Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Review: Chickadee

by  Louise Erdrich. Harper, 2012. (review copy for the Cybils Middle Grade Fiction list). This is the fourth book in Erdrich's Birchbark House series. I have enjoyed the entire series, including Birchbark House, The Game of Silence, and The Porcupine Year. The stories cover 100 years in the life of an Ojibwe family living in Minnesota in the 19th century. In Chickadee we meet twin boys who are living with their family by the Lake of the Woods (north of St. Paul). The opening line draws us in: "The year was 1866, and the girl whose first step was a hop, Omakaya, sometimes skipped as she chased after her children." This is a family bursting with strength, energy, talent, passion and fierce loyalty. When Chickadee gets kidnapped by some despicable traiders who force him to cook and eat a truly nasty mouse stew, the entire family takes to the road to chase them down and recover him. The text is full of descriptive detail on the methods and adventures of hunting and growing food, building shelters, and celebrating the changing seasons as well as an animated interplay of well-drawn characters. Maps and line drawings of tools, home impliments, birds, animals and people inhabit the pages, making the story come alive. Readers who enjoy Little House on the Pairie or My Side of the Mountain will love this book. It is all the better because it open the world of the Ojibwe to us in a touching, endearing and impressive story that will not be forgotten. Chickadee's family has invested him with a deep well of strength, love, creativity and wit that ensures his survival whatever happens. There are so many lessons to be learned from his story! I'd absolutely love to be part of a middle grade reading club discussing this book. Please let me know if you get the chance to share it with the children in your life!

Erdrich is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, and owns a bookstore which I would love to visit. Her books have been awarded the National Book Award finalists, a Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction, a Pulitzer Prize, and many other awards. Read more about her and her books on Goodreads.

Ms. Yingling hosts a World Wednesday round up each week, where we can discover more great books from cultures around the world. Check it out!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Review: Africa for Kids; Exploring a Vibrant Continent

by Harvey Croze.Chicago Review Press, 2006. (review copy from IPG). I am enjoying this engaging, fascinating, factual book on the continent of Africa. It is full of colorful photos, maps, diagrams, artwork and detailed information on a wide variety of aspects of life in Africa. There are 19 features hands-on activities that children can complete with some help from an adult. All in all it is a wonderful way to explore what "some people consider to be the most important continent in the world."

 What I love about this book is that it includes so much information in down-to-earth, understandable language. Divided into three sections on the continent, habitats, and people, it covers science (soil erosion, geography, map making, global warming, ecosystems, boidiversity, animal behavior, climate, rivers, habitats), art and music (how to build a bamboo flute, write an African fable, make a snake bracelet, wrap a kanga skirt or headband, paint a mural, build a bivouac shelter, bake cassave chips), and civilizations and social structures (history, clans, tribes, hunting, agriculture, colonialism, human rights, war, health challenges, governments, languages, future trends). Also included are many sidebars that offer both background and specific examples of the concepts presented from Apartheid to Tic, Tac, Toe, an historically African game. It's an education wrapped in fun.

This book came to us as just the right time for our family. My 7 year old had a school project due this month that required him to present an aspect of his family heritage for the class. In Africa for Kids we were delighted to read about the game of Mancala, which we love to play. We learned that it is the oldest board game in the world and has been played in Africa for 3000 years. I took an adorable photo of him playing it and shazam! Project nailed! He also learned that the continent has 53 countries, a fact with which he has been able to impress several adults who were unaware of that detail.

The amount of information presented and the depth of specifics makes this an ideal book to have around as children grow. For a second grader the broad background, particular illustrations, animal facts and simpler projects are right on point. As the children grow they will be able to read the longer passages about social and cultural interactions, history and current challenges. It is a well balanced and comprehensive volume, from explaining wind and water interactions in the natural environment to explaining particular eating and clothing preferences for different cultural groups through time, and quoting key points of view from leaders such as Wole Soyinka and Nelson Mandela. This is a wonderful addition to school and family libraries and comes highly recommended.

Today's Non-Fiction round up is hosted at Laura Salas's blog here. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Cybils finalists announced today!

Happy New Year!! On this day the Children's and Young Adult Blogger's Literary Awards site announces the short lists of finalists for the best books of the previous year, nominated by the public, read and evaluated by teams of book-loving bloggers. I've worked on the Middle Grade Fiction judging team for the past three months, and I can tell you there is a boatload of great books out this year! I read over 120 books and loved every minute of it. My judging team spent hours chatting, emailing, messaging and discussing the merits of our favorites; the good points, the puzzling points, the ups and downs of all of them. Phew! What a great way to spend the fall and early winter!

Today we pass these carefully selected final seven books to the second round of panelists, who will chose just one book to win the Cybils award for 2012. All the other categories are doing the same, and the Cybils blog posted the finalist lists for each category today. So the great news is YOU can go find these books and read along with us! Who knows, maybe you will spot the winners, or maybe just love ALL of them! And please make sure you share them with the children in your life and find out what they think of these books. The key to the Cybils is that they are judged by KID APPEAL, which means that these books are all books that we know kids will love. I can't wait to hear what you think, and what your children think. Go right over to the Cybils site, browse the finalists lists, and search for these titles at your favorite library or bookstore. Once you've read a few, please leave a comment and share your opinion!