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Book Reviews from the Children's Department Staff of the Park Ridge Public Library
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If you were eleven years old, would you pass up a trip to India with your parents to visit your relatives and instead choose to stay with an uncle on a small island off the coast of Washington State? The girl in this book, Poppy Ray, does exactly that. Her uncle is a veterinarian and Poppy thinks that she wants to be a vet when she grows up. She even has her own veterinarian medical kit which she takes with her. Unfortunately, when she actually gets there, she finds out that it is a lot tougher than she thought it would be. Her uncle is great and she loves the animals but she finds out that the sight of blood makes her sick and she has some trouble with the owners of the pets.
There are heartwarming moments and heartbreaking moments and some wonderful characters in this book. How do you think Poppy will do with the trials and tribulations of a busy veterinarian’s office? I guess you will have to read it for yourself to find out!
Posted by: Fran W.
This clever rhyming picture book will have you jumping along too! Each little animal is just minding their own business, when along comes a bigger animal that makes them JUMP! Well, wouldn’t you jump if you were a cat, a fat little cat and were sleeping on a mat, and then you see a hound?? – wouldn’t you JUMP? The simple sing-songy rhythm of the story is infectious, and I think little kids and grown-ups will love it!
Posted by: Mary
Stuey Lewis is a quite a character! He’s a smart 2nd grader who has not only problems to deal with, but also funny schemes up his sleeve. The four chapters in this book are each like a short story about something in his life. While each chapter can easily stand alone, they come together to make a fun start to this great new series.
In the first chapter we learn that Stuey has a secret at the beginning of 2nd grade – he’s worried that everyone will find out he isn’t a good reader. Even his best friend, who is an excellent reader, doesn’t know Stuey’s secret. It doesn’t take long for his teacher to realize that something is bothering him, and when he finally confesses his worry to her, she helps him realize everyone conquers reading in their own time.
In the subsequent chapters, we read about the great Halloween caper that Stuey devises, his soccer team trials and the final days of 2nd grade. Each chapter is full of humor interwoven with tender moments.
Whether listening to this story as a read-aloud or reading it on one’s own, we discover that there really is only one Stuey Lewis! I look forward to reading the next book Stuey Lewis Against All Odds: Stories from the Third Grade.
Posted by: Wendy
The Library is celebrating its 100th Anniversary this year and we are doing it up big this summer with our Summer Reading Club, “Celebrate 100 Years of Reading.” When I was trying to think of books that fit the summer theme this book jumped into my head and would not jump out. It combines everything that I love about celebrations; big parties, delicious cake, and most importantly, a good story.
Jack is delighted when he receives an invitation to the princess’s birthday party until his mother reminds him that they do not have any money to purchase the princess a birthday present. That doesn’t stop Jack though. Living up to his name, the clever boy trades and sweet talks his way through the village collecting the ingredients to make a wonderful cake for the princess. He even kisses the cow on her nose for a pail of her sweetest milk.
Alas, the cake is not the happy conclusion one would hope for Jack and the princess. As he walks to the palace he must fight off a series of hungry villains that each eat a part of the princess’s cake. In fact, when Jack reaches the princess, there is nothing left of the cake to give the princess. As Jack explains what happened, the princess’s eyes grow wide and when his explanation is done the princess claps with delight because Jack gave her something no one else did, a wonderful adventure story.
You can find Clever Jack Takes the Cake and more stories, adventures and even cake this summer at the Library as we “Celebrate 100 Years of Reading!” The Summer Reading Club runs from June 7th to August 18th. Come in and sign up today!
Posted by: Kelly
I don’t care much for baseball but I’m a sucker for a good story. The odd thing is, baseball seems to be quite a breeding ground for tantalizing tales. I’ve been bamboozled into reading far more than my share of baseball novels because they developed into darn good stories.
When Jackie Met Hank is just such an example. I have to admit that, thanks to the current film, 42, I did have a passing interest when I saw a book about Jackie Robinson. And, it wasn’t too painful to read a picture book about baseball players. I’m glad I dropped my guard. Reading When Jackie Met Hank was time well spent.
Cathy Goldberg Fishman has told her story from a very interesting perspective by stating in the opening sentence that “Jack Roosevelt Robinson and Henry Benjamin Greenberg were born eight years and 1,000 miles apart.” She then proceeds to tell how at various stages of growing up they came –unbeknownst to the other—a little closer and a little closer.
As boys, both men had an aptitude for sports but their lives were more intertwined that they realized. Jackie Robinson was the first Negro player in the major leagues, a role that won him as much reproach as fame. There’s no doubt that Jackie’s rookie year was hard, very hard. What is however, not as well remembered today, is the story of Hank Greenberg, one of the first Jewish professional baseball stars. His road to becoming “Hammerin’ Hank” was almost as rocky as Robinson’s. They knew each other’s pain. Both men were class acts on the field and off. Ms. Fishman tells how Jackie Robinson said as much about Hank Greenberg when he told a New York Times reporter, “Class tells. It sticks out all over Mr. Greenberg.” Jackie Robinson and Hank Green berg were two men, different yet alike in many ways, brought together by sports but held together in friendship and respect by an even greater game, the game of life, a game at which both of them excelled. Posted by: Eileen
Lillian lives a contented life with Aunt, deep in the forest, on a farm with chickens, cats, a cow, and the Apple Tree Man, and where Lillian has always hoped to see fairies. Her life is unexceptional–though full of delight–until a day when she is bitten by a snake in the forest. Almost dead, she is saved by the forest cats, who change her into a kitten! Lillian has always wanted to see magic, but she would rather not be a cat, especially since there’s no way for her to tell Aunt what has happened. Lillian embarks on an unbelieveable adventure, involving talking foxes, a possum witch, Lillian’s old friends the Creek boys and their frightening Aunt Nancy, spiders, bear people, and even the Father of Cats.
The story is a compelling one, but the reason the book reaches towards exceptionality is in the marriage of the text and the magical illustrations (by Charles Vess). A hundred years ago, even novels for adults could be heavily illustrated, but over the years, we’ve begun to think of pictures in books as first, ‘just for kids’, and later ‘just for babies’. This book appears to be part of a vanguard of heavily-illustrated novels proving that we can have a thought-provoking, in-depth, novel-length story with illustrations on nearly every page. Unlike those in the works of the more famous Brian Selznik, the illustrations here do not move the story along on their own, but they illuminate it perfectly, bringing characters further to life, and adding a tingle of the unearthly to all the magical elements. Highly recommended for those who like real-world-rooted fantasy, folk-tales, and animal stories.
Posted by: Sarah
This month, Sarah shares Dance by Lorrie Mack, a great introduction to whatever kind of dance you might be interested in!
Although it might not feel like it, spring is here. One of my favorite springtime stories to share is Fran’s Flower. In this story, a little girl finds a plant and decides she wants to make it grow. Unfortunately, she decides it needs food and feeds it a piece of cheeseburger, some spaghetti, ice cream and even a chocolate chip cookie. Of course, this doesn’t help the plant grow and fed up with the flower she throws it out the door. Once outside, the flower gets all the things it needs, and it grows! The colorful illustrations add to the fun. Before you start planting, share this one along with The Carrot Seed by Krauss.
Posted by: Liz
Peace, by artist Wendy Anderson Halperin is a visual and poetic meditation on the subject of peace. The book is dedicated to our senses, and that dedication sets the tone for the book – peace is real, and it can be sensed with our whole bodies and expressed with our words, actions, and thoughts. There is a very short text which can be read aloud, along with quotes from famous peacemakers spread throughout, and panels of illustrations depicting scenes of peace.
Halperin chooses quotes from people like Mother Teresa, Albert Einstein, Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, and Anne Frank. I like that many of the quotes focused on the small ways we can work toward peace: “When people talk, listen completely” (Ernest Hemingway); and “Friendship is the only cure for hatred, the only guarantee of peace” (Buddha). The many illustrations, too, while wide in scope (they depict children and nature around the world), also depict small scenes of peace. Some of the images contrast to illustrate the concept. For example, one scene shows a grandmother washing dishes while her granddaughter lounges on the couch. A few pages later, we see the same grandmother washing the dishes with her granddaughter at her side helping her. Another scene depicts an elderly man boarding a bus as everyone continues to read their paper. Later on in the book, we see that a child has risen from his seat and offered it to the man. We also see children reading in tree houses, planting vegetables, sharing meals with their families, and quietly observing a heron.
The book is one to read and look at over and over again. It may spark discussions about kindness, friendship, stewardship of the earth, and about standing against all those things that destroy peace – like anger, apathy, ignorance, and jealousy. I can see this making a soothing bedtime book for all ages, and while it would be difficult to read the book aloud to a classroom (too many small details), it would make a good book for small groups to read and discuss in the classroom.
Posted by: Parry
When you find a best friend, you want to hold on to him! And anyway, life is sooo… much better with a friend – you can play together and swim together, swimming over and under and all around. Such is the life of two happy friends, Nugget a minnow, and Fang a shark, until Nugget goes off to school. Then, everything is different for Fang and Nugget. At school, Nugget learns lots of new things about the world and his place in it, including the unsettling fact that sharks EAT minnows!!! Nugget cannot believe this and tries to convince his schoolmates that his friend Fang could never hurt anyone.
Eventually though, Nugget does start to believe the rumors and reluctantly lets go of his friendship with Fang. Of course Fang is lost without his best friend and tries everything he can think of to win his friend back. Sadly though, nothing works, until a giant net captures Nugget and the other little fish, and Fang must come to their rescue. In the end, everyone lets go of their old ideas about their shark friend, and the ELEVEN friends live happily ever after, swimming over and under and all around. This book would make a good read-aloud, and there are some wonderful lessons to be learned as well. The illustrations are very colorful and appealing. Really fun!
Posted by: Mary
Mixed up alphabet books are not hard to find in the picture book section, and for good reason. They offer children who have mastered linear alphabet stories but are still learning to decode letters and learn letter sounds a unique way to do that. When done well, mixed up alphabet books are delightful for older preschoolers and their caregivers and offer lots of zany, educational fun.
A is for Musk Ox is one such mixed up alphabet book. Told as a dialogue between a musk ox who is tired of only being featured on one page of the alphabet book and his zebra friend who would really prefer the alphabet remain orderly. The musk ox, who we learn on the “J” page is named Joseph starts by eating the apple on the “A” page and replacing it with himself because musk oxen are”awesome” after all. The musk ox barges his way through the alphabet with corrective tape covering babies, clowns and more so that he is prominently featured on each page while the zebra tries in vain to stop him. The collage style illustrations are bold and full of whimsy and offer so much detail that children will love looking through this book over and over again. As an added bonus, the musk ox’s self-centered mission allows readers to learn all about the animal. This would be an excellent choice for children in later preschool all the way through older elementary school.
Posted by: Kelly
Sam and Morgan are best friends. Strike that – Sam and Morgan used to be best friends. Now Morgan has declared that he will be kicking Sam’s butt in exactly 33 minutes. How did these life-long friends come to this place? That’s exactly what Sam is trying to figure out in Todd Hasak-Lowy’s 33 Minutes. Told mostly through flashbacks from Sam’s point of view, Hasak-Lowy uses sharp wit to take a bit of the edge off the very real heartache that comes with growing up and growing apart, without sugar-coating the reality of this all-too-familiar situation.
Sam is incredibly bright, but not so popular. Morgan has become quite popular in junior high, but he’s never been the best student. As Morgan’s new friends begin taking up more of his time, Sam can’t help but feel left out and a bit jealous. Over the course of a few months, tensions build between the two best friends, and when everything comes to a head Sam is certain it must be Morgan’s fault. A little reflection over the course of the ever dwindling 33 minutes, however, sheds some light on the reality of Sam and Morgan’s situation, and Sam realizes that maybe he is not completely blameless himself.
In Sam Todd Hasak-Lowy has created a very real and very witty character. Sam’s clever observations will have readers laughing out loud but the humor does not take away from the painful reality of Sam’s situation. It is exactly this mixture of humor and reality that make this book an excellent choice for a book discussion group (particularly for boys) or for a 5th or 6th grade classroom read-aloud.
Posted by: Staci
National Geographic and J. Patrick Lewis work well together. In 2007 they released The Brother’s War: Civil War Voices in Verse. It was a solemn, evocative and gut churning collection that stays in my mind even today. But, could we expect less of the U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate? The answer, of course is no and to prove my point, NatGeo—as we hipsters refer to them—and Lewis have done it again.
The National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry is a treat. It’s more than a treat, it’s a triumph. The combination of stunning photos–as only Nat Geo can seems to be able to produce—and the writings of some of America’s best poets lights up the imagination and thrills the soul. It doesn’t hurt that a “parent /child” photo of a giraffes, one of my favorite animals, graces the cover. The book entices the reader with a subtitle that states, “200 poems with photographs that squeak, soar and ROAR!”
Mr. Lewis has chosen a wide variety authors who represent an even wider variety of styles—19th century, 20th century or 21st century; lighthearted, silly, or serious; rhyming verse, haiku or concrete poems. It’s all there, all carefully chosen by Mr. Lewis and all perfectly matched to the photography.
Don’t miss a chance to share these little gems with a favorite child or better yet, just curl up in a comfy spot and let yourself go wild among the animals.
Posted by: Eileen
Jasper is Star of the Week!! He has been waiting for that honor all school year and FINALLY it is his week. He has high hopes that his week will be simply awesome and he will be the best Star of the Week that his class has ever seen.
Day 1 is Show -and-Tell Day just for the Star of the Week, but, unfortunately things don’t go exactly as Jasper had hoped. First, Ori steals the limelight with the news of the arrival of his new baby sister and then the class is not at all impressed with Jasper’s very special show and tell.
Day 2 is Family Tree Day, which proves to be tricky for Jasper because his family is so small. He uses a tree branch for his display and rather than calling it his family tree, he names it his family stick. He puts on a leaf for every single family member he can think of, including a brother named Earl who doesn’t even exist.
Day 3 is Science Experiment Day, which Jasper totally forgets about because his focus is on producing the “pretend” brother who is on his family stick. He ends up constructing his brother, Earl, from wood and since it turns out that Earl has no heart (because he is made from wood), there is a vague science discussion. Jasper’s heartless brother also causes him trouble on the playground which results in a trip to the principal’s office.
Day 4 is Talent Day, which after an enormous drink of water from the water fountain, Jasper delights the class with water sloshing “music” from his tummy.
Day 5 is Special Snack and Compliment Day which turns out to be a great day for Jasper!
Not only does Jasper’s special week to be the class Star turn out to be highly amusing, but other quirky and humorous events are sprinkled in along the way. This new book series promises to be a hit with early readers!
Posted by: Wendy
Finally, after a long winter of dissatisfying-to-outright-bad novels, a DELIGHTFUL new fantasy has appeared!
Tom is used to living his ordinary (but happy) life with his parents, running their deli and hanging out with his friend Charlie. One day, though he awakens to a shocking discovery: his father is a fairy. A real, live, MAGICAL fairy. Which means that, he, Tom is a demisprite: demisprites are illegal, and the fairy authorities are trying to find Tom and his family to arrest and even execute them!
Tom’s father goes on the run, Tom’s mother is hidden somewhere (hilariously) magical, and Tom himself is spirited away by his surprisingly non-fairy-like godmother, Lorna Mustard, the owner of a scrapyard in Scotland. In the course of just a few days, Tom is introduced to his other (even more non-fairy-like) godmothers, his unexpected cousin Pindar, a number of revolutionary genies, and the hottest new fairy rock star (singer of the smash hit: Old Fairies Suck).
That might be enough to overwhelm an ordinary person, but Tom’s not ordinary (and neither are his friends) and he plans to rescue his family if it’s the last thing he does–even if it means that he has to completely change fairy society.
This book is a delightful romp full of truly original moments and laugh-out-loud characters, and it’s impossible to read it without a huge smile on one’s face. I enjoyed Kate Saunders’ last book, Beswitched, but I LOVED this one, and I hope all of you will, too.
Posted by: Sarah
Kelly shares a sweet–and true!–animal tale: Douwlina: A Rhino’s Story, by Grace Borgeson.
This month, Eileen shares the book Body Actions, by Shelley Rotner, a great choice for those days when it’s just beginning to be warm enough to get outside and move our bodies!
Marty McGuire’s 3rd grade class room is charged with a very important task: create a Save the Earth Project. Marty is inspired – she and her best friend Annie have long admired natural scientists Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey, and they often go into the woods behind Marty’s house and pretend to be studying gorillas and chimpanzees themselves. Now they have a chance to really make a difference!
With the help of Marty’s Grandma Barb the girls come up with an idea that will help reduce food waste at their school cafeteria: create a worm composting bin! Marty is very confident that their project will make an impact, and talks up the worms to her classmates so everyone is very excited to feed the worms all their crusts, green beans, and leftover bits of tuna fish sandwiches. But there’s a problem: the worms can only eat a little bit at a time; and certain foods, like meat or tuna fish, shouldn’t enter their habitat. Marty knows these things, but she also doesn’t want to let down her classmates, who are all clamoring for a chance to feed the worms. When Marty lets the worms’ habitat become inhospitable because she wants to please her classmates, the worms escape, and she is forced to reassess her plan. Marty and Annie come up with a solution to their worm problem, and ultimately their project is a success. Marty learns that change takes time, and that often you must be patient in order to see your ideas come to fruition. She also learns that taking responsibility for something takes planning, problem-solving, and courage.
Marty McGuire is an excellent book for kids transitioning into reading chapter books – the chapters are fairly short, and the book is dotted with black and white illustrations by Brian Floca which, with humor and expression, perfectly capture the different characters of the book. Marty McGuire Digs Worms! is an amusing and realistic look at the world of a 3rd grade classroom – Marty is a likable character, as are her patient teacher Mrs. Aloi, wacky Grandma Barb, and her loyal friend Annie. This would make a great read-aloud for a classroom – just in time for Earth Day! It can be read as the sequel to Messner’s book Marty McGuire, but it also stands on its own.
Posted by: Parry
This month, Kelly shares a new favorite: Emma Dilemma: Big Sister Poems by Kristine O’Connell George.
Willie’s mom needs to go out, and Willie needs a babysitter. Who’s coming to watch him? Uncle Bill! Uncle Bill (who has spiky hair and dances while he makes lunch) is a bit crazy, but Willie (in his checked pants and big stripey shirt) is more than a match for him. As their names suggest, these two are kindred spirits, in spite of their difference in age.
Want to cover up the results of a bad scissors experiment? Need a co-chef to create the latest version of Icky Stew? Interested in a sneaky, musical, nighttime excursion? Uncle Bill is your man (and Willie is his able sidekick).
Amy Schwartz has created an adorable little book about every child’s dream babysitter (and dream relative!), and her delightful illustrations enhance the text perfectly.
Posted by: Sarah
To be honest, it was the colorful cover depicting a cute little green crocodile carrying an oversized flowery change purse that first caught my eye. Upon further inspection, it was the delightful illustrations within Little Croc’s Purse, as well as the story itself, that continued to keep me smiling.
What would you do if you found someone’s purse and it was full of money? Would you keep the money to buy yourself something special? Would you share some of the money with your friends? Would you give the money to someone needy? Would you turn the purse over to police who could hopefully track down its owner?
Little Croc has found a purse full of money and is faced with the dilemma of what to do. His friends (as well as the local bully) try to convince him of how he should best use his sudden windfall. But he knows what the right thing to do is and his conscience guides him in making his decision to turn the purse over to the police. When the owner is found, she is so happy to find her most precious treasure hidden inside the lining of her purse that she gives Little Croc a generous reward. Little Croc is gobsmacked at her generosity. What he does next is just perfect.
What a sweet treasure to discover hidden within the “lining” of this book. Honesty, sharing and giving – we all sometimes can use a reminder about these values.
Posted by: Wendy
Sometimes your bad reputation precedes you, and it doesn’t matter what you do – you will be the one to get in trouble every time! That is exactly what happens in Here Comes Trouble! Our main character, Toby the dog, does not like cats – not slinky cats or spunky cats or snooty cats or snobby cats – not ANY cats. He thinks cats can just do whatever they want and NEVER get in trouble, including the cat who lives next door. Toby on the other hand gets into plenty of trouble and always seem be getting caught.
When the neighbor cat Pandora comes to stay and everyone thinks she is simply perfect, Toby knows better. He sees when she scratches up the sofa, and when she claws the curtains, and when she leaps up on the kitchen counter and samples the cake and simply prances off licking her whiskers. The trouble is, no one else ever notices, and so when Pandora gets herself into real trouble by climbing up a tree and getting stuck, Toby is the only one who can come to her rescue. He tries to bark to tell someone, but they just tell him to be quiet; he tries to run circles around the tree to get them to notice, but they just tell him to slow down. Finally Toby must use his muddy paws to write the message “CAT IN TREE”, which finally brings help running. In the end, Toby and Pandora find a way to be friends, and to get into trouble TOGETHER, which is always much more fun. This is a very fun read!
Posted by: Mary
At the time of this writing, I am the proud new mother of a two week old boy. As a Librarian and lover of children’s literature, one of the things I most looked forward to when becoming a parent was reading to my child. Now, those who have experienced a two week old probably are aware that their eye sight is not completely developed and many babies find too much talking and interacting overwhelming; my baby certainly does. But, as I know from my education, it is never too early to start introducing books to children. When we share books, my baby seems to be able to look at one page and then needs to look away. However, there is one book in our library that engaged him even in his first week and that is Deborah Donenfeld’s Baby A B C.
This board book features crisp black and white photos of babies coupled with a primary colored letter and an object that starts with that letter. The primarily black and white photos with strong focus on the babies’ faces coupled with pops of color are the perfect combination for an infant’s developing eye sight. This book, while very simplistic, is a strong choice to share during the first two years of a child’s life. The babies featured in the book are adorable and children and parents alike will enjoy looking at them many times. The letters are presented clearly and perfect for children learning to recognize print. And for older toddlers, the objects featured on each page are ideal pairs for teaching initial sounds.
Posted by: Kelly
Little dragon is one amazing fire breather until one day, during a particularly splash-filled bath, he accidentally douses his spark. When his flame goes out, Little Dragon fears that his mother will no longer love him, so he does what any resourceful dragon would do and tries to reignite that spark through various warming methods including rubbing his belly, putting on lots of warm clothes, and eating super-hot peppers. Nothing seems to work, however, and Little Dragon has no choice but to tell his mother what has happened. Little Dragon is relieved to find that his mother still loves him even without his flame. Then, to his surprise, he notices something warm in his belly. Could it be that his mother’s love has reignited the spark?
This adorable tale of unconditional love is told through bold yet simple illustrations of a bright blue Little Dragon set against a black and white background. Realistic images of Little Dragon’s flame, chili peppers, and a few other items are sprinkled throughout, adding a lively contrast to the charming dragon. Little Dragon’s exuberance and silliness provide balance and freshness for the familiar subject matter of motherly love, making this a fun read-aloud for parents of children in preschool through second grade.
Posted by: Staci
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A young penguin discovers a cold pinecone and knits him a scarf. Even though he loves his new friend, he returns it to the forest where he belongs. He tells the pinecone that he will always be in his heart. Penguin continues to think about the pinecone and wonder if he has grown big and strong. He eventually returns to visit it. When he does, he discovers that his pinecone is still wearing the scarf and has grown into a tree. This is a sweet story about love and caring for others.
Posted by: Liz