The Children's Book Compass

Archive for November 2011

Drawing from Memory by Allen Say.  (2011).  63 pages.  Scholastic.  Grades 5-8.  Autobiography.

Allen Say’s books have long been my favorites.  His books have received numerous awards.  Grandfather’s Journey won the Caldecott Medal and The Boy of the Three-Year Nap received a Caldecott Honor.   This new book, Drawing from Memory, provides a narrative of how Say came to be such a recognized artist and writer.  As the jacket flap states, the book is “Part memoir, part graphic novel, part narrative history. . . “   Say crafts his account using original illustrations created with watercolors, pencil and pen and ink together with photographs and a fascinating narrative to tell his story growing up in Japan from his birth in 1937.   He went to live on his own just before his thirteen birthday.  Even though his family disapproved he began to learn to be an artist.  He finds a mentor/teacher, a Sensei, who changes his life and provides him with deep instruction on being an artist.  At sixteen Say went with his father to the United States.   There the book ends.   This book is outstanding for several reasons.  First, it is an account of how a young person finds a way to follow his heart.  Second, it is testament to perseverance in following a dream.  Third, it is an intriguing story of growing up in the Japanese culture prior to, during and after World War II.


A House in the Woods by Inga Moore.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Candlewick Press.  Grades P-3.

A House in the Woods is a fresh and beautiful picture book that will become a classic.  The gentle story tells about two Little Pigs that each make themselves a home in the woods.  One little pig made a den and the other a hut.  Then the two Little Pigs “went out walking together.”  But when they came home they found that a big Bear has moved into the den and a huge Moose has taken over the hut.  Neither Little Pig minds because they liked the Bear and the Moose.  However, the Pigs’ homes were wrecked and they had “nowhere to live – not to mention Moose and Bear.  This was a pickle.  It really was.”   Moose came up with a brilliant solution to their problem.  They will build a big house that will shelter them all.  Since they can’t do it on their own  — “… Moose called the Beavers on the telephone . . .”   Soon a team of Beaver Builders come to help them.  The Beavers, complete with hard hats, arrive in trucks filled with building supplies.  The Beavers request that they “be paid in peanut-butter sandwiches.”   This charming story shows all the stages as the Beavers built the house.   The final pictures show the four friends gathered around their new fire place telling stories and then fast asleep in their new beds.  Moore’s softly colored lush illustrations make this a book to savor over every small detail of the woodland setting, the rapport between the friends and the enterprising, hard working Beavers.

Max’s Castle by Kate Banks.  Illustrated by Boris Kulikov.  (2011)  Pages not numbered.  FSG.  Grades 1-3.


Max finds some old toys and a set of alphabet blocks under his bed.  With those toys he entices his brothers into imaginative play that features constructing a castle, pirates, knights, a king and more.  Through ingenious word plays each new construction with the alphabet blocks becomes a new adventure.  For example, when Max and his brothers, Karl and Benjamin, begin constructing a secret passage in the castle it leads to a “Dark Dungeon. “What’s in the dungeon?”  asks his brother, Karl.   “In every Dark Dungeon there’s a Dragon,” said Max.    “And a Dog,” said Karl.  “And a GUARD,” said Benjamin.”    The boys’ game may inspire children to engage in imaginative play – so different from their pastimes with screens.  Kulikov’s colorful, creative illustrations perfectly compliment and extend the text.  Two other books about Max, Max’s Words and Max’s Dragon will also be a hit with young readers.


The Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot by Margaret McNamara.  Illustrated by Mark Fearing.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Schwartz & Wade Books.  Grades K-3.  Picture Book.

McNamara has whipped up a spicy brew in a retelling of the Three Little Pigs.  Her story is recast in space with the pigs replaced with three Little Aliens and the Wolf’s role taken by a big, bad robot.    When their mama tells them, “It’s time for you to go out into the universe and find a planet of your own,” the Little Aliens make predictable choices emulating their piggy predecessors.  The dialogue is clever and fun with inventive words.   When the Robot is ready to attack one of the Little Alien’s in his satellite house, he calls:   “Little alien! Little alien!” . . . “COME OUT OF HIDING!”  The Little Alien cries,  “Not by the orbit of this ring I’m riding.”    “Then I will shatter and clatter and scatter your house down!”  groinked the Robot. “   Fearing paints a back drop of starry skies and glowing planets as the aliens jet from planet to planet.    Children may enjoy acting out this story.

Only the Mountains Do Not Move: A Maasai Story of Culture and Conservation by Jan Reynolds.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Lee & Low Books.  Grades  1-6.  Nonfiction.

This book is another in a series that author-photographer, Jan Reynolds, creates with stunning photographs and informative text about different cultures.   In this book the reader learns about the Maasai, their traditional life style and how it is threatened by changes in their environment.  Reynolds includes Maasai Proverbs throughout the text.  The proverbs, “Daylight follows a dark night,”  “The children are the bright moon,” demonstrate the Maasai’s wisdom and sense of humor.  Reynold’s rich, powerful photographs show the daily life of the people.  The book appears to be authentic because Reynolds and her son lived with one of the Maasai tribes who allowed her to ask questions and take pictures.   Added features like, a map of Africa, an Author’s Note, a Glossary and Pronunciation Guide as well as Source Notes and Acknowledgments enrich the text and the reader’s understanding.

Around the World: Three Remarkable Journeys by Matt Phelan.  (2011).  235 pages.   Candlewick Press.   Grades 4-8.  Graphic Novel.


Phelan’s graphic novel fictionalizes the around the world journeys of three real people: Thomas Stevens, Joshua Slocum and Nellie Bly.  At the end of the nineteenth century people were inspired by Jules Verne’s novel Around the World in Eighty Days.  The three adventurers in this book decided to circumvent the globe based on the public interest in the feat.  The world travels of Stevens, Slocum and Bly were very different.  Stevens, a miner, made the journey in 1884, on bicycle with a 50-inch wheel.  Bly, a reporter for the newspaper, The World, raced a rival reporter around the world in 1889 on ocean liners and trains.  Bly won!  “Her journey lasted seventy-two days, six hours, eleven minutes and fourteen seconds.”  In 1895, Slocum decided to sail around the world on a thirty-six-foot sloop.  He became the first person to sail around the world alone.  Phelan emphasizes why Stevens, Slocum and Bly undertook their journeys.  He writes in his Author’s Note, “The public journeys (a straightforward presentation of events) began to shift to the private journeys (my interpretation of these events).  My journey for Around the World started down one path but reached a different and surprising destination. …  Isn’t that how all good journeys should end?”   Phelan’s varies the colors and frames of the story as it unfolds in the pictures.  The pace of the illustrations and the narrative keeps the reader engaged in the adventures.  A list of books that Phelan found “inspiring, invaluable and engrossing” will allow children to discover more about the adventurers.


Bun Bun Button by Patricia Polacco.  (2011). Pages not numbered.  Putnam.  Grades P-3.  Picture Book.

Gather your favorite children close by and read aloud Polacco’s newest treasure.  It starts:

“Paige Elizabeth Darling adored her Gramma.  When Paige visited—which was often—Gramma let Paige help bake soft sand cookies, make the beds and feed the kitties and the dogs.

And when Paige was done, she and Gramma would climb into the Old Blue Chair which they loved and cuddle and read.”

Gramma makes Paige a bunny to cuddle and love.  Of course, that’s when the drama occurs.  The bunny, Bun Bun Button, is lost.  How he returns to Paige makes a warm and loving story.  As usual, Polacco’s colorful, action packed illustrations fill the pages.  The details in the drawings add to our understanding of the characters.  Gramma wears hiking boots, the cats and dogs cavort across the pages.  Even the gold fish jumps and peers from his bowl to join in the fun.  The book is especially notable because of the cherished relationship between Gramma and granddaughter.

Pointing the Direction to New Books for Children and Teens

Marilyn Carpenter, PhD.

Contact Marilyn

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