The Children's Book Compass

Archive for October 2011

Sea of Dreams by Dennis Nolan.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Roaring Brook Press.  Grades P-5.  Wordless Picture Book.

Nolan’s magical adventure starts on the title page where a young girl comes to a vacant beach to spend the day building a sand castle.  At the end of her day, she has created an enchanted castle complete with turrets and towers.  As she walks away a gorgeous sunset colors the sky.  The tide comes to wash the sand castle away.  But before it does a light comes on in the castle tower window.  It is held aloft by a tiny bearded man who joins his family in escaping the incoming waves in a small sail boat.   Gigantic waves toss the young boy in the family into the ocean.  There he meets a huge fish, sea horses and mermaids who save him and return him to his family.  The family finds refuge on a rocky island off the beach that the sand castle builder can see the next morning as she begins building another castle.  This fantastic wordless, story celebrates the beauty of the oceanic world while creating a fantasy that will endure as a classic.

Bee & Bird by Craig Frazier.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Roaring Brook Press.  Grades P-2.  Wordless Picture Book.

This wordless picture book has a cinematic feel as a bee and bird take off on a journey.  The camera swoops in for a close-up – the stripes in the bee’s body and then pulls back to show the bee on a large red sphere, pulling back farther with the next picture  showing the bee is on the head of a red bird.  The simple, bold graphics pull the reader into predicting what will happen next to the bird and bee.  There are surprises along the way that will surprise and delight young readers.

The Secret Box by Barbara Lehman.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Houghton Mifflin.  Grades 1-4.  Wordless Picture Books.

Reading  the detailed illustrations in this book is like solving a puzzle.  The illustrations require careful perusal to find the secret clues.  Three children discover a hiding place where a small box has been secreted by a boy before their time.  The artifacts including a map lead them on journey of discovery through their city and back in time to the Seahorse Pier.  There they find a gathering of children from different times and cultures.  Lehman captures the reader’s attention with various ways she arranges the illustrations.  Some pages feature a double page picture of a big scene; others show six or seven smaller action-packed frames.  The satisfying ending shows a new set of children in a future time finding the box and setting off on their own adventure.  This is a book children will enjoy looking at and sharing again and again.


Sita’s Ramayana by Samhita Arni & Moyna Chitrakar.  (2011)  Groundwood.  Grades 6-12.  Graphic Novel.

This unique and dramatic, graphic novel tells a tale from the mythology of India.   The legend is about a queen who is captured by an evil King and then rescued by her husband through a series of battles.  The story emphasizes the role of the female protagonist in a retelling of the epic, Sanskrit poem from India, Ramayana.  Magic, wizardry, demons and gods are the elements that capture the reader’s attention.  Children who are fans of graphic novels will gain a perspective of a different approach to this genre.  The stunning, stylistic, paintings use a scroll technique that is based on Indian picture storytelling traditions.

Island’s End by Padma Venkatraman.  (2011).  228 pages.  Putnam.  Grades 6-9.  Realistic Fiction, Novel.

This book is an example of how reading a book about a place that is new to us takes us on a learning journey.  The author’s trip to the Andaman Islands of India provided her with background about the indigenous people who live there.  Venkatraman’s expertise is in oceanography and her research trip to the Andaman Islands also gave her an opportunity to learn about the people whose history goes back seventy thousand years.  As the plot of the novel makes clear the challenge for these people is to find a way to keep their culture alive and prevent the destruction of their islands while at the same time building bridges with modern societies.  In the story the young teenager who has become the spiritual leader of the tribe, leads her people to safety before a tsunami strikes the island.  That incident is based on an actual event when the tsunami of December, 2004 wreaked destruction across the planet.  The author relates in her note at the end of the book how “several “primitive” groups living on the Andaman Islands escaped to safety.”    Their “ancient knowledge of the movement of wind and oceans and a sensitivity to the behavior of sea birds and island creatures may have warned these native people to flee inland in the nick of time.”   As this novel so strongly shows, modern people need to take a journey of discovery to learn about the ancient knowledge of these people.

Desperate Measures by Laura Summers.  (2011).  250 pages.  Putnam.  Grades 6-9.  Realistic Fiction, Novel.

This is a story about three siblings and their difficulties when their mother dies and their father is unable to care for them.  Finally, they come to a foster home where they feel  comfortable, but then they are told they must move on again.  After reading this novel, I was struck with several questions as I made strong connections.  The sisters and brother in this story undertake a desperate journey in order to not be sent to separate foster homes.  I wondered, what are the journeys, metaphorical and actual, that we take with our own families?   On our mutual journeys, how are our perceived roles different?  Vicky in this story thinks she is taking care of her learning disabled twin and younger brother.  But, how are they caring for her?  One of the strengths of this book is the way each sister tells the story in alternating chapters.  Seeing the different perspectives offered in the novel, made me wonder how would different members of our family tell about our journey?  We have been on a journey together, but how would our accounts differ?  How would knowing the different perspectives of each person change or influence each of our understanding?   This novel provoked my thinking.  Isn’t that what a good book should do?

These three books celebrate grandparents and emphasize the strength of the relationships between the generations.  They are distinguished by the waves of love they portray between grandparent and child.   Grandparents will want to read aloud the books to their youngsters.  Each book is an outstanding example of how a beautifully crafted text and illustrations can be melded together into a luscious and memorable picture book.


Your Moon, My Moon: A Grandmother’s Words to a Faraway Child  by Patricia MacLachlan. Illus. Bryan Collier.  Simon & Schuster.  Grades P- 3.  Picture Book.

MacLachlan lives in New England, her grandchild in Africa.  Her lyrical text celebrates the things they have enjoyed together on visits to each other and the things that are unique about the places they each live.  “Where I live we sleep under/quilts/and wear wooly socks/when it is cold.”  Then she contrasts how her grandchild sleeps, “Where you live you sleep under a netting/like a royal child, safe from buzzing mosquitoes.” Collier’s elegant illustrations in watercolors and collages extend the text and add a story of the grandmother preparing and then traveling to Africa to see her beloved grandchild.

These Hands by Margaret H. Mason.  Illus. Floyd Cooper.  Houghton Mifflin.  Grades P-3.  Picture Book.

In a repeating refrain a grandpa tells his grandson about all the things his hands can do and have done.

Look at these hands, Joseph.

Did you know these hands

used to make the ivories sing

like a sparrow in springtime?

Well, I can still show a young fellow

how to play “Heart and Soul”

–yes, I can.

The grandpa describes all his talents from playing baseball to card tricks.  He also tells how because of racism his hands “were not allowed to mix/the bread dough/in the Wonder Bread factory.”  His hands

..were only allowed

to sweep the floors

and work the line

and load the trucks.

Because the bosses said

white people would not want to eat bread

touched by these hands.

Then, the grandpa explains how he joined with others to achieve civil rights and “Now any hands can touch the bread dough . . . ”  The grandson brings the story full circle with recounting all the things he can do with his hands and grandpa affirms that his grandson’s “hands can do anything./ Anything at all in this whole wide world.”  An Author’s Note at the end explains how racism in the past caused other inequities.  Cooper’s uses an oil wash in sepia tones finished with kneaded erasers that give a soft, evocative look to the illustrations.

Ladder to the Moon by Ladder to the Moon by Maya Soetoro-Ng Illus. by Yuyi Morales.  Candlewick Press.  Grades P-3.  Picture Book.

Here’s a book to share at bedtime with a beloved child.   A young child,  Suhaila, asks her mother what her grandma was like.  Her mother answers, “She was like the moon, . . . Full, soft and curious.  Your grandma would wrap her arms around the whole world if she could.”  Later in bed the child imagines that her grandmother descends from the moon on a golden ladder and takes her back to the moon.  Together they gazed down on the earth and embraced those that were experiencing troubles and needed love and support.  Grandma Annie brings the troubled folk up the golden ladder.  “One by one, every person was finding his or her own path to the moon, each path connecting with the others in hope’s massive stream.”  Together grandma and child bring healing to the people.  Finally, they part with “a snuggle and a smooch.”  Suhaila feels “proud for having helped others heal – for having helped others learn to move forward and upward and around.” In  Soetoro-Ng ‘s note at the end she explains how the book was inspired by her mother, Ann Dunham, who is also the mother of President Barack Obama, and her daughter’s questions about her late grandmother.   Morales illustrations are amazing, capturing the moon’s glow, the healing touch of Grandma Annie, and the caring embrace of those who love.

Emma Dilemma by Kristine O’Connell George.  Illus. by Nancy Carpenter.  Clarion.  Grades K-5.  Poetry.

Big sister, Jessica, tells about her little sister, Emma in a series of humorous and sometimes poignant poems.  O’Connell George is a gifted poet and she accurately captures of the conflicting emotions of having a little sister who is sometimes a monster and sometimes a darling.

 Emma Dilemma

 Sometimes Dad

calls my sister

Emma Dilemma

 Dad says

a dilemma is

an interesting problem.

 I know Dad’s joking,

but sometimes

Emma is my dilemma.

Carpenter’s pen and ink and digital media illustrations heighten the enjoyment of this wonderful tribute to the bonds of sisterly love.

Addie on the Inside by James Howe.  (2011) 202 pages.  Atheneum.  Grades 6 – 8.  Novel: Realistic Fiction, Poetry.

Addie’s story is a companion to Howe’s previous books about a group of friends in middle school, The Misfits and Totally Joe.  This book stands on its own.  However, readers will want to go back and read the other novels, because Howe creates such realistic and lovable characters. In this one he masterfully captures the joys and anxieties of being a seventh grader.  Howe has spent time with this age group because the dialogue between the characters to ring so true.   Addie’s story is told in a variety of poetry forms.   Howe challenges his readers to “See” in his Prologue poem.  “Who do you see/when you look at them?/ You know the ones I mean: /the others, the olders,/the youngers, the ones/who are not you, not/like you or your friends,/ who wear the labels/you give them.”  Abby is a passionate learner, a loyal friend, the focus of name-calling and teasing – labeled by others because she dares to be different.  But what is the cost?   She muses;

If I had the right

shoes,  if I had the right

bag,  if I had the right

hair, if I had the right

hands, if I had the right

eyes, if I had the right

nose, if I had the right

body, if I had the right

walk, if I had the right

talk, if I had the right

phone, if I had the right

friends, if I had the right

everything, how would

I be different from who

I already am?

Addie also reflects on issues beyond her world.  The poem, “What We Don’t Know,” ponders an article she reads in The New York Times about the fate of a girl in forced marriage in Afghanistan.  Read this one with your seventh graders and enjoy the conversations it ignites.


Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick.  (2011). Scholastic.  Grades 4 and up.  637 pages.  A Novel in words and pictures.

After being fascinated and thrilled by  Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret, I was eager to read his new book, Wonderstruck.  Selznick alternately tells two stories that are fifty years apart. Rose’s story starts in 1927.  It is entirely told in Selznick’s detailed, pencil drawings with no words.  Fifty years later Ben’s story starts, all told in words.   The two stories, like puzzle pieces, are melded together at the end with a satisfying resolution.  Along the way Selznick explores deaf culture and celebrates the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.  This book seems less organic than The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  Some parts are forced and Ben’s story needs a faster pace.  However, with those small quibbles aside this is a book that children will enjoy and want to return to for another reading.

Click this link to see a video with Selznick.

Pointing the Direction to New Books for Children and Teens

Marilyn Carpenter, PhD.

Contact Marilyn

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