Mouse & Lion by Rand Burkert. Illustrated by Nancy Ekholm Burkert. (2011). Pages not numbered. Scholastic. Ages 3-10. Picture book.
This is a beautifully crafted, elegant retelling of the Aesop fable about the powerful lion who is saved by the lowly mouse. The setting is Africa in an area bordering Botswana and Namibia. The detailed illustrations feature the African grass mouse and a splendid lion. Most scenes show close-ups of the animals, some from the mouse’s perspective – a huge paw holding the mouse’s tail or the lion’s gigantic mouth wide opened, displaying his fearsome teeth. The illustrator shows every hair and whisker on each animal. One two page spread shows the baobab tree resplendent in front of a setting sun. Light infuses the pages as the illustrator uses the white background effectively. The choice of paper, design of the book, and gorgeous illustrations combine with the well paced, character enhancing text. Team this with Jerry Pinkney’s wordless version, Lion and the Mouse to discuss how illustrators and authors make choices about the stories they produce.
Five Little Monkeys Reading in Bed by Eileen Christelow. (2011). Pages not numbered. Clarion Books. Ages 2-6. Picture book.
The five little monkeys from Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed are back! This time Mama reads them bedtime stories but when it’s time for “Lights out! Sweet dreams!” the monkeys keep reading. The books are so good, they laugh, cheer, scream and cry. Each time Mama comes back to tell them, “Lights out! Sweet dreams! No more reading in bed!” But each time the monkeys find another book they just can’t resist. Finally, they are sleepy and say, “Just wait till tomorrow, and then we’ll read more!” The front endpapers add to the fun, showing each monkey reading in a different spot – on the toilet, outside, swinging, in a comfy chair or while eating. The expressive monkeys and their loving and patient mom are softly colored. A great read aloud to celebrate the joys of reading.
Tales for Very Picky Eaters by Josh Schneider. (2011). 47 pages. Clarion Books. Ages 5-9. Beginning Reader.
Josh Schneider has created a fun and inventive story about kids who are picky eaters. James is the picky eater and when he objects to foods like broccoli, he is clear about how he feels about it – “It’s disgusting.” When James asks, “What else is there?” his father tells him about alternatives – dirt “mixed by specially trained earthworms…,” Or, “fine gum carefully chewed one thousand times by special children with very clean teeth, …” Or, a “…very sweaty sock, soaked in sweat sweated by the world’s fastest and tastiest runner who was fed nothing but apples and cinnamon for three months before running a marathon in this very sock.” …” Each of the five chapters features father’s hilarious suggestions of alternatives to the foods James doesn’t like. Finally, James discovers that if he tries the foods he objects to, he just might like them. The sprightly illustrations add to the fun and enjoyment of this book. Winner of The Geisel (Dr. Seuss) Award given for the most distinguished American beginning reader.
Levi Strauss Gets a Bright Idea by Tony Johnston. Illustrated by Stacy Innerst. (2011) Pages not numbered. Harcourt. Ages 6-12. Picture book.
The subtitle for this rollicking story is “A Fairly Fabricated Story of a Pair of Pants.” That is exactly what Johnston achieves. She has created a tall tale of how Levi Strauss made blue jeans famous. She writes in her author’s note, “The story of Levi Strauss and the invention of blue jeans is mostly legend with threads of truth, which my version stretches to near popping.” Johnson uses colorful language that adds flavor to her tale– “Levi Strauss rushed away. The miners barreled right behind, rattling and racketing and rolling.” Innerst painted his animated illustrations on old Levi’s. which gives texture to each picture. Read this one aloud and then lead your listeners to divine the true facts about Levi Strauss as you read the author’s note.
Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos. (2011). 341 pages. FSG. Ages 11- 14.
Gantos won the Newbery for 2012 for this humorous, autobiographical novel. In 1962, twelve-year-old Jack gets in trouble and is grounded for the summer. His mother only lets him out of his punishment to help an elderly neighbor type obituaries for the local newspaper. Gantos loads his story with unexpected twists and turns that are zany and sometime mysterious.
Paper Covers Rock by Jenny Hubbard. (2011). 183 pages. Delacorte Press. Ages 14-adult. Realistic Fiction.
As sixteen-year-old Alex begins the school year at his boarding school, he is unable to save his roommate from drowning. That event consumes Alex as the truth of what happened consumes him with guilt. A supporting English teacher nurtures Alex’s poetic talents and tries to help him come to terms with the drowning. This novel explores moral issues and the cost of peer pressure in a way that demonstrates the complexity of being a teenager.
Sparrow Road by Sheila O’Connor. (2011). 247 pages. Putnam. Ages 11- adult.
Reading this book was a gift. The story features lovable and intriguing characters that by the end of the book seem like friends. The Mother of seventh grader, Raine, unexpectedly takes a job for the summer at a small artist retreat, Sparrow Road. Raine is not happy about having to leave her home in Milwaukee. It turns out that her mother wants Raine to meet the father she has never known who lives near Sparrow Road. The summer turns out to be memorable and life changing for Raine.
Bluefish by Pat Schmatz. (2011) 226 pages. Candlewick Press. Ages 12- adult.
Travis has hidden a secret – he can’t read. When he gets to middle school he encounters a teacher who discovers his secret and offers him a solution. A new friend, Velvetta, also helps him with his reading. Both Travis and Velvetta are dealing with grief and loss. How they learn to trust and support each other as they become friends makes a story that sticks to the heart.
The Queen of Water by Laura Resau and Maria Virginia Farinango. (2011). 352 pages. Delacorte Press. Ages 12-adult. Realistic Fiction.
This moving novel is based on the life experiences of Farinango who at seven was taken from her rural, very poor family in Ecuador and made a servant to a family in the city. In the face of very difficult challenges the girl manages to teach herself to read and write and finally escapes when she is a teenager. The story shows the cost of being caught between two cultures.
Hurricane Dancers by Margarita Engle. (2011). 145 pages. Henry Holt. Ages 12-adult.
The setting is 1510 in the Caribbean. A young boy of Spanish and Taino ancestry is a slave on a pirate ship that is eventually shipwrecked during a hurricane. The boy speaks the language of the native people who save him. He suddenly is given power over his former captors who also survive the storm. Engle tells her story in lyrical verse in the voices of five different characters. This book would make an effective choice for readers theater. Historical notes at the end provide a fuller picture of the events.
Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall. (2011). 224 pages. Lee & Low Books. Ages 12-adult.
This is another novel told in verse. The story is about a Hispanic family whose mother is battling cancer. The oldest daughter, Lupita, tells how she becomes responsible for her seven younger siblings. However, she is still able to enjoy her passion for acting in her high school drama classes. The author captures the loving tenderness of the family.