Monday, February 28, 2011

Zebras and Oxpeckers Work Together

"We are all dependent on one another, every soul of us on earth."
~ George Bernard Shaw

When Shaw wrote the above he probably wasn't thinking about zebras and oxpeckers. But these creatures from the animal kingdom illustrate his quote perfectly. Oxpeckers dine off the lice and ticks they find on zebras. They also use the animals' soft hair to line their nests. Besides getting harmful parasites off their backs, zebras benefit when oxpeckers alert them to danger, calling out and flying away whenever they spot predators, such as hungry lions lurking in the high savanna grass. This gives the zebra herd time to escape.

Zebras and Oxpeckers Work Together is part of a series featuring animal symbiosis. The text, written on a Grade 1 level, introduces the concept clearly and concretely. The vivid photographs are well-chosen--the one of a herd running from a lion is full of drama--and help beginning readers understand the relationship between bird and grazer. A glossary defines words specific to the subject, such as parasite, savanna, and symbiosis, and there is a listing of books and internet sites for more information. Additional animal pairs in the series are ants and aphids; clown fish and sea anemones; and moray eels and cleaner fish. All in all, a welcome series for young animal-loving science enthusiasts.

Zebras and Oxpeckers Work Together
by Martha E.H. Rustard
Capstone Press, 24 pages
Published: 2011  

This week's Nonfiction Monday is being held at Rasco From RIF.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Nikki & Deja: Election Madness

Determined to become student body president of her elementary school, Deja enlists her best friend Nikki as her campaign manager. Number four in this engaging series featuring two African-American girls who are best buddies, the book has a somewhat predicable plot with few surprises. However, because of Deja's one-track, eye-on-the-prize zeal to win you find yourself rooting for her as the chapters zip by.

Deja is a great character, headstrong and opinionated, yet considerate and sensitive too. Her opposite in many ways, quiet and introspective Nikki follows where Deja leads. As campaign manager, Nikki gives Deja good advice--telling her, for instance, that her election speech has too many unrealistic promises. (Unfortunately, like many a real politician, Deja dismisses her friend's remarks.) In ten fast-paced chapters, Deja launches her campaign, wins the class election, and ultimately loses her bid to become student body president to a fifth grade boy. On the final page, Deja tells Nikki she's running again next year and vows that this time she'll win. Of that I had no doubt.

Karen English, an elementary school teacher in addition to being a much-published author, certainly knows her way around the classroom. The day-to-day details put you squarely in third grade. From what happens at recess to the goings-on in the lunchroom to passing out papers in class. As Deja so eloquently puts it, "It's going to take extra time because there's always a knucklehead who can't just take the paper on top and simply pass the remainder behind them."

All four books in the series are written in the present tense, which I found an odd choice. True, present tense does put the reader in the middle of the action and adds a sense of immediacy, but since the books are traditional chapter books with typical plots, I didn't see the need for it. Will it bother young readers? Probably not.

Nikki & Deja: Election Madness
by Karen English
illustrations by Laura Freeman
Clarion, 115 pages
To be published: July, 2011    
Reviewed from ARC

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Book to Movie Adaptations

It's Tuesday again and that means another list. This week's theme from The Broke and the Bookish is Book to Movie Adaptations. Like many other bibliophiles, I often find movie adaptations fall far short of the original source. That said, there have been some that are equal to the book and in a few rare cases an improvement. Here, then, is my list, given in order from oldest to newest.

1. Dodsworth (1936, Starring Walter Huston, Mary Astor)
This is one where I have not read the novel, written by Sinclair Lewis. An American businessman takes his wife on a tour of Europe and his eyes open to her true nature. A remarkable movie then and now.

2. The Wizard of Oz (1939, Starring Judy Garland)
What can I say! My all time favorite movie since I was a little girl peeping out at the Wicked Witch of the West from behind the sofa.

3. A Christmas Carol (1951, Starring Alastair Sim)
There are many versions of Dickens's classic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge's redemption. None are as fine as this production. (Okay, Mr. Magoo's version is also wonderful but it's not a movie.)

4. Women in Love (1970, Starring Alan Bates, Glenda Jackson)
In my teens and twenties I was a huge fan of D.H. Lawrence and read every novel he wrote, including Kangaroo and Aaron's Rod. I haven't seen this movie in a while so I wonder if it lives up to my memory. I seem to recall a delicious scene where a naked Alan Bates wrestles another man in front of a roaring fire.

5. Housekeeping (1987, Starring Christine Lahti)
For this one, I saw the movie before reading Marilynne Robinson's prize-winning novel of the same name. I have to say, in this case I preferred the movie. Two young girls are left with a succession of relatives until an eccentric aunt comes to care for them. One sister is similar to the aunt, the other longs for a more conventional upbringing.

6. The Witches (1990, Starring Angelica Huston)

Okay, I admit Roald Dahl's book is much better than the movie. Still, I thought the movie overall remained true to Dahl's vision. Except when it came to the ending. The director tacked on a feel-good resolution instead of sticking with Dahl's much darker version.

7. Short Cuts (1993, Directed by Robert Altman)
Love Raymond Carver's short stories. Love this movie. Altman takes a bunch of Carver's stories and weaves them into a seamless film of great power. A must see. Really. 

8. Clueless (1995, Starring Alicia Silverstone)
Jane Austin's novels have been adapted to the big screen countless times, and so many of them are excellent. I chose Clueless (loosely based on the novel Emma) because it brings Austin's sensibilities into modern times.

9. Cold Comfort Farm (1995, Starring Kate Beckinsale)
A perfect adaptation of novel to film. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, written in 1934, parodies the hardships and tribulations of rural life. Both novel and movie feature Flora Poste (Kate Beckinsale) a society girl who moves in with her rural kinfolk and proceeds to take over and manage their lives to great comic effect.

10. The Hours (2002, Starring Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, Meryl Streep)
I remember reading The Hours by Michael Cunningham in one sitting during a rainy, windswept day. The movie is nearly as good (the exception being that dreadful nose that Nicole Kidman was forced to act in). And Ed Harris--what an inspired performance.

So there you have them, my ten top movie adaptations. What are yours?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Flat Jack Takes to the Road

Saturday was bright and sunny here in PA so what better thing to do than hop on a motorcycle and go for a spin. Flat Jack couldn't wait to climb aboard. But Uncle Karl is a safety nut, so first on the agenda was to put on a helmet. Then Flat Jack tested out the padded passenger seat on the BMW. Comfy!

There was no way for Flat Jack to view the scenery sitting behind Uncle Karl. He wisely decided to share the back seat with Kermit. The little frog goes everywhere on the BMW. Although technically this is Kermit Two. (Kermit One was lost on a lonely highway, and will be remembered always.)

And off they sped on a tour of the neighborhood. Happy trails, guys!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Flat Jack Makes a Friend

Flat Jack is already making himself at home in our house. Here he is cuddling with Pablo, our pampered pug. The real 3-D Jack is just the tiniest bit afraid of Pablo and tries his best to avoid him when visiting. Luckily, Flat Jack doesn't seem to have that problem.

Quote of the Week

"If there's a book you really want to read but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it."
~ Toni Morrison

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Look What Came in the Mail!

My nephew Jack is seven years old and in first grade. His class is taking part in The Flat Stanley Project. The students are reading Flat Stanley, a book by Jeff Brown about a boy flattened like a pancake when a bulletin board falls on top of him. He goes on to have some amazing adventures in his 2-D state, including being flown like a kite and being put in an envelope and mailed to his friends, before he's inflated and reverts to his old self.

Jack and his classmates each made a flat version of themselves and mailed the little mini-mes to friends and relatives. I was honored to be Jack's chosen host, and received Flat Jack in yesterday's mail. A letter from the teacher instructs me to treat the flat as if Jack were really visiting me. "You are encouraged to take the flat places, take pictures with it and write to the child about the adventures you share..."  Jack also included his own letter, and I quote it verbatim:

Dear Ant Cathy,

Thank you for ugrieing to take care of me. Let me watch a-lot of TV and eat lots of frute snacks.


So welcome Flat Jack to The Cath in the Hat, where I'll be blogging about our adventures.

Flat Jack

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Takes Off

Yeah, Freddie! Freddie Ramos is an engaging boy who receives a remarkable present out of the blue--a pair of purple sneakers with silver wings that allow him to go so fast he can outrace a train. Freddie, like all superheroes, uses to powers to do good. In this first book of the series, he retrieves a classmate's library book, tracks down an underage graffiti artist, and rescues a lost puppy.

Written by Jacqueline Jules, this early chapter book features a Latino child who lives in Starwood Park Apartments, an apartment complex a few short blocks from his elementary school. Freddie recently moved there with his mother, a single parent who struggles to make ends meet. Freddie's father, a war hero, died two years earlier. The text is sprinkled with Spanish words, but their meaning is always put in context, making them easy for beginning readers to figure out. Miguel Benitez's black-and-white illustrations lend a comic-book style that fits in perfectly with the superhero theme.

Freddie Ramos Takes Off recently won a Cybils Award in the short chapter book category. A second book, Freddie Ramos Springs into Action, shows Freddie learning to control his superpowers in a responsible way. The third book in the series, Freddie Ramos Zooms to the Rescue, is due out next month. Viva la Freddie!

Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Takes Off
by Jacqueline Jules
illustrations by Miguel Benitez
Albert Whitman and Company, 88 pages
Published: 2010

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Tina Fey Works It

Step down Tiger Mom. Your 15 minutes of fame are almost over. The next hot topic to dominate parent dinner conversations is the amusing essay "Confessions of a Juggler" by Tina Fey in this week's issue of The New Yorker. Fey's dilemma is whether to have a second child before it's too late. She claims that "science shows that fertility and movie offers drop off steeply for women after forty."

Fey begins and ends her essay with a book that her preschool daughter brings home from the library. It's a picture book called My Working Mom, and it sends Fey into a tizzy. Did her daughter select the book because she is traumatized by the hours she works?

First published in 1994, My Working Mom tells the story of a witch mother kept busy experimenting in her lab and flying off on her broomstick to meetings. The witch's child isn't crazy that her mother has to work, but she accepts it. Reviews of the book on Amazon speak volumes. Readers (mostly working moms, surprise, surprise) seem to love it ("a great book" "conveys the message without being too preachy") or hate it ("working moms beware" "offended and disgusted"). I don't have a copy, but I intend to pick one up asap.

(Spoiler alert!)

Fey goes on to explore the pros and cons of having a second child relatively late in life. After many anxious, sleepless nights, she takes her worries to her gynecologist, who assures her that, "Either way, everything will be fine." Fey finds comfort in this, and that night, asks her daughter why she choose My Working Mom. Fey asks:

"Did you pick this book because your mommy works? Did it make you feel better about it?" She looked at me matter-of-factly and said, "Mommy, I can't read. I thought it was a Halloween book."


Friday, February 11, 2011

Quote of the Week

"So it is with children who learn to read fluently and well: They begin to take flight into whole new worlds as effortlessly as young birds take to the sky."
-- William James

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Heart to Heart

In honor of Valentine's Day (this coming Monday), here are five books that feature hearts in one way or another.

Hear Your Heart
by Paul Showers
illustrated by Holly Keller
Collins, 40 pages
Published: 2000

Lily's Chocolate Heart
by Kevin Henkes
Greenwillow Books, 24 pages
Published: 2003

Valentine Hearts: Holiday Poetry
selected by Lee Bennet Hopkins
illustrated by Joann Adinolfi
Turtleback, 32 pages
Published: 2005

Fancy Nancy: Heart to Heart
by Jane O'Connor
illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser
HarperFestival, 24 pages
Published: 2009

My Heart Is Like a Zoo
by Michael Hall
Greenwillow Books, 32 pages
Published: 2009

This last book has a great trailer. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Ten Top Characters I'd Name My Children After

This week's topic at The Broke and the Bookish is literary characters you'd name your offspring after. Since I'm named after Catherine in Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, I thought I'd give it a stab.

1. Emma (from Jane Austen's novel of the same name) This one was easy because I did indeed name my daughter after Austin's feisty heroine. Her father, a fan of Emma Peel of Avengers fame, agreed.

2. Harriet (from Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh)

3. Matilda (from Roald Dahl's novel of the same name)

4. Lucy (from C.S. Lewis's Narnia series)

5. Charlotte (from E.B. White's Charlotte's Web) Love spiders, love writing, love the name.

6. Cassandra (from Greek mythology)

7.  Nick (from Dashiell Hammet's The Thin Man)

8. Benjamin (from Beatrice Potter's The Tale of Benjamin Bunny)

9. Adam (from George Eliot's Adam Bede)

10. Ebenezer (from Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol) I don't know if I could actually go through with it, but I do like the name. It has a certain ring about it.


Dick King-Smith

Brian Jacques

We're only five weeks into the new year, and already the children's book world has lost two giants. Dick King-Smith died on January 4th at the age of 88, and on Saturday, Brian Jacqueswas felled by a heart attack. He was 71.

After learning that King-Smith had died, I went to my bookshelf and started rereading my favorite series of his, early chapter books that feature a small, but determined girl named Sophie. Yes, King-Smith is justifiably famous for his animal stories, most notably The Sheep Pig, which was made into the movie Babe, but the Sophie books, while not as well known, are just as good, at least to me.

The series starts with Sophie's Snail (when she's 4) and ends with Sophie's Lucky (when she's 8). Throughout all six books, the reader sees Sophie mature, yet her essential nature remains the same. Of small and of stocky build, she is determined, forthright, and as unstoppable as a bulldozer. She does not approve of lying or crying. And, from book one, her strongest desire is to be a lady farmer. In Sophie's Snail, she has to content herself with her herds and flocks of wood lice, centipedes, and other creepy crawlies. By book two, she has a pet cat named Tom (later changed to Tomboy after she produces a litter of kittens); book three brings not only a rabbit named Beano, a gift from Great-great Aunt Al, but a terrier puppy christened Puddle lands on her lap on Christmas Day. The series ends with her much closer to her dream of owning a farm than she--or her readers--might have imagined.

I devoured the books one after the other. At the end it was sad to realize that they'll be no more books from Dick King-Smith. I suppose now I'll have to start Brian Jacques' Redwall series. That one does have a final book, Roque Crew, due out in May.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Amazing Monty

Welcome back, Monty! Montgomery Gerald Morris, otherwise know as Monty, returns in Amazing Monty, the third book in an early chapter book series by Johanna Hurwitz. A first grader who excels at reading, Monty encounters surprise after surprise in the book's six chapters.

His first surprise comes about as a direct result of his reading skills. A sign in the school office offers two parakeets and a cage for free. Monty endures a long day waiting for school to end. After finally  securing his parents' permission, he finds out he was late and the birds have been promised to someone else. So imagine his surprise the next day when the birds show up in his classroom! His teacher announces that everyone will get a chance to care for the new class pets, Yankee and Doodle.

But that's not all that's in store for Monty. He loses his first tooth, helps rescue one of the parakeets when it escapes its cage, has an asthma attack while going through a car wash, and welcomes a baby sister into the family. With each new challenge, Monty rises to the occasion in a heartwarming yet realistic way.

Amazing Monty is a gentle story about a sensitive, responsible boy finding his strengths and capabilities. Although published in 2010, it has a rather old-fashioned feel. Monty and his friend Joey walk home from school on their own. Their teacher reads My Father's Dragon (published in 1944) to the class. And, most amazing of all, Monty's parents wait until the birth to learn the sex of their baby. But if some of the details are a bit dated, the important bits still ring true. First graders will forever be excited when that first wiggly tooth pops out, when a new pet joins the classroom, and certainly when they proudly hold their brand new baby sister for the first time.

Johanna Hurwitz, with more than 60 books under her belt, hits another one out of the ballpark. My only reservation is that the audience for early chapter books may be put off reading about a lowly first grader. Kids usually prefer to read about older, not younger, protagonists. Anik McGrory's illustrations of button-nosed first graders are charming and full of life.

Amazing Monty
by Johanna Hurwitz
illustrations by Anik McGrory
Candlewick Press, 112 pages
Published: 2010