Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Review: Alphabet explosion!

Alphabet explosion! Search and count from Alien to Zebra by John Nickle
Schwartz & Wade Books, 2006
NF 428 .13 NIC

Search and find books are perpetually popular.
No other type of nonfiction books seem to be borrowed as much as those of the I Spy or Where's Waldo ilk, so I'm always on the hunt for similar titles. The search led me to the inventive and difficult Alphabet Explosion!

What makes Alphabet Explosion! different is this: while the I Spy books give a list of items to find in the adjoining photograph and the object of Where's Waldo is even simpler, Alphabet Explosion! goes one full step beyond and gives the reader a certain number of items in each illustration, and all of those things need to start with the same letter. With 26 illustrations to correspond with the 26 letters of the alphabet, the book has its hook right there.

It gets even better (and harder): according to the instructions at the beginning of the book, the things that need to be found include actions as well as objects, and colours and numbers count too. For example, in the illustration for the letter B,
there is a bear blowing bubbles and a babboon who is bowling with a black bowling ball. It may sound obvious, but you'd be surprised how tricky it is. I consider myself to be pretty adept at words and pictures but I rarely managed to find all the details.

For example, view the spread below for the letter E (courtesy of this site):

Now find 21 objects, actions, colours, and numbers that begin with the letter E. How did you do?

Each letter has an answer key at the back of the book and I must admit that I flipped to the back in frustration more often than in victory. This is a book that takes time, but it is worth it. Alphabet Explosion! is a challenging book of picture puzzles for older elementary students on up, although younger children will enjoy looking at the colourful and detailed illustrations.

Monday, January 26, 2009

ALA Youth Media Awards announced

Every year, the American Library Association (ALA) gives awards for a variety of literature, including their Youth Media Awards that cover books whose target audiences range from preschoolers through teens. I listened to the live web broadcast this morning while I was reading book reviews, and the full list of winners can be found at the ALA website.

I'll start with the Caldecott Medal for illustrations in American picture books, and there are also a few Caldecott Honor books (runners-up). It should be noted that the winning books in this and most other categories were published in 2008, so the books are very recently published.

2009 Caldecott Medal winner
The house in the night by Susan Marie Swanson, illustrated by Beth Krommes

2009 Caldecott Honor books
A couple of boys have the best week ever, written and illustrated by Marla Frazee
How I learned geography, written and illustrated by Uri Shulevitz
A river of words: the story of William Carlos Williams by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

The PRES library has a number of Caldecott Medal and Honor books in the collection, including last year's winner The invention of Hugo Cabret by Bryan Selznick and the 2007 recipient Flotsam by David Wiesner.

The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award, named after Dr. Seuss, is awarded to the most distinguished book for early readers. This is a very new award, first awarded in 2006, and the PRES library collection includes 2008 award recipient There is a bird on your head by Mo Willems and 2007 Honor book Not a box by Antoinette Portis.

2009 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award winner
Are you ready to play outside? by Mo Willems

2009 Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor books
Chicken said, "Cluck!" by Judyann Ackerman Grant
One boy by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Wolfsnail: a backyard predator by Sarah C. Campbell

The ALA also gives out the Newbery Medal for excellence in children's literature ("children" being under the age of 14 in this case). Although I haven't read it quite yet (I have it borrowed from the public library), word on the street is that this year's winner is closer to the upper limit of the regulations.

2009 Newbery Medal winner
The graveyard book by Neil Gaiman

2009 Newbery Honor books

The underneath by Kathi Appelt
After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson
Savvy by Ingrid Law
The surrender tree: poems of Cuba's struggle for freedom by Margarita Engle

The PRES library has a number of past Newbery winners, including The tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, Holes by Louis Sachar, and The giver by Lois Lowry.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Review: Scoot!

Scoot! by Cathryn Falwell
Greenwillow Books, 2008.

Six turtles lay still on a log on a sunny summer's day while all manner of pond activity unfolds around them. Frogs leap, birds flutter, salamanders scurry, and dragonflies flit until the turtles' log breaks loose and off they float across the pond.

Cut-paper illustrations have long been a favourite format of mine, and Scoot! is a prime example of why. The layering gives a distinct third dimension to the images (to the point where I'm convinced that if I run my finger over the page I'll accidentally bend up a strider's leg and have to glue it down again), and the colours and textures are wonderful. The pond water is shades of blue, purple, and white, and the birds' wings and rocky shoreline are just phenomenally depicted. The action is shown from many different angles, from ground level to directly overhead, and the creatures seem to move across the page. I've been gazing at the illustrations for ages and still haven't had my fill.

The rhyming text is equally lovely. It is full of action words that are not in the average 6-year-old's vocabulary (hover, scuttle, lurch) but which accurately and vividly portray the critters' movements. The critters themselves are very diverse, realistically reflecting pond life: insects, birds, mammals, and amphibians are all represented. Think ponds are quiet? Not after reading this book!

As an added bonus, Cathryn Falwell gives background about why she created this book (including a shot of her extremely cool tree house), additional factoids about the creatures portrayed throughout the story, and suggested techniques for printing textures on paper. I particularly enjoyed her dedication: "For my dad, Warren Falwell, who sent me outside to play." Indeed.

As an introduction to the diversity of life at an average pond or as an example of a wide variety of verbs, Scoot! is hard to beat. And wonderful to look at to boot.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Review: No! That's wrong!

No! That's Wrong! by Zhaohua Ji and Cui Xu
Kane/Miller Book Publishers, 2008.

One windy day, a pair of underwear flies off a clothesline and gets blown into the path of a rabbit. The rabbit promptly puts the underwear on his head with his ears through the leg holes and calls it a hat. Other animals try it on with varying degrees of success until a donkey comes along and sets the rabbit straight about what his hat really is. How will the rabbit manage that with his tail?

No! That's wrong! is a charming tale about, well, sticking to your guns. As you may have guessed, the rabbit doesn't do very well fitting his tail in the underwear in what is perhaps the funniest spread in the book. So the underwear goes back to being a hat, much to the delight of the other animals - and young readers, as demonstrated by some first grade students in the library the other day who were repeatedly crying "it's UNDERWEAR!" and going into fits of giggles.

Which is exactly what the book is meant to do. The phrase "No, that's wrong" appears on the bottom of every page in which the animals are wearing the underwear as a hat, inciting readers to say the same. Much like Don't let the pigeon drive the bus when readers are to deny the pigeon's repeated and increasingly frantic requests to drive the bus (as with these pages from the book), it encourages direct response to what is happening on the page. Which makes it a lot of fun.

The illustrations are a main component to the fun and are beautiful with oodles of amusing details and visual cues (like the stone path) for how to weave your way through the action on the page. There are sunglasses on the donkey, an adam's apple on the ram, and the pair of underwear isn't just plain old Fruit of the Looms but lacy red underthings which only adds to the hilarity. And whatever you do, don't miss the end pages!

From China via publisher Kane Miller, No! That's wrong! is a winner.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Review: Millie waits for the mail

Millie waits for the mail by Alexander Steffensmeier
Walker, 2007.

Millie the cow loves scaring the mailman, so she hides in a wide variety of places to wait for him to come down the lane on his bicycle. Problem is, she's so good at scaring him that everything the farmer gets delivered is broken. What are the farmer and the mailman going to do?

Originally published in Germany, Millie waits for the mail is a hilarious picture book by premise alone (a cow scaring the mailman? Aren't these books usually about dogs doing that?). The illustrations are colourful and full of fun details, like the chickens partaking in a wide variety of activities in the background, from catching a lift on the tractor with their coffee to wandering about porting a sling and a neck brace. Steffensmeier is very good at conveying motion and sound when Millie scares the life out of the mailman, and I can almost hear a frantic, bellowed "mmooooOOOOOOOOooo!!" coming out of the page.

Despite the imagined mooing, Millie is actually very doglike - a montage of her hiding places include her in a dog's play pose with her hind end in the air, and when she is taken aback her tail bristles and she strongly resembles a pointer in mid-hunt. Her visible emotions run the gamut from impatience to disappointment to confusion, all conveyed with few differing details by Steffensmeier: just different angles, eyebrows, and body language.

I'd also like to note that the farmer is a woman, which I found refreshing - try to name another book where the farmer is female!

Millie waits for the mail is an amusing book that stands up to multiple readings. Highly recommended.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Wordless books

Wordless picture books, as you might have guessed, are books without words or with very few words. Also called "pure" picture books, these books tell even complex stories with illustrations alone - some are even more suited for older children or adults, such as Shaun Tan's The Arrival which was a highly-acclaimed book from 2007 that addresses the immigrant experience (and I can attest that it is wonderful).

For young children learning to read, wordless books can provide confidence and increase abilities to interpret pictures and understand plots and story sequence. There are several wordless books at the Parrsboro Elementary library and I have provided a list below. Many of them are quite popular!

Wordless books at the Parrsboro Elementary library

Good dog, Carl by
Alexandra Day

The adventures of Polo by Regis Faller

Rainstorm by Barbara Lehman

The red book by Barbara Lehman

Owly series by Andy Runton

Robot dreams by Sara Varon

by David Wiesner

Tuesday by David Wiesner


December library newsletter

I've made the December PRES Library newsletter available for you to read online. I distribute the newsletters to the school staff so folks know what is going on and what materials are new at the library. They've been going over well!

Slideshow of the PRES library

I have put together a slide show of before and after shots of the PRES library and the murals that are in the process of being created on the library walls by the very talented PRES staff member Caitilin Pelletier. Enjoy!

The blog is revived!

Due to a few factors (time, enthusiasm, etc.) I have decided to revive this PRES library blog. I am leaving the previous posts and (hopefully) will be posting at least once a week from now on with library news, reviews, online resources, and anything else that I feel is relevant and useful.

On that note, onwards!