The Children's Book Compass

Archive for December 2011

Lala Salama: A Tanzanian Lullaby by Patricia MacLachlan.  Illus. by Elizabeth Zunon.  (2011).  Unpaged.  Candlewick Press.  Ages 1-6.

In Swahili the words, Lala salama, means sleep peacefully.  Reading this lyrical, sweet book will ensure sweet dreams for any child.  An African mother works through the day keeping her baby close on her back, her lap or in her arms.  As the day unfolds the mother croons to her child with words that describes the day i.e.  “LONG AGO, this morning,/ the sun rose/ above the hill/above our house,/ spilling light over the hills of the Congo/and the lake with the beautiful name,/ Tanganyika,/ like a song. Lala salama, little one.”  The day comes full cycle with the mother singing the baby to sleep, “Close your eyes,/my/dear/child.  Lala salama.”  The luscious oil paintings in rich and soothing colors show all the day’s activities in detail with  the landscape in beautiful vistas.

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Read aloud these two books about Chinese New Year to celebrate the Year of the Dragon.  This year’s celebration will be on January 23, 2012.

A New Year’s Reunion by Yu Li-Qiong.  Illus. by Zhu Cheng-Liang.  (2011).  ).  Pages not numbered.  Candlewick Press.  Ages 5-8.  Picture Book.

For young Maomao Chinese New Year is particularly special because it means her Papa will be home.  He builds houses “in faraway places,” and only come home once a year.  Together the family celebrates with new clothes for little Maomao and Mama, a haircut for Papa, making and eating sticky rice balls, finding a good luck coin in the sticky rice balls, visiting friends, making repairs on the house, listening to fire crackers, and watching the dragon dance.  The colorful, detailed illustrations expand the story.  The backgrounds show contemporary streets in China and the festive decorations for the New Year’s celebrations.  The use of red and patterns in the character’s clothing sparks the illustrations.  Some illustrations are splashed across two pages with no text to show larger scenes like the dragon dancers animating the vivid dragon.  The illustrator has a special talent for showing the characters’ emotions.  This book was first published in China and received an award for the best Chinese Children’s Picture book.  The illustrations were also recognized by the New York Times as one of the Best Illustrated Books of 2011.

Crouching Tiger by Ying Chang Compestine.  Illus. by Yan Nascimbene.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Candlewick Press.  Ages 5-8.  Picture Book.

When his Grandpa visits from China, Vinson is fascinated as he watches him practice tai chi.  Grandpa knows English but he wants to speak in Chinese to his grandson and uses his grandson’s Chinese name, Ming Da.  The boy learns tai chi from Grandpa but is disappointed because he is just learning poses and not the kung fu moves he hoped for.  A small drawing under the text illustrates and names each pose.  The story ends with the Chinese New Year parade when Ming Da gets to participate in leading the lion dancers.  Grandpa compliments his grandson and tells him that he has potential to learn the martial arts beginning with tai chi if he is willing to make a serious commitment and work hard for many years.  An Author’s Note at the end explains more about the two major schools of martial arts and the Chinese New Year holiday.  Large size illustrations using ink and watercolors are opposite each page of text.  This book would be excellent for reading aloud in the classroom because the children can easily see the pictures.

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai.  262 pages.  Harper.  Ages 9-14.  Historical Fiction.

In the 1980’s I taught an exceptional class of sixth graders who were mostly immigrants from Viet Nam.  They had lived through difficult and challenging experiences escaping from Viet Nam and then living in refugee camps.  During our year together the children wrote about their experiences in coming to America.  I gave those stories to Eve Bunting who was inspired by reading them to write How Many Days to America?  So it was a special joy to read Inside Out & Back Again because it tells a similar story.  Ten-year-old, Há, begins the story when her family celebrates Tet, the first day of the lunar calendar, in Saigon.  The ensuing year unfolds great changes for Há and her family when they leave their war torn homeland, escape on a crowded ship, spend time in a refugee camp on Guam and finally travel to Alabama where they are sponsored by a mentor.  The story comes full circle ending on Tet in 1975.  The novel is told in evocative, lyrical verse that shows the emotional cost of the family experiences.  For example, Há writes the following account of being on the ship as water is rationed and food is scarce.

“Once Knew

Water, water, water/ everywhere/making me think/land is just something/I once knew/like/napping on a hammock/bathing without salt/watching Mother write/laughing for no reason/kicking up powdery dirt/and wearing clean nightclothes/smelling of the sun.”

When Há goes to school, the fourth grade, for the first time, she encounters bullying, has troubles with the new language and feels dumb all the time.  There is a positive portrayal of a teacher who provides support and understanding of Há ‘s situation.  Lai writes from her heart and captures the emotional upheavals of that year.  In her Author’s Note she explains that most of the details in the story are inspired by her own memories.  Reading this novel will help children build empathy for their immigrant friends and  classmates.


Cuddle up with your children and make Christmas memories by reading aloud these books. The first four tell about Christmas in past times.

The Money We’ll Save by Brock Cole.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  FSG.  Grades K-4.  Picture book.

Cole’s droll, expressive illustrations coupled with his subtle, humorous text make this a book that requires multiple reading to keep savoring the fun of the story.  The setting is a ninetieth century New York City tenement.  The family with four children is stuffed into the three small rooms.  Ma asks Pa to go to the market to purchase two eggs and a half of pound of flour so she can make pancakes for supper.  She instructs him, “Now just buy two eggs and a half pound of flour,  Remember, Christmas is not far off, and we must save every penny.”  Pa also brings home a turkey poult to fatten for Christmas dinner.  Pa tells the family, “It will fatten up into a fine bird, and we can have it for Christmas dinner.  Think of the money we’ll save!”  The children name the turkey Alfred and feed him table scraps.  Alfred quickly out grows out his box by the stove, steals the families’ food and makes messes everywhere.  Pa’s wacky ideas to solve the problem escalate as Alfred grows.  When Alfred is hung from the clothes line with a pulley that runs out over the privies the neighbors protest with umbrellas covering their head to protect them from Alfred’s massive white droppings littering their clothes, their hair and even a dog.  The children object that it would be like eating a friend when Pa is ready to take the bird to the butcher.  The family comes up with a clever solution to save Alfred and restore peace to their home.  They eat oatmeal on Christmas day because all their pennies have been spent.  Pa remarks sadly, that “…it isn’t much of a holiday feast…”  “Ah, but think of the money we saved,” said Ma …”   Allow children plenty of time to relish the fun details in the illustrations.  Some made me laugh out loud.

The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve.  Illus. by Ellen Beier.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Holiday House.  Grades K-4.  Picture book.

This quiet memoir is about sacrificing, giving and caring.  Virginia and her brother grow up on the Sioux reservation where their father is the Episcopal priest of the village.  Virginia longs for a new coat to replace the threadbare, outgrown one she has and to keep her warm in the frigid South Dakota weather.  She hopes for one from the boxes sent by church congregations in New England.  When the boxes arrive there is a coat that Virginia hopes for, but another girl takes it.  A happy ending provides Virginia with a beautiful, new coat and her brother with cowboy boots.  Small details in the illustrations enrich the story:  in school the children write with pens and inkwells; a Christmas pageant in the church guildhall features children as the wise men in feathered headdresses and full regalia; Santa’s pack is filled with dolls, balls and toy cars.   This unusual story captures the spirit of Christmas.

The Carpenter’s Gift:  A Christmas Tale About the Rockerfeller Center Tree by David Rubel.  Illus. by Jim LaMarche.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Random House.  Grades 1-4.  Picture book.

This book that takes place in the Depression of 1931 tells a hopeful story that will resonate with children of today.  Henry’s parents are out of work and his family is barely surviving in a shack with no money for coal for the stove or warm blankets for the beds.  Henry’s dad borrows a truck on Christmas Eve and father and son cut spruce trees to sell in New York City that is an hour from their small home.  They find a good spot to sell their trees close to the construction site for Rockefeller Center.  When they have sold most of the trees they give the tallest and best to the construction workers.  Henry helps decorate the tree and makes a star out of newspaper.  As he hangs the star he wishes for a new home for his family.  He takes home and plants a pinecone from one of the trees.  On Christmas morning, the family is thrilled to find the construction workers who have brought extra wood from the construction site to build a home for the family.  Henry gets to help.  Many years later, when Henry returns to his parent’s home and finds that the pine cone has grown into a gorgeous, tall spruce.  He donates it to the Rockefeller Center for their Christmas display.  The gift of a new home continues when the season is over because the wood from the tree is used to build a home for a family in need.  Notes at the end explains about the history of the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center and how Habitat for Humanity builds home for families like Henry’s that lack adequate shelter.  LaMarche’s lush, expressive paintings glow and show the compassion to the story.

Franklin and Winston: A Christmas That Changed the World by Douglas Wood.  Illus. by Barry Moser.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Candlewick Press.  Grades 4-8.  Nonfiction.

In December of 1941, Winston Churchill, prime minister of Great Britain, came through a terrible Atlantic storm on a battleship to meet at the White House with President Roosevelt.  Churchill had already led his country in two years of war against Nazi Germany.  “… he and the president would plan how they might save the world.”  Wood describes the important meetings of the two leaders and their aides as well as the events of the Christmas holidays.  At the end of the book the two leaders had forged a relationship that would sustain them over the terrible years of the war.  The book ends with “The two friends did trust each other, through every hardship and difficulty, victory and defeat, over the next years of World War II.  Millions of others trusted them as well, all around the world.  It was a world they helped to save with their courage and their friendship, on that important Christmas of 1941.”  Wood shows the human side of the two leaders.  Churchill insisted on two hot baths a day.  “One day Franklin barged into Winston’s room just as he was getting out of the tub.  “Think nothing of it,” said Winston.  “The prime minister of Great Britain has nothing to conceal from the president of the United States!”  Moser’s painting shows Churchill a cigar clutched in his mouth with a towel draped over his lower body.  The choices of paper, typeface, design elements, and paintings combine to make this a beautifully crafted book.  A note at the end explains that the paintings “were based, in part, on historical photographs, which were freely cropped, modified, and merged into totally new images …”  This excellent book will introduce young readers to a vital part of our history.

A Christmas Tree for Pyn by Olivier Dunrea.  (2011).  Pages not numbered.  Philomel.  Grades K-4.  Picture book.

I have read this book aloud several times to appreciative audiences.  Pyn and her father, Oother, live alone on a mountain.  “Oother loved his daughter very much.  But he was a bearlike mountain man who did not soften for anyone.  Not even Pyn.”  Pym is industrious in taking care of their home and providing meals while Oother works in the woods.  Pyn ask for a Christmas tree to help them celebrate Christmas.  Taciturn Oother doesn’t seem interested.  Pyn takes matters into her own hands and decides to surprise Oother with a perfect tree she cuts down herself.  Finding the perfect tree turns out to be hard work as Pyn struggles through the deep snow.   When she becomes buried in the snow Oother finds her and together they discover the perfect tree.  Pyn decorates the tree with a collection of things she has found in the woods and saved.  Oother surprises her with a precious ornament for the top of the tree he made for her mother and saved.  Dunrea’s quiet illustrations in gouache and pencil shows daughter and father in profile and thus captures the contrast in their sizes and natures.  This story is about how steadfast love and the beauty of Christmas can soften a heart.

 

 

The Ogre of Oglefort by Eva Ibbotson.   Illus. by Lisa K. Weber. (2011).  247 pages.   Dutton. Grades 3-7.  Fantasy novel.

This is the last book of the talented and masterful storyteller, Ibbotson.  Fantastic characters, a troll, a hag, a wizard and an orphan, are sent on a quest to save a princess from an evil Ogre.  However, when they arrive at the Ogre’s castle they discover the situation is surprisingly different than they were told.  The characters are deliciously described.  Here is the opening paragraph of the book,

“Most people are happier when their feet are dry.  They do not care to hear squelchy noises in their shoes or feel water seeping between their toes—but the Hag of the Dribble was different.  Having wet feet made her feel better: it reminded her of the Dribble where she had been born and lived for the first seventy-eight years of her life, and now she dipped her socks into the washbasin and made sure they were thoroughly soaked before she put them on her feet and went downstairs to make porridge for herself and her lodgers.”

Kids will want to keep reading after that opening.  The theme, discovering your happiness or bliss, makes the book a satisfying read.  This one will make an enjoyable read aloud for adult and child.  A few black line drawings are sprinkled throughout the story.

The Adventures of Sir Gawain the True by Gerald Morris.  Illus. by Aaron Renier.  (2011). 118 pages.  Houghton Mifflin.  Grades 2-6.  Fantasy Novel.

This is the third book in Morris’ The Knight Tales series.  After children read this one, they will want to go back to read the others in the series.  Morris retells the stories from the King Arthur legends with humor and verve.  His retellings make the stories accessible for younger children.  Large size font, a small book size and action-packed line drawings also make these books attractive for younger readers.  The story of how Sir Gawain the Undefeated takes on the challenge of the fearsome giant, The Green Knight, makes a rousing tales.  The adventures come tumbling out of the pages.  Readers will be glued to the story of how Sir Gawain meets the challenge of the Green Knight and discovers wisdom and grace along the way.


Pointing the Direction to New Books for Children and Teens

Marilyn Carpenter, PhD.

Contact Marilyn

e-mail: MarilynCaz@aol.com
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