The Children's Book Compass

Archive for March 2010

Dancing Feet! by Lindsey Craig.  Illustrated by Marc Brown.  Knopf.  Pages not numbered.  Grades K-3.  Picture Book.

Put on your dancing shoes and join in with the creatures in this book as they cavort across the pages echoing a rollicking text.  Each creature is introduced with the sounds of its feet in a dancing step and a question asking the reader to guess who is the one dancing?  “Slappity! Slappity!/ Webbed orange feet!/Who is dancing/that slappity beat?”  The next page answers the question – “Ducks are dancing/ on slappity feet.  Slappity! Slappity!/ Happy Feet!”  Craig uses onomatopoeia words to capture the sounds of the dancing feet.  Children are invited to participate as they answer each question about who is dancing.  Marc Brown uses collage with hand-painted papers that give texture to and animate the illustrations.  The last pages show children joining in the dance.  This book is a joyful pirouette that demands reading aloud!


I Like to Play by Marla Stewart Konrad.  (2010).  Tundra Books.  Pages not numbered.  Grades K-3.  Nonfiction.

Grand by Marla Stewart Konrad.  (2010).  Tundra Books.  Pages not numbered.  Grades K-3.  Nonfiction

Our children need to learn about children in other countries.  These two books are one way to help our students discover how children around the world live.  Simple text and colorful photographs combine to show children in a variety of countries.  In the first book children participate in various games and playful activities.  The second book features smiling children and their grandparents doing various jobs or just enjoying each other.  In some photographs the children are posed, others capture the children as they are actively engaged in their daily activities.  These books invite students to consider how their play or experiences with grandparents are similar to the children pictured.  One drawback of these books is the fact that there are no captions with the photographs.  Therefore to discover what countries are represented the reader must consult the copyright page where the countries for each photograph are identified.  Children from Asia, Africa, Europe, and South America are featured in the photographs.  Guide your students to look carefully at the photographs  to inquire about the children pictured – what kinds of houses do they live in; what kinds of games do they play, how are their clothes different, what kind of toys do they have, what kind of chores do they do?  The royalties from these books go to support World Vision’s work with children

The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan.  Illus. by Peter Sis.  (2010). 372 pages.  Scholastic.  Grades 5 and up.  Fiction.

Ryan imagines the boyhood of the Nobel Prize winning poet, Pablo Neruda.  Ryan tells us in her Author’s Note that The Dreamer is a work of fiction based on the events of Neruda’s childhood growing up in Chile.  That story is a poignant one of a timid youngster working hard to overcome a lonely childhood and the oppression of a domineering father.  His father was so ashamed of his son’s writing that Pablo Neruda later became the pen name of Neftali  Reyes.  Neftali loved to collect things- pinecones, seashells and other treasures from nature and was also passionate about reading and writng.  He spent his time in daydreaming, savoring the sounds of words.  As he wanders in the forest he writes in the damp earth:  “Slowly, he murmured the words to the trees, delighting in the tempos they played on his tongue.”  Ryan’s word choices paint vivid portraits of Neftali’s world.  Her language is poetic and is complimented by Peter Sis’ line drawings.  The sketches and the lyrical text combine biography, poetry and magical realism with themes of becoming your own person, social justice, and perseverance.  At the end of the book Ryan includes a sampling of Neruda’s poetry.

Cloud Tea Monkeys by Mal Peet & Elspeth Graham.  Illus. Juan Wijngaard. (2010).  Pages not numbered.   Candlewick Press. Grades 2 and up.  Fiction.

This exquisite book enthralls the reader with a poignant tale and luminous illustrations.  The story was inspired by tea-picking tales the authors found in the high mountain countries of the Himalayan region.  Young Tashi rises early every morning to accompany her mother to a tea plantation where women pick tea all day – “plucking the tender leaves and buds and tossing them over their shoulders into their big wicker baskets.”  While her mother works, Tashi plays with a group of monkeys.  When her mother becomes ill, Tashi carefully tends her but without income from the tea picking she knows that –

“If her mother did not get well, she could not work and there would be no money.  The problem went around and around.  It was like a snake with its tail in its mouth, and Tashi was frightened by it.”

Tashi resolves to help and somehow manages to drag and carry her mother’s heavy basket the long way to the plantation so she can pick the tea.  However, the Overseer stops her from picking because she is too small to reach the tender young tea leaves.  But then help comes from an unexpected source – the monkeys.  They take the basket high up in the mountains and return with it filled to the brim with a rare tea called cloud tea.  Just then the Royal Tea Taster arrives at the plantation in search of a fine tea for the Empress.  He buys the rare tea from Tashi and promises to return every year for more.  That gift from the monkeys provides income for Tashi and her mother who recovers with the services of a doctor.  The ending is most satisfying.

“There are only three people in the world who drink cloud tea.  One of them is a little old woman who is called the Empress of All the Known World and Other Parts That Have Not Been Discovered Yet.  The other two are a retired tea picker and her daughter, who live in a village among mountains whose tops are lost in clouds.”

This book is more than a picture book.  Each full page of text is accompanied by a full page framed,  jewel-toned illustration.  The illustrations extend the text with  details and expressive emotions of the characters.  The authors’ careful word choice paint a visual picture of details not in the illustrations – a  milk-white porcelain bowl is described as “so thin that Tashi could see the shadow of the man’s fingers through it:”   Read this book aloud more than once for the children to savor the story and pour over the illustrations.

My Garden by Kevin Henkes.  (2010)  Greenwillow.  Pages not numbered.  Grade K-3.  Picture Book.

What child hasn’t imagined how she might do things differently from her parents?  In this glorious salute to the imagination, Kevin Henkes shows us a young girl who helps her mother garden – but if she had a garden things would be wildly different.  “…the flowers could change color just by my thinking about it—pink, blue, green, purple.  Even patterns.”  In her mother’s garden she has to “… chase away the rabbits so they don’t eat all the lettuce.”  In her garden “…  the rabbits would be chocolate and I would eat them.” Henkes carefully chooses his words so the girl’s dialogue sounds childlike.  “The tomatoes would be as big as beach balls, and the carrots would be invisible because I don’t like carrots.”  The design of the book heightens the pleasure of reading it.  Crisp white pages are the background for the text in blue font.  The illustrations are brightly colored watercolors with soft outlines done in ink showing the creativity of the child’s imagination as it blooms profusely in her garden.  Show the children Henkes’ books, Birds and A Good Day to further their appreciation of this talented author.

I recently read this book to a class of second graders.  They had a lively discussion after they enjoyed listening to the story about how they use their imaginations.  We created a story frame: In my _____________________, there would be __________________.  The children generated a word wall of possibilities.  Some were castle in the air, undersea garden and ocean.  The students got to work  enthusiastically writing their own versions and illustrating them.

How Rocket Learned to Read by Tad Hills.  (2010).  Schwartz & Wade Books.  Pages not numbered.  Grades K-2.  Picture Book.

Here’s another book to promote the joy of reading.  Rocket, a frisky dog, meets a small yellow bird who announces that she is his teacher and she is going to teach him to read!  She starts by reading aloud and at first, Rocket’s nap is disturbed, “But before long he found himself captivated.  To Rocket the story was as delicious as the earthy smells of fall.  It was as exciting as chasing leaves.  He closed his eyes and listened to every word.”  Every morning Rocket returns to the yellow bird’s classroom and there he listens to stories and learns “all of the wondrous, mighty, gorgeous alphabet.”  Hills’ softly colored illustrations extend the text and add to the characterization.  Best of all is the double-page spread that shows Rocket spelling words in the snow while the bird has flown south for the winter.  The story ends with the bird and the dog reading stories again “And again. And A-G-A-I-N.”  It is a most satisfying ending.  Team this one with Miss Brooks Loves Books! ( and I don’t) by Barbara Bottner that is reviewed below.

Pointing the Direction to New Books for Children and Teens

Marilyn Carpenter, PhD.

Contact Marilyn

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