Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Review: The Last Black King of the Kentucky Derby

by Crystal Hubbard, (click the link on her name to read an author chat) illustrated by Robert McGuire. Lee & Low books, 2008. Cybils nonfiction picture book nominee. This fascinating picture book for middle and upper grades tells the life of Jimmy "Wink" Windfield, the last Black jockey to win the Kentucky Derby in 1902. The forward tells us that Black jockeys were common in 1875, when the Kentucky Derby was first run. By 1902 changing economic times and racism had pushed Black jockeys out of the sport. Wink suffered from hate groups and left the country after 1903. He continued to race in Europe and when he retired in France he had won over 2.600 races. Although he continued to love his country and his home in Kentucky he was never again treated with respect and courtesy or given the credit he deserved as one of the greatest jockeys in history.

The illustrations are vibrant and exciting. My two young boys are enthralled by the action and the thrill of the races. Older readers will be interested in the issues of racism, justice and equity. SLJ reviewer Diane Chen found the need to do further research with her students when they responded with pressing questions about the limitations racism forced on Wink Windfield. (She's got some great links and ideas in that post linked on her name.) That's the sign of a really good book doing it's job!

I received this book as a review copy and I am donating it to Flying Horse Farms. Author/poet/blogger Sara Lewis Holmes is starting a library of kid's horse books for this camp for kids with serious illnesses and their families. I think that's a fabulous idea! She's got a wish list going at Amazon full of wonderful books the campers will love. You can add your suggestions, make a donation, or send along a book or two yourself. Read more about it in her post here. It's a little thing that can go a long way towards making happiness for yourself and others this New Year!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

December 27 Haiku


found: rushing water,
woodpecker's distant drilling,
beech leaf shadows

Monday, December 22, 2008

Review: Larry and Rita

by Jamie Michalak, illustrated by Jill Newton. Candlewick Press, 2008. A Brand New Reader level 1. Cybils nominee for Easy Readers.

The minute my kindergartner saw this book he remarked that it reminded him of Here Comes Tabby Cat, by Phyllis Root, another Candlewick Brand New Reader that we very much enjoyed.

Larry and Rita, a porcupine and a chipmunk, are friends who like to blow bubbles, dance, go to the fair and find treasures on the beach. They are cute and funny and clever. The text is simple, in large print, and the illustrations are dynamic elements of the story. Beginning readers need that as well as a storyline that engages their curiosity and intelligence. Humor, surprise, predictable results, order and chaos - these are the things young readers delight in and Michalak hits the nail on the head. Highly recommended for beginning readers.

Choose Joy

trashcan icicles

when frozen rain falls
the trash can offers its rim -
collecting crystals

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

December 16 Haiku

dec 16 006

just enough snow
to make the path slippery -
why this joy?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Review: Planet Earth

25 environmental Projects You Can Build Yourself. By Kathleen M. Reilly. Nomad Press, 2008. Review copy.

This book has won a Moonbeam award, given by the Independent Publishers , honoring "books ... by little-known authors, illustrators and publishers from around the world, ... that inspire our children to read, to learn, and to dream " The full list of 2008 awards are here.

Hat tip to Scrub-a-Dub-Tub for the links.

Reilly has collected fun and interesting projects for kids to learn hands-on about the natural world. Getting their hands dirty and hair tousled they'll play with wind, dirt, worms, sunlight, bubbles, spices and plant materials. The first section of the book explores space, land, water, air, sun and life forms. The second half is full of environmental projects to teach kids about recycling, materials use, global warming, and the balance in nature.

Written for kids 9 and up and their grown-ups. Great for home, clubs and school.
Today's Nonfiction Round Up is at Picture Book of the Day. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Review: Houndsley and Catina in the Quiet Time

By James Howe, illustrated by Marie Louise Gay. Candlewick Press, 2008. Cybils Easy Reader nominee.

I love this book. Houndsley and his best friend Catina are snowed in on the day of the big concert they've been preparing for over the last month. Catina is frantic with anxiety about the shopping and prepping they won't be able to do, but Houndsley is happy to sit and watch the snow fall. Howe's language is so poetic in spite of the limited vocabulary and concrete imagery that beginning readers require.

Houndsley gazed out the window at the silent white falling everywhere. The world had no shadows, only white on white on white.
"It is the quiet time," Houndsley said in his soft-as-rose petal voice.
Catina listened.
"It is too quiet," she said.
"Oh," said Houndsley. "But that is why this is my favorite time of year. In the quiet time, everything stops. I think we may be snowed in."
As the day goes on Houndsley manages to persuade Catina to relax and enjoy pretending they are stuck on an island. Fortunately the island has books, and board games, and a kitchen for baking cookies. Catina discovers the music of the quiet time as they sit dreaming in front of the fire. Even the neighbor, who is practicing playing the cymbals for the concert that evening, finds the joy of quiet time music.

At the end of the snowy day the whole neighborhood troops out in the snow to the park gazebo and relishes the community music.
"Without saying a word,the musicians picked up their instruments and began to play so softly that the notes fell on the listening ears like snowflakes on waiting tongues, gently, softly, there for a flicker before melting away."
Sigh. I want that kind of snowstorm. I find this book to be a gem that will hold readers of all ages in the magic. It's as sweet as a read-aloud as it is a beginning reader. You must find this and snap it up!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Guest Poet J. Patrick Lewis

Imagine my surprise and delight when I checked my email yesterday and found a message from J. Patrick Lewis!! THE J. Patrick Lewis, who did Birds on a Wire: Renga Round the Town (with Paul B. Janeczko) and The Brothers War, and Freedom Like Sunlight: Praisesongs for Black Americans, and tons more great poetry books. I mean!

He graciously offered to let me post the following poem here on my blog. It is a celebration of one of December's most beloved holidays: Chocolate-Covered Anything Day (December 16). It's really fitting for us because my two little guys are always trying to tell me they like eating ants. I've never even mentioned dipping them in chocolate so boy are they going to love this!

Sept. 8 046

Chocolate-Covered Ants

You start with that ant mandible—
Completely understandable—
.....A chocolate jaw has never tasted sweeter.

Then bite of bit of abdomen
Before you’ve finally grabbed a min-
.....i-leg, an itty-bitty centimeter.

But ants despise the holiday
That is their grand finale day
.....When you become The Chocolate Anteater.
................................-J. Patrick Lewis

The Friday Poetry round up is over at Wild Rose Reader. Hope you enjoy your day today and get ready for next Tuesday with some chocolate-covered treats!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

December 11 Haiku

dec 10 017

arriving home -
blown & rain-splattered, seeking
gathered light

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Evolution Theory overheard:

Third grade girls are looking at a book on evolution:

Girl # 1: Hey look at this! We used to be gorillas?

Girl # 2: Euw!! Look at that!

Girl # 3: Maybe it's just boys...

Monday, December 08, 2008

Review: Yours For Justice, Ida B. Wells

The Daring Life of a Crusading Journalist. By Philip Dray, illustreated by Stephen Alcorn. Peachtree, 2008. A Cybils nonfiction picturebook nominee. Library copy.

Ida B. Wells, born in Mississippi in 1862 in slavery and freed at the end of the Civil War. Her father was a carpenter. Her mother learned to read by attending school with her children. When Ida was 16 both parents died of yellow fever. Ida was determined to raise her younger brothers and sisters and became a teacher to support them. Over the years she began writing and became a journalist. She wrote against Jim Crow and spoke out against lynching. She traveled around giving speeches and raising awareness as her support grew. She ended up working in New York for the New York Age and her work had a tremendous impact on the movement to end the commonality of lynching. Ida B. Wells is a hero we should all hear more about. She unflinchingly believed in the good of Americans and never gave up her battle for truth to win out. In Mob Rule in Now Orleans she said:
"When this conscience wakes and speaks out in thunder tones, as it must, it will need facts to use as a weapon against injustice, barbarism and wrong. It is for this reason that I carefully compile, print and send forth these facts."
I greatly enjoyed reading this picture book biography. I think the watercolor sketch illustrations are beautiful. Their sweeping, flowing movements are a perfect compliment to the text. There are several spreads where you can feel the tension as Ida faces the evil of racism head on with unshakable faith in the power of truth and good. The violence and horror are expertly balanced with Ida's determined energy.

The last few pages of the book include further biographical information and, background on lynching, a timeline and list of recommended readings for ages 4 through 13 and Up. This is a wonderful resource!
Today's nonfiction roundup is at Picture Book of the Day. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Feast of St. Nicholas

"Friend of children, giver of gifts, climber of chimneys, etc." Today is the feast day of Bishop Nicholas of Myra, (Turkey) who died on this day in 326 AD. Many European countries celebrate his life of generosity and service by giving gifts on this day rather than on Christmas day. Children leave their shoes out by the door or the fire place and find them filled with chocolate. Read more about his life and miracles here. See a photo of St. Nicholas on his white horse in the Netherlands here on flickr.

My little boys will find bubble gum and lollipops in their shoes this morning because they prefer that to the almond and peanut filled chocolate that I have on hand. There are clementines too for sweetness and joy. I cut out pictures of St. Nick from old Christmas cards and left them there as his calling card. We are going to breakfast with Santa at our church this morning and bringing my dad. Telling the story of Nicholas, with his loving heart and kind, giving spirit takes the emphasis off the shopping and excess that sometimes threatens to overwhelm us this time of year. This is one of the fun little traditions I love to celebrate.

We've also been reading the children's Advent devotional books published by Creative Communications. What Color is Christmas? and Which Way is Christmas? are beautiful books with full color illustrations in the style of I Spy and Where's Waldo? Each two-page spread features Bible readings, a short paragraph on the themes of the day that retell the Gospel story from Genesis through Jesus' life, and beautiful, engaging search-and-find puzzles. My parent's church gave us one and our church gave the other. My boys love them.

What are you doing to prepare for Christmas?

Friday, December 05, 2008

End Of The Day

dec 4 009

Looks to be stone,
always there, bone just
left, thrown down and now
alone. Empty wrappers -

what was once known
for wild cones of jazz.
One moan holds all
sewn into the ground.

Perhaps it’s a loan
or rough zone ripening
our own tough heart -
.......-Andromeda Jazmon

The Monday Poetry Stretch this week was for "a climbing rhyme, or poem in which the position of the rhyming word changes from line to line. It first appears in the 4th word of line 1, 3rd word of line 2, and 2nd word of line 3. The pattern continues as a new rhyme appears in the 4th word of line 3, the 3rd word of line 4, and the 2nd word of line 5. This continues on and on, giving a stair-step feel to the poem." Click over to Miss Rumphius to read the other poets work.

And then head over to Mommy's Favorite Children's Books for the Friday Poetry Round up. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Review: Goose and Duck

by Jean Craighead George, illustrated by Priscilla Lamont. HarperCollins, 2008. An "I Can Read" book level 2 (reading with help). This is another beginning reader that has been nominated for a Cybils Award for 2008. In the dedication by Ms. George says, "To Craig George, who was imprinted as "mother" on the wild pets Goose and duck. that's how it is with birds." We can surmise from this that George is writing the story based on a real life experience. When my brother was in graduate school for biology he spent a Thanksgiving break away from our family because he had to stay at school in the lab with the baby geese that had just hatched. They were part of his research project and they had imprinted on him. He was acting as their "mother". We thought it amusing but we missed his company. Maybe that's why I can relate so well to this book.

In this story a boy finds a goose egg and when it hatches the little goose follows him around copying his every move. Then he finds a duck egg and the duckling imprints on his goose. Hilarity ensues when they copy each other in a chain reaction. Things get even more complicated when goose and duck awake in the night and decide to go out searching for more mothers. They end up at the police station where they are helping to wash patrol cars. The boys rides his bike down there in alarm the next morning, thinking they got arrested. After the birds swirl the captain's papers all over the office the boy is able to bring them home again.

My six year old is totally into this story at this point. George does a masterful job of making a really complex and fascinating tale in simple, straightforward language that beginning readers can grasp. The large print, repetition and white space add to the appeal. Lamont's illustrations are comical and endearing. I especially like how the boy puts his pets to sleep in boxes next to his bed.

In the fall the birds have grown up and are ready to fly away south with their own kind. The boy is briefly saddened, but since he knows who he is and how much his family loves him, he can let them go with grace. We really enjoyed this story and highly recommend it to young readers.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Advent One Haiku

early morning

Advent's first light a
slight rose behind charcoal trees;
new candle tips

Advent is the church's celebration of the four weeks in December waiting and anticipating the birth of Christ. One new candle is lit each week building to a blaze of light on Christmas. We are lighting candles at the dinner table. I've got my new camera and am looking for the light.