Thursday, December 30, 2010

Positively Resolved, Maybe

Have you made your New Year’s resolutions yet? Are you giving up something or starting new projects? Or are you just giving up on resolutions?

SQUIRREL’S NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION by Pat Miller, illustrated by Kathi Ember, Albert Whitman & Co, 2010

All of Squirrel’s friends have new year’s resolutions. Squirrel is the only one who doesn’t. Searching for help, Squirrel goes to a great place to find it, the Lonewood Library. There the wise and helpful Bear defines the word. That's certainly a good start.

Squirrel's next stop is to visit Skunk who is sick but even so has resolved to learn to read. Squirrel plays games with Skunk hoping to help her feel better, and indeed, she does. Skunk is laughing out loud when Dr. Owl comes by and pronounces his patient much improved and ready to begin working on her resolution. Half the day is over by now and it’s time for lunch at the Hidey Hole Diner.

Of course, the journey and the list of Squirrel’s deeds lead the reader to a discovery. The book ends with a chorus of her animal friends shouting, “Hurray for Squirrel!”

Do your children wonder what resolutions are all about? Adults seem to have trouble with this concept, too. Maybe reading this book to your young listeners should be your first resolution.

Author Miller is a writer, teacher, and school librarian. wonder what she's resolved to do in 2011?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The True Meaning of Kwanzaa

Coming together to help others. That’s the true meaning of Kwanzaa. But what if you are too little?

LI’L RABBIT’S KWANZAA, by Donna L. Washington, illustrated by Shane W. Evans, Katherine Tegen Books, 2010.

Li’l Rabbit could recite a litany of what’s wrong with being the littlest rabbit in the family. For starters, he’s always in the way. Then guilt sits on his small shoulders like a rock when he’s upset because his grandmother is too ill to be the guiding force behind the family’s Kwanzaa preparations.

Grandmother is too ill to take part in the dinner, his favorite, a feast called Karamu, and his mother is too busy taking care of Granna Rabbit to cook all the traditional foods. Then Li’l Rabbit thinks about the meaning of Kwanzaa. He decides to take Granna Rabbit a special treat for Karamu. How hard is that?

First Li’l Rabbit learns that Mamma Oriole, Groundhog, the frogs, Momma Field Mouse, and Poppa Squirrel don’t know anything about Kwanzaa or Karamu. What they do know is all the kind and helpful deeds Granna Rabbit has done for them. Shows you don’t have to understand or know much about a person’s beliefs or traditions as long as you know that person’s heart.

What the animals do and how they surprise Li’l Rabbit–not realizing their actions are examples of Nguzo Saba, the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa, results in Granna Rabbit teaching everyone a new word: Harambee! It means, “Let’s Pull Together.”

Even though Li’l Rabbit has a great celebration with his friends, dancing, singing, and eating, he is still sad that he didn’t bring Granna Rabbit something special. Young readers will be quick to catch on to what he really did, and Granna Rabbit snuggles him up and tells him, too.

If you have faith, there’s always hope. Granna has faith in Li’l Rabbit. She also thinks this was the best Karamu ever, probably because the whole community got involved.

No matter what your holiday traditions, Harambee!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Serious About Series

Kids love series, or so they tell us. “They” are an impressive lot of book professionals, but none more impressive than the readers themselves, the kids who read series.

When is the best time to pick up on a series? Do you start from the one that suddenly captured everyone’s interest, not always the first in a series, or read the latest first, or wait until all are out, as in a predicted trilogy? Then what? Do you read from start to finish, bidding your family and friends good-bye for a week of binge reading?

I read the Twilight series from the middle out in each direction. Confusing at times. A friend waited until Mockingjay came out before she began Hunger Games. Such discipline! She planned to read Catching Fire next and figured by the time she got through these two, her name would rise to the top of the waiting list at the library and she could sacrifice another night’s sleep to the third and final book in this Suzanne Collins trilogy.

The following is a Newbery Honor book which won other awards, too. As you can see from the publication date, I waited long enough that when I read the last page, the next book was ready to pick up. And the next and...

THE THIEF by Megan Whalen Turner, Greenwillow 1996

Gen is a master of many talents. One of them is stealing. His boast, “I can steal anything,” lands him in the king’s prison and sets off a string of events. The king’s advisor wants Gen to steal a treasure from another land, a land not so likely to welcome them. Some of their party die, some live. Who and why?

Threaded throughout the adventure is the imagined history of countries and the gods they hold responsible for their fortunes and misfortunes. These stories are surprisingly interesting. Don't ask. I won't even hint how this turns out. The conclusion came as a complete surprise to me. It should be that way for you, too.

The lucky reader who begins to read this series now, as I did, will be eager to dive headlong into another cauldron of characters and quests seasoned and stirred by story chef Turner in The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia. The latest novel, A Conspiracy of Kings, is generating Newbery buzz this year.

Boys and girls from ages ten and up will get lost in these novels. You might, too.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sequel, Trilogy, Series?

In this third middle grade novel set in the North Carolina mountains in the nineteen sixties, Livy Two continues to give us a front row seat at the Weems family gatherings where all sorts of plans and dreams and schemes are afoot. Daddy’s recovery from his automobile accident is not going as smoothly as hoped. He hears radio songs in his head and seems to remember only one of his children, the one who moved away.

LOUISIANA’S SONG by Kerry Madden, Viking 2007

Now we meet another strong Weems woman, Louise, the painter. She’d rather paint than talk and besides, she can always turn to her sister Livy Two for the talking. It takes quite a sales job on Livy Two’s part to convince Louise that she should sell street-side charcoal sketches of passersby to tourists in Waynesville.

Considering the dire state of finances in the Weems family and that Grandma Horace continues to pressure the family to move to Enka-Stinka (as Livy Two calls the town) so Mama can get a job with Champion Paper or American Enka which will pay regular and give benefits and, well, the reader can see that everyone needs to get a job and help out.

Mama knits sweaters and baby blankets for sale. Emmett has already gone off to work at Ghost Town in the Sky, promising to send money home, but Livy Two isn’t satisfied with how he makes good on this promise. She gets a job in the bookmobile. Becksie gets a job in the Pancake House.

With people and bills coming and going, Livy Two struggles to love the dad who taught her to sing. A talented songwriter and singer who has yet to reap monetary rewards, Livy Two uses her music to cope. She writes a new song, “...and I sing like I’ll never quit, because it’s only when I’m singing that I can quit hurting for Daddy and start loving him again the way I used to.”

Songs are scattered throughout the prose, and the family’s stories will sing in the reader’s heart long after the last page is turned.

What’s next? Will the family have to move to Grandma Horace’s home in Enka, start a new school, give up the wild freedom of their mountain home? Will the radio in Daddy’s head ever be quieted? Will he remember all of his children?

Do you suppose the author could be persuaded to write another novel or two? When does a sequel become a series?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Another Madden Maggie Valley Novel

If you read Gentle’s Holler, you may be like me, ready to slide your feet under the supper table at the home of the Weems family just up the mountain from Maggie Valley, North Carolina. From Livy Two to Gentle to Grandma Horace, to Uncle Hazard, the family dog, these warm and irresistible characters will capture your heart and have you cheering for them.

I’m glad I won’t have to wait to see what happens next. The sequel is already on the book shelves.

JESSIE’S MOUNTAIN, by Kerry Madden, Viking, 2008

It’s 1963. Winter is harsh in the mountains, but even the bitter cold can’t suck the heat out of Livy Two’s enthusiasm for traveling to Nashville to sell her songs and save the family future. Daddy isn’t well enough to work and Grandma Horace is pressuring her daughter, Jessie, to move the family to her home in Enka.

Livy Two has other plans. She thinks selling her songs to pay the back rent and other debts will be just the miracle she needs.

Grandma Horace gives Livy Two her mother’s long forgotten diary, and this plays a part in the outcome of the third novel, but I won’t spoil it for you. Privacy issues among the generations loom large.

This, in my opinion, is the best of the three Maggie Valley novels as it mirrors the stronger, sassier growth and development of Livy Two. Mothers looking for “wholesome” novels for their middle grade daughters, ages 10 and up, will be thrilled with these books–but I don’t want to ruin their appeal by calling them wholesome. They are fun, busy, delightful, warm hearted, with realistic relationships. The kids treat each other like real human beings, bantering, arguing, fussing, but cuddling and standing behind each other, no matter what, proving once again that real riches have nothing to do with dollars.

And lucky us, we have a third novel to enjoy.

Monday: Louisiana’s Song

Friday, December 17, 2010

Taking Time to Read

If you’re going to write about books, you need to read them. And that’s where I’ve been: reading, reading, reading. Ever since I met the author, I’ve wanted to read three books set in one of my favorite parts of the country, the Lake Junaluska area, near Maggie Valley, North Carolina. The bonus in discovering these books a few years after publication is that I got to read all three right away and didn’t have to wait and wonder and wish.

GENTLE’S HOLLER by Kerry Madden, Viking, 2005

This is about strong women. Grandma Horace wants to help, but she’s so mean I wanted to tell her to go home. Mama is Grandma Horace’s determined daughter. (Hmm. Wonder where that determination came from?) Livy Two, who tells this charming and warm-hearted story, is just as hard-headed as her mother and grandmother.

Livy Two Weems has never been outside the North Carolina hills, not in her whole twelve years, but she knows her songs will take her to far away places–some day. In the meantime, her daddy’s trying to write a banjo hit, little sister Gentle needs to be seen by an eye doctor that costs money the family doesn’t have, Mama is busy with a new baby, and the rest of the eight brothers and sisters keep Livy Two scrambling, as any big sister can understand.

It’s the early sixties. The rest of the world leaks in now and then. The family knows about civil rights protests. They are shocked and saddened by the assassination of President Kennedy. But this is not their everyday life. Here, in their home at the end of a bumpy road, the Weems siblings hold secret meetings in sun dappled glens and listen to the music of a singing creek. Money may be a problem, but they are wealthy in all the ways that count.

My favorite quote: “Do you know how much folks need to hope?” This is Livy Two’s father encouraging her to sing her songs.

And she does, in the next two books.

Tomorrow: Jesse’s Mountain

Friday, December 10, 2010

Boy Has Book Feeever!

Once upon a time, an 8 year old boy named Charlie McGlurg wanted a bookstore in his hometown of Dalton, GA. 8 year olds have energy. Lots of it. Charlie started a letter writing campaign among his peers and targeted the CEO of a large book store chain.

Last week CEO Clyde Anderson surprised Charlie’s classroom at Westwood Elementary School with a visit and an armload of kids’ books. Then the BIG news(BIG being a classmate’s description). Anderson announced that Books-A-Million would open a 5,500 square foot bookstore in the city’s mall before Christmas.

“Charlie’s Army” was made up of 500 young readers. One classmate described herself as “breathless” over hearing the news. Charlie said he has “Book Feever!”

500 exuberant, letter writing, book loving young readers.

Parents, teachers, librarians, booksellers, and children’s writers should stand up and cheeeer!

Charlie and his friends are not the only ones who love books.

DOG LOVES BOOKS by Louise Yates, Alfred A. Knopf, 2010

Dog opened his own bookstore. Then he waited for customers. And waited. What does a reader do when he’s waiting? He reads, of course.

Books carry Dog to prehistoric times, from adventure to adventure, to cheer on knights of old, to trek through the jungle, to zoom into the future. Dog is off to “somewhere else” when he hears the jingle of the bell. It’s a customer! Dog knows the right book and where it is for each of the customers who follow. Maybe he just read that book and re-shelved it.

Dog loves books, but most of all he loves to share them–exactly what book lovers do, be they book store owners, librarians, or US.

Do share! What’s your favorite children’s book today?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

How to Spell Charming

What a delight to discover an author who writes the kind of books I loved to find under the tree on Christmas morning!

THE THIRTEENTH PRINCESS by Diane Zahler, Harper Collins, 2010

Spunky Zita, about to turn twelve and nearing the awe-inspiring age of young womanhood, longs for love: love of family, love of parents, love for a boyfriend, but, of course, that’s way off in the future. How delighted she is to find out she is the sister of the twelve princesses who live in the castle!

But why is she working in the kitchen? When she discovers everyone knows she is the 13th princess, she grows even more curious. Wouldn’t you?

Readers will be caught up in the enchantment. They will puzzle over the good witch and the bad witch and try to figure out which witch is which. Of course, there are good guys. And then there’s a hidden message about things not being as they appear. Love and loyalty ring true.

Author Zahler was inspired by the Grimm fairy tale, “The Dancing Princesses” or as it is also called, “The Worn Out Dancing Shoes,” and added a character. Her descriptions are vivid. Building on the original, she creates scenes that are Disney-esque.

Zita, the 13th princess, is the author’s addition to the tale and she is both perky and modest, humble, sweet, daring, courageous, sincere, determined, faithful, yet definitely not of super strength. She has her own weaknesses, a few flaws here and there, enough to humanize her.

How could her father not love her? He is surely under some kind of spell! Well, is he? You’ll have to ask your daughter to read this and find out.

The author has always loved fairy tales and promises us more. Her home is “an old farmhouse held together by magic spells and duct tape.” In such idyllic surroundings, she has turned her lively imagination on “The Princess and the Pea” next. It’s coming out in February as The True Princess. I plan to share as soon as I get my hands on a copy.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Hanukkah Book Ideas

I asked for suggestions for children's books about Hanukkah, and I was delighted to hear from author Jan Godown Annino:

"I loved reading and the kiddos enjoyed hearing and seeing Patricia Polacco's The Trees of the Dancing Goats one December on this common ground topic.

Jan continues:
A wide-ranging list of recommended Hanukkah picture books is from the Kansas City Public Library found

I followed Jan's advice and found an extensive, excellent list.

Thanks, Jan!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

At Sundown

How do you explain Hanukkah to a child? In our diverse lives today, children of all faiths wonder about the celebrations and observances of their friends and neighbors as well as their own. Children’s books create bridges to understanding by showing relevance.

THE HANUKKAH TRIKE by Michelle Edwards, illustrated by Kathryn Mitter, Albert Whitman & Co., 2010

Hanukkah is an exciting time for Gabi Greenberg. All year she looks forward to the 8-day celebration of the Feast of Lights. She loves lighting the menorah. She loves helping to make crisp latkes. But it’s the stories about the brave Maccabees she loves the most. The Maccabees never gave up. Adults know they had to fight for the right to worship their God, celebrate their holidays, speak Hebrew, and restore and rededicate their Temple in Jerusalem. What does it all mean to a young child?

This year Gabi’s parents give her a Hanukkah gift, a tricycle which she promptly names, “Hanukkah.” Gabi plans to ride it everywhere, but her first try doesn’t turn out very well. She falls off. Riding a trike is a lot harder than she thought it would be.

This is when the story about the Maccabees becomes relevant. Now Gabi gets it. Not giving up is about trying again and again. Even when you think you can’t.

There are many excellent children’s books about Hanukkah. Cathy Goldberg Fishman’s book On Hanukkah is one I've enjoyed sharing. Do you have one to recommend?

Hillview School Library