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1. Revisiting the Kingdom of Silk

Every evening for the past couple of weeks I’ve had an appointment in the Kingdom of Silk.

The Kingdom of Silk is a small patch of ground on the outskirts of a small Australian town. It’s remarkable for the wealth of love and creativity, the depth of compassion and brightness of sincerity you can find there. It’s a place full of peals of laughter, although visiting it is also known to squeeze gentle tears from your heart.

This magical location may sound vaguely familiar to you: It’s the setting of a series of short novels by Glenda Millard, the first of which I reviewed earlier this year. It’s not often I return to the same book on my blog (indeed re-reading more generally is something I rarely do, knowing that time is always too short and the worlds to be explored between the pages of a book are ever expanding) but back in February when I first entreated you to find a copy of The Naming of Tishkin Silk, I had only shared one of the series with my children, and I was curious to witness how they would take to the honest, unpatronising, sometimes heartbreaking exploration of emotionally complex issues that continues across the entire series of Kingdom of Silk books. After all, fostering, dementia, refugees and world peace are not your everyday, run-of-the-mill themes for books for children.

kingdomofsilk

These books (illustrated by Caroline Magerl and Stephen Michael King) have been our end-of-day bedtime delight for about a month now. I’ve been reading them to both M (10) and J (7) at the same time. We’re almost finished The Tender Moments of Saffron Silk, and September, when the last book in the series (Nell’s Festival of Crisp Winter Glories) is due to be published, now seems unbearably far away.

I’m sharing all this with you because these evening visits to the Kingdom of Silk have been so quietly beautiful as a shared family reading experience that I’d love for you to be able to experience them too. Sharing the stories of the Silk family and how they face up to the challenges family life throws at them and seeing how they respond generously and kindly to problems faced by people they love has brought so many “tender moments” to our own family. It’s brought magic into our lives as the stories have made us see creative, enchanted opportunities where we didn’t see any before. This magic is pin perfectly described in Plum Puddings and Paper Moons, the 5th book in the series:

‘We’re all born with magic in us,’ she said. ‘A child’s magic is so powerful it sometimes rubs off on grown-up people. When that happens, they rediscover their own leftover magic and all kinds of remarkable things happen. Their limpy legs grow stronger and they don’t need as many naps. The words of long-forgotten songs and stories come back into their heads. Sometimes they compose completely new tunes and whistle them on red buses in the mornings when they’re going to the library to borrow books about interesting topics like magic puddings or very hungry caterpillars. And on cold, dark, dismal days they see fired-breathing dragons and knights in shining armour, where once they saw only clouds. People like this laugh loudly and often, and they smile more, because they’ve discovered the marvellous secret that leftover magic is a cure for gloominess and loneliness[.]”

The Silk Family have a wonderful institution: The OCCASION Breakfast. Each Saturday morning, a member of the family prepares a themed breakfast over which everyone lingers. This weekend M and J insisted on our first OCCASION Breakfast, which they themed around the colours of orange, yellow and red, honouring the Silk children Amber, Scarlet and Saffron.

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breakfast3

Breakfast isn’t the only time food brings people together causing outbreaks of smiles and laughter. Cakes feature in every volume of the Kingdom of Silk. There’s a lovely passage (also in Plum Puddings and Paper Moons) about how the gift of a cake can quietly speak volumes. Ever so keen to try out the recipe for Amber’s Armenian Love Cake which Millard supplies, we’ve been baking them, gobbling them and giving them to friends.

Amber's Armenian Love Cakes - wonderfully nutmeg-y light cakes with a biscuity base

Amber’s Armenian Love Cakes – wonderfully nutmeg-y light cakes with a biscuity base

Whilst I love cakes, if I had to choose between them and books, I’d have to forgo the sweet treats. And why? This short passage, from the sixth book in the series, The Tender Moments of Saffron Silk, nails it:

On the bottom tier was a small cut-glass dish of sugar-coated aniseed rings, a plate of pink jelly cakes and a tattered copy of Anne of Green Gables.

It was Nell’s book. She’d had it since she was a young girl and had learnt a lot about being a better person by reading it, even though it was a mostly made-up story. From the moment her daughters were born, Nell read to them. it didn’t matter that they didn’t understand the words. books are many things: lullabies for the wary, ointment for the wounded, armour for the fearful and nests for those in need of a home.”

The Kingdom of Silk books are music to entrance and transport you, balm for bruised souls, practical tools for fostering empathy, and the most comforting, comfortable refuge at the ends of busy days. Lots of books come to life in our home but having seen how my daughters have taken these stories deep into their hearts and lives, their play and conversation, I wouldn’t be surprised if in forty years time it is these ones which my children remember most happily when asked to think of their favourite books of all time.

4 Comments on Revisiting the Kingdom of Silk, last added: 5/19/2015
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2. #691 – FRED by Kaila Eunhye Seo and TWO–2–GIVEAWAYS!

CBW-email-childrens_2015

 

Welcome to TGIF

Thank Goodness It’s FRED!
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FRED

Written by Kaila Eunhye Seotop book of 2015 general
Illustrated by Kaila Eunhye Seo
Peter Pauper Press          5/01/20`15
978-1-4413-1731-5
40 pages                Age 4—8
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“Fred’s world is filled with fantastical friends that make
his days so much fun he hardly notices that no one else can see them. But one day Fred goes off to school, and things start to change. As Fred grows up, his childhood friends slowly fade away and seem to disappear, taking some of life’s sparkle with them. But a chance meeting with a special young girl reminds Fred—and readers young and old alike—that magic and wonder never really disappear . . . they live forever in our hearts.” [book jacket]

Review
Fred’s imaginary friends have the people in his small town thinking he is different—a polite way of saying the boy is odd. Fred has the ability to see and hear things other people cannot. Fred also believes in things the other townsfolk either cannot, or simply will not, believe. Despite the townsfolk’s’ inability to see, hear, or care about Fred’s creatures, the creatures cared about the townsfolk.

“Sometimes they acted like the wind and moved branches out of the way for people.
And sometimes they acted like shade and kept people cool on hot summer days”

What is Fred seeing and hearing that make the others consider the young boy an oddity? Fred sees creatures . . . imaginary creatures . . . imaginary friends. He never cares about making other friends—he already has the best friends a young boy could hope to have.

PPP - Fredstreet

When the day arrives for Fred to begin school, he makes new friends . . . real, alive friends. His imaginary friends wait, no longer part of Fred’s day. One day becomes two, then three, and each school year blends into the next. One-by-one the creatures Fred adored disappear, losing their color, and fading into the background.  By the time he reaches adulthood, all the imaginary creatures are lost from Fred’s memory.

The real world takes too much of Fred’s attention and time. Fred’s days run together as he does the same things day after day. This monotony leaves Fred feeling empty, friendless, and all alone, even in the park where he played so joyfully with . . . with . . . he doesn’t remember with whom he played with, or even what his playmates look liked. Where did his childhood friends go?

looking in on school

FRED will have you wondering when your imaginary friends left you. When these old friends leave, they take with them a very precious commodity: your imagination. Can you imagine doing anything other than your daily routine? Not just a dream vacation, but something that will cheer you up, daily make you implausibly happy, and has the synapses on the right-side of your brain sizzling with ideas, as they jump from neuron to neuron. Neither can Fred, poor guy. Then he gets lucky. A small child comes to the park while Fred sits reading—always a delightful detail in a children’s book. The young girl, with a pocket full of lollipops, asks Fred if he and his friends would like a lollipop. His friends anxiously watch Fred, who says,

“Excuse me?”

Someone can see his friends. They are all still with him. A synapse POPS! Another SIZZLES! Fred’s heart no longer feels weighed down, and instead, he feels free. Fred’s imaginary friends—and his imagination—return. Adult Fred finally realizes he . . . wait, I cannot tell you what Fred realized. Fred would like to tell you himself. This is his story. FRED surprised me, in a very wonderful way. Imagination, and the magical journeys it can create, is not the sole domain of childhood, but we tell ourselves there is no time for such “silliness,” yet without retaining our child-like selves, we lose much of our creativity.

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I love Ms. Seo’s direct lines in the pen and ink illustrations. Each spread overflows with artistic detail and the color remains only with the story and its characters. I think Ms. Seo’s attention to detail and using color to focus readers’ eyes on the story shows she cares about making a terrific sensory experience for children. The monsters are hilarious and kid-friendly. Not one creature will cause nightmares, as none is even a wee-bit scary. They walk among the unsuspecting—and unbelieving—in town without any commotion. I do wonder how the non-believers (who possess little to no imagination), would think if they saw what Fred could see. The story and all the eye-catching illustrations are a definite sign that this debut author/illustrator has not lost her childhood imagination, inspiration, or her imaginary friends.

FRED. Text copyright © 2015 by Kaila Eunhye Seo. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Kaila Eunhye Seo. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Peter Pauper Press, White Plains, NY.

Purchase FRED at AmazonBook DepositoryPeter Pauper Press.

Learn more about FRED HERE.

TEACHERS:  Common Core Teaching Guide for FRED.

Meet the author/illustrator, Kaila Eunhye Seo, at her website:  http://www.eunhyeseo.com/
Find more picture books at the Peter Pauper Press website:  http://www.peterpauper.com/

**NOTE: Through the month of May, 20% off at Peter Pauper Press. Use Code: MAY 20

Review Section: word count = 663

Huntington Press Best Picture Books 2015

Copyright © 2015 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews. All Rights Reserved

FRED  FTC   correct box

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MEGA FRED FRIDAY GIVEAWAY from May 1st – May 29th
Set of all TEN of our Critically Acclaimed Picture Books

For a Chance to WIN Click the Rafflecopter Link Below

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Fred by Kaila Eunhye Seo

An EARLY COPY of

All the Lost Things by Kelly Canby,

All the Lost Things by Kelly Canby

elephantastic

Elephantastic by Michael Engler

THE ZOO IS CLOSED TODAY!

The Zoo Is Closed Today! by Evelyn Beilenson

SIMPSON'S SHEEP WON'T GO TO SLEEP!

Simpson’s Sheep Won’t Go to Sleep! by Bruce Arant

HANK FINDS AN EGG

Hank Finds an Egg by Rebecca Dudley

HANK HAS A DREAM

Hank Has a Dream by Rebecca Dudley

CELIA

Celia by Cristelle Vallat

Not the Quitting Kind

Not the Quitting Kind by Sarra J. Roth

DIGBY DIFFERS

Digby Differs by Miriam Koch!

For a Chance to WIN Click the Rafflecopter Link Below

Rafflecopter Giveaway

fred link 4

    WAIT . . . THERE’S MORE!

Kid Lit Reviews is giving away ONE copy of FRED 

To ENTER Just Leave a COMMENT Below


Filed under: 6 Stars TOP BOOK, Books for Boys, Children's Books, Debut Author, Debut Illustrator, Favorites, Library Donated Books, Picture Book, Top 10 of 2015 Tagged: adult picture books, creativity, FRED, FRED by Kaila Eunhye Seo, friendship, imaginary friends, imagination, Kaila Eunhye Seo, loneliness, losing child-like qualities, Peter Pauper Press

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3. throwback to last week....

"pocket protector"
©the enchanted easel 2015
8x10 acrylic on canvas
and these two!

this commission, which i appropriately titled "pocket protector" (for obvious reasons) is NOW AVAILABLE AS A PRINT (and can be found on some other goodies....) through the shop links found HERE!

if you would like something custom created for that special child in your life, please email me here and i will surely accommodate you. 

{...'cause every little boy needs a good "pocket protector";) }

0 Comments on throwback to last week.... as of 5/7/2015 10:53:00 PM
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4. Space Dog by Mini Grey: Out of this world playfulness!

spacedogcoverOut in the depths of the Spooniverse Space Dog is getting read to return home following a long mission sorting out planetary problems in the Dairy Quadrant. Just as he starts to unwind a distress call comes through on his Laser Display Screen. Without a moment’s hesitation our super hero, Space Dog, jumps to and rescues the occupant of a flying saucer drowning in an thick ocean of cream on a nearby planet. But what’s this?

It turns out he’s saved his sworn enemy: Astrocat.

Uh-Oh.

Will they be able to put aside their differences as another cry for help comes in over the space ship tannoy? Will teamwork triumph as they face terror together?

Space Dog by Mini Grey is an anarchic, adrenalin-packed adventure of The Highest Order. Utterly and joyously playful, wildly and lavishly imaginative, this dynamic and delightful journey exploring space and friendship is sublime.

Grey’s witty language, from the hilarious exclamations made by Space Dog (“Thundering milkswamps!”, “Shivering Stilton!”) to the deliciously outlandish names of rare alien life forms (the Cruets of West Cutlery, the Fruitons of Crumble Major) has had us all giggling time and again, even on the 15th reading of Space Dog. Her pacing is timed to perfection, with dramatic stretches interspersed with moments of great relief and humour, drawing readers, listeners, grown-ups, children ever more closely in to Grey’s fantastic, phenomenal universe Spooniverse.

spacedoginsid0

Grey’s illustrations are equally packed with panache. From the detailing given to brand labels and packaging (whether on space food or game boxes) to her powerful use of suggestion (look out for what is almost missing off the page on the spread immediately before Space Dog and Astrocat land on Cheesoid 12, or the shadow redolent with threat as they turn to leave the Cheesy planet), Grey’s illustrations richly illuminate the world she has built to share with us, giving enormous pleasure every time they are returned to.

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Although there are echoes of super hero comic strips and silent movies with their intertitles, dramatic soundtracks and expressive emotions theatrically mimed, Mini Grey’s visual and verbal style is truly unique. Spirited and inventive, Space Dog is an outstanding book and fortunately you can find it right here right now in our very own universe.

spacedoginsid3

Every single page turn of Space Dog was met with “Mummy, can we do that??!!”, whether it was making a planet out of cereal packets, coming up with a recipe for supper based on the Spaghetti Entity in the Pastaroid Belt, designing our own version of Dogopoly, rustling up Astrocat’s cake, making spewing tomato ketchup volcanoes, or playing with fondue. In the end we settled for making spaceships for the characters in the book, and flying them over our patio.

spaceships1

Using this fantastic tutorial from one of my favourite library blogs as a starting point, we created spaceships using paperplates, plastic cups and stickers. Where Pop Goes the Page used toilet cardboard rolls, we used yoghurt pots instead, and aliens were replaced by Space Dog and other astonauts cut out from print-offs of these drawing pages created by Mini Grey.

spaceships2

We dressed up as astronauts ourselves, making space suits from disposable painting overalls, decorated with electrical tape and completed with control panels from cardboard.

spaceships4

Once appropriately attired we were ready to launch our space ships. Unlike Pop Goes the Page we used nylon bead thread rather than wire to make a zip line, partly because this is what we had to hand, but also because it’s extremely smooth and there are no issues with kinking. One end was tied to the bathroom window, the other to the end of the washing line in the garden.

spaceships3

Soon spaceships were zooming all over our patio…

Later we turned our hand to making hats for a fruit and vegetable parade, inspired by the hat competition which Space Dog has to judge:

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We used origami hat tutorials to come up with these millinery masterpieces, including this army cap and samurai helmet with plenty more hat ideas here.

Whilst making our spaceships and competition-winning hats we listened to:

  • The bilingual song Los Planetas by Nathalia
  • Cheese Please by Chris Stapleton – essential listening for any cheese lover :-)
  • Sputniks and Mutniks by Ray Anderson & The Home Folks. I discovered this thanks to this interesting NPR article, Sputniks in Space.

    Other activities you could try inspired by Space Dog include:

  • Making space ships big enough for kids (and their grownups?) to fit in. A large cardboard box, a roll of tin foil and some plastic lids or moulded plastic from biscuit boxes is all you need to get you started. (Here’s one we made earlier).
  • Playing with your food. Mini is just so inventive when it comes to playing with food, but if you want even more ideas, you could take a look at Carl Warner’s A World of Food or The Art of Clean Up by Ursus Wehrli. Both of these books are massive hits with my kids.
  • Reading the extraordinary graphic novel Laika by Nick Abadzis. This is more for us grown ups than the kids (though my 10 year old has read it) but I can’t resist recommending it whilst I’ve got a chance.
  • Would you like to go into space if you had the chance?

    Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of Space Dog by the book’s publisher.

    2 Comments on Space Dog by Mini Grey: Out of this world playfulness!, last added: 5/7/2015
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    5. Image Reveal: BUTTERFLY PARK by Award-Winning Author/Illustrator Elly MacKay and GIVEAWAY!

    CBW-email-childrens_2015

    Coming May 26th, from Running Press Kids:
    Butterfly Park
    by Award-Winning Author/Illustrator Elly MacKay

    Running Press Kids is teaming up with select blogs to promote a very special picture book artist, Elly MacKay. Elly MacKay creates paper worlds inside a miniature lightbox theater, and turns those worlds into picture books. The images in her upcoming picture book, BUTTERFLY PARK, are nothing short of breathtaking. Let others know about Elly MacKay and her tour @Twitter: #ButterflyTrail

    9780762453399

    “Once there was a girl who loved butterflies. And when she moved to a new town, she felt lucky to find a place nearby called Butterfly Park! But when she opened the gate, there were no butterflies to be found.

    “The girl tried to catch some butterflies and asked neighborhood children to help bring them to Butterfly Park. But to their disappointment, the butterflies didn’t stay. As the entire town got involved, they finally realized what they needed to do. Together, the girl and her community planted flowers in Butterfly Park, and in time, the butterflies came.” [publisher]

    Running Press Kids has put together a special illustration tour, each Tuesday, leading up to the late May release date of Butterfly Park. Why an illustration tour, and not a “normal” book tour? MacKay used her acclaimed paper-cut artwork, giving each spread a 3-dimensional look. While knocking on neighbors’ doors, looking for help, the kids look like they could dance right off the page. Paper-cut art must be a tedious labor of love. The result is a magnificent picture book, with a final 4-page spread worthy of framing. The book jacket is also a poster of flowers that entice butterflies. To WIN YOUR OWN COPY of Butterfly Park, all it takes is a comment. Winner announced on Monday, May 11th.

    Well, this is an image reveal, so here it is, the left half of spread number ten:

     

    It took them up and down through the town. Curiosity grew. Windows and doors began to open.

    It took them up and down through the town.
    Curiosity grew. Windows and doors began to open.

    “Centered on the park’s elaborate art nouveau gateway, MacKay’s lyrical paper collage and diorama constructs feature layered details and out-of-focus backgrounds for a sense of depth. Brightly patterned butterflies, delicate flowers, and human figures pose like gracefully off-balance dancers…. Worthy of theme and equally pleasing to the eye and the spirit.”
    ~~Kirkus Reviews

    “MacKay’s artwork recreates the feel and pleasure of Edwardian-era illustration, and lovers of picture book fantasy will embrace it.”
    ~~Publishers Weekly

    Butterfly Park
    Written and Illustrated by Elly MacKay
    Published by Running Press Kids
    978-0-7624-5339-9
    May 26, 2015
    38 pages             Age 3 +

    Also by Elly MacKay

    If You Hold a Seed

    If You Hold a Seed

    Shadow Chasers

    Shadow Chasers

    ..

    ..

    ..

    ..

    ..

    ..AWARDS

    If You Hold a Seed

    2014 Blue Spruce™ Award Nominee – Ontario Library Association
    2013 Best Bets Top 10 Picture Books – Ontario Library Association
    2013 Best Books List (preschool—early elementary) – Atlanta Parent Magazine

    Shadow Chasers

    2014 Best Books of the Year (children—teens) – Amazon Canada

    About Elly MacKay
    Elly MacKay is the author and illustrator of If You Hold a Seed and Shadow Chasers. She attends Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and now her artwork is sold around the world, including her Etsy.com shop, Theater Clouds.

    Website: http://ellymackay.com
    Facebook: http://facebook.com/theaterclouds
    Twitter: @TheaterClouds

    Here is the schedule for Ms. MacKay’s tour:

    Butterfly Trail Blog Tour Page

    4/07  The Unconventional Librarian  http://bit.ly/TheUnconventionalLibrarian

    4/14  The Geo Librarian   http://bit.ly/TheGeoLibrarian

    4/21  Mom Read It   http://bit.ly/MomReadIt

    4/28  Mother Daughter Book Reviews  http://bit.ly/MotherDaughterBookReviews

    5/05  Kid Lit Reviews   ♥ YOU ARE HERE

    5/12  Unleashing Readers     http://bit.ly/UnleashingReaders

    5/19  The Childrens Book Review  http://bit.ly/TheChildrensBookReview

    5/26  RELEASE DAY!  Click to purchase Butterfly Park early 

     

    Pass this post on. Help Award-Winning-Author Elly MacKay get the word out about Butterfly Park:  TWEET:  #ButterflyTrail

     

     

    Running Press is a member of the Perseus Books Group.

     

    Twitter:  @rp_kids


    Filed under: Book Blast, Children's Books, Contests-Giveaways, Illustrator Spotlight, Picture Book Tagged: adjusting to a move, butterflies, Butterfly Park, community, flowers, friendship, Perseus Books Group, Rlly MacKay, Running Press Kids

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    6. Doodles and Drafts – Getting silly with Gregg Dreise

    As one strolls about this wondrous planet, one encounters a variety of individuals who may astound, influence, enrich, or even, deplete you. Not everyone we meet ends up a friend. Life is often an ongoing cycle of trials and consequences. How we survive and interpret the progression of life builds character and shapes us as […]

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    7. Gone-Away Lake (1957)

    Gone Away Lake. Elizabeth Enright. 1957. 256 pages. [Source: Library]

    I enjoyed reading Elizabeth Enright's Gone-Away Lake. I am so glad to be participating in the Newbery Through the Decades reading project. I've been motivated to read many books that I probably never would have read.

    Gone-Away Lake tells the summertime adventure of two cousins: Portia and Julian. Early on in the summer these two stumble upon a muddy, dried-up lake. They discover a "ghost town" of sorts--the remnants of a lake resort community. To their great surprise, they discover that it is not as abandoned as it first appeared. Two people still live there. A brother and sister. (They live in separate houses.) Her name is Mrs. Cheever. His name is Mr. Payton. The four become friends--good friends. There are thousands of stories to be shared. Much to explore. Much to do.

    I enjoyed this one very much. It's not an action-packed story (though it does have an intense scene or two--at least relatively speaking). It's definitely driven by the interesting characters. (Something I can definitely appreciate!)

    Have you read Gone-Away Lake? What did you think? How do you think it compares to Thimble Summer?

    © 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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    8. Graceful - a review

    When I reviewed The Last Present by Wendy Mass, I wrote the following:
    The Last Present is the final book in the Willow Falls (or "birthday") series, realistic fiction with just the right amount of magic, courtesy of Angelina, the mysterious old woman with the duck-shaped birthmark. Angelina is seemingly the architect of all that occurs in Willow Falls, the town where nothing happens by coincidence and everything happens for a reason. Readers of the series will delight in revisiting their favorite characters - Leo, Amanda, Tara, Rory, David and all rest, as their stories intertwine and the story of Angelina is finally revealed. ... I'm sad to see it come to an end. It's been great fun!
    Apparently, I wasn't the only one who was sorry to see the Willow Falls series come to an end. In the forward to Graceful (Scholastic, 2015), Wendy Mass writes that her readers let her know "IN NO UNCERTAIN TERMS" that they were not ready for the series to end.  Graceful (due out tomorrow) is a gift to her readers.

    I think fans of the series will be happy with Graceful, in which Grace fills in (somewhat unwittingly) for the mysterious Angelina as the architect of all that occurs in Willow Falls.  This is a series about friendship and family and the cosmic connectedness of all things. It can best be described as magical realism, and it is a series that should be read sequentially.  Mass does her best to catch the reader up with previous occurrences, but the series is so intricately plotted that it is difficult to skip a book or read them out of order.

    Willow Falls has been a great place to visit, but I think Ms. Mass is ready to move on now.  All of our questions have been answered and all loose ends are tied.  It's been fun!  Enjoy!

    The Willow Falls series by Wendy Mass


    My Advance Reader Copy was supplied by the publisher.

    0 Comments on Graceful - a review as of 4/27/2015 7:33:00 AM
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    9. An interview with the translator of Bronze and Sunflower by Cao Wenxuan

    Many of the best books take us into ourselves and outside into the world, facilitating journeys we might not otherwise have taken either in thought or reality. This sense of adventure and possibility is one of the reason’s why I’m so passionate about books in translation and why I was delighted to hear about the bestselling Chinese children’s novel Bronze and Sunflower (青铜葵花) by Cao Wenxuan hitting English-language bookshelves for the first time this year, thanks to its translation by Helen Wang.

    Cover art by Meilo So

    Cover art by Meilo So

    Sunflower and Bronze, two children who are isolated and lonely for different reasons befriend each other. Following the death of Sunflower’s father, Bronze’s family unofficially adopt Sunflower and the story then follows the two children’s friendship, adventures, and experiences living in a very poor but very happy and generous family. Although not without times of grief and real hardship, Bronze and Sunflower’s lives are full of so much loveliness, happiness and kindness that this book, this story came as a welcome breath of fresh air, full of hope and a reminder that warmth and generosity can make for powerful storytelling just as much as angst and dystopia.

    Although set in rural China during the Cultural Revolution Bronze and Sunflower has a timeless quality about it; yes, there are references to Cadre schools (a feature of the Cultural Revolution) but nevertheless it felt as if this story could have been set in almost any time period. It has a folktale-like quality in its focus on simple everyday events and challenges. The ingenuity of Bronze, the determination of his entire family to provide the best they can for Sunflower, and the fierce love between adoptive brother and sister are moving and enchanting.

    This exploration of aspects of every day simple life reminded me at times of the Laura Ingalls books in the best possible sense and thus I believe Bronze and Sunflower would make a great read aloud from around 6+, as well as being enjoyed by older independent readers. This quiet and gentle story woven through with thoughtfulness and bright love will stay with me for a long time.

    Captivated as I was by this Chinese novel, I took the opportunity to interview its translator, Helen Wang, about her work and – more broadly – Chinese children’s literature. First I asked about the process Helen goes through when translating a book, where she starts and what “tricks” or routines she makes use of.

    Helen Wang: This is only the second book I’ve translated, so I don’t really have any “tricks” or routines. It takes a few months to translate a novel, and it seems to take between one to two years for a translated book to appear in print. It’s quite a commitment for everyone involved. So I like to take some time at the beginning to read the book and play with it, and work out whether we’ll get along – a bit like browsing in a bookshop or a library. One publisher was very keen for me to translate a particular book, and was so anxious when I turned it down. She wanted to know what was wrong with the book! There was nothing with the book, it was just that I didn’t feel I was the right person to translate it. Actually, the experience reminded me a bit of Daniel Pennac’s book “The Rights of the Reader” (translated by Sarah Ardizzone).

    rightsofreaderpost

    Playing by the book: Yes, translators have rights too! How interesting that you felt your style or approach didn’t somehow match a given book. That makes me wonder…what were the most challenging aspects of translating Bronze and Sunflower?

    Helen Wang: When the editor at Walker Books sent me the Chinese edition of Bronze and Sunflower, I was staying with my mother and sister, and I would read a chapter at a time and then tell them what had happened. At first it seemed as though I was telling them about one brutal disaster or trauma after another, and it was not easy to show how the story would work in English. As the written translation progressed, it was lovely to see the human story coming to the fore.

    We often think about language and culture when translating, but the story-telling is just as important. Things like timing, tension, suspense, length, rhythm, humour and dialogue are crucial elements of a story. We learn these when we are very young, and we all know how little children will complain if you don’t tell the story properly. Chinese stories often provide more information, and more repetition, than the English reader is used to. It doesn’t mean that one style is better than another, but rather that we have different expectations and tolerances. For example, when Sherlock Holmes’ stories were first translated into Chinese, they were given spoiler-titles like “The Case of the Sapphire in the Belly of the Goose”. Part of the challenge of translating is working out the storytelling!

    Two Chinese language editions of Bronze and Sunflower

    Two Chinese language editions of Bronze and Sunflower

    Playing by the book: I find it really interesting that you talk about the impact of the disasters when you were first reading Bronze and Sunflower. Whilst there’s definitely hardship and trauma I didn’t find them overwhelming. What shone through was the compassion and thoughtful human relationships. There were whole stretches I wanted to underline! So tell me, what is your favourite passage in Bronze and Sunflower – your favourite bit of narrative?

    Helen Wang: I think one of my favourite lines in the whole book has to be in the last chapter, when the authorities come to talk to the head of the village about moving Sunflower back to the city. We’ve followed the family through all the hardships, and like the family and the villagers, we can’t bear the thought of the authorities taking her away. The head of the village, playing for time, sums up the situation so succinctly: “It’s difficult”. It’s perfect!

    Playing by the book: Ah yes, that’s a great scene. My personal favourite (without giving too much away) is the one which involves fireflies…. But now perhaps a much harder question: In what way is Bronze and Sunflower typical (or atypical) of 21st century Chinese children’s literature? I read recently that Chinese children’s literature tends to have what Westerners might call a strong Famous Five flavour, and that lots of what gets written would be considered a bit old fashioned for success in Western markets.

    Helen Wang: Well I’ve already mentioned the fact that in Chinese stories there can be a different tempo, tension or tolerance of certain linguistic devices such as repetition.

    I’ve heard English people say that Chinese children’s books can be overly moral or too didactic. And I’ve heard Chinese people complain that English stories lack firm morals and instruction! But these were adults talking, and it would useful to have some feedback from younger readers too!

    A Monster Magic title by Leon Image

    A Monster Magic title by Leon Image

    One way to get an idea of what’s popular in China now is to look at the list of the 30 bestselling children’s books. The last available list is for February 2015.

    By far the most popular children’s author at the moment is Leon Image (a pseudonym), who has ten books in the Top 30, and is one of the richest authors in China. Leon Image is the creator of the phenomenally successful Charlie IX series. Charlie IX is a dog with royal pedigree and superpowers, who, together with his schoolboy owner DoDoMo, goes on amazing fantasy adventures that involve working out clues along the way. The books come together with a magnifier, stickers and puzzles. The latest book is the series is no. 24: Charlie IX, Empty City at the End of the World, and there are currently eight books of this series in the top 30!

    Leon Image has also produced the very popular Monster Magic series, and two of these (nos 13 and 14) are in the top 30. I don’t think any of the Leon Image books have been translated into English. However, there are four authors on the list whose work has been translated into English fairly recently.

    The first in the Mo's Mischief series by Yang Hongying

    The first in the Mo’s Mischief series by Yang Hongying

    Yang Hongying is the creator of several very successful series. She started writing children’s books as a young primary school teacher in the 1980s, and after a few years left teaching to concentrate on writing. Her ‘Mo’s Mischief’ series is about a lively little boy, Mo, who keeps getting into trouble (some of these are available in English: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mo’s_Mischief). ‘The Diary of a Smiling Cat’ series follows the adventures of Mo’s cousin’s talking pet cat. ‘Girl’s Diary’ is about a girl in her last year at primary school.

    Shen Shixi is China’s “King of Animal Stories” and he has written lots of them! His current bestseller in China is ‘Wolf King Dream’. His book Jackal and Wolf is available in English (translated by me) – it’s about a jackal who raises an orphaned wolf cub and the hair-raising adventures they have hunting, surviving, finding mates, having cubs – with the added complications that wolves and jackals don’t get on, and that they have a mother-daughter relationship.

    Wu Meizhen is well-known for her Sunshine Sister series. She also wrote An Unusual Princess, which is available in English, translated by Petula Parris-Huang, and has a few twists in the tail.

    jackalprincess

    strawhousesCao Wenxuan is Professor of Chinese Literature at Peking University, and writes for both adults and children. He currently has two books in the top 30: Bronze and Sunflower, first published in 2005 and still one of the bestselling children’s books in China; and Straw Houses (tr Sylvia Yu et al). Both of these are available in English now, and I hear a third – Dawang Tome: The Amber Tiles (translated by Nicholas Richards, Better Chinese, California, 2015. ISBN 978-1-60603-707-2) – will be launched at Book Expo America 2015, in May, where China is the guest of honour this year.

    There are several commercial titles tied in with TV series, such as the Happy Lamb, Little Pig and Carrot Fantasy series. And there are six well-known translated titles on the list too: Totto-chan, Little Girl at the Window (Tetsuko Kuroyanagi), Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White), Pippi Longstocking (Astrid Lindgren), Fantastic Mr Fox (Roald Dahl), The Cricket in Times Square (George Selden) and Guess How Much I Love You? (Sam McBratney, Anita Jeram).

    If you want to read more you might enjoy the special issue of IBBY’s journal Bookbird devoted to Chinese children’s books, although it was published nearly 10 years ago in 2006, nearly 10 years ago! It’s time for a new one!

    There are also a couple of lists on Good Reads dedicated to Chinese children’s books / themes – Children’s Books about CHINA & Chinese Culture and Chinese Juvenile/Young Adults books.

    Some books I might highlight include:

  • White Horses by Yan Ge, translated by Nicky Harman. This is a Young Adult novella. Yan Ge’s a very observant young writer with a wicked sense of humour.
  • Black Flame by Gerelchimeg Blackcrane, translated by Anna Holmwood. This is an animal story about a Tibetan mastiff
  • Pai Hua Zi and the Clever Girl, a graphic novel by Zhang Xinxin which I’ve translated, about Zhang Xinxin’s childhood in Beijing in the 1960s on the eve of the Cultural Revolution.
  • Little White Duck – a Childhood in China by Na Liu and Andres Vera Martinez. This graphic novel is set in the 1970s.
  • A Chinese Life by Philippe Otie and Li Kunwu. This graphic novel is set in 1940s onwards, under Mao Zedong.
  • chinesebooks

    Playing by the book: It’s interesting to see what’s been translated and sells – both in terms of being translated from and into Chinese. What other Chinese children’s literature would you like to see available for English language audiences?

    Helen Wang:I’d like to see a wider range of titles that show us different aspects of the Chinese experience from a child’s point of view. How about a Chinese version of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid”? Something that tells us what it’s like being a child in China today?

    The Ventriloquist's Daughter by Man-chiu Lin

    The Ventriloquist’s Daughter by Man-chiu Lin

    From the list of bestsellers, you can see that there are school stories, animal stories, naughty boy stories, and stories about children having adventures, just like there are here in the UK. I’d like to see some more stories that are about what it’s like to be a young person growing up in China or in the Chinese diaspora. I recently read The Ventriloquist’s Daughter by Man-chiu Lin, which is a wonderful story of a young girl’s struggle to establish her own identity as she grows up – I think this would work very well in English. You can read a sample of this (translated by me) in the new Found in Translation Anthology here on pages 57-71.

    Playing by the book: Thank you so much Helen. My reading list has grown exponentially! I’m very grateful that you’ve shared your knowledge of Chinese children’s literature today, and I especially want to thank you for enabling – with your translation – the story Bronze and Sunflower to to find another fan, another home inside me and no doubt many other English language speakers and readers.

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    10. Won Ton and Chopstick – Perfect Picture Book Friday

    Title: Won Ton and Chopstick – A Cat and Dog tale Told in Haiku Written by: Lee Wardlaw Illustrated by: Eugene Yelchin Published by: Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 2015 Themes/Topics: cats, dogs, haiku, pets, friends Suitable for ages: 7-11 Hardcover, 40 pages Opening: It’s … Continue reading

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    11. Novels in Verse: my top ten + two more to read (ages 9-12)

    Novels in verse have particular power speaking to kids. Some really like the way that there are fewer words on the page. It can make reading them feel less overwhelming. Others like how much they can "read between the lines", letting their imaginations fill in the gaps. Others love the way these poets play with language.

    Today, I'd like to share my personal top ten favorites (in alphabetical order). I adore sharing these with students. But know that there are many others that my kids love. At the end, I'll share two books on my "to be read" (TBR) pile.

    Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson
    I have loved talking with my students about this book, how they can relate to Jackie's experiences, how they can see themselves in the book, how they can feel some of her own journey even if their experiences are different. Winner of the 2015 Coretta Scott King Award, the 2014 National Book Award, and the 2015 Newbery Honor.
    The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander
    You can read this incredible novel as a basketball story, as a family drama, or as a novel written with a modern ear using rhythms and rhymes infused with music and motion. It speaks to kids in all sorts of different ways. Winner of the 2015 Newbery Award, and the 2015 Coretta Scott King Honor.
    Heartbeat, by Sharon Creech
    In flowing free verse, Annie describes her love of running, the changes in her best friend Max, the birth of her baby brother and her grandfather's growing confusion and dementia. Annie's world feels as if it's unraveling with all this change. As she runs for the pure pleasure of running, thoughts and questions race through her mind.
    Love That Dog, by Sharon Creech
    Oh, how I love this book. We start with Jack, who's dreading writing his own poems, forced to keep a poetry journal for his teacher. But as we get to know Jack and as he gets to know different poems, we start to see a fuller picture of a boy, his dog and his feelings. Check out this terrific reader's theater through TeachingBooks, starring Sharon Creech, Walter Dead Myers, Avi and Sarah Weeks.
    The Red Pencil, by Andrea Davis Pinkney
    I was fascinated when I asked Andrea Davis Pinkney about why she chose to write this story in verse. She explained how she wanted to tell a story for elementary students about the Sudanese conflict, and she felt that a novel in verse would allow them more space. She was able to keep some of the more difficult scenes quite spare, so that students could infer the tragedies rather than be faced with the brutalities that her character experienced. My students continue recommending this to each other, talking about what a powerful story it is.
    Rhyme Schemer, by K.A. Holt
    Kids are attracted to Kevin's attitude and sass, but it's his journey that stays with them. Kevin is bullied by his older brother at home, but he then turns to bullying classmates at school. By taking pages torn from library books, he makes funny but oh-so-cruel found poems and tapes them up at school. When another student discovers Kevin's journal, he turns the tables and Kevin must find a way to make peace with his victim-turned-aggressor. This is a great choice for 5th and 6th graders who might have liked Love That Dog when they were younger.
    Serafina's Promise, by Ann E. Burg
    Our students were immediately drawn to Serafina and could connect with her situation, even though it was so different from their own. Serafina dreams of becoming a doctor, but she knows that she must go to school to reach her dream. This is no easy feat in modern rural Haiti. How can she do this when her mother needs her help at home, especially with a new baby on the way? Ann E. Burg writes in free verse poetry, conveying Serafina's struggles in sparse, effective language.
    The Way a Door Closes, by Hope Anita Smith
    This slim book reads almost like a short play in three acts. In the first 12 poems, CJ describes how he feels warm and content as part of his close-knit family. But then, everything changes as his father loses his job and then abruptly leaves home. In the 13th poem, when his dad leaves, CJ describes how it felt: "The door closed with a / click. / I felt all the air leave the room / and we were vacuum-sealed inside. / - I can tell a lot by / the way a door closes." This is a powerful book that takes readers on CJ's roller-coaster emotional journey.
    Words With Wings, by Nikki Grimes
    As a friend of mine wrote, this is a "peek into the mind of a daydreamer" and a wonderful teacher who encourages her in just the right way. Her teacher recognizes that Gabby is coping with her parents separation, and that daydreams are a way she escapes. He helps channel her imagination, encouraging her to let her daydreams come to life in her writing. This is a wonderful, uplifting story of a young girl finding her own voice, staying true to herself.
    Zorgamazoo, by Robert Paul Weston
    I loved the inventive poetry, the rhythm and rhyme, the creative fantasy. Best way to it: Dr. Seuss meets Lemony Snicket, with a healthy dose of Roald Dahl throughout. The story is fantasy, macabre, silly, and truly great fun to read aloud. The illustrations and book design add a tremendous amount to the story. Absolutely terrific wordplay, combined with a plot that keeps kids racing along with it.

    My own "to be read" pile: 2 new novels in verse:

    Blue Birds, by Caroline Starr Rose
    Historical fiction, showing the friendship between a Native American girl and an English girl who's traveled with her parents in 1587 to Virginia. From the publisher's description: "Amid the strife, Alis meets and befriends Kimi, a Roanoke girl about her age. Though the two don’t even speak the same language, these girls form a special bond as close as sisters, willing to risk everything for the other. Finally, Alis must make an impossible choice when her family resolves to leave the island and bloodshed behind."
    Red Butterfly, by A.L. Sonnichsen
    Friends are including this in their favorites of 2015: a beautiful story, beautifully told. From the publisher description: "Kara never met her birth mother. Abandoned as an infant, she was taken in by an elderly American woman living in China. Now eleven, Kara spends most of her time in their apartment, wondering why she and Mama cannot leave the city of Tianjin and go live with Daddy in Montana. Mama tells Kara to be content with what she has … but what if Kara secretly wants more?"

    I just love it when a character's thoughts and moods meld with mine in my mind, growing and becoming part of me. Novels in verse - usually written in free form poetry - have a particular way of doing this, where the narrator's voice almost flows into me.

    If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

    ©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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    12. The Family Under the Bridge (1958)

    The Family Under the Bridge. Natalie Savage Carlson. Illustrated by Garth Williams. 1958/1989. HarperCollins. 123 pages.

    Once there was an old hobo named Armand who wouldn't have lived anywhere but in Paris. So that is where he lived. Everything that he owned could be pushed around in an old baby buggy without any hood, so he had no worries about rents or burglars. All the ragged clothing he owned was on his back, so he didn't need to bother with trunks or dry-cleaners. It was easy for him to move from  one hidey-hole to another so that is what he was doing one late member in December.

    Have you read The Family Under the Bridge?! Why did no one tell me how WONDERFUL it was? I read it and absolutely loved it.

    The Family Under the Bridge is set in Paris in December. (So it would be perfect to read around Christmas or New Year's Day). Armand is the hero. As he prepares for winter, he makes plans to go and live under "his" bridge. When he arrives, he discovers that there is a family already living there. At first, he thought he would leave immediately and go find another bridge to live under. But. He lets himself be talked into staying. The family includes two little girls and a little boy and their mother.
    "It looks to me like you've already found a new place," said Armand, "and it's my old place. You've put me out of my home just like that landlady did to you."
    Suzy was apologetic. She moved the pushcart over and measured Armand with one eye closed. Then she carefully drew a long rectangle on the concrete with a piece of soft coal.
    "That's your room," she said. "You can live with us." On second thought, she scrawled a small checkered square at the foot of the rectangle. "There's a window," she said gravely, "so you can look out and see the river."
    Armand grumbled to himself and pulled his coat tighter across his chest as if to hide his heart. Oh, this starling was a dangerous one. He'd better move on. Paris was full of bridges, the way the Seine meandered through it. No trouble finding another one. But as he started away, the girl ran over and clutched him by his torn sleeve.
    "Please stay," she begged. "We'll pretend you're our grandfather."
    Armand snorted. "Little one," he said, "next to a millionaire a grandfather is the last thing I hope to be." But even as he grumbled, he began unpacking his belongings. (11-12)
    He claims he doesn't have a heart, and doesn't want a family. But a family is soon what they become...especially when the authorities learn about the children living under the bridge... Can Armand save them all and prevent the family from being split up?!

    As I said, I loved, loved, loved this one.

    © 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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    13. Flora and the Flamingo

    A 2014 Caldecott Honor Book
    In this innovative wordless picture book with interactive flaps, Flora and her graceful flamingo friend explore the trials and joys of friendship through an elaborate synchronized dance. With a twist, a turn, and even a flop, these unlikely friends learn at last how to dance together in perfect harmony. Full of humor and heart, this stunning performance (and splashy ending!) will have readers clapping for more!

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    14. The First Slodge and the power of opening lines

    Never judge a book by it’s cover, but what about its opening lines?

    Some of my favourite first words include:-

    The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.

    All children, except one, grow up.

    ‘Where’s Papa going with that axe?’ said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.

    There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.

    The Iron Man came to the top of the cliff. How far had he walked? Nobody knows. Where had he come from? Nobody knows. Taller than a house, the Iron Man stood at the top of the cliff, on the very brink, in the darkness.

    (prizes if you can name all the books in the comments!)

    And now there’s this to add to the mix:

    Once upon a slime, there was a Slodge.

    firstslodgecoverThis is how Jeanne Willis introduces her latest book, The First Slodge, joyously illustrated by Jenni Desmond. The first words are simply a delight to read, to roll around your tongue, to let slip and slide into a smile as you read this story about sharing and friendship.

    Slodge delights in the sunset, the moon and the stars, believing they belong to her alone. It comes as a huge shock to discover that there’s a second Slodge with whom she must share her delights. Squabbling over something neither wishes to forgo, they tumble into terrible danger. Will they work together to save themselves or will pride and selfishness get in the way?

    Funny, gentle, and full of life The First Slodge is a warmhearted parable about how things are better together when shared with generosity. The youngest of listeners will recognise the delighted squeals of “Mine, all mine!“, as well as the tussles over treasures. However, everyone ends up full of the feel good factor, quietly reassured that they see they do not have to face the dangers of the world alone.

    slodge1

    Written like a spider’s web – delicate and strong – The First Slodge contains equally impressive illustrations, full of flowing movement and energy with a sumptuous palette of soothing and sophisticated greens and blues. Several spreads strongly echo Desmond’s Red Cat, Blue Cat (you can read my review here) in composition or concept (the slodges/cats fighting, the twist at the end), which I found slightly surprising but both books remain lovely reads I recommend seeking out.

    slodge2

    slodge3

    Sharing The First Slodge as a family left us eager to make our own slime and Slodges. We set up a slime factory to test three different recipes:

    Slime 1

  • 1 can condensed milk
  • 1 tablespoon corn flour
  • Green food colouring
  • Mix all the ingredients in a saucepan and stir over a low heat for about 10 minutes as the mixture thickens. The low heat is necessary in order that the condensed milk doesn’t burn to the bottom of the pan. Once suitably thick, leave to cool before creating your Slodges. This slime is actually perfectly edible, but as we were playing with other slimes too, I didn’t encourage taste testing.

    milkslime

    Slime 2

  • 1 tablespoon Psyllium Husks (a fibre supplement easily available in health food shops such as Holland and Barrett, or online)
  • 1 cup of water
  • Green food colouring
  • Mix all the ingredients in a saucepan and whisk over a low heat for about 5 minutes until the mixture thickens. Leave to cool and then start Slodging. We’ve never used this slime recipe before and it was the most exciting; its texture and appearance is quite unlike any other slime we’ve made, with a rubbery, almost bouncy feel, with great stretchability!

    fibreslodge

    Slime 3

  • 1 cup (or mug) flour
  • 1/2 cup (or mug) salt
  • 2 tbs Cream of Tartar
  • 1 tbs sunflower oil
  • 1 cup (or mug) boiling water
  • Mix all the ingredients in a saucepan and stir over low heat until the mixture is no longer sticky to touch. Leave to cool and knead into fairly solid slime. Some of you may recognise this as a playdoh recipe.

    playdohslime

    Once we had our three slimes we delighted and disgusted ourselves with the sensory experience as we made our first Slodges.

    slodgepair

    We rated our slimes in terms of appearance and texture, the yuckier the better.

    testing

    The winning slime was the one made from psyllium husks – definitely a sensory experience worth trying out!

    yuckiest

    Whilst making slime and slodges we listened to:

  • The Sharing Song by Raffi
  • Share by Renee & Jeremy
  • Share a Story by They Might Be Giants (quality of the Youtube video isn’t great, but it gives you an idea)
  • Other activities which would go well with reading The First Slodge include:

  • Making my favourite and most peculiar slime, which has the properties of both solids and liquids depending on how you play with it. You can find out more in my post here.
  • Moulding Slodges out of plasticine, fimo or whatever is your favourite sort of modelling clay. Pinch up ears, add buttons for eyes and snippets of wool or pipecleaners for mouths and you’ll soon have Slodges playing everywhere,
  • Recreating the flowers in Desmond’s landscapes using pipecleaners (see the penultimate spread in the book). Take a blue pipecleaner for a stem and then bend an orange or pink one roughly over a few times before attaching to the stem; they should look a little like a 3-D scribble. You could create loads of them for a landscape for your slodges to play in.
  • What are your favourite books about sharing and working together? Where have you come across really revolting slime? What are your favourite opening lines in picture books?

    Disclosure: I received a free review copy of The First Slodge from the publisher.

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    15. Jack & Louisa Act 1, by Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Kate Weterhead

    Jack can't believe that he is moving from New York City to a suburb of Cleveland!  He knows that it's where his dad is from, and that work is bringing him there, but for a kid city born and raised, the suburb and its stand alone houses aren't exactly familiar territory for him.  His parents know he's feeling down when an offer of listening to the Into The Woods soundtrack is turned down.

    Louisa is just coming down from being at Camp Curtain Up (theater camp if you can't tell) with the other MTNs (musical theater nerds).  As she and her parents pull into their driveway, they notice that the new family is moving in two doors down.  Louisa notices that the kid looks about her age, and then suddenly she notices his tshirt.  It's from the musical Mary Poppins! This is a very interesting development. After all, up until now, Louisa was the only MTN in her grade!

    If Louisa only knew! Jack's dad's job wasn't the only reason they were moving to Cleveland.  Jack had lost a job himself. He is a theater kid, and not too long ago he was cast in the musical The Big Apple.  And not in a bit part either.  He was super excited to be part of the cast...until the first rehearsal.  Jack is going into 7th grade, and his voice was changing. The notes no longer came easily...and sometimes they didn't come at all.  So Jack was no longer first choice for the role.  Which obviously made leaving NYC a heck of a lot easier.

    In this age of google, Louisa finds out about Jack pretty quickly.  And seeing as they are in the same class at school, she figures they are pretty much meant to be friends since they have so much in common.  But Jack is thinking about reinvention.  It's pretty easy to be a theater kid and be a boy in NYC, but in Cleveland he figures his soccer skills will make his life easier than his singing and dancing skills.

    Sometimes, however, it's hard to turn off what you really love.  And when the community theater announces it's putting on one of Jack's favorite shows of all time, will he be able to resist the call of the stage (let alone Louisa's influence)?

    This is a pitch perfect middle school story that's not simply about theater, but drills down into issues of family, friendship and being true to oneself.  Keenan-Bolger and Wetherhead get the voices spot on without ever venturing into over-the-top Glee caricatures.  The alternating voices go back and forth in time, but are never confusing, rather a great device for giving the back story in pieces instead of one big chunk.  Fans of Federle will eat this up, as will fans of realistic fiction and musical theater.

    Super fun.

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    16. Review – One Step at a Time by Jane Jolly and Sally Heinrich

    Inspired by a true story, One Step at a Time exposes the unfortunate reality of the global landmine crisis through the prism of a friendship between a young boy and an elephant. Writer Jane Jolly and artist Sally Heinrich handle this subject with such deftness and clarity to ensure young readers grasp the predicament facing […]

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    17. Roller Girl, by Victoria Jamieson

    Astrid rolls her eyes as her mother takes her and bestie Nicole to a surprise "evening of cultural enlightenment!"  Astrid knows what that means because in the past it mean poetry readings, opera performances and trips to the modern art gallery. The girls are amazed when Astrid's mom's cultural outing takes them instead to an evening of Roller Derby! Astrid is quickly obsessed with the derby and is quite taken with local Rose City Roller jammer "Rainbow Bite".  At dinner after the derby, Astrid's mom shows the girls a flyer for a Jr. Derby League summer camp, and Astrid knows that is exactly how she and Rachel should spend their summer.

    Unfortunately for Astrid, Nicole doesn't feel the same way.  She'd rather go to dance camp than spend her summer skating.  Astrid can't understand this, especially since prissy Rachel is going to be at dance camp too.  The same Rachel who embarrassed Astrid  back in first grade and had been giving her grief ever since.

    Astrid goes through with Derby camp even without Nicole.  She doesn't let her mom know that Nicole isn't going, even though it's Nicole's mom who is supposed to drive her home from camp! The first day is a disaster. Not only do all of the other girls look older and different, complete with dyed hair and piercings, but they all seem to know how to skate a whole lot better than Astrid does!  Then there is the pain.  Lots and lots of it.  Add onto this the fact that Astrid has to walk all the way home in the blazing sun, and it turns out the Jr. Derby camp isn't going exactly as amazingly as she had imagined it.

    Astrid's summer is filled with the ups and down as they can only be felt in the tween years.  Keeping secrets, finding new friends, getting caught in a lie, and growing pains are all a part of Astrid's days at camp.  Throw in some rainbow socks and Hugh Jackman voodoo dolls and the result is a graphic novel that hits the sweet spot for the 9-12 year old set.  Filled with colorful and welcoming art, Roller Girl is certain to sit on the shelf for the same number of minutes as books by Telgemeier and Bell. Do yourself a favor and get multiple copies.

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    18. Cat & Bunny by Mary Lundquist

    Cat & Bunny is the debut picture book from Mary Lundquist, an author and illustrator we are sure to see more of for years to come. Lundquist has an illustration style that is whimsical and adorable (in the least sentimental way possible) that she pairs with a pale palette dominated by blues, greens and stark white backgrounds. Yet, the text of Cat & Bunny is simply written and subtly

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    19. Fribbet the Frog and the Tadpoles: A Captain No Beard Story, by Carole P. Roman | Dedicated Review

    Fribbet the Frog and the Tadpoles: A Captain No Beard Story should be readily welcomed into the personal libraries of all expectant families with soon-to-be or new siblings.

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    20. Love stories of America’s founding friends

    On Valentine’s Day, we usually think of romance and great love stories. But there is another type of love we often overlook: love between friends, particularly between men and women in a platonic friendship. This is not a new phenomenon: loving friendships were possible and even fairly common among elite men and women in America’s founding era. These were affectionate relationships of mutual respect, emotional support, and love that had to carefully skirt the boundaries of romance. While extravagant declarations of love would have raised eyebrows, these friends found socially acceptable ways to express their affection for one another. Learn more about some special pairs of platonic friends from early America, including some very familiar names.

    Featured image: Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States, Howard Chandler Christy (1940). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

    The post Love stories of America’s founding friends appeared first on OUPblog.

           

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    21. Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas, by Natasha Yim and Grace Zong (ages 4-8)

    I'm so happy to share Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas this week -- our kindergartners and 1st graders are excited about Chinese New Years (which begins on Feb. 19th this year), and they'll also love the way Natasha Yim spins the Goldilocks story.
    Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas
    by Natasha Yim
    illustrated by Grace Zong
    Charlesbridge, 2014
    Your local library
    Amazon
    ages 4-8
    One Chinese New Years, Goldy's mother asks her to visit their neighbors, the Chan family, to wish them "Kung Hei Fat Choi" and share special turnip cakes with Little Chan. "He never shares with me,' Goldy muttered," but mother reminds her that it is the right time to wash away old arguments or she'll have bad luck.

    Goldy knocks on the Chan's door, but no one is home. She pushes open the door just to peek and tumbles in, spilling the cakes and making a mess. From there, students will have fun recognizing all of the Goldilocks elements: Goldy finds three bowls of congee (finishing the last), three chairs (breaking the third), and then three beds (falling asleep in Little Chan's futon that's "just right").
    “Then she slurped some congee from the plastic bowl. ‘Mmm … just right!’
    Before she knew it, she had eaten it all up.”
    I especially love the way Natasha Yim and Grace Zong incorporate elements of both Chinese New Years and the Goldilocks tale. Kids will love spotting all the different references. But even more, I love the way Yim changes up the ending.

    Goldy runs away embarrassed, but then she thinks about what she's done and goes back to help the Chan's put things back together. It's a moment that I appreciate -- we all make mistakes, but it's what we do afterward that really matters.

    The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Charlesbridge Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

    ©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

    0 Comments on Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas, by Natasha Yim and Grace Zong (ages 4-8) as of 2/17/2015 3:03:00 AM
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    22. The Naming of Tishkin Silk: a book to reshape your heart

    “Griffin came into the Silk family after Scarlet, Indigo, Violet, Amber and Saffron. He came early in the morning on that uncommon day, the twenty-ninth of February. His father’s prediction, considering the date of Griffin’s birth, was that he would be an uncommon sort of boy.

    Perhaps he was, thought Griffin ruefully. For the first time in his life, he wished he’d been born on the twenty-eighth day of February or even the first of March. Maybe then he would have been an ordinary boy instead. If he were an ordinary boy, maybe Mama wouldn’t have gone away. Maybe his secret thoughts wouldn’t have changed everything.

    tishkinsilkWith these words The Naming of Tishkin Silk by Glenda Millard starts weaving gentle magic around your unsuspecting heart.

    Griffin is a member of the somewhat unusual and perhaps slightly bohemian Silk family, who live on the outskirts of a small Australian town. Griffin carries a secret deep inside him, a huge worry that he finds hard to share until he meets Layla, instantly recognisable to him as a princess because she is wearing a daisy-chain crown. Thanks to the thoughtfulness shown by his new friend, Griffin’s courage grows and together they do something that heals the sorrow which all the family has felt after a terrible event no-one has been able to talk about for months.

    Just like Griffin, this is a truly “uncommon” short novel, the first in a seven part series. From unexpected characters to profoundly moving themes threaded together with sometimes astonishingly lyrical writing, this book is something utterly different and incredibly beautiful. I have never before come across such delicate and yet powerful writing in a novel for children. Unique, breathtaking and full of fierce love and deep sorrow, The Naming of Tishkin Silk is the sort of book that changes you forever, the sort of book you are just so glad to have inside you, to enrich even the happiest of days and to sustain you on dark nights.

    The dual aspect of this novel – intense sadness and intense happiness – reminded me of a passage in The Prophet by Khalil Gibran about joy and sorrow; “the deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.“. Whilst this book deals with some of the most difficult themes you’re likely to come across in books for its target age range (approximately 8-12), Millard does it with such quiet tenderness that it doesn’t overwhelm. Indeed, like the adult characters inside the book, Millard enters the world children inhabit without patronising them, but rather with immense respect, sincerity and creativity.

    The stories we tell ourselves in an attempt to make sense of the world around us, adjusting to different family setups when new babies are born, sibling jealousy, and the value of having space and taking time to think form some of the varied threads woven throughout this precious book. Never once soppy or sentimental, Millard writes with honesty and integrity about deep and loving emotions. This is a tremendous book for exploring kindness and empathy.

    It’s Australian setting is lightly but evocatively worn, grounding the somewhat enchanted story in a very real time and place. Yes, my praise for this book goes on and on! And yet, when this book first arrived in my home, I shelved it in a dusty corner. I judged the book by its cover, and the cover did not work for me at all (Caroline Magerl illustrated this first book in the series, but subsequent volumes have been illustrated by Stephen Michael King). It looked airy-fairy, hippy-dippy, saccharine and syrupy and not like something I would enjoy. Someone whose judgement I trust, however, kept telling me I should read the book. Pig-headedly, I kept ignoring this advice. But what a fool I was! Tishkin could have been part of me for two whole extra years if I had listened and not let my prejudices sway me.

    For once I had read the book, I was utterly smitten. I could not get hold of the rest of the series quickly enough.

    kingdomofsilk

    If, however, I still had a niggling doubt, it was about how children would respond to these books. Subtle and yet emotionally complex, featuring an unusual family, and dealing with issues as varied as death, illness, fostering, immigration and dementia over the course of the books now available in the UK (the 6th title in the series, The Tender Moments of Saffron Silk, is published next week on World Book Day, and the final will be available in September this year), I was very curious as to how young people, rather than adults would respond to these books.

    I only have one child’s response to call upon, but M, my ten year old, has taken these stories to her heart as much as I have. She’s read each one in a single sitting, and whilst she agrees they are indeed full of sadness, they are also “really funny and playful”, “just the sort of family I want ours to be like”. She has SO many plans for implementing aspects of these stories into our lives, from making the recipes which feature throughout the series, to adopting the special breakfast rituals the Silk Family has into our own home, from making our own paper to consecrating an apple tree for tea parties, from collecting shiny foil to painting special poems on walls and doors. I think I shall be posting our activities, our Kingdom of silk playing by the book for a long time to come on the blog!

    As it is, we’ve already got our own green rubber gloves with red nail polish…

    nellstylegloves

    …we’ve painted our toes like Layla…

    laylastyletoes

    … and we’ve started having hummingbird nectar and fairy bread when we come in from school.

    hummingbirdnectarfairybread

    cheers

    Layla and Griffin and all the Kingdom of Silk clan are now part of our lives: We are all the richer for them. These books are alive with wonder and warmth and they’re some of the best I think my family has ever shared.

    In the closing pages of The Naming of Tishkin Silk , this gently heart wrenching, heart-soaring short novel, Millard writes, “There are some days when heaven seems much closer to earth than others, and Friday the twenty-seventh of February was one of them.” By introducing you to this book today, also a Friday the twenty-seventh of February, I’ve tried to offer you a slice of such beauty, kindness and wonder as will indeed make today (or at least the day you start reading your own copy of The Naming of Tishkin Silk ) one of those days where heaven really does seem a little nearer by.

    Photo: Tonya Staab

    Photo: Tonya Staab

    4 Comments on The Naming of Tishkin Silk: a book to reshape your heart, last added: 2/27/2015
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    23. Lilies of the Field (1962)

    The Lilies of the Field. William Edmund Barrett. 1962/1988. Grand Central Publishing. 128 pages. [Source: Gift]

    There is a young legend developing on the west side of the mountains. It will, inevitably, grow with the years. Like all legends, it is composed of falsehood and fact. In this case, the truth is more compelling than the trappings of imagination with which it has been invested. The man who has become a legendary figure was, perhaps, of greater stature in simple reality than he ever will be in the oft-repeated, and expanded, tales which commemorate his deeds. Here before the whole matter gets out of hand, is how it was...
    His name was Homer Smith. He was twenty-four. He stood six foot two and his skin was a deep, warm black.

     If you love, love, LOVE the movie--or if you only like it--you should treat yourself and read the book. How does it compare with the movie? Is it as wonderful? as magical? as perfect? I'm not exactly sure it's fair to compare the two. I can easily say it's well worth reading. I loved meeting Homer Smith. I loved meeting all the nuns. I loved seeing Homer at work. I loved his interactions with the sisters, especially seeing him teach them English. There are so many delightful and wonderful things about the book AND the movie. The book isn't better than the movie, in my opinion, but it is at least as good as the movie which is saying something. (My expectations for this one were very high!)

    So in case you're unfamiliar with the movie starring Sidney Poitier, here's the basic plot: Homer Smith is a man who likes his independence. He's traveling the country in his station wagon, and, he's a handy man of sorts. He stops when and where he likes and he finds work. He does a few odd jobs for some German nuns. One of them feels that Homer is God's answer to her prayers. She feels that Homer has come specifically to build them a church. Though they don't have enough money or enough resources, they have faith that it will happen and that Homer is the man for the job. Can one man build a chapel?!

    So Homer Smith is a delightful character. And the book is a great read.

    © 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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    24. Juna's Jar, by Jane Bahk and Felicia Hoshino (ages 4-7) -- imagination and friendship soar

    I adore picture books for the way they let us escape into our imagination, but they can also help us recognize our resilience (and our children's) as we face disappointment. Share Juna's Jar, a lovely new picture book by debut San Francisco author Jane Bahk, and talk with your children about how Juna's imagination helps her when she misses her friend Hector.
    Juna's Jar
    by Jane Bahk
    illustrated by Felicia Hoshino
    Lee & Low, 2015
    Your local library
    Amazon
    ages 4-7
    Juna and Hector always loved collecting things together and putting them in Juna's kimchi jar, but Juna is at a loss when Hector moves away. It's especially sad that she hasn't had a chance to say goodbye.
    "Juna loved to take the jar and go on adventures with her best friend, Hector."
    Her big brother, Minho, helps cheer her up, getting her a fish. That night, Juna dreams of diving into the ocean, swimming with her new fish and looking for Hector. The next night, after her brother gives her a bean plan to fill the jar, she journeys into the rain forest. On the third night, Juna rides a cricket in her dreams, traveling far outside the city to Hector's new home. As she sees him sleeping, Juna is able to whisper goodbye.

    Felicia Hoshino's gentle watercolor illustrations capture Juna's wistful emotions, full of longing but also the final promise of new friendship.

    I love how friend Margie Myers-Culver sums it up in her review at Librarian's Quest:
    Juna's Jar "asks readers to think about friendship, family and the potential of imagination. It's not about looking at life as a glass half full or not but what can happen when we fill the glass."
    Jane Bahk won the 2010 Lee & Low New Voices Award for an unpublished author of color, with the manuscript for Juna's Jar. I look forward to more stories from her! I also want to honor and thank Lee & Low for this important award.

    The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Lee & Low. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

    ©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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    25. Emil & Karl (1940)

    Emil and Karl. Yankev Glatshteyn. Translated from the Yiddish by Jeffrey Shandler. 1940/2006. Roaring Book Press. 208 pages. [Source: Review copy]

    I love the idea of loving Emil and Karl by Yankev Glatshteyn. Emil and Karl was written in 1940 in Yiddish. It is set in Austria. It is the first--or at least among the very first--book written for children about the persecution Jews were experiencing from the Nazis.

    Emil and Karl have always, always been best friends. Emil's Jewish. Karl's the son of socialists. Both are "orphans" in a way because of the Nazis. The book opens with intensity: readers first glimpse of Karl is haunting. Karl's mother has been taken away by the Nazis. He's witnessed this: not only the arrest, but the beating too. He's alone in the apartment, feeling very alone, very frightened, very worried. For they told him they'd be back to take him too. He doesn't know what to do next, where to go, who to trust. He decides to run to Emil's house. Emil's world has also been devastated within the past day or two. His father was taken and killed. His mother is grieving and shattered.

    Karl and Emil are very much on their own it seems. The two stick together no matter what. They'll face danger and be put into difficult situations time and time again. There are many scenes that stay with you.

    But while I find the premise of this one fascinating, it isn't the absolute best book about the holocaust. It may be among the first, but, that doesn't make it among the best of the best. Worth reading? I think so if you already have an interest in the subject. But if you only read one book on the subject, I'd have to recommend you go with another book.

    © 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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