The Children's Book Compass

Archive for June 2010

Herbert: The True Story of A Brave Sea Dog by Robyn Belton. (2010).  Candlewick Press.  Grades 2 to 6.  Unpaged. Nonfiction.

The students in my 4th, 5th and 6th grade classes used to love hearing the true stories from the newspaper or, even better, nonfiction accounts in books about real animals.  Frosty: A Raccoon to Remember was a favorite read aloud.    Herbert: The True Story of A Brave Sea Dog is another story that children will savor.  Herbert, a small dog, lives in New Zealand with Tim and his family.  Tim and his mother drive to a cottage on the coast while his father and Herbert  take a small boat through treacherous ocean waters to get to the cottage.  Herbert falls overboard when the boat encounters bad weather.  Tim’s father doesn’t notice until it is too late to turn back.  The next day, Tim and  his father go back to search for Herbert.  They find him!  Herbert had been paddling around the swift ocean currents for thirty hours!   Belton captures the drama and emotions of the story in short, clear sentences.  The softly colored illustrations with an emphasis on  the multiple shades of the ocean waters accent the story and provide pockets of comfort in between the harrowing parts of the story. There is a wealth of information provided on both the front and back  endpapers including a map of the area, photos of Tim and Herbert, an article that shows the hazards of the ocean pass where Herbert was lost,  a newspaper article about the event, the “Iron Dog Award” Herbert received, letters and telegrams from admirers.

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The Water Seeker by Kimberly Willis Holt.  (2010).  Henry Holt.  309 pages.  Grades 7 and up.  Historical Fiction.

The best of historical fiction causes us to ponder the sacrifices and struggles of those who have come before us.  The Water Seeker is one of the most enthralling historical novels I have read in years.  It prompted me to thoughtfully consider the lives of my great grandparents and their contributions in the settling of the West.  The novel chronicles the story of Amos Kincaid from his birth in a remote cabin in Missouri in 1833 through his journey on the Oregon Trail starting in 1848, and continuing with his new life in Oregon in 1859.  Along the way there are adventures, romances and heart touching moments.  The in-depth descriptions and depictions of various settings and secondary characters in this epic novel provide a rich portrait of the way life during the Westward expansion.  Amos’ mother dies in giving birth to him, but she reappears to those who care for him throughout the story as a hovering, loving presence.  Jake, Amos’ father is a trapper and a mountain man who is a gifted dowser.  The character of Jake’s second wife, Blue Owl, provides insights about Native Americans and how the Westward movement affected them.  Amos has two romances as the family travels to Oregon and there is a surprise in how they turn out.  As Amos grows to manhood he demonstrates honesty, endurance and courage.  Along the way he discovers his own gift of finding water and is able to bless the new farmers in the Oregon territory.  The themes of the value of family and importance of perseverance in the face of many challenges are skillfully woven throughout the story.  The details of the hardships and triumphs along the Trail are an inspiration.  Social Studies teachers will find this book an excellent read aloud for their classes in American history.  All ages from middle school on will enjoy this book as a satisfying read.

Dad and Pop by Kelly Bennett.  Illus. Paul Meisel.  (2010).  Pages not numbered.  Candlewick Press.  . Grades Preschool and up.  Picture Book.

As the subtitle to this charming book states it is “An Ode to Fathers & Stepfathers.”  A young girl compares her Pop, her stepfather, and her biological Dad.  “To meet them, you’d think Dad and Pop were as different as two fathers could be: Pop is bald.  Dad is not. Dad is tall.  Pop is not.  Dad wears suits.  Pop wears boots.”  She also describes how the two fathers are the same.  “Dad teaches me to cook.  So does Pop.”  The illustrations show the differences.  Dad and daughter are baking cookies, Pop and she are barbequing.  The book ends with, “But in the most important way they are exactly the same—They both love me!”  The last illustration shows the girl’s scrapbook with mementoes and photos from her times with both fathers.  This story mirrors many children’s lives and the ways that two fathers can nurture and care for their children.  The illustrations provide colorful and detailed extensions to the text.  For example, when the text reads, “They both help me.  They both cheer me.” the illustration shows the girl at her soccer game with both fathers as well as her mother and stepmother excitedly rooting for her to make a goal.  Read this book aloud to ignite a lively discussion about how the connections children can make with the text.

My Father is Taller than a Tree by Joseph Bruchac.  Illus. Wendy Anderson Halperin.  (2010).  Pages not numbered.  Dial. Grades Preschool and up.  Picture Book.

Bruchac celebrates thirteen different fathers and sons and the activities they enjoy together.  Each page features a rhyming text, “My father lifts me up so high that both of my hands can touch the sky.”  My favorite is: “Papa reads to me every night until he says that’s all, sleep tight.”  The use of first person gives an intimate tone to the words.  The text marches along the bottom of the page, allowing Halperin’s soft-colored illustrations to be the highlight of the book.  The artist divides the double page spreads into five parts, with illustrations in each section.  The top two-thirds of the page focuses on a large view of the father and son actively engaged.  Four smaller illustrations are under that with two to each page, showing details of the activities.  For example, when the text reads, “Dad takes me with him to town.  I help him find his way around.”  the large illustration shows a blind father with a guide dog, son holding his arm, shopping at a farmer’s market.  The four small frames underneath the larger illustration show father and son, eating together, visiting with a friend, hugging, and playing the piano.  Halperin offers a variety of settings: rural, suburb, city, inside homes, in yards and out on lakes.  Dads of different races and ethnicities are pictured.  The last two pages look back at each father and son and show each in twenty-four small pictures.  This is a satisfying book to share reading aloud and snuggling together.  I look forward to another book wherein the author and illustrator feature fathers and daughters.

Oh, Daddy! by Bob Shea.  (2010).  Pages not numbered.  HarperCollins. . Grades Preschool and up.  Picture Book.

This book is a humorous perspective about fathers, particularly the ways in which the child helps the dad or, is the dad motivating the child to behave?  The fact that dad and son are pictured as blue hippopotami adds to the fun.  The child is the narrator telling how he cares for his dad:  “I’m so smart, I even show my dad how to do things— and he’s a grown-up!”  The illustrations tell a different story, the child is not always doing what he is supposed to and the dad is caring for him.  One series of pictures and text is a sample.  The first illustration in the series shows the family at lunch, except for the child who is playing on the floor, tossing items out of a kitchen drawer.  The accompanying illustration says, “Even when I’m eating lunch I have to stop and help my dad.”  But, he is not eating, he is playing.  In the next illustration dad is shown juggling his carrots, asking, “Is this how you eat carrots?”  “Oh, Daddy!” the son replies as he drops what he is doing and rushes back to the table.  “This is how you eat carrots!”  In the final picture in this series, the son is shown sitting at the table properly eating his vegetable, mother and grandma chuckle.  Once again dad has been able to stop negative behavior without a reprimand.  The other incidents in the book chronicle sport similar antics, dad does something silly to get his son dressed and into the car when they are late for a trip to grandma’s.  The simple text and illustrations combine to make this a joyful story.  Shea uses bright colors, patterns with some scanned photographs to enliven his illustrations.  For examples, the carrots in the series described above are photographs of baby carrots.  Children will enjoy this lighthearted book and discovering the contrast in what the son is saying he is doing and what is really happening.

Your Daddy Was Just Like You by Kelly Bennett.  Illus. David Walker. (2010).  Pages not numbered.  Putnam.  Grades Preschool and up.  Picture Book.

A grandson and grandmother are pictured looking at photographs of his dad growing up displayed in a scrapbook.  With each set of photos in the scrapbook grandma describes what daddy did – “When he started school, your daddy said: ‘IT’S HARD’ and ‘DO I HAVE TO?’ Just like you.  He counted on his fingers. He missed questions on tests.  He forgot his homework.  But your daddy practiced.  And learned. And kept getting smarter and smarter and smarter.  Just like you.”  The words, “Just like you.”  are repeated with each set of incidents from Daddy’s life.  The satisfying ending shows grandma kissing her son and saying, “…no matter how big he gets, or how old he gets, he will always be my baby.  Just like you.”  Walker’s illustrations alternate between full page spreads and a series of small vignettes scattered across a page showing each part of the action.  Illustrations and text perfectly complement each other.  This is a perfect book for grandparents to share with their grandchildren.  It should send both to sharing the family scrapbooks.


Pointing the Direction to New Books for Children and Teens

Marilyn Carpenter, PhD.

Contact Marilyn

e-mail: MarilynCaz@aol.com
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