The Children's Book Compass

Archive for the ‘New Books’ Category

Levi Strauss Gets a Bright Idea by Tony Johnston.  Illustrated by Stacy Innerst.  (2011)  Pages not numbered.  Harcourt.  Ages 6-12.  Picture book.

The subtitle for this rollicking story is “A Fairly Fabricated Story of a Pair of Pants.”   That is exactly what Johnston achieves.  She has created a tall tale of how Levi Strauss made blue jeans famous.  She writes in her author’s note, “The story of Levi Strauss and the invention of blue jeans is mostly legend with threads of truth, which my version stretches to near popping.”  Johnson uses colorful language that adds flavor to her tale– “Levi Strauss rushed away.  The miners barreled right behind, rattling and racketing and rolling.”  Innerst painted his animated illustrations on old Levi’s. which gives texture to each picture.  Read this one aloud and then lead your listeners to divine the true facts about Levi Strauss as you read the author’s note.


I have been sick for most of the last month, and haven’t been able to post any reviews.  However, I have been reading and found some terrific books to recommend.  Since there are so many, I will just give a brief reviews over the next few days.  Please note that most of these books have a wide age appeal.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, inspired by an idea from Slobhan Dowd.  Illustrated by Jim Kay.  (2011).  204 pages.  Candlewick Press.  Ages 11-adult.

This powerful book enthralled me from the first pages.  I think it is one of the most compelling and honest novels I have ever read.  Colin’s mother is dying of cancer and he is haunted by a monster.  Is the monster part of a nightmare or, is it real?  Will the monster help Colin face the truth of his mother’s situation?  The ending is tremendously moving and brought me to tears.

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu.  (2011).  312 pages.  Walden Pond Press.  Ages 9-12.  Fantasy.

Breadcrumbs is an intriguing mix of realistic fiction and fantasy with the theme of the power of friendship.  Eleven-year-old Hazel and Jack are the best of friends in our contemporary world.  They love to read fantasies.  When Jack suddenly disappears, Hazel goes into a magic wood to rescue him from a white witch who has frozen his heart.  The story is enriched by many references to beloved fantasies.

Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt.  (2011).  360 pages.  Clarion.  Ages 11-15.  Historical/Realistic Fiction.

Eighth grader, Doug Swieteck surmounts difficult challenges in 1968 when his family moves to a new home in upstate New York.  Doug’s perseverance, hard work, discoveries in art and kindness to others blesses himself his family and the people in his new community.  Schmidt tells the story in Doug’s voice which is humorous and endearing.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson.  (2011)..  422 pages.  Greenwillow.  Ages 12-adult.  Fantasy.

What a captivating, fantastic romance and adventure.  The heroine is a princess who has always believed that she is nothing compared to her older sister.  How she discovers her own strength, intelligence and ability to lead makes an engrossing  and enchanting story.

Soldier Bear by Bibi Dumon Tak.  Illustrated by Philip Hopman.  (2011).  145 pages.  Eerdmans.  Ages 10-adult.

Here is a story based on real events of a troop of Polish soldiers in World War II.  The soldiers discover a small bear cub and adopt him.  The bear travels with the soldiers from Iran to Egypt and finally to Scotland at the end of the war.  In the midst of war, the bear provides a relief from tragedy with his humorous antics.  Maps of the soldiers’ journey and photographs at the end enrich the story.  Winner of the Mildred Batchelder Award which is given to book originally published in another country in a language other than English.

The Lily Pond by Annika Thor.  (2011).  217 pages.  Delacorte Press.  Ages 10-14.

A sequel to A Faraway Island, winner of the Mildred Batchelder Award in 2010.  This book follows thirteen year old Stephie Steiner, as she goes to school on the mainland.  Her Jewish parents have sent Stephie and her sister to Sweden to protect them from the Nazi persecution.  Stephie must please her foster parents, navigate through the difficulties of a new school and the responsibilities of being a scholarship student while she experiences her first love.

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick: 14 Amazing Authors Tell the Tales by Chris Van Allsburg.  (2011).  221 pages.  Houghton Mifflin.  Ages 11-adult.  Short Stories.

When I last taught sixth grade my students were inspired to tell the stories they saw in the gripping pictures of The Chronicles of Harris Burdick.  Now fourteen talented authors have created their own stories that are evoked by each the pictures.  The original pictures are included with each short story.  Young people will enjoy the stories and want to compare them with their own versions.  Read the some of the stories aloud to hook listeners who will want to read more who will want to read more on their own.

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.

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.

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.


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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