Monday, June 27, 2011

Family Ties

What threads tie one generation to another? In this tribute to family, it is a shovel. Not a huge, earth moving shovel that spades garden plots or digs post holes. A little shovel. But it tells a mighty story.

ALL THE WAY TO AMERICA, The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel, by Dan Yaccarino, Alfred A. Knopf, 2011

“Work hard.”
“Remember to enjoy life.”
“Never forget family.”

Wise words.

Oh, but there is so much more to the big Italian family that author Dan Yaccarino shares with us.

He begins with his great-grandfather’s little shovel, the one his ancestor was given so he could help tend the zucchini, tomatoes, and strawberries in his father’s garden.

Then this talented great-grandson mines the family stories and follows the little shovel as it travels with his great-grandfather from his birthplace in Sorrento, Italy all the way to America.

In a touching fare-well scene, the reader sees great-grandfather receiving from his father the little shovel and the first two lines of advice above. Mom added, “Never forget family.” She gave him photos and tomato sauce. The parting works on several emotional levels. Then the story kicks into high gear.

Great-grandfather changes his name and loves America, but he doesn’t forget family. He uses the little shovel in a bakery, measuring flour and sugar. He marries Adeline, has 5 children, lives in “Little Italy,” and teaches his children, “work hard, enjoy life, love family.”

The line of industrious bread winners and bread bakers continues, brightly illustrated by the author to show the little shovel in all its uses, with its greatest use being the witness it bears to the legacy of a loving family. It is, indeed a big Italian family, so big the family dinners grow too large for anyone’s home. Only a family owned restaurant will hold them all.

The last pages are about the author, Dan. He grows up in the suburbs but moves back to the city and becomes an author/illustrator. He marries Sue. Their son and daughter work on their New York City terrace with the small shovel. They grow zucchini, tomatoes, and strawberries. Dan teaches the family philosophy: work hard, enjoy life, and love family.

Explore the author’s website and visit the two trailers for this book. One is inspiring and the other is stirring. (Which is which? Personal opinion. What do you think?) Both will be the envy of authors who want to create trailers for their books. Either trailer will encourage you to water the soil of your own family tree.

What ties your family together?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Great Escape

What is better than a porch swing on an afternoon in June, a frosty pitcher of lemonade at hand, and a great book to escape into?

A TRUE PRINCESS by Diane Zahler, Harper, 2011

There are re-told fairy tales and re-imagined ones. This one is both plus a delightful “what if” creation from an author who knows how to make a good story even better.

Do you remember those lumpy mattresses at summer camp? You probably thought about the “Princess and the Pea” and were certain you were of royal blood. In the Zahler version of the tale, the candidates for bride had obviously not heard the lumpy mattress story, so they slept, even snored away the night and left the next day in tears, having no idea why the Prince rejected them.

However, flash back to long before this mandatory slumber party: a sleeping toddler in a basket is fished out of an icy, swiftly flowing river. The fisherman who plucks her from this predicament takes her home where ten years pass in relative calm. The fisherman’s wife is a surly sort, not caring for the fisherman’s two motherless children and certainly not happy with another mouth to feed. She makes a servant of the newcomer, called Lilia, the little girl with lilac eyes.

Not allowed to eat at the same table or sleep in the farmhouse with the family, Lilia is not a superior servant. Far from it. Her daydreams cost her dearly. Broken dishes. Lumpy porridge. When she hears the fisherman’s wife scheming to sell her to the wretched miller to become his servant, she gathers her wits and not much else and runs away. What she didn’t expect is that the fisherman’s own two children, Kai, who has become Lilia’s best friend, and his sister, Karina, would follow her.

The three unite and travel deep into the dark woods, only to find themselves lost in the sinister Bitra Forest and facing the evil Elf King. Throughout the spells, threats of spells, and un-raveling of spells, runs the thread of Lilia’s lineage. Who is she? Who put her in the basket and set her adrift? Someone who was saving her or someone bent on getting rid of her?

Kai falls under the spell of the Elf King’s daughter and the only way Lilia can save him is to find a jewel hidden in a castle and....the castle is the scene of many comings and goings of hopeful young women, desirous of becoming the prince’s bride. Now we’re getting to the lumpy mattress.

I’m going to stop here and say no more. You wouldn’t hear me anyway. You are already too deeply held in the spell of a really good book, the only kind a girl wants on a warm summer afternoon, lemonade at hand.

Diane Zahler is also the author of The Thirteenth Princess blogged here which expanded on the fairly tale the "The Dancing Princesses." You can visit her

Monday, June 13, 2011

Up to Speed

Things have been really slow at my desk these days. My computer would make snail races look like NASCAR. Three technicians have come to scratch their heads and offer advice. I hope the situation is changed. Seems a little faster today. I might be able to update my blog before the summer ends. :0)

Moving right along, momentum is something you won’t want your boy readers to lose. School is out and they might think books can be put away for weeks. However, the weather is beastly hot and moms are hoping kids will find something to do in the shade. Here’s a great boy book that just might keep those reluctant readers turning pages.

THE STRANGE CASE OF ORIGAMI YODA by Tom Angleberger, Abrams, 2010

Question: Is Origami Yoda for real?

In the introductory chapter, Tommy explains that he needs to know if Origami Yoda is real so he can decide if he should follow the advice asked and given.

Tommy wants scientific evidence and sets out to get it this way: Each classmate is asked to relate in writing a story of an experience with Origami Yoda and then Harvey, an avowed non-believer, adds a comment. Then Tommy comments again. Kellen contributes comic art or caricatures or just plain doodles to this growing case file. Art blends with text to create the look of a 6th grade boy’s creation, a journal of sorts. Pages look worn as if the notebook has been passed around.

Harvey, the non-believer, thinks Origami Yoda is a green paper wad. His sharp commentary adds balance to the experiences shared by those who want to believe IF the advice is what they want to hear even though it takes some pondering to figure out what the advice actually means.

The reason for all the doubt is that the green paper wad is a creation of Dwight, a rather unusual classmate, referred to and thought of as a geek, dork, weirdo, misfit, or just plain strange. Dwight produces Origami Yoda, a finger puppet, usually during lunch, when status is indicated by who is sitting where and with whom–or not. When Origami Yoda appears, he makes wise pronouncements in a voice quite unlike Dwight’s.

More questions:
How can Origami Yoda be so wise when Dwight is, well, Dwight?

On the other hand,what if Origami Yoda is for real? His wisdom works out to seem right often enough to keep the kids from thinking it’s all a bid for attention from Dwight.

If your question is whether the boys wonder about girls, remember this is a book about sixth grade boys. You probably don’t have to ask Origami Yoda.

This book speaks boy from cover to cover, page to page, words to doodles.

Instructions at the back of the book aid the reader in making his own origami puppet. Who knows? Maybe the wisdom of another generation of origami heroes will direct a reluctant reader to try another book, and another. It’s worth a try.

Here's what Origami Yoda has to say for

Hillview School Library