Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Bad Kitty vs Uncle Murray: The Uproar at the Front Door

Bad Kitty is in the middle of a wonderful dream about Pussycat Paradise, where everything is made out of food, when she awakens to a nightmare. Her owners skedaddled off on a trip, leaving her and Puppy with Uncle Murray as their pet sitter. Puppy accepts the new status quo, but not Bad Kitty. Readers of Nick Bruel's two previous beginning chapter books starring Bad Kitty (Bad Kitty Gets a Bath and Happy Birthday, Bad Kitty) will guess (correctly) that this situation can not end well.

The Bad Kitty books are a favorite with my six-year-old nephew and I can see why. From the opening page the book takes young readers on an antic, fun-filled roller coaster of a ride. Bad Kitty, maniac and fearful, sees Uncle Murray as her arch enemy, although he clearly isn't. The cartoony illustrations provide many sight gags, as when Uncle Murray  sits on Kitty, mistaking her for a pillow, or tries to use her as a dish towel. Kitty becomes more and more frantic with each misstep, but the final straw is when Uncle Murray gets out the vacuum cleaner. Kitty flies out the door and a wild chase ensues before Kitty is safely back home. By book's end she and Uncle Murray have agreed to an uneasy truce.

Interspersed within the seven chapters are Uncle Murray's Fun Facts, which explain why felines are so fearful and cautious by nature. The facts are both accurate and entertaining, and they help readers understand why Bad Kitty freaks out the way she does. The book also has an appendix of phobias, many of which afflict Bad Kitty, such as peladophobia, fear of bald people. (Uncle Murray is sparse of hair.)

My fear? That Nick Bruel will stop writing books about Bad Kitty.  

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ten Things You Might Not Know About Turkeys

1. That floppy protrusion on a turkey's head is called the caruncle. An agitated turkey's caruncle will grow longer and hang over its beak. The fleshy skin under its chin is called the wattles. 2. Male turkeys gobble to show they are dominant. The sound can be heard a mile away. 3. Male turkeys have spurs on their legs that they use to fight other toms and to fend off predators. 4. Turkeys prefer to run from danger. But they can fly, sometimes as fast as 50 mph. 5. Domesticated turkeys usually have white feathers and are much too heavy to get off the ground. 6. To stay safe from predators turkeys roost in trees at night. 7. A turkey has binocular, or 3-D, vision. It can spot movement a hundred yards away. 8. Although turkeys don't have external ears, their hearing is sharp. 9. Female turkeys lay between 8 to 18 tan eggs. The hatchlings are called poults. 10. While wild turkeys have the capacity to live to about 12, most don't make it past two. And for domesticated turkeys it's half that.  

I found most of these facts in All About Turkeys, written and illustrated by Jim Arnosky. Published in 1998,  Arnosky's book remains a good introduction to the bird that was Ben Franklin's choice for the United States national bird. Wild Turkeys by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent and illustrated by William Munoz provides additional information for kids to chew on.

Today's host for Nonfiction Monday is Practically Paradise.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Shows Must Go On

What are the odds of there being not one, not two, but three beginning-reader books that deal with the problem of being cast as the turkey in a Thanksgiving Day play? Each book gives its own unique twist to this unusual situation.

Arthur's Thanksgiving by Marc Brown puts the lovable aardvark in the director's chair for his class's Thanksgiving play. His dilemma? He can't find anyone interested in being the turkey. His friends want starring roles, and even family members turn him down. What's an aardvark to do? Like all great directors, he knows the show must go on, so he dons the turkey costume and steps on stage. Bravo, Arthur!

Mark, the second-grader in I Am a Turkey by Michele Sobel Spirn, is glad he landed the role of the turkey--that is until his big brother tells him how the play ends. Now that he knows he'll be the Pilgrim's main course, he's dreading the big day. But when a Pilgrim forgets his lines, Mark forgets his stage fright and comes through with flying colors.

Thanksgiving Turkey Trouble, a 96-page early chapter book by Abby Klein, features Freddy Thresher, a first-grader who is stuck with the one part in the class play that nobody wants. You guessed it--he's the turkey. Freddy now has to find a way to play the part and keep his dignity intact.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Princess Posey and the First Grade Parade

Posey is starting first grade in a few days. Her biggest fear is marching into school all by herself. (Parents must say their goodbyes in Kiss and Go Lane.) If only Posey could wear her pink tutu to class. Whenever she puts it on, she feels as if she can do anything. Will Posey get to wear her tutu to school?

Of course she will. Posey meets her first-grade teacher by chance at a grocery store and confides in her. Miss Lee understands perfectly and invites the entire first grade class to dress in their favorite clothes for the first day of school. The class then parades down the hallway to the classroom, with Posey, dressed in her pink tutu and new sparkly pink veil, leading the way.

Princess Posey and the First Day Parade, the first in a new series written by Stephanie Greene and illustrated by Stephanie Roth Sisson, is broken down into ten very short chapters, making it a good choice for children just graduating from early readers. With its focus on princesses and pink tutus, it is very definitely a girl's book. But that's not to say that Posey isn't without spunk. When two neighborhood boys tease her about her fears, telling her about the snakes who suck the blood out of first-graders, Posey retaliates by jabbing one of the boys with a stick. Good for you, Posey! Just make sure you don't get any blood on your pretty tutu.  

Monday, November 15, 2010

Time Is When

What is time and how do you explain this elusive concept to a preschooler? In 1960, when her son was three, Beth Gleick answered his questions about time in a picture book, Time Is When. Gleick starts off her book with, "Time is from before to now; from now to later." She then goes on to explain the different units of time: a second, a minute, an hour, a day, a week, ending with a year and its seasons. She also touches upon that most important mark of time (at least from a child's perspective)--one's birthday. Each unit is compared to something that a young child is familiar with, such as, "In one minute, you can walk one block (if you walk quickly and don't stop to look in store windows)."  

In 2008, Time Is When was republished with new illustrations by Marthe Jocelyn. Using the medium of collage, Jocelyn snips and pastes pieces of fabric, paper, and trimmings to create visually exciting illustrations of children experiencing time. The book open with a parade of children marching toward the reader. The facing page shows the parade marching away, cleverly showing how time has already passed. Young readers will pore over the illustrations with delight as they notice the many whimsical details, such as the photograph of wolves pasted on a TV screen that a young boy is watching.

This book is highly recommended. Be sure to carve out the time to order a copy.

Today's host for Nonfiction Monday is In Need of Chocolate.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Bink & Gollie

After reading so many rave reviews of Bink & Gollie by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, I had to see what the fuss was about. Not yet having the book in hand, I couldn't imagine why everyone was so excited. Two girls, one tall, one short, who in the first story buy a pair of socks? Come on, pull the other one.

Then I read the book. Aah, now I see. So I'll add my bucket of praise to the oceans already out there. Bink & Gollie is a wonderful, wonderful book, destined to become a children's classic. DiCamillo, a Newbery award winner, and McGhee, a NY Times bestselling author, have created two winning characters based loosely on themselves. Bink (DiCamillo) is the short one, the down-to-earth one, who lives in a cottage at the base of a giant tree. At the top of the tree, in a modernistic treehouse, lives Gollie. More cerebral than Bink, Gollie speaks with precision and a rather formal syntax. There is a whiff of superiority about her, no doubt caused from living in rarified air among the treetops.

Somewhere between an early reader and a beginning chapter book, Bink & Gollie is 96 pages long and divided into three stand-alone stories. The first concerns socks. While out rollerskating, the girls come across a store having a sale on socks. Not just any socks, but outrageously bright socks. Bink buys herself a pair, and Gollie is mortified. The mere sight of them offends her. After a tiff between the friends, the pair learn the joys of compromise.

The second story involves Gollie's adventure climbing the Andes (in her imagination) while Bink tries her best to wangle her way inside her friend's abode. The final chapter deals with jealousy. Bink buys a pet fish, and Gollie resents him. When the trio are out rollerskating, a near tragedy occurs, but Gollie saves the day (and the fish), and Bink reassures her that she, not Fred the Fish, is the most marvelous companion of all.

No review of this book can be considered complete without mentioning the art. Tony Fucile adds so much to the characters of Bink and Gollie. Bink has a shock of blond hair, giving her an impish charm, while Gollie's lanky body language speaks volumes. The background is usually in black and white with the girls and a few objects (like the socks) highlighted in color. Little wonder this book made the NY Times Best Illustrated Children's Books of 2010.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Mac and Cheese

Mac and Cheese are cats, but that's where the similarity ends. Mac, big and boisterous, likes to play and jump and sing, and, well, have fun. Cheese doesn't. This grumpy cat prefers to just sit quietly next to his pal. But when a gust of wind makes off with Mac's hat, Cheese pounces and bounces and jumps after it, returning it safely to his friend. Written in rhyme by Sarah Weeks, Mac and Cheese is another early reader featuring  a pair of animals who, while very different, are still good friends. Jane Manning, the illustrator, does a outstanding job of bringing the characters and the gritty city setting to life. My one quibble with this book is that Cheese is just a little too grumpy. True, he saves his friend's hat, but up till then, he is so negative that this reader wondered more than once why Mac would bother to be his friend.    

Monday, November 8, 2010

Drawing Fun with Syd Hoff

Syd Hoff (1912-2004) wrote and illustrated many classic early readers, the most famous of which is Danny and the Dinosaur. A cartoonist who sold his first cartoon at age 18 to The New Yorker, Hoff strongly believed that anyone could learn to draw. To this end he published several books on drawing and cartooning that are perfect for beginning readers.

Drawing with Letters and Numbers is especially appropriate because children this age can always use extra practice mastering the alphabet. The book demonstrates how the letters A through Z (capital and lowercase) and the numbers 1 through 9 can be transformed with a few strokes into something else entirely. The capital letter A becomes a clown's hat. Lowercase h is the arch of a cat's back. The number 5 morphs into the mouth of a fierce lion.

How to Draw Cartoons provides simple instructions on how to create cartoons. The book starts with asking kids to draw a circle. Add eyes, a nose, and a mouth and you've got a face. Next Hoff shows how to add detail, such as hair, a mustache, even a double chin. With a few broad strokes a face can be happy or sad. But what good is a face without a body? Hoff goes on to demonstrate how to draw proportional stick figures. Then he makes those figures walk, run, and jump. The book also includes instructions on how to draw animals.

Both books are out of print and can be hard to find. I own my copies, but my local library does shelve How to Draw Cartoons. And, of course, there's always Amazon's used book sellers. While I also highly recommend all of Ed Emberley's drawing books, I find they work better with older children. For beginning readers, stick to Hoff.

 Today's host for Nonfiction Monday is Shelf-employed.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Quotation of the Week

"The greatest gift is a passion for reading. It is cheap, it consoles, it distracts, it excites, it gives you knowledge of the world and experience of a wide kind. It is a moral illumination."

--Elizabeth Hardwick

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Forgotten Favorites: The Golly Sisters

It's been 25 years since The Golly Sisters Go West, the first in a series of three early readers by Betsy Byars, was published. The stories center around May-May and Rose, sisters who travel west in a covered wagon, putting on song-and-dance shows along the way. Like most siblings, the sisters squabble occasionally, as in one chapter when the two can't agree which one will go on stage first. By the time they decide to enter at the same time, the audience has gone home. The dogs remain, however, and so May-May and Rose perform for them. Betsy Byars plops her plucky heroines into all kinds of scrapes and for each one provides an unexpected and funny resolution. The cartoony illustrations by Sue Truesdell add to the humor. The other two books in the series are The Golly Sisters Ride Again and Hooray for the Golly Sisters! All three are highly recommended.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Too Hard or Too Easy? How to Match the Book to the Child

A beginning reader opens a book from the classroom, the library, or the bookstore. It's on a topic she likes and the illustrations are enticing. But wait, will she be able to read it? If it's too easy, she'll likely be bored. Too hard and she'll put the book down in frustration. So how does Miss Goldilocks choose a book that is just right?

Many educators propose using the Rule of Thumb to determine if a book matches a child's reading level. Esme Raji Codell explains how it works in How to Get Your Child to Love Reading:

"Have a child choose a page in the middle of the book with a lot of text, and make a fist. Explain to the child that she should not use the fist to punch anyone in the nose. Instead, read the page silently, and if you come to a word you don't know and can't guess, put out your thumb. If you find another word, put out another finger, and so on. If you reach the end of the page and between three and five are up, that means the book will be a challenge. The child can decide if she is motivated enough to try to read it anyway (you can offer help), or she can choose to save it for the future. A pleasure read should have 0-2 fingers up."

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Review: Let's Say HI to Friends Who Fly!

Mo Willems's latest, Let's Say HI to Friends Who Fly, is a great pick for kids in the beginning stage of learning to read. Cat the Cat asks the same question to all her friends, "Can you fly?" Bee the Bee, Bird the Bird, and Bat the Bat reply "Watch me!" and take off. But what happens when Rhino the Rhino is asked if he can fly? Like all of the stories Mo Willems writes and illustrates, there is a humorous surprise ending for young readers to enjoy.

I highly recommend this early reader, not just for the inventive story, but also for the innovative way the author graphically blends the text with the art. For instance, when Bat the Bat, who is hanging from his feet on monkey bars, speaks, the text in his cartoon bubble is upside down.

To read an interview with the talented Mo Willems, click here.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: Dia de los Muertos

The trick-or-treaters have come and gone, and hopefully you're left with some candy. But don't put away any skeleton decorations just yet. The ancient Aztec festival, Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, starts on the night of October 31 and continues through November 2. In Mexico, it's a time to remember family and friends who have died. Celebrate this holiday with young readers by sharing the following books with them:

Day of the Dead by Linda Lowery introduces beginning readers to the holiday, describing its roots in both Aztec mythology and Catholic traditions. Using simple words, the early reader stresses the cycle of life and reminds readers that people, like every other living thing on Earth, have a time to be born and a time to die. As the author states, "Day of the Dead is not a sad time. It is a warm and loving time to remember people who have died. It is a time to be thankful for life." Barbara Knutson's colorful illustrations resemble woodcuts and add to the book's charm.

Pablo Remembers: The Fiesta of the Day of the Dead by George Ancona, gives children a front row seat as they observe through photographs and text how a Mexican family observes this holiday by honoring their loved ones who have died.

A particular favorite of mine is The Festival of Bones. Written and illustrated by the Mexican artist Luis San Vicente, the first part of this "little-bitty book for the Day of the Dead" is a joyous poem about skeletons related in both English and Spanish. The second half explains the importance on this holiday and provides young readers with simple activities, such as building an altar or making a sugar skull. The illustrations are truly out-of-this world!

To learn more about this holiday, check out this informative Smithsonian website.

Today's host for Nonfiction Monday is publisher Capstone's blog, Capstone Connect