Tree Man, the Vespertine, the kids are dragged into an adventure in the Kingdom. Aiding them are Tom Button, a doll boy, Pettibone, a brave and sassy squirrel, and Haloran, Walt's former mentor. Pleasingly spooky in art and storyline, hinting at the possibility of more to come, this title will leave readers hoping for an entire series about Nate, Tabitha and the Kingdom.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Camp Read-a-Lot 2014 Reading List

I will once again be a "counselor" at Camp Read-a-Lot, this summer held in West St. Paul on August 7. I will be among the librarians leading the book discussions for the 4th-5th grade books. This year's author is Jack Gantos!
 More information here

4th and 5th Grade Reads:
1. Camper’s Choice – Choose one title below to read and review:
  • Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg
  • Counting by Sevens by Holly Goldberg Sloan
2. Camper’s Choice – Choose one title below to read and review:


  • The Adventures of a South Pole Pig: A Novel of Snow and Courage by Chris Kurtz
  • Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein  
  • The Platypus Police Squad: The Frog Who Croaked by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
3. Camper’s Choice – Choose one title below to read and review:


  •  Doll Bones by Holly Black
  • Jinx by Sage Blackwood

4. Camper’s Choice – Choose one title below to read and review:


  •  The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel by Deborah Hopkinson  
  • The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata

5. Camper’s Choice – Choose one title below to read and review:

  •  Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd
  • Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech

6. Camper’s Choice – Choose one title below to read and review:

  •  ChickenHare by Chrise Grine
  • Monster on the Hill by Rob Harrell
  • The Lost Boy by Greg Ruth

7. Camper’s Choice – Choose one title below to read and review:

  •  Dead End In Norvelt (Norvelt Series #1) by Jack Gantos
  • From Norvelt to Nowhere (Norvelt Series #2) by Jack Gantos

Camper’s Choice

8. Camper’s Choice – Any title of your choice (fiction or nonfiction) that meets the following criteria:
a. You have not read it before this summer
b. Original copyright is no older than 2012
c. Ideal for classroom use or free reading
d. Avoid highly popular titles, books recently made into movies, major award winners


9. Camper’s Choice – Choose one title below to read and review:


  •  Eruption!: Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives by Elizabeth Rusch
  • Scaly Spotted Feathered Frilled: How Do We Know What Dinosaurs Really Looked Like? by Catherine Thimmesh
  • The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees: A Scientific Mystery by Sandra Markle

10. Camper’s Choice – Choose one title below to read and review:


  • Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson
  • Wild Boy: The Real Life of the Savage of Aveyron by Mary Losure
  • Becoming Ben Franklin: How a Candle-Maker’s Son Helped Light the Flame of Liberty by Russel Freedman

11. Camper’s Choice – Choose one title below to read and review:

  •   Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin by Jen Bryant
  • My Weird Writing Tips by Dan Gutman
  • When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop by Laben Carrick Hill
  • Pug and Other Animal Poems by Valerie Worth

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Hansel and Gretel by Beni Montresor

Hansel and Gretel by Beni Montresor, 2001.

    The details of  Montresor's concise story deviate quite a bit from the Grimms' version. The children are sent into the woods by their mother to pick strawberries, but they get lost on their own. Their parents worry when their offspring don't return, because the woods are infested with an evil monster, terrifying devils and witches. As the children spend the night in the forest, they dream that heavenly angels watch over them, and when they awaken, a castle has taken the place of the woods. This is the witch's home, and she wastes no time in throwing Hansel into a cage and forcing Gretel to prepare the cooking fire. Gretel uses the witch's magic wand to free Hansel, and together they push her into the fire. Other children imprisoned by the crone are now freed and the children are heroes. The tale ends there, with no reunion of the children and their parents.

Verse: none

Montresor uses dramatic silhouette art to tell his adaptation of the story. Bold backgrounds of colorful green, royal blue, red, etc. contrast with the white profiles of the children. The evil creatures are readily identifiable: red devils carrying pitchforks, green witches riding brooms, and a yellow eyed monster with a face like a Puffer fish. Likewise, the host of angels,  colored mauve and yellow, have crowns, wings and outspread arms. Though I personally don't care for what I feel are unnecessary changes to the story, the art makes this book stand out.

Hansel & Gretel by Lisbeth Zwerger

Hansel & Gretel by the Brothers Grimm & Lisbeth Zwerger, Trans. by Elizabeth D. Crawford, 1979.

  • Mentions God
  • Hansel drops pebbles but says he is turning back to look at a white kitten on the roof
  • Children think that their father is nearby in the woods, but he has fixed a tree branch to strike a tree to sound like an axe cutting wood
  • Hansel drops breadcrumbs but says he is turning back to look at a dove on the roof
  • Children follow a white bird to the witch's house
  • House was "made of bread and roofed with cakes, and the windows were of pure sugar."
  • Witch promises no harm will come to them
  • Gives detail on the witch, including her keen sense of smell
  • Hansel is kept in a kennel rather than a cage
  • Children ride a white duck across the water to get home

"Nibble, nibble, munch, munch.
Who is gnawing on my house?"

"The wind, the wind,
The heavenly wind."

"Duckling, duckling,
Help Hansel and Gretel.
There's no footbridge and no track.
Take us on your little white back."

Zwerger's watercolor illustrations  are done in neutral colors and put the focus on the children and their reactions. The woods are really a brown blur and the stepmother, a plain but normal looking woman, is only shown once. Even the witch is fairly subtle. Her robe has an absence of color and her skin a very faint green tint. Her most striking features are her amber eyes, that put one in mind of a snake or a toad. The overall effect is dreamy and melancholy, until the happy ending.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Thing 23: Evaluate 23 Mobile Things

I had a great time doing 23 Mobile Things and I do feel that I learned a lot. It has definitely made me more willing to explore apps and not fear adding and subtracting them from my phone at will. I would absolutely participate in another 23 Things!

Apps added during 23 Mobile Things still on my phone:
  • Apps Gone Free
  • Bee Kind
  • Blogger
  • Candy Crush (added under the influence of 23 Mobile Things)
  • Farm Heroes (added under the influence of 23 Mobile Things)
  • Free Fall (added under the influence of 23 Mobile Things)
  • Going Out
  • Instagram
  • Mediation Timer Free (added under the influence of 23 Mobile Things)
  • MyGarden
  • Pill Monitor Free (added under the influence of 23 Mobile Things)
  • Project Noah
  • Springpad
  • Zite
Top 3 Favorite for Personal Use:

  • Springpad
  • Bee Kind
  • Farm Heroes
Sadly, Springpad, which I find I use a lot, is shutting down on June 25. However, they provide for migration to Evernote, which I just did and it went smoothly. Now, we will see.

Top 3 Favorite for Possible Work Use:
  • Vine
  • Audioboo
  • Pinterest

Favorite Mobile Things: (Pinterest definitely would have been on this list, but I was already using it)

  1. Thing 22: Discovering Apps (Very happy to have found Quixey, but I did use it on my computer, rather than iPhone)
  2. Things 10 & 9: Sharing Photos & Taking and Editing Photos (just fun!)
  3. Thing 19: Hobbies

Least Favorite Mobile Things:

  1. Thing 15: Infographics
  2. Thing 6: Creating and Editing Documents (not practical on tiny iPhone)
  3. Thing 13: Presentations (ditto and love my PowerPoint)