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In this issue
For a list of books mentioned in this issue, see link below.
Masthead art © by William Steig, used with permission of Pippin Properties, Inc.
A farmyard marching band, helpful friends, Spanish nursery rhymes, and a new series from Mo Willems — these books feature a procession of animal characters preschoolers are sure to celebrate.
Phil Cummings’s Boom Bah! begins with one musical mouse, a spoon, and a cup (“Ting!”) and ends with the whole barnyard booming, bahing, and tra-la-la-ing. The farm animals help themselves to pot lids, a tin can, and other kitchen accoutrements and join the mouse for an impromptu parade. When a real marching band appears on the scene, things get “very loud!” Nina Rycroft’s pencil and watercolor illustrations are as exuberant as the bouncy rhyming text, which keeps the pace lively and the volume up. (2–5 years)
Author-artist David Hyde Costello’s I Can Help is right on target for toddlers, an always-eager-to-lend-a-hand audience. A little duckling wanders off into the tall grass by himself: “Uh-oh. I’m lost.” No worries; monkey can help. “Thank you, monkey!” A comforting pattern is set up in the simple text and genial illustrations as successive animal friends step in to assist one another. Finally, in a satisfyingly circular ending, all the animals help duckling, who’s “lost again.” (1–4 years)
Nursery rhymes are an important part of language development and building early literacy skills, but they aren’t always easy to come by in languages other than English. In ¡Muu, Moo!: Rimas de animales / Animal Nursery Rhymes, selectors Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy present sixteen traditional rhymes in Spanish and provide for each an English retelling that captures the flavor of the original. Viví Escrivá’s soft, warm watercolor illustrations make this is an attractive gift book for English- and Spanish-speaking toddlers alike. (0–3 years)
With Cat the Cat, Who Is That? and Let’s Say Hi to Friends Who Fly, Mo Willems introduces a new series for preschoolers on the verge of learning to read. Simple phrasing and speech bubbles tell these stories of enjoying old friends and making new ones (Who Is That?) and meeting all sorts of flying animals . . . including Rhino the Rhino (Let’s Say Hi). Bright colors and funny situations will keep pre-readers captivated and amused . . . and looking forward to more stories they can read all by themselves. (3–5 years)
These four chapter books keep their feet in the real world, highlighting the challenges and rewards of being an ordinary kid.
The Home Sweet Home Parade is coming up, and Andy Shane wants to win the best-decorated-bike contest, even if bossy Dolores Starbuckle has laid claim to it. But Andy has even higher aspirations: “What Andy Shane really, really, really wanted was to be a hero.” In Andy Shane: Hero at Last, the sixth book in Jennifer Richard Jacobson’s series for fledgling readers, Jacobson’s light touch and respect for her audience make universal the ordinary happenings of a little boy in a small town. Black-and-white illustrations by Abby Carter allow new readers to join the adventures. (5–8 years)
I Barfed on Mrs. Kenly, the third installment in Jessica Harper’s Uh-oh, Cleo series, contains another of Cleo’s short, well-told stories. Prone-to-motion-sickness Cleo is stuffed into the middle seat in a van traveling to a birthday party. When she realizes she doesn't have a barf bag (and that she’s eaten too many pancakes for breakfast), it's too late; super-nice Mrs. Kenly’s fur coat gets the worst of it. The illustrated, very short chapters, Cleo’s easy-to-relate-to emotions, and her good humor are just right for newly independent readers. (7–10 years)
Ivy and Bean Doomed to Dance is the sixth entry in Annie Barrows’s popular series. Best friends Ivy and Bean beg their moms for ballet lessons and promise not to quit or complain, but almost immediately they regret their decision. The final humiliation? They’ve been cast as squids in the upcoming dance recital. Barrows continues to provide a laugh a minute in a story loaded with comic situations of which illustrator Sophie Blackall takes full advantage. (7–10 years)
In Andrea Cheng’s Only One Year, nine-year-old Sharon’s toddler brother, Di Di, is sent to live for a year in China with their grandparents: “For a babysitter, Di Di is a job. But for Nai Nai, he is a grandson.” Sharon and her younger sister know that having a brother on the other side of the world is not the norm in America, and, while the family misses Di Di, they find ways to cope with his absence. When Di Di finally returns home, the adjustments the family must make aren’t any easier. Cheng’s tender story and Nicole Wong’s homey black-and-white illustrations remind us that there are many ways to raise children. (7–10 years)
For budding archaeologists, paleontologists, and animal lovers aching to get outside, the following books will encourage exploring, digging in the dirt, and discovering more about the world around us.
“What are you telling us, stones? What did you mean to those who put you here?” If Stones Could Speak: Unlocking the Secrets of Stonehenge, Marc Aronson’s collaboration with archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson and the Riverside Project, offers a fascinating perspective on the mysterious circle of stones in western England. With a mixture of photographs and detailed descriptions, Aronson makes ancient history engaging and archaeology engrossing. Substantial back matter adds to the book’s appeal. (10–14 years)
Caroline Arnold’s information-dense picture book Global Warming and the Dinosaurs: Fossil Discoveries at the Poles introduces dinosaur species that lived during the Cretaceous Period in the polar regions, once thought too cold for dinosaur survival. With Laurie Caple’s luminous watercolors in the background, Arnold discusses paleoclimatology, fossil finds, major dinosaur species, and historical accounts of scientists and fossil collectors. Readers will be fascinated by “how so many species have been able to adapt and thrive at Earth’s extremes.” (6–10 years)
Deborah Kogan Ray’s Dinosaur Mountain: Digging into the Jurassic Age introduces readers to Earl Douglass’s prehistoric bone discoveries in what is now Dinosaur National Monument. Ray’s rich text includes ample quotations from fossil expert Douglass and plenty of information on his early twentieth-century finds, which were more complete, more accurately assembled, and more numerous than those hastily dug up during the late nineteenth-century “Bone Wars” between rival paleontologists. Dramatic full-color illustrations show the harshness and isolation of the land, while spot art gives the book a field-manual quality. (5–8 years)
Animal enthusiasts will enjoy Saving the Baghdad Zoo: A True Story of Hope and Heroes by Kelly Milner Halls and Major William Sumner. Using fantastic photographs, humor, and heartwarming anecdotes, Halls and Sumner re-create the mission to rescue monkeys, dogs, lions, and many other animals while rebuilding the decimated Baghdad Zoo. Full of memorable animals like Lumpy the one-humped camel and Saedia the thirty-two-year-old brown bear, this book combines facts and narration into a moving story. (8–12 years)
As we begin to see more and more children’s historical fiction set in the 1960s, I’m starting to get an inkling of what my parents must have felt when we kids watched Hogan’s Heroes: old. Well known for her gritty novels for teenagers about contemporary life, Rita Williams-Garcia revisits the momentous times of her (and my!) childhood for her latest novel, One Crazy Summer.
1. Most of your previous novels have been for older teenagers, but One Crazy Summer is perfect for nine- to twelve-year-olds. What particular challenges did writing a middle-grade novel present?
“Through Delphine’s Eyes” was my adopted mantra while I journeyed back to the tumultuous 1960s and to Oakland, California, the epicenter of the Black Panther Movement. My biggest challenge was to stay close to Delphine’s heart during a time of national unrest. Even within the Panther Movement there was so much going on with many key players. So much ideology to cover. A lot of great topics to tear into, but I kept saying, “Through Delphine’s Eyes, Rita,” and into the “unused folder” a scene, chapter, or discourse went. Staying focused on my protagonist kept me on track for my younger audience. I like my younger readers to discover more; I like my older readers to wrestle with more.
2. Your reference to Brenda and the Tabulations had me humming “Right on the Tip of My Tongue” while I read. Were you conscious of writing historical fiction when you set the book in the 1960s?
Although I was conscious of going back in time, I didn’t think about it as historical fiction. My sixties childhood is still so vivid to me. Had I told my editor, “I’m writing a historical novel about . . .” I would have felt the weight of historical events and not the details of my characters’ everyday lives, like the songs they sang. We all know “Stop! In the Name of Love,” but do we know “Dry Your Eyes,” a song that would have more meaning for Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern? I could take us down familiar paths and landmarks, or I could introduce readers to girls with their own peculiarities. I’m hoping younger readers will uncover more personal stories through the “live historians” in their homes and neighborhoods.
3. The heroine’s mother says to her, “Be eleven, Delphine. Be eleven while you can.” Do you worry about kids growing up too fast?
I do. With the exception of Jumped, kids-growing-up-too-fast is a running theme in my work about girls. Girlhood is eroded by a child wanting to experience adult aspects of life sooner. But childhood is also taken away by circumstance, be it by abusive force or benign enforcement. In many African American households, the oldest child is least likely to have a long childhood if there are younger siblings, and an oldest daughter becomes a surrogate mother. My same-age peers at eleven and twelve had responsibilities that I knew nothing about. Playing hard, “getting my lessons,” and writing stories were my main concerns. I was fortunate. We weren’t a middle-class family by income, but my parents had middle-class values. Children were children in my parents’ home. There was a line called “grown,” and my siblings and I were not to venture near it, let alone cross it. We stayed in a child’s world, amazed by childish things and looked forward to being teenagers one day. I think about Gayle in my book Like Sisters on the Home Front. Twice pregnant by fourteen but had never held hands with a crush or gone on a date. It all goes by too soon, and then what?
4. You run a contest for young writers. Can you tell me a bit about that?
Funny you should ask! I’m about to announce the winner on my website on my birthday, April 13th! I want to encourage young people from ages twelve to nineteen to tap into their imaginations and experiences and write a short story. I began my career at twelve, typing up short stories and sending them to adult magazines. I wish I still had some of those rejection letters! Finally, I wrote a children’s story for Highlights magazine and saw my name in print. I remember the thrill and sense of accomplishment. I’d like to do the same for another young writer. Just go to my website and click on the Contest tab.
5. You’ve been both a finalist (last year, for Jumped) and a judge for the National Book Awards. Which side of the table is easier to sit at?
By far, it’s much easier to be a finalist! After the shock, all I had to do was read from my book, sign copies, and show up in my long black dress! And then you meet your fellow finalists and can’t believe your dumb luck. I’m still reeling from the experience. I just couldn’t imagine the opportunity and the experience, at all. Being a judge, however, is a rewarding but unenviable task. Five books out of hundreds. Five books across all genres from children’s to young adult books. Five. Just five. We either pulled out our own hair or each other’s!
In One Crazy Summer, Delphine and her sisters fly across the country to find a new world, but how about some books that take you even further than that?
In Cosmic, another zany adventure by Frank Cottrell Boyce (author of Millions), Liam is only twelve, but he’s so tall that he’s often mistaken for an adult. Posing as a grownup with his friend Florida as his “daughter,” he sets off on what he believes is a free vacation. Things are not what they seem, however, as the children end up on a rocket bound for outer space and doomed for disaster. The book grabs the reader’s attention with humor, likable characters, and out-there adventure. (10–14 years)
Stuck on Earth, by David Klass, brings an alien perspective to our own planet. Ketchvar, a snail-like organism from a dying planet, sets off on a mission to find a safer home for his kind. Earth will do, but humans will have to be eliminated in the colonization. For his research, Ketchvar inhabits the brain of ordinary Earthling Tom Filber, and Ketchvar’s humorous and overly literal observations reflect our world’s uncomfortable truths. (10–14 years)
Catherine Jinks examines society and individuals during times of change in Living Hell, a thought-provoking story about space travel gone terribly wrong. Seventeen-year-old Cheney has lived his entire life aboard Plexus, a spaceship that’s spent forty-six years looking for a habitable planet. A battle for survival ensues after Plexus passes through a mysterious radiation wave, transforming it into a living organism hell-bent on destroying hostile parasites (read: passengers). Lovers of horror stories, gory details, and inventive sci-fi will be enthralled by the pulse-pounding action. (12–15 years)
Fantasy enthusiasts uninterested in outer space escapades will love Enchanted Glass, in which Diana Wynne Jones creates a world of whimsy and magic. When Professor Andrew Hope inherits his grandfather’s estate, he is confused and overwhelmed. Then recently orphaned Aidan arrives, fleeing magical stalkers and begging for refuge. Andrew takes Aidan in; Aidan revives Andrew’s memories, makes some peculiar allies, and draws the wrath of villainous Mr. O. Brown. Comically down-to-earth, witty, and brain-teasingly clever, Jones’s story is as amusing and satisfying as one should expect from this master of intelligent fantasy. (10–14 years)
Although my only encounter with the Black Panthers was on the TV news, my childhood was roughly contemporaneous with that of Delphine, heroine of Rita Williams-Garcia’s One Crazy Summer, so I feel old age tapping me on the shoulder when I think about that book as “historical fiction.” It is, though, and as distant to the experience of today’s children as my parents’ childhood in the Depression was to me. But the Depression was also close at hand — we would hear about it frequently at mealtimes and holidays and be cautioned to appreciate what we had rather than to complain about what we didn’t. The past is always reaching into the present, itself always becoming the past.Historical fiction is not only one excellent way to explain our parents (or grandparents) to ourselves, it can also explain ourselves to ourselves, allowing readers to consider what they might have done, or how they might have been different, in circumstances unlike their own. We don’t read historical fiction to find out “what it was like back then” so much as to get a fresh look at who we are now. And if I want to take another look at who I was then? All I have to do is remember what I was reading.
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