Monday, January 31, 2011

Chicken Big

A picture book that's ideal for beginning readers, Chicken Big is an amusing retake on "Chicken Little" (aka "Henny Penny") You know, the fable where a not-too-bright chicken (are there any other kind?) panics when an acorn falls on her head and she mistakenly believes the world is coming to an end (hmmm, why does the Tea Party suddenly spring to mind)?

In the new version by Keith Graves, the hero of the story is not in the least bit stupid. In fact, he's quite bright. Oh, and one other thing. He's big. Humongous, really. The story starts with the birth of our hero as he pops out of his giant shell. The other chickens in the coop are flummoxed and agree that he can't be a chicken. Because of his size, he must really be an elephant. The big guy proves them wrong the next day when an acorn falls on the smallest chick. She assumes the sky is falling, causing the others to run around like chickens without their heads. The big chick reassures them it was only an acorn and pops it into his mouth. The chickens regroup and conclude he's a squirrel.

And so it goes. The big chick continues to help out his relatives and they continue to misidentify him. Then the henhouse is robbed of its eggs. Once again it's Chicken Big to the rescue. Thanks to his height, he sees the fox making off with the eggs and reclaims them. Finally, the chickens accept him as one of their own and make room for him in the coop.

This book is laugh-aloud funny. The comic asides alone are worth the price of admission. After the smallest chicken mistakes Chicken Big for an elephant, we're informed in parentheses that "She was not the sharpest beak in the flock." Then there's the sign "No Elephants Allowed" outside the coop. With its wide array of fonts, speech bubbles, and juxtaposition of multiples panels alongside full-page illustrations, Chicken Big incorporates the elements of comic books to great effect.

The text has a straight-forward syntax, and the vocabulary--with the exception of the word humongous--shouldn't pose a problem for proficient beginning readers. However, I recommend introducing or rereading the original "Chicken Little" first so that kids can fully appreciate the humor. My favorite version is Henny Penny by Paul Galdone.

Chicken Big
by Keith Graves
Chronicle Books, 32 pages
Published: 2010

Friday, January 28, 2011

Quote of the Week

"There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories."
--Ursula K. LeGuin

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Wish I'd Read as a Kid

The Broke and the Bookish hosts Top Ten Tuesday, a great meme for people who love lists (like me). This week's topic is Top Ten Books I Wish I'd Read as a Kid. I chose books that I missed out on for different reasons. Some weren't published until I was an adult. Others because I was the wrong age when they came out. And then there were those I just plain never knew about at the time or never got around to reading. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Spinky Sulks by William Steig
A champion sulker myself, I would have adored this picture book that gets sulking exactly right. "The world was against him, so he was against the world..."

2. Owl at Home by Arnold Lobel
My favorite beginning reader. I wish it had been around when I was first learning to read.

3. The Witches by Roald Dahl (and practically every other book written by the master)
I saw The Witches in the movie theater and then ran home to read the book (way better, especially the ending).

4. Ordinary Jack by Helen Cresswell (and all other books in the Bagthorpe Saga)
This series would have been right up my alley. It features an eccentric English family who drive one another bonkers with their shenanigans. Every year or so I reread them and laugh all over again.

5. Which Witch? by Eva Ibbotson
I just found out about Ibbotson when I read her obit last year. What a great writer! I would have devoured her books as a kid. Which Witch? is a humorous and ghoulish fantasy about a prince who holds a contest to choose a wife. I'm currently making my way through the rest of her novels.

6. Oddballs by William Sleator
Another book that is hysterically funny, this one a memoir of the author's childhood by a noted fantasy YA writer. It opens with Sleator and his sister in the family car's back seat playing their favorite game--telling their life stories as excrement. His sister likes to imagine the beginning of her existence "as an Oreo cookie or a Hostess cupcake, eaten by Queen Elizabeth at a royal banquet in Buckingham Palace." What kid wouldn't love this?

7. The Goats by Brock Cole
I was never big on overly realistic books as a kid. I preferred fantasy. But I'm sure I would have made an exception for this gripping novel about two misfits, a boy and a girl, stranded on an island by their fellows campers for a cruel prank. Oh, and they are both stripped naked. How they connect and join forces is truly amazing.

8. Owl in Love by Patrice Kindl
A fourteen-year-old girl who not only is in love with her science teacher; she's a shape-shifter to boot and keeps watch over him at night, perched in a tree as an owl. A fantasy that is both wonderfully strange and humorous.

9. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
My all-time favorite movie, I am embarrassed to admit I never read the book or any of the others. I hang my head in shame.

10. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
Another book I have never read, although I have memories of my mother reading bits of it to me and my sister when we were little little.

I'm sure I'll think of many more before the day is over, but here's my list for now. What are the books you wished you read?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Anna Hibiscus

The African proverb "It takes a village to raise a child" is demonstrated again and again in Anna Hibiscus, an early chapter book by Atinuke. Set in Africa in an unnamed country (that sounds a lot like Nigeria), the book features its eponymous character, a young girl who lives with her extended family "in an old white house with balconies and secret staircases."

Anna can't image a life not surrounded by grandparents, aunties, uncles, and many, many cousins. So when, in the first story, Anna's father announces that only the immediate family will be going on a beach vacation, Anna is incredulous. And rightly so. For without the help of their relatives, the workload is overwhelming, and Anna's twin baby brothers, Double and Trouble, prove a handful. Father returns home to fetch the aunties to help with the work, then the cousins to amuse the twins, then the uncles to keep him company, and finally his parents for their wisdom and their ability to restore order to the squabbling household.    

With all its dozens of family members, the household would seem to be complete. But it's not. Auntie Comfort lives far away in America on the other side of the Atlantic. Anna can't wait until she is strong enough to swim right across the ocean to see her aunt. Luckily, she won't have to make such an arduous journey because the family learns that Auntie Comfort is coming to visit. Preparations begin at once, with everyone doing his or her part. Anna notices that Grandfather is worried that his youngest daughter might have forgotten "the proper African way" of doing things. With the help of an uncle, Anna sends messages to her aunt, reminding her of their customs. When Auntie Comfort arrives, dressed in traditional garb, Anna is reassured.

Anna learns an important lesson in the third story about work, money, and class. Bored with the quiet life in the family's comfortable compound, she yearns for the excitement of the city outside its walls. She's especially enamored of the girls who sell fruit and vegetables from baskets on their heads. Anna longs to be one of them, and begs her grandfather to allow her to do so. When he ignores her, she fills a basket with oranges and marches off. Because her oranges are freshly picked, they sell quickly. At the end of the day, Anna has a handful of coins in her pocket. The other girls do not fare as well, and Anna learns that they and their family will go hungry. She confesses to her grandfather, and the next morning he has Anna work for the girls. All day she walks back and forth to the market to fetch the girls the fruit that they sell. When evening falls, Anna's feet have blisters and she is sore through and through. But she knows "what it is to work hard."

The final story involves Anna's desire to "set her eyes, her feet, her hands, on snow." In her family, only her mother, who was born and raised in Canada, has experienced its frosty delight. Anna goes about the compound trying to recreate snow and failing. It's only when a letter comes from Granny Canada that Anna gets an inkling how to make her dream come true.

Anna Hibiscus is a finalist in the 2010 Cybils awards and deservedly so. Beginning readers are rarely given the opportunity of reading a book set in a world so different from their own. Luckily for them, Atinuke has a storyteller's natural voice. She brings Anna and her family to life through snatches of spot-on dialogue and by showing what it really means to be part of a large, loving family. Sometimes Anna's mother is cross with her and can't help her. When that happens, Anna knows to find a less-busy  aunt or uncle.  Lauren Tobia's black-and-white illustrations are a delight, showing homey details not always provided in the text. For instance, at the end of Anna's long day of work at the market, the illustration shows her back in the compound, her feet soaking in a bucket of water. A companion book, Hooray for Anna Hibiscus, is out, and two more books, Good Luck, Anna Hibiscus and Have Fun, Anna Hibiscus will be published in March. Put them all on your must-read list!

Anna Hibiscus
by Atinuke
illustrations by Lauren Tobia
Kane Miller, 112 pages
Published: 2010

Friday, January 21, 2011

Quote of the Week

"You become a reader because you saw and heard someone you admired enjoying the experience, someone led you to the world of books even before you could read, let you taste the magic of stories, took you to the library, and allowed you to stay up later at night to read in bed."
--Jim Trelease

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Learning to Read: When Did It First Click for You?

Everyone remembers his or her first time, right? That magical moment when the squiggles on the page crystalize into words, and a new world, a world of reading, unfolds.

Mine occurred in the second half of first grade. In those long ago days, children weren't pressured into reading while still in diapers. We listened to picture books in kindergarten, but we didn't have readers of our own. There wasn't time. Kindergarten lasted half a day. Was this good or bad? I don't know. But my daughter, who went to preschool and full-day kindergarden where reading was very definitely taught, learned to read at exactly the same age as I did: six-and-a-half.

Still, even in those more forgiving days, I was among the last in my class to learn to read. What was wrong? Our house was full of enticing books; my mother, a bookworm, read aloud to me and my sisters every night; the children's room at the library was as familiar to me as the back of my hand. Whatever the reason, the squiggles on the page stayed squiggles.

Then, on an otherwise ordinary day, the amazing happened. I was looking at the page and reading aloud--as I often did; I was able to memorize the words from listening to my mother and parrot them back to her--when something shifted and the squiggles changed into words that held meaning. (How I wish I could remember the book, but I can't.) "You're reading!" my mother exclaimed. I was? At first, it didn't seem possible, but as I continued to stumble over the words, my confidence grew. And after that day, I joined the ranks of my classmates. I was a reader.

What about you? Do you remember your first time?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Wolf Pie

Can a leopard change its spots? I don't know the answer to that, but having just finished Wolf Pie, I'm open to believing a wolf can. At least one particular wolf, one who goes by the name Wilfong. In this clever retake on the Three Little Pigs, the Pygg brothers don't bother with building homes out of hay or straw. They wisely choose bricks from the get-go and are rewarded with a strong and sturdy place to live. So when Wilfong comes a-knocking (and a-huffing and a-blowing), he's out of luck. But wolves are persistent sorts, and Wilfong decides to wait until they come out, however long that may take.

In the process of waiting, Wilfong becomes friends with the three porcine residents. He listens to their stories, sings along when they play on the piano, and enjoys the delicious food the pigs share with him. By the time spring arrives, he's a reformed wolf. And while the pigs don't yet trust him 100 percent, they do build him his own separate annex at the side of the brick house--but with a door that only leads outside.

Wilfong further earns the pigs' gratitude when he saves their lives while the foursome are vacationing at the seaside. But how will Wilfong act when put to the ultimate test? Back home, a pack of less civilized wolves arrive at the pigs' doorstep, looking for dinner. They present Wilfong with an ultimatum: Either they dine on pork or they dine on him. Will Wilfong turn in his friends or will he find a way to outwit the the wolf pack? What do you think?

Wolf Pie is a good choice for kids who have outgrown early readers and are ready to graduate to chapter books. The story is a familiar one, and readers will enjoy comparing the traditional story to the modern version. Broken into four chapters, the text moves along at a brisk pace, with plenty of dialog and action, a lot of it humorous. The colorful illustrations by Liz Callen, reminiscent of James Marshall's artwork, add to the fun.

Wolf Pie
by Brenda Seabrooke
illustrated by Liz Callen
Clarion Books, 48 pages
Published: 2010

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Wrinkle in Time Condensed

One of my very favorite children's books is the superbly incredible Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. Here, then, is a fun video that attempts to tell the story in under two minutes. The video is the first in the 90-Second Video Newbery Video Contest. The contest's aim is to "make a video that compresses the story of a Newbery award-winning book into 90 seconds or less." So dust off those video cams and start filming. Ready, set, action!

I Love to Collage!

Mid January and there's still at least two more months of winter to get through. How to pass those interminably long snow-bound days cooped up with little ones? Why not try collage? Clear an area, gather a bunch of easy-to-find supplies, and you're set. And if you have a copy of I Love to Collage! by Jennifer Lipsey, so much the better.

This book provides instructions for 20 projects that will turn any child into a budding Matisse. Start with a simple one to get a child's artistic juices flowing. "Torn Animals," the first project in the book, uses just a few supplies (colored paper, markers, and glue) to create appealing collages of animals. "Circle Birds" and "Sand & Sails" are other projects that are easy and fun to make.

Some of the projects I liked best incorporated photographs, either from magazines or photocopies from the family photo album. "Create a Face" lets kids make silly portraits using a jumble of eyes, noses, and mouths cut from magazines. "Picture This" invites kids to use collages to frame photographs. For instance, a child who dreams of being on TV can see how she'll look after gluing a cut-out TV shape onto a photo of her smiling face.  And with "Furry Folks" a child's inner Doctor Moreau can shine, as they combine images of animals and people into otherworldly creatures. Astro-cat anyone?

Collages don't have to be made from paper. Lipsey provides an extensive list of all the different kinds of materials that can be used. In short, if it can be glued down, it's collage material. "Garbage Art" utilizes trash to make appealing collages, such as a horse concocted from cardboard tubes, newspaper, and bubble wrap. It's not hard to find supplies for "Nature Art," just step outside. Shells, feathers, tree bark, sand, and even plain old dirt can be brought inside and transformed into art. Kids can try their hand at making a stick person or a shell butterfly or a feather flower.

By the time a child has worked her way through all the projects included in this book, winter will be a distant memory. So on a rainy spring day, look up the other titles in this series, including I Love to Draw!, I Love to Paint!, and I Love to Draw Cartoons! among others. A whole year's worth of art projects!

If you would like to get started right away, here is an easy landscape collage from Art Project's for Kids. Try it with an outdated telephone directory.

I Love to Collage!
by Jennifer Lipsey
Lark Books, 48 pages
Published: 2006

This week's Nonfiction Monday is being held at NC Teacher Stuff.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Quote of the Week

"I believe that good questions are more important than answers, and the best children's books ask questions, and make the readers ask questions. And every new question is going to disturb someone's universe."
--Madeleine L'Engle

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ogg and Bob: Meet Mammoth

Ogg caveman.
Bob caveman too.
Ogg and Bob friends.
Mug Ogg and Bob's pet mammoth.
Mug big.
Mug give Ogg and Bob many problems.

Meet Mammoth transports young readers back to prehistoric times when people lived in caves and gigantic wooly animals walked the land. The beginning chapter book relates how Ogg and Bob, best friends, acquire their pet mammoth Mug. Deciding to ambush the creature, they cover a hole with straw and sticks only to become trapped themselves. The ever curious Mug sticks his trunk into the hole, the cavemen latch on, and the mammoth flings them into a tree. It's not easy being a caveman, though, because at the bottom of the tree is a Saber-tooth tiger, looking for a snack. Ogg and Bob, after teasing the tiger, end up being catapulted onto the mammoth's broad back. The cavemen name their new pet Mug and take him home to their cave.

In Chapter Two Ogg and Bob attempt to train their new pet with comic results, and in Chapter Three they knock themselves out trying to stop Mug from snoring so they can get a good night's sleep.  

This engaging early chapter book packs a heavy dose of humor in its pages. The action is of the slapstick sort, with Ogg and Bob flying through the air, getting hit on the head with rocks, and being sat on by a 10 ton mammoth. The text is amusing too. Ogg and Bob talk in the time-honored way of all cavemen, like toddlers learning to form sentences. For instance, stuck in the pit, they ponder an escape plan.

"Think of way out," said Bob.
"Head hurt," said Ogg.
"From fall?" asked Bob.
"From thinking," said Ogg.

Meet Mammoth is a first time effort by Ian Fraser, who wrote the book for his high-school senior project. (I'm willing to bet he aced it.) His mother, Mary Ann Fraser, author and illustrator of numerous children's books, did the artwork. The illustrations portray Ogg and Bob as a pair of lovable and none-too-bright stooges. Mug is painted a friendly blue, which livens up the otherwise muted palette of earth tones. A companion book about the trio, Life with Mammoth, is also out.

Here's the trailer for Meet Mammoth. Enjoy!

Ogg and Bob: Meet Mammoth
by Ian Fraser
illustrations by Mary Ann Fraser
Marshall Cavendish Children, 64 pages
Published: October 2010


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

2011 Geisel Award

Yesterday the Geisel Award for the most distinguished book for beginning readers was announced. Drumroll, please! And the lucky winner is Bink and Gollie (written by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGee and illustrated by Tony Fucile).

The Honor Books are Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same! (written and illustrated by Grace Lin) and We Are in a Book! (written and illustrated by Mo Willems).

Congratulations to all the winners! I reviewed Bink and Gollie and Ling & Ting on this blog, but I haven't gotten around to reading We Are in a Book yet. That will soon be remedied.

For a complete list  of the 2011 ALSC award winners, click here.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Viola Desmond Won't Be Budged!

"Viola Desmond was one brave woman! Now come on here, listen in close and I'll tell you why." With this folksy voice, similar to the oral style of her African Canadian heritage, first-time author Jody Nyasha Warner welcomes readers to the little-known story of Viola Desmond's daring act of courage.

Desmond, a beauty salon owner living in Nova Scotia, developed car troubles on the road one wintery day in 1946. While her car was being repaired, she decided to pass the time watching a feature film in a movie theater in the town of New Glasgow. Trouble arose when she unknowingly took a seat on the main floor and not up in the balcony with the other black viewers. Asked to move, she refused, and in short order the police were summoned. She was arrested and spent the night in a jail cell. The following day she was found guilty and fined. Outraged at the injustice, Desmond refused to let the matter drop. She and the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Colored People fought her case all the way to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, where her appeal was turned down. The court was unwilling to acknowledge that racism was involved, insisting it was a simple case of tax evasion. Her struggles inspired others to continue to fight against segregation.

Desmond's story is simple yet powerful, and one that took place years before Rosa Parks made her stand against segregation. It certainly deserves to be told. I just wish this book did a better job. I found it frustratingly vague, especially since the experiences of blacks in Canada is something I know little about. For instance, the text states that Desmond "inspired all kinds of people to fight against segregation," but it doesn't tell how. And what finally happened to Desmond or even if she is alive is never told. (She died in 1965 after leaving Canada and moving to New York.) True, the afterword is informative and fills in some details, but not enough.

Richard Rudnick's acrylic illustrations, many of which were based on archival photographs, are striking, sometimes jarringly so. The expressions on certain faces--for instance, those of the policeman, manager, and usher--are contorted and at times frightening. His bold color palette I found overly vibrant and at times melodramatic. Overall the illustrations have the look and feel from cinema's film noir period.

Beginning readers should have no trouble tackling the straightforward text. The sentences are direct and the conversational, relaxed tone is engaging. As an introduction to a little-known but important black activist, this book deserves a space on library shelves.

Viola Desmond Won't Be Budged!
by Jody Nyasha Warner
illustrations by Richard Rudnicki
Groundwood/House of Anansi, 32 pages
Published: 2010

This week's Nonfiction Monday is at Tales from the Rushmore Kid.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Otto: The Autobiography of a Teddy Bear

"No one, I dare say, no one was as original."
--Maurice Sendak

"He never lost the feeling of how a child sees the world. And a child's view is not really sentimental."
--Burton Pike, professor of comparative literature at CUNY

"The most famous children's book author you have never heard of."
--Phaidon Press

Who do the above quotes refer to? None other than Tomi Ungerer, one of my all-time favorite authors. I was an Ungerer fan as a child, poring over my tattered copies of The Three Robbers and Emile again and again. As an adult I came across The Beast of Monsieur Racine and fell in love with this exuberant story about a retired tax collector whose life is changed forever when he finds two young friends where he least expected. Read the book. It's one of my top 10 favorite picture books.

Many of Ungerer's books are now out of print. (One reason he fell out of favor here was his not-so-secret hobby of erotica.) Luckily, Phaidon Press is in the process of reprinting 26 of his titles. The latest is Otto: The Autobiography of a Teddy Bear. Originally published in German in 1999, the picture book tackles a disturbing subject, World War II. Like all of Ungerer's work, the book doesn't shy away from the gory realities of war and what happens to soldiers and to civilians, children included.

Otto, the teddy bear of the title, tells the story of his life, beginning with his creation in a toy workshop in Germany in the 1930s. Not one to shun unpleasant truths, Otto admits that being stitched together "was quite painful." Given as a birthday present to David, a young Jewish boy, Otto spends blissful day playing with the boy and his best friend, Oskar, who is not Jewish. Then things begin to change. David must wear a yellow star on his jacket. Next he and his family are taken away. In a moving illustration, David hands over Otto to Oskar for safekeeping. Interestingly, Oskar is the one who looks upset and is crying, not David.

During wartime, Oskar's building is bombed and Otto is sent flying. Again, the illustration of the carnage, with the bodies of dead soldiers, is unsparing. He's picked up by an American soldier, thereby saving the soldier's life when a bullet hits them both. (Quibble: Could a stuffed teddy bear be enough of a buffer?) The soldier takes Otto home and gives him to his daughter. Loved again, Otto enjoys being pampered until he's snatched from the girl's arms by "three nasty boys" and finally ends up in a trash can. An old woman rescues him and bring him to an antique shop, where he stays in the window for many years. One rainy night, an old man spots him. Yes, dear reader, it's David, the original owner, who survived the war (although his parents didn't). David takes him home, and the story is written up in the newspaper, which leads to Oskar (another survivor) contacting David, and the three friends are reunited.

Despite the involved plot, the text for Otto is relatively straightforward, although there are a few vocabulary words to chew on, such as "indelible," "charred rubble," and "mascot." Would a Level 3 reader be able to get through the book by herself. Yes. Should she? No. A trusted adult's presence is strongly recommended, as a child is bound to have many questions. The illustrations, as with all of Ungerer's work, are amazing. Done in soft watercolors, they can be playful (as when David and Oskar dress Otto as a ghost and dangle him in front of a neighbor's window), touching (Oskar saying goodbye to his father as he heads off to war), and graphic (the wounded American soldier clutching Otto to his chest to staunch the flow of blood). Even Otto's expression subtly change each time he undergoes another reversal of fortune. I highly recommend this book, and I'm looking forward to seeing more of Tomi Ungerer's work reissued by Phaidon.

Otto: The Autobiography of a Teddy Bear
by Tomi Ungerer
Phaidon Press, 36 pages
Published: September, 2010

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Aggie the Brave

I'm a sucker for a good dog story, and Aggie the Brave fits the bill. Told in first person by Ben, Aggie's young owner, this beginning reader has Aggie at the vet's to be spayed. Ben doesn't know what to expect and is full of questions for the vet. The last answer is a shocker. Aggie will have to stay overnight to recover from her operation.

How Ben deals with waiting (both for Aggie to come home and for her to make a full recovery) takes up the bulk of the book. First Ben has the long day of the operation to get through. Then, when he and his mother go to pick up Aggie, Ben is surprised to find that the little beagle isn't her usual energetic self. What's more she looks different. She has "a big lamp shade" around her neck to prevent her from getting at her stitches. Back home Aggie seems embarrassed by her new headgear (as any pet owner can attest; cats and dogs alike hate the blasted things), and Ben comes up with an ingenious solution. He decorates the cone so that it resembles a lion's mane. Her self-respect intact again, Aggie the lion-dog gradually gets better. Soon she and Ben are at the vet's to have her stitches removed--and her mane. Aggie is her old self, and Ben, along with this reader, rejoice.

Number three in a series by Lori Ries, Aggie the Brave does an excellent job of conveying the fears and concerns of a young pet owner. It also shows beginning readers what to expect if their pet has to undergo a similar operation. The story is divided into three chapters with simple, easy-to-read sentences. The illustrations by Frank W. Dormer of Socksquatch fame are a delight. The flat, cartoony line drawings add telling information to the text. It was good to see the vet portrayed as an older woman. And there's a wonderful spread of the vet's waiting room showing pet owners big and small, their faces full of concern for the animals on their laps. I especially liked the girl clutching a goldfish bowl.

Aggie the Brave
by Lori Ries
illustrations by Frank W. Dormer
Charlesbridge, 48 pages
Published: 2010  


Monday, January 3, 2011

1 2 3 I Can Sculpt!

No, actually, I can't. I took plenty of art classes in college, and sculpture was the only one I dropped--after the first class. I looked at the blob I had fashioned from clay and then at the work of the other students. Bye-bye sculpture class.

I might not have given up so easily if, years earlier, I had started off with a book like 1 2 3 I Can Sculpt! The seven animal projects have tons of kid appeal and practically beg to be made. Each one focuses on a different aspect of sculpture. The first is a toothy alligator put together from egg cartons. A sea lion is fashioned by stuffing a paper bag with scraps of fabric, turning a flat object into a 3-dimensional one. A snake made from aluminum foil and clay demonstrates how a sculpture's armature helps it keep its shape. A flock of clay birds gives kids practice in rolling, pressing, pinching, and poking. A cotton-ball lamb illustrates texture, and a leggy giraffe shows kids the importance of balance. For the final project kids incorporate all they have learned to make an impressive dinosaur.

The instructions are clearly written and easy enough for most second graders to do on their own. Younger children would benefit from an adult's supervision. The materials needed to complete each project are ones that are found around the house (egg cartons, aluminum foil, buttons) or easily purchased (modeling clay, pipe cleaners, glue). A list of materials for all seven projects appears at the beginning of the book, but not for an individual project. Before starting a sculpture, a child has to scan the instructions to find what he or she needs. A short list of materials for each project would be a time saver. That's my only quibble in an otherwise outstanding art book for beginning readers. Other books in the Starting Art series by Irene Luxbacher include: I Can Build, I Can Collage, I Can Draw, I Can Make Prints, and I Can Paint.

1 2 3 I Can Sculpt!
by Irene Luxbacher
Kids Can Press, 24 pages
Published: 2007

This week's Nonfiction Monday is at Charlotte's Library.