Thursday, January 29, 2009

Poetry Friday: celebrating the Lunar New Year

In honor of the Year of the Ox being celebrated around the world, I would like to share this wonderful poem written by Janet Wong. I love the way she combines simple images with complex ideas. See below for some picture books that might interest you about children celebrating the Lunar New Year.

Prayer for the Lunar New Year

by Janet Wong

This is the day
you grow another year wiser.

This is the day
you forget what you know to be impossible.

The moon loves to play a game.

Sweep your grudges out,
Scatter them to nothing.

Scrub your windows wide,
let the new year begin.

-- from: Days to Celebrate, edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins, 2005

Here are some good picture books to look into that explore celebrating the Chinese New Year:
- The Next New Year, by Janet Wong (at the Oakland Public Library)
- Moonbeams, Dumplings & Dragon Boats, by Nina Simonds, Leslie Swartz & The Children's Museum, Boston (at the Berkeley Public Library and Oakland Public Library)
- Sam & the Lucky Money, by Karen Chinn (at the Berkeley Public Library and the Oakland Public Library)

Poetry Friday celebrates poetry throughout the web. check it out!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Graveyard Book - winner of 2009 Newbery Award

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman
New York : HarperCollins Pub., c2008.
also available on audio: HarperChildrensAudio and Recorded Books
ages: 9 - 14

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman, has just won the 2009 Newbery Award for the most outstanding contribution to children's literature. It's a wonderful choice, and it will hook many fantasy readers. Here's the description by the American Library Association:
"A delicious mix of murder, fantasy, humor and human longing, the tale of Nobody Owens is told in magical, haunting prose. A child marked for death by an ancient league of assassins escapes into an abandoned graveyard, where he is reared and protected by its spirit denizens."
The beginning of the story is especially creepy. A murderer is searching through a house after he has killed the parents and an older child. But the toddler escapes, not knowing about any of the harm that's come to his family. He toddles out of the house and wanders to the graveyard up the hill. The ghosts of the graveyard adopt him, name him Nobody (or Bod for short), and vow to protect him -- and so starts the story. The Graveyard Book follows Bod as he grows up amongst the graveyard residents, the ghosts from people buried throughout the ages. What's fascinating is that the violence is never shown directly. And so Gaiman makes the book perfect for kids: deliciously scary, but not gratuitously violent.

The strength of the book is how it shows Bod's coming of age, as he struggles with so many things that all children struggle with: who am I? how can I fit in? how do I become my own person, while still loving my family? But really, that's probably why I loved the book.

Kids will love the book because it draws them into a completely fantastical world, utterly unlike their own, and yet strangely recognizable. They will love the adventure of when Bod is drawn into the ghoulish world below and has to escape for his life. They will love the threat of when the Jacks, a strange band of murderers, try to track down Bod. But this book is for the kid who won't get nightmares - I would say 4th grade & up.

Want a taste of the book? Listen and watch the author read the book aloud - this is his video book tour (great quality - amazing voice). Here is the book online at HarperCollins (they have the first three chapters online).

One last plug: if you or your child enjoys audiobooks, this is fantastic. The author, Neil Gaiman, reads the book with perfect pitch and tone - bringing alive the macabre settings perfectly. Below is a link to listen to the beginning of the audiobook from HarperCollins.

Available at: Amazon: hardcover, Amazon: audiobook, Oakland Public Library, Berkeley Public Library, and Recorded Books.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Magic and Politics - what better combination?

Update: Jonathan Stroud is just publishing a new fantasy novel: The Heroes of the Valley.

The Amulet of Samarkand, by Jonathan Stroud
New York : Hyperion Books For Children, c2003.
also on audio, Listening Library, 2003
ages 10 - 14

What better way to hook the kids who grew up on Harry Potter than by showing them how the government is really ruled by power-hungry magicians? Then throw into the mix, a young magician in training who is determined not to be taken advantage of. Jonathan Stroud has created just such a world in his Bartimaeus trilogy: The Amulet of Samarkand, The Golem's Eye, and Ptolemy's Gate.

The book takes place in London, where the Prime Minister and all the members of Parliament are powerful magicians who rule the British Empire. Nathaniel is a young boy who has been sold at an early age to be a magician's apprentice, under the tutelage of Arthur Underwood. Arthur is a distant, grim teacher, who sets about ignoring Nathaniel - but Nathaniel eagerly delves into his studies, beyond Arthur's teachings. When he is ruthlessly humiliated by a very powerful magician, Nathaniel summons a djinni, the ancient Bartimaeus to help him seek revenge.

Nathaniel's story (told in the third person) alternates with Bartimaeus's voice as he tells his story. Bartimaeus is a wonderful character: pissed off as can be about being ordered around by insignificant magicians who control him, cocky and rude, and essentially just looking after himself. In the audiobook, Simon Jones really brings Bartimaeus's voice alive. I was hooked from the very beginning.

Kids who like action and fantasy, with some political power struggles thrown into the mix will love this. Find it at the Oakland Public Library or the Berkeley Public Library.

PS: Thanks to Aiden and his dad for the recommendation!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

For the dog lover

Down Girl and Sit: Smarter than Squirrels
by Lucy Nolan
New York : Marshall Cavendish, c2004.
ages 6 - 8

Dog Diaries: Secret Writies of the WOOF society
by Betsy Cromer Byars
New York : H. Holt, 2007.
ages 8 - 10

Down Girl and Sit is a fun series for early chapter book readers, in 2nd and 3rd grade. This is the first in the series, and it will be published in paperback this March.

Down Girl and Sit are two lovable dogs who may be smarter than squirrels, but the reader catches all the silly jokes. Down Girl's name is actually Happy, but her owner says "Down, girl" so much that the dog's sure it's her name. The story is all told from the dog's perspective, and this creates a lot of the jokes. I think this will be popular with the animal-loving 2nd grade set.

Here's a bit from the book: "It started like any other day. My master, Rruff, was sound asleep. I stuck my nose into my water bowl. Then I touched Rruff to wake him up. I like to be the first thing he sees in the morning. 'Down, girl!' Rruff shouted. ... Rruff is lucky I woke him up when I did. In another hour the alarm clock would have gone off and scared him."

Dog Diaries is also told from the dog's point of view, but it shares dogs' stories throughout history. The WOOF Society - Words of Our Friends - promotes appreciation throughout the world for dogs' storytelling gifts. The dogs take turns telling their stories from around the world, throughout history. One dog tells the story of being in Pompeii when Mt. Vesuvius erupted; other dogs tell about being in the Gold Rush and in the U.S. Civil War. Some stories are silly, while others are touching. I would say that this is for slightly older readers, probably in 3rd or 4th grade, partly because it uses more complicated vocabulary. It is a fun read, perfect for dog lovers.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Elizabeth Alexander, inaugural poet

I wanted to post a bit of information about the poet chosen to speak at President Obama's inauguration: Elizabeth Alexander.

She's a poet, essayist, teacher and playwright who was born in NYC and raised in DC. She has degrees from Yale and Boston University. She currently teaches in the African American Studies Department at Yale.

She has just written her first book of poetry for young adults: Miss Crandall's School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color. It's a beautiful, moving book about a school for African-American girls in the early 1830s in Connecticut which was started by a Quaker woman. It's told in a series of poems (written alternately by Elizabeth Alexander and Marilyn Nelson) from the perspective of the young girls enrolled in the school. I loved the way it shows both Miss Crandall's and the young girls' tenacity and courage to pursue an education. It would be a great read-aloud with grades 3-6, or for middle school students on their own. You can find it at the Oakland Public Library or the Berkeley Public Library.

Ms. Alexander will compose a new poem for the inauguration. This is actually not a long-standing tradition. Presidents Kennedy and Clinton both had poets speak at their inaugurations, but few other presidents have done this.

for more info:
the text of the inaugural poem: "Praise Song for the Day"
Ms. Alexander's website
Articles from the NY Times

Ars Poetica #100: I Believe
from American Sublime, by Elizabeth Alexander

Poetry, I tell my students,
is idiosyncratic. Poetry

is where we are ourselves,
(though Sterling Brown said

“Every ‘I’ is a dramatic ‘I’”)
digging in the clam flats

for the shell that snaps,
emptying the proverbial pocketbook.

Poetry is what you find
in the dirt in the corner,

overhear on the bus, God
in the details, the only way

to get from here to there.
Poetry (and now my voice is rising)

is not all love, love, love,
and I’m sorry the dog died.

Poetry (here I hear myself loudest)
is the human voice,

and are we not of interest to each other?

Monday, January 12, 2009

SAVVY: a wonderfully unusual book about growing up

Savvy, by Ingrid Law
New York : Dial Books for Young Readers ; Boston, Mass. : Walton Media, c2008.
audio CD: Penguin Audio, 2008
ages 9 - 12

Mibs Beaumont's family is unusual - they each possess a savvy, a special knowing, that they discover on their 13th birthday. And yet, they are completely normal as well. I loved this story, in how it's a fantasy (Mibs ends up hearing tattoos speak to her in her mind, her brother's emotions unleash storms and hurricanes) and yet it seems so real as Mibs struggles with the pain of growing up, struggling to know yourself and being different from your peers.

At the beginning of the book, Mib's father is hit by a car and ends up in a coma. Her mother and eldest brother quickly leave for the hospital, leaving Mibs at home with her grandpa and 3 siblings. Mibs is determined to be with her father - she's sure that she can wake him up from his coma - so she sneaks aboard a bus driven by a travelling Bible salesman. Two of her brothers and two friends join her, and the book follows their journey. Along the way, Mibs discovers her savvy, develops a friendship with a boy, and realizes that bad decisions can have unintended good consequences.

The audio production was mesmerizing. I'd highly recommend it.
Here's the link to Amazon for the audio CD. Berkeley Public Library and Oakland Public Library have the print book.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

ABC books with zing!

Superhero ABC, by Bob McLeod
New York : HarperCollins, 2006.
ages 5 - 8

Q is for Duck: an alphabet guessing game, by Mary Elting
New York : Clarion Books, 2005, c1980.
ages 4 - 6

Anamalia, by Graham Base
New York : H.N. Abrams, 1987, c1986.
ages 5 - 8

Little kids love a sense of drama and humor. These alphabet books capture them and let them explore letter sounds and pictures.

Superhero ABC, by Bob McLeod, is a great, visually engaging book for all those action-loving little kids. This book is hard to keep on the shelves of our library, the kids love it so much. And it's not suprising, with such fun images as these: Astro-Man, "Always Alert for an Alien Attack" despite his asthma; Goo Girl, who throws Great Gobs of Goo; and Odor Officer, monitor of, well, body odors. Get this at the Oakland Public Library or the Berkeley Public Library.

Q is for Duck: an alphabet guessing game, by Mary Elting, made my four-year-old giggle and laugh. What better recommendation is there for a book, especially one that is trying to teach you something! With simple, repetitive questions, it works for young kids guessing the puzzles. For example, "Q is for Duck. Why? Because a Duck Quacks" or "I is for Mosquito. Why? Because Mosquito bites Itch." Find this at the Oakland Public Library or the Berkeley Public Library.

Animalia is a fantastically detailed ABC book, perfect for kids who like puzzles & games. Each spread has rich illustrations along a theme, such as Eight Enormous Elephants Expertly Eating Easter Eggs. But throughout the spread are dozens of items beginning with that letter. A funny and intriguing book. Animalia is the inspriration for a new PBS Kids TV series. For more information, see the PBS Animalia site. My kids love the imagination in this new series, aimed at kids ages 6 - 8. This is available at the Oakland Public Library or the Berkeley Public Library.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Rapunzel's Revenge

Rapunzel's Revenge,
by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by Nathan Hale
ages 8 - 12

This is such a fun book, full of spunk and attitude, but still with a sense of ... well, innocence, that makes it perfect for girls in the 8 - 12 slot. Rapunzel's story is familiar, but completely unique in this telling.

Rapunzel's Revenge is a graphic novel - so it looks like a comic book. But you need to read it from beginning to end. It has all the visual appeal of a comic book, but kids still need to build the story in their mind, thinking about the characters, their motivations, setting, etc.

Rapunzel has been taken by the witch from her family because her father stole the Rapunzel (lettuce) from the witch's garden. But then after escaping from her tower, she meets a new friend Jack, and proceeds to try to get revenge and rescue her mother. Along the way, she discovers and proves her strength. Thinking about it, I really like the way she wants to demolish Mother Gothel not just because she's hurt Rapunzel, but also because Gothel has hurt so many other people. This Rapunzel is certainly a TAKE CHARGE kind of gal.

The setting is also unique. The author sets Rapunzel's story in a fantasy Wild West. So Rapunzel uses her braids to whip and lasso the bad guys, while they duel it out with six-shooters.

Want to find it in your local public library? Did you know that you can place a hold on an item, even if it's check out?
Berkeley library: Rapunzel's Revenge
Oakland library: Rapunzel's Revenge (still in processing at this time)

Also, check out other books by Shannon Hale for strong girl stories!